Szechuan Soup

Wow…I made a draft of this post on May 12, and the only reason I didn’t publish it that night was I was too lazy to process the photo of the soup. Everything else was written. OK, in fairness to me, I have NOT been lazy; I’ve been very much the opposite of lazy. But I never found the time to deal with that one photo, which is ridiculous since I’ve processed hundreds of photos since then. If anything I’m even busier now than I was then, but I made the time to publish this now while tonight’s soup simmers. 🙂

So here’s my old post:
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I feel like on those random times I actually manage to post a recipe here lately that it’s always soup. There are a few reasons for that:

  • I love soup.
  • I’ve had to eat alone most nights this year and making a huge pot of soup is an excellent way for me to have a lovely dinner and then a week of lunches.
  • I love soup.
  • I eat dinner ridiculously late year-round but as I have this weird thing about not eating dinner when it’s light out, my dinner hour just gets absurd in the spring and summer, so I like eating something lighter like soup.
  • I love soup.
  • Also since it’s spring, I usually go for a hike after work and usually eat something to tide me over for a while before doing so, so when I get home for dinner, I don’t want a large meal.
  • I love soup and shouldn’t have to explain myself.

As I’ve mentioned, we are moving to California in a couple of months, and it’s finally starting to feel real. I’ve started cleaning out the house of things that won’t move with us so I can donate them. I also need to start cleaning out the cupboards so I don’t have to either throw away food or move it across the country. Tonight’s soup used up all kinds of things from the fridge and the cupboard! Cans of baby corn and young jackfruit I don’t remember buying, the remainder of a cabbage that needed to be used up, a random hot pepper I found, a zucchini that was on its last legs, the rest of an open jar of tomato sauce. And bonus: it tastes awesome! And very spicy, just the way I like it!

Szechuan Soup

1 onion, cut into half-moons, then cut into quarter-moons
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1-2″ of garlic, peeled and grated
8 cups vegan “chicken” broth
12 oz tomato sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1/2 cup soy curls
1 small can young jackfruit in brine, drained and shredded
1/4 cabbage (green, Napa, or Savoy are all fine), cored and chopped
1 cup baby corn, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 medium orange hot pepper, sliced
Szechuan pepper, to taste

Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven, then add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, then add the broth, tomato sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then add the soy curls, jackfruit, baby corn, zucchini, and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until everything is cooked. Add the Szechuan pepper to taste.

I am nearly finished the Virginia Master Naturalist training. We had our last field trip this Saturday at Huntley Meadows; we learned about birds on the first leg and herps on the second. We saw a lot of cool stuff, including this green heron:

And LOTS of frogs; this is a green frog:

Also lots of turtles. This is a totally adorable baby snapping turtle, probably born in September of last year. He’s smaller than a silver dollar and SUPER CUTE.

Here’s a different baby snapping turtle with some chapstick as a size reference:

And here’s a sign of spring: red-winged blackbirds mating:

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Back to the present: I just got back from California; if you want to see some pictures from there, tune into blog.renae.org; I’ll be adding a couple every day this week.

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Black-eyed Pea and Barley Soup

I’m not going to be all conventional and apologize for not posting. LIFE IS BUSY. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. Anyway, here is a soup I’ve been making all year that I never get tired of. I’ve been making huge pots of it even when Mark is out of town (I’ve seen very little of him this year, sadly) because like most soups, it just gets better and better sitting in the fridge all week, and it’s pretty versatile, it’s hearty enough to be an entire meal, and I’m perfectly happy having it for lunch every day of the week. Which is especially good when Mark’s not around because I don’t always get around to making myself some fancy dinner, which means I don’t always have leftovers, and leftovers are what I have for lunch 95% of the time, so it’s been important to have a backup plan for lunch.

Another great thing about this soup is you can make it as my recipe states and it’s delicious as is, but then you can spice it up at the table, so if you have some diners that don’t like spice, they don’t need to add anything, while heat-lovers can add as much Tabasco and/or fresh-sliced jalapenos – both of which are great additions – as they like. Like almost every food I eat, I prefer it with fresh lemon juice squeezed over it, but again, you can control how much by doing that at the table. It’s also good with tomatoes in it: one thing you can do is make it as is and eat it like that a day or two, then add a can of diced tomatoes to it and serve a more tomatoey version of it the next day to change things up. You can also add greens, or maybe okra to make it gumbo-y – as I said, it’s very simple and therefore versatile.

