Wild rice soup

I got to thinking about wild rice because I’ve been working on a novel about the Canadian fur trade, which was heavily dependent on the native peoples for pemmican (dried buffalo meat pounded with fat and dried berries) and wild rice, the diet upon which wintering traders depended. The wild rice was harvested by taking a slow canoe along the edges of rivers and streams, shaking the rice into the bottom of the canoe as one went. And that sounds picturesque and wholesome, so I wanted to cook some.

By itself, it’s nutty and chewy. Not bad, if you have some salt, and especially if you have a little fat with it too. But it bothers Sparks’ tummy and the kid won’t eat black food, so it was hard to get through a batch by myself. Thus: wild rice soup, my way. Lemony. Peppery. Full of herbs.

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Flipping through the internet, it seems like most wild rice soups are essentially chowders, built on white sauce. That sounds yummy, but I have psychological issues around eating bowls full of white sauce, so I wanted to lighten mine up. I wanted it to be opaque and rich, but also very much liquid, if you get my meaning. So. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

WILD RICE SOUP

Wild rice: pre-cooked, 1 cup dry measure. You cook it by boiling it in a lot of water for 45-60 minutes, then draining. As you’ll see later in this recipe, letting the rice suck up the soup broth is part of the *thing* here, so don’t worry if the rice is a little under.

Once you have your rice cooked, chop and saute 1 large onion and 2 large carrots, or the equivalent, in about a tablespoon of oil until the onions are translucent.

Here comes the white sauce part: add 4 tablespoons butter, let it melt, then sprinkle 1/3 cup AP flour on everything and mix it up. Then add 8 cups of liquid, composed of at least 4 cups chicken broth (I use Knorr Chicken Powder to make mine) and up to 4 cups milk (I used 2 cups milk, and therefore 6 cups broth). Add a splash of heavy cream: anywhere up to a cup, depending on how rich you want this.

Now let it come to a boil, so it thickens for you. While it does that, you can entertain yourself by adding 2 T dried parsley, 1 t dried thyme, salt to taste, black pepper to taste (and this needs quite a lot of black pepper to taste right–I did two “grind until I’m sick of grinding” sessions), and the juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lemon.

The broth won’t be awfully thick, just thicker than water, if you get my meaning. When it’s boiling, add your cooked wild rice as well as any bits of leftover cooked chicken, turkey, or pork that are seeming dry and unappetizing. This is a great way to use them up.

At this point, you can eat the soup. But because this is a great big pot of soup you probably aren’t going to eat it all right away…and this is when the magic happens.

The wild rice will suck up almost all the broth, leaving you with something that’s less a soup than a savory porridge. And it is delightful, and that’s what is pictured at the beginning of this entry.

Do try it. It’s low glycemic index, surprisingly filling, and soooooooooooo soothing.

Albuquerque

I don’t think I’ve said that my parents moved to Albuquerque.

My parents moved to Albuquerque. We visited them over Christmas, and will go again in the summer. It was Pookie’s first plane ride. What a change for everyone!

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Gardening

Frustration is running high these days. It might be the long, dark, wet PNW winter, but I feel like I’m struggling with a sense of self and purpose. (Or it might, you know, be the whole writing career still being a non-starter, but no one here wants to hear about that, least of all me). Kiddo is in school all day most days, so what do I do with myself?

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Sparks, meanwhile, is worried about pruning things. Spring here comes like a beast let out of a cage. Everyone needs allergy medicine, and the plants–which never go dormant because the winters are so mild, you understand–jump into bloom and bud and stretch out their ever-lengthening tendrils with alarming speed. On our property we have a forest of Scotch broom that needs to be cut down, stands of crack willow that need to be managed before they, well, crack, blackberry patches that are very much appreciated but which need to be managed on a Feed Me, Seymour level, and an apple tree that was badly in need of attention.

