Ah, September. Your abundance, made so poignant by the shortening, darkening days. Apples and plums and green beans and corn, tomatoes and melons and peppers and figs – a crescendo that steadily builds and builds, then drops suddenly into pumpkins and haystacks and the sharp blue of October skies. September makes a serious run each year at being my favorite month.
But September is also stressful. When I was in school, there were always a few frantic days in September, trying to get my head wrapped around my new schedule. Using a rainbow of markers I would write class names on notebooks, draw up my new schedule, fill in the first week of my planner. Writing and rewriting, I would try to imagine myself into the new routine, try to make it feel familiar before it actually began.
It was a way of channeling excitement, sure, yes. Or maybe a way of tackling anxiety. I like my routines. And so it was that this past week, as we slowly righted the chaos from our flurry of summer’s-end travels and eased into the new preschool year, I found myself sitting with my calendar. Again, and again, and again. Repeatedly drawing up my plans for the boys’ September schedule. Color-coding them. Willing our new routines to take hold, to bring back the steadiness of days that makes life with kids so much easier.
Of course, routines are built, not forced. As my mom would say, sometimes you just have to live into it. Let the messiness and the adjustment happen, let the transition take place. The seasons shift slowly, and our lives too. We’re no longer heading off in the morning to the beach or the park for long days adventuring and eating picnic lunches. We’re walking to school instead, and then returning home for lunch at the table. So we go through these new paces each day, and soon enough they will feel familiar. Comfortable. Routine.
As our hemisphere begins the slide towards the long dark of winter, a soup pot takes up permanent residence on my stove. Soup is one of those creature comforts that make fall and winter feel cozy. It is also easy – make it in advance in the quiet of a night kitchen, or make it quickly while the little one naps, or make it huge and eat it all week. Soup, and a loaf of good bread, has the power to comfort and sustain. It can anchor us in the torrent of new schedules, new demands.
We can float on our soup as we wait for the steadiness of routines. And we can enjoy the transition, as we live into it.
Also, do you guys remember Tomato Tuesday? I am so belated, but wanted to share this great piece that ran in the Washington Post over Labor Day weekend. Holly Burkhalter writes about the impact that the Fair Food Program has had on tomato growing conditions: “This Labor Day, like every other day, the world’s most exhausting, dangerous, poorly paid and degrading jobs are being performed by the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable people. But that is not true anymore in Immokalee. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has changed Florida and U.S. agriculture for the better. May their brilliant model flourish and inspire producers, buyers, consumers and workers in every industry where labor slavery persists.” Amen sister.
The Recipes …
Here are three of our favorite soups: Kyle’s, mine, Jacob’s. Lucas is still working out whether or not he likes to eat soup – but he ate two bowls of Chicken Corn this last go around, so maybe he and Kyle can share a favorite. “Favorite” is, after all, one of those words that is tricky. We don’t like to be pinned down. But Kyle included this soup (a recipe from his dad) in our wedding cookbook, so it can count. Jacob likes all soup, but ask him to pick and he invariably starts his list with what he calls Carrot and Bean Soup. And for me … if I’m making dinner for one, and in the mood to cook, and it is not the hottest part of summer – this Sweet Potato Black Bean Bisque is almost always what I’ll end up having. I love its warm flavors and gentle sweetness. I also love that you can give it a Sunday hat of crème fraîche swirled with orange zest and it’s more than ready for company.
(Do you guys have much-loved soup recipes? I would love to hear about them!)
Chicken Corn Soup
(A Lancaster County staple, adapted from Bob’s recipe in our wedding cookbook)
This is the perfect soup to bridge the seasons. The sweet corn stock, and those late-summer corn kernels that stay juicy even after being simmered, taste like summer – but the dense egg noodles and the addition of aromatic celery and hearty chicken make this a cool-weather-worthy meal. Lancaster County happens to grow the best celery I have ever eaten, but we make do with what we can find here. I don’t like eggs in soup, sacrilege to my husband. He says “You add the eggs to get the right texture. Traditionally there are no noodles and the eggs provide the substance, and flavor, and texture. The egg yolk acts as a roux, and provides a deeper creamy flavor … and texture to the soup.” But my kids like noodles, I don’t like eggs in my soup, and here we are. Kyle gets his on the side, and he loves this version anyway.
Drizzle of grapeseed oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, cut into a couple big chunks
1 large celery stalk, each cut into a couple big chunks
Cobs from 6 ears corn (cut off and reserve kernels)
~ 8 quarts water
1-2 teaspoons salt
* Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrot, celery and let cook for a minute or two. Add corn cobs, and cover it all with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover pan, and let simmer for two hours. (I sometimes then turn off the heat and leave this to sit overnight, and make the soup the next day). Remove cobs, onions, carrot, celery (you can drain it into a soup pot through a colander if you are using it right away). Stir in a teaspoon or two of salt (you don’t want a salty stock, but it does help balance the flavor). This freezes well for later use (and the stock, before adding chicken to the soup, is vegan).
