Oma’s Tomato Soup in a Flash

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There are days when I crave french fries, when all I want to do is stop by Yats, this yummy Cajun-Creole restaurant in town, and pick up some chili cheese etouffee. I have weeks where jet lag is clearly a real thing, but I refuse to admit it exists. I will not be weak. Winter starts to creep in, days get shorter, and by the time you get home, the sun has set, the dog still needs to be walked, and despite the fact that it’s only 6 p.m., it’s much too dark and late to make real dinner.

Do not give in to the urge to get french fries or your city’s equivalent of chili cheese etouffee from Yats. Instead make tomato soup. I bet you have all of the ingredients in your house. If not, this weekend stock up on canned tomatoes, buy a spice container of cloves and a jar of Better Than Bullion, and make a habit of always having an onion or two and some garlic in your house.

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This tomato soup is special. Twice a year we would see my grandparents who lived in Holland. My grandmother, Oma, would make this soup with little mini meatballs floating in it. I remember her standing over the stove in her green kitchen making this soup. We would have it or her chicken noodle soup before every lunch in wide bowls with wide rims. My grandfather would pick up his bowl and always slurp out the last drops. I looked forward to Oma’s tomato soup every time they visited us in Indiana. She’d make a big pot first thing and we’d have it before dinner every night.

Even now that Oma is gone, Opa still eats soup every night. When he was here over the summer he gifted me Oma’s cookbook. It’s an old green, hardcover notebook with pages of handwritten recipes. Oma took a cooking class when she was young. Each night she would come home and tell Opa the recipes of the day. He then carefully wrote them down in the notebook.

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This tomato soup is a cinch to make. It requires maybe 10 minutes of hands-on time and 40 minutes of simmering, flavor melding time. This tomato soup has been my go-to meal this fall on nights when I can’t muster up the energy to make a full-on dinner. Plus I happened to be given the glorious gift of a HUGE amount of tomatoes at the end of the summer, which I canned into 10 quarts of tomato awesomeness. Make a pot of this. Double the recipe. Triple it. Curl up with a bowl of it as the days grow shorter. For me, it tastes like childhood. I hope for you it tastes like an easy and healthy dinner on a night you just couldn’t squeeze out one more drop of energy.

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Roast a Chicken for Me

Hello from the Philadelphia airport! I am on my way to Madrid, Spain to meet up with Michael, his sister, and his mom and stepdad! It’s been three long months since Michael left for Sweden. The wi-fi here is atrocious. This is 2012, people! Get with the wireless world. So hopefully I can get this post finished. However, when you read this I’ll be in Madrid already. So technically, hello from Madrid?

Traveling stresses me out only a little bit. Let’s just say this has been a long week, and I won’t drink coffee at night when I’m anxious anymore. The only thing I’ve had planned out for weeks is my travel outfit. Does that sound dumb? Comfort is of the utmost importance when you spend a day and night traveling. Plus, if you want to bring anything extra bulky (like boots), you should probably work them into your travel outfit so as not to have to squash them into your suitcase. Plus, hair gets flat, greasy, and unfortunate after hours on a plane. Thank goodness for braids and head scarves.

Two weeks ago Michael and I had another cooking date—a whole roasted chicken. While this may sound slightly intimidating, trust me, it’s not. And a roasted chicken is just about the best thing you can put in your oven on a Sunday afternoon. Why? Well I’ll just tell you.

A roasted chicken is super hands off. Prep it the day before you plan to roast it by spicing it up a bit. Put it in the oven for an hour to an hour and  a half. That is it!

If you are one or two people a whole chicken will feed you for at least a week. This makes the cost worth it. Chicken on salads, chicken in enchiladas, chicken on pasta….endless possibilities. Get creative with your leftovers!

Chicken parts (bones, innards, the back) are great for homemade stock. Freeze that business and use it once you’ve gathered enough chicken parts and vegetables.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner (how in the world did that even happen already?!) and maybe you don’t celebrate with a large group of people. A chicken is a great smaller alternative to a turkey.

