For Bailey

Roasted Tomato-Squash Soup

In Minneapolis our farmer’s market runs every day into October. This is lucky for me, because I’m always working when the huge weekend markets happen. Instead I make my way there on a Monday or Wednesday morning, armed with small amounts of cash and huge amounts of curiosity. There are only a handful of stalls that come to the weekday market. It’s a different crowd. There are less children, no musicians, more old ladies. There are no yuppies browsing for jewel-like strawberries and musicians playing for tips. There’s dirty tomatoes for sale by the bushel and working class families filling their bags with cheap, readily available food. It’s farmer’s markets without the glamour and democratized. It’s a scene I dig.

I buy aggressively and then come home, floored with all my abundance. What, exactly, should I do with the eight eggplant I had to snatch up? (Please tell me if you have any ideas. Please.) And why did I buy butternut squash when my garden is still producing summer squash? And will I be able to work through the pounds upon pounds of Roma tomatoes that I fell in lust at first sight with before they start to wrinkle and sag?

I have two fail-safe ways of dealing with a glut of food. First, break things down right away. While I don’t always get there as quickly as I wish (hello, eggplant), plants take up way too much space in my fridge to store them in their original casings for long. I strip greens of their stems, boil new potatoes after washing them, and in this case, roast Roma tomatoes down until they are charred and smokey and full of flavor. And after that’s accomplished I text some friends and invite them over for dinner, because I can’t think of any food that doesn’t taste better with with great company.

This recipe is here for my lovely friend Bailey, who requested it after I served it for dinner. We ate it with a tomato salad sprinkled with mozzarella and torn prosciutto, focaccia, and these fudgy brownies and washed the whole thing down with beer and scotch. It was a gloriously mismatched pairing and the kind of nights that make you grateful- for good friends, for hard working farmers, and for butternut squash in August.

Smokey Squash-Tomato Soup

This soup calls for garam masala, which is a warm spice blend from Northern India. It’s like so many spice blends in that there’s no true standard recipe, and it varies from person to person. I buy mine in bulk from my local coop, but if that’s not an option for you this is the recipe I would use if I were to make my own. The squash seeds are an optional touch, and they elevate the soup from “really good dinner” fare to something special.

Serves 4

1 butternut squash
10 roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more to serve
3 tablespoons chopped thyme, divided
salt
pepper
one onion, diced
one stalk of celery, diced
one carrot, peeled and diced
one teaspoon garam masala
1/4 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, to taste

Squash Seeds

Reserved seeds from butternut squash
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon garam masala

Preheat the oven to 400. Slice the butternut squash into quarters. Scoop out the seeds and save in a small bowl with water. Place the squash quarters in a roasting dish.

Halve the roma tomatoes lengthwise and place on a cookie tray. Brush the tomatoes and the squash with one tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the tomatoes and squash with two tablespoons of thyme, salt, and pepper.

Pour about an inch of water into the roasting dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast the squash and the tomatoes both in the oven for an hour and a half, rotating halfway through. By the end the squash should be able to be pierced with a fork and the tomatoes should have darkened and collapsed upon themselves. Remove the peel from the butternut squash, roughly chop both, and set aside.

Lower the oven temperature to 350.

In a heavy bottomed pot heat the rest of the olive oil to medium low. Add the onions, carrots, and celery with a pinch of salt, the garam masala, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to get some color. Add the chopped squash and tomatoes and a splash of water and stir well, scrapping the bottom to get up any toasted bits. Add six cups of water and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for half an hour.

Drain the squash seeds well and pick through any guts that have been left over. Pat dry, and mix with the cumin, cinnamon, and garam masala. Spread out on a cookie sheet and cook for 16 minutes, tossing the seeds halfway through. When they are golden brown and crunchy remove and let cool.

Puree the soup and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream and vinegar. Add water to thin to your desired consistency and taste for seasonings. Adjust as necessary.

Serve warm, topped with the roast squash seeds and a sprinkling of olive oil.

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The Green Palm

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We’re getting a brief reprieve from summer here in the Upper Midwest. I’m wearing pants today for the first time in a month and slept without any fans on last night. My weather app says this is just a glitch, that summer’s back on schedule for tomorrow. Which is great, really. Because I have some Green Palms to drink while it’s still hot outside.

The Green Palm is a riff on an Arnold Palmer, made with green tea and mint and served only slightly sweetened. It’s refreshing and light, with a lemon flavor that dances on your tongue instead of smacking you in the face. It does take a bit of forethought, to make the iced tea and the syrup, but if you do both ahead of time you can mix up a Green Palm in about 30 seconds.

I hope the rest of your week is full of iced beverages, fresh tomatoes, and pleasantly sweaty walks outside.

