Laughter helps get a rise in the kitchen

A sense of humor is helpful in the kitchen and life, especially if you are going to take risks in both. I may not have it immediately in the moment – something I should consider working on – but generally within 24 hours I can find a laugh.

Often in January I like to tackle kitchen projects that just aren’t on the menu in July, like breads. In part because I love tearing off a hunk of warm bread to accompany a big bowl of soup in the winter. Slather it in butter or dunk it in olive oil – I don’t care. It’s just very comforting.

Of course, bread isn’t one of those devil-may-care projects. It requires yeast, a living organism, water, and flour. Salt is optional for some, I prefer it in mine. I like to feed my yeast with a little honey to give it a boost. All of this seems pretty simple, and if you bake bread for years it probably is, but if the proportions, temperature, or yeast is off – well, you’ve got a lump of baked paste.

I’ve made a few of those this week.

There are a few things that can go wrong with bread. One is temperature. Bread likes places where it is warmer than 70 degrees, which it typically isn’t in my house in January. When I make bread in late spring, summer, or early fall, this isn’t a problem. But in the dead of winter, I am usually stashing the bread next to the heat registers.

I should put it along a south-facing window, which is above a heat register, so that it gets the warmth of the sun. But that would require the sun to shine. Which it hasn’t done, except for a few hours here and there, since sometime in November.

But we are a people who adapt to our weather conditions. So the bread goes into the bathroom in center of the house. I have to warn visitors and my daughter not to kick the bowl on the floor over. Most people don’t expect to find a bowl of rising bread in the guest bath, I guess.

I baby my bread. I put warm, damp cloths on top to provide heat and moisture to those little yeasty guys doing the hard work.

Unfortunately, my little yeasty guys weren’t working. Perhaps they went to Mexico for the winter.

Or, I could have read the expiration date on my bag of yeast (yes, you read correctly; “bag” of yeast). And it would have told me that it was a year past its “best by” date. So I imagined my little yeasty bakers were using walkers by now. Or had retired permanently.

I’m a big fan of King Arthur Flour for recipes and ingredients. I went there to order more yeast, and a few other essentials, parchment paper and a kit to make a coconut cake. Everyone considers ingredients for coconut cake essential, right? The parchment paper and the yeast didn’t add up to qualify for free shipping (about $8), so I bought the $25 coconut cake kit to bring my order up to qualify.

I did not major in math.

And the shipment arrived – in two boxes. Which was fun. Except that both boxes contained the same order – so now I had lots of yeast, parchment and two kits to make a coconut cake. Only the kits didn’t include coconut. I really need to wear my glasses when I order stuff online.

So I called King Arthur to tell them about the double order. The first question she asked was whether I was charged twice, which I hadn’t. Then she told me FDA rules prevent returns of food stuff. So I could keep it. So now I have enough yeast to start my own bakery. And I can make 2 coconut cakes – only I have to go to the store to buy the coconut, butter, and powdered sugar to frost the coconut cakes.

I should have ordered the scone pan.

Anyway. I hope King Arthur is laughing about this.

On the subject of a free second order … I order my hair color from Madison Reed. Have for about a year as a blonde. Before that, for a year as a brunette. Loved the color. Had no problems with the color. It was easy. I could even make a coconut cake while coloring my hair.

But this last order – my platinum blonde (10 NA, for those in the color biz) turned beige on a Wednesday night. Or, as my daughter noted, my hair color matched my skin color.

I called, e-mailed, and online chatted Thursday morning. Of course, the kind colorist explained it was my fault. I had done something differently. Only I hadn’t. But they nicely offered to send me, overnight, a new kit. Please send them a photo with the lot numbers of the color and developer. I did. The new box arrived Friday.

I followed the directions. And my hair turned – beiger. Only I don’t think that is a real word. It was kind of khaki. And then I looked at the lot number. It was the same as the one on Wednesday.

I did not have a sense of humor about this. I kid no one about my preferred hair color. It is not natural. I like it that way. The platinum is sort of the white/silver I would like it to be, but it is not. Hence, the hair color – a 10.

I do not want to be an 8 or a 9. I want to be a 10. Maybe 11 even, if there is such a color. But a 10. And now I was maybe an 8.

So I called Ambridge Rose, where Jamie cuts my hair, and Char fit me in. I would like to say they got my hair color back. After 2 hours, Jamie was close. Whatever was in that Madison Reed batch would not come out. She bleached. She toned. She colored. But there remains some copper where there should be ash.

