Connecting Through Cooking: Leek and Potato Soup

After years of relying at least partially on frozen meals and side dishes to make dinner, I’ve recently gotten back into cooking again. Two elements came together at the same time as I was thinking I should make more effort to eat local: I found two awesome cookbooks for cheap at a book sale, and I signed up for a biweekly produce box delivery where the company would just send what was in season from a variety of local farms. Getting a “mystery box” of produce makes me feel like I’m on one of those cooking competition shows.

Also, while I’ve always exchanged recipes with friends and family, most of the time I never end up making the recipes I requested from them, and I never know if they actually try mine. Recently, however, I’ve had the joy of sharing a recipe on Facebook and having a friend comment “I’m going to make that tonight!”

And this week I mentioned my new favorite recipe, potato leek soup, to a friend as we shopped together at the farmers market. We ended up cooking it on the same night (though she was more adventurous and used purple potatoes in hers). The immediacy of these two exchanges made it feel like an actual connection through cooking and made me very happy to be “sharing” a meal with friends.

Cooking from scratch makes me feel more connected to my food, too. Most importantly, I know exactly what goes into my meals and I know it hasn’t been treated with pesticides. And there’s nothing quite like buying directly from someone who said “I picked those tomatoes myself this morning”. The act of chopping, sauteing, and stirring also reinforces the connection–it truly feels like “my” dinner.

Although my 5-year-old doesn’t eat much of what I cook (canned black beans and frozen peas are his staples, though I suppose I could buy those both dry and cook them), he does enjoy baking and loves to participate in mixing up a batch of zucchini muffins and rolling balls of snickerdoodle dough in cinnamon sugar. My sweet tooth was what got me into cooking at an early age too. 🙂

When I find recipes that are easy and delicious, I’ll try to share them here. And so, without further ado:

Leek and Potato Soup from the cookbook Soup:

1/4 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
3 leeks, sliced
8 oz. potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (this is about 1 big or 2 small potatoes)
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper
chives for garnish if you are feeling fancy

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, and potatoes and saute for 2-3 minutes, until soft but not brown. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Transfer soup to blender in small batches and process until smooth. (I use a handheld stick blender, most awesome purchase ever!) Return to rinsed-out pan, season with salt and pepper (I recommend garlic pepper), and reheat. Serve in warmed bowls, garnished with chives.

Serves 4.

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Responsibility to a greater whole

“Movements are the expression of changed attitudes, and how each person comes to realize his responsibility to a greater whole is a unique experience.”Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World

Before I  launch into my own “unique experience,” let me just say that if you have a story about realizing you are part of a greater whole, please share your experience in the comments!

When I was in 11th grade, my private school instituted a community service requirement for graduation. Looking back, I think this is a wonderful idea, particularly in a school where nearly all the students come from privileged families. At the time, however, I did not think this was wonderful. I thought it was annoying, but was grateful that because we were only two years from graduating we got a “reduced sentence” of only 20 hours instead of the 30 hours that all the classes behind us would have to do.

A group of us spent several weekends working at a soup kitchen in some part of Washington, DC I’d never been to before. Because the soup kitchen itself was an all-volunteer effort, there was no supervisor to sign for our hours so we were allowed to sign for each other. Of course we padded our hours so as to be done with the requirement sooner. I remember very little of the experience aside from being scared of the patrons.

Fast-forward to my first year out of college, working my first job at a newspaper in a slightly seedy industrial section of downtown Silver Spring, MD. My office was down the street from a soup kitchen, and I volunteered there once a month for well over a year. This was 20 years ago and I don’t remember how or why I decided to volunteer there, but for sure I was there of my own free will, and even recruited one of my best friends to join me. Clearly a switch somewhere inside me had been flipped.

