Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato and Spinach

I spend a lot of time in bed these days, staring at the massive pecan tree just outside my window. 
I think about the future a lot.
I often wonder if everyone else is in their bed too, thinking about whatever it is that comes next, and staring at their respective trees. 

When the future makes me lonely, I think about Georgia O'Keefe who lived alone in a tiny adobe house in the red desert of New Mexico. When she couldn't sleep she would make yogurt and knead loaves of bread and sweep her floor in the middle of the night. Then I think about the food writer, MFK Fisher, who liked to leave peeled oranges on her window sill, especially in the winter, until the clear orange membrane became dry and crackly, and so when she bit, the orange was only a cold punch of crunch and winter and citrus. 

Sometimes, I think about a boy I knew only briefly, who once cooked me a dinner that mostly consisted of boiled carrots and brown rice, and how kind it was, but how much it needed salt. We  later went to a party, where everyone was older, and speaking languages I didn’t understand. We sat in a corner, and he told me about his lovers, while a tiny French man sang and danced along to "Like A Virgin." The little man danced up to me, "Whenever I feel sad,” he said, “I just listen to Madonna! Like a virgin! Like a virgin!!!" 

And often, I think about my friend Mary Margaret, who was the most beautiful old person I’ve ever known, and she died too soon, but she would throw these parties that were catered by Torchy’s Tacos, and the old-school literati and glitterati of my hometown would go, and there was always this man who wore his cowboy hat inside, he would sit and play groovy ragtime licks on her baby grand piano for hours. 

So lately, I spend a lot of time lying on my bed, staring at the tree outside my window. 
Lately, it rains. 
The other night I made this pot of lentils, and added potatoes and all the remaining odds and ends in my refrigerator.
And the simplicity of the lentils reminded me of all these tiny beautiful things; dancing to Madonna, cold oranges, and tiny houses in big deserts and cowboy hats. 

And how small it all is, and how perfectly beautiful. 

Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato and Spinach
from The Gourmet Cookbook 

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup finely chopped onion 
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth
2 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
2 cups coarsely chopped spinach
fresh lemon juice to taste
salt and black pepper

Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add curry powder and cumin and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add lentils, stock, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. 
Stir in tomatoes and spinach and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. 

Tortilla Soup

There is a book I love that I have never read. 
It is called What It Is.
I love it for the title.
What It Is

Right now-- all this-- it’s just what it is.

My mother tells me I need to be more patient, and I guess that’s how you get through the days when the blues and the mean reds come-- by clinging to the belief that tomorrow will be better.
And frequently tomorrow is better. 
It’s almost always better. 
But frankly, I feel like I’ve got this stack of tomorrow promises that I waste a lot of time thinking about, when really, I simply need to be present for right now, for whatever this what it is happens to be. 

But on those days, when the blues arrive, and the mean reds threaten to swallow and swamp me in memories of the past or promises of the future-- I go to Central Market, my favorite grocery store. 
I go to Central Market, and I take one of the plastic salad dressing containers from the salad bar and I use it as a cup to sample all the soups at the soup bar. 
I always try the tortilla soup. 
It is my favorite. 
And somehow, even though soup sampling with salad dressing cups in undoubtably pathetic, somehow, this also cheers me up. 
Because like kittens and grass and trees and hot cups of coffee-- soup just is. It’s just what it is. And thinking about what it is scares the blues and the mean reds away. 

And sometimes that’s all that can be done. 
So I finally made some tortilla soup for myself this past week, because I got tired of driving to Central Market. 
And the flavor of something so simple and so good. 
I don’t know. 
It reminded me that no matter how unsettled things might feel-- everything is just what it is. 
And that is more than enough. 



Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed chicken broth
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup whole corn kernels, cooked
1 cup white hominy
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile pepper
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained 
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 boneless chicken breast halves, cooked and cut into bite sized pieces
crushed tortilla chips
sliced avocado
shredded Monterey Jack cheese

- In a medium stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic in oil until soft. Stir in chili powder, oregano, tomatoes, broth and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. 
-Stir in corn, hominy, chiles, beans, cilantro and chicken. Simmer for 10 minutes. 
-Ladle soup into individual serving bowls, and top with crushed tortilla chips, avocado slices, and cheese. 

Harvest Corn Chowder with Bacon

Hello my lovlies.

I made this soup when I was still very sick, even though my skin hurt and my eyes hurt and my back ached.

I suffered for you.

But the suffering was worth it.

This is a soup that makes life worth living.

What is sad, is that I am not even kidding.

I say this all the time, but this is really, really worth making. The cup and a half of cream does not exactly make this healthfood. But it makes the soup comfort food. Which is really the only thing you care about when you're sick.

Harvest Corn Chowder with Bacon
from Gourmet Today
(Makes about 11 cups)
Active time: 40 minutes. Start to finish about 1 1/4 hours.

1/2 cup diced (1/4 inch) slab bacon (2 ounces, rind discarded if necessary)*
2 cups diced (1/4 inch)**sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and vut into 1/4 inch dice
1/2 pound yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon Gold (2 small), peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
5 cups Chicken stock, or store bought reduced sodium broth
2 fresh thyme sprigs
3 cups corn
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Optional Garnish: 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced; finely chopped fresh chives

Cook bacon in a 6-to8-quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer witha slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Add onion, carrots, celery, and bell pepper to bacon fat remaining in pot (I didn't have quite enough fat, so added a few tablespoons of olive oil) and cook, stirring, until onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add both potatoes, stock and thyme, bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.
Add corn and cream and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and stir in bacon. Serve sprinkled with tomatoes and chives. ***

*I didn't use slab bacon. I just used regular bacon. Probably about 4 or 5 slices.
**I also didn't use a "sweet" onion. Even though I love the sound of Walla Walla onions.
***I didn't garnish. Lazy me.

Roasted Tomato Soup

I've been sick, and I feel like shit.

It's wrong that anyone should be ill at this gorgeous time of year, in this gorgeous city.


I defy convention.

The point is, I made some special soup yesterday. Soup for the soul. Because my soul needs a lot of comforting when it doesn't feel good.

Tomato soup is gorgeous. Ideally it is eaten with a blisteringly hot, grilled cheese sandwich. (When I was little I thought that grilled cheese was actually girl cheese. I also thought that cheese burgers were pronounced cheese boogers. But that's probably more than you wanted to know.) Of course, because I wanted a grilled cheese, we had no bread, so I simply ate the soup with some shredded Guyere. And for dessert ate a pear.

And then, I still felt sick, but also, comforted. Which is really the whole reason for ever eating soup in the first place.

Roasted Tomato Soup
from Gourmet Today

Note: The recipe says to strain the tomatoes, which I really don't have time for, so I just when ahead and pureed them.

4 pounds tomatos, halved lenghtwise
6 garlic cloves, left unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried organo, crumbled
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cups chicken stock or store-bought reduced-sodium broth OR vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Put a rack in middle oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange tomatoes cut side up in one layer on a large baking sheet. Scatter garlic around tomatoes. Drizzle tomatoes with oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Roast until tomatoes are browned around edges but still juicy, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on a rack then peel garlic. Melt butter in a 6-to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat. Add onion, oregano, and sugar and cook, stirring frequently until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Ad tomatoes, garlic and stock, bring to a simmer, and simmer covered, for 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
Puree soup in batcches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids), then pour througha fine-mesh sieve into cleaned pot, pressing on solids;discard solids. Stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 2 minutes. Serve, preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich.