Yummy Beet & Wine Vegetable Soup

One of my favorite things about the cold seasons is soup. Soup everyday! I love soup. I am indiscriminate.

“But, Alien Mind Girl, it is 70 degrees in Oklahoma!” you might say. This may be true, but it is still November, and November means I get to make soup. I made a soup last week that I was especially pleased with. There aren’t any pictures because… well, we ate it all. It might sound weird, but just trust me, k? We ate it. All.  And because the soup was wine-red, it looked so pretty and colorful dished up with a plate of greens and basil-and-cheese-sprinkled toast.

Beet & Wine Vegetable Soup
2 cups of chicken stock
½ - ¾ cup of red cooking wine
6 cloves of minced garlic
Half an onion, chopped
A cup and a half of beets, boiled and diced
A cup and a half of cabbage, diced or shredded fine
1-2 cups of fresh kale, chopped
Sprig of dill

Basically… throw it all in the pot together, and add water to cover, bring to a boil, then simmer it for as long as you can stand, stirring occasionally and checking the water level. By the time I had finished cooking it, the beets had mostly dissolved into the broth along with some of the onions. When you’ve decided it’s done cooking, find the sprig of dill and pull it out to discard. Then it is ready to eat!

I really enjoyed it. Super healthy, and I thought it tasted decadent with the rich broth, hint of wine, and garlicky-sweet flavor.


7 Ways to Get to Know Your Community


            1. Don’t get there in a hurry
My number one tip is to take your time getting from point A to point B, and above all, avoid the interstate if you can. Drive city streets for longer treks, walk or bike for shorter ones. This way you not only know what is at point A and point B, but you also know everything between. You know the businesses and neighborhoods, the bus stops, the events, and how the area changes over time. You see when new restaurants and shops open, when it’s bike night at the bar, when buildings are being renovated, when homes are for sale. If it’s a route you take often you grow accustomed to the place. You KNOW that street, you know that man that sits at a certain bus stop and the dog that barks from a certain yard. You know the quickest way to trip chain if you want to pick up pizza on the way home and you know exactly when the church opens its pumpkin patch sale. If you were on the highway or the expressway, you’d miss it all. 

2. Read signs
This seems like common sense, but how many people do it? Stop and read the posters and the fliers. Stop and read the historical placards. Read the event postings on the marquis and bulletin boards. Skim the business cards.  Read the cornerstones on old buildings. If it’s there and the building isn’t on fire, read it. It only takes a second or two.
3. Make it a point to do something different
Change up the routine once in a while (or a lot); try a different coffee shop, café, or route home.
4. Go Local (AKA, Make the box store your second option rather than your first)
When I was growing up, our first option was always the major chain retailers and restaurants. We only went to other businesses or local establishments if what we wanted was unavailable in the box stores. It was, in fact, harder to shop local because our house was surrounded by box stores.  I also lived for a couple of years in a small town where options were really limited… it was often Walmart or nothing.  I would never want to shop that way again. Sometimes I still do it when they have the products I need, but more and more often now I leave in frustration when the gigantic box store does not, in fact, have what I want. My success is better if I know the exact spiffy small business that caters to me, rather than just hitting the one giant business that tries to have a little bit for everyone. Plus, I get the fun of treasure hunting for the exact perfect place for curry, or the perfect cup of joe, the perfect pair of wooly socks, and once I’ve found the place, that’s it. The search is over, and it’s as easy to find and get to as the box store ever was. And I learned so much more about my town along the way.

5. Browse local publications
You know those free community publications that are often in racks in the businesses you pass? You don’t have to read the whole thing to get a feel for what’s happening in the community – even a quick flip through to skim the headlines and bold font could be beneficial.
6. Hook up with people of similar interests
This is another that should have been obvious, but wasn’t for me. I stumbled upon it on accident. Obviously if you know someone who knows someone who knows what’s going on, and people know that it’s an interest of yours, the information is likely to reach you. And then you will hear about art openings that don’t have a budget for advertisements, small performances by artists without a PR team, sports events that aren’t big enough to make it into the news… And I mean social networking in person. Not just Facebook! Still not my strength, but I know how to do it. This is easiest with interests that I’m most passionate about.

7. Sign up for newsletters
If I am very busy, I don’t even read the newsletters that are in my inbox. I just delete them. But if I have free time I’d like to fill or if I’m looking for some specific information, I’ll open them and scan what they send me.


Bicycle Success! (The saga of how I finally overcame my fear of bike riding)

You may or may not remember this post, wherein I mention my adventures in learning to ride a bicycle. (Yes, you heard me correctly. Learning. At thirty.) Well, I did not update you for a very good reason. Jenny (my bicycle) and I had a disagreement. A rather embarassing one.

