Ultimate Lentil Soup

Forget it, I’m going to keep making and posting soup recipes until this stupid weather breaks or I die.  Whichever comes first.

Slow Cooker Revolution is on a roll with what it touts as “Ultimate Lentil Soup.”  I don’t really like lentil soup.  I don’t hate it but it’s not my go-to.  Jeeps loves it though, and he’s been killing himself shoveling snow so I wanted to make it for him.  It didn’t hurt that the recipe called for bacon and mushrooms.

Well, friends, to cut to the chase: this soup is tits.  Unbelievable flavor.  I snuck in a can of black beans toward the end and the country-style texture of beans and lentils rocks.  The mushrooms are killer.  The chard is a treat.  Bacon makes it all sexy.  I stirred some frozen sweet corn into the kids’ bowls to cool it off.  And they ate it. 

As my friend Art said, “This is not your mother’s lentil soup.”

Lentil Soup

Ultimate Not-Your-Mother’s Lentil Soup

  • 2 onions, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4-5 slices bacon
  • 3-5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2-3 large portobello mushroom caps, gills removed and cut into 1/2″ pieces (the gills scrape right out with a spoon.  You do this to keep the soup from getting muddy)
  • 1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves cut 1/2″ thick

Microwave onions, garlic, oil, tomato paste, porcini mushrooms and thyme in bowl, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.

Stir chicken broth, vegetable broth, bacon, carrots, portobello mushrooms, lentils and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on high 5-7 hours or low 9-11 hours, until lentils are tender.

Stir in black beans and chard, cover and cook on high until chard is tender, 20-30 minutes.  Discard bacon and bay leaves.  Serve.

The Man I Love

“What is your book about?”

Amazing how many times I’ve gotten that question over the past [insert ridiculous number here] years and how I’ve squirmed my way out of answering it.  For a long time it was because I didn’t know what it was about.  Truthfully it was a 500-page character analysis with no discernible storyline.  I had a universe of characters and I wrote fan fiction.

Then I found the story.  And it was written from the point of view of my lead female character because much of the story was rooted in personal experience and a female viewpoint was logical to me.  I wrote a few chapters from the lead male’s view, but really just to provide some backstory.

Still, the novel wasn’t going anywhere.  I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Then I sent the chapters to my friend Ami, a voracious reader and smart cookie.  She grouped together the many chapters from Daisy’s point of view and said, “These are good.”  She grouped together a few chapters told by other characters and said, “These are a distraction.”  And then she took the smallest grouping, the chapters told from Erik’s perspective and said, “These are the story.”

I was stunned. Write the novel from Erik’s point of view?  That made no sense.  But I tend to trust Miss Ami when it comes to books so I isolated those chapters.  I read through them.  And it hit me.  Ami was right.  The story was Erik’s.  He had the evolution, not Daisy.

And then the world caught on fire.

“What is the book about?”  Even with my protagonist fixed and my story in place, I was still reluctant to give people the nutshell version.  The elevator pitch.  The plot summary.  Why?  Probably fear.  I’m writing a book.  [Insert hysterical laughter here].  Seriously.  Who the hell do I think I am?  Right.  A book.  And this book is about…?

Well, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this.  And it’s time to stop fucking around.  So here it is, the blurb for “The Man I Love”:

Some seek the limelight and some hold the light in place.

Nineteen-year-old Erik Fiskare is drawn to the world of theater but prefers backstage to center stage.  The moment he lays eyes on a beautiful, accomplished dancer named Daisy Bianco, his atoms rearrange themselves and he is drawn into a romance both youthfully passionate and maturely soulful.  Their affinity is both quiet and complex, marked by deep understanding and intense sexuality.  Until it is shattered by a shocking incident of violence on their college campus.  A crime of passion which leaves Daisy seriously injured and Erik emotionally traumatized. With their world shaken to the core, the lovers strive to find their footing again.  But a devastating betrayal drives Erik to a desperate flight from school, from the past and from Daisy.

