It’s Hearty Soup Weather

2014-09-16 15.36.53 During most of history, people ate what they had put away for the winter in their cellars and barns. In Colonial New England, unless someone had a greenhouse a midwinter salad was unheard of. In the Middle Ages in Europe and Russia, fasting during Lent was a necessity because what little food was available to most by late winter had to be hoarded and used carefully. People ate with the seasons. Forty years ago on a late spring trip to Russia with my mother I recall cabbage being served to us daily. It keeps well if properly stored.

Root vegetables can stay fresh for months. Turnips, Carrots, Rutabagas and winter squashes keep when in a cold place. I recall the root cellar in my Great Aunt Alice’s large garden—a deep hole with a wooden cover where vegetables could be safely stored for the winter months. I prefer to eat with the seasons. I feel healthier eating root vegetables often in fall and winter.

One thing special thing about fall is that my appetite returns and I can eat more without gaining weight. Those extra calories burn to keep me warm. However I do not eat more empty calories: i.e. desserts, snacks, sweets. Instead I eat more vegetables and healthy carbohydrates. Soup calories are always good fuel for the body. Hearty fall and winter soups are made with root vegetables, winter squash, beans, and other appropriate ingredients.

Sturdy herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary and tarragon add flavor and food value to these soups as well. I begin most of my soup recipes by sautéing chopped onion, finely chopped celery, and ground garlic (not garlic powder, that has less flavor) in butter and olive oil. The mung beans in this recipe can be found at any health food store if your market does not carry them, and are a nice change from the more commonly used lentils or other kinds of beans.

My mung bean soup is a little different from the average bean soup. For this hearty recipe sauté ½ cup onion and 1 cup celery chopped small in 2 Tbs olive oil and 2 Tbs butter until transparent. Add 1 tsp each of thyme, rosemary, curry powder, and ground garlic . Stir in 2 cups peeled, chopped firm potatoes and 1 cup or more sliced carrots. Add 2 cups beef broth, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour or so, until vegetables are tender and soup is tasty.

Cauliflower has become popular lately. I have seen versions of it prepared in many ways. This is my cauliflower soup: Thinly slice ½ to ¾ of a large cauliflower and 1 or 2 large carrots. Simmer in 2 cups water until soft. Meanwhile, Sauté 1 medium onion and 6 cloves garlic chopped, black pepper and your choice of seasonings in olive oil. Mash simmered vegetables and add sautéed ones. Add 2 cups chicken broth. If desired, thicken with leftover mashed potato or a roux made from 2 Tbs butter and 2 Tbs flour stirred over medium heat, with 1 cup added liquid of your choice stirred until smooth and thick.

Farm Stand Strawberries

I hold the ripe berry and bring it to my lips.

I taste the sun that ripened it.

My teeth bite into it

tangy juice bursts in my mouth,

followed by soft sweetness.

 

Gratitude blooms in my heart

for the back that bent to pluck it,

for the fingers that picked it

for the hands that planted

the roots that bore this fruit.

 

I give thanks to the earth

that nourished the roots,

and to the rain that drenched them.

I taste all these as the rich

red essence overwhelms all thought

 

until there is only the taste of  strawberry.

The Beauty and Bounty of Fall

 

Autumn Blaze

One house we lived in had a window in the upstairs bathroom with a view of trees and fields. Each year in August I would look out this window in anticipation of the bright red patch that always appeared in an otherwise green expanse of a maple tree. It seemed that much brighter for being surrounded by the remaining green leaves. Later the rest of the tree would turn red, yet there was something very special for me about that first splash of color.

Perhaps that is because it heralded my favorite time of year. I cherish the first tinges of red and yellow beginning to blossom in the trees by the roadside. It is truly said that the strong colors of fall echo the pastel shades of spring except that they are strong and vivid. I have also noticed that in the weeks before the autumn colors emerge, the green of tree leaves takes on a grayish look that hints at the ageing of the leaves, preparing them for their ultimate brilliance. The other colors are present in the leaves all along. When the cooler weather comes, the green disappears and the red and yellow take over.

Fall colors are lovely and bright. Pumpkins, squash, chrysanthemums, apples, and fiery leaves are all part of its panorama. Highway vistas of hills plumped up with pillows of brilliant hue are a delight to drivers and passengers alike. As spring is a time of tentative melodies and pastel colors so fall is loud and strident, its colors are bold, its thunders vibrate around us. Farmstands open up and share their bounty with passers by. In more rural areas little collections of garden produce appear by the side of the road with prices and trustful boxes for payment.

When I was a child I delighted in scuffing through the rustling leaves. I loved the sounds and the tastes of fall. The sweet concord grapes that grew on the fence around my great aunt Alice’s garden tasted so wonderful. I was equally happy to breathe the slightly sharp air of fall that held a tinge of the frosts to come. I didn’t care much for raking the leaves, however I got paid to do it and that helped. I never tended my parents’ gardens, nor was I asked to. Later when I had a garden of my own, as fall emerged I hurried to pick the last tomatoes as well as the remaining marigolds. However I paid someone to rake the leaves.