The Green Palm

This recipe calls for simple syrup, which is super easy to make and what all the bartenders use to make your cocktails. It’s a good thing to keep on hand, because it dissolves in cold liquid, which most sweeteners don’t.  There’s a good tutorial on how to make your own simple syrup here. If you’re not into clicking things, you could just heat up equal parts water and sugar in a pot and stir until the sugar dissolves. If you’re not into simple syrup, you could always substitute agave nectar, which does dissolve in cold liquid. Agave is sweeter than simple syrup, so I would scale it down a bit.

Serves 4

4 green tea bags
4 sprigs of fresh mint
1/2 cup lemon juice (2 large or 4 medium lemons)
1/4 cup simple syrup
ice

Cover the tea bags and mint in 4 cups of fresh, cold water. Let sit covered in the refrigerator overnight. After the bags are done steeping, discard the tea and mint. This is your minted iced tea, and it is a delicious drink in its own right.

To make the green palm, combine the iced tea, lemon, and simple syrup and stir over ice.

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Florida

We drove from the airport after a storm big enough to reroute our plane hit Orlando. It rained on and off all throughout the first day, and the fog didn’t leave us even once we reached the ocean. The Southern pines, that my mom-in-law said are used to make telephone poles because they are so tall and straight and sparsely branched, seemed foreboding and the palm trees looked out of place in all the fog. I felt as though I had stepped into a Flannery O’Connor story- a place that had a dreamlike, gothic quality.     IMG_3547 IMG_3550IMG_3624

This is not to say that our vacation was gothic or violent or full of racists. There was no transcendence through the grotesque, and the most spiritual experience I had was reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, SJ (which was both  spiritual and enjoyable). But when Aaron asked me what I thought about the ocean I described it as relentless and awe-inspiring. The ocean did not care about me, but it compelled me. Aaron and I got caught in the undertow while boogie boarding and while we escaped unharmed, I realized for the first time how easy it is to drown.

Vacation was good. I swam in the ocean and got mouthfuls of salt water every time a wave crashed past. I sipped rosé on the balcony of the condo we rented on the water and read while Aaron napped in the sun. I taught my in-laws how to play euchre and played drinking games with Aaron’s aunts and uncles while watching the Republican debates. Aaron and I walked to a hippie surfer cafe for a date and had a bad veggie burger and a hella good vegan key lime pie. We had long walks in the surf and I felt my spine unkink completely for the first time in at least a year.

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And we left when we were ready to leave. Two days before our return I woke up, panicking about the state of the tomatoes in our garden. I unintentionally got in a fight because after seven years with Aaron I am still not fluent about avoiding some family triggers. Back here in Minneapolis we’ve done coffee dates at our favorite neighborhood place, a luxury we didn’t have in the hyper-touristy Cocoa Beach. The heat is less, the humidity is lower, and I get to control the grocery shopping again.

While we were in Florida I cooked most of the meals. Mom-in-law hates cooking, Dad-in-law hates cooking only a little less than Mom-in-law, Ben (bro-in-law) makes sandwiches and eggs, and Aaron is ambivalent about cooking.  Our meals were mostly vegetarian (because I was in charge!), mostly gluten free (because Mom-in-law isn’t supposed to eat it and does anyway), and mostly hands-off (because it was vacation). I made a variation of ratatouille that we devoured with feta and a salad. I made this version again at home and we ate it with cous cous on our couch, my legs on Aaron’s lap, watching 30 Rock.

It was good be away. It is good to be home.

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Moroccan Ratatouille

There are two schools of thought on ratatouille- one where the vegetables are cooked separately so they stay intact, and one where they are thrown into a pot and stew into a delicious mess. I have had some delicious ratatouilles from the former camp, but when I make it myself I am firmly in the latter. It is easy, hands-off, hearty, and so delicious that Aaron fantasizes about it during the winter. If you want a more traditional ratatouille, omit the spices and chickpeas, replace the mint with basil, and serve with some crusty bread.

Serves 4

1 pound eggplant (one medium), cut into a half inch dice
1 pound red bell peppers (four small), cut into a half inch dice
1 pound zucchini (one large), cut into a half inch dice
1 pound tomatoes (two medium), cut into a half inch dice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, plus extra for garnish
1 cup cooked chickpeas (half a 15 ounce can)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste

In a pot three quarts or larger, layer the vegetables- eggplant, then peppers, then zucchini, then chickpeas. Sprinkle some mint in between each layer. Top the layers with the chickpeas, cinnamon, cumin, and a healthy pinch of salt. Cover the pot, and place on low heat. After about an hour, uncover and stir. The ratatouille could be eaten now if you were very hungry, but it will not be nearly as good as it could be. Be patient. Replace the cover and keep the heat low, stirring about every half hour until the vegetables are meltingly tender. This usually takes two and a half to three hours for me.

Taste, and adjust the salt as needed. Sprinkle with more chopped fresh mint, and eat with reckless abandon.

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