Rainy Days and Guinness Butternut Squash Soup

So, how normal is it to eat whole cloves of garlic when you’re sick? This isn’t one of those times when I’m “asking for a friend.” I just found out that several of my friends do this and I am appalled. Forreal. I’m surrounded by weirds. I just can’t imagine the taste/visceral/emotional experience of a whole clove of garlic waxily traveling down my throat. Sick. Whole cloves of garlic don’t belong anywhere unless they’re roasted, and then they belong on a crusty piece of bread, all smeared around with butter or olive oil. Yeah, that’s right, bread full of gluten and butter full of dairy! I get that this flu season has been atrocious and I’m all for food being our most powerful medicine, but there are some roads I just won’t travel. Whole, raw garlic swallowing is one of them. Instead, I’ll make some soup.

I’ve talked about soup-making before (here and here and probably elsewhere); it’s a favorite pastime. There is nothing better after going for a run on a drizzly Saturday afternoon than making soup for some friends. That’s what I did a couple Saturdays ago. I was trying to get myself to clean my room or go to the store or update my resume or generally be a productive human being when I noticed that the gigantic, beautiful butternut squash I had on the counter was eyeing me. It had probably been talking to my brand new immersion blender.

Side note: Have you noticed how invested my friends and family are in my kitchen quality of life? I told you about the time my parents got me Simon Darre the Kitchen Aid for my birthday, and my ensuing freak out. I’ve also told you about the time the Catholics got me incredible Wusthof knives, and my ensuing freak out. This Christmas, you may remember, my mom got my sister and me the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (signed—I don’t think I told you that. What up Deb Perlman!) and a really special collection of my grandmother’s handwritten recipes. What I did not tell you was that she also got me an immersion blender (magic wand, whatever). Hey Mom, thanks! I’ve been having smoothie breakfasts thanks to you! (Favorite: mango, avocado, and spinach blended with plain yogurt. Go for it. If you have cilantro and lime, go for that too. I just haven’t had any.)

Anyway, that Saturday I was feeling pretty much like the weather, and the thought of soup and friends changed my whole day around. It was the weekend before classes started for my grad student friends, and I hadn’t seen most of them yet after Christmas. So I texted a few people and started peeling squash.

Butternut squash is in a three-way tie for my favorite winter vegetable (with parsnips and sweet potatoes, duh). It has to be the best of all the squashes. I often feel like soup is a waste of butternut squash because it’s so good on its own—I usually just cut it up and roast it with a tiny splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. BUT, this time of year, when there are piles of inexpensive squashes in the grocery store, I don’t feel as bad about it. Know what else I don’t feel bad about? Beer. And so:

Guinness Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 giant butternut squash
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 10ish fresh sage leaves
  • 2-3 tsp fresh ginger
  • salt and pepper
  • a bottle of Guinness
  • a generous splash of Half & Half

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350. Yeah, we’re making soup.
  2. Peel, then cut the squash into half inch cubes and roast on a cookie sheet with some olive oil for 25-30 minutes.
  3. Dice the onion and sautee in your stock pot with a splash of oil and a pinch of salt until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, both minced, and sautee for another minute. Add several turns of black pepper and the sage leaves, chiffonaded (am I allowed to say that?).
  4. Turn up the heat and deglaze with that whole bottle of Guinness. (I know, I’m sorry, just open one for yourself too.)
  5. Carefully add your roasted squash and enough stock to cover the squash in the pot, then turn the heat back down to a simmer.
  6. When everything is really soft, get out your sweet new immersion blender and go to town. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can transfer the soup to a regular blender in batches.
  7. The soup will be extremely thick so add in more stock as you go until you get the consistency you want. If you run out of stock, just start adding water.
  8. Finish with a splash of Half & Half, probably some more black pepper, and salt to taste.

This is not a pretty soup (what with the dark Guinness and the roasted squash) but it is savory and warming and good. And it would not be opposed to being topped with bacon. What would, really?

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A Sandwich

I have very little to say today. Mainly just that I made a great sandwich last week. This sandwich had it all: food-groups, flavors, textures. It was a damn good sandwich. I’ve been wanting to eat it again, but the moment has passed. So I thought I’d tell you about it; in case you wanted to know how to make a good sandwich.

