The association of orange and carrot is so fundamental, it surely exists on many a flash card as a color lesson for children. “What is orange?” the teacher asks enthusiastically. “Cawwots ahre owange,” small voices cry in unison (R’s are really hard!).
However, carrots used to represent the whole rainbow. Though apocryphal, the story has it the Dutch cultivated orange carrots as an homage to William of Orange, and the average person will eat 10,866 of those orange carrots in his lifetime (see statistic here). It’s high time to taste the real rainbow!
When I find wildly colorful, natural foods, I am inspired! How do I best channel those hues and intense flavors? I’ll share my wilder responses soon, but for now, let me start with a very simple rainbow carrot recipe. Roasted in coconut oil, the sweetness of these carrots really emerges, making them almost dessert worthy. For a wholesome treat, give your pup the nubby ends of the carrot after roasting rather than tossing them from the start.
Being that anything dog related attracts me like shiny objects attract cats, I recently watched a special on dogs trained for advanced military assignments. These dogs were fearless, fiercely concentrated and lovingly loyal. The premier trainer expounded the power of a dog’s sense of smell. I shall paraphrase:
We laymen understand a canine nose to be a powerful sniffer, but what we don’t understand is how precise their noses are. It’s not just (and yes, this is a dog talking), “I smell stew cooking from across the house.” It’s “I smell stew cooking from across the house, and that stew contains celery, ribeye, herbs de provence, garlic, broth, dried mustard, etc.” This insight really propelled my imagination.
If dogs could speak, imagine the pretentious foodie shaming that would ensue. Assuming talking dogs would be welcomed in fine restaurants, a dog could sit next to a known, pretentious foodie. Both would order a beautifully colored, beet soup. Blended, this beautiful beet soup’s ingredients would largely be a mystery. The foodie and the dog would both begin to eat, one with the appropriate, golden soup spoon, the other with an entire muzzle in the porcelain bowl. The foodie would rattle on and on, just loving the sound of his own voice and astute ingredient observations.
The friendly dog, with the beet stains forming on his fur, would say, “yes, I particularly like the blending of coconut oil, caramelized onion, garlic, sweet potatoes and parsnips.”
“Oh yes, me too,” the deflated foodie would scramble to reply.
“What’s really tasty is the chicken flavor from the stock, as well as the stock’s celery accent.”
“Yes, I was going to say the same,” the foodie would boast transparently.
The dog would continue to parse each blended and masked ingredient, while the foodie would name drop other restaurants to change the subject. The dog would proceed to put his muzzle in the glass of sparkling water to drink, bite off the fine linen from his neck, then make his way to the dog park. At the park, this esteemed palate would sniff other dogs’ butts, and if feeling peckish after such a light lunch, possibly graze on some dog shit. Oh what a giant touché this would be to our food snobbery.
For the time being, we food snobs are safe. Our canine companions cannot yet shame us with their superior sense of smell. The only shaming are those big puppy eyes that stare at everyone around the dining room table, waiting for a bit of beet soup to hit the floor. Now that I have lured you with thoughts of dog butts and dog shit, let’s make some soup!
About This Recipe: Warm yet bright and colorful, this is the perfect soup transition from winter to spring. Thick and creamy, I even recommend spreading some on a thick, rusty bread for a unique sandwich. To make this soup, you’ll need either an immersion blender, food processor or regular blender. The texture of the soup is up to you. I’m a big fan of ginger, so this recipe calls for a sizable chunk. Adjust according to your fancy. Substitute a vegetable stock in the base and coconut cream for the garnish to make this vegan.
A plentiful pot of soup is like a return to your childhood home after many months or years away. Every ingredient, like every quilt, stuffed animal or lingering teen heart-throb poster, tells a story and stirs nostalgia. This soup stirred a few tales.
First, there were friends gathered around our dining room table. The Urban Farmer and I shared our roasted chicken, vegetables, and hearty bread. They shared their heartwarming tales of transforming travels in Peru. That chicken became stock, and that stock became a base for this soup.
There was a long photoshoot. It began with meticulously styled, petite portions of chopped vegetables. It ended with a back seat and a trunk FULL of produce. Those excesses became a warm oven of slow roasting tomatoes, a house that smelled of Italy, and finally, a robust red sauce. That red sauce stirred the cravings for comforting tomato soup.
There was a Valentine’s Day break from reclusive hibernation and a bundled excursion to the butcher shop. The return adventure was a blinding blanket of white, a determined dog with a backpack full of bacon, and a very chilling walk on quiet, empty streets. Two honey-cardamom lattes and a chess game later, we were warm enough to think clearly. That bacon belonged in our soup!
Those tales simmered, bubbled and blended into something new.
With one hand on the old, familiar doorknob and the other hovering near the light switch, you hesitate. You breathe in the familiar smell. You hear the distant laughter, complaints and squabbles. You see the homework struggles, the sleepovers, the trophies and toys. Once back in the present moment, your hovering hand flips the light switch, pulls the door knob and closes the door on that childhood chapter. Similarly, each ingredient’s tale hovered, but new moments emerged as well, ready to be recalled with the next bowl of piping hot soup. This is why I slow cook.
Go Stir Some Stories!
