Foodie Tuesday: Two Soups = Twice as Super

Photo: Roasted Veg for DinnerI’m experimenting with various vegetable combinations lately, for whatever reason, and finding more and more of them that please me than ever before. That said, no recipe or variation thereon is guaranteed to be ideal, either in its as-written form or to my personal taste. To wit: a split pea soup recipe I tried out recently.

Unlike my normal practice, I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter, the only change being to substitute russet for fingerling potatoes in lieu of an extra, last-minute run to the grocery store. This alone undoubtedly did skew the recipe, because of course russets or baking potatoes are mealy and liquid-stealing by nature, and I knew that the resulting blend would require a little more of its liquid to arrive intact…so I adjusted that amount very slightly and accounted for the concomitant change in seasoning with a pinch or two extra as needed.

Now, I grew up with split peas as a thick porridge or stew rather than a watery soup, so I had no worry about the stuff turning out thick, which it did. But this was no stick-to-my-ribs hearty porridge, only grainy and mealy slushiness. Worse, it was, as my superhero supertaster of a spouse agreed, the superlative of blandness. Even he couldn’t detect enough flavor in this mixture to warrant eating a whole pot of it, fresh or reheated.Photo: In a Maelstrom of Soup Madness

I will not, however, be defeated by a bunch of boring and dull-textured vegetables. Still, I had other meals to make in the meantime, so the remainder of that dinner went into the fridge to sit in the naughty corner and think about its misdeeds in the dark for a day or two. I had roasted vegetables to make.

This is something I crave in the cooler months, or what passes for such things in Texas. It’s one of my favorite ways to boost the flavor and character of not only the individual veg themselves when straight out of the oven but also the dishes to which I can add some or all of them later as slightly caramelized booster versions of themselves. This time I prepped a two-pan batch for the oven. One was a mix of thickly julienned potatoes and carrots and onion with a touch of garlic plus a paste made by blending turmeric, smoked paprika, a little smoked salt, and yellow mustard (the vinegary American kind) with a spoonful of my homemade veg broth (also turmeric-and-paprika tinged in this batch). I stirred those all together with a few brown mustard seeds, and stuck them in a big baking dish.

Joining this pan in the oven was another, filled with asparagus spears, julienned celery and red capsicum, quartered brown mushrooms, a small handful of broccoli flowerets, and pitted black olives. This got a good spoonful of veg broth in the bottom to keep the onions and garlic from over-roasting. Then, I dressed over the whole admixture with a sprinkling of dill, a slick of light-style Italian vinaigrette, and a sliced whole lemon.Photo: Thick & Hearty Asparagus-Mushroom Soup

Having these two ready at dinnertime, all I wanted to round out the meal was a light, crisp salad of romaine leaves and sweet kernel corn, lightly toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and piñons (pine nuts), a grind of black pepper, and my orange-orange-orange salad dressing (a puree of blood orange olive oil, blood orange vinegar, and canned mandarins in their super-sweet no-sugar-added fruit juice).

The asparagus mix went well together, but as roasted vegetables sometimes do, lost its good looks in the ‘old age’ of just-past-dinnertime, so I chopped it all up (except for the limp lemon rinds), poured some more veg broth in with it, and sealed it up overnight in the fridge to meld together. This, in turn, brings me back to redesigning or rehabilitating a dish from past days in a way that pleases better than mere reheating. For today’s lunch, I took out that batch of Asparagus and Friends, pureed it all together with a little extra water to make it less fork-meal and more spoonable, and it made a fine asparagus-mushroom soup, whose lemony intensity I balanced with a garnish of the aforementioned sweet corn and a flourish of cracked black pepper.Photo: Curried Cream of Split Peas

Meanwhile, back at the Land of the Lonesome Pease-porridge…. I pureed the pea-soup boringness into a nice, smooth actual soup with the help of a little coconut milk plus a goodly seasoning with my latest batch of home-ground curry masala, and by George, that was a major improvement! With a spoonful of plain whole-milk yogurt and a shaving of fresh nutmeg over the top, it was even my favorite of the two, today. (Pardon my steam for that blurry shot.) We shall see what tomorrow brings, whether a new favorite between them, or only more leftovers on which to experiment. Either will suit me fine.Photo: Two Soups, You Choose

Update: I did make a change to the asparagus soup that puts it in direct competition for first place with the split pea curry. I added some whole coconut milk to it. The added creaminess and the mellowing of the flavors was a good balancing element for the intensity of the other flavors. And then I topped the bowl with a dose of additional sliced mushrooms that had been slow-browned in vegetable broth, sautéed without fat but a hearty dash of coconut aminos and regularly-added splashes of the veg broth at intervals to deglaze the pan and keep the mushrooms from sticking. And behold, it was very good!

