Soul-Warming Leek and White Bean Soup with Cardamom

On a damp, foggy late fall day there are few things more soul-warming than nestling up to a steaming bowl of homemade soup. The ritual of chopping, sautéing, stirring, and ladling engages your hands and mind. The comforting goodness that results lifts your spirits as you revel in the small accomplishment of feeding yourself and your loved ones from a communal pot. Out of nowhere, you realize the birds outside your window are singing despite the darkness and drear.

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Unfortunate events in our lives can manifest themselves as emotional fog, casting gloom over what might have otherwise been a day of gracious, open-eyed life-living. When something happens to us, when another person wrongs us or hurts us or lets us down, the negative energy can permeate our very fibers. It takes courage and will to rise above the fog, to let the sun burn the clouds away and see the world as it really is: miraculous. And we can’t always do that on our own.

I am one of many students at my university that has recently been wronged: we’ve had money and personal belongings stolen from us, unexpectedly and in the midst of impending exams and holidays – a time when we could all use a big hug rather than a metaphorical punch in the gut. These acts hurt and enrage us and make us feel helpless. This experience made me less apt to trust others and weakened my faith in the unspoken bonds I share with all the hard-working, diverse women that surround me in our beautiful little school.

But then there are the people that burn away the fog, that fortify our belief in humanity, that help shift our outlook back to optimism and love.  Thank you to you. You are my sun today. I am writing this because you changed my thought patterns, something I could not have done alone. This soup is for you, too.

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Soul-Warming Leek and White Bean Soup with Cardamom

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. butter

1 very large or 2-3 medium leeks, white parts only, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

¼ tsp cardamom

4 medium carrots, sliced into ¼” thick coins

1 large potato, any variety, diced into ½” chunks

6 cups stock of choice (or as I did, 4 cups vegetable stock + 2 cups water)

1 29-oz can white (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

~6 leaves dinosaur kale, coarsely torn

freshly cracked black pepper and salt to taste

olive oil for serving

Method:

1. In a 4-quart or larger pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  Add leeks and sauté until just softened, but not brown.  Add garlic and cardamom and sauté a minute more.

2. To the pot o’ alliums (leeks and garlic), add carrot coins and potato chunks.  Pour in your stock and turn heat to medium-high, bringing liquid to a boil then reducing to a simmer.  Add white beans, rosemary sprig and Parmesan rind, if using.

3.  Continue simmering soup until carrots and potatoes tender, adding more liquid as needed for desired consistency.

4.  Turn heat to low.  Stir torn kale leaves into soup and cover, cooking just until kale is bright green, about 3 minutes.

5.  Remove soup from heat; allow it to cool slightly.  Puree soup with standard or immersion blender until your preferred texture is reached.  I liked it mostly smooth, allowing just a few hearty chunks of potato and flecks of kale to prevail.

6.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil plus salt and pepper to the soup-eater’s liking.

7. Let the steam from your bowl rise up and give you a mini-facial; listen for birds.

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Tomatoes and Marriage

The longer you wait to start back up on a project you’ve left unfinished, the more daunting it becomes.  So it had gone for this little space of mine, for nearly five months.  But I have excuses, please sir!  I was planning a wedding, getting married(!), going on a honeymoon, and starting a new degree at a new school all within that time period.  Whew!  While it actually would have been a great time to blog – I did write a lot, in my journal almost every night leading up to the wedding – I had neither the time nor the focus to post what I was cooking and eating this summer.  In this case it was a lot of scrambled eggs, tuna melts, CSA veggies, and spaghetti.  Easy, thoughtless stuff so I could focus on far weightier things like first dance songs (“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young), menu-planning, and writing my vows.

Here I am though, hooray.  I am married to my soulmate.  I feel more whole, stronger, ready for life to continue, not that it stopped, but it was consumed there for a while.

I’ve been reading blogs a plenty, new finds and old favorites, and being inspired, pushed and tugged by them back into my own.  My fellow classmates also inspire and uplift me.  They’re smart, creative, and as nutrition and food-obsessed as I am.  I’m at Mount Mary College studying to become a Registered Dietitian. I love to say that, and so far, I love the program.  More on that in the future.

For now I’ll post some photos of things I captured this summer with the intention of posting them here.  And perhaps later this week, I’ll share the soup I made today.  🙂  Cheers!

ImageTuna Salad with greens from our front porch garden

ImageOne of the best meals of our honeymoon: Manhattan Fish Platter from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, MI

ImageCSA Tomatoes, about to be slow-roasted

ImageSummer, preserved in the taste of a just-picked tomato

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And since it’s been so long since I’ve shared anything on here at all, the poem I wrote for my husband on our wedding day:

Wedding Season

Whatever souls are made of – his and mine are the same.

     – Emily Bronte

Beneath the blue

I see: graceful fleets

of possibilities

& memories

migrating towards and away.

this is where we stand:

steeped in love

& floating in bathwater air,

wading through summer’s

density – living thick and biding

our blessed time.