SANDWICH

It’s rude to stare.

It begins with a multigrain loaf of bread. There was a short time when I baked my own bread, and I miss that time, but my current kitchen is not exactly conductive to it. I don’t make bread right now but that doesn’t mean I’ll waste my time on bread that doesn’t deserve to house a sandwich. All bread needs is flour, yeast, water; sometimes things like olive oil—not a million chemicals you can’t pronounce. Bread that is shipped around the country in a bag doesn’t even taste good and has no right posing as toast or presuming on a sandwich. So get ye to a bakery (or the bakery section of your grocery store). If you can’t tell, bread is one of my favorite foods. I’m attached to it gastronomically, aesthetically, emotionally, and theologically. Okay, bread rant over.

The sandwich goes on with sliced balsamic pork tenderloin (dinner leftovers, to be honest with you). Don’t get me started on deli meats. Sandwich meat should be…meat. It should be sliced from something that looks like meat and contains only meat. Sausages like salami are their own thing (and I respect that; I love that). But “turkey” or “ham” should be turkey or ham. Moving on.

Next comes the cheese. And what a cheese: Wensleydale with Cranberries. Have you had this? Go have this. The first person to introduce me to Wensleydale was a Northern Irish friend, Julie, living in Texas. Julie missed this cheese so much she had my dear friend Wendy search for it when she was on a work trip to the UK. Wendy had a hell of a time finding the stuff and told an epic saga of its discovery and transport across nations during her hectic travels. Later we discovered that our local grocery store always has it available. It is a funny story. It is a delicious cheese. I would never have thought to put it in a sandwich, but I had it in my refrigerator, I mean I had a stroke of genius while constructing this sandwich. It pairs quite nicely with the pork.

The sandwich is finished with thinly sliced cherry tomatoes, baby arugula and spinach blend, and a good, coarse, whole grain mustard. I fake paninied it on a cast iron skillet with a tiny drizzle of olive oil (toasting on each side and pressing with a spatula until brown). Lemme tell you. It is a damn fine sandwich. That’s all for now.

Stuffed Portobello Quiche Brunch

Brunch is the most high-maintenance meal I can possibly imagine. It doesn’t need to be, but it wants to be. It wants the most intimidating eggs (poached eggs), the most expensive bread (boozy brioche French toast), the secretly most high-maintenance potato situation (straight up hash browns—I never get them right…that might be a personal problem), at least three beverage options (coffee, orange juice, mimosas, bloody marys), etc., etc.

Sometimes I think brunch should get over itself. But most of the time…I don’t. I love it. My secret (or not so secret) high-maintenanceness comes out around brunch. Yeah, I could just make roasted potatoes like I usually do…OR I could follow this lady’s example and create a nest out of tricky hash browns and bake a little egg in that cozy place. I could just make greyhounds, OR I could buy $400 worth of black pepper vodka, new spices, specialty pickles, organic tomato juice and I could puree celery like this crazy and make the most mind-blowing gazpacho-y bloody mary IN THE WORLD!

If I were a kept woman, I think whomever kept me would get a lot of too-much-time-on-my-hands brunch meals. Sadly (happily) I’m not a kept woman, and I generally don’t have time or opportunity or money to make that crap. I’m either cooking for myself or I’m cooking for 20 people. So I’m either making one fried egg with wilted spinach, or I’m making a giant baked egg thing. This was not so in the days of RunBrunchClub (which are hopefully returning), and luckily I’ve had a couple prime opportunities to brunch it up lately. First my friends Andrea and Brandon had a few people over for breakfast-for-dinner before leaving town for their unreasonably long Christmas break. Then there was the 1/3 DUP Christmas Brunch.

Andrea made some killer French toast for breakfast-for-dinner so I naturally went in the direction of frivolous egg things. I doubt that I’m the first person to think of this, but in my mind I had a completely revolutionary egg idea, combining two of my favorite things: quiche and stuffed mushrooms. I decided to invent bite-sized stuffed mushroom quiche (quiches? quiche?) by filling baby bellas with normal stuffed mushroom stuff (garlic, mushroom stems, and a good parmesan cheese) plus eggs. It was a success, of the brunchiest kind. It would be a delicious addition to any breakfast-for-dinner or girly brunch shower as an appetizer. But it was also a big hassle to pour the filling into those baby, baby bellas and I wasn’t totally sold on the garlic/egg combination. So, when 1/3 DUP Christmas Brunch came around, I knew what I had to do.