Back to Work—but First, a Pause for Plain Old Happiness

It’s strange, this mysterious netherworld between having produced and published a post a day every single day for 4+ years and now trying to find a footing in the more sporadic presence of blogging only when I have the time! I will figure it out, no doubt. But for now, I’m feeling my way in the dark, it seems.

Okay, I’ve not been utterly inactive elsewhere while not posting consistently. Continuing the detailed work of settling into our new home keeps me doing small projects of all sorts as I figure out precisely how we’ll use the spaces and the things in them, and what might enhance the usefulness or appearance, or better yet, both, of everything here. Life goes on with its usual flurries of school and home office work, hosting various visiting friends at mealtimes, break times, and/or overnight times, and tending to the business of a semi-normal schedule, albeit a surprisingly full one.

And I do find or steal time to play when I can, taking outdoor walks or just wandering up and down the aisles of the grocery store without a plan when I go to stock the pantry and refrigerator, stopping to scrawl a poem or jot a drawing idea. All good. Not to mention that a body’s got to eat, so I do whip up the occasional actual meal, especially if I’m dining with my husband and other friends. Oh, and I’m actively working on my next book or two or ten. And some song lyrics. And finally adding some new stuff to my Zazzle store, which has lain neglected for too long without new merchandise designs. And I’ve been slowly developing yet other, still unnamed and undisclosed, arty projects. I’m not just lying about in my expensive silk-embroidered negligee and eating Belgian chocolate truffles while a harpist plays softly in the corner of my palatial living room.

Though of course that takes approximately 72% of my time, on an average day.

Today, especially, I must take occasional breaks from that normal activity in order to show proper respect for the fact that this date marks the anniversary of my father’s first glorious appearance on this earth. Happy Birthday, Dad! During my commemorative pauses, I am reminded that I have always had before me the example of a very busy, highly productive, and multifaceted guy in my father, one who scarcely took visible breaks himself during his official working years from doing, learning, and attempting a wide variety of amazing feats. So if I have what feels like relatively little time for fiddling around pointlessly or I think I’m a bit overwhelmed by the range of things I’m wanting or needing to accomplish, I am glad to remember that I have grown up in the shade of one who still manages, after years of gaining expertise in the art, to Get Things Done on an impressive level.

And, more importantly in my book, who does so with great good humor and a remarkable ability to find the pleasure and positive aspects in whatever he’s undertaking. Something any of us would do well to learn long before we meet the other sort of undertaker.

Yeah, I’ll get back to my own chores and tasks pretty soon, because I do want to get a thing or two done before my time is up, but there are some more important sorts of items than just what lurks on the to-do lists, like remembering my father on his birthday. Dad, I hope you’re having a superb day, whether it’s spent in high gear Getting Things Done or is a welcome break spent lounging around in your own palatial spot with the aforementioned truffles and sweet serenading as your constant atmospheric enhancements. You are still a fine standard-bearer for the life well lived, and I thank you for it!Photo: Happy Birthday, Dad

Annual Report

It’s end-of-year assessment time everywhere. It’s time here at WordPress. The stat monkeys have declared it, and who am I to argue with stat monkeys?

https://artcoloredglasses.com/2015/annual-report/

It’s always intriguing to see a condensed version of the last year’s activities. Clearly I always know far less than I would hope, assume, or think about what’s gone on in the universe in whose midst I exist. Such is the human condition, n’est-ce pas? We humanoids are perpetually, perniciously unable to  see the larger picture 99% of the time. It’s weird, yet refreshing, to be shown the greater reality in which I dwell, even if it’s merely to chart the activities of something as non-essential as my blog.

Knowing this stuff, however trivial, changes nothing. The past is the past, and the present disappears at top speed into its well, too. But what of the future? I suspect—and I very much hope—that having a little mosey through what I may have missed in the broader, richer pageant of life, even in a tiny corner of it, might jog me into paying a bit more attention and squeezing yet more of the goodness out of it, going forward.

