cauliflower and leek soup

Through the entirety of winter, even a relatively warm one like we’re currently having in the Midwest, just about the only thing I want to eat is soup. Because of this, it shouldn’t be too surprising that my ideal winter weekend includes a big pot of the stuff spending its afternoon simmering on my stove. And, in keeping with my eternal goal of eating as many vegetables as possible, soup is made even more wonderful when packed full of them.

I started making this soup during college and it was a big hit with my roommates and friends who came over for dinner parties. When Tuesday sent me an image of her produce box a few weeks ago and cauliflower was in it, I could easily figure out what to do next.

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ingredients:

  • 4 strips chopped bacon (omit and use 2 tsp. olive oil in its place if that’s your thing)
  • 2 thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only (should be approximately 1 1/2 c.; feel free to throw in an onion if you’re low on leeks)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3ish c. cauliflower florets (approximately one medium-sized head)
  • 2 large potatoes, cubed (or 4 small ones)
  • 2 c. chicken broth (I used a jar saved from when we cooked a whole chicken; vegetable broth will also work)
  • 2 tsp. salt (depending on whether or not the chicken/vegetable broth is salted, more salt may be necessary — I don’t salt my broth so I added a total of 2.5ish tsp., plus a few pinches more after blending)
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (amazingly, 40 full rotations on a pepper mill)
  • 2 heaping tsp. smoked paprika

directions:

In a stock pot over medium heat, fry chopped bacon until semi-crispy. Sauté leeks and garlic in fat from bacon. (If not using bacon, sauté leeks and garlic in olive oil.) Add cauliflower, potatoes, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Cover with chicken broth and 1 c. water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Puree soup with an immersion blender or allow to cool further and transfer in batches to an upright blender. I do not have an immersion blender but it would make this process and many other processes — beating large batches of eggs, blending smoothies or milkshakes, storing the thing — easier. Adjust seasonings to taste (and add additional water or broth for a more liquid-y soup, if you’d like) and serve with a hunk of toasted crusty bread.

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I always make a double batch of this soup — thus the two heads of cauliflower — and it does beautifully in the freezer. The recipe I adapted comes from Clean Eating. Enjoy!!

fruit and nut granola

I am such a breakfast person. Almost immediately upon waking each morning I am hungry. My typical breakfast runs the gamut from fried eggs and sautéed veggies, to oatmeal piled with fruit, to toast heaped with nut butter or other toppings. On Sundays, I’ll sometimes get a bit fancier and whip up a quiche or batch of pancakes.

Tuesday and I chatted recently about our  respective morning fares, and I learned that she often does nothing more than grab an apple or banana or handful of trail mix on the way out the door. (GASP!) Obviously there is nothing wrong with this, except that I am a firm believer in the importance of a well rounded meal and a moment of pause to start one’s day. Bonus points if a crossword puzzle and cup of black tea or strong coffee are involved. Because of my devotion to the practice of eating breakfast, I’ve decided to do some evangelizing and see if I can’t liven up Tuesday’s busy morning routine.

Requirements for a Tuesday-proof breakfast:

  • quick
  • minimal prep and minimal mess
  • portable
  • nutritious
  • able to be prepped ahead of time in large batches
  • stores well

Where does this leave us? Granola.

Granola is great for a lot of reasons, one of the most notable being its customizability. Not a fan of honey? Use maple syrup as your sweetner/glue. Not into dates or coconut or berries? Choose another combination of dried fruits. Trying to up your protein intake? Add extra nuts and seeds. You get my point.

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ingredients:

  • 3 c. old fashioned oats
  • 3/4 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 c. sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp. flax seeds
  • 2 tbsp. hemp seeds
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 c. chopped dates
  • 1/4 c. dried cherries
  • 1/4 c. coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 pinches of sea salt

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directions:

Preheat oven to 300F. Melt coconut oil by running a sealed jar under hot water. Add melted coconut oil, salt, and other wet ingredients (vanilla, honey) to a small bowl. Add all other ingredients (oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit) to a large mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry, using hands to combine. Evenly spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, and store in a sealed container. (I used a half gallon Ball jar, pictured below.)

