Wonton Soup and Kimchi to chase the sickness away…and I love nature!

Warning: the “recipe” for this post isn’t really a recipe and I don’t even have a picture of it. It’s just an excuse to say hello. I haven’t really cooked all month. Mark and I were in Charleston for a week, then he went to Boston for a week for work and came home deathly ill. He’s been home almost two weeks and still isn’t fully better, but at least he’s no longer cycling between being delirious and comatose. The only things he has wanted the whole time he’s been sick are wonton soup and kimchi. Frankly, I’m a little wonton soup- and kimchi-ed out but he’s STILL requesting it. Some nights I fix myself something different because I can’t eat wonton soup six nights a week. But here’s the recipe for making Mark a little happier when he’s sick; it’s actually extremely easy to do:

Wonton Soup
frozen vegan wontons (the Asian grocery stores have many varieties of vegetable wontons that are vegan-friendly, but read the labels)
as much water as you desire broth
vegan “chicken” bouillon – enough for the amount of water you are using
a couple splashes of rice vinegar
a few drops of chili sesame oil
maybe a little soy sauce
if you feel like it, miso

Bring the water to a boil and add the bouillon, vinegar, oil, and soy sauce if you are using it. If you are using miso, scoop some broth out before it comes to a boil and whisk the miso into it, then set it aside. Add the frozen wontons and cook until they are warmed through. If using, stir the miso into the soup. It’s also a great idea to add a lot of grated ginger to the broth, especially if you are serving the sick. Top with sliced scallions if you have them available. And I like to add sriracha to my bowl.

Serve with copious amounts of kimchi. Rather than making kimchi, I bought some. Mark was nothing but grateful to me during his illness, except for telling me I didn’t buy ENOUGH kimchi the first time. But that’s okay, kimchi is really good for fighting germs, so I just went and bought him more.

Yes, I realize this is a ridiculous “recipe” to give you after weeks of radio silence, but believe me, that’s what’s been going on culinary-wise in my house for the last two weeks.

Aside from taking care of Mark when necessary, I have been EMBRACING SPRING. I probably say this every April, but OH MY GOD I have NEVER been so glad to see spring. Last winter was cold, snowy, and STUPID. There is probably some truth to the fact that I’m more glad this year, even over other snowy years, because I feel like I just appreciate life in general more and more all the time. Not that I ever didn’t appreciate life, because I’ve led a happy life, but I don’t know; I seem to actually take the time to be thankful for things more than I did when I was younger. And to that end I’ve spent nearly every day of spring so far in a park, hiking and taking pictures. It feels weird to be sitting inside right now at 5:53, in fact, because I’m usually outside gallivanting around at this time. (I gave myself until 6 to write a post before going out so I’d better hurry up…).

I have felt neglectful of the blog, though. Not that I had any recipes to post, but I still felt as if I wasn’t doing something important to me. SO, I’m going to try to post much more often, BUT until the farmers market starts (next weekend, FINALLY!) and provides me cooking inspiration and/or until the weather turns less AWESOME than its been and I’m not pulled outside like a magnet every night after work until after dark, I’m probably just going to have pictures for you, and they probably won’t be food related. But so as not to be super annoying, I’ll just do one a day. Maybe two…we’ll see how good my self control is. So to start off, I present a few pictures of something that gives folks in this area super spring fever (other than the DC cherry blossoms): Virginia bluebells. The gorgeous usually-blue plant lives in marshy floodplains and is one of the first things to bloom every spring. They peak for a week or so and then they are gone, but while they are around, if you find a place where they are abundant, it’s like being in a wonderland. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I’ve been bluebell stalking in several places this year, some of them new to me. I’m letting myself post a few more than one picture today just because I’ve been gone a while (and also I can’t help myself when it comes to bluebells).

The pictures tonight are from two parks. The first ones are from Riverbend Park, which I just discovered a few weeks ago (when looking for prominent bluebell locations) and have since fallen in love with. Riverbend has everything: the Potomac River, the Potomac Heritage Trail, woodland trails, a meadow trail, BLUEBELLS, it’s free, AND you can hike into Great Falls National Park, which is lovely, but kinda pricey and the parking lot is often full on really nice days so it’s cool to “sneak” in for free. It’s only about 1.5 miles from Riverbend Visitor Center to Great Falls Visitor Center! I’ve been to Riverbend several times in the last few weeks and love it. And it’s especially great when the bluebells are blooming!

My favorite bluebell spot in previous years has always been Bull Run Regional Park, and even though Bull Run was a near fiasco when I went for my first visit of the year a couple of weeks ago (the trail was so muddy and slick I nearly fell about a hundred times, AND they are doing some water main work that disrupts the bluebell trail in two places and is ugly and constructiony), I have to say that when I returned for the bluebells, it won my heart again. Bull Run is THE best place to see bluebells. If you are local and go nowhere else to see them, go there. I might prefer other parks for other reasons, but for bluebells, Bull Run is #1. There are just ACRES of them. My tip: on the bluebell trail (from the entrance across from the water park), once you get to the water, head left off the trail. There is a very narrow path through the dense bluebells for a while (though it eventually stops), and if you keep going, you’ll find yourself completely surrounded by bluebells for as far as the eye can see. And you won’t run into everyone and their brother walking their dog and taking cellphone pictures while you are off the official path. After enjoying the blue solitude, head back to the trail and finish the loop – it’s all lovely (minus that construction), but there’s nothing like being totally immersed in a carpet of blue.

