37. M’s Spicy Peanut Soup

M was one of my favorite people at school – she was a year ahead of me and thus graduated after my first year, but no one really replaced her in my second year. She was one of the most driven, down-to-earth people I met – she was committed to writing in a way that I rarely saw, even though her classmates were all trying to become writers as well. Her work was unique and rooted in the places she’s lived all over the world. I enjoyed sitting on old couches with her during poetry readings and listening to what was going on in her long novel project. When I found out last month that she was going to have this same novel published this year, I was hardly surprised: it just makes sense.

It’s almost summer break, which is a wonderful opportunity for me to get back into writing. I am hoping to channel M when the school year is over and my work becomes writing the novel I’m working on. As I was thinking about her and her drive, I remembered this recipe she shared with me: it was a soup that tasted pretty much exactly like peanut butter, but which was actually chock-ful of vegetables, chicken, and spice.

To remake it I pulled veggies from the fridge that had seen better days: a sweet potato, two onions, a pile of scrawny carrots, and a pile of nearly-too-old celery. I cut it all up into small bits and sauteed the whole pile in 2 tablespoons of butter. I boiled some chicken, two breast pieces, and then I added all the boiled water into the veggies and pulled the chicken into pieces with two forks. I added half a cup of peanut butter and a small can of tomato paste to the veggies, and mixed till it looked velvety and… well, like peanut butter. I finished it with a tablespoon of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and the pulled chicken bits.

The result was strange – the peanut-ness permeates everything, including things like celery, which is definitely not a normal flavor combination in the States. However, the earthy tingle in my throat from the hot sauce after I swallowed made the soup feel complete, like all the flavors were actually perfect together. I recommend giving it a shot, either with your own veggies or with the original combination suggested by various peanut stew recipes on the internet. I am using this soup like productivity fuel, as I hope to write as well and as often as M does.

While I couldn’t find the original version I used years ago, here’s the version I worked from this time: African Chicken Peanut Stew

Food Memory: Quiet Time at Soup-remacy

foodmemory6

Conferences inspire a somewhat-unnatural efficiency in me – I want to see as much as possible, with the time spent in only the most useful ways. I’m the opposite of a smell-the-roses  gal when I’m also trying to learn for graduate school or work. One time, though, in Indianapolis, I happened to be headed back to the hotel for a lunch break, thinking I’d probably eat a protein bar and catch up on email, when I saw Soupremacy. It was a long narrow restaurant, and sure enough, it mostly sold soup. The lunch special was 3 small bowls of soup, you pick, with a hunk of bread big enough to dip in them all. I got a potato bacon soup, a tomato bisque, and a curried squash soup, all of which brought the warmth back into me. I know it’s technically possible to snarf soup down quickly, but the hot creamy soups at Soupremacy beckoned me to slow down, or risk spilling all over my business casual clothes. Soup is nice like that – I felt less lonely despite slowing and hearing my own thoughts as I looked out on the busy street.

Smoked Gouda Tomato Soup

One thing my grandmother-in-law, J, loves to do is go all out on dinner. However, one evening when she got home and Husband and I were already sitting in her kitchen, she gave us a weary look and said, “what do you think about making tomato soup and grilled cheese and sitting on the porch?” It was the most wonderful, comforting idea.

I wanted to recapture that day with my soup for the soup-and-bread potluck. I chose this recipe to start from: http://www.thedreamingfoodie.com/2015/02/25/smoked-gouda-tomato-soup/ The description is great and there are pictures and clear instructions, but it’s also a simple soup as a jumping off point. I was at the point where I needed to off-load a large quantity of tomatoes again, so whereas a normal process would have included only a can opener, I spent a few minutes cutting away bad spots, thawing a half a bag of frozen tomatoes, and pulling a can from the basement. I mostly left the skins on, but wonder of wonders, when you thaw frozen tomatoes, the skins slide off like a dream, so I took the time to remove those at least; I think it helped with the overall consistency, even though my soup was definitely stringier than the average tomato soup.

Husband loves spice, and I was so busy with gingerbread and crusty peasant bread and the other soup I was making that I told him he could spice up the tomato soup if it was bland to him. Silly, silly cook, I am. The soup did turn out good, but fiery – his love for red pepper flakes shone through above the tasty garden tomato fullness and the italian spicing I had originally started with. We did still have enough basil to add some fresh leaves, so overall it worked.

With so many people bringing such ample quantities of soup, it is no wonder that we ended up with lots of leftover tomato; I finished it off at lunch with crusts of bread to help me through the spiciness. It isn’t quite like an evening on the back porch with J, but it still makes me smile.

