Homemade Mondays: Cock-a-Leekie Soup

We had that gross summer cold that was going around. It was…gross. And weirdly seasonally inappropriate. Luckily, since we live in Ohio, before we were done having that cold the weather had turned to chilly, delicious soup weather. And then it turned back. Go figure. One of my high school friends used to say, “If you don’t like the weather in Ohio, wait a minute…” Anyway this soup was perfect for the weather and for our colds.

E has discovered leeks. She made such a big deal about this soup that I bought two more big bunches of leeks this weekend at the market so I could make more.

My favorite thing about this recipe is how simple it is…from what I understand about Scottish cooking, the focus is on getting good quality ingredients and preparing them in simple ways to really allow the food to shine. Many of the recipes have considerably fewer ingredients than I would have expected.

Cock-A-Leekie (Cocky-Leekie) Soup

Ingredients:

Good chicken stock (put a chicken carcass and livers and hearts if you have them on the stove covered with water in the pot by an inch or so, bring them to a boil, reduce heat and let the whole thing simmer for several hours. If you are starting with a whole chicken, maybe cook it in the crock pot overnight, pull off the meat, and then stick the carcass back in the crockpot covered with water to make your stock-then you only use a bit of the chicken for the soup and reserve the rest for something else. In our house, if we are choosing to eat animals, we try to do so in the way that is most respectful and least wasteful. This includes using the whole bird and making stock from the bones at least once).

One bunch of leeks (about 8-10 medium)

bits of chicken

salt

allspice (Scots Kitchen called this “Jamaica pepper”), if you like.

pepper, if you like

prunes, if using–I didn’t, because I wanted to be a good christian. ;-)*

Method:

Cut leeks in pieces about a half to three quarters of an inch or so wide. Put in a bowl, cover with water, and let stand for a few minutes. The dirt will sink to the bottom. Agitate a bit to remove the last of the dirt. Put half the leeks in a big soup pot with the bits of chicken, the salt and pepper or allspice, and the strained stock. Let simmer for an hour or so. Add the rest of the leeks, simmer for another half hour, until the leeks are tender. A few minutes before serving, you can add the prunes if you are using them.*

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*Amusing anecdotes from The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian MacNeill:

“Shepherd: Speakin’ o’ cocky-leekie, the man was an atheist that first polluted it with prunes.

North: At least no Christian. –Christopher North: Noctes Ambrosianae

“The leek is one of the most honourable and ancient of pot-herbs…The leek is the badge of a high-spirited, honourable and fiery nation-the Ancient Britons. In the old poetry of the northern nations, where a young man would now be styled the flower, he was called “the leek of his family, or tribe,” an epithet of most savoury meaning.”- Ibid.

“The soup must be very thick of leeks, and the first part of them must be boiled down into the soup until it become a lubricous compound”- Meg Dods.

Homemade Mondays: Scented Vinegar Cleaning Spray

We use this to clean almost everything in our home. Vinegar contains about 5% acetic acid, which has antimicrobial properties and will disinfect nearly as well as bleach, but without the environmental and health concerns. If you would like to read more about that, and when bleach is appropriate to use, here’s an article that goes into much greater detail.

From a user standpoint, my vinegar spray and a microfiber cloth or old piece of flannel clean windows just as well as windex (not that the windows around here are always or even usually hand-print free; ahem). It can be sprayed thoroughly on a cloth and wrapped around faucets or laid over stuck-on food spots, to be wiped off easily later.

If you have some pretty basic supplies, making this cleaner only takes the time necessary to open and close bottles, pour, and shake. I really like when homemade things are easier, cheaper, and better than what you can buy at the store. This is one of those times.

Scented Vinegar Cleaning Spray

Ingredients and Supplies:

Distilled White Vinegar (this is the cheapest option, but other vinegars may work)

essential oils of your choice*

water to dilute, if using

old empty spray bottle, rinsed**

small funnel

Method:

Funnel essential oils into the bottle first (that way the vinegar will catch any drops that end up on the funnel by mistake). Use about 20-30 drops, depending on your preferences, the oils you chose, and the size of your bottle. Fill the bottle half-way or more with vinegar, then fill the rest of the way with water. For extra disinfecting power use straight vinegar and don’t add any water. Shake and use.

