Writing is a lot like making a good soup. You can throw the best of ingredients into the mix, but if you don’t get the balance right it’s really just a soggy olio.
That’s why on this sunny autumn day I’m happy to share a great soup and dessert recipe and tell you about a technique my good friend and former newspaper colleague Aggie and I are using to hone our writing skills.
Of course, we swap news about our progress whenever my husband Mark and I see Aggie socially. However, Aggie and I felt we would benefit better if we instituted a regular business meeting with intent. So now almost every second Wednesday Aggie and I hold kind of a workshop for wordsmiths. We alternate between our homes, taking turns at hosting and coaching.
Each workshop we set and review our personal writing goals, critique our writing when appropriate and make suggestions on everything from writing exercises to topic selection and marketing. We have taken a page from the gospel of strategic planners that what gets written down gets done. And we’re learning as we go what is realistic within our lifestyles, so we take a gentle, collaborative approach when we don’t hit all of our targets.
Trust me though, we take our Wednesday workshops for wordsmiths seriously and I could not ask for a more gifted coach than Aggie. She’s a great cook, too, and has a wicked sense of humour.
As host, your additional assignment is to provide tasty and nutritious lunch, which is a great fit with my interest in food and wine writing. At times Mark is suspicious that it is as much about learning and teaching new recipes as it is about honing our skills as wordsmiths. Rather than complain, he merrily enjoys the leftovers.
And so, to my most recent menu: winter vegetable soup and peach upside down cake. Living in the Okanagan offers a bounty of vegetables and fruit and the Penticton Farmers’ Market is second to none. My toughest test so far each Saturday morning is refraining from hauling home more than we can handle.
Winter Vegetable Soup
I have adapted a couple recipes from http://www.cdkitchen.com and http://www.foodnetwork.ca and start with a base that goes back in time. Putting carrots, celery and onion to saute in a pot with butter is called a Mirepoix in France or when you do it using olive oil instead of butter as I did for this soup the Italians call it a Soffritto. In any case, there’s something meditative about the process of chopping the vegetables, slowly stirring them as the aromas intensify.
It’s a good idea to wash all of the vegetables and chop them ahead so you can drop the ingredients in on cue. You are starting from a solid base and building the flavours on top as well as the bold autumn colours.
2 T. Olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, sliced thinly
2 carrots, sliced thinly including skins
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 or 3 assorted green, red and yellow peppers
1 cup of red cabbage, shredded and diced
1 medium potato, cubed into ¼ inch bites
4 basil leaves, chopped
¼ cup green onions, chopped
1 package onion soup mix
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 cup water
2 teaspoons chili paste
1 bay leaf
¼ cup mini pasta such as Acini di pepe or orzo
Sea salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup sour cream, additional chopped green onion, basil and red cabbage to garnish
Add the peppers and continue cooking another 10 minutes. Add the onion soup mix and vegetable bouillon cube as well as the water as directed on the packages. (If you have a good chicken stock on hand, you can substitute six cups of it instead of using the onion soup mix and vegetable bouillon cube and extra cup of water.)
Add the cubed potato, mini pasta, chili paste, basil, green onion and bay leaf. Season with sea salt and pepper and simmer at a low medium setting until the potato and pasta have cooked, about 20 minutes.
Dish into soup bowls, top with a dollop of sour cream, a touch of chopped green onion, basil and red cabbage and a bit of ground pepper and serve piping hot along with some nice bread and crackers.
Peach Upside Down Cake
I equate upside down cake to having someone critique your writing. Sometimes taking something and gently turning it upside down really brings out the best.
Take plump peaches picked at prime and see what I mean! (This recipe is a revision of Judy Wilson’s found at http://allrecipes.com )
¼ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 large Freestone Peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
½ cup butter
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon, pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
½ cup lemon yogurt
Melt ¼ cup butter into a 10-inch round ovenproof pie pan and swirl it around to grease the sides. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with brown sugar, nutmeg, 1/8 cup of toasted almonds and about 1 tablespoon of the Amaretto. Arrange the peach slices attractively on the bottom.
Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Then add to the creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating until well combined. Spread the batter over the peach mixture in the pan.
Bake in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for 35 to 40 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let the cake sit in the pan for about five minutes before inverting it onto a serving dish.
(While it is baking, mix the lemon yogurt with about 1 tablespoon Amaretto to use as a topping.)
Serve the cake with a drizzle of the Amaretto-lemon yogurt sauce and a couple of toasted almonds to garnish.