Tuesday, January 31, 2012

See You On Sunday

I'm headed off to Minnesota today without Ellis or Sarah.  I'll be home on Saturday.  This is the longest I've ever been away from them since Ellis was born.

I doubt I'll be blogging, so see you Sunday!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Soup Swap, Blogged At Last

Soup Swap is one of my very most favorite things in the world.  I am lucky to have some pretty amazing friends who do lots of cool things; this is possibly the best.  Not only is it fun, I leave with healthy, lovingly prepared meals for my family.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner, baby.  Well, sometimes vegetarian dinner, but that's cool.

I wrote about the prep work here.  Unfortunately, my soup was so delicious that we ate too much at home and I only had 5 quarts to swap.  (The soup is amazing!  I found it here!)

So, 13 friends showed up with 6 quarts (or in a few cases, 5 quarts) of soup and got ready to swap.  Here is the bounty in all of its glory.

On the menu, these delicious soups.

Pumpkin Black Bean from Anika
Tomatillo and Poblano Chili from Anne
Chestnut & Leek from Ashley
Roasted Potato & Leek with Crispy Shallot Garnish from Cecilia
Curried Butternut Squash & Pear from Christina
Thai Coconut Curry from Me
Creamy Carrot & Chickpea from Jessica, via Mark Bittman's Food Matters
Sweet Potato, Carrot & Red Lentil from Karen
Creamy Wild Rice and Smoked Turkey from Kathleen
Curried Winter Squash with Cilantro Yogurt from Kim, via Cook's Illustrated
Root Vegetable with Meatballs from Mindy
Curried Carrot Soup from Tara
Cheddar Ale from Venessa

After swapping was complete, the eating and drinking commenced.

Jess enjoyed her wine.

Anne enjoyed everything

Ashley enjoyed her PBR.

Ruby enjoyed still being awake.  (PSA: Wear your baby!)

In short, a good time was had by all.

A few words about soup swaps. We typically package our soups in freezer bags or freezer containers.  However, Anne

recently received a vacuum sealer (hooray for Christmas), and that sealed the soup quite well.  We're not sure we're totally comfortable with the chemicals in plastic or with its non-sustainability.  Anika (not pictured) used mason jars this time around.  After a few freezer accidents with mason jars in the past, I've been skeptical.  I have lost many a quart of soup to broken jars.  However, hers seem to be holding up.  We've looked into pressure canning the soups, but unless you have a soup recipe designed for canning, this can be tricky business.  You can end up with seriously over-cooked soup.

We swap frequently, maybe every 2-3 months, so we maintain a shared spreadsheet of all of the soups we've made.  Yep.  We are soup dorks and we love it.  With a spreadsheet, we can track who has made what and what has been particularly successful.  And with links to recipes, it's easy to remake soups you've gotten and loved.  This is my personal favorite, courtesy of Aaron and Hannah and Smitten Kitchen.

For more on soup swaps, go here.

The Camera Returns!

I'm headed out of town tomorrow and won't be back until Sunday.  Luckily, the camera is back and with it, pictures of new work.  I wish I had more time to write, but I accidentally spent 3 hours at the DMV today and ran out of time.

Scenes from last week-end's work.

And what I've been up to the past few days.

I do have a full soup swap post coming, but I doubt it'll be today.  Wish me luck on the plane to Minnesota!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lazy Saturday

Sarah took Ellis to her sister's band concert in Peoria today, so I've had the house to myself to clean and work on new pieces.  I'm doing my best to stay off facebook and otherwise waste time internetting around.

I started a piece today that I'm really excited about.  It combines the things I've been working on this month--drawing, lettering, new stitches.  And I'm starting it with a vision of what the end might be.  Lately,  I've really just been winging it, adding one element at a time.  This is wonderfully freeing way to work, but lends itself to artist's block (I don't know what to do next!) and to very busy pieces.  In any case, I'm loving this process, too.  There's nothing better than a clean living room, an embroidery hoop, a plan, and a Neko Case Pandora station.

I guess if I had my camera to show you what I'm up to, well, that might be better.  More old pics here to make things interesting.

Look!  Little Ellis with Zinnia the chicken!

Look!  My desk in our old apartment with its amazing light!

Look!  Silly Ellis in our old apartment, dressed to the nines as usual!  Please note the swim shirt and rain boots, just in case.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Camera Woes and The Nature of Things

Soup Swap was a great success!  I came home with 5 quarts of amazing soup--we ended up eating so much of what I made that I only had 5 quarts to share.  I'd love to share pics with you, but I've left my camera at a friend's house out in the 'burbs.  Silly me!

So we'll have to settle with some shots from last week and a promise to go pick up my camera.

I've been working on some new things, which I will be happy to show you once I get the camera.  In particular, I'm thinking about letters and text in embroidery.  I've done a lot of text in the past using split stitch or backstitch to essentially write, but I'm trying to think about different ways to fill in letters.  I'm particularly inspired by Jillian Tamaki's Penguin Threads book covers.  The lettering on The Secret Garden is exquisite.  So creative and full of life and energy.