*there are many essential oils that do very well in cleaning applications. Lemon, sweet orange, tea tree, and lavender are popular and easily accessible. Eucalyptus, Thieves blend (or some mix of oils like rosemary, clove, cinnamon, etc.), peppermint, or other scents that you enjoy will also work nicely. Follow good sense guidelines for using essential oils, and be aware that some oils are not recommended to put on your skin undiluted as they are very concentrated (to make about 10-15 pounds of tea tree EO they start with approximately 1,000 pounds of raw materials; it makes sense to use oils as needed but sparingly for a number of reasons).

**the spray bottle pictured there is a fun drinking bottle from an afternoon out, the cap of which turned out to be the same thread size as the top of a bottle of some store bought cleaner I had sitting around from a long time ago. Now I feel fancy when I clean.

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Homemade Mondays: Cashew Cheese With Roasted Pepper and Onion

As we are still mostly dairy free around here, I’m always on the lookout for things that taste creamy. I’ve served this at several events and it’s always a big hit. This is adapted from a recipe from Handmade In the Present Moment, which is a delicious raw food (also sometimes called “sun food”) restaurant near my aunt and uncle’s home in St. Augustine, Florida. Obviously, with the addition of roasted peppers and onions, it becomes no longer raw food. We think that it’s worth it because ROASTED PEPPERS AND ONIONS. Yum. But once you get the basic idea of cashew based cheeses down, there are endless variations and room for creativity to flavor this cheese-like food (but not in a Velveeta, “processed cheese food” sort of way) to suit your taste and serving needs.

 

Cashew Cheese With Roasted Pepper and Onion

Ingredients:

1 pepper, washed, halved, cored and seeded. (red, yellow, or orange…dealer’s choice)

1 medium onion, peeled and halved.

1 1/2 C cashews, soaked for 2 hours in lukewarm water, or overnight in the refrigerator

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

2 tbsp olive, sesame, avocado, or other oil of your choice

2 tbsp water

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp maple syrup, honey, agave, or other sweetener of your choice

1/2 tbsp lemon or lime juice

salt, to taste

hot sauce, to taste, if desired

 

Method:

Place onion and pepper in a baking dish and roast at around 350 degrees F for half an hour or so, until the edges begin to turn black. After these come out of the oven, place the peppers immediately into an airtight container of some kind, or the whole thing into a paper bag big enough close around the whole dish. Leave it for at least five minutes, to allow the skins to loosen. They should slip off easily, although you might have to peel them a bit in some spots. Discard skins.

After soaking, drain cashews and rinse until the water runs clear.

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend for about five minutes until smooth and creamy.

 

My favorite ways to serve this so far are:

-warm with pieces of bread

-warmed with hot sauce and pieces of chicken, dairy-free buffalo style

-cooked up like grilled cheese on a sandwich- I haven’t tried this yet but I have friends who make cashew cheese and look forward to trying it as we approach soup season here in Cleveland.

-as a serving garnish for pasta or risotto

-cold, on creamy vegetable curry soups

-cold, as a vegan sour cream substitute with other taco toppings on Vegan Taco Soup (or, ahem, chorizo based; make your own food choices and love them, people!)

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Save This Record

I’ve been researching my ancestors. As a middle class white American person, it feels disingenuous to look at only the fun parts of my family history, so I’m struggling to get my mind around the other parts. I’ve been thinking about it a lot during this process. I was clear that there was going to be some stuff I might not be proud of, as well as some things I was very excited to learn. And there is a lot of exciting and interesting history I look forward to delving into. Still, it’s jarring to see census data from 1830 and 1840 with my four times great grandfather’s household, neatly sorted out by age bracket, male/female, and free/slave.

If you are one of those (almost definitely white) people who think that slavery was “a long time ago” and people should stop “whining” about institutionalized racism, white privilege, and other parts of this complicated issue, try doing some ancestor searching. Because realizing how few generations ago it was legal in this country to own another person is sobering; and some of us do not have the luxury of living as though it never happened.

Institutionalized racism does affect ALL of us negatively (whether we acknowledge it or not), though not all of us have an increased likelihood of going to jail or dying because of it.

