Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Soup. Who does not love soup? My family welcomes the fall with the reintroduction of soup. In fact, for years I've observed that just as all of our lovely garden produce comes in, I don't have the time or inclination to cook. And it occurred to me this summer that part of it is that much of my cold weather cooking goes by the wayside. We eat soup at least once a week if not twice a week from the early signs of fall until the spring. Soup, along with heavier meals - the pot pies, the beans and rice, stuffed pasta and all that - leave the menu. That's a lot to replace with peas and lettuce in June, beans, tomatoes and corn in July. But after a couple of awkward weeks, we settle into the simpler food routine. Don't worry about us, we find the groove and eat pretty well all summer long. When the nights get cool and the beach accoutrements are tucked away in the barn, however, we all get excited about soup again.

If I haven't said it before, I am super lucky to have a family who is enthusiastic about what I cook for dinner. Tonight, Jerry and Frank came down from the bath asking what smelled so good. And even though there is enthusiasm for much of my repertoire, there is a special excitement for soup. Over the years, I've developed quite the array. White bean and kale, lentil, potato leek, mushroom barley, miso, straight up veggie, minestrone, black bean, Hungarian mushroom, French onion, corn chowder, and the list goes on. I'm sure I'll blog about all of them before winter's over.

To me there are two keys to making good soup. First, saute your veggies first. If you are adding raw veggies into your broth and wondering why your soup lacks flavor or has only one note, that's why. Boiled veggies never have the depth that sauteed veggies do. Respect the cooking time of each. Add carrots first, they take the longest, then your onions, peppers, cauliflower, etc. Finish off with the greens. Season your veggies with salt and pepper before adding broth.

The second key to great soup is greens. I'm a little obsessed with greens, I admit. Now I'm not adding greens to the corn chowder or the french onion soup. Although . . . Truly, I add greens to nearly all my soups. Last night I added beet greens to the lentil soup. Chop them fine, wash them well, leave them a little wet and add them to your sauteeing veggies so they sort of braise. Spinach, chard, kale, beet greens, whatever you have, throw them in, they'll take your soup to the next level. I promise. I sauteed a bunch of greens with garlic this summer and froze them to add to soups this winter as part of my local/sustainable journey. I don't overdo though. If it were just me, I'd add handfuls, but I respect the rest of my family is not part goat as they affectionately claim I am.

Here's the recipe for lentil soup, one of the most simple soups I make, that disappeared last night.

Lentil Soup

Olive Oil
2 Medium Carrots sliced
1 Medium to Large Onion diced
4-5 cloves garlic diced small
3 medium potatoes or five or six red, purple, white fingerlings, my new favorite, grown right in Western Mass. diced
Handful chopped greens
1 Cup French Indigo Lentils
2 Quarts warm water
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Saute carrots, onion, garlic and potatoes until al dente. Add salt and pepper. Add greens and saute for another two minutes. Add lentils and stir to coat with oil. Saute for one minute and then add water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low. Let the soup simmer until lentils are tender, not falling apart. Adjust seasonings. Serve with crusty bread and green salad.

Variation for Greek lentil soup. Omit the potatoes. Add 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar to each bowl when serving.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Frost is a comin' a reflection on this year's garden and eating locally

With the impending frost tonight, I can't help but look back at the growing season and make some observations. At the end of last year, and certainly at the beginning of this growing season, I set the goal of growing more and varied food that could be canned, frozen or otherwise preserved for the winter. Along with that, I wanted to make a concerted effort to grow as much food for the summer months as possible and whatever we couldn't grow, to get locally, at least produce-wise. And the more that we could grow and get locally, the less I wanted to supplement with all those snacks made in some faraway place with stuff grown in an even further place.