And ANOTHER great thing about it is you don’t need to pre-soak black-eyed peas, so no need to plan ahead with this soup like you do most dried beans. It’s ready to eat in just over an hour, very little of which is hands-on time. It would also freeze well, although I’ve never done so.

Black-eyed Pea and Barley Soup
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas
3/4 cup pearled barley
1/3 cup bulgur
10 cups vegan “chicken” broth
2 packets Goya ham flavor concentrate (it’s vegan, but it bothers you, sub some liquid smoke)
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp thyme

Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then saute the onions, carrots, and celery until the onions begin to brown. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two. If necessary, deglaze the pot using white wine or some of the broth. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, then turn the heat back and simmer for an hour or until the beans and barley are soft. Remove the bay leaves.

In other news, sigh. I don’t even know where to start. Life is great, but there is a LOT of it! I’ve been taking pictures, of course, but instead of bombarding you yet again with a ton of photos, how about I direct you to my new portfolio site! Yes, after being hassled for years by Mark to create a portfolio, I finally did it. You can see it at renae.org. (Yes, between ieatfood.net and renae.org, I am very proud of my domain-buying skills 🙂 ). I also set up a photo blog that’s linked to from the portfolio; feel free to follow it if you miss me because I tend to do much shorter posts and therefore am there a little more frequently, though obviously I’ll be posting pictures and not recipes. Not that I seem to post many recipes here lately…

In addition to raccoons …

… and raptors …

… I’m going through the Virginia Master Naturalist program, which is great, but it’s yet another thing taking up my time. AND IT’S FINALLY SPRING!!! Which means I HAVE TO GO OUTSIDE ALL THE TIME. Especially right now because the bluebells are blooming!! I’ve got a few pics of them on the photo blog, but here I am reveling in their beauty Sunday morning:

I’m STILL keeping up with my Photo365 “one year of portraits” project – almost six months in! – hence the photo above. And others like this one in Shenandoah National Park last weekend:

And to hell with it, I’m just going to be ridiculously vain and share this picture I took of myself because I HATE pictures of myself, or rather I used to, so I have a hard time believing I can look so non-terrible in a photo. I must be an awesome photographer – I wish I actually looked like this picture, haha. But my self-indulgent Photo365 project has at least made me far more comfortable in front of the camera than I used to be!

That’s it for today. Farmers’ market season is rapidly approaching so hopefully I will be inspired to make a few more food posts in the upcoming weeks, although: LIFE. Baby raccoons, raptor chicks, naturalist projects and field trips, MOVING, UGH UGH UGH! I do intend to do my “vegan on safari” post here soonish, in tandem with a “gear to take on safari” post on the photo blog, so I’ll hopefully be back in this space soon!

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Spicy Bolita Bean Soup

Mark has been working in San Francisco and I’ve been having to eat dinner alone most nights. My Photo365 portrait project photo from the other night was this demonstration of what that’s like:

It’s a staged photo, which the discerning viewer can determine based on the fact that I didn’t bother pouring a glass of wine and I always have wine with dinner. But, with the addition of a glass of wine, that’s pretty much what it looks like. Perhaps I shouldn’t say I eat dinner alone, as I generally have company of a feline nature, but they aren’t a great substitute for Mark, who very rarely parades back and forth between my plate and my face while I’m trying to eat.

I do have a recipe for you though! I made this soup last week and it was good. It also required very minimal effort and the leftovers provided a very warming lunch for several days. I have a rather large collection of dry beans that I store and display in vintage mason jars, so sometimes inspiration for dinner comes in the form of staring at dozens of blue jars and picking one at random. I used bolita beans in this soup and they were quite good. Pinto beans are a common substitute for bolita beans, and I love pinto beans, but I think kidney beans would also have been excellent here. I also think next time I will experiment with using bulgur instead of the soyrizo, to get rid of the packaged food, and adjusting the spices accordingly.

Very prepared people will soak their beans – at least using the “quick soak” method – before cooking them, however, I am not always very prepared. I pressure cooked my beans for 23 minutes without soaking and they came out perfect. Sometimes if you don’t soak them before cooking, beans will end up kind of wrinkly, but these looked nice.

Spicy Bolita Bean Soup

1 small to medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 links soyrizo, crumbled or grated
1 cup bolita beans, cooked (or canned)
1-2 chiles en adobo, minced + some of the sauce, to taste
2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
6 cups veggie broth (I used vegan “chicken” broth)
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 cup frozen corn (fresh would be good too)
splash of apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

Heat some oil in a soup pot and saute the onions, celery, and carrot until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes. Add the crumbled soyrizo and cook another few minutes, then add the beans, chiles en adobo, tomato paste, broth, cumin, and oregano. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, then add the corn and simmer another 5 minutes. Splash some vinegar in to brighten it up a bit and, if necessary, add salt to taste. Serve with lime wedges.

So, yeah, about that photo project: I can’t believe I’m still keeping up with it! I never thought I’d be able to take this many pictures of myself, especially since I really hate the way I look in photos. But it’s been a very useful project: I’ve gotten better at editing in Lightroom, I’m forced to use my camera every day, and it’s actually kind of neat having a daily record of my life. I’ve been captioning the pictures with a small description of how the photo fit into my day. I’ve taken my share of quickie pictures standing in front of my bookshelf or in the back yard, just to get an entry out of the way for the day, but sometimes I stage goofy illustrations of my life like the one above. I use the cats as props WAY less often than I assumed I would, but of course they do make appearances…

Yesterday, the Mez and me.

Last week; on the way home from work that day I was thinking that I was drawing a total blank on ideas for that day’s portrait, then when Torticia pounced me as I walked in the door, I realized that was my picture. She stayed perched there the whole time I adjusted the tripod and set up the camera.

I do struggle for self-portrait ideas, especially when I can’t get outside, but the project has given me something to do that sort of keeps me from getting depressed about winter. Although time seems to fly on one hand and I can’t believe it’s the middle of February already, on the other hand, I’m just so tired of short, cold days. You know those bumper stickers that say, “I’d rather be fishing” or something like that? I was walking through my office today and I just suddenly wanted to slap a sticker on my forehead that said, “I’d rather be hiking”. I was just really annoyed I wasn’t on a trail somewhere. I really think I’ve become addicted to going to parks; I get all out of sorts if I can’t get out for at least a short hike AT LEAST once a week.

Between missing Mark and not getting to a park last weekend, I’m not in the best of spirits today. I can’t wait for the days to be long enough that I can hit a trail after work! The good news is we are getting there; the days are getting noticeably longer. I sometimes wake up before sunrise and hit a park before I go to work, which is a lovely way to start the day if I can rouse myself. And we’ve had a few unseasonably warm days here and there; if I can, I’ll sometimes go into work super-early on days I know are going to be extra lovely, and I’ll skip out early. One afternoon last week I went to the wildlife refuge and saw some eagles. This one is guarding his or her nest from a few hundred feet away. I didn’t see his or her mate, although often you’ll see them sitting side by side watching their nest. Rumor has it there are two eggs in the nest, so I’m trying to make it my business to get to the refuge as often as I can to stalk the parents before the US Fish & Wildlife closes a portion of the trail down again to protect the nest from people like me.

After helping raccoons and raptors on the weekends, I almost always hit up a park unless the weather is really bad. The other weekend I went to one of my favorite parks, Great Falls. I raged a little bit about the proposed price hike from $5 to the completely absurd $15 (seriously, WTF, NPS???) and then I bought an America the Beautiful pass which gets me entry to all national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges in the country for a year. Considering how frequently I visit national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges it doesn’t make sense for me NOT to have one. So I’ll be going to Great Falls frequently while I still live in Virginia even if they do triple the entrance fee.

If you don’t have an annual pass and the entrance fee at Great Falls enrages you, just go to Riverbend Regional Park, which is free, and hike into Great Falls on the Potomac Heritage Trail. It’s barely over a mile from visitor center to visitor center and it’s a lovely walk. Take your binoculars or super-telephoto lens because you can see the Conn Island eagle nest on the way. (This photo is unrelated to the Conn Island eagle nest, although I COULD dig up some photos of it if I were feeling ambitious.)