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Warning: This granola is of the un-chunky variety. If you’re a fan of granola clump-age, consider trying this tip from Food52.

And there you have it, folks. Serve on its own, with milk, or over yogurt. If only the rest of the week was as simple as making this granola.

 

a tree grows in brooklyn

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2015 was my year of books. I read voraciously, particularly titles written by women that I’d noticed were disproportionately absent from my existing repertoire. At the height of my performance, I was tearing through two novels per week. It was an enlightening time.

Though there are plenty of things I should be reading (more on that later), 2016 has been depressingly slow. I’ve been in a literary funk, working late many evenings and pouring over political articles or planning winter blues-busting activities. I’ve not been reaching for books — companions that show me how to live and have proven time and time again to be an enormous source of solace and enjoyment.

It’s time to jump start my reading habit. To do so, I wanted to reflect on some of the great things I read last year. I picked up several excellent new titles and also checked off books that had been on my to-read list for a long time. Some of my favorites were The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (read this while living on the South Side of Chicago and looking out my Canaryville window onto the stockyards — very meta), The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (beautifully woven story about a brilliant turn-of-the-century scientist with curiosities and abilities far beyond her time), and Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (Chicago Tribune says, “Anyone who has ever had a hard time facing a perfectly ordinary day will identify.”).

The absolute best thing I read last year (and one of the top five best novels I’ve read in the whole of my life) was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. As I was reading, I was constantly having my mind blown and reaching out to bookish friends with my total shock at how rich and relatable this story was. I continually asked fellow readers, “Have you heard of this book?” “Have you read this?” For many of them, the answer was “Of course I have! How have you not?!” So it appears that I am very late to the party on this one. But just in case there are any other readers out there who are also behind the times, you really must pick this one up. For additional encouragement, here are post-reading thoughts on the book from my journal, written last September:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – LOVED. 10/10. Francie’s story felt incredibly real and true and heartbreaking and beautiful and I just loved reading it. In so many ways I could see my own coming of age in it, even though my situation was in many ways vastly different. Aside from a wonderful story, the writing was beautiful and descriptive — exactly the kind that I most love. Francie’s father and her relationship with him was so fraught with adoration and heartbreak. GAH it was all of the things and I felt so much reading it. Also, her relationship with her aunts and her mom and her brother, all of it really drove home the importance of family. The fleeting relationships with her friends and her struggle to find her tribe resonated deeply. Also her love for books and the importance of solitude and time spent outdoors. All of that felt so real to me. AND the disillusionment of being back in the place of your childhood and seeing things with fresh eyes. Like how the tins in the beautiful tea and coffee shop she enjoyed were actually horribly nicked and the lovely golden scale she remembered was in reality wonky and cheap. Man, I loved this. I will definitely read it again and recommend it to all the people looking for a good and true read. And I think Betty has a book of essays or something? Gotta hunt down her other stuff. Big love for this lady.”

So there you have it! All the people have been notified — you must read this. Pick up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (and the other mentioned books!) at your local library or bookstore. Or, if those options don’t work for you, the books can be purchased using the imbedded Amazon affiliate links. (Or let me know you want to read them and I’ll mail you my copies.)

pot pies, two ways

Three weeks ago, Tuesday texted me and said that she had turnips and parsnips in her weekly CSA. She asked if I had any ideas. I said that I did! She texted me at a perfect time! I would think about it and get back with her! A week later, I realized that I forgot to follow up and my heart sank as I considered the plight of those turnips and parsnips. I contacted Tuesday to check. “I am REALLY sorry for not getting back to you sooner about your vegetables. What is their status?” She replied, “Goners.”