Now, where do you get a whole chicken? I suggest you get yourself to a local butcher or venture to a nearby farmers market and make friends with a chicken farmer. Either of these places will sell you a lovely local whole chicken. Whole Foods or Fresh Market are also excellent options.

Michael did a great job with this recipe as a beginner cook. He even proudly pulled legs and a breast off of the cooked chicken, and was amazed at how the breast looked just like a boneless chicken breast he’d buy at the store.

I roasted some seasonal vegetables (oh so frickin fancy, let me stick my nose in the air, lalala)—cauliflower and potatoes. Put them in the roasting pan with the chicken when there’s about half an hour of cooking time left. Just sprinkle some salt, pepper, and olive oil over them! I also happen to like a little curry on my cauliflower.

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Cranberry Pear Pie

Do you ever feel like you’re going to lose it? If the dog puts her head sweetly on my leg one more time and looks at me with those puppy dog eyes. If the cat utters another single meow as she begs me to toss her duck tape football toy. If one more car drives by my house TOO LOUDLY. If one more part of my body, my leg, ear, arm, anything, itches. If one more insignificant item drops to the ground, and I am forced to bend down and pick it up. I swear to God I will explode.

I may or may not be on my period.

I may or may not be perpetuating that stereotype that women go crazy on their periods.

Dudes, this does not give you the green light to throw a girl’s period/pms in her face when she’s being “weird.” This is called a double standard. It’s cool.

It’s days like this that I should not have jars of Nutella in my house. Or half of a pie. But I’m so glad I have half of a pie in my house for two reasons. One, it’s a damn good pie, and I love a damn good pie. Two, it was a result of a damn good weekend.

My trips this fall seem to be coming at just the right times, just when I need distraction the most, when I’m getting too caught up in my own weird head. This past weekend I drove up to Milwaukee with the dog to do the Lakefront Discovery 15K with my friend Heather. More on the race in a later post.

Car rides with Mir.

Before my arrival in Milwaukee, Heather alerted me of a pie crust she had made that was waiting for me in her freezer. We had plans to fill it with nutella (that pesky condiment again), apples, and cherries, but somewhere between the free post-race beers, the dude in pink and purple spandex, the guy painted blue, and lunch at a lovely local restaurant called Cafe Benelux we changed our minds…cranberry pear would be a much better filling.

We didn’t start the pie until around 9 p.m., and if you know a thing or two about pie making, you know a pie takes about an hour to cook, and then has to cool. Completely. Like it’ll tempt you on the counter for another hour as the filling continues to thicken. So we didn’t actually eat any until breakfast the next morning. But let me just say that when we did….mmmmm.

This pie should probably end up on your Thanksgiving table. Who wants traditional apple or pumpkin anyway? Or it could just end up on your Wednesday night table. But you should really make it ASAP while the pears are in season. And, lucky you, fresh cranberries should be appearing in groceries soon in preparation for the holidays. If they aren’t freshly around though, just check your freezer section.

This pie is sweet and fresh from the pears and perfectly tart from the cranberries with just a touch of spice from the cinnamon. It’s this perfect combination. If, however, you do not like a tart pie, you can add more sugar. I just happen to like my pies kind of slutty.

You have all sorts of crust options! It’s really exciting. You have my personal favorite, a vodka lard/butter pie crust, a non-vodka butter and crisco crust, or an all butter vodka crust. Feel free to use all butter in that non-vodka crust if that’s your thing. Just sub the crisco with the same amount of ice cold cubed butter. Heather and I made this pie with a crumble topping. It’s way yummy. You can totes make this a double crust pie if you heart desires though.

So let’s make a pie, bitches, and get out of our heads!

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Sweet Sweet(Vegan)Dulce De Leche

Some things go together. They just do. Peanut butter and chocolate. Miras and Lolas. Summer and sitting on blankets listening to outdoor concerts. Yoga and twisty poses and tears. (This happened last night, it did. I’d heard of people crying in yoga, and tonight I was one of them. Thank God it was  hot yoga and my tears were indistinguishable from the sweat pouring down my face.) Winter and furry boots. Cold mornings and hot coffee. Apples and caramel.