I only recently mentioned what/who DUP is. DUP (pronounced dupe) is what we called the duplex I lived in during college. It quickly became an amorphous noun with many derivative adjectives referring to the eight women who lived there in various combinations of six for three years. We are a diverse bunch, currently spread all around the country. Most recently I’ve mentioned Duff (who is a social worker and salsa dancing enthusiast in California) and her delicious pumpkin muffins. I’ve also written about Maria (director of Camp Gladiator kids’ camp in Austin), who I grew up with outside of Chicago. Her twin sister Angie was also a best friend in high school and a member of DUP (she’s a social worker for—by which I mean against—human trafficking in L.A.). Then there is Rachel (a Chilean studying criminal justice and living in Brooklyn), Kate (an air pollution fighting person by day, graduate student in public policy by night, recreational ceramicist in Denver).

dup

Sure we make shirts for our reunions, what? Left to right: Alex, Duff, Me, Hutch, Maria, Angie, Kate, and Rachel.

The final two DUP members Alex (social worker for adoption cases) and Hutch (Heather-name-sharer and labor and delivery nurse) both live in Dallas in an American dream  neighborhood. They live on the same street in houses they own with their husbands and 1-1.5 children each; backyards, dogs, etc. They are probably the DUP members I see most often because they are ever so generous with airport deliveries and I usually fly out of Dallas when I travel. I try to drive up a night early or stick around after flights so that I can see them. I flew out of Dallas this Christmas, so I drove up early and cooked Hutch and Alex brunch at Alex’s house.

dup brunch

1/3 DUP Brunch

I freaking love spending time with DUP. They are the people that I first learned how to cook with. When we were 19 years old, in our first apartment ever, when most people were learning how to drink and date and be normal college students, we were hanging out obsessively with just each other (and the people bold enough to come over uninvited), figuring out food, and sometimes studying. For our entire first year together the DUP and DupDwellers (those guys who hung around—maybe interested in one of us, but probably just waiting to be fed) ate elaborate meals almost every night. Literally; like 5-7 days a week. Dinners always involved Pillsbury crescent rolls, at least an entire chicken breast for every person, and dessert. We had no idea what we were doing; I was working off of untried concepts gleaned from observing my mother’s kitchen magic. We didn’t want people to leave hungry so we always ended up with more than twice what we needed.

It’s amazing that no one developed diabetes; but mainly it’s amazing that we’re still all obsessed with each other. There were dark times in DUP history—inter-DUP tension, Hutch moving to Dallas for nursing school and taking my best-friend-heart with her, boys breaking DUP hearts, some of our first experience of a close friend’s death, and that time that Duff got the chicken pox (which is funny now, but wasn’t when she was miserable and they thought she had meningitis)—but through four years of college ups and downs, we became a family.

Being around them is refreshing in that finally-get-to-sit-in-your-own-living-room-after-too-long-away kind of way. We have always been and are perhaps increasingly very different people, with very different lives, but that doesn’t stop us from still becoming a very loud single unit when together and updating and supporting each other, generally through DUPdate emails and obnoxious group texts. We try to have reunions at least once a year. This year was full of DUP-time because Maria and Kate both had beautiful weddings over the summer. I meant to write bunches about both but I guess got overwhelmed at the prospect and just didn’t. Apparently I’ll have another opportunity to write up a DUP wedding season because Angie just got engaged! (AH!)

mountain

DUP minus Kate at her wedding in Arapahoe Basin.

beach

DUP minus Duff at Lake Michigan before Maria’s wedding.

wedding dress

Getting ready for Maria’s wedding.

