consumed.

The past two weeks have been almost embarrassingly full of indulgence for me.

My birthday celebrations started several days early and did not finish until a full week of epic good times had been had.

There was Thanksgiving, the best holiday of the whole year.

An evening out with old and new friends that was so much fun that I still smile at the thought of it, an entire week later.

And an incredible run of sunny days and balmy temperatures that just ended a few nights ago.

I was also undeservedly showered with gifts – some of them in the form of gift certificates to a few of my favourite places – an occurrence that then prompted a little shopping of my own.

I do love to shop, and always have, and I am past the point of apologizing for it (in the words of the divine Rufus Wainwright, “so what if I like pretty things?”) and the flush of joy that finding a new and lovely thing brings.

As I am always quick to protest (perhaps I am not quite so unapologetic as I’d like to think?), the object in question doesn’t have to be expensive, or even unused; it just has to strike some chord in my admittedly quirky aesthetic.

Most recently, it was a fur coat that hinted of the glamourous life of its former owner and a vintage lamp that casts the most glorious shadows in my dining room. Neither cost me a thing, and the beauty that they have brought to my daily life is indescribable.

Still, negligible impact on my pocketbook notwithstanding, I think it may be time to take a short break on the shopping, lest the bringing home of pretty things turn into an all-consuming fixation

(I remember overhearing, years ago, a conversation between two women in a shoe store in which one said to the other, “if I buy them, I will have to feed my kids oatmeal for dinner for at least a month. Would that be terrible?” I am not that woman, but that’s not to say I don’t have her in me).

I fear that it may be a bit like trying to coax a genie back into her bottle, this not-shopping thing, and if I am unsuccessful, I am determined not to panic.

But either way, I will be making more of this soup, and I suggest you do the same. Warming, delicious, simple, and marvelously indulgent, it hints of the glamour of lives past.

And not that it matters, but it will barely cost you a thing.


French Onion Soup

This recipe makes a lot of soup, but it freezes and reheats well. Still, it’s easily halved for a more manageable amount.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 kg onions, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
5-6 sprigs thyme (optional)
2c red wine
8c beef stock, or rich vegetable stock
stale baguette slices (two per person)
several slices of gruyere (a generous amount per baguette slice)

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil and butter together over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring fairly regularly, until onions have taken on a fair amount of colour – they should be a deep golden-brown (this is the crucial part of making French onion soup, so take your time with this step).

Throw in thyme, if you have some, then red wine. Cook 2-3 minutes, then add stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until you are ready to serve – I’d say a minimum of 20 minutes or so.

When ready to serve, arrange baguette slices on a baking tray and preheat broiler. Cover each piece of bread with a generous amount of cheese, and cook under the broiler until cheese is bubbly and golden in spots.

Ladle soup into bowls, and add a couple of pieces of cheese toast to each bowl.

Serves 8-10 (large glass of wine optional).

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lucky.

(soup tureen courtesy of mrs. huizenga)

Our house is in chaos at the moment.

Having just said goodbye to the last guest we will have at this address, we have begun to dismantle our life here. It’s not the most fun process, partly because of the emotional weight attached to what we are doing – but also partly due to the fact that it is an extremely messy undertaking.

Simply put, there is crap everywhere.

How is it that we’ve managed to accumulate so much in the three short years we have lived here?

When did I, formerly known to my friends as the compulsive minimalist, become the kind of person who has boxes and bags and bins of excess to cart to the Goodwill every day?

For every box I pack, there is another filled with things we no longer need – if indeed we ever needed them in the first place.

Going through our things, I’m half fascinated and half horrified by the pile-up; but when I manage to shift my eyes from the miasma I feel terribly lucky.

Lucky that we’re in the privileged position of having more crap than we know what to do with.

And lucky that we are moving on.

Happiness Soup
adapted from Nigella Lawson

The great thing about this easy-going soup is that it works hot, warm, or even tepid. I have never tried it fridge-cold, but at room temperature it’s great.

1/4c olive oil
3 medium yellow zucchini, finely diced
1 clove garlic, smashed
zest and juice of a lemon
1 tsp tumeric
4c (1 litre) chicken broth
1/2c basmati rice
4-5 large basil leaves
1 ball of mozzarella (about 325g), cut into small cubes

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add zucchini pieces and cook, stirring gently, about 5 minutes, until slightly softened.

Add garlic and tumeric and stir; then add lemon juice and zest, broth, and rice.

Cook, uncovered, about 20 minutes, until rice is cooked and zucchini is tender. Add basil leaves and remove from heat. Puree soup in batches.

Serve warm, but not necessarily hot; garnish each bowl with a handful of mozzarella.

Serves 4-6.


unambivalent.