Roasted Tomato & Vegetable Soup
About This Recipe: From the homemade stock to the slow roasted tomato sauce, this soup is a journey and a labor for the love of cooking. The result is a hearty vegetable soup that takes advantage of winter’s lingering root vegetables and warms the last chill in the air. Use whatever lingering root vegetables you have. Use a vegetable stock and skip the bacon if you want to avoid meat.Substitute a favorite pasta sauce instead of making your own. Be creative, experiment, and enjoy!
Dumpsters and dinner. Have you ever associated these words together?
Perhaps it was the lure of the neo-hippy boys on bicycles, with dirty tans and ripped Carharts (I was still “finding myself” after all). Perhaps it was the notion of sustainability. Whatever my motivation, for one very brief, very, very brief period, I dabbled in dumpster-diving. Was I swan diving into heaps of trash? No. Was I following friends to known dumpster jackpots and reaping the produce rewards? Yes. We would find pounds and pounds of edible produce, all tossed aside because it lacked a certain symmetry or monochromatic hue. These “bastard” fruits and vegetables were deemed unsellable and chucked. We were confronting society’s waste, and seeing that much squandered food really sucked.
One particular scavenge really stands out in my memory. A friend and I were having an urban picnic at an old produce terminal during the off hours. While strolling to find the best view of downtown, we happened upon huge cases of rejected produce. With a vehicle at our disposal, we each rescued enough produce to populate a sizable vegetable stand. At first acquisition, this produce felt too good to be true, but once home, the reality settled, and the quantity was a looming burden.
On one hand, we could afford to experiment culinarily. That pillage led to my first experience roasting peppers. On the other hand, the food seemed endless. Consuming it all required spending money on other ingredients, but how could we even consider wasting the wasted and continue such a vicious cycle? We were supposed to be making the world more sustainable but at what cost to our personal health codes? It was one first-world philosophical dilemma after another, calling into question many of my personal food values. I hate the idea of food waste, but I also place a high premium on my own health and sourcing organic foods. Where do I draw the line?
I recently tweezered, spritzed, primped and prodded chopped vegetables and fruits for a commercial photoshoot (one of my day jobs). To ensure the most beautiful “heroes” for each shot, the company arrived with a stack of boxes taller and wider than many of me. At the end of the shoot, they thanked us for our work and said, “enjoy the vegetables.” Many trips to the car later, I had a backseat and trunk full of produce, and I remembered my ol’ dumpster diving days. Is this the produce I would normally buy for myself? Probably not. Could I waste it? No. I was even more determined this time to use as much of this produce as possible. It was time to be creative, rev the juicer, fire up the oven and take advantage of cooking methods I might not usually employ. Case in point: roasted tomato sauce.
With grocery aisle shelves of sauces galore, buying a jar has an easy appeal, but the flavor and added smoky flavor of this homemade version has its advantages. Maybe you rescue the rejected tomatoes from a produce terminal. Maybe you garden and you make this sauce when you have an abundance of fresh, juicy, summer tomatoes. Maybe you try to salvage what you can from winter’s sad stock, but I hope you strike a balance of nourishing yourself and wasting less. It’s a balance I’m constantly seeking.
Roasted Tomato, Garlic & Herb Sauce
About this Recipe: Roasting is a great way to concentrate flavor and preserve produce. Surely this sauce would benefit from summer’s freshest tomatoes, but at this point in the year, I saw this as a means to draw out the otherwise lacking flavor in winter tomatoes. The resulting sauce is thick, chunky and rich in flavor. It works well as a pizza or pasta sauce, added to a soup, or spread on a sandwich. The recipe is loose, so you can tweak the ingredients and quantities to what you have and to your flavor preferences. My quantities yielded a large jar with some extras.
Every other Saturday, the Urban Farmer bursts through the kitchen door in his decades-old Woolrich coat and snowy boots, and he raises a green bag into the air triumphantly. This prized green bag contains his CSA allotment (Community Supported Agriculture), and aside from supporting our region’s farmers, these bags of veggies have pushed us to cook more and to cook more creatively.
Each CSA share is like a cooking show challenge. Beets, turnips, celeriac…go! For this specific green bag, the Urban Farmer really had pie on his mind. As I began to muse, he interjected my visions of beet slice rosettes atop sweetly spiced squash, “No, I want to make a savory pie.” Before he had finished verbalizing his pie goals, he had already begun peeling and chopping, so we dove into his savory plan in that fluid style of cooking- a sprinkle of this, a dash of that, a slice, a chop and a vague recipe underpinning.
Recipe Notes: This recipe is very loose, and you can adapt it based on your winter vegetable bounty and personal preferences. We began with a large baking stone’s worth of roasted vegetables and had more than we needed for the pie, but that excess makes for easy, healthy dinners later in the week. I’ve been reading about sneaking vodka into pie crusts as way to combat the gluten formation that risks a tough crust. Rather than Vodka, I used a few Tablespoons of Art in the Age’s Sage liquor, hoping to avoid gluten and reap the benefits of the herb flavors. You can also experiment with the cheese, herbs and proteins. This would be delicious with salty shavings of pecorino, and next time, we’ll probably add a spicy sausage to the filling. Be inspired, get creative and go crazy!
p.s: We’re looking forward to this time next year when we’ll be making rustic root veggie pies from the fruits of the Urban Farmer’s labor. He’ll be farming his own land this spring!