“The Man I Love” follows Erik from college through his young adult years and into his thirties as he battles the long-lasting effects of post-traumatic stress and the consequences of unfinished business.  Despite his unrelenting estrangement from Daisy, he continues to recall their uniquely cellular bond and mourns his inability to find it anywhere else.  Slowly Erik heals the most wounded parts of himself, and comes to learn how the un-grieved grief of youth shapes adulthood.  And learns that leaving is not always the end of loving.


Sicilian Chick Pea Soup

As smartass Frank pointed out, the soup itself is Sicilian, not the chick peas.  Most Italian soups feature cannellini beans but in Sicily, chick peas are the favored legume. The recipe comes from the Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook, Volume 2.  You can make it in 7 hours in the slow cooker, or in 45 minutes on the stove top.  It’s not very attractive, but it’s yum.  It features fennel, garlic, oregano and red pepper.  It also calls for anchovies, which I did not use, and escarole, which I did not have.

Stove Top Version

  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 8-oz cans chick peas, dried and rinsed
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 head escarole, chopped coarse, or 1/2 bag of frozen spinach

Heat olive oil in soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add fennel and saute 7-8 minutes.  I found the soup very savory and kept looking for a sweet note.  I think if you really get the fennel caramelized it will bring that sweetness.

Add garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes, saute another 2-3 minutes.

Add chick peas and chicken broth.  Cover and simmer 20-30 minutes.  Add spinach or escarole and cook until wilted, another 15 minutes.

Serve with a glug of olive oil and a big dollop of parmesan cheese

Slow Cooker Version

  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
  • 8 oz dried chick peas
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 head escarole, chopped coarse, or 1/2 bag of frozen spinach

Microwave fennel, oil, garlic, oregano, anchovies and papper flakes in bowl, stirring occasionally, until fennel is softened, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Stir in chick peas and broth.  Cover and cook until chick peas are tender – 10 to 11 hours on low or 7 to 8 hours on high.

Stir in escarole or spinach, cover and cook another 15 minutes.

Serve with olive oil and parmesan.


Hustle and (No) Flow

So I’m writing a book.

Actually, I’ve written a book.  It’s done.  Mostly done.  Three-quarters done.  The done part is in second draft, and the remaining quarter is a fucking mess.

I’m trying to enjoy it.

Sometimes wordsSeriously.  I am so stuck.  I wrote like a demon since November, in the groove and full of Flow.  Now I’m busy with a section that is so central to the novel, it’s kind of horrifying I paid so little attention to it.  I’ve already written myself a stern note for the next novel:  Dumbass, if your story includes a crime, have the perpetrator and their motive completely planned out FIRST.  It sucks trying to work it in effectively after the fact.

Sounds pretty textbook, right?  I wonder why I didn’t think of it.  Actually I know why:  I wasn’t writing to publish before.  I was just tinkering.  Now I’m writing with intention.  I’m writing with a goal.  I’m writing to fucking finish this thing, get the story out of my head and out of my stomach and channeled somewhere where it might do some good.  I have to write this section.  I have to write it well.  I have to do this.

This is hard.  Really hard.  I sent the section to my editor, who takes no prisoners, and a few days later I realized I’d given her a galley ship of prisoners.  I hauled it back into port.  “It’s not working for me.  I’m not sure what it is, but this isn’t it.”

Snoopy editing

I’m writing every day.  I put that hour in, no matter what.  But Flow is in short supply right now.  It’s a fight for every sentence.  Sometimes for every word.  I’m writing by hand a lot, just to shake things up.  I’m pacing around, doing a lot of Zentangles just to keep my mind open.

I’m trying to enjoy it.

Why?  Because this is me stuck.  This is me having a hard time.  I’m trying to stop and pay attention to what this is like.  Not fight it.  If I’m going to be a writer, this is going to happen.  I already know what I’m like when the Flow is flowing and I’m writing easily.  This is me struggling.  This is me having to write, or there will be no book.  This counts.  Just like the two thousand words written in half an hour counts, the paltry two sentences covered in blood count.  This all counts.  This is all part of it.

I will write this.

It will be really really hard to write this.

It will kick ass.

This sucks.

I’m trying to enjoy it.