Okay, I NEED TO GO OUTSIDE now. I will be back, hopefully tomorrow, with another picture or two…although I can’t promise it won’t have bluebells in it.

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Broccoli “Cheese” Soup

I had some limp broccoli in the refrigerator so I decided to make soup out of it last night. Nice for a cold night, perhaps, but not too amazing, right? I didn’t think so until Mark started going absolutely nuts over it. We were watching TV together while eating and I was flattered when he told me not once but twice that the soup was excellent. But then he didn’t stop! He just kept raving about it. “I’m not even paying attention to the show, I’m too into this soup!” he proclaimed, which was surprising considering we were watching a program he ordinarily finds hilarious. Even after we’d finished dinner, he was still going on about it: “I want to eat that soup until I throw up!” At that point I had to tell him the compliments were heading into gross territory and starting to sound less complimentary. But considering how much Mark hates throwing up the fact that he’d be willing to risk it in order to eat more of the soup was saying something, I suppose. Additionally, he’s also usually very squeamish about cleaning up pots from “creamy” things, but he cheerfully washed the soup pot and said even that chore was worth the soup. The last thing he said to me before I went to sleep was, “I’M GOING TO THE KITCHEN FOR MORE OF THAT SOUP.”

He insisted I do a post on it. I was reluctant to do so because I’ve already done a very similar post, but that post is ancient anyway, so here’s exactly what I did last night that produced the soup Mark would puke for.

Broccoli “Cheese” Soup

1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups or so chopped potatoes
2 small or medium or 1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets (and stalks peeled and chopped)
6 cups of vegetable broth (I used Better Than Bouillon’s “No Chicken” flavor)
1/3 cup vegan gouda or other cheese from Artisan Vegan Cheese*
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt or seasoning salt, to taste

* I am sorry that I keep including cheeses from this book in my recent recipes. I’ve been avoiding posting anything I made using recipes from this book since I don’t want to post the cheese recipes themselves, but as you can see I haven’t had a ton of other ideas for posts lately! Plus Mark REALLY wanted me to post this recipe! If you don’t have the book, you can use your favorite vegan “cheese”, or use the recipe I posted in this post. You can also just omit the “cheese” entirely for a Cream of Broccoli soup.

Heat some oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large soup pot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and cook until onions are soft. Add the potatoes and broccoli and cook another minute or so, then add the broth. Bring to a boil then add the “cheese” and nutritional yeast, stirring until the “cheese” is melted and incorporated. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are soft, about half an hour. Remove from the heat and puree using an immersion blender, or, when cooled, in batches in a regular blender. Return to the heat, stir in the lemon juice (adjust the amount to taste) and salt if necessary. (I actually used an all-purpose season salt mix I made up instead of regular salt, but I made it a while ago and have no idea what’s in it! Salt, garlic and onion powders, and other seasonings.)

Serve with crusty bread and a salad. Neither of us even bothered with the bread last night. As Mark says, the soup looks very unassuming and boring, but according to him, the flavor is just spot-on.

I said last time I had more raptor picture, so let’s get to it. While we were in Charleston over the holidays, we went on the swamp garden tour at Magnolia Plantation. I found it very expensive, but then I saw a red shouldered hawk lording over the swamp and my frivolous financial gripes were forgotten. Plus he posed for us for a long time. Such a long time I’m sure my very patient mother-in-law was wishing that bird would fly away so Mark (with his beloved binoculars) and I would mosey along already.

He’s saying here: “I’m a red shoulder!” (He was actually quite fussy, which is typical of red shoulders. They have an attitude.)

He flew away, but just to another nearby tree.

He just kept posing! I love him!

We eventually managed to drag ourselves away and continue the walk.

Hawks are definitely not the only wildlife at the swamp. This is an anhinga:

Egret:

And the real star of the swamp: an alligator! They enjoy sunbathing together with turtles.

I love their creepy smiles.

Quite frankly, I’ve decided I want to live next to a swamp. There’s always something fascinating going on in or around them.

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Spicy Black-eyed Pea Soup

RENAE IS UPDATING HER BLOG. That’s right, folks! I’m here with an actual recipe and everything! I thought my life would be getting less hectic around this time, but I can’t even remember a day I was able to sleep in past 8 a.m.. Although half of our raccoons have been released (we actually have more than usual remaining for this late in the year), instead of using the extra time gained during my weekend for leisure, I’ve been training to work with raptors. In addition, it feels like I have 400 cats in the house right now (it’s really four). And I attended a weekend-long wildlife conference a couple of weeks ago. And I’ve been testing for Kittee’s upcoming Ethiopian cookbook. I’ve therefore actually been cooking a lot this month, but not many recipes I can share. My food photography skills, never very impressive, have taken a nosedive of late so I don’t even have any decent pictures of my delicious output, although I can assure you YOU WILL WANT THIS COOKBOOK. I was worried I wouldn’t have the time to commit to testing, but I’ve been making Kittee’s Ethiopian recipes for years and I just couldn’t resist the temptation to be a small part of this project because I knew it was going to be amazing. And it is!