Busy squirrels scurry around storing up food for the winter. Some alas are harvested by swiftly traveling automobiles. These provide a feast for the crows, so nothing is wasted. Autumn is a time for all of us to store food. My mother busily canned and later froze her garden produce. When I had a large freezer I did too. I loved the feeling of providing for my family. Now I can’t store much food for the future, however I can take advantage of the seasonal plenty. I got out my old Fanny Farmer’s cookbook and looked up apple recipes. We had Apple Brown Betty for supper. Yummy! Fall is my favorite time of year and I rejoice in its bounty as well as its beauty.

Seasonal Eating is a Way to Good Health

colorful paint I love the berries, peaches and plums of summer. I eagerly await and devour local strawberries as they appear at our farmstand. My ‘fridge fills with blueberries and raspberries, then with luscious cherries, peaches and plums as they ripen. Of course I enjoy our special local corn, which reaches it peak as summer wanes. The foods of the local farms are my favorite aspect of summer. What I don’t like about summer is the heat. It discourages my consumption of food and causes me to do as little cooking as possible.

I look forward to asparagus in the spring yet find I don’t wish to eat it at other times. Just so, I prefer to eat what grows in the summer, especially the variety of summer squashes. These have dwindled now locally. Due to our ability to transport food they can be bought all year round from the supermarket, however I feel much less inclined to include them in my diet now that they are out of season for this area.

In the fall is as the weather cools, I regain my appetite as well as my enjoyment of cooking. Today I got out lentils to make a hearty soup and thought about what vegetables I wanted to put in with them. I had bought one of the winter squashes just coming into season. That struck me as a welcome inclusion. For the same reason I have begun to avoid summer squashes I do not eat winter squashes in the summer. They do not taste the same to me then as they do in the fall.

There are many ways to prepare delicious orange winter squash. While I enjoy acorn squash the most, I also like butternut squash for the variety of ways it can be prepared. Acorn squash is simple. Split and baked face down, it can be turned over when done and enhanced with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. I usually give the baked squash another 5 minutes in the oven until these are melted together in the cavities. When I take the squash from the oven I scrape the soft centers with a fork to distribute the sweetness throughout it.

Butternut squash however can be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes I bake it whole on a cookie sheet for an hour or until the thickest part pierces easily with a fork. I remove it, cool it slightly and remove the seeds, then take off the peel and refrigerate the flesh. When I want to serve it, I reheat it with butter in a cast iron frying pan. This is very helpful when I want to fix a quick meal. Sometimes I blend it with some grated ginger, some cranberry sauce and some grated cheese, turn it into a casserole and bake at 350 for around 20 minutes.

When I peel it and include it in a hearty lentil or other vegetable or even meat based stew, butternut squash provides color as well as good nutrition. It is a fine source of vitamin A, potassium, fiber and healthy carbohydrates. Doubtless you have had squash pie. It is an easy substitute for pumpkin in pies as well as in many other dishes. Eating with the seasons not only provides good nutrition, it also brings our bodies in line with the changes that occur as the seasons revolve, a win/win situation for good health.

Being of a Saving Nature

Kathy's Kitchen BasketsYankee thrift originated long before the pilgrims arrived on these shores. Being of a saving nature is a key to survival in tough times no matter when or where they occur. In today’s opulent, throwaway society times thrifty behavior isn’t very fashionable, however, I am happy to practice my version of it. My mother, though not a Yankee, certainly was a great example of that kind of behavior. I try to emulate her, though I do not go to the extremes she did.

For example, the presence of my mother’s linen sheets from her wedding trousseau, still tied with their original pink satin ribbons was an intriguing mystery, first in her cedar trunk and then later when the house got added onto, the hallway linen closet. They had never been used and apparently were not supposed to be. My father used to say jokingly that she was saving them for her next husband. I never got an explanation about them from her.

In the same cedar chest in her bedroom at the foot of her bed she also kept a costume she had worn for some classes in Spanish dance. The exotic, colorful skirt and top, sprinkled with bangles, fascinated me. In one of her dressing table drawers she kept a wonderful collection of small, decorative evening purses she seldom used. I loved looking at them. My father would tease her about the several little cardboard bureaus in which she kept an assortment of things. She seldom if ever threw anything away.

My mother trod a fine line between saving and hoarding. I once was helping her tidy up the contents of a closet in their summer home. As we emptied it I teased her about the number of toasters and irons she had stowed away there. She informed me rather sternly that she had bought them at yard sales and was keeping them in case the one she was using failed to work. Her behavior may have been a result of her World War I childhood in Germany.

If you define hoarding as holding onto useless items for some reason that seems logical to the hoarder, she might be said to be one. When I visited her in Florida, after my dad had passed on she had a plethora of small shampoo and conditioner bottles from her travels with him lining her washbasin, along with empty cardboard toilet paper rolls stacked by the toilet. She never explained why she kept them.

