Sunday, December 20, 2009

Soup: A Love Affair

Like everyone on the East Coast I'm walking in a winter wonderland today. In the sense that I'm staying indoors as much as possible since there's a zillion inches of snow out there. Other than helping a friend bail out his car in my PJs this morning I've pretty much managed to avoid the cold, wet elements. I've got the Sunday NY Times, some Christmas movies that I DVR'd, and of course the fixins for what has become the highlight of my weekends -- a giant pot of tasty soup for Sunday dinner. It's a good day, friends.

When I was little I never ate soup. I think that other than clam chowder from the can my parents never made it, and because I really do not like milk I never got on the clam chowder bandwagon. It's sacrilege for a born and bred New Englander, but who knows, maybe one day I'll find some really amazing non-dairy clam chowder for the lactose intolerant and milk averse New Englanders like me. Anyway the first time I remember eating soup and really liking it was when I was an exchange student in Germany, junior year of high school. There weren't a lot of things I ate in Germany that were actually good, so it really stands out in my memory, though at this point it'd be hard for me to say exactly what was in it. Tiny bits of veggies, a lot of salt, and probably some kind of meat grease, knowing those Germans. In any case I haven't had anything like it since then, but it did broaden my food horizons.

Then in law school I survived the chilly, finals-stress-laden winters with a hefty amount of Udon and Soon Duboo Jigae from my neighborhood Japanese and Korean restaurants. There is nothing better than a humongous bowl of Asian umami goodness at the end of a hard day of studying. Or the beginning of a hard night of studying, as the case may be.

Now, I'm back in Boston where it's ridiculously cold and I've been whipping up enough soup to drown an ox. Last week I brought a different soup from the freezer for lunch every day. It's a great way to deal with the work lunch situation when I'm too lazy to go buy sandwich stuff and assemble veggie sandwiches. Veggie sandwiches done right take a lot longer to make than baloney and cheese!

Anyway, back to today's soup. I had stopped buying kale because I find it too tedious to wash and trim so I always end up tossing it out after it wilts in my fridge. But last week it was 50 cents a pound at the store, and none of the other veggies were looking very good, so I had to get some. And a week later, it was starting to look a little haggard and I knew just what to do with it, a recipe I've had bookmarked for years but never got around to. Spicy, creamy, kale-y, potatoey -- it's a good one.

Kale & Potato Soup with Red Chili
(Adapted from Greens by Deborah Madison) Makes 4-6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
8 small to medium cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp salt
1 lb red potatoes (4-5 medium sized), cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 bunch kale, rinsed very well, pulled from the stems and torn into roughly 2-3 inch squares
32 oz (4 cups) vegetable stock
3 cups water
fresh ground black pepper

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaf, red pepper, and salt. Sautee over medium-high heat for 3-4 mins, stirring frequently, until the onions start to brown at the edges.
  2. Mix in the potatoes, nutritional yeast, and 1 cup of water. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 5 mins.
  3. Add the kale and steam, covered, stirring occasionally until it turns dark green and wilty, about 4 or 5 mins.
  4. Add the rest of the water and stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 30 mins or until the potatoes are soft and smooshable. Taste for saltiness and add fresh ground black pepper to taste.
  5. To thicken the soup base, either smoosh most of the potatoes against the side of the pot and stir in, or take 2 cups of the soup, puree in a blender or food processor, and then add back in.
  6. Let sit for up to an hour for the flavors to meld, and serve. A slab of fresh whole grain baguette would be amazing with this, but some of us are snowed in and have to make do with regular old toast. Either way, dunking carbs into this soup makes it even better.

A few notes --
  1. This soup is on the really salty side for me. If you're not a salt aficionado I'd suggest adding 1/2 tsp of salt at the beginning and then more at the end if it's too bland. That goes double if you're using a commercially prepared vegetable stock, unless it's a low sodium one. I used homemade stock and I don't actually remember whether I salted it when I made it.
  2. The nutritional yeast is also on the salty side and probably not a pantry staple for most non-vegans, but I think it's worth adding if you have some available. It adds a creamy/cheesy quality that complements the potatoes and balances out the spiciness of the chili pepper.
  3. If you don't have a Deborah Madison cookbook (and especially if you're a vegetarian) you should run out and buy Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone right this minute. And make the Kale with Cannellini Beans immediately -- it will make you fall in love with kale.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cold Sesame Noodles

Hey Friendsters,

So once upon a time I lived in fabulous NYC, within the delivery range of a glorious late-night Chinese delivery place called Empire. Oh, Empire. I miss it almost as much as I miss Absolute Bagels, and that is a lot.