Apples and caramel. Mmmm. That’s fall, right? I remember going to the Feast of the Hunters Moon as a kid in the fall and eating caramel apples. I always had a really hard time taking that initial bite. The caramel coating the apple the way it did made the whole situation very sticky and overwhelming. But I loved that combo. I still do. The tart juiciness of the apple and the sweet sticky caramel.

I love caramel in general. (Are you counting how many times I say caramel in this post?) I could eat it straight out of a jar with a spoon. And recently I did just that standing over my kitchen sink, completely shamelessly. See, until recently I had battled with caramel and never won. Regular caramel is more or less sugar with some water that’s heated up til it’s liquified and crystalized. I could never pull the sugar and water comob from the heat fast enough. Nobody likes burnt caramel. Trust me.

Dulce de leche is traditionally sweetened milk and sugar heated up. It’s like a super creamy awesome caramel. Plus, if you cook it a little longer, you end up with chewy caramel candies. Oh heaven. I was ready to conquer this bitch.

Oh wait. I’m lactose intolerant. Bring in the sad trombones. Waah waah.

NBD. Google to the rescue. Found: One awesome, amazing, easy recipe for dulce de leche WITH BOURBON (extra bonus!) that your friends probably won’t even realize is vegan. Result: Jar of sweet goodness to spread on bread, apples, and baked goods … that is if you can actually stop eating it straight from the jar.

The trick with this recipe comes in the cooking time after  you add the salt and confectioners sugar. (That’s powdered sugar, FYI. Make the mistake of using regular sugar instead of confectioners sugar once, and you won’t make it again. Swear.) If you want the dulce de leche to be a smooth pourable sauce consistency, cook it for less time here, about 10 minutes. If you want more of a candy consistency, cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Oh yeah, and use a bigger pan than you think you’ll need. You don’t want this business boiling over and into your burner. This will only cause fires the next morning when you make your oatmeal.

So, let’s go! Indulge in fall-time combinations!

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That Really Deep Hole That’s Filled With Apple Crisp

Yesterday was hard. The first week Michael was gone was hard. I cried a lot. It was kind of like going through a break up all over again, but this time I had a kind and wonderful supportive boy to comfort me, instead of one to feed me crap lines like “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” (What’s up with that anyway? I heard someone say that on TV, ahem Dawson’s Creek, today, and thought why do people say that? If this was really the hardest thing you’d ever done, would you be doing it?) So I sat around feeling sad for a week.

Then things got better. They just…did. Nothing in my life changed. Mike is still in another country. I’m still here, my life sort of on hold, sharing my bed with two girls (sexy, no?).But things got better.

Then yesterday hit. Like a fucking bag of bricks.

Yesterday the Jew in me welcomed the new year. Shana Tova! This year for the first time the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah were filled with anticipation, the kind you feel before Christmas. I think this has to do with the fact that I work at a Jewish organization now. The office was filled with people wishing each other Shana Tova, discussing holiday plans and meals, and talking about what they would do with their two days off. That’s right, I didn’t work yesterday or today. I couldn’t wait to spend the days contemplating the last year and looking forward to the new one. But then I spent Monday alone. Which would have been fine, but alone means lonely these days, too. And what with the holiday and all and the condescending little prick of a college “super senior” who sat down next to me at services, I just couldn’t handle the aloneness.

Now, I am not even here to complain. Guys, I’ve got it damn good. I don’t have to hide my religion, I get to celebrate it freely. I have a loving and loyal boyfriend who, despite living far away, gives me confidence in our relationship every day. I just. Fell. Into one of those huge holes, the kind where the bottom is really far away from the top, even though you can see the top, the bright blue sky, clearly. You just cannot climb out of that damn hole.