The first summer I had her (summer 2011), I spent a lot of time *not* riding her because it was too hot. And then I got tired of this, and felt like it would ALWAYS be too hot. You remember that summer, don't you? Yeah. Too hot. For months. So I decide to slowly acclimate myself to the heat. Spending longer and longer periods outdoors. And then I thought, today is the day. Today is the day I will ride my bicycle in the heat. I will be careful. I will bring water. If I start to feel tired, or thirsty, or bad, I will stop. I will stay close to home so I can go inside quickly. Well.

Jenny and I headed out. It was a hundred and some odd degrees, like every other day that summer. I paid close attention to how I was feeling. After 15-20 minutes, my legs started to feel a little fatigued so I turned around. And then I started to feel a little more icky. And I considered my options, which were to continue the short distance to the house, or stop under a tree, which was a refreshing 100 some odd minus half a degree thanks to the shade. Home was close. I went home. By the time I got home I already had heat exhaustion. No matter that I cooled off super quickly, made sure I rehydrated fairly quickly. And so I wound up in the emergency room a few hours later.

This was not Jenny's fault, really, but I held it against her. Stupid bicycle sent me to the ER! Irrational thinking. But I had to be angry at something other than just myself I suppose.

So Jenny gathered dust, and the longer she did, all my intimidation at riding bicycles came back. And then some. I glared at her in the garage the rest of the summer, through the fall, through the winter and spring, and through half the next summer. Knowing that I would have to get over it. And then the perfect thing happened.

Photo from http://www.okcbicyclist.com/


Wow, if I could ride a bike, I could go to the botanical gardens at lunch. But I don't know those bikes. They look scary. OMG, no hand brakes! I'll die! But the thought put them on my radar.

And then Spokies had a series of free tours. That meant I could try out their bikes for free, with a big group of people (which for some reason made me feel safer - they would navigate for me and all the cars would see us for sure), and get to do one of my favorite things: listen to history stories. Plus. Free helmet. I'd been putting off buying a helmet. I think the helmet was the kicker, because I know if I ride bikes I will need one and I know they aren't cheap. The helmet decided me.

So I made a date with a buddy. We signed up. I couldn't back out because... my buddy was my ride my home that night! And right after I got on the bike for the first tour I would have quit if I didn't need that ride home. I was suddenly very terrified. Of being on a strange bicycle, on a busy street, of being on a bicycle at all, IN TRAFFIC even. By the time we got to the first stop on the tour, my arms hurt from gripping the handlebars so hard. But I was ok. And the start-and-stop design of the tour helped give me a break and calm me down. The stories distracted me from being scared. By the time we had to ride again I was usually ready.  I wasn't a great bike rider, but I made it through to the end of the tour. And then I made it through to the end of the NEXT tour, too. There were several moments on these tours when I was absolutely terrified for one reason or another. Because we were riding down a busy street. Because someone else was riding really close to me, or trying to talk to me. A drunk even touched my bicycle while I was trying to ride! Because the sun was in my eyes, or it was getting dark, or I had to ride over a railroad track. I didn't even know there were so many things to be scared of while I was on a bike! But I did them.

And after my second tour I went home and looked at Jenny, and she suddenly seemed so easy! If I can ride a one-speed bike down Reno, with no hand brakes, with people distracting me, in the dark, then I can ride sweet 7-speed Jenny on a designated bicycle route. Piece of cake!

Monday I rode her to the dentist and back. My first full commute that replaced a drive I would have made in my car. And the first time I touched Jenny in over a year. Also, the first time I felt pretty confident while riding her. Once again, I'm not up to driving her to work and back... realistically, I am physically not there right now. But I'm not scared of her anymore.

Hooray for Spokies!

Bicycle success!


CSA and Cooking Beets and Zucchini Bread

This will be my last CSA recipe installment. I saved my favorites for last. I hope you enjoyed them!

On one fine zucchini-acquiring Saturday, I thought I'd treat myself and try this recipe for chocolate zucchini bread from the Prairie Homestead. And, my friends, it was one of the tastiest things I put in my mouth all month.  If you love chocolate, if you love bread, if you ever have a zucchini, YOU MUST TRY THIS! Go to the link. Then make this bread. Just do it.

Picture from Prairie Homestead

Beets are one of the vegetables that the CSA has taught me to love. During my first CSA, the uber-drought year, beets were one of the few crops that defied the drought and flourished. So despite having never touched a beet before, I had beets every week, for many weeks in a row. I tried very hard to like them alone; I simply don't. But, like tomatoes, while I don't eat them individually, I love to cook with them! They lend everything I put them into a natural sweetness and a pretty red color.

What follows is my favorite beet recipe. It is delicious, easy to cook, and filling. I love this one so much, I would say that 90% of my beets go into this. I have gleefully stored packs of chopped beets in the freezer, just so that I can whip out this spicy-cozy recipe on an icy winter day. It even made my hubby's list of favorite dishes.

