Soup

…and it’s Fight Back Friday!

I know, I know… It’s been ages! But you throw in some major surgery, complications from said surgery, having to relearn how to eat, stuff like that – and well, I gotta be honest – it’s taken me a while to even care.

The good news being, of course – that I do, indeed care. And not only that, I’m on a major soup kick. So, I thought it only natural to start back there!

So here’s the thing – I’ve just always kind of assumed that everyone has this inborn ability to throw together a pot of soup. And not just any soup – soup that makes the horrible stuff you buy in the can (shudder!), or get at the grocery store’s deli, or even more than half of the stuff you can get at a decent restaurant make you want to sing the hallelujah chorus – you know, really amazing soup.

Cause – honestly – it’s really basic. And well, what would life be without the ability to peruse the fridge, freezer, and homemade canned goods and craft an incredible pot of soup that just makes you smile?!

Okay – so let’s talk building blocks.

The foundation of every good soup is a good quality stock. If you’ve never made stock and feel intimidated – let me just put your fears to rest – it’s a total breeze. All it takes is a nice big pot (I have a love affair going on with my All Clad 12 Quart Stainless Steel Stock Pot), the stuff from meat that you would normally toss out – i.e., the carcass, bones, cartilage, etc. (these are things you can put in the freezer until a convenient time to make your stock), an onion, some celery, maybe a few carrots, and lots and lots of water. See Diana‘s excellent post on making stock here. I will say, if you’d like, you can go to the expense of purchasing stock. I personally avoid the canned stuff – but when I do need to buy stock at the grocery store, I opt for the Pacific Natural Foods products – I love that I can get the six pack at Costco!

Next building block – in my humble opinion! – is the veggies. They don’t have to be your most pristine for soup. If I have odds and ends of veggies while I’m cooking – stuff that won’t go into the dish I’m preparing, but I don’t want to throw out – I’ll throw those odds and ends into a container in the freezer – to hold onto for soup making days! Although I will say that there is nothing like strolling through your own garden at the height of summer and bringing in a variety of veggies to put in your pot of soup – sigh! Your soup can be as varied and individual as you are – but for me, there are typically some building blocks that I pretty much NEVER omit: onions, celery, garlic. Okay – I don’t put garlic in my navy bean soup – but I think that’s the only one I can recall that doesn’t have it in there.

The next building block – protein. I was a vegetarian a long, long, long time ago. Kind of a stupid vegetarian way back when – so much so that I got good and sick from not paying attention to protein. Well, I learned my lesson – and then much later had weight loss surgery – which meant I’d always have to pay attention to protein for the rest of my days. Since then I’ve been quite the carnivore. But you know what? It’s a total toss up for me – I’m just as happy with a soup with no meat in it as not. It’s just that nowadays I choose to make sure that there is a decent representation of complete protein (i.e., a grain and a legume) in my pot of soup!

And finally – spices. These, again, can vary as widely as you want them to. Some soups I will spice quite heavily. Others – almost not at all. It really has everything to do with YOUR tastes and preferences. What I like very well may not float your boat.

Okay – all that being said, I’m going to walk you through the soup I made yesterday. I gotta be honest here – I’m not sure if this…

…is a soup or a stew – ’cause there’s just not all that much broth, it’s pretty hearty. But when I was growing up, a stew was something that had a gravy-like or cream-type base, and a soup didn’t. So, for the sake of keeping us all on the same page – I’m gonna call this one a SOUP.

First – I start with my 5 quart stainless steel pot. I throw in about 4 tablespoons of butter, turn the eye to about medium heat, and then start chopping.

I chop up an onion – I like my onion to be kinda chunky because I love onion – so it’s a rough chop. Type of onion is up to you. I adore sweet yellow onions, so that’s what I use – and the biggest one I can find. Choose your onion based on your preferences. Once your onion is all chopped up – throw it into that soup pot

Next, I chop up celery. For this soup I used the heart of a bunch of celery that was nearly finished up, and about five more stalks from the new bunch of celery. Yes – that’s a lot of celery – but… well, yeah, it’s true – I love celery, too! When yours is chopped up, throw it into the soup pot. Go ahead and give the onion, celery, and butter a bit of a stir – we want those onions to get sort of translucent before it’s all said and done.

I’m a garlic girl. I’m honestly not sure there is such a thing as too much garlic – but to spare my family some, I try to show some restraint. For this soup I minced seven fairly decent sized cloves of garlic. Toss the garlic in with the onion, celery, and be sure to stir it in so that it gets coated with the butter – there’s nothing worse than burnt garlic!

I had a bunch of mushrooms that needed used up – so I chopped up about 15 of those to throw in. A quick insider tip – if you have mushrooms that need sliced or diced quickly – pull out your handy dandy egg slicer/wedger!