One among the many highlights of the Empire experience was the cold sesame noodles. First off, they were FREE. Yeah. Free with any delivery, if you were savvy enough to notice the tiny coupon on the take-out menu. Second, when they were done right, they were the most life-affirming 300000 calorie side dish ever. And then there was the post-cold sesame noodles self hatred. Then, start again. I swore over and over that I'd give them up, but come on -- FREE. Poor student. Free.

Anyway, I only remember the good times with Empire, now that I live 300 miles away. And when I found this recipe in an old cookbook that I have almost never used, it didn't really even occur to me that this would be a lot like the noodles I remember. But they're a passable, far healthier version of the bucket of oily joy that I used to have weekly.

Cold Sesame Noodles (adapted from Jump Up and Kiss Me! Spicy Vegetarian Cooking)
Note: this is one entree-sized serving, which could easily be scaled up to feed 4 or 6.

2 oz soba noodles
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil, divided
1 heaping Tbsp peanut butter (I used natural, which takes a bit longer to mix in since it's cold)
2 tsp Asian chili garlic sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar (not "seasoned")
1/4 tsp ginger (add up to 1 tsp if you are a big ginger fan)
2 Tbsp water
1-2 scallions, chopped

1. Add soba to boiling water; cook for about 3 mins, until it's tender. Drain the noodles and toss with 1/2 tsp of sesame oil. Set aside.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger. When they're fully combined, add the water and whisk until combined. Then add the sesame oil and whisk again.
3. Add the noodles and scallions into the sauce. Toss and serve!

Thoroughly non-shocking confession: I have eaten this exact meal (steamed cauliflower plus cold sesame noodles) thrice this week! The photo is actually from Monday, as I've now run out of scallions. I still have at least one more serving of soba in my pantry though, so I could be going for 4 tomorrow night...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The best effing soup ever, y'all

Oh it's this one.

Ohh yes. Not my best photo ever but I could only manage one take before I started lapping this stuff straight out of the bowl. OK not really, but it really is so so so good. I served it to my friends as the main course at a dinner party once, even though it is not the all-time heartiest of soups. Garlic, rosemary, tomatoes, chickpeas -- that's pretty much it.

Due to my incredible lack of fundage right now I'm trying to be less spendy on my groceries. This is a chronic problem -- grocery shopping is kind of a hobby, and I tend to fill my fridge and pantry with stuff I may one day use, you know, when I get around to the kind of recipes that require either equipment I don't have yet or some vast amount of time or messiness. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I've been buying lots of dry beans, especially since a couple of weeks ago when I finally figured out how to use the pressure cooker. This thing is genius! It cooks beans in a crazy short time and they come out amazing. Plus it's a badass gadget and if used incorrectly it can explode like a delicious aromatic bomb. So there's the danger element.

And now, where I had previously hated cooking beans because I didn't have the patience to cook them until they are actually done (sometimes up to 3 hours, sheesh!), now I love it because I get to use my cool gadget and I am able to do it to my satisfaction in a half hour or less.

So, I came home from work today a half hour or so later than usual, and it was on. I pressure cooked the chickpeas, plus the equivalent of another can to throw in the freezer. Washed some dishes (I am turning over a new leaf vis-a-vis my out of control kitchen clutter) and then threw on the soup. This is a super quick soup so it's really easy to do after work if you start with already-cooked chickpeas. And if you happen to have a loaf of fresh crusty bread of some kind to dip in it, that puts it way over the top. I made some extra-crispy toast from my regular trader joe's sprouty bread and that also did the job.