So you sit in there at the bottom and you wallow. Oh man, does wallowing feel good sometimes, right? And you wonder how you are a functioning adult and how you manage to get out of bed in the morning. And then you move to the wallowing part where you wonder why you don’t have kids yet. And just because you haven’t been having unprotected sex and pumping small humans out of your vagina doesn’t mean you haven’t been busy. And then you imagine what you’ll say next time someone asks you, “So what’s new? How’s it going” You’ll say, “well, i got out of bed today, and i’m much more self-aware, and i haven’t cried yet today,” or something equally brutally honest like that.

So whatever. I had the world’s saddest wallow-fest at the bottom of a big hole. The end only came after I had sat in the bathroom and cried, big hysterical ridiculous gaspy cries, for 15 minutes. Then I was suddenly near the top of the hole. Sometimes it just takes a good cry, right?

Sometimes it takes a good cry and a good apple crisp.

I haven’t indulged in making baked goods in awhile. Trying to, you know, keep that cholesterol down by avoiding butter. But suddenly I just had to. I turned to my Joy the Baker Cookbook, the chapter called “i need a hug, or a brownie. maybe both.”  I have this bowl overflowing with apples from the farmer’s market. Lola Kitty was suspicious at first.

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Then I turned the apples into an amazing crisp. Lola Kitty approved.

This crisp is more or less like an apple pie without the slightly time-consuming crust. (Even I will admit that a crust can be a hassle when all you want is some buttery comfort.) It bakes up nice and cinnamon and sugary with a crispy, slightly oaty topping. And it’s called “man bait” apple crisp. And as I stood in my kitchen blending butter, flour, and sugars together with my hands, I sighed. This is right. This feels so good. Thank God for butter and sugar.

So, maybe you’re in a hole. Maybe you need to catch yourself a man. Maybe you have too many apples from the farmer’s market. Make this dang apple crisp. And watch Joy make it in St. Louis in this video JTB apple crisp.

Things get a little weird. Obvs. We’re talking about Joy. Though she does have the talk show host “sewn up” …. and there’s even a Ghost reenactment. This is why I love Joy. She’s hilarious and weird and normal and lovely, and that’s how she is in real life. I met her.

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This or That … Chocolate(vegan) Cupcakes

This is a face I am certain about. This Mira, I know, it’s an easy decision. I don’t waver. It’s never, “Should I love this dog or not?” It probably has something to do with those ridiculous eyes.

With most everything else in life I am a very indecisive person. I sit on the fence a lot. Doesn’t that sound painful? Who even came up with that phrase? I want to be more decisive just so I don’t have a fence up my butt.

Anyway.

I like to have things both ways, because most of the time I can’t decide which way is best, tastiest, most advantageous. For instance, would I want to make my home in the city or the country?

Right now my home is in the city. I’m 10-15 minutes from great restaurants, a grocery, the cleaners, parks and museums, the highway … When I say I’m going to run to the store, I mean I will be there and back within twenty minutes if I know exactly what I want (which, let’s be honest, rarely happens). I can ride my bike to the farmers market.

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I love living in a neighborhood. It’s got character. I smile at people as I walk the dog along the tree-lined sidewalk. We gossip about the yard work the couple up the street is doing, and we curse the damn lady who walks her dog without a leash.

At the same time, I crave long and quiet roads, houses with huge yards, big inky black night skies filled with endless stars. I think this side of me stems from camp in the mountains tucked away in a stoplight-less town of Tuxedo. I want to sit in my house with the windows open and not hear cars drive by. I want to not have to close my curtains at night to block out the street lights.

Biking north of the city with friends.

This or that?

I’d like to be a vegetarian, to make that commitment, that decision. I don’t love meat (besides bacon, oh dear God), and I am sure OK with eating lots of vegetarian foods, such as tofu, beans, lentils, and vegetables. I just can’t make the decision. Because what if it’s wrong? What if one day I want a burger? What if one day I want to run to the grocery five minutes away to get a pound of chicken salad? (I may or may not have done that this weekend.) So I go back and forth. I rarely cook meat in the house. Chicken or fish, the occasional beef. I only buy meat when I know how and where it’s been raised. Then I feel better about eating it. Always in moderation. Does that make me a semi-vegetarian?

