first gifts of summer

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The days are heating up, thunder rumbles across our skies most afternoons.  We bend and obey the weather, spending our time outside in the cool early mornings, hunkering down after lunch for naps and quiet and stormy weather.  The city markets in Asheville are opening again, and Phoebe requested that we buy a big bucket of fresh strawberries at the last one we went to.  They really were the best strawberries we’ve ever had, and she’s eaten handfuls every day.  We made these grain-free strawberry shortcakes together for dessert with whipped coconut milk.  All my kids love helping in the kitchen, and I’ve been trying to once again make more of an effort to let them help more, especially Phoebe as the oldest.  Both she and Noah are learning to handle a knife and chop things with me assisting, of course.  She’s been asking for a french braid every day pretty much, and she is asking often for me to “picture” this or that.  She really likes to put on a super cheesy grin for the camera, while I prefer catching the more candid moments.  Maybe the phase will pass.

We also made our first round of popsicles, just blending yogurt, honey, fresh strawberries, and a little bit of flaxseed.  We dropped a few blueberries and chopped chocolate chips in, too, for fun.  We bought these BPA-free molds last summer and used them almost weekly.  We pulled out our little plastic pool from the garage and filled it up for the first time the same day my parent’s neighborhood pool opened.  So, pool days are officially here and we are thankful!  It’s not terribly relaxing for me to take them to the pool but it is maybe the best way to endure the muggy heat of the summer and still have the kids outside for part of the day.

I scribbled down a bunch of family plans and goals for the summer, things I want to make and do with the kids, parts of the yard and house I would like to organize and tidy and rearrange as we start to prepare for homeschooling this fall.  I realized I don’t do very many crafts with the kids, and I’d like to have a space with craft supplies and maybe attempt a once-weekly craft time with them, at least.  We play a lot outside, read a ton, and they are often imaginative and having unstructured play time, but children just love doing crafts, having mommy’s full attention and getting to make a mess and create something beautiful at the same time.  I’m checking this book out from the library for some inspiration.  And I’m taking them to story time for preschoolers at the library, which has music and craft time.  I should probably have been doing it sooner, we went this past week and all had such a fun time.  I made this incredible granola this past week (per Alicia’s recommendation), needing a cold summer breakfast option since Brandon and I both are a bit tired of eggs and pancakes, alternatively.  I forgot how much I love having a good granola on hand, and this one is so simple and fast to make with a very small ingredient list.  I think we’ll be living off of it this summer.

Last weekend we drove up to Balsam Mountain on the Parkway to visit one of my best friends from college and her family.  They live in TN and whenever we come close by one another we do our best to sneak in a visit.  They were camping for the weekend there, and we wanted to join them but just didn’t pull things together in time so we went for the day on Saturday instead.  What a treat it is to see our kids play together, and just to be outside together by a campfire, snacking, catching up and laughing.  When Brandon and I were first married and moved out to Colorado, they moved out also to a nearby town and some of our best memories were sharing times with them there.  I told Mary in a text later how much these brief hang outs make me ache to live closer to them.  When we left, we saw an elk on the roadside, and a few wild turkeys as well.

These are the early gifts of summer.  The first fruit from the vine, the gathering with friends, campfires and pools and the hopes and dreams for these sunny warm days.  Our last summer before school begins and we transition into a new season of family life.

 

My Top 6 Favorite Soups

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November is off to a dreary start.  Sigh.  I don’t mind the rain one bit usually, but a full week of it in the forecast makes a few stir-crazy children!  With the rain + the cold of November, we are in “soup season” here.  A few of my friends have asked for my go-to soup recipes.  These are my favorite favorites.  The cream of the crop, folks.  These are tried and tested and absolute regular staples in our house for years.  These are husband-approved by a guy who isn’t as crazy about soup as his wife.

1.  Beef Stew

The simplest yet tastiest beef stew you’ll ever find.  I love that its easy to put together, doesn’t require a bottle of wine (and yet the balsamic vinegar adds so much flavor!), can be made in a slow-cooker or in a couple of hours in a dutch oven if you forget to start it in the morning.  Also, to make it gluten-free, I sub coconut flour for regular flour.

2.  Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash + Quinoa

I always sub a can of black beans (washed + rinsed) for the olives, because my husband doesn’t like olives.  I also sub cilantro for parsley and sometimes add a dash of cumin + chili powder to go along with the black bean/cilantro/mexican taste.  Also, I never use quinoa because it doesn’t agree with me (insert breaking heart emoticon), and lately just leave out all grain, but you can sub wild rice (delicious!) or a small pasta like orzo.  It tastes just great without it though!

3.  Chicken + Vegetable Soup

This one is one my husband’s favorites, comes together really quickly + with minimal ingredients, and is a great way to use up leftover chicken.  Is great with grilled cheese on the side!

4.  Pea Soup

This is my mom’s recipe.  Super simple.

1 yellow onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 large carrots, chopped
1-2 large russet potatoes, peeled + chopped
1 lb dried split peas, washed + rinsed
6-8 cups chicken broth (or water/broth combo)
optional: chopped ham (about 1-2 cups)
salt + pepper to taste

Sautee onion in olive oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or soup pot until soft/translucent, about 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for another minute.  Add rest of ingredients (except for ham), bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and let simmer for a couple of hours, stirring every so often.  Basically, it will become a thick, creamy soup as the split peas soften and disintegrate.  Once it’s at this stage, it’s done.  You can add the ham any time, really, but I usually add towards the end of the cook time and let the flavors marry for 20 minutes or so.