Next I peeled and chopped 8 decent sized carrots. I love carrot chunks in soup!

I love a soup with a bunch of cabbage in it, too, so I chopped up half a head of cabbage and threw it in to sauté with the onions, celery, garlic, and mushrooms.

I like to see some caramelization – i.e., browning – starting to happen – it just brings out amazing flavors (and smells!). Sometimes – depending on how many veggies I have in there by this point in time – I might have to add a little more butter to keep things from getting too dry.

Okay – my favorite thing to see at this point is some nice browning on the bottom of the pan, too. This is where having a nice acid to throw in serves quite nicely. I added 16 ounces of canned diced tomatoes. Using my silicone spat, I made sure to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, using that tomato juice to aide me. If you don’t want tomatoes, then try a little bit of red or white wine – it serves nicely.

Now… If you want to throw some meat in there – you go ahead and do that. For my pot of soup I opted for vegetarian, so no meat in mine. BUT – there is lots of wonderful homemade soup stock. I added 4 cups of beef stock and 8 cups of turkey stock. I don’t know what there is about a soup with a blend of two stocks – but it brings out a lovely nuance flavor wise. I personally love it – so I do that a lot! And for truth in advertising’s sake – I’ll mention that I store my home made stock in the freezer in 1, 2, and 4 cup containers. I put them under hot tap water just long enough to loosen them from the container, and then put the block of frozen stock on top of my veggies. It melts down quite nicely.

This is the point in time when I take inventory of what other veggies I have on hand. Yesterday it was two cups of frozen corn and one can of green beans. I knew I wanted a grain and a starch, so I didn’t really need much more than that. I toyed with the idea of throwing some frozen peas in, but yeah – it just didn’t do it for me.

I’ve been wanting a barley soup – so about a cup and a half of barley went in. As did a cup and a half of medium shell pasta. I knew that once the barley and pasta soaked up all the fluid they could this was going to be a fairly “hearty” – aka not very brothy – soup. But you know what? It smelled so fabulous I just didn’t care!

Once all of the ingredients were in, I gave it a good stir, put the lid on, turned the heat down to medium low, and went and checked on my baby chicks.

Time is of the essence at this juncture.

Soup needs the chance to slowly meld all of the flavors.

About an hour’s worth of melding later I got my tester spoon out and took a little sip. It was quite good. BUT… it needed a little something. A bit of pepper – fresh ground, maybe 10 or 12 turns on the grinder; a shake or two of garlic powder, about two teaspoons of kosher salt, and about a teaspoon of celery salt. I mixed it together well, let it simmer for about 10 more minutes, and then tasted again. Voila! Perfection!

See? Total breeze.

The great thing is that these basic principles can be used for pretty much all soup making.

Yes, some soups are more complex than others. Some are so easy it seems a little unfair all of the praise they garner – like my Navy Bean Soup – just onions, celery, carrots, ham stock, soaked navy beans, and diced ham – that’s it – and it’s amazing!

So – next time you feel the need for a good cup of soup – don’t wonder where you’re going to buy it – or heaven forbid, which can you’ll open! – grab your soup pot and throw a pot of soup together!

You’ll be glad you did!

Spring Cleaning 2010

Today was our annual muck out the coop day.

Ducky was very interested in knowing what these bales of wood shavings were for.

I’m not sure exactly how many loads of shavings were ferried to the old garden site to be tilled in – but we had close supervision provided by one of the Blue Andalusians – in the top middle nest box.

The baby chicks were not much interested in the goings on on the other side of the coop.

Between John and I, mucking didn’t take all that long! We were surprised. We were also surprised that we found NO surprise eggs buried in the litter. Last year there were something like a dozen found!

This Blue was not going to move for anything! No amount of noise that we made phased her.

Impressive, huh?

Four bales of wood shavings later…

…she’s still not impressed.

But I think it looks lovely!

But they’re so cute…

I’ve admitted openly here before that I have a bit of an… :ahem:… soft spot, shall we say, for baby chicks, right?

Good – so no illusions going on here, right?

And honestly – it wasn’t like it was just an impulse buy or anything.

It was thought out!

It was strategic!

And – well, 5 of the girls (the Speckled Sussex) were re-homed yesterday, so I HAD to get new chicks, right?

I needed new chicks.

Really.

I did.

And who can blame me?

If they’d been looking at you at the feed store, you would have caved, too.

I’m just saying.

Who could leave the place without – oh, say – sixteen of the cutest little chicks ever?

Five Buff Oprington chicks….

Six Sicilian Buttercup chicks… I was only going to get five, but that wouldn’t have been very nice to leave the one there all by herself, would it have been?

And five Black Sex Links.

The what used to be middle babies – and are now the big babies (the two that Jezebel hatched a couple of months ago), and what used to be the baby babies (and are now the middle babies) were so intrigued by the new arrivals. So much so that they hung out in the coop to watch them for a while!

