Monthly Archives: January 2011

Soup of the Week–Peas Porridge Hot

Dear Reader:

I have no camera. I left it at my parents’ house over Christmas. I’m goin’ crazy without it. I like to take pictures of my everyday world and think up blog topics to match. Pretty pictures give a blog post a little bit of POP! that makes it more special. Today, unfortunately, we will just have to wing-it without visuals.

Luckily, I have a Soup of the Week to share with you. I call it Peas Porridge Hot after the nursery rhyme. Now, I know some of you absolutely hate pea soup. If so, this recipe is probably not for you. However, for those of you who just sorta don’t like pea soup, you may find this “pottage” not only tolerable, but possibly even enjoyable.

My husband tells a story about being made to eat pea soup as a child. Apparently neither he nor his two siblings ever did finish up their bowls despite much parental pressure. He was skeptical, to say the least, when I first tried this recipe, but to his surprise, he liked it!

There are two major differences between this pea soup and regular pea soup:

First, the peas are yellow instead of green. Now, there is probably no real difference in taste between the two, but color plays a big part in palatability. Small children (and some grownups) are suspicious of green food, Dr. Seuss and his green eggs aside. Here, though, we have yummy pea taste in a sunny yellow color. Color-cue alone may account for why my husband didn’t turn puce himself when he looked at his dinner the first time I served this thick, homemade bowl of deliciousness.

Second, I don’t use ham in the soup. Or bacon. Or any other pork-flavored product that is usually associated with pea soup. Without the smoky flavor of pig, the soup takes on a more delicate, carroty-onion character that no one would associate with bad childhood experiences at the table. It is even low-fat!

So, what makes it hot, you ask? Well, a thick soup like this tastes better served steaming from the pot. Eating it lukewarm is about as enjoyable as eating cold oatmeal. Also, I like to sprinkle some cayenne pepper (preferably a sea vegetable/cayenne mix) on top before I serve it or dice up a chili pepper to cook along with the onions and carrots and celery and dried peas in the chicken stock.

Peas Porridge Hot makes a warming, wonderful meal on a cold winter’s night. Try it with thick slices of homemade bread and warm apple crisp for dessert. I think you may be pleasurably surprised!

Peas Porridge Hot

1 1b. of dried split yellow peas
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 large onion, quartered
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3 inch pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
chopped hot pepper to taste (optional)
8 cups of water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Maine Coast Sea Vegetables Organic Kelp with Cayenne granules (optional)

Put peas on a board or in a bowl and pick out anything that doesn’t belong. Rinse peas in a colander or put in bowl with water and swirl around, then drain.

In a large saucepan or pot, mix all the ingredients EXCEPT SALT, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. (I believe that salt makes the peas tough, so we only add it at the end of the cooking period.)

Reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour and fifteen minutes, stirring occassionally.

Remove from heat. Mash everything with a potato masher to desired consistency or for a less-textured soup, put through a food processor. Add salt. Serve in soup bowls. Sprinkle individually with sea veg/cayenne granules if desired.

This soup will thicken up considerably in the ‘fridge. You may want to add more water before heating leftovers. It really is like a porridge rather than a soup at this stage!

If you are very adventurous, you may want to add chopped dulse or some large bits of kelp to the bottom of the pot when you begin cooking. When the soup is ready, you can pull the kelp out with some tongs, chop it up and return it to the pot for added color and nutrients.

Sea veggies are full of minerals and, when cooked in a soup, don’t change the flavor in any noticeable way. It’s just a little Outside the Box addition for extra nutrition. (Dr. Seuss, I’m not!)

If you try this recipe, let me know how it turned out for you.

Riding a Flying Motorcycle Behind Cactus-Man

Dear Reader:

Do you think creative people have weirder dreams than most, or is it just me? I had a doozie of a dream last night, the weirdest dream of all time. To see how strange things get in my head sometimes, read on.

I dreamed I was riding a flying motorcycle over a jungle behind a cactus-man. The cactus-man (yes, he had arms and a head and legs and everything and was driving the motorcycle) had so many prickles I couldn’t hold on, so he put a steel rod through his head to make handles for me. These didn’t hurt him, of course, because he was a plant..