Hooray for cold, wet days and the tasty warm meals they require. I am in a pretty terrific mood because I worked my butt off today and felt like I had really accomplished some things (in advance of meeting with my reportedly ultra hardcore new boss who returns tomorrow from a sabbatical). And I reconnected with a friend who I've been meaning to hang out with, so there are lunch plans happening, and I've got 2 alterna-Nutcracker Christmas shows in a row the next couple of days. (Thursday, Friday) Yay Christmas. Yay nearly-naked friends dancing to Christmas music.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Philadelphia Half Marathon, Nov 22 2009

Photos here, because they want me to pay $50 for a jpg so they make it impossible to embed the proofs. But they are pretty silly. My natural unphotogenicness is enhanced by my extreme sweaty grossness but the feeling of victory is pretty obvious, no?

So, I ran a half marathon. I did this once before in May 2008 but this time was about 10 million times better. Mainly because I trained better, but also it was a much better course, with more people and more enthusiastic people (and more slow people, really) than Brooklyn. And I think there is a major psychological benefit to having done one already. I kind of knew what it feels like when you get to Mile 12. Or I thought I did! This time was just so much easier in almost every way than last time.

Here's the summary:

At the end of the week leading up to the race, I had serious pain happening. In my butt. Seriously, it was some kind of pinched nerve situation that at first I thought was a joint issue but then it was pointed out to me that my left butt is not really that close to a joint. For real, I was not able to get out of bed at the appointed time on Saturday because bending hurt too much. But when I dragged myself up about an hour after the alarm first went off, I decided I was going to drive to PA anyway, and even if I couldn't run the race I'd watch my friend IC (who I roped into this) do it on his own.

Drive, drive, drive! I left Boston at 6 am and got to IC's house around 12:30 after getting pretty lost at the very end of the drive. By then I was walking pretty ok and figured if I could get out of bed on Sunday I'd be doing the race. We went to the race expo, bought flashy running sunglasses (you can see them in my race photos), and also hit up the UnderArmour outlet for lots of cheap-ish tech clothing. We definitely flouted the "don't wear anything new the day of a race" rule. Then IC's wife NC cooked us up a really delicious pasta meal and we all went to bed super early.

Sunday morning I woke up without much pain at all, at ridiculous o'clock in the morning. Everyone was up and excited, which is really more than I expected for 4:30 am on a weekend. N's friend A had come over late Saturday so she could come keep N company while she was cheering and IC and I were running. We suited up, got in the car, and headed to the start. It was really, really cold. But apparently about 20 degrees warmer than last year, so I can't really complain. Once the sun came up it was really great running weather.

We milled around, ran into my friend A from law school (we knew she'd be there but did not expect to find her in a crowd of over 18,000). And then just before the 7 am start we wandered over to try to find an appropriate corral to start in. We were supposedly color-coded but we couldn't figure out where we were supposed to be and just situated ourselves in the middle, which seemed to work. We started in the third wave of runners (marathon and half marathon were mixed right up until the 13 mile mark) and off we went! The beginning was chaotic like most races are, with everyone trying to figure out their pace and find some space to move. Actually that went on for most of the race -- there were sooo many people.

IC took off pretty quick at the start, which we had anticipated; I knew he'd been training at a faster pace than me so we had made plans to meet up at the end (not anticipating just how crowded it would actually be). I warmed up over the first mile, took off my gloves (the race planners provided us with some cheap gloves, which was really great), and got into a good pace. The first couple miles I had kind of a lot of pain, but not too much to take and the running definitely wasn't making it worse than if I was walking (or standing or sitting) so I pushed through but reminded myself that I could quit if it got bad.

The course went all over Philly, and the first few miles took us from the center of town (Art Museum) through Chinatown, to the Delaware River and along that for a bit. It was in this area that I found IC, checked in with him, and passed him. He was not having such great luck with his new clothing, it turns out. (And he'd never done a race at all before!) But he looked in good spirits and he was chugging along so I didn't worry about him. I had no idea what my time was though -- I forgot to start my watch until I'd been going for a few minutes, and with all the excitement I wasn't really able to do the math to figure out what my pace was except that I remembered the time when I passed Mile 1 (18:50) so I could keep a running average time whenever I passed a timeclock. As it turns out I think I crossed the start line at around 8 minutes, something like that.