I don’t know that I’d call them the Welcome Wagon or anything.

Honestly, I think maybe they were showing off or something – you know – how cool they are hanging out on the big girl roosts.

So – it’s not like I have to admit I have a problem or anything… Cause I don’t have one. I needed chicks.

Really – I did!

Do you ever just wonder?

One day last week I was in the file cabinet – putting a couple of things away, when I came across some old photos. I love old photos.

 Here’s some of what I found – and I’ll share what I know this one and the others in future, and hope that some of the family who read here can fill in some of the gaps!

 

This is Louise Alcock. She was born May 9, 1894 in Marietta, Ohio. She was – I believe – the youngest of George Alcock and Easter Smith’s 11 children. (I really need to do some more research and find out if all 11 are truly George and Easter’s children!)  George was the son of Thomas Alcock and Ann Racer. Thomas, interestingly enough, served in the 148th Ohio Infantry during the Civil War. We have his enlistment and discharge papers, as well as a Certificate of Thanks with the signature of Abraham Lincoln and Edwin Stanton on it. Thomas must have been a pretty faithful correspondent – we have a number of his letters, ledgers relating to the farm, etc. He seemed to be a pretty interesting guy. (Thomas’s father – Thomas, was an emmigrant from Cheshire, England – we have his land grant dated 1789 – pretty cool stuff!)

I don’t know much about Louise, sadly.

I know that she married Dwight McBride September 10, 1913 – seven years after the picture above was taken.

And I know that she was mother to two boys – Harold and Charles McBride. Harold was my husband’s Father.

That’s Harold on the left, and Charles on the right.

What’s really interesting about this photo of Louise is that it’s actually a post card. Here’s what the other side said:

It was addressed to Louise’s Aunt Aura Smith Dotson.

Things that make me wonder…

Was it normal to just send a family photo in the mail as a post card?   I mean – there’s no message!  Just an address!

I also want to know about the rabbits!

I want rabbits!

 I think I count 16 or 17 rabbits in the picture.

 How did they keep them in there? Wouldn’t they just burrow out? Did they raise them for meat? (That’s what I want to do.)

 And what about that post-mark. Do you see the Akron mark? It says September 23, 1906 – and it has the time on it! 5:30 pm! Did they always mark the time on the post mark?

 I think it’s interesting, as well, that the Reno, OH post-mark is for the day prior. This little post card covered some ground in pretty quick order!

Interestingly enough – being the nosy person I am – I Googled the address on the card and think I may have found the house that Aunt Aura and family lived in! It certainly is of an appropriate architectural age, if it’s the house.

There’s so much I’d like to know about the generation preceding Louise – I know next to nothing about her siblings. I need to invest some time doing some research on this part of the family!

Gotta love those stashes of old family photos!

Ahhh… Spring!

I’ve been trying for a couple of days to get this posted to this here blog… You see there’s this cool new slideshow feature that you can use here on WordPress that I really want to try out. But, it appears that I’m perhaps not as blog “with-it” as it required to utilize said feature. So – I’ll resort to doing things the old fashioned way – which, honestly, if I think about it much – has been working fabulously! Maybe not as flashy – but fine, nonetheless!

So here goes – some signs that Spring has finally arrived. Boy, am I glad!

Now that’s what I like to see! Sunshine and temperatures inching toward 80!

How can one not love Lilacs on a sunny Spring day? Aren’t they beautiful?

And of course, seeing the garden come to life is lovely as well… Even if my evil chickens did denude my broccoli starts!

Note to self… time to get the garden protected from the evil chickens!

Look! The peas are coming up! Hooray!

Sigh… I love Spring.

You may have been around long enough to know this about me – but the truth of the matter is the fact that I love Spring for one really big reason… it means that it’s almost SUMMER!!!

John has moved the portable chicken fencing to enclose what we call the “old” garden – i.e. the plot that was here when we first moved here. The girls are doing a nice job of tilling up the bed and trimming around the edges where the grass likes to try and skip the divider and head right into the garden. Yes, they can be evil (particularly when there are fresh, succulent vegetable starts about)- but chickens are so handy sometimes!

Remember the babies that Jezebel hatched 8 weeks ago? They’re getting so grown up!

The one on the right – I’m fairly sure – is a roo. He has ALL the signs of being male. Which is such a bummer. I am pleased that they’re both Silver Laced Wyandottes, though – aren’t they pretty?

The baby babies are 5 weeks old now – and hilarious!

“Dust bathing” in pine shavings – nutty chicks!

Look Ma! I’m cool – I can make it up to the Big Girl roost!

Camera shy!

Jess and William heard that you could hypnotize a chicken – and decided to see if it would work on Ducky…

…not so much.