Several years later in Seattle, I was materially pretty well off thanks to a stroke of luck in taking a customer service job at a dot-com just before they became a household name. I had moved up to an editorial role which was more in line with my skill set, but lacked meaning. I wanted to feel good about what I did, and I just couldn’t get excited about the fact that I was merely helping people shop online. I tried looking for another job but instead ended up answering a volunteer ad to tutor at-risk students who live in public housing. My husband and I had just become home-owners, and I remember feeling like I was truly part of a community now, and had a responsibility to share my good fortune and good education with those in the community who had less of both.

For most of the past 10 years I have spent 2 hours every week during the school year helping kids build their reading, writing, and math skills and helping them with their homework. I love it. When I stopped tutoring for a year to have my own child, I missed it.

It was that ad that was my turning point–the answer I didn’t know I had been looking for.

Since then I’ve switched jobs to a company with a foundation that takes investing in the community as a serious responsibility, and asks interested employees to assist in reviewing the grants and making site visits to ensure that the money goes to truly deserving local programs. It’s the most rewarding thing I do at the company. It’s inspiring to learn of the great work that these programs are doing, and humbling to realize that there are still not enough programs to meet all the need just here in Seattle.

I have it good. I am not rich. But I have everything I need and then some. How could I not share that with those who don’t have even the basics?

Wanting to make the world a better, cleaner, healthier place with more opportunities for everyone is something I can continue to work on every day, even in small ways, whether it’s helping a 2nd grader with fractions, turning off the water in the shower while I soap up, saving plastic bottle caps so Aveda can recycle them into product packaging, or passing on my son’s outgrown clothes to friends with younger children or to Goodwill.

As they say, every little bit helps. And I feel like I would be letting the world down if I did not do my part.

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My (Almost) Free Halloween

Last week I was feeling pretty smug about how I was not going to spend a dime for Halloween, yet still be able to give my son a costume and treats for the little goblins who come by my house on the 31st.

After all, I’d been keeping a treat box all year where I put small toys from our periodic clean out of my son’s toy bins and Hot Wheels collection. (This is my third year of not giving out candy; last year I bought glow-in-the-dark eyeballs and dinosaur tattoos.) I also added some Mardi Gras beads I had (those were popular last year among girls and boys alike) and some child-size bangles my boss brought back from India (these were intended for the kids in the tutoring program where I volunteer, but I don’t think she’ll mind that I snagged a few for Halloween purposes). Here’s what the trick-or-treaters who come to my door will have to choose from:

My 5-year-old is obsessed with race cars, so it was no surprise what he wanted to be for Halloween this year. I thought we could make him a car and sure enough, I found instructions online. We had all the materials on hand: a cardboard box, paints, paper plates, milk jug caps, string, construction paper.

Then I got the bright idea of giving the car real headlights–those stick-on LED tap lights you can get to go under your kitchen cabinets. OK, just under $5 for 2 of those, not bad. Oh yeah, plus batteries (rechargeable of course) …

But then I thought, what will he wear with the car? I didn’t want to shell out money for a driver costume when I was putting all this effort into making a costume. So I decided I should get him a NASCAR cap. $10 on eBay. The nice thing is, he can wear it well beyond Halloween without looking funny, so that’s still kind of a green choice, right?

The very next day I downloaded a “buy 4 items, get the 5th free” coupon from the thrift store Value Village. I went shopping for tops for myself, but glanced at the kids’ costumes and–there was a NASCAR driver costume in my son’s size! It ended up being the free item. Score!

All in all, still a very green Halloween, I think. 🙂

This post is part of the 2011 Greening your Halloween Blog Tour brought to us by Green Planet Parties, Green Halloween, Green Gift Guide, Surf Sweets and A Little Bit of Momsense. 

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Only Connect: The Online Journey Begins

Feeling disconnected seems like part of the modern condition. I want to establish stronger connections–with my family, friends, nature, the food I eat, the things I use everyday. I’m a mom, wife, daughter, professional editor, volunteer tutor, voracious reader and consumer of chocolate, but most of all, I’m a part of this earth and want to live responsibly on it. It’s a continuing journey and I hope you’ll join me on it.

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