December for me does not start with the promise of September, or the blue skies of October, or even the every-day feeling of November. December for me starts with a slow down, a pause, a breath held for an instant in anticipation of the month ahead. This year it started with lights, and also, it started with soup.
Or maybe I mean that it started with tea.
Jacob has a friend named Alex. They connect on a level that, for four year olds, seems rather profound. Jacob composes songs about Alex, and Alex tells his mother that Jacob is his “work boss” (we’re none of us too clear on what that means, but they are both happy about it). When Jacob and Alex are joined by their friend Rinji, all three of us moms feel hints of the panic that will no doubt come on full bore in the teenage years: they are wild, they are loud, they are ecstatically happy to be together, and they race in unison towards whatever trouble they can find.
When we moved back to California, I was feeling a bit wrung out. I had (have) a dear circle of mom friends back east, and I still miss those women almost daily. It was hard, so hard, to leave a community and a home that we loved, and where we were loved.
But I was lucky that Jacob and I were both able to make some new friends – lots of new friends actually, especially Jacob. Today, I stood with my friend Lori (she of the pie-inspiring texts) and we laughed out loud while Jacob lazed in the car and Rinji hollered at the neighbors. Last week, I sat at a table and had tea with my friend Joanne while Jacob and Alex – well, they were beating up Lucas, actually, but that isn’t really the point.
December is a good month for hunkering down, digging in, taking advantage of the peacefulness a gray day can bring. A cup of tea shared at a table, or a laugh shared by a fence – these are more examples I guess, of the best kind of holiday lights.
One other thing – are you still looking for something awesome to do with your two pounds of candied pecans? They are great on this soup … or on pancakes. But also, you might really want to make this bread, subbing candied pecans for the pistachios and omitting the sugar that you sprinkle over the rolled out dough. We had it for brunch with Linna and Lance, and Dan and Kate, and Gabe and Amanda. And we were not sorry.
Coconut Chai Kabocha Soup (Or, The Joanne Tea Soup)
The idea for this soup came from a tea that my friend Joanne introduced me to. We roast squash all winter long, to be eaten in wedges, in breads, and of course in soups. A pureed soup made from winter squash is a fun place to play with spice blends; this one worked particularly well. Joanne takes her tea creamy, and lightly sweetened – coconut milk and honey do the job here. Like chai tea, this soup is warmly spiced and doesn’t mind being sweetened – but I’ve resisted too much sweetening of the soup itself with the idea of adding a crunchy, candied bite of pecans to the top. If you’d rather keep the soup smooth, you might want to sweeten it with a bit of brown sugar at the end.
A mix of orange and green kabocha worked really nicely here (the greens are orange-fleshed on the inside, but slightly less sweet than their orange-skinned cousins). I also made a version with a sugar pie pumpkin that I had sitting around from the CSA, but greatly prefer the kabocha. An interesting note from the farm: most winter squash (excepting delicata) like a little time to age once they are off the vine – our farmers recommend letting them sit at least a couple weeks before using them.
I used a hand blender to puree the soup, but you could also do the two-plate food mill method, as seen here – or you could blend the soup in a standard blender, in batches, making sure not to fill the pitcher too full with hot soup.
I’ve heard rumor that Joanne makes an amazing butternut squash soup – maybe one of these days I’ll get her recipe. In the meantime, I’ll just say thanks Joanne, for playdates, and tea, and soup inspiration :)
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 large onion, diced
3 small kabocha squash, roasted
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 can coconut milk (13.5 ounces, full fat)
1-2 tablespoons honey (I’m digging the raw, grade B single-nectar-source honeys from these folks when I can’t get any honey from my neighbor)
3-4 cardamom pods
1 star anise
Cayenne, to taste
Zest from one navel orange
Candied pecans, chopped
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and then caramelize the onion. Once the onion is caramelized, add the flesh of the roasted squash to the pan. Add two cups of water and mix well. Grate the ginger straight into the pan (I use my microplane) and add the cinnamon, pepper, clove and allspice. Mix well, then let heat through over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low and add the coconut milk, 1 more cup of water, and the honey. Let the mixture come to a simmer, then remove from heat. Puree with a hand blender.
Wrap the cardamom pods and star anise in cheesecloth. Drop the bundle into the pureed soup, and place the whole over low heat. Let it simmer for 10-45 minutes, depending on how deep you want the cardamom and star anise flavors to be. (Because Kyle doesn’t love either spice, I simmered for only about 15 minutes).
Taste soup and adjust for flavor: it will need salt (at least 1-2 teaspoons) and perhaps a little more black pepper. If you want it to be sweeter, mix in a couple teaspoons of brown sugar.
Serve garnished with orange zest and candied pecans, and cayenne to taste.