The eponymous great falls:

So that’s my update for now, and some soup. Coming soon: my long-awaited post on safari life for vegans and photographers.

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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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Getting rid of this cold: Thai “Chicken” Noodle Soup

I’m still trying to kick the cold I mentioned in my last post, but I did have the energy to make some illness-defeating soup last night: Thai “chicken” noodle.

Thai “Chicken” Noodle Soup
Adapted from http://thaifood.about.com/od/thaisnacks/r/chickenoodlesou.htm

12 oz flat rice noodles (wide or thin, your choice)
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
8 cups vegan “chicken” broth
1 thumb-length hunk of ginger, grated
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 huge carrot, sliced on the diagonal
1-2 stalks celery, sliced on the diagonal
1-2 chilies, sliced on the diagonal (depending on the heat level of the chili and how hot you want your soup)
1 stalk lemongrass, minced
2 bay leaves (use a few kaffir lime leaves instead if you have them)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups vegan “chicken” strips or “breasts”, pan-fried and chopped (honestly, this is really optional if you aren’t a fan of mock meats)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Put the rice noodles in a large pot and cover with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes (or longer), then bring water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, remove it from the heat and let the noodles sit until they are soft (this will only take a few minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water to stop them from cooking. Set aside.

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven and add the shallots and garlic. Cook until beginning to brown. Add the broth, ginger, lime juice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. If you have a large tea strainer that closes, put the bay leaves and lemongrass in it and put it in the pot. (If you don’t have a tea strainer, add the lemongrass with the shallots and the bay leaves with the broth, remembering to remove the bay leaves later. I use the tea strainer because lemongrass never seems to get entirely soft for me and I don’t like eating hard bits of it in soup.) Bring everything to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, and chilies and continue to simmer until the carrots and celery are soft.

Add the coconut milk, chopped “chicken”, and cilantro and simmer gently for another few minutes.

To serve, put a heap of rice noodles in a bowl and ladle broth over them. I sprinkled mine with thinly sliced scallions and had some sriracha and lime wedges nearby.

This was an interesting change of pace and certainly had all the ingredients I look for in a make-me-feel-better meal (garlic, ginger, chilies, broth), although pho is my all-time favorite. I’d have made it tonight if I hadn’t been out of star anise!

Pictures of animals, you say? Here is a great blue heron. I see at least one of them every time I’m out. It’s weird.

Tree swallow.

Not an animal, but named for one: cattails.

And to wrap things up, a raccoon trying to steal cookies, probably successfully.

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Tangy Cauliflower Soup

I have been on a huge yogurt kick for a while now. I make 2 1/2 quarts at a time, using my dehydrator to incubate it, which provides me breakfasts for more than a week plus extra for other applications. It’s been a while since I did that original yogurt post; perhaps I should do an updated one with my current tips and tricks. Anyway, since I’m pretty much always swimming in yogurt these days, I’m always thinking of things to do with it other than scarfing it down with Grape Nuts, berries, and coconut nectar every morning.

Wide-mouth canning jars are perfect for making yogurt.

I recently bought some commercial yogurt to refresh my cultures and was appalled by how nasty it was: runny, sweet, and so yukky that I gave all but the two tablespoons I needed to the raccoons (who were not nearly as picky as me about it). I should have scooped some out into a bowl for this picture so you can see how thick it is, but trust me, it’s thick.

Anyway, in addition to a ton of delicious yogurt, I had a head of cauliflower and an outside temperature of EIGHT DEGREES last night. Man, I HATE winter. I feel brittle. My feet actually hurt all day, indoors, because they are so cold they feel like they are going to break into pieces. I’ve been talking to the wonderful Smucky and cursing the cold while he at the very same time complains of the heat in Sydney. It’s a stupid 8 degrees here and it’s 114 there! I’d rather have his problem, BUT at least I love soup, so here’s what I made for dinner last night.