I knew that if I tried writing about DUP I’d spiral out of control. So. I guess I’m sorry. Let’s get back to the point: 1/3 DUP Christmas Brunch. For round two of my stuffed mushroom quiche experiment I decided to make life easier by using full sized Portobello caps and going with different egg-friendly flavors.

portobello1

Stuffed Portobello Quiche

Ingredients

  • 4 Portobello mushrooms
  • 4 eggs
  • Half a yellow onion, diced
  • Around 4 oz. of frozen, chopped spinach (defrosted and wrung out)
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/3 C crumbly feta
  • A splash of Half & Half, if you have it
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350.
  2. Remove the Portobello stems carefully, making sure not to tear the caps, and place the caps ribby-side up (technical term) on a baking dish drizzled with olive oil.
  3. Dice the onion and roughly chop the Portobello stems, then sauté in some olive oil until tender.
  4. Arrange the onions, spinach, and cherry tomatoes evenly in each cap.
  5. Crack the eggs into a lil’ bowl (preferably with some kind of pour spout) and whisk with a splash of half and half, a generous grind of fresh black pepper, and pinch of salt. Add the feta and mix well.
  6. Pour the egg mixture carefully into each Portobello cap. (Do not cry if some leaks or escapes or mocks your clean Pyrex. It’ll be okay; I promise.)
  7. Carefully transfer to your preheated oven and bake for around 30 minutes. It may take longer than that to firm up—the mushrooms produce a lot of liquid too—so be patient and keep checking until they’re done.

portobello3

If it’s unclear, they were delicious. I think they are the perfect serving size for a main brunch dish, and would be very nicely complimented by a bloody mary. We just had coffee and tried not to be grossed out by Alex’s morning sickness stories. Sorry, Al.

In some ways, my life could not be more unlike Hutch and Alex’s; they were the first to get married right after college, the first to have children, the first to own homes. But every time I’m with them, I’m more touched by how much we relate (how much we track with big important things despite our very different jobs, relationships, and churches) than how we’re different. It has been a special privilege for me to be able to see their babies and watch them become mothers more than the rest of DUP has been able to. I hope I have many more opportunities to exchange brunches for rides to the airports.

Pecan Crescents and Christmas

Oh hey blog. Sorry about the long pause. There have been some holidays. I hope yours were good. Mine were good; half manically busy and half dead lazy. It evens out, I guess. I went home the weekend before Christmas and immediately baked 100 cookies. Baking in my parents’ house is like going to Daddy Warbuck’s after the orphanage. The family that owned our house before we moved in also owned an awesome local bakery. That means that our kitchen contains two industrial sized Vulcan ovens. (Sidenote: I don’t actually know what industrial sized means, but they’re massive.) Whole batches of cookies can be baked at once! It’s glorious.

gingerbread

A small sampling.

Then my sister arrived and we were sprinting through family friend parties, Christmas hosting, and meal-making. This year we hosted both sides of the family over Christmas Eve (Dad’s side) and Christmas Day (Mom’s side). It was fun but craaaaazy. There were 28 humans and 5 dogs in our house over two days.

home

I kind of grew up in a John Hughes film. Also, John Hughes was my grandfather’s name.

Every year of my entire life we’ve had Christmas Eve with my father’s side of the family at my grandmother’s house that my grandfather built and my Dad grew up in. My uncle buys a tree that can barely fit in the raised-ceiling living room (one year it was so big if fell over and we had to wire it to the wall), we eat appetizers at the coffee table in the living room, we all move with a lot of hubbub to the long table in the dining room, somebody says grace, my (grand-)Uncle Jim concludes it with “Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul” (I still don’t really get it), then we eat; after the dishes are figured out we open presents around the tree, and take a lot of pictures. My grandmother passed away this summer so my immediate family hosted for the first time. I’m guessing it takes awhile for that kind of transition not to feel majorly off. It was good to see everyone and fun to cook a big meal, but it didn’t feel like Christmas; not everyone was there and we didn’t do the things we usually do in the place we usually do them. I don’t think anyone took a single picture.

It was good to go to midnight Mass with some friends and remember that traditions and my expectations of things are not really the point. Mary probably didn’t envision the culmination of her every thought since the Annunciation occurring in front of some livestock while traveling away from home. It’s a trite point, but it’s a point—even if just about family tradition. I tend to get too attached to the details, and forget that there are bigger things happening and I’m not actually in control of any of it. We always celebrate Christmas day with my mom’s side of the family, either at our house or one of my aunts’ in Wisconsin or Indiana. That’s tradition and it feels right; but only because I was too young to feel the shift from my grandparents’ house in Wisconsin when they moved to Arkansas in the 90’s, and then when my grandfather stopped traveling in the winter after my grandmother died. I’m sure my mom felt that, though. I’m sure she still feels it every year.