Jessica does, by the way, have very special chicken wrangling skills. If any of us ever have a hard time cornering and catching a chick or chicken – Jessica is who we call. She does have a wonderful gentle spirit and kind heart… Maybe the girls know that!

What will I do when she goes clear across the country to college in the Fall?

Jess – helping the girls find big, fat, juicy worms.

We’ve noticed, John and I, that the crab apple (above), pear trees, cherry, and apple trees are all loaded with blossoms. When the wind blows it “rains” blossoms – and yet the trees still seem to be loaded.

It should be interesting to see how much fruit we actually see this year, after last year’s less than stellar outcomes.

All in all – it’s shaping up to be a lovely Spring. I’m so glad!

Jamie’s Food Revolution USA | Campaign for healthy eating | Jamie Oliver

Jamie’s Food Revolution USA | Campaign for healthy eating | Jamie Oliver.You know – I’ve always loved food.  Yeah, I know – I’ve admitted it here before – I’m a picky girl.  The fact that I have a choice is something that I cherish each and every day.

Do you know that a significant number of children rely on school-provided meals as their main source of nutrition?

How long since you’ve been in a school cafeteria?

How long since you’ve read the labels of the food that school kids are getting served?

It’s a scary, scary thing.

I live in a part of the country that has a growing trend of schools starting gardens and actually using the produce from those gardens – gardens that the children help to tend and harvest (how cool is that?!).  Even so – the fare that is served to my own kids – one middle schooler and two high schoolers – is oftentimes appalling.

Know what else?  There are rules – LOTS of rules – oftentimes truly IDIOTIC rules – governing what is allowed to be served.  Rules like a kid can be served a burger and fries and it will be called a “nutritionally complete” meal, but a stir-fry with fresh vegetables, rice, and fresh fruit can’t be called nutritionally complete – until you add another starch – you know, like french fries or a dinner roll!  Ugh!

I’ve been watching Jamie’s Food Revolution since it first aired.  I simply can’t miss an episode.  A couple of weeks ago I had to have a little surgical procedure done and missed my episode!  Thank you Lord Jesus for online viewing at abc.com!  I was able to catch up the next day – phew!

If you haven’t been watching Jamie’s Food Revolution – why not start now?

Go go abc.com and watch the previous episodes so that you can be caught up for tonight’s episodes.

After that – go to Jamie’s Food Revolution petition and sign – please!

It’s worth the investment of time – I promise!

Menu Planning

Have I whined about menu planning here lately? It’s a challenge in our household.

The parents would love to eat some more adventurous, exotic type foods. Keeping in mind that I’m allergic to chicken, egg whites, soy, many milk products, strawberries, etc., etc., etc…

The daughter is the easiest to please, but she has strong feelings about tacos (hates them), and anything that resembles camp food.

The middle kid – our basketball player – who ought to be strategizing his nutrition, is perhaps one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. He would be happiest if we had pizza for every meal. He hates vegetables, too. And anything that requires effort prior to eating it.

And our youngest is happy as long as it’s meat accompanied by a potato – so long as it’s not pork, ’cause he’s allergic to that, along with peanuts, and milk products. Oh – and he hates tomato based stuff – i.e., spaghetti (the daughter’s favorite food), enchiladas, lasagna, etc. AND, he hates anything that resembles a vegetable. And rice. I’m sure there’s more. But you get the picture.

Nah – it’s not tricky at all!

Bah!

This morning as I was thinking through the options, and remembering that we at least have tonight and tomorrow nights planned, I couldn’t help but wonder what we’d be doing for dinner Friday night – when John and Jonathan will be gone to the church’s men’s retreat. Jess and I would be happy with salads. Ugh! Decisions…

This morning I stumbled upon a little blast from the past, that reminded me of when days were simpler and one day in particular when our daughter thought to make breakfast for the family. I get a gold star for getting this on film. She was 5 at the time, by the way.


Look! She set the table and everything! She served herself and her baby brother cereal.

She knew her Dad liked bananas, so she made him a banana sandwich – yep – cheese and banana on whole wheat. There’s a nagging thought that she also put mayo on there, but there’s no photographic evidence, so I won’t swear on it.

And she knew that I loved avocados, so she made me an avocado sandwich – she even somehow figured out how to put some mayo under that cheese. Impressive for a 5 year old! I thought it touching that she knew I’d need a knife to deal with that avocado!

Wasn’t that precious?! (She’s going to kill me if she finds out I posted this! LOL!)

And – just to prove a point – we were talking about this recently, actually. The picture below is of William – he was about a 14 months old, I’m thinking…

SEE!

Tomato based food! And he liked it enough to get it everywhere!

I told you so! You did, too, used to like tomato based stuff!

I think it was enchiladas, but I’m not 100% sure. We’ll just suffice it to say he enjoyed it!

Back to pondering Friday’s dinner plan…