1830 census

The Yáng Guāng of the Tài Yáng

Disclosure: Christianese ahead. I’ll try my best to deconstruct it, though. Also, there are entire fields of study dedicated to answering some of these questions, so please don’t mistake this one post in the middle of my journey for an attempt to conclusively provide answers.

My faith tree feels like it got struck by lightning this past year. Maybe even a few times. The damage doesn’t go all the way down to the root; I still see clear signs of quickening and health, even if they aren’t perceptible in the same way as ten years ago. But there are definitely some branches falling away. I can feel it. Some of the work is too close right now for me to be sure exactly which branches are being pruned and how, but I am trying to trust the process.

I’ve been asking questions I would have been afraid to ask before, and letting go of pointless shame wherever possible.

One of the questions I’ve asked is “What is the point of God?”

If people can still get sick.

If children can die of cancer.

If everything is so damned confusing sometimes.

What are we doing here? Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

The thing is, I think maybe that was the point of Jesus. Because the Old Testament is full of stories of God and Israel just missing each other. There are moments when they see things for the truths they are. But the great majority of the time the nation of Israel is wandering around in the desert, suffering atrocities, committing atrocities, or making and following lots of rules (all the while recognizing themselves as God’s specially chosen people).

There are a lot of things in the world that are utterly bewildering. What is God like, if this is how it’s going to be?

In a letter to the early Jewish church (so some of the first Messianic Jews) it says “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”

I took some Chinese classes a few years ago (long story) (there were a lot of Chinese kids in my preschool class so the center I worked for paid for me to go) (OK not that long). </digression>

I remember in one of my classes the teacher explained that in Mandarin there are different words for light. In English we talk about “the light you turn on” and “the light you use to see”. We can use that word somewhat interchangeably. In Chinese though, the word is not interchangeable. “Tài yáng” means sun. The one that rises in the east. “Yáng guāng”, on the other hand, is defined as “sunshine, sunlight, or sunbeam”. The light that is, is a distinct concept from the light you can see by.

As a child I tried once to stare at the sun. Luckily I didn’t do it for too long, because looking directly at the sun can make you blind (I will sometimes foolishly ignore my mama’s wise advice, but only so far it seems).

There are ways in which it hurts my eyes to look at God right now. Through cancer. Through unexplained illness. Through death.

But if God is utterly like Jesus, as doctrine teaches, then there is some hope; though by no means a full explanation. Jesus, who cries with devastated people. Who uses mud and spit to cure blindness, who hangs out with embezzlers and prostitutes, who takes away shame where it can be of no help, and who preaches shame over those that would presume to make God so very exclusive and inaccessible to oppressed and hurting people.

So if Jesus is the Yáng guāng of God’s Tài yáng, I think I can see the point of him. I can’t look directly at the sun. But the light of the sun is the means by which I begin to see everything else.

Homemade Mondays: Jodie’s Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake

My friend Jodie surprised me with this cake for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. It was super delicious, so I asked her to share her recipe here. Thanks for guest posting, Jodie!

 

Vegan Chocolate Layer Cake

This recipe was adapted from a recipe I found online at Food52.com. I have made this cake 4 times now, and have found what I believe to be the winning combination. Really, it is hard to go wrong eating anything covered in chocolate ganache. I am not a vegan, but I eat and cook a lot of vegan food. My family, especially my mom, is hard on me when it comes to yummy baked goods. I have been accused of not making my sweets with enough butter and sugar. But this cake got rave reviews, and my mom ASKED me to make it for a holiday party. She doesn’t know it’s vegan. This is my claim to fame and super sweet victory.