Right now it feels like Mukka (my paternal grandmother) was the anchor of our entire family and now we’re all cut loose, drifting. I never realized how much force her presence had in keeping us together, but I also recognize that that’s just how death feels. Augustine says that memory is what allows us to recognize providence, and he’s right. This idea is a major theme in one of my favorite novels, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, but even the creators of the idiotic How I Met Your Mother pick up on it in a secular way. Sometimes our drifting feeling is made so extreme by the circumstances of loss and confusion that it’s physically tangible; but really, I always feel that way. It’s only when we look back at the past that we can make sense of our lives with any kind of meaningful narrative.

When I was in high school and college the future terrified me so much that I wanted to fall asleep Rip Van Winkle-style and wake up when my life was figured out. But that shit never happens; no one does the work for you (someone go tell “Footprints”). I’m all grown up now and I still don’t know where I’m going to be in five years—if I’ll have a different job, live in a new place, or be in a new relationship. It’s still scary. But when I think about where I was five years ago and how I got to where I am now, I can only be grateful. I don’t understand everything about the past—even my own actions—but I can see how I’ve been forced to grow even when I didn’t want to, how I’ve been protected even when my life was hell, and most importantly I can remember how lost and alone and angry I felt through the experiences that have formed the best parts of who I am now. And that’s where the hope is, I guess. Knowing that you don’t have to understand what’s happening when it’s happening; you just need to work with the good and trust that all will be well. Mainly because that’s the only thing you can do.

That could sound depressing, but it’s not; and Christmas is a good time to realize it again. Routines only last so long; people move, families fight; loved ones die. But we are assured that “all shall be well”… etc. There always will be Christmas. Every year and more than that. We’re sort of living in it—because the Incarnation is an invitation into the life of God, not just an expression of it. We don’t get to decide what that participation looks like; we don’t even get to decide what Christmas dinner looks like half the time. But the point is that we get to participate. That Christ was born in Bethlehem so that he can be born in us, every moment.

So that’s good. Anyway, I seem to have gone on a tangent. My time at home was actually pleasant—I wasn’t thinking about all this stuff the whole time. I was mainly thinking about eating this Chicago lunch:

hotdog

watching action movies with my family, drinking the Templeton Rye my cousin brought to Christmas, and looking at my new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and the awesome gift my mom made for our family: a book of all of my Grandmama’s (pronounced Grandma-Ma) handwritten recipes. (Also, my brother-in-law and Dad helped put them together—I don’t want to get any grief.)

My maternal grandmother died when I was in junior high, so I didn’t get to know her in the same way that I got to know Mukka. It’s really cool to see her handwriting and notes on recipes. There are some new (old) things I can’t wait to try, but the recipes I’m most excited about are the ones that my mom and aunts always make—chocolate drop cookies and pecan crescents. I know you’re so over fatty Christmas foods and are New Year Resolutioning it up by now, but why don’t you get over yourself and enjoy an Italian butter cookie. Save it for Valentine’s Day, for all I care.

crescents angle

 Geraldine’s Pecan Crescents

Ingredients

recipe

You see those grease stains!? That’s real cooking. You can also tell that the woman didn’t waste words. I’ll elaborate…

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Cream the room temperature butter, add the vanilla and water, then slowly add the powdered sugar, then flour until just incorporated.
  3. Chop up the pecans or pulse them in a food processor, then fold them into the dough.
  4. To shape the cookies take about a tablespoon of dough in your hands and roll it into a ball, then roll it out until it’s about 2 inches long and curve it into a crescent shape.
  5. Place the cookies evenly on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. They’ll firm up but shouldn’t brown really at all.
  6. Allow them to cool completely on a wire rack, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Eat many of these with coffee; sometimes for breakfast. This year I made both pecan and walnut crescents; my mom actually usually uses walnuts, but they’re great with either.