Sunday, December 19, 2010

Souper Simple Supper

Potato-Kale Soup

During this busy holiday season, I have rediscovered the wonders of soup. It takes so few ingredients to make a great pot of filling soup! Until recently my favorite was a pumpkin soup. Then a friend dropped off a great big bag of home grown fingerling potatoes and I decided to make a Kale-Potato soup with bacon and cheese. This soup has become a favorite in our house, and takes about 30 minutes to make. It can be as simple as you like (try adding Trader Joe's sausage), or more complex with the addition of bacon and grated cheese.

Oh, yeah, and I also made my first apple pie!

But back to the soup:)

3 tbsp oil or bacon fat
1 onion, chopped
8-10 or so fingerling potatoes, washed, and peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks (about 3 cups?)
1 bunch kale, washed and chopped
1 clove garlic, diced or crushed
6 cups stock
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper

sliced grilled sausage, or bacon and grated cheese to garnish.

To Make
Sautee onion in fat in stock pot until soft.
Add potatoes and stock and simmer about 20 minutes until soft
Add garlic and blend with immersion blender until creamy. Bring back to simmer and add kale, simmer 5 more minutes or so, until kale is tender.
Turn off heat, add half and half, salt and pepper to taste
Serve with diced bacon, grated cheese or cooked sausage slices.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It Takes a Village to make Peanut Butter

I still remember the words of the village women I met 10 years ago in Mali. We sat on the mat-covered floor of a round-walled hut talking about their traditional medicines; I was doing research about traditional environmental knowledge and dance (they are related:). A few minutes into the conversation they turned the tables. "Do you have any medicine for exhaustion?" they asked me.

I didn't fully understand what exhaustion meant at that time in my life, but now, 10 years older and 2 kids later, I think I get it. Well, sort of.

The women in the village of Kolonmalila, on the border of Guinea and Mali, rise every morning at 4 a.m. to start making food for the day. Thump, clap, thump. Thump, clap, thump. Thump, clap, thump. Three women tend each large wooden mortar, making rhythms as they pound millet, amaranth or corn for the day's meal with 5-foot pestles. Each day the women in the village spend about 2-4 hours processing grain for the meals. And that is only a small portion of their daily work. They also collect fire wood, cook the food, farm, repair the huts, gather medicine, winnow, dry and store food and care for animals. And care for their children. The women live in huts separate from their husbands, with the children. And Malians don't tolerate crying babies, so they are fed on demand and tied to the backs of these women as they work.

I probably really don't understand exhaustion.

When I probed further, I learned that they wanted a grinder. They want a machine to help process their crops. As I researched the options, I came across Compatible Technology International, a non-profit founded by ex-General Mills engineers. These retired GM workers have designed and tested grinders, winnowers, potato peelers, water filters, among other items, and have brought hope and a better quality of life to many people in impoverished nations.

A grinder? What's so important about a grinder? Well for one, it saves the women hours of work each day. It can grind in 1/2 hour, what normally takes 4 hours. With their "free" time, the women can process grain for sale in the market, and start to make a small income to buy clothes, medicine, etc. for their families. It grinds grain that is minimally processed, yielding greater nutritional value in the final product, and produces less waste.

Also the women can "rent" it out for a small fee, and earn income that way, too. The grinder costs $350. That is about the average annual salary for a Malian--living in the city. In the village, life is subsistence-based, and they would never be able to afford the grinder.

It was a chuck of change for my family, too, so the people at CTI suggested a great way for raising money for the grinder. Host a peanut butter-making party!

We invited our friends and neighbors to test the machine and grind some organic peanuts, and enjoy some African food. I made peanut sauce (tigedigena) and zame, or seasoned rice and veggies. Other people brought food to share, and in all I say we crammed our living room with about 50 people. Through the generosity of our friends and neighbors, we raised $700, which will pay for the grinder, a flywheel attachment that our friend Peter designed, the shipping and some medicine for the villagers! Our family's gift to the villagers became Madison's gift to the women in Kolomalila. I feel so grateful that people donated. Until you go there, it is hard to understand what a difference one item like this can make. I feel grateful for this opportunity, the generosity of my "village", and I hope that I can continue to work to improve the quality of life of women everywhere!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cupcakes and Gingerbread Houses-Sweets with my Sweets

I realized, bright and early this morning, that one thing I love about cooking is that I feel like I accomplish something. It's most often gratifying, not to mention meditative.