That was the goal. So the question is how did I do? Well, the June rains made it difficult. My lettuce was slow going and the farmers markets didn't sell lettuce. In fact, I'm thinking about going to our farmers market next summer with lettuce. I always have extra (once it comes in) and I can't quite understand why none of the farmers bring lettuce. It could be that it is too fragile, but I don't see why I can't even bag up mesclun mix and put it in a cooler with some ice. But that's for next summer. Anyway, without lettuce and peas and early carrots and all that, June was slim, so I don't think we were as local as I thought we'd be. One way I addressed it was to go to the Hadley Whole Foods because they always have lots of local producers from the Pioneer Vallley where it is warmer. That helped.

Once July hit though, we got into full swing, and between July 1 and today, I've only been shopping in ANY store (besides the downtown market for toilet paper and the other odd thing) maybe a dozen times or so and I bought no vegetables (save the odd avocado - but wait, are avocadoes veggie or a fruit?), just a little fruit, dairy and dried goods. I really did manage to either grow it or get it at the farmers markets. And once there were melons, peaches and nectarines at farmers market, I didn't buy anymore fruit from the store either. So woo hoo!!

Now for the winter. Here's the inventory. In the basement are about 95 jars of tomato puree; however, because of blight caused by the rain, none of these came from our own tomato plants that withered and died around August 1 before producing a single fruit. After mourning for about a week, I went on the hunt. I bought one bushel from Deerfield via the Ashburnham Farmers Market and then I bought two and half bushels grown at Lull Farm in Milford, New Hampshire. We also have a dozen jars of corn relish, several kinds of pickles including these really cool "end of season" pickles I found the recipe for that included cukes, peppers, onion, cabbage, carrots. Super colorful. I hope they are good. I also pickled beets, made plum preserves from our own Italian plums that didn't set so I have 25 jars of really yummy plum sauce. I hope we use it. So our gundina (that's Italian for the root cellar) is pretty full but with plenty of space for applesauce - next week's endeavor. The freezer is chalk full of zucchini muffins and cakes, squash muffins, grated zucchini, pesto, sauteed peppers, sauteed chard and garlic, beet greens and garlic and kale and garlic, veggie loaf, blueberries both home grown and from just down the street at Odd Pine Farm, strawberries from Concord, MA and Mason, NH, raspberries from Troy, NH and Peaches from Harvard, MA. We have a drawer that has a year's supply of garlic. We've been eating our storage onions since mid-July and have at least two more months of giant whites and medium reds. And the fridge is now full up with leeks, arugula, cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, eggplant, chard, kale, beet greens, lettuce, carrots, carrots, carrots and on it goes. Oh, and did I mention that we have six sugar pumpkins, ten butternut squash, a couple of acorns, a couple of delicatas and a dozen more zucchinis all sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen?

I think that constitutes a success. I've met my goal. How could I have done better? Next year we are going to grow our own corn. I bought a ton of corn, all from just down the street at our neighbor's who have a farm stand, but still, we could do our own. I didn't time my second crop of broccoli or both my second and third crops of lettuce very well. And in general, I think I could do more successive plantings. Plant more storage onions. I think I could get pretty well an entire year of onions, especially if we get a lot of rain. They love the rain. It goes on and on. And that's the wonderful thing about gardening. I've been gardening since I was a child and I still learn so much every year.

Now my challenge is to extend this consciousness about local, susstainable food to other things that we buy and use. To search out local and used things before running to Target. And to stop and ask myself if we really need whatever it is I'm thinking about buying at all. It isn't big news that our lifestyle is not sustainable. That a lot is going to have to change if our children, and our children's children have any hope of living a healthy, happy life not ravaged by climate change and all the associated sorrows that are currently predicted. And I realize that our government does not seem to have the will or the leadership to get us going. We can't wait for a mandate. But we don't have to. I remember my old professor and America legend, Howard Zinn, saying that any significant change ever achieved did not originate in government, but with a grassroots effort by the people. And that's what's brewing here. I'm seeing it everywhere and am trying to get on that bandwagon. That's what these efforts are about.