It took until just a couple weeks ago, but it is finally (mostly) super cold in New York (though significantly worse in Michigan last weekend, yikes). Not that I’m saying this is a good thing; winter is easily my least favorite season, except for the fact that I can comfortably use my oven and also make and eat soup all. the. time. I adapted this recipe from David’s stepmom, and the original is an award winner (at the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival many years ago, and still talked about all the time!); this version is vegan, and it was served at last month’s Supper Studio dinner with Brooklyn psych-pop band TEEN.
Greek lemon rice soup, aka avgolemeno
I can’t count the number of times I have gushed about Anaïs Mitchell‘s 2010 album Hadestown, a folk opera that tells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in a post-apocalyptic American depression town. It started as a stage production in Mitchell’s native Vermont in 2005, but in 2010 she released it as record with a stellar lineup of singers voicing the characters, most notably Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as Orpheus, Mitchell herself as Eurydice, folk legend Greg Brown as Hades, king of the Underworld, and Ani DiFranco as his wife Persephone. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s come to mind quite a bit during this election season — I wrote about it in this funny debate-related piece I helped plan and write for eMusic, but thought it’d also be fitting here.
Mitchell’s version of the myth speaks to our less-than-stellar economy and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Hades wants to build a wall to keep the poor out; in the song “Why We Build the Wall,” he sings, “Because we have and they have not… Because they want what we have got,” and later, “We have work and they have none.” Gotta love the 1 percent, huh? (When I saw Mitchell and the “Hadestown Orchestra” perform this last year, she led everyone on a march to Washington Square singing protest songs.) Eurydice and her soon-to-be-husband Orpheus are on the outside of the wall, and in the album opener “Wedding Song,” Eurydice asks where they’ll get wedding bands, a table to eat from and so on, and Orpheus answers that they’ll use what they have and the earth will provide.
I paired the record with a Greek lemon rice soup (aka avgolemeno); obviously there’s the Greek aspect, but there’s also the fact that soups can often be made with whatever you have lying around. They also feed a lot of people for typically not a lot of money — certainly valuable when you’re out of work. My own experience with lemon rice soup is from Coney Island restaurants in the Detroit suburbs, where I grew up. For the uninitiated: Coneys, essentially, are Greek diners, and the signature dish is a “coney dog,” a chili-topped hot dog. I say “Greek diner” liberally — there are some Greek dishes on the menu, but they’re pretty Americanized. Hadestown is based on a Greek myth, but set in an American town, so I think this is fitting: I have to imagine this version of the dish is quite traditional, but the important part is that it’s definitely more so than the bright yellow (but delicious) stuff I grew up on.
Tomato soup with an apple-cheddar grilled cheese sandwich (recipe here)
Joni Mitchell will forever be one of my all-time favorite artists, and while there is always at least one song of hers that’s fitting for any given season or mood, I associate her most closely with fall and winter (and not only because of the song “River”). In “Urge for Going,” a song she wrote in 1966, she sings about the year’s first frost swallowing up the summer (“I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town/ It hovered in a frozen sky and it gobbled summer down”).
It’s sorta perfect for New York’s weather right now, since we’ve had small tastes of winter throughout the last couple weeks, and now we have what I expect is our final run of nice weather before winter swallows it up for good. And when that happens, I’ll want to crawl under my covers and escape. But since I won’t actually be able to do that (I’m going to Chicago next month; certainly not a warm-weather getaway), sitting at home with a warm bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich will have to serve as my “escape” for now, or at least my way to make the weather more bearable. In college, my friend Julie and I would stop at The Dairy Store for lunch in between classes, which was particularly rewarding in the winter: On Mondays we could get a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup for just $2.10, and it instantly made us forget about the slush we had just trekked through.
Spicy pumpkin soup (recipe here)
Last Saturday after a super-short trip to Michigan, I was welcomed back to LaGuardia with snow. Snow! On October 29! Of course, it was the kind of snow that hit the ground and instantly turned to slush. And I couldn’t help but think of Mirah‘s song “Make It Hot” because of the lyric “The snow falls/ The snow’s all ugly/ When it hits the street,” and also “While We Have The Sun” (“Let’s take the time to walk together while we have the sun/ You never know when temperamental weather’s gonna come”). So, I made a spicy pumpkin soup to warm up from this grossness (thankfully, it’s mostly gone now); the peppers are to “make it hot” and the base is pumpkin because the snow came right in time for Halloween. There’s also some coconut milk in there for the sweetness in Mirah’s voice and her music in general.
