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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)