Seriously. Do I not win the prize for strangest dream ever?

Some people believe that our dreams are our subconscious trying to work things out or send us messages, so I decided to do a little research on an online dream interpretation site. I checked out “flying” first, since that part was pretty cool. On the Dream Moods site I learned that flying signifies a sense of freedom where before you felt restricted. It does say that if you are flying with black wings it signifies bitter disappointment. If black wings are bad, how much worse could prickly cactus with a steel rod through his head be? I’m not sure I dare to go any further.

I read on, however, and am happy to discover that a flying machine (the motorcycle) “foretells of steady and satisfactory progress in your future endeavors.” That’s pretty cool, right? This motorcycle didn’t even have saddlebags, let alone black wings. Whew!

I look up “cactus.” The dream dictionary says that a cactus symbolizes feelings of being invaded, crowded, suffocated. The prickles represent a wish to establish a boundary of personal space, of needing to defend yourself.

So what does it mean when the cactus is driving the flying machine? That my need for personal space is going to move me in a steady and satisfactory way toward my goals?

So far, the common theme is “space and freedom.”

Nothing came up for “steel rod” so I typed in “steel” and discovered that if you see steel in your dream it symbolizes toughness, willpower, determination, and strength. This dream is actually starting to seem, well, thematic! I can use willpower, determination, and strength to steer my need for space and freedom toward a satisfactory goal. Symbolized by the jungle? Let’s see what the jungle stands for, shall we?

A jungle, as you may have predicted, symbolizes chaos or inhibitions in your personality. If you are lost in the jungle, negative feelings are hindering your progress. However, in my dream I was flying above the jungle. I’m beginning to like this dream more and more, cacti head trauma aside. In fact, I think my subconscious was trying to tell me to “hop on that flying motorcycle, baby, and don’t look down!”

I think the lesson here is that determination, stick-to-itiveness, and hard work will bring the reward of greater freedom and accomplishment of my goals. And what are my goals for this year?

I want to bring more readers to my blog. I want to rewrite one of my novels and submit it to a publisher or agent. I want to expand my garden into more beds for growing greens this summer. I want to find a local source of pork and chicken and start buying from those sources. I want to drop twenty-five pounds, work out six days a week, and eat mostly local/whole foods. I want to sew at least one article of clothing before the year is out and knit one pair of socks per month.

If my dream is a portent, I think I can look forward to accomplishing some or all of these goals. With or without Cactus-Man.

What about you? Do you believe in dream interpretation? Have you set goals for 2011? Have any interesting dreams to share Outside the Box? Drop me a line!

January Sonnet

JANUARY SONNET

At noon, I tromp across a pristine field

of white; new snow fell silently last night

to startle me again. It is a shield

of crystal, cold and alabaster light.

No school today (although I’m through with school),

explains the voices shrieking down a hill

behind this row of trees. I sit. A pool

of shadow from a fir, the sudden shrill

a blue-jay makes to answer back

the sound a plane inscribes upon the sky:

It is the noon of winter, too. This stack

of wood I sit upon sinks inch by

inch, storm by storm. I fall into the snow,

an angel, like those winters long ago.

Soup of the Week–Tomato Bisque

Tomato-y Goodness

Dear Reader:

What is better than a bowl of hot, tomato soup on a snowy, winter day? When we forgo the canned stuff and make it from scratch, of course!

I made this tomato bisque last week, and it was so delicious! Now we are in the midst of a big ol’ snowstorm here in Maine, and I can’t stop thinking about making another large batch for tonight’s dinner.

If you would like to try this creamy, rich, thick, tomato-y soup for yourself, here is the recipe. It is a variation of a recipe I found in a book called FABULOUS SOUPS by Johna Blinn. I double the amount of tomatoes for a more sharp, distinct flavor which also happens to stretch the recipe AND makes it less calorie/fat dense. I also use chopped or grated onion instead of onion powder and add sea vegetable flakes in with the basil for added nutrients.

While the ideal would be to grow and jar our own tomatoes, canned tomatoes from your local market work almost as well. Also, if you know how to make your own beef bouillon from locally-grown beef, you could use that instead of processed bouillon cubes.

