Yesterday’s plan was to make this simple Tuscan White Bean and Fennel Soup for dinner. Not a crazy plan to execute. Very doable, in fact. I shopped for the ingredients in the morning, and planned to start the soup before picking Oliver up from daycare, looking forward to him proclaiming “ZUPA!” (his word for “soup”) like a merry Italian grandfather when he walked in the door. The reality was my kid ate a hot dog, cherry tomatoes and string cheese for dinner; Sam and I had ramen, and I finally got around to tackling this soup around 9 p.m. when the house was quiet. So it goes.
On my drive to Portland a few weeks ago, I realized I’d forgotten to write Oliver’s second birthday letter. When he was a baby, I’d decided I wanted to write him a letter on the day of each birthday, compiling them to give to him when he turns eighteen. In his first birthday letter, I wrote about the weather, what we did that day, all about his party and who came, and how we were all feeling. A snapshot of the day and our family: November 18, 2016. Well, November 18, 2017 – his two year birthday – came and went and in late January I realized it and started crying at a gas station on the outskirts of Olympia. The whole point was to write the letter on the day! Not when I got around to it. Not when I felt like it. Not two months later.
I sat down that weekend in my Airbnb and wrote Oliver his second birthday letter. I opened by apologizing profusely for being late, for no longer being able to remember the minute details of the day. But then after reading and re-reading it over and over, I erased all of that. Instead, I explained to him that mom and dad are busy, working for themselves trying to make a good life for him. And sometimes that means there is a hot dog for dinner instead of “ZUPA,” and other times it means your birthday letter may be penned a little late. Or a lot late. But it will always make it into the keepsake box eventually, and we have a hot bowl of soup on tap for tonight’s dinner. We carry on.
This soup is from Pretty Simple Cooking, the new cookbook by my friends, Alex and Sonja Overhiser (of A Couple Cooks). The book is vegetarian and comprised of really doable, enticing, vibrant food with an encouraging and welcoming tone –just what we all need to roll up our sleeves in February (for me, often a tough month for culinary inspiration). I have quite a few recipes bookmarked including a creamy millet bake with greens and leeks, some simple strawberry lime chia jam, and a crazy-delicious looking skillet cookie.
But I decided to start with the Tuscan White Bean and Fennel Soup as it looked really simple to pull together, humble in nature, yet comforting and filling. We often have cooked whole grains in our fridge (I like to cook them on the weekend and use them in soups, salads, and scrambles throughout the week), so I decided to fold in a cup of farro at the end, making each bowl of soup a real-deal meal. I think Sonja and Alex would approve. Have a great week out there, friends. Stay warm; carry on.
A true winter soup, each bowl boasts chunky tomatoes, tender beans, and nutrient-packed kale. If you wanted to use chard instead, I think that’d be great and Alex and Sonja recommend San Marzano tomatoes if you can find them. I added an onion to the soup as we had a lot leftover from our CSA delivery, and I folded in grains at the end, which is 100% optional and the soup is delicious with or without the addition. For kiddos with delicate or picky palettes, perhaps start light on the smoked paprika. A great recipe to double and freeze!
Ever so slightly adapted from Pretty Simple Cooking
Remove the stems from the fennel bulb and cut off any tough parts from the bottom of the root, then dice the remaining bulb. De-stem the kale by holding the leaf at the lowest part of the stem and pulling back to tear the leaf away from the stem, then roughly chop the leaves.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute for 4-5 minutes, until translucent but not browned. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic, and continue to cook for 30 seconds.
Carefully add both cans of tomatoes and their juices, then add the bay leaf and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the vegetable broth and cannellini beans and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and add the kale, red pepper flakes, basil, smoked paprika, kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Simmer until the kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf, then taste and adjust flavors as necessary. Fold in cooked grains, if desired. To serve, top with Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, if desired.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.