What makes for a sense of energy in visual art?  How does an artist create or convey energy on the canvas, energy the eye can see or that the heart can understand?  For me, somehow, embroidery is an extraordinary medium for harnessing the energy of the artist.  This is why I keep returning to the embroidery.  I am certain that for me, much of the power behind embroidery is in the use of colors combined with line and with the three-dimensional aspect of the physical pieces.  There is also something intimate about those stitches, the way each artist has so deliberately attended to each stitch, each little piece of each line.  I'm not certain, though, why I find the same lines less interesting when drawn or painted.

Texture certainly plays a role.  Who doesn't love the peaks and valleys of Van Gogh's work?  The layers of paint reaching out to the viewer.  Still, you can't touch a Van Gogh.  I mean, not unless you want to get full-body tackled by a security guard and then arrested.

In any case, I'm trying to work through these thoughts and I'm looking forward to an entire day off tomorrow!  Sarah is taking Ellis to a band concert in Peoria.  I wonder how I will possibly fill all that time!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Soup Week: Let's Get It Done

We had a blizzard yesterday.  I'm a winter-hater, but there is something borderline magical about lots and lots of snow suddenly everywhere.  Awesome.  If it could all be gone by tomorrow, though, that'd be sweet.

Tomorrow is soup swap, so today was all about making soup.  It's best to make your soup in advance.  I know from experience that transporting 6 quarts of hot soup is tricky business.

The view from my kitchen.  Lovely,  huh?  Hands off, ladies.  It's all mine.

I'd intended to make the mushroom broth earlier in the week, but way led onto way and I ended up doing it today.  I was a lot more precise with the mushroom broth than I would normally be since I'm making it for other people--and because mushroom broth can be so yummy.  I wanted it to be that yummy.  I know a lot of people put seriously yucky veggies into their broth.  I confess I'm a bit picky.  If I can't imagine eating it without being grossed out, I don't add it.  I'm lucky to live a life where I can discard semi-yucky food.  I do have a secret compost fantasy about a time when I don't have to waste anything.  Ah, a girl can dream.

For soup swap, each person bring 6 quarts of frozen soup, swap, and then brings home 6 quarts of other people's delicious soups.  I always strive to make 7 quarts of soup so that I can have my own, too.  The first time I  participated, I made one super-giant crazy batch in my huge stock pot.  It was not successful.  It was a soup I'd made a zillion times and it was easily the worst version of it.  Since then, I do two batches.  I feel like I have better control over flavors and textures with the smaller batch.  Maybe someday I'll work up to bigger batches.  In the meantime, it takes longer.  Alas.

This Thai Coconut Curry Soup turned out to be a bit pricey to make.  I tripled the recipe, which meant 3 cans of coconut milk, 3 pounds of tofu and the curry paste.  I feel it was worth it.  This is perhaps the best soup I've ever made.  And since I take my soup swap money out of my food budget which spreads the cost out over 5-6 weeks, it usually works out just fine.

Mandatory additional ingredient for making 7 quarts of soup.

I believe the secret to awesomeness of this soup was in the quality of the curry paste and the tanginess of the lime juice.

I followed the recipe fairly closely, though I made a few changes.  I added the red bell pepper as part of the soup rather than as a garnish, used Bragg's Aminos instead of soy sauce, and increased the broth to account for the red pepper.  (I also couldn't get thai basil today.  I'm sure it would have a better texture than the sweet basil I used.)  In any case, winner, winner, vegan dinner, baby.

Gratuitous embroidery pics.

See you tomorrow with pictures from the Swap!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Soup Week, Day 3: Prepping for Soup Swap

A group of friends and I do a soup swap every few months.  I'm very lucky to be friends with some amazing women who are adventurous in food.  I always come home with 6 quarts of over-the-top delish soup.  I highly recommend organizing a swap among your friends.  I'm also lucky to have very organized friends, because if this were left up to me, it'd never happen.  If you are disorganized, you should find organized friends.

We are swapping on Sunday, and I'm planning to make this. (Although this also seems like it would be amazing!)  To make it extra yummy, I'll be using both plain ol' veggie broth and mushroom broth.  I posted about stock before, but I wanted to get a bit more in-depth about why stock is awesome.

We live on a pretty tight budget, so I need to be pretty careful with what I spend.  I am sure we could spend a lot less on food if we ate more junk food.  But I want to balance our finances with feeding my family healthy food.  After all, it doesn't save much money to eat junk now and end up with all kinds of health problems down the road.  I concentrate on finding a balance.  Making stock from scratch is, I feel, one of the greatest examples of this.  For almost no added cost, it adds huge value.  Almost anything you make with homemade stock will be yummier than food made with water or store-bought stock.  Food made truly from scratch means we actually want to eat at home.  It also means we use the odds and ends of vegetables that might otherwise get tossed.  And this means I'm saving the world.  You all owe me big time.

