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March 2010

February 2010

Soup Art

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I'm a little ashamed to say that I was not excited about the Wednesday Cafe soup-making this week. I felt like I used to at the end of the semester when every paper seemed like a variation on a theme, a formula that needed only a few new items keyed in. I looked to some cooking blogs for inspiration - French blogs since I was hoping to do double duty and practice my French as well. 

Et voila! I found a soup that looked so pretty, although with different ingredient than I had on hand (I could see baby corn and mushrooms floating in theirs) - but with a lovely embellishment: an ice-cream size scoop of rice on top. Oo la la! I did have some lovely vegetables to play with - bright orange sweet potatoes, pink-skinned white potatoes, deep green collards that I knew would look pretty in a curry-tomato base. A quick phone call to a friend/volunteer to bring some dried parsley to add a finishing touch to the rice, and the soup was ready for the tables. 

It was tasty, pretty, and festive, and it made the whole preparation process fun and... fulfilling. The servers seemed to enjoy the reactions from the guests who had the nicest things to say about it. But they always do; it's a great crowd to cook for. 

The whole thing reminded me that a lot of things can swing between "drudgery" and "art" depending on what you bring to it interiorly. The exteriors - the beautiful ingredients - are absolutely necessary, like quality paint for a blank canvas. But the outcome of any creation takes and gives some of the "artist's" heart. It's so much better to have one's heart in the work. 

Good Morning Orange Salad

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We are really enjoying the orange bounty this winter. Thank goodness for the Hendersons at the Saturday market who are keeping up stocked up. Last week we came home with a box of parson browns and red navels to share with folks at the cafe and at the labor pools - and to enjoy ourselves.

Fruit salad or "ambrosia," as the Martin family and other southerners call it, is a holiday staple. My dad always made it early on Christmas morning and added all kinds of things, including canned fruit cocktail (fruit cocktail-less recipe here). We pare it down for everyday breakfasts by adding what we have on hand. Most mornings that's oranges and pecans. And it is enough. Beautiful, delicious, sweet, with the crunch I like (and Grace does not). 

The pink fruit you see in the photo is not a grapefruit (Martins don't use grapefruit in the ambrosia), but a red navel. It's the end of the season for them, but get one if you can. So sweet and delicious. I'm looking forward to brightening up a few more mornings with this stuff. 

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A Little Bit of This, A Whole Lot of That - How to Make Soup From What You Got

Yesterday morning, I woke up early to face the crates, buckets, and baskets of food on the kitchen table and figure out how to turn them into soup. While we buy what we can from the farmers market, our "cafe soups" are dependent also on the copious produce they gift us with at the end of the markets. Good stuff, top quality, and always an interesting mix, some of it gets stored for later in the week, some gets processed (freezing or canning) when we have a whole lot. 

Yesterday morning what we had the most of was roots - carrots, rutabaga, turnip, green onions; some tubers - sweet potatoes; and another bunch o' greens. 

I imagined a slightly sweet soup with rosemary (which is growing in our garden). So I chopped up enough to fill our four pots and cooked it up. The trick is the order. One huge difference between homemade soups and canned soups is the freshness of the vegetables. While cooked enough to chew, they should still retain their individual flavor (the canning process tends to overcook everything). So add the vegetables to the soup pot in order of their required cooking time.  

But first the flavoring: Sauté onions and garlic if you have them and sprinkle with seasoning (rosemary this time). Then add the hardest stuff - for us, diced rutabaga and sliced carrots - cover with water and boil for about five minutes. They need just a tiny headstart over the turnip and sweet potato which come next. I boiled this until it was almost tender (about 7 minutes). Then I added a shredded cabbage to each of our very large pots and boiled for another few (I could have used the collards or mustards  if I added a little extra time, but I am saving these for later in the week).  The water has now become a nice vegetable broth; taste it, and salt to your preference. Then I added canned tomatoes and pre-cooked kidney beans and rice, heated it up, and voila! The kidney beans added protein and some more hardiness. The rice was unnecessary, especially since we were serving the soup with bread, but I just fancied the tomato-rice-rosemary combo.  Giving the soup one last, hard look, I realized it could use some dark green, so I raided our little spinach patch out front, chopped some leaves up, and added it to the pot. At this point, guests were about to arrive, so I didn't even turn the burner back on, just allowed the already-tender spinach to soften itself in the hot broth. 

It was good, and relatively quick for twelve gallons of soup. It would take less than an hour to prepare a family-size pot if you have cooked beans and rice on hand. You could leave those out, especially if you're serving the soup as part of a larger meal. I can see this soup served with grilled cheese sandwiches - much tastier than the traditional Campbell's tomato. 

I like the challenge of using what we've got and making something good out of it. It takes a little practice, but what a great skill our grandparents had! Making do and making it delicious is the root of what we think of now as "regional" cooking. You don't get more regional than Mid-February Embrace-Your-Roots Soup.

Oh, Wendell

A Homecoming

 One faith is bondage. Two
are free. In the trust
of old love, cultivation shows
a dark graceful wilderness
at its heart. Wild
is that wilderness, we roam
the distances of our faith,
safe beyond the bounds
of what we know. O love,
open. Show me
my country. Take me home.


The Mad Farmer’s Love Song

O when the world’s at peace
and every man is free
then will I go down unto my love.

O and I may go down
several times before that.

- Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems 1957-1982

I love Hamlins

Hamlin 2

I love Hamlins. That was the "status update" of a college-age Facebook friend of mine. When I was her age I would have no idea what to make of this; "Hamlin" would have been as foreign a concept as "Facebook friend."  But from this vantage point, I am thrilled!

A Hamlin is a variety of early orange grown here in North Florida. It is the sweetest of them all, with few seeds - and a not-so-perfect-looking skin. Thanks to farmers markets selling local food, many more of us know the names of oranges, and our personal favorites. We look forward to their particular season within the general orange growing season. We love them, as one can only actually love something in its particularity (as Wendell Berry would say). 

Are we learning to be particular about our oranges here in Florida? When I was a young girl growing up in a suburb built on an orange grove, I couldn't tell you the difference between the oranges my mother brought home from Publix - or whether they were grown in Florida or California. Slow as it goes, some things are changing for the better.  It warms my February heart.

Wendell Berry's 17 Rules for a Sustainable Economy

Migrating Robin
Robins coming through on their way back North

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth.

2. Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products – first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of ‘labor saving’ if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, not necessarily, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalised childcare and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalised. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

Robins and Wachovia Bank
Robins fly by Wachovia Bank