Soap Opera: Vanilla Sundaes

soapmakingthenaturalwayPanda and I got into making soap as gifts last year and the hobby has lain fallow since, but now once again, ’tis the season, and we’ve caught the bug again.  We’re helped this year by this awesome book I found at Michael’s, Soapmaking the Natural Way, by Rebecca Ittner.  It’s not hardcore, true pioneer, ashes-and-lye soapmaking, but apothecary fun of mixing glycerine soap blocks with essential oils and pantry ingredients to create very cool little soaps.

We went through and picked a few to try out, and I had to go in search of a few specialty ingredients, mostly the essential oils and things like kaolin clay or goat’s milk powder.  Essential oils at the local health food store were the rough equivalent of my monthly phone bill, so I hunted around online and found three sites that between them seemed to have everything we could need at pretty decent bulk prices:

Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies

Bulk Apothecary

Essential Wholesale

I had all three open at the same time, comparison shopping, and in the end went with a few things from Bulk Apothecary and the rest from Essential.  After this recon, some soaps we wanted to make got rejected because the cost of their materials was just unjustifiable.  Neroli essential oil?  It’s a mortgage payment, I’m not kidding.

So a few things arrived in the mail on Thursday, we hit the test kitchens and have two soaps for you, one is a brown sugar vanilla clear soap, the other is a two-tone Vanilla Sundae.


Brown Sugar Vanilla

This is very straight forward melt-and-pour, and the additives are not specialized or weird.

  • 1 lb clear melt-and-pour glycerine soap (I have been buying my soap blocks at Michael’s, they come in a 2-lb package so this was half of it)
  • 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essential oil (on which many purists call bullshit, apparently there is no such thing as vanilla essential oil, and what you really get is a real glorified vanilla extract.  It certainly looked like vanilla extract and cost about the same so draw your own conclusions)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Small spray bottle with alcohol (I found one in a little travel kit I had under the sink for some strange reason)

In a large glass or pyrex measuring cup, melt the glycerine soap in the microwave.  Stir in the oils and sugar, and then pour into molds.  Spray the tops of the molds with alcohol to remove air bubbles.  Let cool and fully harden, then pop out of the molds.


Vanilla Sundae Soap

This soap is a little more labor intensive because it has two layers.  But it is gorgeous and smells amazing and really once you have everything set up, it’s not a lot of time to make them.  I have one at my kitchen sink and the other in my shower.  They’re really great, lather up nice, and the scent is just divine.  And you made them, how cool is that?

White layer:

  • 1/2 lb shea butter melt-and-pour soap
  • 1 tsp sweet almond oil (this hadn’t yet arrived so I used the vitamin E oil)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essential oil (cough, extract, cough)
  • 1 tablespoon goat’s milk powder, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water and whisked smooth

Melt soap in microwave in large pyrex measuring cup or bowl.  Stir in the oils and the goat’s milk.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while you make the second layer.

Clear layer:

  • 1/2 lb clear glycerine melt-and-pour soap
  • 2 tsps honey
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder

Melt the soap in the microwave, stir in the honey and cocoa powder.  A whisk works best to get the cocoa fully incorporated.

Microwave the white layer about 20 seconds to wake it up.  Pour into the molds until they are half-full.  Spray the surface with alcohol to remove bubbles.

Pour the clear layer into the molds until they are full.  With toothpicks, swirl the colors together.  Spray the surface again with alcohol.  Let the soaps fully cool and harden, then pop out of the molds.


Herbed Cottage Cheese Biscuits

Everyone is set with their turkey chili, turkey tetrazzini, turkey soup, and turkey so forth, so to go with all your recycled turkey goodies I have some herbed cottage cheese biscuits.

Are you like me?  Do you buy a thing of cottage cheese with the full intent of eating it, and it’s still there, unopened, weeks later?  I’m mortified to tell you exactly how long this container was in my fridge and I peeled back the seal expecting to find a science experiment.  But it was fine.  Now that the seal was broken I had to use it immediately, so to go with my turkey minestrone soup, I made these biscuits.

The first batch I baked at 450 for 12 minutes and they got burned on the bottom and were under-done on the inside.  So the next batch I put into the oven at 450, but then immediately turned the heat down to 425 and baked about 21 minutes.  Still slightly gooey in the middle.  So this is one of those things you might have to fiddle around with.  But they taste great.