Perhaps next year’s stats will tell whether those efforts have been successful or not. See ya on the other side!

Photo: Celebratory Dinner

How about a little celebratory dinner, for now?

Like Clockwork

Don’t you love it when things go smoothly? Even when the means are antiquated—say, when the person involved is kind of, no, extremely low tech—it’s rewarding when the plot in hand goes just as planned, or even better. Clearly, this is somewhat rare, or it wouldn’t be a big deal; nothing about ticking along at speed without a hitch would be memorable.
Digital montage from photos: Mighty Machines

But it is. And we do have technology, however old-school, to thank much of the time. I’m no expert, but I am thankful to have so many handy props for getting the job done, and I hold in reverence the invention and creativity that make my life easier and more pleasant even when I don’t know the cogs are turning behind the scenes to make it all possible.

Foodie Tuesday: The Grass is Always Greener When Somebody Else Grows It

Photo: Lemon Egg MousseI am happy to let others do all the work. Not only is the proverbial grass greener on the other side of the fence, it’s greenest of all when another party has sown, grown, and mown it. And if it’s metaphorical grass in the form of food (I’m usually not a ruminant), it’s downright perfection if they’ve done all of the prep, cookery, and serving, too. I’ll fix myself those fluffy little items like a protein-added eggnog or lemony egg mousse for a quick meal and I might even go so far as to grow my own veg if I find it a suitable garden beautifier worth the effort, but in my lazy heart of hearts I am best pleased if some dedicated master does all of the heavy lifting.Photo: Sprouts

I experimented recently with growing my own sprouts, something I’d not done since the post-hippie happiness of the ’70s, and was instantly reminded of why I’d not done it since those long-ago days: lots of fiddling for little payoff. I suppose if I ate sprouts with every meal I’d reconsider the attempt, but honestly, eating them with every meal would bore me just as much as fiddling with growing them. I am very happy to support the economy of whichever generous farmer provides me with the occasional sprouts and sends them to the grocery store for my delectation. Thank you, all you dedicated growers, raisers, fixers, cookers, bakers, and servers who make my life so delicious!

Just thinking about the labor of all this makes me want to sit down with a good cold glass of water to rest up from the exertion of cogitating so deeply. Maybe I’d go so far as to whip up a nice eggnog. Better yet, maybe I’ll drift over toward some corner coffee shop and let the barista fix me something nice to soothe my exhausted frame.Photo: Coffee Making

Foodie Tuesday: Desperate Times Call for Inventive Cookery (or None!)

In the center of the vortex that is our schedule at the moment, I have a kitchen piled high with boxes, sorting spots for deciding what of the cooking tools and gadgets, dishes and dietary dabs, to Keep-Give-Sell-Trash, and cleaning supplies for tidying up when (and if) I finally make order amid the chaos again. In the center of that mess, I have rather little space, time, or inclination to be the simplest of pretend-chefs. So it’s imperative that I get my mise-en-mess just organized enough to see that we eat, no matter what.

What to do, what to do, cried Chicken Little!

First: don’t panic. I am not troubled with that far worse enemy of not having access to food aplenty. After that, it’s not so complicated. Remember to keep all of this chaos and craziness—of combining a busy work schedule with travel (out of state, followed by a jaunt overseas), while also being in the maze of selling the house and moving to a 50% smaller apartment—in perspective. We have a home (two, for a while, soon). We have real, daily work to do that is fulfilling as much as it is challenging and time-consuming. We have exciting trips to take and wonderful things to do and friends to spend time with while on these travels. And we have food, lots of food.

Prep is the enemy these days, of course. I love the leisurely approach of knowing two weeks in advance that company’s coming, planning the menu over a few dreamy days, shopping for ingredients, setting up my mise en place during work breaks in the day or two preceding the event, and even making up dishes in advance to be chilled properly or ready for flame, if they’re to be served hot. But that is the one ingredient I lack right now: leisure. Time is in too high demand these days for any ridiculously languid approach to fixing and eating meals. I look to the quick fix in times of, well, little time.