I did inherit some of her saving nature. However my version of it is tied to what will prove useful in the future. I save leftovers and seldom have to throw them away because they combine nicely to make new meals. Small boxes that are good to hold gifts, padded envelopes that can be used again, tissue and wrapping paper, and more jostle one another for room in my hallway. When Christmas comes, or the birthdays of dear ones I don’t need to go to the store for packaging. However, I differ from my mother in one significant way: When my collections impede progress in the hall, I recycle to our local thrift store.

Giving Thanks is not just for Thanksgiving.

Deb's party food 2When I was growing up we usually said grace only at Thanksgiving, Christmas or on other very special occasions. I don’t remember any special discussion of gratitude in my family. God was often presented as a punitive figure, rather like my dad—as in or God will punish you for that, see if He doesn’t, and “Just wait until I tell your father what you did…” The church I grew up with emphasized being sorry for one’s sins and saying prayers for the protection and preservation of my family and myself. All that changed when I was in my mid thirties and I learned about the virtue of gratitude and its importance for a happy life.

I began giving thanks on a daily basis after a phone conversation with a wise older friend. She told me that rather than complain about what I thought I was lacking, I needed to be grateful for what I did have: good food to eat, a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in, warm clothes to wear, and so on. She reminded me how important it was to give thanks for the simple yet necessary blessings most take for granted. I believed her. Now these many years later, I am very grateful to her. An attitude of gratitude leads to true happiness.

When we focus on whatever there is in our lives that brings happiness, healing, kindness or friendship we are emphasizing that aspect in our lives. When we complain about our difficulties we are focusing on our lacks and our problems, most of which we can do little to nothing about. There is no happiness in dwelling on our misfortunes. When we do emphasize what is good in our lives it seems magically to increase. Giving thanks for that which we have as well as that which we do not have is an important key to a good life.

Gratitude for the bounty in our lives has been the theme of harvest celebrations throughout the ages. The Pilgrims did not host the first Thanksgiving ever, just their first one here in this country. Giving thanks to a higher power is common to nearly every religious or spiritual path. Most have some kind of ceremony to honor the powers that be that provide them with support and sustenance. After all, if the rains do not fall or the sun does not shine our food will not grow. Not a gardener myself, I know how grateful I am to the market and the farmstand that provide me with good, fresh food.

More than anything else I am grateful for the love that has come to me over the years. I have been extremely fortunate in the people I have met and with whom I have had the opportunity to interact. My friends, past, present and even future are important to me. I am thankful for each and every one. While some of those for one reason or another have vanished from my life, the experience of their past love remains to bless me with its warmth and the joyful memories of our happy times together. I am grateful for that good and for the dear ones still in my life.

What will you Harvest from this Year

onions-on-display

I remember my mother cutting up fruits and vegetables and filling her large canning kettle with jars. The kettle steamed away, filling the kitchen with warmth and making my mother perspire. The jars were later stored against the cold winter months on shelves in a kind of rough closet in our cellar. There was also a small barrel of potatoes there and one of my tasks was to go down occasionally and pick off their sprouts.

Too, my mother made wonderful jellies from the fruit that grew on my great aunt Alice’s trees. A lawyer, my great grandfather was also an amateur student of horticulture. He planted all sorts of fruit trees as well as grape vines, vegetables and flowers all of which were tended to by a gardener. He would bring fruit to my mother that she processed to make the clear jellies we ate with our Sunday meals.

I think of my mom and her tasks at this time of year when fruits and vegetables reach their peak and are harvested. Long ago Pilgrims and Native peoples dried food to preserve it. Later on many housewives filled glass jars, heating them until the food within could be kept for use in the winter. Today the same people who might in the past have canned and preserved it will freeze the extra produce that they cannot use right away. People with gardens are putting food by in order to have healthy, homegrown meals for the winter months. We who live where the seasons prevail have always done this.

These days to be sure food of all kinds is plentiful in every season year round, and if we do not have a garden from which to harvest, we are less likely to preserve the fall harvest against the winter. However, there is more than one kind of harvest to be made at this time. If we have planted ideas in the spring, and tended them during the summer, they may have matured enough by the fall to be gathered in and made use of during the rest of the year. If we have projects we have worked on, ideas we have been developing, stories or poetry we have been evolving; now is the time to get them out there for the final testing, checking or editing.

We no longer live in an agrarian society, and yet the seasons are still a part of us. Their energy need not be confined to the actual planting, tending and gathering of food. For while we may not plant actual seeds to grow, tend, harvest and preserve, we can use the energy of the seasons to generate what we need to nourish our own lives and the lives of others. The seeds of our efforts whether edible, useful, or otherwise productive can be sown in the spring for our eventual harvest and use in the fall. Then during the winter months they can supply what we need to sustain us and keep us from the cold.

Tasha Halpert