I returned late Friday afternoon from Thanksgiving at my Nana and Papa's house just in time to pick up my CSA delivery. Whenever I come home from there, I am always stuffed with food way way beyond capacity, but Thanksgiving takes that stuffing (pun intended) to a whole new level. I eat easily my caloric allotment for the year in one sitting. And if my Papa mentions going to Jalapenos (a Mexican food place in Irvine whose salsa I love) the following day after I've just had a breakfast of gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, and stuffing, who am I to say no?
After I've sworn to eat nothing else for the rest of the year (well maybe excepting Christmas), picking up a box of vegetables is not a heartening experience. The thought of ingesting even one cucumber slice no matter how wafer thin it is makes me want to cry. But I press on and load the car with
two heads of lettuce (one red leaf, another I have no idea)
one bunch flat parsley
one small pumpkin
one bunch red chard
The last thing on the list makes me so sad. From past experiences, I HATE chard. It seems my CSA delights in putting chard of all varieties in the box at least three times a month right now. I was actually caught in mid-fit on the porch of the house where the CSA pickup is by the owner of the house. I was flailing and cursing about the "freaking Swiss chard," and I turned to see a woman standing in front of her picture window in her living room, witnessing it all. She flashed me a smile and gave me a thumbs up sign then turned to go about her business. I don't think she understood the depth of my loathing of chard.
And I do loathe it. I gamely tried cooking it in so many ways: sauteed with a little garlic, in a soup, in a gratin, etc . . . I just can't stand it. It isn't the taste; it's the texture: slimy. And not slimy in the spinach sense (love spinach). Just weird and nasty. I have yet to find a way of serving palatable chard in a way you'd know it was chard. So, I've resorted to finely chopping it in order to hide it in other dishes. Zucchini and spinach soup? Try Swiss Chard and zucchini soup (did some major modifications. Look at San Diego, Wassup's review (I know, I know)). Mexican lasagna? Try Green chard and Mexican lasagna (also used chile in adobo sauce instead of salsa, way way spicy but way way good). Onion and mushroom ragout? Perfect way to sneak in some chard. I've become a master of sneaking chard into dishes that have a strong enough flavor to mask the chard, and I've chopped it so finely that the texture never bothers me now. Sometimes I have wonderful dreams where I find recipes that make me love chard as much as I love kale, but I have yet to find a recipe to make those dreams a reality.
I returned home with the intention of never eating again and composting all produce (especially chard) received from my CSA. However, there is something about returning home from an absence. Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but I always need a reorientation back to my home, my life, left behind for however long of a time. Invariably, I find myself in the kitchen either eating or cooking. Something about the act of breaking bread situates me. Which is probably why I eat (and eat a lot) when I travel. Eating is a way of orienting myself. Cooking does so even more. So, I ate when I got home: chips and salsa and a burrito from Jalapenos. I also made my son some popcorn, and we sat on the kitchen floor, he with his "cuppy" of water, me with my beer, and enjoyed a repast together. Truly a serene moment.
So, today is Saturday, and I have to cook something. This semester, weekends are the only times I get to cook at my leisure, and I try to cook for the week during that time. However, I also have 39 ten-page papers to grade over this Thanksgiving break, and instead of grading them in a timely fashion as I intended to do, I have saved them for this weekend. Between grading and and the glut of Thanksgiving leftovers, I haven't had a lot of initiative to actually cook today. It is now 8pm. My son is about to go to bed, and I (finally) have a soup simmering on the stove. It's ostensibly a carrot soup but . . . Here's the recipe:
CARROT SOUP WITH THYME AND FENNEL
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped leek (white and pale green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
5 cups (or more) canned low-salt chicken broth
Additional chopped fresh thyme Melt 1/4 cup butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add carrots, onion, leek, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon thyme and fennel seeds; stir to coat. Cover; cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add 5 cups broth. Bring to simmer. Cover partially; simmer until carrots are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. Cool slightly. Working in batches, purée soup in blender. Return to pan. Thin to desired consistency with more broth. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and chill.)
Bring soup to simmer. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with additional thyme. Serves 4.
Bon Appétit March 1999
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Here are my tweaks (remember, I don't measure anything; and everything bolded is what I used from the CSA): I used both parsnips and carrots. All the carrots and almost all the parsnips the CSA delivered. I also chopped some baby carrots I had in the fridge as snack for my son. Lots lots more garlic. I used about half of the butter and the rest was olive oil. Really, you only need a little butter for the flavor; the rest is just extra fat. Don't have fresh thyme, so used parsley. Not the same flavor, but parsley is so . . . green. It really is an amazing herb to add to recipes. Final tweak, I chopped some red chard and added that (big surprise, I know). The rest is pretty much what the recipe called for.
Honestly? The soup is freaking awesome. I love this soup. My husband loves this soup. My friends love this soup. My son . . . well, he's tried a bite or two, but he was really really tired. With the above tweakings, it is decidedly not orange in color. More of a puke green. But soooooo good.
I am going to enjoy a bowl now. Bon Appétit.
The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History