Just as I suspected. After several minutes of guilt, I decided that the only thing to do was get Tuesday prepared for future turnips and parsnips. I would come up with the perfect turnip- and parsnip-containing recipe, so that when those funny guys showed up in her CSA again, she’d know how to handle them. In brief, I was on a mission to avenge the deaths of a few roots.

In another conversation had with Tuesday months ago, I expressed my love for pot pies. This love was cultivated while living in Chicago last winter and having the great fortune of wise and wonderful roommates who took me to the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants that I never would have found on my own. (THANK YOU CAROLINE AND NAT AND DAVID AND KELVIN!) Pleasant House is a lovely little spot in Bridgeport which serves a variety of pot pies. It is perfect for a lot of reasons, one of the biggest being that you can order your pie of choice and then head next door to Maria’s Packaged Goods where you’ll warm up with a drink and board game, and have the pies delivered to your table. It is one of those almost too good to be true things in life. The mushroom and kale option is delicious.

I digress. After learning that Tuesday also enjoys a pot pie and at one time in her life wondered how to make them and that her parsnips and turnips needed a home, I knew this marriage was meant to be. YAY!

I wanted to create a vegetable pot pie to make up for my entirely chicken-focused past recipe post. But, with all of that freshly-cooked chicken sitting around, it seemed a shame not to turn it into a pie as well. Thus, here you’ll find two pot pie recipes. The first is a traditional option featuring a whole chicken that everyone now knows how to cook. The second features a slew of root vegetables — vegetarians, rejoice! In case you don’t recognize them in the image below, the turnips are to the far left (white radish-like orbs with green tops) and the parsnips are in the bottom center, between the carrots and mushrooms. PS — All of these vegetables were found at the winter farmers market in Indianapolis. HOLLA for winter crops which should not be underestimated. Here we go.

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pie crust ingredients (this is for both top and bottom — two — crusts):

  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 16 tbsp. frozen unsalted butter (two sticks)
  • 10ish tbsp. ice cold water

pie crust directions:

Mix together dry ingredients. Grate frozen butter into bowl with dry ingredients. Gently mix to combine. Slowly add ice water to the mixture and combine with hands, working to create a ball of dough. Split dough into two equal parts, wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll out dough into a circle to fit inside of and on top of pie pan. (If you want, you can make a large batch of crusts and freeze them for eternity, or until you need them to bake another pot pie, a quiche, or a dessert pie. Pull the crust out of the freezer and leave on the counter for 30 minutes prior to rolling out.)

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20160208_130136traditional pie ingredients:

  • 2 – 3 c. of cooked cubed chicken (from the whole chicken that you cooked!)
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. chopped carrot
  • 1/2 c. chopped celery
  • 3/4 c. diced potatoes
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 c. chicken stock (from the whole chicken that you cooked!)
  • 3/4 c. peas (I use frozen, but fresh would work too)
  • 2 pie crusts

traditional pie directions:

Preheat oven to 375F. In a dutch oven or saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and sauté the onion, celery, carrot, and potato until tender. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, and herbs. Once vegetables are tender, and this mixture to the pot and stir to combine. Add milk and chicken stock gradually and bring to a boil. Stir for a few minutes until the mixture thickens and add chicken and peas. Adjust seasoning to taste.

In a pie pan, lay out the bottom crust and fill with vegetable and chicken mixture. Cover with the second finished crust and seal the edges, or allow the top crust to hang over the pan. Make four slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust turns golden-brown.

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winter vegetable pie ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. diced sweet potatoes
  • 1 1/2 c. diced white potatoes
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. chopped carrots
  • 1/2 c. chopped celery
  • 1/2 c. chopped turnips
  • 1/2 c. chopped parsnips
  • 1/2 c. mushrooms
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 c. vegetable stock
  • 2 pie crusts

winter vegetable pie directions:

Preheat oven to 375F. In a dutch oven or saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and sauté mushrooms. Once mushrooms have softened, add onion, carrots, celery, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, and herbs. Once vegetables are tender, and the flour mixture to the pot and stir to combine. Add milk and vegetable stock gradually and bring to a boil. Stir for a few minutes until the mixture thickens. Adjust seasoning to taste.