Tangy Cauliflower Soup

1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped (if I don’t have this, I’ll often just sprinkle some celery seed in)
1 medium potato, chopped
1 head cauliflower, chopped (doesn’t need to be pretty)
veggie broth to just cover veggies – about 4-5 cups
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup plain nondairy yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the onions, carrot, and celery and cook until the onions are beginning to brown. Add the cauliflower and potato, then cover them with the veggie broth and add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the cauliflower is completely soft, about half an hour. Remove from the heat, remove bay leaves, and stir in the yogurt, then puree until silky using an immersion blender, or by cooling and then blending in batches in a regular blender. Season with salt and pepper, then add the lemon juice, more or less to suit your tastes.

Serve with crusty bread, crackers, or croutons. That’s a whole wheat miche, which is a sourdough bread and was nearly as tangy as the soup!

I don’t have much wildlife news to report. I don’t see too much of the raccoons this time of year because they’re older and therefore nocturnal, although we do have two young enough to greet me most mornings. No recent pictures of our juvies, but I did notice a wild (probably earlier-released) adult peeping at me from a nest box the other morning:

My bird feeding station is proving very popular this winter. My favorite bird right now is the red-bellied woodpecker. These pictures are a couple months old but he’s still around. (I say “he” but we really have several.)

I haven’t seen the mangy fox for a while, which is a bad sign. I’ve stopped putting chicken out for him, but I still have interlopers showing up looking for handouts. The interesting thing is they mostly seem to get along. This video shows an opossum, raccoon, and fox in my yard at the same time.

And here is some footage of my favorite skunk, Super H, who is named after my favorite Korean grocery store and the “H” on his back.

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Tofu Gumbo

When given the choice between a vegetable in its “normal” color or the same vegetable in a strange color, I’ll almost always go for the strange color. And I love it when the farmers market has something I’ve never seen before. Hence, I had a quart of red okra in the refrigerator all week that I needed to deal with last night.

I think I like it even better than green okra! It’s a beautiful color.

Okra is neat.

Obviously I had to make gumbo, but making a nice, dark roux for gumbo can be time-consuming, and I didn’t have any vegan sausage prepared, and moreover it was late and we were hungry. I decided that instead of trying to be remotely traditional, I was going to mix random things – I was so incredibly busy this week I didn’t even have time to cook and there was a lot of vegetables from last weekend’s market I had to get rid of – in a pot, season it with Creole seasoning, and call it gumbo. If you want a more traditional gumbo, run to the always amazing Kittee – I’ve made her gumbos before and she much more an authority than me. But if you are lazy and in the mood for something gumbo-ISH, this wasn’t half bad.

I was going to use tempeh as my protein, but there was so much going into this gumbo that I was worried Mark, who only likes tempeh in small doses, would complain about (squash, okra) that I decided to switch to tofu to make it more inviting for him. Surprisingly, he was completely fine with the okra and didn’t even seem to notice the squash, so maybe I could have gotten away with the tempeh, but I do think he liked it a lot more this way than he would have otherwise.

Tofu Gumbo

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups vegan broth (I used “beef” bouillon)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 small squash, chopped
small handful French beans, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped okra
1 lb extra-firm tofu, chopped
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp liquid smoke
as much Creole seasoning as you can stand before it gets too salty (I used Tony Chachere’s)
Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste

I should have taken a picture of my roux, but I wasn’t planning to make a post when I started cooking. I actually got a somewhat decent color faster than I thought, but in the interest of time, I decided to only go as dark as I had time to while prepping everything else. So I got a big cast iron Dutch oven out, put it over medium heat, poured in the oil, then with a wooden spoon, stirred in the flour. Then I kept stirring as frequently as I could while prepping everything else. It was definitely a lazy person’s roux, and a bit dangerous (it’s easy to burn if you don’t stir constantly), but it turned out surprisingly well.

While working on the roux, I chopped all the vegetables. In a smaller cast iron pot, I sauteed the onions, celery, and bell pepper until they were soft. When everything was chopped and the “holy trinity” was soft, I slowly and carefully added the broth to the roux (it will immediately bubble up) and stirred until there were no lumps. Then I added all the other ingredients except the Tabasco and let it simmer until everything was cooked through. Finally, I adjusted the saltiness (you can add regular salt if it needs some but you don’t want to over-Tony Chachere it) and added a little Tabasco, saving the rest for individual servings.

