Food and Cooking, Photography, Uncategorized

Foto Friday No. 5

I’ll keep it simple here. Mainly because I’m already feeling like it’s time to climb into bed, but also because that’s what this soup is.

I had come home from the grocery store today planning on making up in advance some smoothies and kale salads to fuel the crazy week ahead. (To avoid a repeat of this past week, when I mostly ate cookies, apples, and cereal.) But I was in a mood where I just wanted to use up all the old food in the fridge, so I decided to tackle the crisper drawer-full of random CSA root veggies which we’ve been avoiding. Things like celeriac and rutabaga. Seriously. What do you do with these things??

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I, for one, whipped up this soup. I’ve put a recipe below, but t’s really more of  a guideline. I’m sure you could sub in parsnips or potatoes, or maybe even turnips for the rutabaga. Herbs are optional and customizable, and I’m definitely not one to be particular about apple varieties.

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This soup is slightly sweet, creamy and hearty, but not heavy. It’s simple, good, real food–completely unassuming. It’s pictured below with Wasa crackers, but some fresh bread would have been delicious.

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Celeriac, Rutabaga, and Apple Soup

makes approx. 4 servings

Ingredients:

olive oil

1 medium onion

2-3 cloves of garlic

1 celeriac

4 rutabagas

2 apples

4 cups of vegetable stock

1/2 tsp. dried Italian herbs

salt & pepper to taste

parsley for garnish, optional

Directions:

1. Heat a stock pot with a few glugs of  olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion, and sauté until golden. Add minced garlic, and stir in with onion for about 30 seconds. Make sure to not overcook at this point, or the garlic will burn which really ruins an entire dish. I speak from multiple experiences.

2. Add diced celeriac, apples, and rutabagas to the onions and garlic. Pour in vegetable stock, and add herbs and salt and pepper. Stir it all together, and cover the pot.

3. Let the soup boil for about 20 minutes, or until your veggies are cooked through. You should be able to pierce them easily with a fork, but they shouldn’t be falling apart to mush.

4. Blend the soup either in a blender, or use an immersion blender if you have one. I reserved some of the veggies before blending, so I could add them on top of the pureed soup when serving. I like to have a little texture, and if you’re serving to other people, it’s always nice to know what you’re eating. 🙂 If however, you like to keep it as simple as possible, just blend away with everything all together. Taste it at this point, and add salt and pepper as needed.

5. Optional extras: I garnished with a  little parsley and cracked black pepper, but since the soup’s flavors are rather delicate, the parsley definitely stood out. If you’re not crazy about the flavor of parsley, you can sub another herb or omit altogether. If you’re not trying to keep the soup vegan, a swirl of cream or sprinkling of cheese would probably be great for finishing it off, too.

And there you have it. Super easy. Dicing up the veggies and apples will probably be the most time consuming part of the recipe, but even that goes pretty quick. Let me know if you give the soup a try!

 

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Food and Cooking, Photography

Foto Friday No. 3

Well… maybe “Foto Friday” needs to be moved to Saturdays. But I’m embracing the imperfections and frustrations of the daily grind, so for now I don’t mind the misnomer.

Today’s pictures are of the vegan banana muffins I made for a spontaneous brunch I hosted this morning. From the inception of the idea of a brunch to sipping on coffee and mimosas this morning was less than 24 hours. And it was such a needed and fulfilling time!

Vegan Banana Muffins

Finding community where I’m currently living has been trying at times, partly due to this being the first place I’ve moved post-college (where community was practically built into the experience). There are also plenty of other reasons I’ve come up with for why it’s been difficult. Well, plenty of other reasons I blame. But I made a commitment not to leave this place before I come to terms with the things that make me dissatisfied with my life here. I don’t want to constantly move on from one experience to another, seeking greener pastures and always being disappointed when my too-perfect expectations are not met.

