Our Christmas Day celebration is coming to a close on what was a bright and crisp day in Ireland. All my best wishes for health and happiness to you and your family for the holidays and 2015.
There is something about winter being just around the corner that makes me long for a generous bowl of steamy soup. You know, the kind that warms, fills and nourishes and needs little more than a slice of crusty bread drizzled in olive oil? I’m a big fan of soup. One of my favorite cookbooks is the Soup Kitchen, which gets used all year long as it’s filled with all kinds of yummy soup recipes. Having said that, when I want something simple and familiar (or I have vegetables in the fridge that need to be used), I reach for ingredients to make my “go-to” soup.
My Irish mother-in-law gave me the base recipe many years ago. When I asked her if she minded me sharing the recipe, she laughed, saying of course she didn’t and that it was my recipe now anyway. I guess she’s probably right given that when I went looking for the paper I wrote it on all those years ago (to “fact check” it before writing this post), I couldn’t find it in my recipe box. Truthfully, I make it often enough to remember it and so she is right. I even wonder if I ever wrote it down, but it doesn’t really matter because the basic recipe is pretty easy, flexible and the best part? My kids usually love it (disclaimer: note I say usually because for some reason they don’t love all vegetables equally). In any case, the base recipe makes enough to feed the four of us (two adults royally and two little people amply) and is exactly the kind of thick comforting soup that we crave as the days here in Amsterdam are at their shortest.
Irish Farmhouse Soup base recipe:
Makes about 1.5 liters of soup (the recipe can easily be doubled)
- 1 medium onion, chopped finely
- 1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 liter of vegetable stock
- 1 cup chopped potatoes (about 1 large or 2 medium)
- 3 cups chopped vegetable(s) of choice (we use one small roasted pumpkin as the kids like it)
- 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
- Pinch of flour
- Bay leaf
- Herbs of choice (for pumpkin soup, I add a few sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano and about 1” of fresh diced ginger)
- Heat oil into a heavy-bottomed pot, add fresh herbs, bay leaf, onions and garlic, cooking until onions and garlic are soft.
- Add a pinch of flour and stir until onions and garlic are coated.
- Add stock and chopped vegetables and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and boil for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Remove herb branches and bay leaf.
- Remove from heat and blend for a creamy and thick soup. If it’s thicker than you like, just add a bit of water or stock to thin it.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with crusty bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
Tip: If you’re in a rush, just chop the vegetables finely (dice) and they’ll cook much faster.
Another tip: My favorite way to roast pumpkin: Cut the pumpkin in half, scooping out seeds and slicing it into pumpkin “smiles”. Put them on a baking tray, coat thinly with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 200C/400F for about 20-25 minutes or until tender (test with a fork). Remove from the oven, let them cool and peel (skin should come off easily).
Certainly now more than at any other time of the year, with the bustle of the holidays upon us, we find ourselves in busy straits. For me, this means some shopping for gifts, but as a maker, it more often means that I over commit myself to many projects I naively think that I will accomplish easily between now and Christmas. Needless to say, this results in late nights and rushed making, which is not my favorite kind. I end up craving some kind of balance (and dark chocolate…in large quantities, but that’s another story altogether). I find balance to a large extent by approaching the holiday projects like I do those in my mending pile.
A few months ago, after coveting it from afar for too long, I broke down and finally got myself a subscription to Taproot Magazine. First I tried the American Book Center (trying to keep brick and mortar book shops in existence is a worthy cause after all), but unfortunately they didn’t sell it, so online I went and it was sorted. I started with the issue MEND, drawn to it by an article by Katrina Rodabaugh about mending, accompanied by beautiful images of mended jeans. I had started mending my own jeans a few years ago, fueled by necessity and inspired by images I’d seen on Pinterest, and I was hungry for more inspiration.
Shortly after, I was lucky enough to be part of an online class “Slow Fashion Style” given by Katrina. The magazine paired with the class were exactly the inspiration I needed, rekindling my slow fire and giving me plenty of creative inspiration and dreams of adopting Slow principles in more aspects of my life. There are all kinds of Slow movements going on out there and I can understand why. It speaks to me (and apparently many others) in a profound way. When I feel like the pace of my life is spiraling out of control, slowing down even a little bit creates more balance and balance is an awesome thing.
In my mind, the idea of Slow encompasses reflection, observation and connection. It doesn’t necessarily mean doing something at a slow pace (although feel free to do so if you can and want to), but aiming to take the stress (and speed) out of the act of making or doing or going by being mindful, observant and connected. I try to see a glimpse of beauty in all moments, but particularly in those where the opposite seems to apply when I approach them at full speed. A concrete example: yes, we’re late for swimming lessons (again) and I’m biking like mad to the pool with crying kids in the seats on the front and back of my bike, but, hey, doesn’t the wind feel nice on my face and aren’t the leaves on the trees particularly vibrant today? That simple act of observing and being mindful of my surroundings allows my heart rate to slow down and brings me just a bit more balance, which is a good feeling…very good in fact.
I find that this feeling easily translates to the act of mending, an act which forces me to focus, again being mindful and observant. I think about what I’m working on, where it came from and who made it, what it’s been through, the simple act of repairing a hole, lengthening or shortening a pair of pants, reattaching a button giving me space to think about and appreciate the person I’m mending for. I find connection. Approaching the gift making in the same way brings thoughts of beautiful meals cooked using an apron or oven mitts created by my hands or lovely sweaters, scarves and blankets knit from yarn nestled happily in a bag I’ve crafted for someone I love. In the end, I make what I can and try to accept my limitations. There are alternatives – supporting other makers, for example. Similarly, my mending pile waxes and wanes and I try not to stress about it. As long as my husband and I have a couple pairs of jeans to wear and my children have pants that cover their ankles and some shirts they haven’t popped the buttons off of, there is no stress…only paying attention to the love I put into the simple act with my thread and needle.