Just after adding all the ingredients:

I served it over rice (which has soaked up all the broth in this picture, it’s really a little soupier than it looks).

We have a lot of leftovers, but it keeps well and makes a nice lunch.

I’ve been trying to attract hummingbirds to our yard. We have a ton of birds, many of them very beautiful, such as cardinals, blue jays, and woodpeckers:

And this guy:

But I also wanted hummingbirds. So I’ve been putting nectar out all summer. I saw a single hummingbird at the feeder early on, but then a long period of nothing. Part of the problem was it was so hot this summer that I had to change the nectar about every other day or it would be gross, but it was hard to work up the motivation to keep making nectar, dragging a stool outside to get the feeder down, spilling sticky, bug-filled nectar on myself, and replacing the freshly cleaned and filled feeder when I was never rewarded with hummingbirds. But over the last couple of weeks, possibly because it’s been a little cooler (like in the upper 80s/lower 90s instead of 100+) so I’ve been more regular about replacing the nectar, I’ve started seeing hummingbirds frequently. Today there was a constant parade of them! Of course I wanted to photograph them, but this proved harder than I’d hoped. First there was the fumbling around with the camera and tripod every time, until I gave up and just left the tripod and camera set up, lined up for the shot and even pre-focused. Then the hummingbirds started doing “fly-bys”: they’d fly by the feeder – sometimes when I already had my face behind the camera, ready for the shot! – but then see there were too many other birds there (our bird feeding station is very heavily used) and keep on flying instead of stopping for a drink. I guess I should buy a separate pole for their feeder so they can have some privacy but I am on a major spending ban following a couple weeks (or lifetime?) of excessive spending.

Anyway, I FINALLY got some pictures, just before the sun went down, but it was already really too dark and the pictures are crap. But I’m excited nonetheless because Mark told me I couldn’t get hummingbirds, and he didn’t believe me when I told him a week ago that I HAD gotten them…until he saw one with his own eyes for the first time today. I don’t know why he doubted me because I can attract any animal I want. Raccoons appear out of nowhere wherever I am, and our (suburban!) yard is a haven for raccoons, skunks, foxes, turtles, snakes, deer, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, and opossums. Okay, enough suspense. Here are my crappy pictures of hummingbirds! I’m sure I’ll get better ones soon.

This is actually the sharpest picture I got, which is a shame because he’s half hidden.

Look at that beak!

Leaning in for a drink:

Posing:

Leaving!

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Rasam from Cooking at Home with Pedatha

I’m pretty sure I’ve raved about Cooking at Home with Pedatha before. I can’t share today’s recipe because it was a faithful following of the rasam recipe in that book, but I do want to urge you to consider buying this book if you are at all interested in Indian food. Although it’s very pretty (there are pictures of all the dishes, and even a picture glossary), there are a few factors that would ordinarily prevent it from being one of my favorite cookbooks: it’s quite short, it calls for some ingredients that I have difficulty obtaining (and I live in an extremely ethnic food-friendly area), and the authors use unfamiliar names for even those ingredients I can get, requiring me to have to translate many of the recipes. Several of the recipes call for other recipes, increasing production time.

But don’t let those things scare you away! Where this book excels, other than its inherent charm (it’s a loving tribute to a grandmother compiled by two family members), is the podis and all the dishes that call for them. A podi is a “powder”, or spice combination, usually calling for various whole spices to be roasted then ground together, which is then used to flavor dals, rice, and soups. Every podi-related dish I have made from this book has been magical. When I commented above that some recipes call for other recipes, I was referring mostly to the use of these podis. It’s unfair, however, to ding the book for this because the podi recipes make about a cup and the recipes calling for it use about a tablespoon each, so once you make a podi, you won’t have to go through that process the next several times you make the recipe. And believe me, you’ll want to make these recipes again and again.