My vegetable stock recipes are based on recipes from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone recipes.  This is a phenomenal resource.  And I scored mine at a garage sale for $1.  I basically ripped it out of another lady's hand.  I'm sure she didn't really need it.  Madison has a stock recipe for pretty much every kind of soup.  I use her Basic Stock Recipe most of the time, with my own changes and additions.  Tonight I'm making her Mushroom Stock.  This stock makes everything better.  I'm considering giving Ellis frozen Mushroom Stock to put on owies instead of the weird Elmo thing full of cold red goo.  It could work.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Soup Week, Day 2: Miso Soup

Welcome to day two of Soup Week!   In conjunction with my New Year 2012 Eating Regime: Eat Like An Adult, I decided to try miso.

In the past, I have not loved it.  I'm also sensitive to thrush, and the jury is out on whether or not miso is a good idea in the face of candida issues.  But whatever.  I am now completely addicted to miso soup.  I mean, wow.  I really hope it's okay for my body.

Here's my recipe.  These quantities are all pretty flexible.  Add as much or as little as you like of everything, depending on the flavor and consistency you're looking for.  Made with water and these measurements, your soup will be on the plain side.  For a more intense soup, use broth or reduce water by half.

Easy Miso Soup with Mushrooms & Tofu

3 cloves garlic, sliced or minced (I prefer mine chunky)
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (I love shitake, but anything would work)
1/2 cup tofu, cut into small cubes
2 TBS miso, or more or less to taste
4 quarts water or vegetable broth
1/4 tsp ground ginger (or fresh if you have it)
handful of greens such as kale, collard, or seaweed
scallions, for garnish (optional)

Heat EVOO in large soup pan.  Saute garlic, mushrooms and tofu until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.  Add water or broth, miso, and ginger.  Bring to boil.  Add greens.  Reduce heat and simmer until soup is yummy.

I served this to Ellis for lunch and he hated it.  He's in a weird food place right now, reluctant to try new things and hating most of the new things he tries.  I'm lucky because on the whole, his favorite foods are pretty healthy.  He likes all fruit and most vegetables.  He would pick blueberries and plain yogurt over blueberry flavored yogurt.  However, I do want him to expand his palate.  I get tired of eating the same things all the time.  I believe that a diverse diet is better for health.  And it's just good practice to be a flexible person.  Also, it does hurt my feelings just a bit when he makes a huge gagging sound after trying my cooking.  I'm sure this is my karma coming to roost.  Sorry about mocking the tofu burgers, mom.  But it was 1983.  My mom is always a few steps ahead of the dominant culture on food issues.

Meanwhile, Ellis helped me make Tomato Sauce for dinner for his school-to-home project.  They are studying Italy.  His assignment is to make an Italian dish, eat it, and draw a picture of it.  Then I'll go in to his class and we'll talk about our experience.

In unrelated news, there isn't any room in my freezer right now because it's all filled up with a giant bag of snow.

Meals for Mamas

A dear friend from my mom's group just had her second baby.  Our group organizes meals for mamas after a new baby or if a mama is having a rough time and needs a hand.  How great is that? Yesterday was my day to bring a meal.  I made this yummy Roasted Veggie Enchilada Casserole.  I did add black beans, to up the protein content, and carrots and broccoli, because I had some.  And we used our homemade tomatillo salsa (from this recipe).

50% of children I tested liked this meal.  My own child spit it out, made a gagging sound, and asked for bread and butter instead.  But he doesn't like cilantro.  Dude, whose kid is he?  His friend who was over for lunch liked it.  She also had a butter sandwich, though.  My mama friend predicted her kid would just want the same grilled cheese she wants every night.  What is the matter with children?  I can personally say, this meal was awesome.  A make-again for sure.

I was super-psyched to return from my meal run to find that Sarah had made her signature yummy lentil soup.  It's such a pleasure for someone else to make dinner.  We have two really good lentil soup recipes.  She uses the lentil soup recipe from this book.  Here is my own recipe, which I like just as much, though it's a bit more work.  Ellis loves both.  (Tonight he ate 3 bowls.)

Jen's Best Red Lentil Soup Recipe

2-3 TBS butter or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 small onions, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 med. potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 carrots, cut into small pieces
1 cup red lentils
6 cups vegetable broth or water
1 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
1 tsp. salt or to taste
2 TBS lemon juice

Melt butter in large soup pan.  Saute onions and garlic until onions begin to get tender.  Add veggies, lentils, and salt.  Saute about 1 minute.  Add spices and stir.  Add liquid and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until veggies are tender and lentils are breaking up.  Turn off heat.  Add lemon juice.  Serve over rice.

Fair warning: This is going to be a soup week on the blog.