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Hospitality is a virtue I value and enjoy, and I’ve thankfully had many opportunities to practice it over the past few years. I love preparing food for others, creating a space within my home that will bring people together, and expressing my care and value of others by taking the time to cook for them. I’ve had neighbors and individual friends over for meals quite a bit, but have yet to host a dinner party. However, over the past few months I’ve been inspired to continue to branch out in developing my gift of hospitality, most recently by Shauna Neiquest‘s book Bread and Wine (her writing is absolutely an experience–I feel like I’m devouring every word and physically brought into each moment as I read. I highly recommend her!) and also one of my favorite food blogs, The Yellow Table. From the first time I found this blog and discovered Anna, the blogger, has many similar ideas about the power of food and the table, I have faithfully read every single post. I also highly recommend her blog–it is inspiring beyond just for recipes! And finally, through The Yellow Table, I heard about a project called If:Table, which is based off the idea from Acts 2:46 where it talks about the early church breaking bread together daily. The project encourages groups of 6 women to gather for 2 hours once a month for dinner and conversation over 4 questions (which are provided for you).

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These women’s amazing writings about the power of food and the table to create community have further fanned into flame my desire to have my home be a place where I welcome in friend and neighbor to feed body, mind, and soul. So, while showering yesterday morning, I decided to stop bemoaning about all the various reasons why community is so hard here, and do something about it! It felt surprisingly vulnerable to send out an invite, but for the chance to spend the morning lingering over a meal together having great conversation–totally worth it. Relationships and community require perseverance and effort and vulnerability. It’s been taking me quite a while to really learn that, but I’m coming around…with a little help from my friends.

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And finally, speaking of vulnerability and perseverance, photography is not something in which I feel skilled or talented. And after a couple scarring photography classes in college, where I was completely mortified to show my photos on critique days, I still don’t like putting my photos out there for others to see. I really didn’t want to work on photography as a hobby/skill to develop during my “Alternate Grad School Experience” because it would require me to face my insecurities. However, I decided to give it a try and started Foto Fridays a couple weeks ago…with the complete intention of taking iPhone photos, putting cool filters on them, and calling it a day. But I’ve realized that doesn’t really count, at least not for me. So as I made my muffins yesterday, I pulled out my DSLR and decided to force myself to start somewhere. Hopefully I’ll look back at this post in a couple months or a year and see some big improvements. 🙂

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Uncategorized

Kneading vs. Needing Whole Wheat Bread

I can hardly believe it, but it’s time for another monthly update on this project. Hopefully I can get to that in the next few days! 2013 has really been flying by, and it’s completely crazy! At work, we’ve started to get busy brainstorming (and now executing) Christmas promotions and programs, which is exciting for me since I believe this to be the best time of the year. (Finally, the rest of the world joins me in listening to Christmas music!) I’m certain the next 7 1/2 weeks until the new year will be gone before I know it with all the extra projects at work and traveling for the holidays. But like I said, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

With this new season comes colder weather and more reasons to stay cozy inside…. in the kitchen working on bread or other seasonal treats. Unfortunately, I have yet to land on my ideal no-knead, whole-wheat sandwich bread. I’ve tried two different recipes so far, and although they certainly turn out, they aren’t quite what I’m hoping to achieve. For whatever reason, my bread always seems to rise too much. (I have even tried kneading the dough a time or two part way through the rise so that it won’t just keep expanding forever like that greedy blueberry girl on Willy Wonka, but it always seems to rise too much anyways.) Since I live in an apartment where I cannot set the heat/air, environmental factors are always different and practically impossible to control. The latest time, I stuck the dough straight into the fridge to rise, and even then, the rising was surprisingly fast. Perhaps I bought the yeast with super powers…?

Exhibit A: The Fallen Loaf

Exhibit A: The Fallen Loaf

Besides this phenomenon affecting the appearance of my loaf, I also feel like the texture of the bread is almost spongy. I’m still trying to figure out if this is a result of the rising or just the nature of no-knead bread. The photo below is from my most recent attempt, and after I let the dough have it’s final rise in the loaf pan, I pulled the sides of the dough (at that point starting to expand over the edges) to overlap on top of the loaf. I think this helped a lot with it not falling while baking.