In a pie pan, lay out the bottom crust and fill with vegetable mixture. Cover with the second finished crust and seal the edges, or allow the top crust to hang over the pan. Make four slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust turns golden-brown.

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Lastly, and arguably most importantly, make pinwheels with your leftover pie dough. What on earth is the point of making anything with a crust if you aren’t going to make pinwheels? (Through some googling, I learned that these little creatures are also called bumblebees, tuzzie muzzies, gobblies,schmekels, doodads, and piggies. Has such a simple treat ever had such an adorable and ridiculous lot of names?!)

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Final notes: You may have noticed that the pile of vegetables I used in making these pot pies is enormous. That is because I occasionally get in a stock-piling mood and make a ton of a particular item for the freezer. The batch of veggies pictured made 6 pies altogether which I will happily be eating over the course of several months. On that note, I should mention that completed pies do freeze well. When ready to eat, remove from the freezer and allow to sit for 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 425F; place the pie on a baking sheet and cover loosely with foil. Bake for 30 minute. Reduce heat to 350F, remove foil, and bake for an additional 55 minutes, or until the crust turns golden-brown.

The traditional pot pie recipe I used is adapted from this one. The pie crust recipe is nearly identical to Smitten Kitchen’s, though I am a true believer in butter grating and Deb is not.

Thank you and goodnight!

scenes from iowa

I was so lucky to spend the last days of January and first days of February in Jasper County, Iowa working on the final caucus push with some of my favorite people. A dear friend of mine (Hi, Dylan!!) has been running a hugely productive GOTV operation in Jasper County for the past few months and it was so fun to be a fly on the wall and see him in action with the awesome team he built. I am so proud of him.

I got to attend a caucus on Monday night. It is an odd and fascinating thing; and event I can so easily imagine occurring in my own tiny Midwestern hometown. Equal parts bizarre and sweet, folks came out to make their opinions known and eat brownies. Certainly the process has its problems, but there is something innately charming about neighbors getting together and sharing their thoughts with one another.

I had never been to Iowa before. Have you? Do you know that it is take-your-breath-away beautiful and the definition of ‘wide open spaces’? My responsibilities in the days I spent there resulted in a lot of driving around on dirt roads in the countryside and wow, am I so glad that was on the docket. Just look at this place!

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farm life

During my stint in Hawai’i, one question I got a lot was, “So, what exactly are you doing?” I think that is a legitimate question for a number of reasons. Those reasons include: 1. I was not doing ‘normal’ Hawaii things. 2. Many people (understandably) are unaware about what happens day-to-day on a farm. Here is my official answer to that question!

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I was working with a lot of food crops — planting, fertilizing, pruning, weeding, harvesting. One thing that I was not doing was watering. You do not often need to water plants on the eastern side of Hawai’i — check out how much rain the area gets in a year! Below are images of the main garden, as well as lilikois (Hawaiian passionfruit), avocados, lemons, and Hawaiian Hot Peppers, all crops that I dealt with on a regular basis.

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I also became a wheelbarrow aficionado. Below are big loads of cassava and sweet potato that would have been no fun to carry by hand. Wheelbarrows are so useful!

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I cooked and preserved the crops I harvested. Below are images of bananas being dehydrated and the banana stand from where I picked them, my typical haul of fruits in any given day, and guava jam I processed and ate over oatmeal.

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I handled lots of flowers and leaves. Below are images of the hydrangeas I picked weekly to put on my windowsill, and a bundle of eucalyptus that I dried and brought home.

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I cared for a number of animals, including this donkey named Gina.

