Happy Thanksgiving!

For everything I am grateful for today (and a reminder to myself to be thankful for all those things more often) I want to share a happy Thanksgiving with all of you. I hope you all found yourself with good food and in good company today!

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My contribution to today’s meal, delicious bread that weighs 10 pounds.

 

Soup season, take two

And so begins the Week of All Food, Thanksgiving week. The only holiday dedicated solely to cooking and eating (and appreciating the people you cook and eat with) is on Thursday and, as you would expect, I’m super excited and have all sorts of capital-P Plans. But since I know the latter half of this week will be overflowing with treats in all forms, savory and sweet, better to start the week with something light.

Carrot-Ginger-Miso Soup

I’ve already mentioned that soup is one of my favorite dishes this time of year, and this particular one is just so good for so many occasions. Feeling like you’ve over-indulged in all that fall and winter have to offer (or know you’re about to)? This is substantial enough to satisfy, but won’t make you feel like taking a four hour nap after one bowl. Coming down with a bug and not in the mood for chicken soup? Copious amounts of ginger, garlic, and carrot are all fantastic for fighting whatever ails you. Or simply feeling especially virtuous? You will feel like a saint when you pull this out of your bag for lunch.

Carrot-Ginger-Miso Soup and dumplingsCarrot-Ginger-Miso Soup

And now, a bit of a diversion–I was lucky enough to meet Deb Perelman who writes the Smitten Kitchen food blog (the source for this particular recipe) on Sunday, and it was amazing. Rare, perfect mid-November weather in Chicago, one of my favorite neighborhoods, awesome indie bookstore, and great company with the friend who introduced me to the Smitten Kitchen blog (thank you again Katherine!). Could it get much better? Turns out, yes!

Deb was, as expected, incredibly kind and generous to the huge crowd of people anxious to meet her, taking a few minutes to talk to everyone. And personally, when I mentioned that she inspired me to set up shop in this little corner of the internet and told her the name of the blog, she asked if I commented on her site because the name sounded familiar. Oh yes. This blog sounded familiar to Deb Perelman. Shut the doors, turn off the lights, we’re done here because it can’t get better than that.

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Muffin, muffin, who’s got the muffin?

If I’m being honest, I’m really not a huge fan of sweets. I love to bake them for others, but given the choice between a cookie and a bag of chips, I’ll choose the chips three times out of four. But on that fourth time, I want something just sweet enough to satisfy the craving without going overboard.

Peeking

More often than not, this craving starts nagging in my ear about mid-morning (especially on days I’ve skipped breakfast, shame on me). So I go against my better judgement and stop by one of the ubiquitous coffee/bakeshops near my office and buy a muffin. I don’t know why, I always regret it: it’s a cupcake in everything but name, too sweet, too dense, too sticky (I really hate when the outsides stick to my fingers), too big, just too much.

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Hugs in a bowl

Fair warning–if I had to pick one type of dish to eat for the next four months, it would be soup, hands down.

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Soup is so much more than the sum of its parts: water; bits and pieces of vegetables and herbs; maybe a little meat for flavor and richness; maybe some grains, beans, or noodles for heft. Those are the basic ingredients, but the end result is soul-satisfying like no other: it’s curling under a blanket with a warm bowl in your hands, inhaling the rising steam while the wind howls past the window; it’s dipping the golden corner of a gooey grilled cheese into the unmistakable reddish-orange creaminess of tomato soup; it’s essentially a big hug in a bowl.

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I love making a huge pot of steamy, simmering delicousness on Sunday and not having to think about cooking dinner or packing a lunch for at least three days. I love how soup warms me up from the inside out; allows me to satisfy my carb cravings with a hefty slice of bread and salty butter, fluffy dumplings, or a perfect grilled cheese; keeps my hands toasty warm as I wrap my fingers around the bowl. No other single dish can do all of those things the way soup can.

I have two soups in the queue to share, the first stick-to-your-ribs rich, the other equally satisfying but a perfect prescription for when I start to feel like I’ve over-indulged a bit and need a reset.

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This first soup is one of those great freezer-clearing recipes that uses up whatever vegetable odds and ens you have around, adds some incredibly flavorful but inexpensive cuts of meat, and finishes by cooking the grains in the broth, leading to a soup that’s creamy and pretty much defines stick-to-your-ribs. It makes enough to satisfy a crowd but the ingredients are about as humble as they get.