5.  Spinah + Lentil Soup with Cheese + Basil

This one is to die for.  Do I keep saying that?  This one is so good.  You have to try it.  It does require a few more pricey ingredients, but to compensate for that I always sub bacon for pancetta (you can’t loose with bacon).

6.  Black Bean Soup

My recipe, which I’ve posted before here.

My favorite bread to accompany soups used to be Sullivan Street Bakery’s No Knead Recipe, but since going gluten-free I have found this recipe for Easy Brazilian Cheese Bread to be a super quick dinner roll that I can throw together (in about 30 minutes) if I’m needing something on the fly that everyone loves + it’s gluten-free + grain-free with only a handful of ingredients!  My only recommendation is to cook it a tad bit longer than she says (more like 25 minutes).

So there you go.  These are the essentials of my soup pantry.  What are yours??  Please do share your favorites + your staples!

An Invitation to Savor

There are few people whose voice I want to hear speaking into my every day, but Shauna Niequist is one of them.

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I was so thrilled to receive her latest book, which is a daily devotional called Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are.  My introduction to Niequist was in reading her last book, Bread & Wine, which has since lived in my kitchen amongst my three most used cookbooks, and it looks like this:

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Yes, as you can see, my copy of Bread & Wine is well-loved.  And if you aren’t familiar with Shauna Niequist than you must know: the woman loves food, but not just for the sake of food alone, but for the gathering that happens around the table.  For the way sharing a meal together cracks our hearts wide open to one another, breaks down stiff walls between each other, thaws out our awkwardness toward one another.  The way opening our homes and inviting someone in says, “I see you.  I want to know you.  I want to give you something my hands have made.  I want to share life with you.”  Because of her love for good, nourishing food and the power of a meal shared with loved ones, Niequist often incorporates her favorite recipes into her writing.

Savor is no exception!  Not only is the book beautifully designed, with hand-lettering by Lindsay Letters accenting the linen cover + each page, but it is also thicker than I expected and has gorgeous navy blue edged pages.  Her recipes are sprinkled throughout the book, reminding you that “spiritual living happens not just when we read and pray, but also when we gather with family and friends over dinners and breakfasts and late-night snacks” (back cover),  including a wide variety of recipes such as Blueberry Yogurt Breakfast Cake, Wild Rice Salad, Curried Cauliflower, Fregolotta, Thai Beef Salad, and Grilled Peach + Caramel Sundaes.  I’ve already been busy cooking out of it, as you can see.

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In this devotional, each day begins with a short scripture and a pertinent reflection, encouraging you to savor this life, to savor each day that God has given.  Each day finishes with a question for reflection.  You know an author is gifted at her craft when her words stay with you months or years afterwards, when those words rattle around in your bones and start to live and grow deep in the soil of your own heart.  When that writer communicates the way she sees life so clearly that you can see it, too, and your own vision is transformed.  This is how Shauna writes.  She will inspire you to move beyond surviving your days to paying attention to them, slowing down, feasting, savoring.

“So read and learn and pray and cook and share.  Remember to savor each day, whatever it holds: work and play, coffee and kids, meals and prayers and the good stuff and the hard stuff.  Life is all about relationships, and your daily relationship with God is worth savoring in every moment.”

My only complaint is that each day’s reading leaves me wanting more!  Shauna’s words are evocative, stirring, and true, and a couple paragraphs is just not enough!

*     *     *     *     *

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Tastes of Fall: Black Bean Soup

I’m a cold-weather girl through and through.  I love a good dreary rainy day, or dumping snow (the best).  I loved living in Breckenridge, Colorado for a few seasons of my life where summers are mild and winter lasts about eight months of the year.  I definitely appreciate the other seasons, but I love the fall/winter the best.  And my cooking shows it.  I am way more equipped in the kitchen for the cold season.  There are a whole slew of soups and stews that have become staples around here over the years, but one I’ve latched onto lately is a Black Bean Soup.

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It’s sort of my own recipe, adapted from simple black bean soup recipes that I googled.  But for an inexpensive and meatless dinner, it is so quick, delicious + satisfying!

Black Bean Soup

{ingredients}
2-3 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 green pepper (or whatever color pepper you have on hand)
3-ish cups fluid (can use water, but chicken broth lends more flavor)
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, or a couple fresh diced tomatoes
cumin
chili powder
salt + pepper
paprika
oregano

{toppings}
chopped cilantro
avocado
dollop of plain greek yogurt (or sour cream)
fresh squeezed lime

{optional serve with}
corn tortillas heated OR cheese quesadillas
green salad

Basically, you heat your soup pot on the stove with the olive oil, onion + green pepper until soft (5-8 min) over medium high heat.  Add garlic, cook for another minute.  Then add beans and water/chicken broth, tomatoes, and spices to taste (I don’t usually measure, I just put in a dash of this and that, so not sure how much to recommend using).  Let simmer for a little bit to let flavors meld, probably minimum of 10 minutes but longer if needed.

Then use an immersion blender in the pot to chop it up a bit, or take out 2 cups or so of soup, blend in blender, then return to pot.  I leave mine somewhat chunky, as you can see above.

Top with toppings of choice and it is to-die-for with cheese quesadillas on the side.

Happy Cooking!