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In addition to these tasks, I hauled manure and wood, removed invasive plants from grazing lots, and worked on small construction projects. My days started at 6am and ended before 10pm. It was a quiet life filled with many hours outdoors, in both the sun and the rain. A life of Aloha.

cooking a whole chicken

A few months ago, when the decision to write this thing solidified, I asked Tuesday to send me a bunch of her food questions so I’d have a repository to choose from. Dependable gal that she is, Tuesday texted me a large number of inquiries and I immediately thought to myself, “I should categorize these! I should put them in a Google doc/spreadsheet/word document. I should put them anywhere other than in my text message history.” Did I do this? As you have probably already guessed, I did not. Time passed, conversations via text were had, and Tuesday’s lovely list of questions has vanished into the abyss where old text messages go. (Sorry, Tuesday. I know you’re just finding this out. I really do apologize and also can you send me all of your questions again — maybe via email this time?)

However, somewhat surprisingly — ask anyone; my memory is not very good — I can recall a number of items from the list and know that a significant chunk of them were about meat. And doesn’t that make so much sense? How many people do you know that can honest to goodness pick up a rolled rump roast or pork loin or rack of lamb and prepare a meal using that thing without having to google “how to cook a rolled rump roast or pork loin or rack of lamb” and spend more time reading about how to cook it than actually cooking it? Personally, I don’t know many of those people. I myself am not one of those people. But I’m working on it, and today, Tuesday, you’re going to work on it too.

So let’s talk about chicken. Here’s my personal history with chicken: Growing up, the main chicken forms that graced my plate were what I now like to call BSCBs — boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I don’t think this is unusual; BSCBs are a thing that a lot of people eat. They are easy to deal with, they are quick, and so long as you don’t turn them into hockey pucks by overcooking, whatever. Fast-forward to high school and I became an adamant vegetarian. No meat, no thank you. That period lasted for between three and five years (see? not such a good memory) and then I moved away from that diet and shortly after onto a farm where I was helping to raise livestock — chickens included — through methods I felt good about and decided it would be ok to start eating meat again. But this time, I was curious. I wanted to become the person that can cook all of the things without spending three hours on the internet beforehand. I started with a whole chicken. I suggest this is where everyone starts because it is crazy easy and cheap and if you feel ok with eating a chicken, you will feel empowered. (Note: Hello, vegetarian friends! I see you there! You are probably not feeling empowered right now. Sorry about that, but I really want to help Tuesday to cook a chicken. Thank you for reading along (or maybe you aren’t still reading this particular post, and that’s ok too) and know that my next recipe will have a very special gift just for you.)

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So, let’s get things in pecking order. (See what I did there?)

1. Buy a whole chicken that weighs between 4 and 6 pounds. Buy it at a farmers market or local grocery where you can get a beautiful, healthy, and happy chicken sans-antibiotics, hormones, and other gross stuff from an actual farmer while also helping small business and the local economy. Quadruple win! (If you are not yet convinced about buying the type of chicken I recommend, read THIS for further persuasion from a different angle.)

2. Get out your crock pot. If you don’t yet have a crock pot, get a crock pot; trust me. Fill said crock pot halfway with water and turn on high. Let the water warm for 30 minutes. Put your chicken in the water. Your chicken may be thawed or frozen — does not matter. I almost always cook my chicken from a frozen state because I buy my chickens from a frozen state and don’t plan far enough ahead to let them thaw before cooking. Either way is fine. One thing to remember here though is to check if your chicken still has it’s organs, which are called giblets. They may be wrapped in paper or plastic or may be free-floating. If they’re free-floating, you can leave them alone (unless you want to cook with them — then take them out), but if they’re wrapped in paper or plastic, you’ll want to remove them. Since I cook my chicken from a frozen state, I leave the chicken in the hot water for approximately an hour and then return to it and pull out the bag of organs once the chicken is less of an ice block.

3. Cook the chicken. On high for approximately six hours, or on low for eight+ hours. Personally, I often put the chicken in the crock pot right before going to bed and leave it overnight to deal with in the morning. However you choose to cook it, you’ll know it’s done when an inserted meat thermometer reads 165F.