Cake:
350 / 10″ springform pan (lightly greased) {the original recipe calls for 8″ or 9″ which will change the baking time and thickness of cake. I used what I had, but liked it better because I also added more layers of filling and the wider, thinner cake worked well for that}
Wet Ingredients:
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar added to 2 c. almond milk (or other nondairy milk) and mix until frothy
- 2/3 c. olive oil
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 c. granulated sugar (mix until dissolved)
Dry Ingredients:
- 3 c. All Purpose flour
- 2/3 c. cocoa powder (sifted)
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp sea salt, or 1 tsp table salt
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in three batches until just combined. Mix with a spatula or a mixer on low setting. Pour batter into the two pans and bake for 25 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool until it can be easily removed from the pan. Let the cake cool completely before filling and frosting.
Ganache:
- 12 ounces of semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 c. coconut milk
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- pinch of salt
In a bowl add chocolate chips and vanilla. Set aside. On the stove top in a small pot add coconut milk, maple syrup, and salt over medium heat. Warm until it comes to a gentle boil. Take off heat and immediately pour over chocolate chips. Mix with a spoon until ganache is glossy and smooth. Let it cool to room temperature. (If I am in a rush, I have put it in the freezer to chill it faster. If you do this, don’t forget about it – it hardens fast!)
Filling:
- 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
- 1/2 c. cocoa powder (sifted)
- 1/2 c. maple syrup
- 1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp almond butter
-  1/2 tsp of sea salt, or 3/4 tsp table salt
-  1 tsp vanilla extract
- {1 c. chocolate ganache to be added when it reaches room temperature}
Mix all ingredients except the ganache in a food processor or with a hand mixer until smooth. Put in the fridge so it can set some and the flavors can come together. If you are a finger dipper, and you know you are, don’t judge this filling until it has had a chance to set and after the ganache has been added.) Once the ganache as room temp., take the filling out of the fridge and add 1 c. of the ganache. Process until smooth.
Time to layer!!
bottom cake, filling, top cake, ganache all over top and sides. (you may have extra filling left over to dip graham crackers in, depending how thick you make it)
or
bottom cake, filling, ganache, top cake, filling, ganache over top and sides (there will be no left over filling and you may find you need to make another batch of ganache)
Set the cake in the fridge to set. Bring to room temp to serve. Store in the fridge.
Enjoy the best chocolate cake ever!

Necessary Fun

Goodbye, 31. I will not miss you when you leave tomorrow.

To be frank, you were kind of an asshole. It’s not your fault, really. I know that. But the past year was long, and while clicking over to another number in my age obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, there is a certain relief in turning the page on everything that happened. Too much sickness. Too much anxiety. Too much cancer. Too much death. Just…too much.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to throw a party. I love cooking for people (I get that from my mom who is a beautiful cook), and have ever since I learned to put together simple recipes. In college there were friends who would just randomly show up at our apartment if they thought I was home and ask me to feed them something. The Jewish ladies at the preschool where I worked before E was born used to call me a “balabusta”.

So, it’s not a new thing in my life to be gathering groups of people together. What’s new is how it feels now. Until the past year, I mostly loved having people around just for the joy of it. A couple of us would decide to do something and invite whomever we could think of who would enjoy that thing and our company. Even if it was just taking pictures of each other in silly poses (we used to call it “performance sculpture”) in the flower section at Walmart, we knew how to have a good time.

The past year, the push to gather people together has taken on an aspect of needing to huddle together for a bit in a storm. Instead of just being so taken up with the fun of things that I can’t help but invite people along, I find myself going into a gathering thinking of how much every single person I know is dealing with. The First World does a tolerable job for a while of disguising that fact that life is hard. But all the smartphone apps in the Google Store can’t disguise the fact that people get cancer. They have miscarriages. Marriages are threatened. People need transplants, or they die suddenly of heart attacks or strokes. They have crises of faith and of identity.

And I’m continually struck by how brave it is to come, with all of your Stuff, to be with others. I know how much courage that can take sometimes, because even extroverts get overrun by their thoughts sometimes (contrary to what you’ll read on some of the more absurd “23 signs you’re an introvert” Facebook lists–but I digress).

So we gather. We invite a few friends so that all the pressure isn’t on one person to Show Up. We laugh, we cry, sometimes we talk about our Stuff, sometimes we talk about the price of tomatoes at the market or how to keep our kids from pooping on the carpet so much during potty training. And it’s fun. The fact that people Have Stuff doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their company, but informs and enriches it. To be human is to Have Stuff (sometimes this is uncharitably called “crazy”); to have a really great friend is to have a sufficiently safe space to show enough of your crazy that maybe you can eventually let a bit of it go.

Life is hard and confusing, and we are all doing our best. But in doing life together, the group lends a sense of respite, strength, and safety that can help prepare us to face what we must.

It’s fun, I promise. But Important Fun. Necessary Fun.

 

“…I was sent back…until my task is done. And I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape  upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away….” 

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