This or that?

If making decisions was as easy as eating these chocolate(vegan) cupcakes, then I’d have bought a house somewhere totes rad and would be a super vegetarian.

Yeah, they’re vegan. That means no eggs, no butter, no  milk. That means in my mind kinda healthier. That means in my mind that I am being a vegan for the two minutes it takes me to eat one of these. So I feel good. Like I’ve made a good decision.

Now, don’t expect these cupcakes to taste like regular chocolate cupcakes. They don’t quite. The texture is all around different, and that’s not a bad thing. They’ll stay tasty and edible for a week before they start to dry out/get weird. And they have a secret ingredient in them—avocado! I’ve made them a couple of times for audiences of mixed varieties, and everyone has enjoyed them.

My advice? Make the decision to make these for the vegan in your life who can commit to a lifestyle, the on-the-fencer who wishes she could commit to a meatless life, and the lover of all things non-alternative who you think should branch out. They’ll all love these cupcakes.

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Peach Butter

Summer is fleeting and always fills up too quickly with plans. Do you notice that? I’ve had very few weekends since June without some kind of something going on. I’ve loved every planned, filled and busy minute, really. And I know that this summer has probably been extra busy because Michael is moving at the end of it all. We’re cramming. Aside from all that, the moments that stick out the most for me have been the quiet ones, unplanned or regular and weekly. I guess I’m a girl who likes routine and the familiar.

One of my best friends and I laid on her apartment floor shivering in the air conditioning, eating Mediterranean food and talking about everything and nothing. (Do you remember what you and your best friends talked about before you talked about everything and nothing? Before conversation just came and went? I don’t. It’s just always been this way for me. My BFFs have been around for lifetimes.)

I spent an entire quiet afternoon and evening in the kitchen, watching transformations happen with just Mira and my iPod for company.

homemade mozzarella cheese started as milk!

I lounge in bed with Mira and Lola on weekend mornings for at least half an hour before getting up.

Mom and I go to yoga twice a week. Mother daughter relaxation detoxification time.

Saturday is farmer’s market day. We started this last summer…getting up, riding our bikes to Broad Ripple High School, and shopping. Well, I shop, wander from stand to stand, gush over tomatoes and berries, and Michael follows along, agreeing that we could have sweet corn for dinner this week. I love moving through the dogs and people, selecting fruits that we sometimes can’t wait to eat til we get home.

This summer we’ve also been frequenting a particular ice pop stand, Nicey Treat. Avocado, pineapple-basil, mango-ginger, key lime pie…perfect on a hot day.

I can judge the passing of summer by the fruits at the farmers market. Strawberries mean the beginning of summer, but they go quickly. Raspberries mean summer is in full swing, but you can’t expect them to hang around too long either. Blueberries and blackberries show up at the same time and stay for awhile. But peaches, they’re my favorite, and thank goodness that they come with the strawberries practically and stay all summer long.

When peaches made their first appearance at the market, I bought an obscene amount. I kind of went crazy. In fact I’m pretty sure the girl thought I was nuts. Good thing I bought that many though. We ate a few fresh and right away. This summer marks Michael’s first experience with a fresh peach. He’s finally living for real. The rest of the peaches I promptly turned into peach butter.

Peach butter is magical. It’ll create those perfect routine and quite summer moments for you. How can it not? It’s peachy, sunny, barely sweetened, and so easy. Peaches, a bit of sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of ginger in a pot. I could easily go through an entire batch in a few weeks, but I try to savor the stuff. I’ve even gotten into canning, and make a few jars to last me through the winter.

Canning isn’t hard. I cross my heart. Promise. I’ll tell you how to do it. Actually Deb of Smitten Kitchen will tell you how to do it, but I’ll put it here on my site so you don’t have to click around and around the web.

I love these labels!

So please, make some peach butter, enjoy a quiet summer moment with it spread on toast, a biscuit, pancakes or right from the jar. Then get back to cliff jumping, road tripping, and concert going!

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