Soup Makes Friends

“Ginger tea makes friends.” ~James Barber

James Barber, the Urban Peasant, got it right. Sharing a hot pot of ginger tea draws people in and opens conversations. A lovely way to make new acquaintances.

For me it was soup.

Last year our son’s elementary school was soliciting silent auction items for a fundraiser. When schools are on the crackdown for cash, they’re pretty happy about any kind of donation: food, gift certificates for stores, services, restaurants. I don’t like canvassing for donations so I couldn’t see myself doing that. I had squeezed out a few knitted items to donate. I desperately wanted to donate something unique, creative and meaningful. Then I came up with an idea for a personal service: The Soup of the Month Club.

For one year, I would deliver soup once a month to the Soup of the Month Club household. It would be made entirely from scratch and catered to the food preferences of the recipients using seasonal, local ingredients whenever possible. In our fast-paced, busy lives, it’s hard to find time to slow down, cook and share a meal. I wanted to create a time, even though it would be only once a month, where parents wouldn’t have to worry about what to make for dinner and the family could sit down, share a nourishing meal and build community around the table.

So I submitted my auction item, not knowing if anyone would be interested since it’s not the run-of-the-mill donation. I was pleased that there were bidders! The winning bid was made by a family of four who lives just a few blocks away.

I was ecstatic that I was able to help the school raise some funds and that I could provide a family in our own neighbourhood with a nutritious meal once a month. Little did I know that our family would be forging a strong relationship with this family.

Over the year we’ve come to know and love the family I supplied soup to. I’ve discovered that we’re on the same wavelength about a lot of parenting, community and food issues. At the kitchen table, we’ve shared many a deep conversation about community building, politics and of course, food. And we’ve shared many, many laughs.

Amazing what kinds of friends you can make with a few pots of soup.

(The weather this June, as well as last June, has been dismal. One shouldn’t be making wintery soup at this time of year. But you just can’t help it.)

June Soup of the Month: Lentil Soup
2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium potatoes, diced
4 medium carrots, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
1 1/2 cups mixed lentils, rinsed
6 cups broth
2 cups water
2/3 cup puréed tomato
6 stems thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper
A handful of parsley, chopped

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat, add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant.
Add potatoes, carrots and celery and sauté for a few minutes.
Add lentils, broth, water, tomato purée, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until lentils are soft and veggies are tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Add a bit of water or broth if the soup thickens too much.
Fish out the thyme and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with a good sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Makes about 8 servings

“I don’t like salmon.”

“I don’t like salmon.” 

I look up from the book I am reading and glare across the table at Roland. “What do you mean you don’t like salmon?”

“I don’t like it. It’s flavourless. It’s dry. I only like canned salmon.”

For a moment I thought I had fallen in love with the wrong man. Almost the same sinking feeling I had when, once upon a time, I was in a long-term relationship with a guy that didn’t like garlic.

“Oh, you just haven’t had GOOD salmon cooked PROPERLY,” I remedied.
 How could a fish eater not love salmon? It bursts with flavour (compared to mild white fish like sole or cod). It’s tender and moist (when you don’t overcook it). It’s sustainable and local and exceedingly healthy. The best way to turn things around was to cook it often and cook it well.

Over the years, I’ve cooked salmon in countless ways: steamed, grilled, roasted, poached, chowdered, in fishcakes. With and without sauce. Hot and cold. You name it. I’ve managed to wear Roland down and his appreciation for salmon has increased considerably.

You can imagine my surprise when one drizzly, early Spring morning at the Farmers Market, he handed me a brochure. “I think we should join.” It was for a community supported fishery for local, wild salmon.

“I thought you didn’t like salmon!” I blurted aghast.

“Well, I don’t like it much but this is such a good idea. I guess I could learn to like salmon more.”

A good idea indeed. Community supported agriculture is based on a model where farmers or food producers are paid at the beginning of a season so that they can invest the money into their food production, whether it’s for their farm or in this case, to outfit a fisherman’s boat and equipment. This guarantees some income security and that they are paid fairly for their food. What share members get is an entire season of fresh, local, sustainable food and knowledge of exactly how and where their food is produced or procured. A win-win situation for producers and consumers.

We took the brochure home, thought about it for a day and hardly hesitated to sign up. I had been wanting to include more fish in our diet, especially a fatty fish like salmon that includes high amounts of brain and heart healthy omega-3’s. What often held me back from buying more fish, though, was not knowing exactly where and how it was caught. Now I would know that ethically, this salmon would be caught sustainably and would not deplete delicate fish stocks.

When we got our first e-mail that the boat was going out and we’d soon be getting our first salmon of the season, we paced and anticipated as though we were waiting for the birth of a baby. When our pick up day finally rolled around we piled into the car and hurried to the dock. We beamed as we picked out our first CSF sockeye. The boy posed with the gleaming fish more than half his height. I posed with my lips ready and puckered to kiss the fish. We were ecstatic to support a fisherman who is doing his best to make a living by fishing sustainably to feed others.

We rushed home to quickly cut the salmon into steaks and steep it in a gingery, sweet, savoury marinade before gently grilling it. We sat down to a memorable, delicious dinner knowing that all in the food chain was well.

“I like salmon now. Really, I do.”

Spicy Glazed Salmon
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, about a 1″ cube
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
1 lb. salmon steaks or fillets

In a shallow dish, combine ginger, garlic, honey or maple syrup, soy sauce and chipotle. Stir well to combine.
Coat salmon pieces with marinade and let rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
Grill salmon over medium-high heat until done to your liking, about 4 minutes each side. Alternatively, roast the salmon in a preheated 450 degree F oven for 10 minutes for every inch of fish.

Makes 4 servings

Flemish Asparagus and a Glass of Cava

There are celebrities, then there are celebrities. Real celebrities. The people in your life that are not necessarily famous but shine brighter than any Hollywood star. I’m lucky to have folks like that in my life. People I can embrace and soak in all their generous energy and grace.

My sister-in-law is one of those celebrities. She’s one of those people that gives endlessly, asks for little and is grateful for every moment. A true star in every sense. Because we don’t live in the same city, time with her is precious and we can never have enough time to fit in all the things we want to do together.

We did, however, have a chance to sit down to lunch late last spring…in Antwerp. Belgium. Two sisters who live a continent and an ocean apart. How often does this opportunity arise? We had to celebrate with a plate of Flemish asparagus and a rosy glass of cava. Perfect food for celebrities.

Flemish Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
2 hard cooked eggs, finely chopped
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 or 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Salt, pepper

Lightly steam asparagus to your liking. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on white asparagus, you’ll need to cook them longer until they’re very tender.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low to medium heat. 
Once your asparagus is plated, add the hard cooked eggs to the butter and warm gently. Season the butter mixture with parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Adorn the asparagus generously with the egg and butter sauce, garnish with paprika if you like and serve right away. Cava optional but highly recommended.

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side dish