Recently, my husband and I got some good news.

We’d been waiting for it for months, and the waiting, and its attendant anxiety, had been tremendously difficult for us. Although we’d done everything we could to stay positive, we were coming to a bit of a breaking point when we got the word.

Of course I expected to be awash in relief – maybe not immediately, but within hours at least; but a day went by, then two, then three, and nothing.

I continued to feel anxious and ambivalent, labouring through my days as if there were a black cloud over my head, and mine alone.

I started questioning the nature of the news: was it not as good as we’d first thought? Was there some lurking underlying reason to hang on to the worry that had been plaguing us all this time?

And then I became disappointed in myself: had I lost the ability to embrace the good things in life – or welcome them, at the very least? Had I become one of those people who prefer living under the black cloud?

After several days of this kind of torturous myopic musing, my food processor broke.

For some reason, the untimely (and, with any luck, temporary) demise of this beloved appliance pushed me over the edge.

I have always been slightly embarrassed by my affection for my food processor, and I am more so now since my disproportionate reaction to its failure to thrive: I raged, pouted, craved smoothies night and day, and was generally impossible to be around.

But I’m happy to report that, in the days since that cathartic experience, all of my ambivalence towards the initial piece of good news has vanished.

I’m ready to welcome a little hope, and relieved that we are on our way forward after being mired in limbo for far too long.

And although I am devastated about my food processor, I am holding out for a quick and inexpensive repair job – in the meantime, I’ll make do with the immersion blender of dubious origins that’s languishing in the cupboard.

Glorious Soup

With thanks to my friend Catherine, who inspired me to make this after a long conversation about the glory of beets.

6 medium beets, quartered
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
6c chicken stock
2 lime leaves or bay leaves (optional)
1c finely chopped fresh dill
1/2c coconut milk
1/2c sour cream
a few sprigs fresh dill, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss beets with 2 tbsp olive oil and place in a shallow, ovenproof dish. Cover with foil and roast about an hour, until very tender.

Heat remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add celery and carrot and continue to cook, stirring, a further 5 minutes or so. Add cardamom, ginger, and stock. Add lime leaves (or bay leaves), if using. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Add beets to soup and use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Blend in dill, then gently stir in coconut milk and sour cream.

Reheat just until hot – do not boil!

Serve garnished with more sour cream, if desired, and fresh dill sprigs.


conventions.


Like many aspects of our life, my family’s weekday mealtime routine is a bit unconventional.

My husband works in the late afternoon and late into the evening, so breakfast is an extremely leisurely affair, involving baking, cocoa-drinking, story-reading, music-making, and, in good weather, a trip to the park or another outing of some kind to blow off some steam and get everyone stoked for lunch.

Lunch is the main meal of our day, and it happens in the early afternoon. The spouse who has not taken the kids out in the morning is usually the one who prepares the food, and once we’ve finished eating and cleaning up, and the kids and I have begun to shamble through the remainder of our day, my husband goes to work.

I relish our days together as a family, and I recognize that they are a luxury that not many families are able to enjoy, particularly in the fast-paced and expensive city where we live.

The corollary, that we worry about our finances perhaps a little more than some of our friends and neighbours, feels like a small price to pay for all of this time with our babies. They are growing at lightning speed, and soon enough (sooner than I care to acknowledge), the demands of a more conventional schedule will impose themselves.

The only slight drawback of our daily routine is that the evening meal my children and I have together tends to be a touch on the uninspired side: these days I rely heavily on French toast and cheese omelettes, roasted vegetables, and – more often than I care to admit – granola with applesauce.

This soup is one that is currently in heavy rotation on weeknights. It’s not overly glamourous, but it covers all of the basics; and it’s dead easy to make, which has its advantages at the time of day that every mother I know refers to affectionately as ‘the witching hour.’

Day’s End Alphabet Soup

I chop all of my vegetables in the food processor, and I aim for two cups of each. I always have carrots, onions, and celery on hand, which is why they are specified here, but I encourage you to be creative!

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4-5 carrots, finely chopped
6-7 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds, coarsely ground
1 tsp celery salt
6 c low sodium chicken broth
3/4 c alphabet noodles

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute 5 minutes, then add remaining vegetables, cumin, and celery salt. Saute until veggies are tender. Add chicken broth and bring to a fast simmer. Add noodles and simmer 6-8 minutes, until noodles are cooked.

Makes easily a couple of dinners’ worth.


…from now on


Ahh, this is promising weather indeed!

I don’t care that there is more cloudy weather on the way – today I am basking in thoughts of tulips by the armful, fresh rhubarb, and my favourite ham recipe, that last hailing from one of my carefully-hoarded collection of Gourmet magazine back issues.