Add in the butter and milk from a local farm, and sea vegetables from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, locally grown and dried basil, local honey instead of sugar, and you can have pretty close to a locavore meal!

OLD FASHIONED TOMATO BISQUE

4 (1 lb) jars/cans diced tomatoes
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 tbs. sugar
2 tsp. salt
one small to medium onion, chopped or grated
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried sea vegetable flakes (dulse works well)
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (I like whole milk from the farm but calorie/fat conscious people could use skim)

1. Combine tomatoes with liquid in a large saucepan with bouillon cubes, sugar, salt, onion, basil, sea veggies, pepper and bay leaves. Simmer thirty minutes.

2. Remove bay leaves and put the mixture through a food mill or blender.

3. Melt butter; blend in flour until smooth.

4. Gradually stir in milk over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

5. Gradually blend in tomato mixture, stirring briskly. Return to heat, stir until hot. Serve.

For the ultimate cold-weather comfort meal, serve with melty grilled cheese sandwiches. (Reubens/Rachels with their hearty rye bread also go nicely with the soup. My friend,Sandy, uses one of those grill pans with the raised lines on the bottom to make her signature Rachels. As an added bonus, these sandwiches incorporate sauerkraut which is loaded with vitamin C to help beat back the winter colds and flu bugs.)

If you decide to make the soup, drop me a line Outside the Box to let me know how it turned out.

My Christmas Tree Had Three Tops . . .

De-Accessorized

And Other Reminders That You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Pretty

Dear Reader:

I finally took down my Christmas tree this week. When all the lights and ornaments and glittery, colored balls were packed into their storage boxes once again, I stepped back and looked at the tree in order to appreciate its simplicity, its dark green needles, its long branches . . . its three tops.

Now, how did I end up with such a nonconformist evergreen? In the spirit of localism and community support, I took my family to a tree farm here in town. The local fire department had advertised a fundraiser, the price was more than reasonable, and I liked the idea of getting a fresh-cut tree grown right here in my neck of the woods rather than picking up a perfect specimen at a big box lot. We arrived on an overcast afternoon, greeted one of the teenagers we knew who had been conscripted to help with the project, and proceeded to look for our tree. They were all rather tall, so it was hard to see the tops, but this one had a nice shape. We took it home. That’s when I realized the triple-top situation.

I grew up with trees cut from the woods, trees shaped by nature rather than pruning shears. This tree brought back all those wonderful memories. I remember my sister and I following Dad through the snow down and up the steep hill along the sand pit toward the quarry, smelling the scent of chainsaw fuel and balsam as he cut the tree he’d scouted during deer hunting season, and trying to hold up the my end of the tree as we carried it home. I remember getting out the big, bulbous, multicolored lights and the familiar ornaments, stringing popcorn (and eating more than actually stringing), and how my mother placed silver tinsel on every tip of every branch one at a time so they hung perfectly aligned.

Some years, the tree was a beauty. Some years, not so much. Once we had a pine tree instead of a fir. As a kid, I found them all magical. Beautiful. They didn’t have to be perfect, and this year’s tree did not have to be perfect to be pretty, either.

My three-topped tree had long, graceful branches from which my ornaments hung in all their glittery glory. It had a pretty shape . . . not too fat, not too skinny, curving in all the right places. The needles were dark green, nice with the little white lights my family likes. I loved looking at that tree this Christmas. It brightened my house for three weeks. Now it is outside next to my front porch steps, lending its pleasing green-ness to a wintery white landscape.

Looking at it sans accessories, I was reminded that we don’t have to be perfect in order to be pretty. Each of us has our own unique beauty, shape, coloring. Yes, we can dress ourselves up with baubles and bows, but underneath is what counts. It is all too easy to compare ourselves to the fashionable beauty plastered all over the television, movie screens, magazines, and the mall stores. Instead of feeling downhearted when we can’t live up to society’s current notion of beauty, I suggest we strive for health and fitness, finding our own sense of style, and looking at ourselves and others for the beauty within.

What are your goals for this new year? I am still working on mine, but I hope to share them next Friday . . . Outside the Box.

Happy 2011, Dear Readers.