Monday, November 15, 2010

Mmm Mmm Good

I am officially declaring this The Fall/Winter of the Soup/Stew. You heard it here first. Thrilling, right? Thought so. If I make a big pot of something at the beginning of the week, I am set with dinner for the next four days—five if I can still stand whatever I made by the fifth day. Why the soupy shift? Well, trying to make something different every night hasn't been working for me. I get home from yoga by 8 or 8:30pm. After taking the dogs for a lap around the block and whipping up dinner, it’s often 9:30 pm by the time I’m chowing. No bueno.

But make a big pot of grub on Sunday afternoon/evening, heat it up on weeknights, and I’ll be doing dishes before I’d normally be sitting down to dine. Problem solved.

I might not be the very first person to come up with the cook-once-eat-all-week idea. And I might not be the very first person to eat soup when it’s cold outside. But I am determined to make The Fall/Winter of the Soup/Stew work for me. As simple as that sounds, there are a few hurdles recipes must overcome in order to qualify for The Fall/Winter of the Soup/Stew:

· It has to taste good. Obvs. For me, that means it needs to be cheese-free (if you haven’t noticed by now I hate cheese. More than anything on the planet. Unless it’s on pizza. I have no explanation for that.)

· It needs to have a protein source. Beans, lean meats, protein-packed whole grains--yes please!

· Here’s the tricky one: It must have lots of veggies. At first glance, that doesn’t seem like such a challenge when we’re talking soups and stews, but consider this: The nutritional downside of eating the same thing every night for a week is that I could cheat myself out of variety. For instance, cream of broccoli soup might not make the cut because I’d be having, well, broccoli every single night. But if the broccoli soup contained carrots, potatoes, onions, and other goodies then we can talk. Another reason why variety is crucial: I’ll be less likely to get bored by the second day if there’s a whole lot going on in every bite.

· It can’t be minestrone soup—one of the most veggie-packed soups—every single week. I’d go crazy and abandon this mission faster than you can say "soup’s on." This is going to require a little creativity and a more adventuresome palate on my part.

· Whenever possible, the recipe should contain at least one food that’s new to me. Cooking is an ongoing learning process. Prepping and cooking new ingredients is one of the best ways for me to learn. This week, for instance, my soup contained collard greens (recipe below), a newbie in my repertoire. Loved it.

Eventually, I’d like to try some flavors that I am less familiar with such as curries, miso, and others. And I’d like to give slow cooking a try, although that would require a slow cooker (Santa, are you reading?)

As much as possible and without boring you to death, I will keep you updated on the soup and stew successes. I’ll spare you the failures. (I, however, won’t be so fortunate.) And please feel free to post links to your favorite soup and stew recipes here or on my Facebook page--I need all the help I can get.

Let’s kick off The Fall/Winter of the Soup/Stew with last night’s stellar Minestrone with Collard Greens and White Beans. (It’s minestrone. I know.) The original recipe comes from the almighty Martha, but I tweaked it to up the flavor and veggie content.


1 tablespoon EVOO

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped (hey folks, did you know that Whole Foods will let you take however many stalks you need off of the bunch of celery without buying the whole shebang? You’re welcome.)

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 bunches of collard greens (it’ll look like A LOT of greens, but they cook down)

½ tsp dried thyme

½ tsp red-pepper flakes (this was in the original recipe, but I omitted it because I don’t do spicy)

2 cans white beans (such as Great Northern)

1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes in juice

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup dried pasta (I used orecchiette because I friggin' love it)


1. Prep your veggies. I like to do all of the slicing and dicing before I start cooking. Maybe it’s because I learned how to cook by watching the Food Network. Never cooked collards before? Neither had I. I prepped them the same way that I do kale and it worked like a charm. Here’s how: Fill your sink with water and place the greens in there to rinse away any sand/dirt/whatever collects on greens. Taking one giant leaf (they’re huge!) at a time, use a paring knife and remove the tough stalk that runs through the middle. The leaf will now be in two sections. Roll up one half at a time into a tight burrito-like thing and then cut it horizontally into thin strips. This process might feel like it takes a while because it does. That’s what Sunday afternoons and Taylor Swift are for.

2. Rinse the beans. Place ¼ of beans in a bowl, and mash them with the back of a fork or spoon (this will help thicken the soup. Plus it's kind of fun. I'm sure that's what Martha had in mind.)

3. Get cooking: In a large saucepan or medium-sized red Le Creuset French oven (Still reading, Santa?) heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; season with S & P. Cook, stirring, until onion begins to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook until carrots soften.

4. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until veggies are coated, about 30 seconds.

5. Add collard greens, thyme, and red-pepper flakes if you’re into that. Cook, stirring, until collards start to wilt, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add all of the beans. You’ll have a heavy glob of veggies. You’ll think you did something wrong, but you’ll check the recipe and find out you didn’t.

6. Add the can of tomatoes with juice and the chicken stock. Give it a nice stir, maybe more S & P. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes, add the pasta (you can leave it out if you're carb phobic.)

7. Ladle soup into bowl. Wait for soup to cool slightly before eating. Apparently some people still need to learn this. Enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Plugging In

If you asked me exactly a week ago whether I thought I was living an authentic life I would have answered with a resounding yes. Or maybe a “duh.” I have a job that I love, live in a city that I choose to live in, have friends and family that I adore, am happy and grateful. What more could there possibly be?

Hm…well…a lot. For starters.

I spent the last five days in the first part of the Anusara yoga immersion. In other words, I spent the last five days plugging in to who I am and doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. What I discovered on the other end of this experience is that when I tune into who I am, everything I thought to be true gets flipped on its head.

Although I had wanted to do these immersions for several years, I put them off. I even registered for one last spring and I put it off. I put them off because I was afraid that if I jumped off the fancy treadmill I’ve established in my life, even for just a few days, everything would fall apart. Sure, I was afraid I’d fall behind in work. But more importantly, I was afraid that by taking the time to turn inward—to pursue something that requires a great deal of awareness and self-study—I wouldn’t be able to jump back on the treadmill with the same gusto. I was afraid that I’d notice some cracks in my life that I’d rather keep speeding past.

You know what? I was right. Each and every one of those fears was realized. But you know what else? I’m so glad they were. I learned from this experience that if I really examine those cracks closely, they’re only spaces for light to shine though. They’re opportunities waiting for me to acknowledge them so I can grow and improve with them.

Let me take a moment to come back down to earth and provide a concrete example of what I’m blathering about. All of those gifts that I listed up top—awesome job, great city, fantastic family, happiness—are true. Even so, what the heck did I ever do with them? When I’d walk into Whole Foods, did I ever really take the time to acknowledge the check out person? Sure, I might have engaged in how’s-your-day-did-you-find-everything-you-needed-that’s-an-interesting-tattoo small talk. But that was somewhere amidst shoving my reusable bags onto the conveyor belt while making sure my Bartlett and Anjou pears didn’t get mixed up while checking my e-mail on my BlackBerry. Even if I back up and think about how I’d walk to the store, did I ever actually see the other people walking on the street with me? Or did I get frustrated at the slow pokes and hurriedly buzz by them because this annoying errand was just a blip in my uber important life and these people were in my freakin’ way? Um. Yeah. If I back up even more, I wish someone had recorded one of the many conversations I had on the phone with my mom while buzzing past the people on the street on my way to being a snob at Whole Foods. I’d love to hear it now. It would have read like a laundry list of anxiety and conceit. (Thank you, Mom, for putting up with me. I’m sorry. You're a saint and you deserve better.)

But things have shifted. And I really hope that I can keep everything in its new place from now on. Learning about and diving deeply into the practice of yoga lit a spark within me. It helped me to recognize my own brightness. (Interestingly enough, my intention, or sankalpa, for the past six months has been a single word—“shiny”—and I didn’t even know why or what it meant or what it felt like until now.) I couldn’t even sleep past 6 a.m. each morning last week—although my body ached for more—because I couldn’t wait to continue stoking the fire, to see what else could be revealed. When I was truly aligned with life, everything in me and around me came to life, too.

When I arrived at the airport yesterday evening after the last day of the workshop, I hesitated to enter the building. I was scared that everyone else would look like zombies to me—the same way I must have appeared trucking down Halstead—and they’d quickly bring me back down to earth. Lights on. Game over. The end. What I found, however, was exactly the opposite. Everyone else seemed lighter and brighter to me, too. I didn’t see all the stuff they were hauling with them inside and out. Instead, I saw that they were folks just like me engaging in this dance we call life, even while balancing our 10-pound backpacks. In other words, recognizing my own light enabled me to notice the very same beacon in others.

So when I sit back down at my desk this morning, am I going to toss my iMac out the 10th story window? Heck no! I can’t wait to get back to work! Because now, I hope I can approach it—and everything else—with the real zeal that powers me from within instead of relying on an imaginary piece of machinery for momentum.

And that, I hope, is living an authentic life.