I took a break from Ethiopian last night (although I had leftovers for lunch earlier!), and I did something I haven’t done in an embarrassingly long time: I baked bread!! I used this no-time bread recipe from The Kitchn. As a bread snob, I can’t say it’s the best bread I’ve ever baked, and I’m so bread-baker-snobby I hate bread recipes that are by volume instead of weight, but it’s better than no bread and better than commercial bread for sure. Then I needed to come up with something to serve with it. I’ve been stuffing my face with a ton of injera lately so when not eating Ethiopian, I’ve been making lighter meals, so soup seemed about right. I had some fresh black-eyed peas from the farmers market in the freezer and a large horde of jalapenos ready for the test recipes, so I whipped up this smoky, spicy black-eyed pea soup.

Spicy Black-eyed Pea Soup

1 medium onion, diced
1 small jalapeno, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp Old Bay
1/2 tsp smoked salt (or to taste, depending on how salty your broth is)
14-16 oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
8 cups veggie broth
2 bay leaves
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Put some oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the onion, jalapeno, celery, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic, and saute for several minutes until vegetables are soft. Add the paprika, Old Bay, and salt and cook another minute or two, then add the tomatoes, using them to deglaze the pot if necessary, and cook another minute or so. Add the black-eyed peas, veggie broth, bay leaves, and vinegar, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer over medium heat until the peas are soft, about an hour to an hour and a half. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Serve with crusty bread and lots of Tabasco!

I wish that since it’s been so long since I last posted that I had scads of pictures to share of all the exciting things I’ve been doing, but alas, although I’ve been doing some exciting things, photos are scarce. I never did share some of the pictures I took in Harpers Ferry, WV when I was furloughed, though, so I’ll take the opportunity to do so, as it’s a very lovely place and I had a really nice day. A lot of the acreage there is a national park, which was of course closed (it seems like EVERYTHING I wanted to do while furloughed was a national park or wildlife refuge…soooo annoying), but I don’t think I’ve actually gone to the park before as there is a lot to do otherwise. Actually, I’m not sure I wasn’t on park grounds at times, but there was no one to stop me, so IN YOUR FACE, CONGRESS.

We usually park near the train station. I love trains (and train travel), and if you are in the town for any length of time, you’ll probably see one. A freight train chugged on through about two minutes after I parked. Amtrak stops at this station as well. Here’s an infrared shot of the station:

Across some disused tracks you can see the quaint, historical town:

Nearby is an old boat landing; there’s a sign here telling the story of a daring Civil War-era escape.

One of the focal points of the town is the old church, which is up many, many 18th-century (read: small, uneven, and treacherous!) stone stairs.

If that church isn’t old enough for you, here are the remains of an even older one:

Keep going behind the church and you come to Jefferson Rock, named for yes, THE Thomas Jefferson, who took in the view from the rock while traveling through the area and stated “this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

The view is pretty awesome.

Continuing along you come to a graveyard.

All in all, a very lovely way to spend a day. The government reopened the very next day and I found myself quite suddenly back at work.

I’ve alluded periodically to the fact that in addition to raccoons, I’ve been starting to work with raptors. I won’t be able to share as many photos from that because we aren’t really allowed to take pictures of our rehab birds, but I’ll try to snag some pics of the education birds when I can. Working with raptors is WAY different than raccoons: they don’t take to being cuddled and they eat much grosser food. But I really enjoy it. I’ve always been in awe of these birds of prey (when I say raptors, I mean birds, not dinosaurs!) and having the opportunity to get so close to them and even handle them is amazing. I showed some friends and family some pictures of me holding some of the birds and most everyone commented, “you look really HAPPY!” Of course I was happy, I WAS HOLDING AN OWL! THIS owl:

Another of our ed birds, this is a long-eared owl, which is smaller than the barred owl above, but much larger than a screech owl.

One of the first things you learn about birds of prey is that red-shouldered hawks have a reputation for their attitude, which is just that: they have an attitude. Every single person that takes a red shoulder out of its cage imitates it by saying, “I’m a red shoulder!” in an assertive voice…usually while the red shoulder is asserting its red-shoulderness. This education bird was notable for not acting like a red shoulder – instead he sat quietly and enjoyed the crisp autumn air.

Here I am holding a broadwing hawk, which I know less about because we have fewer than we do red shoulders and red tails; in fact, I think this is the only broadwing we have at the moment. It took him a little while to settle down.

I got a question about the new cat, Heidi, a couple of weeks ago – I’ll have a cat update next time…there’s much to tell, good and bad. A teaser: Heidi is no longer the “new” cat!

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