Corn Stock (see above)
2 chicken breasts, room temperature, rinsed
Reserved kernels from 6 ears corn
1-2 cups diced celery
1/2 bag German egg noodles (we like Bechtle brand farmer’s style)
Optional: 6 hard boiled eggs, sliced (Kyle would say they are not optional but imperative!)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the stock in a soup pan until it is just boiling. Add the chicken breasts. Keep heat at a simmer and cook for ten-fifteen minutes, until you can break the chicken breasts in half. At this point, add the corn kernels. Continue simmering for about 45 minutes. Add the celery, simmer ten minutes. Add the noodles, and simmer for fifteen minutes more or until the noodles are cooked. Remove the chicken breasts from the pan and shred them on a cutting board, then add the shredded meat back to the pot. Give it a good stir; it should be thick and not too brothy (the noodles will absorb much of the liquid). Serve, with sliced hard-boiled eggs on the side for your husband.
Sweet Potato Black Bean Bisque
After Lucas was born my friend Danielle was part of the amazing community of friends that brought us dinners. One of the dinners she brought was a black-bean soup with lime cilantro cream. That soup will have its day in the sun here at Inherit the Spoon – but this bisque evolved from it as I tried to figure out the recipe. They are cousins, not siblings – where that soup trumpets its Southwestern origins, this one is a warm and heartening east-meets-west of New World staples paired with cinnamon and allspice. Like I said, favorite is a funny word, but if I were ever forced to pick … I love sweet potatoes with lots of cinnamon, and this recipe reflects that. You can go lighter, but you might be sorry.
(I love to make this one the night before through the blending step: then I just leave the pot in the fridge, and the next night I heat it on the stovetop, adding the extra cup or two of water to thin it down. Add bread and you have an easy-peasy meal alright).
Also, it is worth noting – this soup is vegan, but no one will believe you! It is so unbelievably creamy, it tastes like it is made with heavy cream or butter. Some sort of alchemy takes place with the sweet potato and the beans. It’s magic soup.
Drizzle of grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
1 sweet onion (or the sweetest you have around plus a teaspoon of sugar)
1 large sweet potato (Jewel or Garnet “yams” are perfect), scrubbed and diced (leave the skin on for lots of added nutrition! You’ll never know it’s there!)
2 cups cooked black beans (or one can if you’re using cans)
2-3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon ginger (optional)
2 cups water or 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup cinnamon-y tea (such as Good Earth caffeine free)
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (a little maple sugar can also be good here)
Salt to taste
Optional garnish: creme fraiche and orange zest
Heat oil in soup pan. Add onion, and cook over low heat until it caramelizes. Add diced sweet potato, raise heat to medium, and add the spices. Toss everything to coat, and let cook for a minute or two until very aromatic (you are toasting the spices a bit). Cover with the water or water-tea blend, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for ten minutes or until the sweet potatoes are soft. Add the beans, and let them heat through.
Turn off the heat, and blend everything with a stick-blender until very very smooth. (I have also used a regular blender, when our original stick-blender broke and we hadn’t yet replaced it. I worked in batches and had a second soup pot to pour each blended batch into.) Once smooth, thin with one or two cups of water, and heat back through over medium heat.
Season to taste with brown sugar and salt. I often add more cinnamon to my own bowl, and sometimes a sprinkling of maple sugar depending on my mood. It shouldn’t be cloyingly sweet: you’re just playing up the sweet potato’s natural sweetness a bit.
Worth a note: my friend Liz borrowed this recipe and made it with half water, half orange juice. She loved it.
Jacob’s Favorite “Carrot and Bean” (aka Vegetable) Soup
This is the easiest and quickest soup I know. It tastes good with just twenty minutes of cook time, but gets even better as it sits in the fridge all week. You can make it with chicken stock, vegetable stock, or just water and some salt. The wonderful library in Princeton served an incredibly tasty basic vegetable soup at their cafe, and that was the inspiration for this recipe.
Drizzle of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 large can diced tomatoes (we like Muir Glen Organics)
2 cups cooked cannellini beans (or one can)
2 cups stock or water
5-6 large leaves chard or kale, thinly ribboned
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: additional veggies such as green beans, potatoes, zucchini, etc.
Heat oil in soup pan. Add onion and cook a few minutes until it starts to soften. Add carrot and celery and cook a few minutes. Add tomatoes and beans, cook until heated through. (Add any additional veggies here, and adjust cooking time in stock or water as needed). Add stock or water, and bring to a simmer. Dump ribboned greens over top, cover pan, and let simmer until greens wilt. Stir them into the soup. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve with bread for dipping.
This was Jacob’s single most requested lunch for over a year. He still eats bowls and bowls of it each and every time we make it. So simple, so satisfying. Perfect soup :)