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So with the first snow in Chicago appearing this week, I’m grabbing my favorite cozy blanket, my biggest stock pot, and cooking up some comfort in a bowl–how about you?

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The butcher, the baker…

My mom said the kindest thing to me the other day while she was listening to me gripe about a recipe that was not working out. She said I reminded her of my great-grandmother, a woman who was always experimenting in the kitchen and would just shrug and move on if something didn’t work out (or was even truly awful).

Great grandma's bread

That comment made me think about family and food and memories—and this blog, which just passed 10,000 pageviews after 7 months (excuse for a mini dance party? I think so). How do you remember the people in your life, especially ones who are gone–pictures, mementos, stories? The more I write this blog, the more I realize how inextricably my memories of people are tied to food, the making or the sharing, and that is no truer than when it comes to my great-grandmother, Stella Kisilewicz.

Great grandma's bread

Butter?

Great grandma's bread

Or jam?

A baker by trade—she and my great-grandfather owned a corner store in Cleveland—the clearest memories I have of my great-grandmother are of the things she made, especially her chrusciki (fried dough bowties, dusted with powdered sugar) and her sweet bread with streusel.

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My great-grandfather outside their shop in Cleveland

I’m not the only one—I’ve heard my mom talk more than a few times about the soft-boiled eggs my great-grandma used to serve in tiny egg cups with tiny spoons, her beet soup, her prune paczkis. The apple pancakes I made recently prompted the sweetest comment from my grandma who remembered the apple donuts she used to make when my grandma was growing up.

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Anxious for beet soup

While I loved her chrusciki, my great-grandma’s bread was something extra special; it wasn’t super sweet, just rich enough to be counted as a treat, and it would be the lucky person who got one of the coveted end pieces with the extra sugary bits. I remember my grandma slicing me a piece and adding a healthy smear of butter as I sat at the kitchen table, listening to family chit-chat between my mom, grandparents, great-grandparents, and whichever other aunts and uncles were around.

Great grandma's bread

A few years ago I copied down her bread recipe from a notecard in my mom’s stack of clippings. It’s one of those recipes that’s so clearly from a lifelong baker, one who cooked by taste and feel rather than by a list of fixed ingredients and measurements. Some ingredients are missing amounts, ingredients are mentioned in the instructions that are nowhere in the ingredient list, some components are missing altogether. And, as is customary for my mom’s side of the family, it makes SO MUCH FOOD—three loaves to be exact.

Great grandma's breadGreat grandma's bread

The thing I love about recipes like this, though, is the conversation they create. Looking over the recipe, I called my mom to ask her a question, leading to a call to my grandma for more details. While I was kneading the dough, I considered how lucky I am to have the family I do—both my mom’s side and my dad’s side—and the traditions we share. My great-grandma has been gone for twelve years, but by making her bread, by calling my mom and my grandma for advice, I felt connected to her. I thought of her and her amazing hats, the love she clearly had for her family. And I felt sad that, quite honestly, I never really got to know her as well as I should have in hindsight, to hear her stories, to see her in action in the kitchen.

Great grandma's bread

But I could do this, now. I could mix milk, eggs, butter, flour, yeast, sugar with intention and mindfulness for the traditions I’ve inherited. And more than a little respect for the many, many (many!) years my great-grandmother put into her baking–this bread was hard! I failed completely on my first batch when it deflated like a balloon, and only counted the second as a marginal success–tasty (and oh-so-good toasted with butter or jam), but not what I remember.

Great grandma's bread

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up in just a few weeks, I hope you all have a chance to take a moment and give thanks for your family’s unique food memories. Whether they involve from-scratch bread, a cookie that only one person in your family could ever make “right,” or even just a once-a-week treat of eating delivery pizza in front of the tv to watch Friends, these memories are special and, at least for me, are integral to the person I am now.

Great-grandparents

I imagine my great-grandmother felt much the same sense of joy as she shared her passion for food with her family, friends, neighbors, community as I feel sharing my discoveries here with all of you. I’m looking forward to sharing more.

Great grandma's bread

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