Exhibit B: The Still Spongy, But Not Fallen Loaf

Exhibit B: The Still Spongy, But Not Fallen Loaf

I did learn from some research that the reason why whole wheat bread is typically denser than its white wheat counterparts is because the bran on the wheat is actually sharp enough to cut the gluten strands in the bread, thus making it not stretch the same way. Maybe because my whole wheat bread is no-knead, the bran isn’t cutting through the gluten, thus making it rise differently? But I would imagine this should just make it softer, like white bread… But then again, the purpose of kneading is to activate the development of gluten, so I suppose not kneading bread would have a pretty direct impact on the bread’s texture. Maybe without the smooth and elastic-y gluten, the gases released by the yeast just creates little air pockets instead of causing the dough to evenly expand. If anyone has insight into this, please let me know!

Exhibit B, Again: Good Crust on This Loaf

Exhibit B, Again: Good Crust on This Loaf, Minus the Little Corner Bit that Got Stuck to the Pan

I’ve also done some research on amounts of yeast in bread. I know that longer rise times (and therefor less yeast) produce more flavorful breads, but I’m wondering if it’s also better for your body to use less yeast. I know that a couple teaspoons of yeast divided between a whole lot of bread equals out to a small amount per serving, but somehow it makes sense to me that there be a nutritional significance to it. However, any searching for answers on this one just bring me to information on nutritional yeast, which is obviously different, and seems to mainly serve the purpose of making vegans feel like they can have their cake mac and “cheese” and eat it too.

Exhibit C: Sliced and Ready to Go. A hungry belly does not discriminate against spongy-textured fresh bread!

Exhibit C: Sliced and Ready to Go. A hungry belly does not discriminate against spongy-textured fresh bread!

In any case, my favorite thing about these no-knead recipes is they require just bits of time over the course of a day or two (and they seem to be pretty forgiving if you get off schedule) which works very well for me. Now, if only I could discover the perfect recipe!

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Uncategorized

Lessen your sorrows

“All sorrows are less with bread. ” 

-Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (I am totally on the same page with Miguel here… although I might be slightly picky/snobbish/discretionary about my bread these days.)

I have decided that one of my skills to develop this year will be bread making. Mostly, because I can hardly imagine a better pleasure than to be a master of bread making, to be able to confidently knead a lump of dough into perfection, to be rewarded with the luxury of a quality loaf whenever the fancy strikes.

I’m not sure what my first experience with bread making was, but I believe it might have been with my Oncle Willie, my grandfather’s older brother and the local baker in the small Swiss town of our origin. He had developed a top secret family recipe for making zopf, a fluffy, buttery, rich white braided bread traditional to Sunday morning breakfasts. Oncle Willie was insistent that the proper way to indulge was with a thick slathering of butter and perhaps some jam on top. One summer morning while staying with Oncle Willie, he taught us the art of zopf. Gathered around the table in their sunny kitchen, looking out across the backyard garden and green fields beyond, he led us through the various stages of mixing the dough and kneading it.

The reward for correctly braiding the two-stranded bread on the first try would be one franc. Neither my sister or I were able to, but he still gave us our reward anyways. Although the true reward was enjoying the fruits of our labor after the bread had completed its rises and time in the oven.

Over the following years, I continued to make zopf from time to time for traditional Sunday morning breakfasts. Eventually, I had worked up enough skill to have a dependable outcome, but the first several tries were shots in the dark with varied results. This was one of those recipes where you heat the milk until “it feels this hot” and knead until “it feels like this”. In any case, it was the beginning of a new hobby, and I have since branched out to a variety of breads, rolls, bagels, flat breads, etc.

I am now curious to know more of the science behind the bread. How the ingredients interact in different ways, how the gluten develops, how to troubleshoot on my own, and how to manipulate recipes and create my own.

My most recent endeavors to understanding bread making have involved whole wheat challah, pita bread, and a whole wheat no-knead sandwich bread. (As much as I love kneading bread, I want to have a reliable no-knead option in my repertoire.)

The challah was by far the most experimental of the three. I want to work on it some more, and I’ll post about it once I’ve perfected it. Don’t worry about having to wait for too long though–it is already pretty darn good. Absolutely the most pillow-y bread I have ever eaten. Ever. So good. I don’t have any pictures of my loaf but it was based off this recipe, minus the blackberries, so you can use your imaginations.

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