4. Remove the chicken. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is with a pair of tongs. It will be hot, and probably break apart as you’re moving it from crock pot to bowl. Allow the chicken to cool for at least 30 minutes.

5. Pull apart the chicken. Get out one or two additional bowls. You’ll need a bowl for the chicken you’ll keep, and a bowl for bones/skin/etc. I often use the bowl I cooled my chicken in as the bones/skin/etc. bowl, but when new to this, a second bowl is really helpful. A few moments of trepidation may pass as you’re deciding where to start, but just pick up a piece of chicken and do the thing. Usable meat in one bowl, bones/skin/etc. in the other. This is definitely the trickiest part of cooking a whole chicken, but will get infinitely easier the more times you do it.

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6. Make things with your chicken. Some of the things I often make are tacos, stir fry, casserole, pasta, salad, soup, and one of my favorites, which I’ll be sharing a recipe for next week, pot pies.

7. Speaking of soup, one of the awesome extra bonuses of cooking a whole chicken is that you also get a bunch of junk-free and salt-free stock that is so great to use in many other recipes. So, strain the liquid remaining in the crock pot. I do this over the sink into a large liquid measuring cup, but a large bowl would work too. Store in jars or another container and freeze until you’re ready to use it.

8. Additional pro-tip for reduced waste and extra savings: Keep the chicken bones/skin/etc. in a bag in the freezer along with scraps from carrots, celery, and onions that you use in cooking other meals. Make another batch of stock by adding the frozen chicken bones/skin/etc. and the frozen vegetables into your trusty crock pot filled with water. Cook on high for six-ish hours and strain.

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For more info, check out this post I used as a guide when cooking my first chicken.

hawaii volcanoes national park

One of my favorite spots I visited on the Big Island was Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. At the same time desolate and lush, it was a place unlike any other I’ve laid eyes on. Only a short walk separated tree-filled rain forests from vast rocky expanses. The air is thin and wispy and filled with steam; heavily-scented with earth and sulfur. The impact of volcanic activity is obvious all around the island — from its craggy beaches to the swirling prints of lava left on walking paths — but nowhere is it more apparent than in this home of the craters.

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baked sweet potatoes, spinach and mushroom filling

A month ago, I was sitting on a bus to Pearl Harbor and Tuesday sent me the following text message regarding the items in her produce delivery bin: “Mushrooms lemons limes sweet potatoes spinach and green pepper this week IDEAS?”

After verifying potato size, the first thought that came to mind was a baked sweet potato with vegetable filling. (Novel? No. Really tasty and inexpensive? Yes.) Sweet potatoes are a perfect vehicle for eating other foods — chili, spicy chickpea stew, caramelized onions with greens and a runny egg on top — and one that you can feel virtuous about. I assert to you that this recipe should be added to the above list of excellent sweet potato passengers; even my very picky mother and sister agree.

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ingredients:

  • 4 baking-sized sweet potatoes
  • 4 handfuls of spinach (kale, collards, chard, or other greens would work well, too)
  • 2 c. mushrooms (I used shitakes, but portabellas, buttons, or others would be equally delicious)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp butter (or olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, other oil that you like)
  • 2/3 c. heavy whipping cream (milk or the unflavored dairy-alternative of your choice would also work)
  • fresh ground salt and pepper, to taste

directions:

Heat oven to 400F and place sweet potatoes on a baking dish in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes. (Alternative if you don’t mind using a microwave and are trying to get dinner on the table quickly: Stab the potato several times with a fork and wrap in a wet cloth or paper towel. Microwave for 5 minutes.)

Heat butter in a sauté pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Dice onion and mince garlic; add to pan and cook until onions become translucent. Wash and slice mushrooms and add to pan. Allow mushrooms to soften for 10-15 minutes. Add spinach and cover. Stir intermittently every few minutes so the spinach wilts evenly. When the vegetables are fully combined and the spinach is wilted, add cream or milk. Add freshly ground salt and pepper to taste, and give several minutes for the mixture to simmer and thicken. If you used milk/a milk alternative, you might want to add a tbsp. of flour or cornstarch to help the liquid thicken.