By the way, what is it about putting hot biscuits into a towel-lined bowl that makes you feel so goofy?


Herbed Cottage Cheese Biscuits

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chives
  • 1 tbsp dried dill weed
  • 2 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 5 tbsp butter, cold, cut into pieces
  • 1 16-oz container cottage cheese

Makes about 18 biscuits – some for now, some to freeze.

Preheat oven to 450.  Line baking sheet with parchment or silpat mat, or spray with Pam

In large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and herbs

Add butter, and with pastry cutter or two knives, work through the flour until it is in small, pea-size clumps (a food processor also works but I didn’t feel like breaking it out)

Add cottage cheese and mix together until just combined (the dough is not going to make you feel good, it’s sort of a mess, just deal)

With a soupspoon, drop onto baking sheet

Put into oven, turn heat down to 425, bake 20-21 minutes until golden.

Keep warm in towel-lined bowl.

Be goofy.

Pumpkin Chia Muffins

It’s the time of year when you feel like you should be doing something with pumpkin.  This combined with the fact that I suddenly have a teenager in the house who is getting up ten minutes before she has to leave for school and thinking she can just rush out the door with nothing in her stomach and…

(Hand over mouth)…..MOM?!

Anyway, I put the two problems together and searched out a pumpkin breakfast muffin recipe.  I found this one from Dr. Oz’s site and I have made them four times in four weeks.  Right now I have a double batch going, they’re that popular.

These have no end of good things in them, and you can tweak the recipe to get as many good things in there as you like.  The original recipe, doubled, calls for 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup of white flour.  But you can make this into 3 cups of virtually any kind of grains or flours.  I mean literally.  Anything.  You might not have the fluffiest, most domed muffins, but I’ve never made the recipe with the same flour twice and it always works and tastes great.  So tonight, for example, my 3 cups are made of:

1/2 cup flaxseed meal

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 cup white flour

1 1/2 cups wheat flour

Dr. Oz’s recipe also called for olive oil; I subbed coconut oil because I am an addict.  I also used regular sugar instead of the agave because agave isn’t something I keep around.  You can tweak this to your heart’s content depending on your religious beliefs.

I also added dark chocolate chips because duh.

Pumpkin Chia Muffins

(Single batch recipe below, makes 12 muffins plus an annoying dollop of batter you don’t know what to do with)

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 cup whole-wheat or whole-grain flour plus 1/2 cup white flour (OR 1 1/2 cups of whatever flours/meals you like)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (ginger!  not the garlic powder!  don’t ask!)
  • 2 tsp baking soda (when using almond meal and flaxseed meal, I throw another 1/2 tsp in)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 can (16-oz) pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (or olive oil, or canola)
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (or 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup sugar; I made it a scant 1/2 cup because I was using chocolate chips)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (Optional)
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another.

Combine dry and wet and stir in chocolate chips.

Bake 25-30 minutes until tester comes out dry.

Serve as they’re flying out the door to the bus stop.


Salted Caramel Pumpkin Seeds

My neighbor Jaime did this to me so I have to do it to you.  It’s her fault.  Don’t blame me.  That’s all I have to say.

Happy Halloween.

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Seeds

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds, rinsed and pat dry
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon each, brown sugar and granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Add seeds and toss to coat evenly. Spread on the baking sheet and spray with cooking spray.

Bake seeds until lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir in sugars and salt; cook until deep golden brown, 1-2 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and stir in seeds; coat with buttery caramel mixture and cook an additional minute.

Remove from heat and let cool before serving.


World’s Best Gingerbread. Really.

The other day called for Gingerbread.  I hung up the phone.  The day called back and said “Chocolate Gingerbread.”

I said, “Speaking.”

IMG_5133It’s fall, it’s a thing with me to make gingerbread when it’s red and orange and golden outside and I’m wearing my boots.  Usually my go-to is Laurie Colwin’s recipe but I was in the mood to expand my horizons and see what else was out there in the world.

I found the world’s best at a blog called The English Kitchen.

Now I do realize that when you throw around words like “world” and “best” then you better damn well deliver.  This recipe delivers.  If this isn’t the world’s best damn gingerbread, it’s pretty damn close.  It’s everything the author says it is:  “no-fail, bakes up deliciously moist, the perfect blend of spice and heat, and it tastes better and better with each day that passes.”