A good opportunity to think about quick foods, as opposed to Fast Food. One will satisfy and keep me on track, and the other will drain my wallet and energy and health, all while only feigning to save me time, because of course I would have to leave the field of my current endeavors for longer just to drive to a fast food joint and back than I do to make a swift pass at the refrigerator and/or microwave on fly-by breaks from the packing. Nothing wrong with taking a fast food break, as indeed, we will do tonight because the chaos in the house is at such a peak there’s no real place to sit down and eat, never mind whether I can rustle up any edibles when the counters, the space in front of the fridge, the cooktop, the pans and pots and utensils, the microwave, and pretty much everything else cooking or food related is virtually inaccessible. But by tomorrow I hope to have cleared a path again, enough so I can rely on my old standby cures for lack of time.

Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beef_bourguignon

Desperation Dining 1: if there’s a one-dish meal lying in wait in the freezer, yay! Something like a bowl of quickly microwaved beef stew Bourguignon-style is practical, hearty, and will stay with me through more busyness before the day is through.

Photo: Desperation Dining 2

Desperation Dining 2: a big glass of water and a couple of protein bars, especially homemade ones like these chocolate-peanut butter ones and citrus ones, can keep me moving while the clock’s ticking.

Photo: Desperation Dining 3

Desperation Dining 3: a bit of a sugar rush is sometimes just what I need to continue working for a while, so why not a piece of fabulous fruit to hold me over until it’s *actual* mealtime. Add a little cheese, and it feels like it’s nearly a meal. Add a bowl of popcorn *and* some cheese, and it’s Sunday evening supper! In my house, anyway.

Photo: Desperation Dining 4

Desperation Dining 4: My eternal friend the Egg is a constant companion in times of high-speed living, whether it’s scrambled or fried or whipped into a lemony hot mousse for microwaving—or it’s going, raw, into my coconut milk smoothies, because I’m a fiend for eggnogs of all sorts. If you tell me to Go Suck Eggs, I will take it as a mandate, not an insult.

Photo: Desperation Dining 5

Desperation Dining 5: there are times, I will confess, when the desperation becomes closer to the real thing, and I am so tired of pedaling faster, ever faster, that what I not only crave but need is to stop, sit down on any bare spot of furniture or floor or dirt, and slurp at a drink. It may be the aforementioned water, it might be juice, and on special occasions, it could be that what’s required is something equally special to perk me back into a semblance of good cheer and energy. A fine lemon verbena drink with mint-leaf ice cubes, chilled cucumber slices and candied mandarin orange segments, with or without alcohol, is a good way to forget for a moment or ten that life is continuing to race onward, with or without *me*.

Miss Kitty Sitter

You would think, given my secret-superhero nickname of Miss Kitty (as in Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking), that I would be the very epitome, the avatar, of the Crazy Cat Lady. Crazy, yes; I’m happy to admit to that achievement. But I’ve never owned, been owned by, or lived for any length of time with, a cat. Let alone multiple cats. I really like cats. They seem to like me, too. But I’ve never had the space, time, cash, and commitment required to be a good housemate for cats, so they have remained as exotic as their wild and king-of-the-jungle cousins all are to me.

Photo: What??? We were just vacuuming.

What??? We were just vacuuming when you arrived.

Right now, though, I am one of a cadre of stepmothers to the next door duo. I get a great kick out of anthropomorphizing and observing them, not to mention, being fawned over when I am granted that privilege. Sophia, half the size of her housemate Jackson, is twice the social character. She almost invariably greets me (or any other visitor to the house, as far as I can tell) right at the front door with a cat-style howdy-do and the perfectly evident expectation that she will be thoroughly admired and, very probably, will soon allow the appropriately worshipful visitor to pet her at least a little. Jackson would rather maintain his air of gentlemanly reserve and either disappear at the very sound of movement in the house or repair to a shadowy corner under some furniture, from whence he can observe and assess the goings-on and the potential dangers of the visiting party. He is large and fit enough to hold his own in an encounter, but would rather keep his savoir-faire intact with a proper feline aloofness and fine manners than to be so crass as to interact with anyone he didn’t himself invite for a visit.

But their human companion’s lengthy absence brings about gradual, inevitable variations on their routines, and adds many layers to the interactions with us substitute companions.

Let’s be right up front about the least appealing of the interactions, which of course is the cleaning and maintenance of the Feline Facilities, a.k.a. the litter box. While we all process our food into waste products that must be disposed of properly, I will readily admit that fecal cleanup duty (She said DOODY!) is a factor in my choice not to have cat companions in my home full-time, just as it plays, however infinitesimal, a part in why I opted not to have children. Assuming I was ever physiologically capable of the latter. I would be fairly happy if excrement played as little a part in my physical life as I want it to in my emotional and metaphorical existence. I do, however, consider that any creatures existing at my mercy as much as house cats do deserve cleanliness and fresh air and the like, so I doody-fully manage the litter box contents.

Then I can enjoy the pleasanter aspects of cat companionship with a clear conscience.

Photo: Found It!

Here! We know you were looking for this. We found the food bag. Whatcha gonna do with it? Need help? Can we have the crackly Bag, too, can we, huh???

Sophia, as Social Director of the household activities, oversees my subsequent ceremonial washing of the hands, cleaning and refilling the water dish, and topping up the food bowl. She will make herself more closely available for intermittent petting by placing her royal magnificence between me and any houseplants I attempt to water or mail I put in the basket, but is content to let me fill water and food dishes without intervention, lest I get behind in those more important tasks. I am careful, meanwhile, to wash hands not only after the litter box endeavors but also after handling food, wiping a little spot of post-wet-food spit-up from the floor, or clipping a dead leaf off of the houseplants; this serves both to keep me from contaminating anything the Kids eat or play with and to scent my hands with something that seems more familiar and less off-putting to Jackson.

Photo: Together/Apart

We like to hang out together, but prefer to maintain the illusion that we don’t need each other. Within sight or sound, but separate; together/apart. Two cats + one human, all playing the game.

Because, though he is reticent and even shy at times, Jackson is also secretly interested in having a social life. He just prefers it to be at his own more leisurely pace and with a small degree of built-in comfort. He came out of his shadowy corner to inspect my perimeter and check my vitals, even on my first visit as Assistant Cat Admirer. But I had to earn the privilege first. I ignored him, politely. After my ablutions with his hu-mom’s soap, I sat in the middle of the living room floor, quietly looking out the window. Sophia made a beeline for me and wreathed herself sinuously around my parked personage, magnanimously letting me scratch her behind the ears and stroke her silky pelt, and giving me tender little love-nips whenever I strayed from the intended spot for too long. Jackson, I could feel through my back, sat back and observed.

Photo: Boss Man

Jackson gets comfortable enough to let me know he can turn his back on me (mostly), but makes sure to keep ostentatiously scent-marking everything within reach so I’ll remember who’s boss of the entire operation.

Once I’d stayed lounging on the floor long enough to assure him of my low-key intentions, Jackson gave a couple of interrogatory meows, paced over to my back, rubbed himself up against my spine in a testing-while-marking sort of embrace, and made a slow circuit of my cross-legged figure. When he paused in front of me, I didn’t even offer a hand, not just yet. I gave him that little How-ya-doin’ nod that I see cats give each other, and the slow blink that told him I wasn’t just baiting him for a pounce. After a couple more loops and meow announcements, he stopped long enough for a head bunt and a hand check. I was admitted to the club.

Photo: I will approach you.

I have decided that I will approach you. Keep Calm and keep your hands to yourself until I tell you otherwise.

Every day since, Sophia has remained the primary greeter, supervisor, and fearless leader of the operation, though only a couple of times being quite energetic enough to attempt to squirt by me through an open door. I suspect her of liking the capture and return to indoor attention just as much as she likes the quick sprint and leap, but I’ll let her think that I don’t know it. I know they both have their little exercise sessions when left to their own devices, if nothing else because various small objects move from place to place overnight and the living room area rug is always repositioned and has new hills and valleys in it in the morning. But they both like to keep a fairly leisurely pace and attitude while I’m around. Sometimes, one or both will consent to a brushing, along with the required massage and stroking—yesterday, Jackson completely forgot his sang-froid and insisted on a vigorous combing and petting session for about five minutes before strolling back to the shade.

Photo: Queen of All She Surveys

As queen of all she surveys, Sophia is confident that she will be both admired and obeyed at all times, and by golly, so she is.

Tomorrow? Who knows. I may find that they have forgotten to hide the evidence of an all-neighborhood-all-night catnip party. But I’ll bet that they’ll still maintain their air of calm self-assurance in my service and admiration. And that’s quite all right with me.

Photomontage: Action Figure

Sophia, even when relaxing, is the Action Figure of the household.