To flourish: exist in abundance

Measuring out days

in watering cans full &

weeks in boxes

of heirloom tomatoes,

Japanese eggplant,

& rainbow chard,

months passing as quickly

as moon phases –

so let’s take a stroll, interlace

your basil scented fingers with mine

and when we kiss,

we’ll feel our creamy avocado souls

collide.

strawberry jam forever

Oh sweet sweetness.

I have just arrived home from an excursion, an adventure, an undertaking in jam making.  I’m a bath-robed loveseat potato, hunkering down to write after having a long shower and a much needed Lakefront Summer Weiss.  I want to get this out before I forget all the wonderful things that happened today.

So… Brandon and I decided it would be cool to give out jars of homemade jam as favors to our wedding guests this summer.  My ever-optimistic mom was all on board, so she contacted her friend, jam-making maven and saint of strawberries, Sherry.  Truth be told this project would have never arose from the “cute idea” ether if it weren’t for this lady.

Let me tell you about Sherry.  Before today I’d never met her.  We had merely exchanged a few emails, through my mom, concerning quantity/brands of pectin – but I had insta-good vibes from the smiley-faced sunshine that accompanied her e-signature.

And now I know it, I am blessed to know Sherry.  She not only put this whole jammy affair together, from the picking of the fruit to the canning of the jam, but also opened her home to us, patiently taught us all the steps of the process, prepared us a comforting lunch, and gave me a beautiful apron she sewed herself(!).  I am overwhelmed by her kindness, and both her and my mom’s ardent determination in getting this thing done.

I am not yet proficient at getting the ball rolling on mondo projects.  I sometimes find them intimidating and tiring to even think about.  Sherry was the ball roller; Brandon and I were the marbles. Rolling commenced.  And before we knew it there were 144 garnet-colored quarter-pint jars of strawberry jam in the trunk of our car.

Yesterday was my birthday – but this year there was no gin-filled evening spent traipsing the streets of Milwaukee.  We turned in pre-midnight knowing we were expected out in the strawberry fields at 8 am.

Today was the first you-pick-‘em weekend for strawberries at Barthel Fruit Farm and we were there.  With the help of Sherry, my mom, her boyfriend John and his son Jack, (and Brandon of course), we filled seven crates with “Summer Dawn” strawberries in just over two hours.

The whole field wafted the juicy fragrance of the berries and their aroma hung in the air around us all day long, changing with each step in the process.  First it was light, sweet and clean as we crouched in the fields and pushed back leaves in search of clusters of the first ripe fruits.  Plenty of tiny white flowers and hard green berries promised that pickers in the coming weeks would too gather sweet bounties.

Our cars soaked up the scent as we transported our goods to Sherry’s for the next steps of stemming, washing, and cutting – which we performed while sitting on her breezy back porch with tall, sweating glasses of ice water at hand.  A couple of hours into prepping the berries, Sherry brought us plates with Italian beef sandwiches, creamy potato salad, and crispy kettle cooked chips.   Thoroughly fortified, I headed into the house to learn to make jam while mom and Brandon soldiered on with berry preparation.

Sherry’s charming, sunny kitchen was shortly glazed with a saccharine vapor as we boiled down the fruit in a thick-bottomed pot, incorporating sugar, pectin, lemon juice and a little butter into our syrupy brew.  Next we ladled the ruby sap into squat quilt-patterned jars, capped and lowered them into a speckled enamel jacuzzi for a few minutes, then removed them to a sheet pan for cooling.  Sherry has always turned her jars upside down to encourage the seal, so that’s what we did.  We repeated the process six times; each batch somehow seemed to get a little easier until all the jars were full.  (bonus: a hearty supply  of leftover berries is now nestled in our freezer for future snacking, smoothies, and all of manner of strawberry desserts!)

Waving and shouting our final thanks out the car window, we headed for home around five o’clock.  The whole project, from plucking the first berry to stashing twelve boxes of 144 jars into the trunk, took just 9 hours, including time out for lunch and a dessert break: a slice of skillet chocolate chip cookie nestled between two scoops of Blue Bunny “I Do! I Do! Wedding Cake.”  (Stupid name, awesome ice cream)

At some point in the day, we decided to dip our spoons into the steaming pot of nearly-finished jam and taste the fruits of our labor.  Oh lordy-pie! First, a wave of pure, clean sugar, curtained by a hint of buttery richness. Then, biting a piece of berry brings fresh, juicy red tartness, and as it slides away – you’re left with candied sunshine lingering on your tongue.  For me it recalled a quintessential taste of childhood and also a new flavor I’ll remember simply as LOVE.

Today’s jam-a-thon was a labor of love.  Together we created something bigger than the sum of its parts – a whole bunch of little jars filled with prettiest shade of red jam you could hope for –something to share with our wedding guests, the ones who’ll be present to witness our marriage, those crazy fools who’ll be dancing around with us on a very epic day in our lives.

Thank you Sherry, Mom, Brandon, John, Jack, and Terry for being part of this day and this project.  You guys made my maiden jam-making voyage a roaring success.

The recipe we used was quite traditional – very similar to this one from the Ball website, with the addition of 3 tablespoons of butter per batch to keep the “foaming” to a minimum and add an unexpected yum factor like only butter can.