The author gives her gingerbread a lemon glaze.  I put my twist on it by adding cocoa powder.  Frankly it needs nothing.  It needs nothing and gives everything.  That is the world’s best gingerbread.

World’s Best Gingerbread (really) from “The English Kitchen”

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 heaping tbsp Hershey Special Dark Cocoa Powder (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 dark treacle and 1/2 cup Golden syrup (I have no idea what treacle is; I already had Lyle’s Golden syrup from when I make Laurie Colwin’s recipe, but only just 1/2 cup.  I used 1/4 cup molasses for the treacle to get to the 3/4 cup.  The English Kitchen says you can use all molasses, so don’t sweat it)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 9 inch square baking tin, or spray with Pam.

Add the treacle/molasses and syrup to the boiling water along with the baking soda.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the flour, spices, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  Add the cooled syrup mixture to the creamed mixture.  Stir in the dry ingredients only to blend and note this is very liquid batter, don’t be alarmed!

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until well risen and the top springs back when lightly touched, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm, or pick at it in the middle of the night.  It’s divine.


Bloody Dragonflies

Failed attempt #13

Failed attempt #13

And bloody they are.  It took me twenty-eight attempts and a video tutorial from my cousin Donna to master this damn stitch.  I found it on Freeknitstitches.com via Pinterest and whoever wrote the directions is just plain mean.  Here they are as lovingly deciphered, decoded and put down by Donna, with a few tweaks by yours truly for those of us who like everything spelled out.

Dragonfly Lace Stitch

Cast on 16 stitches

Row 1:  P2, K4, K2tog, YO2, Sl1, K1, PSSO, K4, P2

Row 2:  K2, P3, P2tog, Slip 1 of the YO’s purlwise, YO2 purlwise, Slip the other YO purlwise, Sl1, P1, PSSO, P2, K2

Row 3:  P2, K2, K2tog, drop all the YO’s off the left needle – there should be 2 long strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2 knitwise, then go under the YO’s again; Sl1, K1, PSSO, K2, P2.

Note:  at this point, the slipped loops and the YO’s in the middle make what Donna and I call THE TANGLE.  THE TANGLE is ugly but don’t let it frighten you.  THE TANGLE is a metaphor for life, just keep going and it will work out in the end.

Row 4:  K2, P1, P2tog, drop THE TANGLE off the left needle , it is now 3 strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2 purlwise, then go under THE TANGLE again; Sl1, P1, PSSO*, P1, K2

Row 5:  P2, K2tog, drop THE TANGLE which is now 4 strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2, then go under THE TANGLE again; Sl1, K1, PSSO, P2

Row 6:  K2, P1, 4YO cast-on style**, drop THE TANGLE and P1, K1 into it – keep tension as even as possible and pull tight as you are doing the final “draw-up” of the wings; 4YO cast-on style, P1, K2

Row 7:  P2, K12, P2

Row 8:  K2, P12, K2

Row 9:  Same as 7

Row 10:  Same as 8

* On the even rows, this PSSO was a little tricky (for me) because that slipped stitch liked to “hide” under a long strand.  Just be sure you’re passing the correct thing over.

** YO cast-on style – Donna had to show me what she meant by this.  You don’t want to simply wrap the yarn around 4 times, it will all fall apart in the next row.  Do a yarn over the right needle, then take that loop off, turn it 180 degrees, and put it back on the right needle.  Repeat 3 times.  If that doesn’t make sense, give me a holler, I’ll try to explain better.

So the Dragonfly is 16 stitches wide.  Below I attempted a double swatch with 2 lead off knits, 2 knits in the center, and 2 ending knits, so I cast on 38 stitches total.  Those 6 knits are always knit, odd and even rows.  This is one that takes a ton of practice, I’m still not happy with the final P1, K1 into THE TANGLE on row 6, I wish I could get it tighter.

If you try this and find it incredibly difficult and frustrating, do tell me about it, please!  Remember it took me twenty-seven times to finally get it so don’t get discouraged.

(If you breeze right through it on the first try, I don’t want to hear from you)