So. Chainsaw, pole pruner, pruning saw, machete, bill hook…whatever it takes. And Sparks wanted guidance on what to do with that poor apple tree, because we love it and it treated us well last year, so we want to take care of it.

He began to watch Gardener’s World on YouTube for advice.

He liked it. He told me about it. He dialed up an episode for our evening TV viewing one evening.

And that, boys and girls, was how it began.

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We’re now watching it every night–and coming perilously close to running out of episodes, because only 2015 and 2016 are on YouTube–and I fancy myself an adventurous gardener. We’ve bought a little plastic-covered greenhouse and some fleece tunnels, set up a potting bench beside the barn, and away I go.

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Can I talk about Monty Don for a minute? Let me talk about Monty Don for a minute. He’s the host of Gardener’s World, and besides being a total badass in the garden, he tells you how to do things on the cheap. I absolutely love how he tells you where and how to economize at every opportunity. “Dig a trench and fill the bottom with as much sharp sand and horticultural grit as you can afford…” “I’m cushioning this pond liner with some bits of leftover carpet padding and an old blanket…” “Bare root plants are just as good, and much cheaper…” “Now is the time to take cuttings of XYZ, so you have free plants next year.”

And so I put in an order for seeds for a lot of perennial flowers that I would usually buy as potted plants. $25, and if they grow, it’ll be $700-$800 worth of plants. Where plants tempt me in the garden center, I am buying one and taking cuttings. Besides trays of seedlings, the greenhouse is full of pots with twigs of rosemary, lavender, sage, and roses sticking out of them. And bare root plants! I’ve always bought bare root plants, stuck them in the garden, and never seen them again. This year I have put them in pots in the greenhouse, and while the dahlias and bleeding heart are still AWOL, the hostas and peonies are coming up. SO MUCH CHEAPER THAN BUYING POTTED PLANTS!!!

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Anyway, I’m keeping myself busy while I wait for the weather to warm up. Frost-free date here is April 15. I’m stoked.

Sesame brittle

A while back one of Sparks’ friends, who was in the area on business, spent the weekend with us. It was a total guy’s-fest, and I was left to cook and clean in the house with the kid, which I guess is what you do sometimes when you manage a household and love your spouse and want him to have a social life. But at the end of the weekend I got hugs and thanks and, as a token gift, some of his birthday chocolate. It happened to be a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate bar with toasted sesame crunch in it.

Yowza. Sweets with nuts and seeds get me at a primal level. Add it to chocolate? And toast it? Ay carumba.

So I have had sesame brittle on the brain, and a few days ago I did something about it.

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My fingertips have been crazy dry. They are even cracking. If you have advice about what to do, please share.

Recipes for sesame brittle are numerous on the internet. They all agree that you need

1. Sesame seeds
2. Sugar
3. Honey
4. Water

After that, they branch out. Many call for butter to enrich the brittle, for baking soda to lighten it, for salt to give it sparkle, or for vanilla and nutmeg just because.

I am a purist–and I have vague memories of regretting butter in brittle in the past–so I decided to go simple. The only extra I added was salt, because I value salt in my sweets. I used approximately:

1.5 cups sesame seeds
1.25 cup white sugar
1 cup water
.33 cup raw honey

This was too much water, I think. When you cook sugar the beginning part is about cooking the water away, so really you only need to add enough water to dissolve the sugar in the first place. I think half a cup would do fine for these proportions–and save me about fifteen minutes standing by the stove.

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I toasted the sesame seeds in a dry skillet first. I’m pretty sure this was unnecessary, because they toast in the hot sugar while you’re waiting for Hard Crack. In any case, my brittle is super-toasty.

So: put it all in a pan over medium heat (if you’re adding any of the extras, besides salt, wait to put those in at the end). If you have a candy thermometer, clip it to the side. Cook until the thermometer is between 275F and 300F, or the mixture is rapidly darkening past “caramel” and into “amber”. Then pour it onto a silicone baking mat and let cool.

