Spices. Spiced. Spice-ed.
Our lame excuse for not blogging in a while is that we’ve been quite busy adventuring. Our evenings and weekends always wind up packed with activity which leaves little spare time to reflect and compose upon our lives and endeavors for the sake of the internet. And for sharing. Despite my feverish push for a 20-hour work week, the hospital is not so open-minded. So at least for a while we’ll just have to struggle to enjoy our lives in the precious time we have in-between work and sleep. Meanwhile, despite cancer and full-time work, my sister Kate managed to keep her blog alive and growing. Unfortunately we weren’t as lucky and lost her to Melanoma in April. More on that later.
So here’s a ludicrous-speed rundown of what we’ve been up to since our last post. There’s a chance we’ll expand on some of these topics, but for now, all you’re getting is bullet points.
- New Job! I followed some docs to a rival hospital to start a from-scratch specialty practice. I could rant about this endeavor for hours. I’ll spare you …for now.
- Star gazing on Smith Mountain Lake
- Sailing on Canandaigua Lake
- Getting ill in the Blue Ridge Mountains
- Skiing in Park City
- Visiting loved ones and general exploring in Colorado
- Adventuring in Maine
- Holidays and Engagement parties
- Funerals and funeral parties
- Wedding planning – Venue, band, caterer, save the dates and about 1000 pins – check, check, check, and check.
Aaron has built a cat castle, a spice rack, a wine rack, and a serving tray. He has whittled trees, squirrels, a bird, and a fox. He’s currently working on and documenting a woodworking bench. Our guest bedroom is occupied with timber, clamps, gallons of wood glue, and inches of sawdust. Note: next home must have a garage or studio.
I’ve been cooking always almost every night, almost something new every time. This is my standard.
I’m midway through a graduate certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell. There was some background on nutrition basics as part of my nursing schooling, but most of what I know I’ve sought out on my own. It seems that science has just scratched the surface of knowledge on how diet relates to disease and I’m hungry for know all I can.
I’ve written before that a lot of what I make is very versatile and is often an amalgamation of what’s on hand or on sale. This soup – or stew really – certainly falls in this category. I made it on a Friday, after the week’s stock of groceries had dwindled down to a handful of fresh items. It includes several cupboard staples along with a spattering of more exotic ingredients which – yes – I do almost always have on hand, but if you don’t, that’s okay. This will still be delicious without saffron or fresh turmeric, just a little different. I used root vegetables, but greens, squash (summer or winter), or legumes would also be fantastic.
I love this soup as it hits so many things I love and value in a meal. Lots of healthful, colorful veggies, a kick of protein and fiber from the lentils and barley, disease fighting spices and zesty fresh lemon and herbs.
Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The medical community is just beginning to recognize and therefore debate the systemic role inflammation has on the body and the disease process. Seek out and use this knowledge at your own discretion. Saffron meanwhile is as renowned as it is exotic as it is expensive. Infamously worth it’s weight in gold some recent studies have found it to have significant anti-depression and anti-tumor potential. If Saffron is the cure to cancer, it will still be cheaper than the drugs currently in use.
Please taste along the way while you cook and make adjustments and notes as you do. The spices are the stars here and what you have on hand may not be the same was what I have in quality, freshness, and strength. Take a good whiff a few moments after you toss them onto the heat – it should have a wonderfully warm, fragrant, I’m sorry – almost indescribably spiced sent. If you’re not emotionally moved and lifted by the fragrance filing your kitchen and nares then your spices may be on the old side (more than one year? Time to toss.). Consider adding a few pinches more if you’re underwhelmed, or forge onward and allow some of the other highlights here (like fresh veggies or pesto) to have a bigger share of the spotlight.
I was planning to make socca to accompany this, but alas the weevils made the better of my chickpea flour, so Aaron picked up some seedy-crusty bread at the supermarket which was dipped and soaked just as well. Socca will be another time.
Serves 4 hearty servings … and leftovers. 30 minutes prep, 1 hour to cook.
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground ginger
1 t ground turmeric
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 t freshly ground coriander
S + P to taste
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 C veggie broth
½ C raisins
1 16oz can roasted tomatoes
Several carrots, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled, chopped
1/4 C lentils (I had green on hand, other varieties are fine too)
1/4 C par boiled Barley*
2 big handfuls of fresh parsley
lemon zest from a whole lemon and juice from half that lemon
1 small clove of garlic
Salt + Pepper
Yogurt to serve
I considered roasting the sweet potatoes and carrots before hand, but given this was a simple Friday meal, I wanted to limit time and dishes – but I think this would be great with roasted veggies! I’d follow the same directions as above but let lentils and barely cook until nearly done before adding the root vegetables, or used pre-cooked barely and lentils and just let everything simmer for 5 or 10 minutes to let flavors blend, then serve.
I love my dutch oven, but any heavy pot would do. Heat up a nice heavy pot over med-high heat. Add a good drizzle of olive oil (2 T), once warm (but not smoking) toss in the onion, cook for a few minutes until softened, add the spices, and cook for a few minutes more until wildly fragrant – careful not to burn them. Add the garlic, cook for about 30 seconds, add the sweet potato and carrots, toss. Add the hot broth and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook 5-10 minutes. Add the lentils and cook 5-10 minutes more. Add the barley and raisins and cook another 10 minutes. This should have all the respective components done at the same time. Taste throughout cooking and adjust flavors or cook time as needed.
Meanwhile prepare the pesto. Add parsley, garlic, lemon zest, S +P to a food processor. Pulse a couple times until chopped. Scrape sides then add the lemon juice and olive oil. pulse a few more times until combined. Taste. Fresh and zesty? Great!
Serve. Ladle stew into bowls, top with pesto and if wanted a dollop of yogurt. This Bulgarian kind is a great weakness of mine. I’ve found nothing to be it’s equal.
*I love these 10-minute grains from Trader joes. They’re par boiled so cook time is only ~10 minutes. If you don’t have or love a trader joes, pre-cooked barely could be tossed in toward the end, or pearled barley added quite early, but keep in mind it can take close to an hour to cook. Read package directions.