Red Flannel Hash - One of our favorites!
Red Flannel Hash – adapted from Vegetarian Meatand Potatoes Cookbook
4 small red beets (or more to taste - I sometimes do 5 or 6)
3 medium size potatoes
1 large red onion
1 lb ground beef
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)

Cook the beets in boiling salted water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool. Skin, peel and chop. Set aside.
Peel and dice the potatoes. Steam over boiling water about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Brown the beef and drain.
Add onion, cover and cook, strirring a few times until softened, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes and beets. Increase heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until potatoes are lightly browned. Add soy sauce, salt, and cayenne and cook until flavors are blended, about 5 mintues.


CSA and Cooking Cucumbers

Cucumbers are another of those that are best raw... especially Berry Creek cucumbers, and especially the delicious variety they had that was called a lemon cucumber. Whenever we made dishes like these we used the Armenian cucumbers they gave us. I started cooking them for two reasons. First, cooking them used up more cucumbers than we could eat raw, and made those cucumbers last longer in the fridge. Second, I discovered this year that I am allergic to cucumbers in raw form but not in cooked form. So I have been a devourer of cucumber soup, which is extra good with a thick slice of buttered and toasted bread.

Sad to say I saved these recipes without citing the sources... 
Picnic on the Patio: Cucumber Soup with Buttered Wheat Toast
Cucumber Soup
2 cucumbers (or 1 giant one! Our usual)
2 tablespoons diced onion (optional)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 cups chicken broth
salt to taste
1/8 tablespoon dried tarragon
½ cup sour cream

Peel, seed, and chop 2 cucumbers.
Cook onions in margarine until soft. Add cucumbers and vinegar. Pour in broth. Salt to taste. Let simmer for 20 minutes or until cucumbers are soft.
Put soup in blender and puree.
Pour puree in a bowl, and whisk in sour cream.

I like this eaten cold AND hot, but usually eat it hot... It is especially delicious paired with a thick slice of herbed bread. Says me.

Cucumber Salad
2 cucumbers (or 1 giant one)  peeled and thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ cup water
½ cup vinegar
2 tsp sugar
¼ tsp season salt

Mix cucumbers and onion in one bowl. In a second bowl mix water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Pour the wet mixture over the cucumbers and onion. Chill for at least an hour before serving.


CSA and Cooking Peaches

Of course the healthiest (and often most delicious) way to eat a peach is raw, but through my CSA I learned about peach varieties. Some varieties really ought to be cooked! Berry Creek has two varieties that I know of... one soft, ultra juicy, and very sweet, the other pale and crunchy. The crunchy one is great for cooking; it keeps its shape and gets sweet without getting *too* sweet. Here are the recipes we used most often for this particular peach.
From AllRecipes.com

Stuffed Peaches – shared by a coworker
Cut the peaches in half and deseed
Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar
Bake up to 30 minutes at 350 degrees
Let cool
Put a dollop of cheesecake filling in each
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and/or crushed graham crackers

Tipsy Peaches from AllRecipes.Com

Grandma's Peach Cobbler - This recipe is ubiquitous, apparently... but I did try a few recipes for cobbler and this was the only one I was any good at!


CSA and Cooking Eggplant

I learned that, generally speaking, my CSA eggplant would absorb the flavors of whatever I cooked it with, similar to tofu or potatoes. I couldn't see what the fuss was over until I tried to stir-fry it and eat it alone - then I tasted the bitterness and understood. But I also learned that if you plan to eat it without cooking it into a dish, you can slice it thinly, salt it, and set it aside for 15 minutes first. The salt will draw out some of the juices in the eggplant and it will taste less bitter. Another lesson is that the raw eggplant doesn't keep long (a few days), so it has to be one of my first meals of the week.

These are our two favorite eggplant recipes.

Baked Eggplant Pasta – adapted from VegetarianMeat and Potatoes Cookbook
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium size onion
1 medium size eggplant
4 garlic cloves, minced
one 28-can crushed tomatoes
about a half cup of extra tomatoes of choice: chopped fresh tomatoes, or more canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
½ cup red cooking wine
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1 ½ teaspoons dried
salt and pepper
2 cups of rotini
½ cup
2 cups of any type of cheese (or more to taste)

Preheat oven to 375. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, cover and cook, stirring a few times until softened, about five minutes. Add the eggplant and garlic, cover and cook, stirring a few times, for five minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, parsley, basil and salt and pepper to taste and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, bake pasta in another pot until just al dente, 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta with the sauce and 1 cup of cheese. Spoon into a large baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake until hot and lightly browned on top, 30-40 minutes.

Eggplant Pizza with Roasted Garlic and Tomato
For the crust I use Jay's Signature Pizza Crust recipe. I often will substitute or cut the white flour with whole wheat flour. 
For the toppings, I use this recipe from Pioneer Woman.