I’m so proud of myself when I manage to make candy and it turns out the way I intended. It doesn’t happen all the time, you know?

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Internet recipes say that when the mixture is cool, you should cut it with a knife. It is to laugh. I had to go at this with my meat tenderizing hammer. It helped to turn the sheet of candy upside down, so its perfectly flat side wasn’t against the perfectly flat tray while I did it. Helped with breakage and stuff.

Conclusion: it’s good. Burnt and sugary and reeking of toasted sesame. I don’t think I need any of the extras here–though a richer brittle is nice for richer seeds, like peanuts.

As Mimi would say, this recipe gets all ten fingers up.

Six

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Pookie turned six last week (and I am thirty-six, which means the kids graduating from high school this spring were BORN the spring I graduated from high school, and oy vey). She had her first real birthday party since birthday #1, with friends and a pinata and tie-dye colored birthday cake.

Not sure how to process the whole “six years old” thing. I mean, that’s where early childhood is really left behind, isn’t it? Though in a way our move out west was the watershed. Back there, we had diapers and sleepless nights and milestones and endless, undifferentiated days with each other. Out here she’s gone to preschool and now kindergarten, learned to get herself a bowl of cereal or a cup of water, learned to operate the TV (so important!), to count and write and even read a little. In a real way, the early childhood years ended almost two years ago.

But I digress. At six years old Pookie can put together a large, complicated Lego set all by herself. She can count by ones, fives, and tens. She can write me notes in wonderfully phonetic spelling, and read signs with uncanny accuracy. She sings and draws and dances, does “parkour” and sleeps with a growing collection of stuffed animals that include a narwhal, an orca, a cheetah, a cat, two frogs and the rooster Heihei from Moana. She is, as ever, smarter than me and wiser than me. This child is an old soul…which I knew right from the start. She is astonishing.

Love you to the moon and back, Pookie. I’m so looking forward to where childhood takes us.

Soggariffic

November and December were unusually dry and unusually cold. Two days ago that spell snapped. It’s warmer now, and has been dumping rain. This is what it was like all winter, last winter. At this time of year I spend a lot of time thinking about Seamus Heaney’s bog poems, and especially Bogland, and especially the final line: the wet centre is bottomless. I understand what he means.

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Scandinavian refugee grocery

Mimi has three Mondays off school in the month of January, and today was of course one of them. Long weekends mean 50% more entertaining-of-the-child, so today we made the best of it and visited Poulsbo, an ex-Norwegian enclave on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Poulsbo’s Norwegian roots are legit. The town was Norwegian-speaking until WWII and still today has a notable number of surnames ending with -sson as well as the tallest people I’ve ever encountered, anywhere.

No surprise that there is a grocery to cater to them. This place is amazing. I am used to seeing down-to-business Asian markets; every town of any size has them. To see the same sort of thing filled with Scandinavian/Nordic fare, though? Bizarre. Start by imagining Dollar General. Now imagine it’s 1959 in a remote Norwegian fishing village. There you go. I say this with the utmost affection, by the way. I am 4.3% Scandinavian by heritage.

It’s good for a thorough poke-around every couple months, and we have developed a taste for gjetost. But I digress.

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The produce section. Apples, carrots, beets, celery root, and rutabaga.

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The bottled fish aisle. Want lutefisk? They’ve got it. The pub around the corner sells lutefisk tacos.

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The cheese aisle. I thought I was getting the tinned butter in here, but apparently not. Today they were out of Natural Viking cheese, which is my favorite. I know I like MY Vikings natural, don’t you?

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The licorice aisle.

I understand that much of northern Europe loves this stuff.

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The pickle aisle. Because they can pickle that.

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I can’t exploit a store this way without buying something (especially not when a clerk catches me mid-snapshot and pointedly asks if I’m finding everything), so I bought some licorice. I’m 25% Dutch so I figured it should be at least 25% enjoyable.

It was not as bad as the black “licorice” jellybeans of my childhood.