Serve overtop baked sweet potato and dig in, or first garnish with one or a combination of these possibilities — the zest of a lemon, some grated parmesan, chopped and toasted pecans.

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When I offer recipe suggestions to Tuesday, I try to keep the ingredient list pretty flexible. No need to be running to the store on a weeknight to pick up a special kind of salt or an additional vegetable. One should feel liberated to swap out a disliked or unavailable ingredient to make the recipe work for the cook’s tastes. Feel free to ask about substitutions or omissions in a comment.

on being alone

20151209_133241Last summer, I decided I wanted to spend the fall in Hawaii working on a farm. I’d never thought much about Hawaii previous to this realization; I just knew I wanted to be somewhere warm where plants would be growing in December. It was surprisingly easy to find a farm and my travel plans were quickly set.

Very intentionally, I decided to take this trip alone. (Though even if I would have wanted a companion it would have been difficult to arrange — it turns out not so many people can/want to take a three month break from their life to move to a farm in Hawaii.) This was supposed to be an opportunity for me to be with myself. I wanted to spend my days in the garden. Reading and writing. Thinking. I wanted the space.

Upon arriving in Hawaii, I had a very sudden change of heart about this whole ‘solo’ thing. Though I thought I was prepared to be by myself, the level of alone-ness that greeted me was far greater than I’d anticipated. I was the only worker on the farm.I was living in a barn in the middle of a field with a horse as a next-door neighbor. The nearest town was more than ten miles away and my transportation was limited. I was very literally by myself 85 – 90% of the time and I needed to figure out how to deal with that.

It’s such a funny thing in life when you get exactly what you’ve asked for and then have no idea what to do with it. I’d thought at length about the free time this experience would grant me and how I’d spend it. I’d considered and re-considered the duration of my stay with great attention, determining three months would give me enough time to accomplish everything I wanted to. I had personally and solely planned and put together every bit of this trip, and now, on day two, I wanted out. I looked at one-way flights home for the next week. I used my phone’s limited data plan to search such entries  as, “i have three months off of work what do i do with it”; “how to fill time by yourself”; “what to do when you are lonely”. I then indulged in a large dose of pouting and wallowing and feeling generally very sorry for myself and went to bed before 8pm.

The next day, I decided that I had to get it together. I still wasn’t thrilled about this whole arrangement, but I’d yearned for this trip, so I was going to make something of it despite the unexpected circumstances. Naturally, I wrote a list. On that list was every single thing that I could think of that I might be able to do during a day. There was also a list for what I could do once the sun had gone down. The lists contained such items as: “go look at plants and locate them in an ID book and find out what they are and how they work”, “make a cup of tea and read”, “play with the dog”, “make jam”, and “work on crossword puzzles”. I wrote a note at the end that read, “The action is here.”

A few days passed. Being by myself continued to feel really hard. I looked again at tickets to fly home. I slept too frequently. I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed and felt an unfounded resonance at the thought of being trapped in the woods.

And then gradually — so gradually that I didn’t notice it happening — everything was ok. I was still alone, but I didn’t feel lonely. I would look forward to waking up early to watch the sunrise out of my east-facing window. I cooked nice meals for one. I journaled about my day instead of talking about it. I went on a lot of walks. The time passed, and I felt myself learning and expanding. The reasons I went on the trip in the first place were making themselves known.

Not every day was easy. There were still many many times when I wanted nothing more than to transport myself out of my often uncomfortable circumstances and into a bustling cafe for a coffee with a friend. But by day 90, as I was preparing to leave the farm at my pre-determined date, I felt a distinct sense of nostalgia creeping in; I knew before I’d even stepped foot off of the island that in so many ways, I’d dearly miss the small and solitary world I’d built for myself.

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