So, back to the race recap -- when I got to about mile 5 I could hear a bigger cheering section up ahead. To that point there were families scattered along the sidelines cheering for their runner, and some nurses outside the hospital offering massages and water, but when we turned onto Chestnut St, which would be the longest straight stretch of the race, suddenly there were TONS of people cheering. The sidewalk was packed and it created a weird claustrophobia-inducing effect where the runners were in a narrower street than before and there were people standing on the curbs so they were too tall to see over. It was weird, but thankfully the road wasn't so crowded that I felt freaked out or anything. The energy of the crowd was a good boost there at the halfway point. I stopped at mile 7 for the first time to walk for about 2 minutes and eat one of the caffeinated sugar goo packets that I brought. Getting going again was easier than expected and I felt good going into the 8th mile, which was a doozy. We went up and over a bridge at the Skuylkill River, then up a big hill to the area by UPenn (I think). It was rough, and I started to walk again when I got to the top of the hill but a woman maybe my mom's age saw my name on my race bib and said "Come on Rosalie, you can do it!" I know some people find that creepy but I really like it -- I took off running again, and came to a good downhill section that got me back in the groove.

It was around that time that we turned and started heading into a park. This was the hardest part by far, up a big and windy hill that seemed to go on forever. I had to walk for a minute right around the 9 mile marker to get myself up to the top, but then I picked up the pace again heading down and out of the park. Once I got back out onto the road, there were runners going both directions. It was an out and back mile and a half or so, and a lot of people seemed to get pumped up by seeing the people ahead and behind them. I was scanning the crowd trying to find IC because I didn't know if he'd passed me again or if he was just behind me. I got into a really good rhythm and this was probably my quickest leg of the race. It was flat, predictable, and I was surrounded by other runners so the race effect was in full effect. I never did see IC though, so when I got to the end of the out-and-back and the road widened I got more focused on finishing. I took quick walk breaks at mile 11 and again at mile 12, and at 12 I had the second goo packet for a final energy boost. In this stretch there were a lot of high-fivers. I love high fives during the race! There were a bunch of college age ladies right in the middle by a water station wearing t-shirts that said "free high fives" so I took advantage while I still had the energy to lift my arm.

From there, well, it was tough but I knew I'd be done soon, after running for over 2 hours. So I tried to keep the pace up at a good clip for the final 1.1 miles. And I also knew I'd finish at or around my goal time of 2:30! (At mile 12 the clock said 2:20, so I had done the past 11 miles in about 2:01.) When I got really close, the crowd got louder and the road narrowed as the marathoners went left to mile 14 and the half marathoners went right to the finish line. I ran as fast as I could (at this point, really not all that fast) and finished strong at 2:23:42!

That is over 6 minutes under my goal time and a fantastical 17 minutes faster than my May 2008 Brooklyn time.

IC finished his first half strong and with style, in some fantastic blue knee socks that apparently gave him a lot of trouble but looked very cool. (I haven't seen his race photos yet but if you are his Facebook friend you should check out the pre-race photos posted by N.) And after much searching and borrowing of strangers' cell phones and maybe a little bit of crying and flopping on the ground, I found N and A, and eventually IC found us and hopped a fence to join the crew. We hobbled a painful quarter mile to the car, went home, showered, and ate SO MUCH DELICIOUS FOOD OH MY GOD. We got a big hearty brunch, and for dessert I ordered us some cheese fries. Pennsylvania is the only place I know of where Cheez Wiz is exalted and consumed with no shame. (This may be why Philly is one of the nation's fattest cities, but I'm still calling it a positive.) A lot of it was consumed that day, since later on after we collapsed and slept on the couches (and N and A attended a baby shower) we ordered more cheese fries and sandwiches for dinner. Monday morning I got up early yet again and hit the road back to Boston with my medal, commemorative t-shirt, and glory!

And that, friends, is the tale of my half marathon. It's making me excited all over again to write about it. I DEFINITELY recommend Philly to anyone who's thinking of doing a half or full marathon. If I ever run a full (I'm entertaining the idea) I think this will be the one I go for. So stay tuned, maybe Philly Full Marathon 2010 will happen...