I set to work in the kitchen, mixing, chopping, cooking, and voila, food is made. And it usually tastes good.

I don't feel as accomplished in other areas of my life. I am a compulsive multitasker and list-maker. It runs in my family. When Drummer Man first met my mom and sister, he commented in awe (or maybe it was concern?) that not only does every one in my family make lists, but we are compelled to do what is written on them.

I didn't sleep well last night. My to-do list from yesterday awaits me.
This was/is my list:
-Photocopy and mail documents to Abdoul,
-Send pictures to print to Camera Company, and
-wrap and mail Christmas presents to my mom and sister.

I accomplished none of that. (But I did take a long bath--hey, I have my priorities). I went to bed feeling the weight and speed of time.

Miraculously, I awoke feeling better. I realized that in the past two days I have managed to have special cooking time with not one, but both of my children!
Two days ago my son had a rare late evening playdate and my daughter wanted to make strawberry cupcakes. Off we went to the kitchen, where we gathered, mixed and stirred ingredients for a basic vanilla cupcake, based on Ina Garten's recipe which I found on my friend Megan's blog Foodalution. My daughter wanted to add strawberry, but all we had was jelly, so I blopped a bit on top before I baked them. Then we added a drop of red food coloring to a basic buttercream frosting, and topped the final product with sprinkles and toasted coconut. Frosting was fun with my new icing tips...

Last night my son and I had a special date night, and headed to the Willy Street Coop for gingerbread house making extravaganza with Kathy. We frosted, built, decorated, blopped candy all over (and ate lots of it). And I didn't have to clean up the mess!

No matter how long my to-do list remains, I accomplished something of great importance--quality time with my kids. Hey, I have my priorities!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Raviolone with Butternut Squash in Butter and Sage

I am having a hard time focusing on my blog these days. Why? Because one month from today my family and I leave for West Africa! ONE MONTH! We will be there for a little over a month.

Traveling to Africa is more than a vacation; it is a journey, a trip, an adventure. This will be my 5th trip to West Africa, the 4th for my hubby, 2nd for our son, and first for our daughter (unless you count her en utero visit.) I can't wait.

My days are filled with planning, shopping, packing, cleaning, and then the usual stuff--taking kids to school, making lunches, laundry...

I am hoping to blog this time while in Africa, but know that my posts will be infrequent since it takes quite an effort to get to the internet cafe. I am most definitely going to learn cooking, dancing, and so much more. I will share as I can.

Cooking has actually been keeping me grounded these days. I recently made a recipe from David Tanis' new cookbook, Heart of the Artichoke. The Raviolone with Butternut Squash in Butter and Sage was just superb. I love squash for its ability to fuse wonderfully with both sweet and savory flavors. I love pasta for its ability to warm my soul. It was also fun to make homemade pasta with fresh eggs from our hens (though I wish I had a pasta roller).

I wonder what recipes I will learn to make using squash in Mali? I'll let you know!

Raviolone with Butternut Squash in Butter and Sage
(Click here for the full excerpt! Page 26/43)

For the Pasta
2 cups flour
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
2 tbsp olive oil

For the Filling
1 large butternut squash
salt and pepper
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup fresh grated pecorino romano
grated zest 1 lemon
1 tsp red pepper flakes

For the Sauce
4 tbsp butter
1 small bunch sage
salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, smashed
juice 1/2 lemon

Make the dough by putting the flour in a bowl. Beat the eggs with a bit of salt and the oil. Add to the flour and stir. Knead until dough is smooth. Wrap and set aside to rest for 1 hour.

Make the filling by baking the squash on a cookie sheet (halve it and de-seed) at 375 for about 45 minutes. Scoop out soft flesh and add other filling ingredients.

Make the pasta by dividing pasta dough into 4 pieces, and rolling it out in a pasta maker. Cut the rolled sheet into 4 equal pieces. Fill with filling and fold in half, sealing well with a bit of water. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to cook.

Put two large pots of salted water on to boil. Add the raviolone to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Check for doneness! Cook a bit more if needed.

Make the Sauce by melting the butter in a small skillet. When melted, toss in sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Toss in garlic, being careful no to burn it. Turn off heat and squeeze in lemon juice. Pour over raviolone and serve with more grated cheese! Eat, and enjoy.