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Apple and broccoli soup (recipe here)
I’ve said it before, but what I miss most about the Midwest in the fall is apple orchards and cider mills. I remember school apple-picking field trips as far back as preschool (the photo to the right is of my sister circa 1991-92): taking a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the orchard, getting dropped off near sectioned-off area for different varieties of apples, then eating them right off the tree as we filled our bags.
There are a couple songs on Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues with references to apple orchards: In the title track, Robin Pecknold sings, “If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m raw/ If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore,” and in “The Shrine/An Argument,” it’s “Apples in the summer are cold and sweet” and later in the song “Green apples hang from my tree/ They belong only to me.” But quite a few parts of the album make me think about my childhood besides just the references to apples. The album opens with, “So now I am older/ Than my mother and father, when they had their daughter/ Now what does that say about me?” And then in the title track, Pecknold sings, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique/ Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see/ And now after some thinking I’d say I’d rather be/ A functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me,” and then he goes on to say he doesn’t know yet what exactly that will be or where he’ll end up. Something like this was mentioned in the recent New York Magazine cover story about today’s 20-somethings — like Pecknold and myself — and I know a ton of us can relate in that we’re all trying to figure out where we’re supposed to be in the world and what our bigger purpose is. We’re remembering that we were always told we’re special and can do big things with our lives, and sometimes realizing that that might mean contributing to a bigger project or cause rather than simply working toward what we want on our own.
So, the food: My best friend Jenni came to visit a couple weeks ago, and even though our plans to actually go apple-picking fell through, we decided to go forward with the apple-themed dinner we’d planned. I wouldn’t say we worked till we were sore, like in the song, but we certainly worked hard: apple-honey challah, salad, apple-pear crisp, and this soup as the main dish. Fleet Foxes are the ultimate fall band, and my falls are typically all soup all the time, so that part was easy. You’re probably thinking broccoli and apple sounds like a strange combination, or assuming that this is a sweet dish — but it’s actually mostly savory and the apples add just a touch of sweetness (and I’d consider most of Fleet Foxes’ music savory, but with sweetness in the harmonies). The apples are roasted in olive oil, thyme, sage, salt and pepper — definitely not your typical cinnamon and nutmeg. And, the soup is vegan since Pecknold is, too.
Photos by Amy Davis
Sweet potato corn chowder (recipe here)
One of my favorite musical discoveries last year was Lost in the Trees, a classical-inspired folk group from North Carolina. Their most recent album All Alone in an Empty House is sad and beautiful, telling the somewhat autobiographical story of frontman Ari Picker’s family. There’s death, fighting, pain and depression, but also hope. It’s a warm, comforting album perfect for fall, and perfect for healing (this, perhaps unsurprisingly, is likely going to be a theme with most fall music featured here). In the album’s centerpiece, “Fireplace,” the shouted chorus goes, “So surround yourself with good people/ I know it’s painful but we can stand.”
I chose soup because, well, as far as I’m concerned, soup heals everything. But it’s also an ideal dish for big gatherings/communal eating in general: sharing with other people and being together in both good and not-so-good times. As for the flavor, the sweet potatoes and corn are for the band’s southern roots and comfort food in general. (Sidenote: While thinking about corn, autumn, and being “lost in” anything, I couldn’t help but remember the time my cousin and I got lost in a cornfield in northern Michigan when we were toddlers.)
This is easily one of my favorite soups I have ever made; it’s sweet and savory, and can be eaten warm or cold (I prefer it warm, but a friend at work loved it cold). However you eat it, though, I can tell you this stuff was amazing. I said soup is great for sharing, and this one was tasted by my roommates, my friend Amy (who took the accompanying photos), and three coworkers — and they all approved. This soup requires quite a bit of veggie prep work, but it’s well worth it, I promise.
Confession: I made this dish a couple weeks ago, one of the last posts conceived in my old kitchen, because I moved last weekend! Apologies for the lack of posts in the last couple weeks — between traveling to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding, packing up my apartment and moving, and my 17-year-old brother coming to visit this weekend, blogging has sort of taken a backseat (but not for long, I promise!).
Simple tomato gazpacho (recipe at the bottom)
It has been hotter than hell in the city, which has made the thought of cooking quite unappealing. Standing over a stove or in front of an oven? In a sauna? No, thank you. (OK, so I’ve still had to do it a bit anyway; but it’s awful.) So I made gazpacho, cold soup that doesn’t require any cooking. To go with it, check out a few summery songs I’ve heard recently — maybe they’ll make you forget about the heat for a little while?