I have much to say on the subject of that ham, and today is far too nice a day to be proselytizing on its virtues – but stay tuned, because I intend to include it as part of this weekend’s feasting and I will tell you all about it.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this soup with you. I made it this past weekend and it did a great deal to restore my mood, which lately has been veering back and forth between glum and utterly uncheerful.

Its flavours are bright and bracing, the perfect tonic on a cloudy day, and it’s also hearty enough that it kept us all going through a bit of a trying afternoon. Kept us going, and more importantly, looking forward – to nothing but blue skies, from now on.

Lentil Soup for a Cloudy Day

I kept the spice on the mild (family-friendly) side here, but you’d do well to ramp it up a bit if there are not small children dining in your midst.

1/4c olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 – 1 tsp red curry paste (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tsp tumeric
1/2c red lentils, rinsed and drained
3c chicken stock
1 798ml can whole organic tomatoes
1c coconut milk
4 cooked sausages, sliced (I used curried chicken sausages from a local butcher)
fresh cilantro, for garnish

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and potatoes and saute until onions are translucent. Add curry paste, garlic, and tumeric and cook, stirring, 2-3 more minutes. Add lentils, stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until potatoes and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree soup in batches using a food processor; alternately, get out the old immersion blender (we have one that I’m pretty sure was given to my husband by an ex-girlfriend – oh, the scandal!) and blast the soup until smooth.

Return soup to the stove over medium heat. Add coconut milk and sausages and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until soup is piping hot and sausages are heated through.

Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve.

Serves 4 for lunch, with leftovers.


let’s talk about expectations.


The lovely and romantic dinner I had envisioned for Valentine’s Day didn’t quite come together as planned: I bought all the makings for boeuf bourgignon, and in my fantasy it was going to bubble away contentedly on the stove, filling the house with good smells, while my beloved and I sat in front of the fire and ate cheese, drank wine, and – I don’t know, talked?

Of course that’s not what happened (I’m not sure how I managed to overlook our children when I concocted that fantasy). We did have a lovely day, replete with chocolate (and chocolate-y) kisses, as wonderful and romantic as a Sunday in February with two tiny children can be; but by about three o’clock that afternoon, I realized that the boeuf bourgignon was never going to happen.

And I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was quite disappointed for a moment. I felt (however briefly) that I had failed to live up to the day’s expectations of me – or my expectations of the day. All of that joyful family time diminished slightly because I felt that things weren’t happening as I had hoped.

Still, I rallied: we opened the good wine that I had bought to cook with, and I made a simple soup with the highest-quality beef broth that was also intended for the bourgignon. We ate our cheese and baguette with the soup, and the bubbly remains in the fridge, awaiting its opportunity.

Why, you may wonder, have I chosen today to tell you about a meal that happened nearly two weeks ago?

Well, I made that soup again last night and it was delicious. Everyone in our house is under the weather this week, so I put it together in a bit of a rush, not expecting much – but it was a perfect simple soup, hot enough for comfort on a cold night and hearty enough that no one was left feeling hard-done-by (which can happen with a soup supper around here).

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who could benefit from lowering her expectations this weekend. These are the dying days of February; the Olympics are drawing to a close. Spring’s celebrations still feel significantly far off. In our part of the world, it’s snowing more than it has all winter.

Best to huddle in and not plan too much. Keep expectation to a minimum, and the joy to be found in simple things may take you by surprise.

Simple Barley Soup

The first time I made this, I used a wonderful and expensive organic beef broth. Last night, I used chicken stock, which is all I had on hand, and not one of us (including the soup) was the worse for it. I also realized after I took the above photo that I had forgotten to add the mushrooms, and that the sprigs of fresh thyme I had intended for a garnish were still in the fridge. Ah well. Life, as they say, is not lived in a lab.

1/2 c pearl barley
1 1/2 c water
1/4 c olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large or 3 medium carrots, chopped (yes, those are carrot flowers you see in the photo, but really, just chop them to a uniform size)
2 large or 3 medium parsnips, chopped (see above)
a handful of sliced mushrooms
1/4 c white wine
1 tsp dried thyme
5 c broth (dealer’s choice)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Place barley and water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir well, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until most of water is absorbed and barley is quite tender, 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until golden, stirring frequently so they don’t burn. Add carrots, parsnips, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until onions are deep golden in colour, about another 5 minutes. Add wine, stirring and scraping up any brown bit stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add thyme and broth. Bring to a simmer, then cover and lower heat. Cook until vegetables are just tender, 10 minutes or so, then add cooked barley and garlic. Cover and continue to simmer until vegetables and barley are tender, 20-30 minutes.

Serves 4-6 as a main course, with bread and a salad.