 

The Way Running Makes me Feel about Food

I experience cravings more often than I experience hunger. I’m aware that living in the United States with a good steady supply of food, I generally can get to sustenance if I really need it. Instead, I experience the desire for something specific: a crunch, a sweetness, a richness, or a watery juiciness.

When I’m running, I am usually so focused on not stopping that I don’t experience hunger or cravings. I’m focused on so many parts of my body: knees that are reminding me how many times I’ve already ran this week, a stitch in my side, showing the outlines of all those inner organs I rarely think about, feet that absorb the shock of the hard ground for me. I’m focused on moving forward, and I’m focused on how disgustingly sweaty I am, and once in a while I focus on how much I’d like a cool drink of water. It’s after the run, when I feel like I’ve either quit a little early or I’ve totally used every ounce of energy, when I start to feel like I need some food.

I’ll drink water for a while (there is no worse headache than a post-run headache where you didn’t replenish with water) but then I usually want something fresh and wholesome: a salad, a hearty soup, a sandwich on good, chewy bread. It’s the time when it feels like my body takes over the static of my brain (which wants candy, junk food, soda, quick jolts of good feelings) and really demands nutrition.Running hurts, but it does make me feel pretty alive, and it’s now finally the right temperature outside that one would reasonably want to run outdoors. It’s a nice side benefit that running makes me excited for my butternut squash soup or a good salad prepared by Husband (never with mushrooms though).

 

Curried Butternut Squash Soup… Because the Squash doesn’t end.

I know stories of bounty, of how zucchini plants take over gardens and the owners become desperate zucchini gifters… but this is the first time I’ve experienced it. I swear, butternut squash is the most beautiful veggie in the world until it is all just sitting there in front of you, 20 pounds of it, and you have no idea what to do with it all!

Well, one thing you do is roast it and put it in soup. Duh.

I was inspired by this recipe by blogger How Sweet Eats, but because husband cannot do coconut anything, I subbed in chicken stock for most of the coconut-y things (I had some on hand, it’s also got a depth of flavor, and it added a bit of richness to an otherwise thin soup). In the past, making butternut squash soup made me feel so wholesome – like I was really taking care of myself and anyone who shared the soup. This was no different; and this time, I really brought a lot of curry flavor to bear, compared to a few sprinkles as a garnish in the past. It goes so well with the sweet veggie.

This soup is totally divine when pureed, but I was making it on a night that I was utterly exhausted and I also was rebelling: butternut squash does puree up really nice, but it’s tasty with chunks too. So I lazily took a potato masher to the larger bits of this soup, and once everything was comfortably bite size or smaller, I just let it simmer till I was ready to eat. There is so much vitamin A and C in soup, you can just feel it fortifying you when you’ve got long night shifts or just a general lack of sleep.

You haven’t seen the last of the butternut squash recipes, but this is definitely up there among the tastiest!

37. M’s Spicy Peanut Soup

M was one of my favorite people at school – she was a year ahead of me and thus graduated after my first year, but no one really replaced her in my second year. She was one of the most driven, down-to-earth people I met – she was committed to writing in a way that I rarely saw, even though her classmates were all trying to become writers as well. Her work was unique and rooted in the places she’s lived all over the world. I enjoyed sitting on old couches with her during poetry readings and listening to what was going on in her long novel project. When I found out last month that she was going to have this same novel published this year, I was hardly surprised: it just makes sense.

It’s almost summer break, which is a wonderful opportunity for me to get back into writing. I am hoping to channel M when the school year is over and my work becomes writing the novel I’m working on. As I was thinking about her and her drive, I remembered this recipe she shared with me: it was a soup that tasted pretty much exactly like peanut butter, but which was actually chock-ful of vegetables, chicken, and spice.

To remake it I pulled veggies from the fridge that had seen better days: a sweet potato, two onions, a pile of scrawny carrots, and a pile of nearly-too-old celery. I cut it all up into small bits and sauteed the whole pile in 2 tablespoons of butter. I boiled some chicken, two breast pieces, and then I added all the boiled water into the veggies and pulled the chicken into pieces with two forks. I added half a cup of peanut butter and a small can of tomato paste to the veggies, and mixed till it looked velvety and… well, like peanut butter. I finished it with a tablespoon of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and the pulled chicken bits.

The result was strange – the peanut-ness permeates everything, including things like celery, which is definitely not a normal flavor combination in the States. However, the earthy tingle in my throat from the hot sauce after I swallowed made the soup feel complete, like all the flavors were actually perfect together. I recommend giving it a shot, either with your own veggies or with the original combination suggested by various peanut stew recipes on the internet. I am using this soup like productivity fuel, as I hope to write as well and as often as M does.

While I couldn’t find the original version I used years ago, here’s the version I worked from this time: African Chicken Peanut Stew