Friday night I made up a batch of the rasam podi and made Pedatha’s rasam. Rasam is one of my favorite soups. I did a post on it a long time ago, and I posted a picture of some homemade rasam a co-worker sent me home with when once I proclaimed my love of it. Pedatha’s rasam is, of course, AWESOME. Mark and I ate the entire batch in one sitting. And the great thing is, now that I have the podi prepared, I can whip some more up from some late summer tomatoes in mere minutes!

In other food-related news, I bought a dehydrator last week and am currently going crazy dehydrating everything possible. I’ve literally had the dehydrator going non-stop since it arrived. Skeptical Mark has pointed out that I tend to enthusiastically start projects and then quickly lose interest in them and he seems to think dehydrating will be another such fad. I don’t think so. Dehydrating is so easy that I don’t think it will take up much time I could later decide I’d rather be spending doing other things. Really the only time investment is chopping and I enjoy chopping. And buying dehydrated fruits and vegetables in incredibly expensive, so I’m very excited about the money I’ll save, for example on my trail mix. Plus, I can use the dehydrator for making tempeh and yogurt, both of which I’ve been meaning to get back into doing and now I have a great reason. I can also raise dough in it. I’ve never had a problem raising dough in the house, but if I want to time it a bit more precisely, the dehydrator’s temperature regulation will allow that. Also, although there are a couple of months left before I’ll need to come to terms with it, at some point the farmers market is going to close for the season and I’m going to freak out. So I’ve been trying to capture an essence of it by dehydrating what I can so I can use it over the winter.

Here’s what I’ve dried so far: tomatoes (there a another huge batch of tomatoes nearly ready to leave the dehydrator tonight), bananas, strawberries, (I have another quart and two huge bunches of bananas to get to this week), onion powder, carrots, and bell peppers. The latter two I may combine along with some potatoes, onions, and celery into a “soup mix”. When I’m desperate for a lunch to take into work, I’ll sometimes whip up a super-quick soup from a can of tomatoes, some bouillon, some dehydrated veggies, and orzo. I used some of my dried tomatoes on pizza last night and they were quite good.

I have also dried some garlic and am drying a whole bunch more right now, which I’ll grind into garlic powder. The dehydrator will also save me money at my notorious Penzeys binges! I’m also planning to make tofu jerky as a treat for Mark. I’ve made it before but it’s been a long time – anyone have a favorite tofu jerky recipe? What are your other favorite things to dehydrate? Any other creative uses for the dehydrator?

Not much else food-related has been going on. I’ve been super busy lately; annoyingly so. I can’t even remember what I’ve been cooking, I’ve been so busy. Lots of stuff involving farmers market fare, but I guess nothing earth-shattering enough that I’ve felt compelled to make a post, or maybe I just haven’t had time. I’m enjoying blackberry season; my current favorite snack is Daiya jack on crackers topped with blackberry:

As for animal news, I transported a baby chimney swift the other day and he was by far the cutest baby bird I’ve ever seen. This is a bad picture, but it’s all I have:

Today as I pulled into the raccoon sanctuary, there was a family of deer standing about five feet from my parking spot, so I wasn’t able to drive down the driveway. Instead I slowly got out of my car and started snapping pictures.

They eventually got tired of that and ran off, so I was able to park. Today was a big day for the last six raccoons in the nursery, who graduated to the big outdoor enclosures! I coined a new saying to replace one I hate, “curiosity killed the cat”: “curiosity captured the raccoon”. Unfortunately, out of context it sounds like a saying I would dislike just as much as the original because in general capturing raccoons is a bad thing. But raccoons who want to leave their baby cages in the nursery and move to their big-boy (and girl) enclosures outside need to be temporarily captured in a carrier in order to be transported. Many of you with cats may be familiar with the difficulty of putting an unwilling cat into a carrier. It CAN be the same, possibly even worse due to their super-dexterous fingers and toes, with raccoons, however, we were lucky with these six. We put some pork rinds (a raccoon favorite) in some carriers and simply waited for their curiosity to prevail and soon enough all six had climbed into a carrier and were briskly locked in and carried out to their new home. Raccoons are so curious we probably didn’t even need the pork rind incentive, but it sure didn’t hurt. I was so into this task I forgot to take pictures, but here is a picture from last week that I love, which incidentally is of a raccoon eating a pork rind…and smiling about it!

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