Friday, October 15, 2010


So. This has been one hell of a week. I don't know how to write this without sounding like some sort of bullshit motivational poster, so cue the vaguely inspirational music, and here we go anyway.

Loooong story short, I graduated from a relatively prestigious (read: expensive) school with a relatively prestigious (read: imminently useless) degree last May. Said degree had been chosen because of its boundless future employment potential. Tears, breakdowns, loans, and a LOT of spreadsheets later, I graduated. In the midst of the goddamn recession. With a LOT of debt. And a mortgage. And a stupid medical issue. I did have a job, which I truly love, but it pays diddly squat, and still leaves me substantially in what my student loan officer likes to call "a very negative debt to income ratio". (And yet he still calls...perhaps he thinks I've taken up forgery??) I'll spare you the sordid details, because this is, sadly, a deeply unoriginal situation, but the bills got higher, more debt accrued, and my job options sucked.

Fast forward to this previous Thursday. I was full of ennui, and had spent a tremendously uplifting few hours on the phone with assorted organizations to whom I owe varyingly large chunks of money explaining why they would not be getting it on time this month. I did occasionally come up for air to look at my dog's food bin and wonder how long I could really make it stretch. Cheery, right? (Must I mention that at 1 in the afternoon I was still in my pajamas, or can we all just make that assumption?) rings. And it is The Only Goddamn Job I Can Physically Do being offered. (One's options are a bit limited when driving is verboten and standing isn't an option.) Cue angelic chorus. Because starting Monday, there will be liquidity! And benefits! And a 3 mile drive from home! And holidays! And did I mention solvency?? It's hard to go from Dickensian despair to full on euphoria in less than 5 minutes, but it can be done. There was dancing around the living room with two slightly puzzled, but very game, Labradors, and several celebratory phone calls. Because while this isn't the dream job, it's going to let me live a LIFE. And a life without perpetual financial disaster looming is the dream now. It's going to take a long time to dig myself out of debt, but at least I can start doing so. And I am so relieved my bones feel like they're made of Jell-O.

I didn't buy myself a celebratory bottle of champagne, but I did make some hot cocoa and turned the thermostat up to 64. Because this winter? We're going to be warm. And a whole lot less afraid.

Pan above, and Cara below, who will be getting GOOD TOYS for Christmas this year. (And an ongoing supply of Eukanuba.) Because there are no better dogs, and they have let me cry on them for a long time.
And yes, next post will be food-related, I promise!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

Today I officially conceded to the inevitable arrival of autumn, and yanked the screens out of the windows and put in the storm windows. This also means that I relocated a LOT of spiders to the basement, as apparently my windows are prime real estate for arachnids. In addition to getting increasingly chilly, for the past few days we've been getting biblical amounts of rain. So much rain that my dogs, ostensibly water dogs (Labradors) refuse to go outside to pee until they're about to pop. Admittedly, these are not exactly stalwart gun dogs (I think Pandora is incapable of sleeping anywhere that doesn't have at least two pillows), but still.

This is all a slightly round about way of saying that it is serious soup weather. I am an enormous proponent of soups year round, but when the skies have been gray for 3 days, and my basement could be optimistically referred to as an indoor pool with a substantial mud problem, I need a pot of warm, rich soup.

From this week's CSA I had a couple of nice butternut squash, and there were two increasingly sad Honey Crisp apples languishing in the fruit bowl from an earlier trip to a nearby orchard. (I feel that you effectively rid yourself of the calories accrued by cider donut consumption if you buy some fruit at the same time...) Also, in a fit of terrifying domesticity, I'd roasted a chicken last weekend and then actually made stock from the carcass and frozen it. Since I usually have good intentions of doing exactly that, but far more frequently end up with a frightening foil-encased chicken corpse in the back of the fridge, and a desperate trip to the trash outside, I was pretty damn pleased with myself.

All of this meant that I had the makings of a decent, appropriately autumnal soup. What follows is, as all soup recipes should be, just a loose baseline. I know there are people out there who don't care for ginger, so I'm going to include some alternate seasoning choices. The only pain in the ass of this recipe is the peeling and cubing of the butternut squash, and if you want to avoid that, you could very easily swap out frozen squash puree (I'd use about 2 packages from the freezer section) and save yourself some trouble.

This would be nicely complemented by some decent bread and a salad. And a Caramel Porter, if you have one floating around.

Curried Butternut Squash & Apple Soup


2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large yellow onions, finely diced
3 tbsp freshly grated ginger root (1 tsp rosemary for the ginger-phobic)
1 tsp turmeric (omit if not using ginger, use 1 tsp thyme instead)
salt and pepper
2 apples (something firm and a bit tart, like Honey Crisp, Granny Smith)
1 large or 2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (or 2 pkgs frozen squash, thawed)
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable, if you'd like this to be a vegetarian soup)
1/2 cup half-and-half
Sour cream to garnish
Cilantro to garnish (again, omit this if you're using the rosemary/thyme'd be weird)

  • In a soup pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Saute the onion until softened, about 3 minutes.

  • Add the apples, squash, ginger and turmeric and cook until starting to soften and nicely fragrant (about 5 minutes).

  • Add stock (and, if using the rosemary/thyme combo, those herbs) and bring to a simmer.

  • Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, for about 35-40 minutes, or until the squash is very, very tender. Make sure you can easily poke a fork in it, as you need to be able to puree this with ease. at this point, you have a couple of options. You're going to need to puree this stuff, and you can either remove it from the heat and put it through a blender and/or food processor, or you can be very grateful that your parents gave you an immersion blender for Christmas a few years ago, and just whir the soup in the pot. And if you don't have such a handy device, they can be had cheaply, and are pretty fabulous to have around. It saves a lot of hot soup splattering about (although you do want to be sure you use it in a relatively high-sided pot, as there will be some over spray), and for me, saves me hauling the little-used blender out from under the sink. The immersion blender will give you a rougher puree, versus a very smooth product from the whatever flips your kilt.

  • Puree soup using weapon of your choice. Stir in half-and-half and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat gently over medium-low heat.

  • Ladle into bowls, dollop some sour cream in the middle, and sprinkle with some fresh cilantro if using the ginger/turmeric combo, or a little thyme if using rosemary/thyme.

Makes 4-6 servings.

...explosions of this much home-maker-y crap tend to make me overcompensate with the most gangster music available. This post was brought to you largely by the fine musical stylings of 2Pac...somehow, I don't think it's the soundtrack Martha opts for. (Although maybe she does...that'd make her far more bad ass than I tend to give her credit for.)