My hair needs a rest before it can be adjusted again.

Like making bread, I need to be patient. I need to accept that hair, life, dinner – doesn’t turn out exactly the way I want it every time.

And I need to remember to laugh a little more about it. So I imagine, my little old yeasty guys with their walkers hanging out waiting for their wife to get out of the salon with her white/coppery pink rinse.

And then I head back into the kitchen to master my bread recipe. Because tonight is a soup night.

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Garlic, Kale, Tomato Soup
Course soup
Cuisine American
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course soup
Cuisine American
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove any extra outer papery layers from the head of garlic. Take a sharp knife and cut the top off to expose all of the inner cloves. Or you can cut the head in half. Remember this is a head, not a clove (1 piece). Place on a sheet of aluminum foil that is large enough to cover the garlic. Drizzle with about 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Cover garlic up, like a packet. Place on a baking sheet or in a small pan. Bake in oven until soft, about 1 hour. Remove from oven. Open garlic packet and allow to cool.
  2. In the meantime, in a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients (4 quart) over medium to medium-high heat, add olive oil. Then add the chopped onion and saute until translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the chopped kale. Saute over medium to medium-high heat until the kale begins to caramelize, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  4. Squeeze in the roasted garlic. Stir. Add stock and tomatoes. Bring to a low simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste. Adjust seasonings. Keep on low heat until ready to serve. This soup will benefit from about 30 minutes to an hour to allow the garlic to permeate the soup.
  5. Serve with hunks of fresh bread and a salad.
Recipe Notes

Salt: The amount of salt you add to soup is going to depend on how salty your chicken or vegetable stock is and whether your tomatoes are salted. I like to buy a low-sodium stock, or make my own, and no-salt added diced tomatoes. That gives you total control over the final soup. I suggest tasting before adding salt.

 

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Add Heat to Cool Days with Soup

Cold and rainy days call for soup. As a kid that meant the kind with the red and white label, preferably served with a grilled cheese sandwich.

My brother Kevin liked tomato. I was a chicken noodle or chicken and stars girl. My father, as we got older, made soup for Sunday night dinners. He would slave over a perfect French onion or a Manhattan (tomato-based) clam chowder. It was an all-day affair that typically involved making the stock and then the soup. Which is great if you have the time because the taste can’t be topped. French onion soup out of a can or an envelope just isn’t real – even if you do try to put the lovely cheesy crouton on top, which is doing nothing more than hiding a bowl of sodium pretending to be flavor.

I will get off my stockpot now. Sometimes you have neither the time nor inclination to spend all day making soup. In that case, this Thai Coconut Squash/Sweet Potato Soup is for you. I made it with a roasted sweet potato and acorn squash. You can do canned pumpkin (not pie mix), roasted butternut squash, or all roasted sweet potato.

I started by cutting an acorn squash in half, removing the seeds, and placing it in a nonstick roasting pan along with a large sweet potato, pierced, and placing it in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. If you are making sweet potatoes or squash for another dish, just throw a couple of extras in so you have leftovers to make this soup.

The soup requires no broth, just water. You will need a can of coconut milk – I prefer the full fat kind. The Thai red curry paste is essential. You can find the paste in the Asian food aisle at most supermarkets. I started with just 1 1/2 tablespoons, but eventually added another tablespoon. Err on the side of less because you can always add more.

Print Recipe
Thai Coconut Squash/Sweet Potato Soup
Course soup
Cuisine American, Asian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
Ingredients
Course soup
Cuisine American, Asian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a nonstick roasting pan, place large sweet potato and halved acorn squash, cut side down. Roast for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  2. In the same baking pan, deglaze any drippings from the squash with about 1/2 cup of water over medium heat until almost evaporated. If the drippings are too burned to be tasty, skip this and just rinse the pan out and go to the next step.
  3. Add coconut oil to the pan or a large saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the onions and cook until soft and tender, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add Thai curry paste and stir in until totally incorporated (about 30 seconds).
  4. Scoop out sweet potato and squash into the onion mixture and mash together (use a potato masher if you need to). This will be thick. Add 1 quart of water and stir to combine. If really thick (like mashed potatoes thick), then add remaining water. If the mixture is still very thick (this will depend on the size of your potato and squash), then add more water about 1/2 cup at a time. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
  5. Remove from heat. Stir in coconut milk and lime juice. Use an immersion blender, or, work in batches in a blender, to puree the soup until smooth. Garnish with coconut flakes.
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