Sunday, November 30, 2008

Still More to Share

I've been fantasizing about the Carrot Ginger Apple Cream Soup we tried at Cafe Soleil on Wednesday night. I figured it should be easy enough to recreate so that's what I did last night. This soup is simple, quick, satisfying, and very cheap to make - what's not to like?

I started with a pound or so of scrubbed organic carrots, a few big nubby hunks of ginger, and several cloves of garlic.

Not pictured in the ingredients: a quart of chicken stock (yeah, not exactly vegetarian, but I really wanted to incorporate an umami taste into the soup. I'm sure you could just as easily use vegetable stock), a pint of heavy cream, and a peeled, chopped honeycrisp apple.

I chopped and sauteed the garlic and ginger in a little butter, then added the chopped carrots and apple and broth. I let it all cook down for about 30 minutes, then transferred it to the blender for the puree stage. While the blender was going, I added a pint of heavy cream in a steady stream. Then the soup went back to the saucepan for a few flavor alterations. I added another pinch of sea salt and one of Indian chili powder, and a dash of garlic powder.

It looks so pretty against my favorite big green bowl.

And tasted delicious with a dollop of goat cheese, fresh sage, and buttered roasted garlic sourdough bread. Mmmm MMM! Just the right amounts of sweetness, spice, and rich flavor.

D. was sad that I didn't take home the two leftover pieces of chocolate cream pie (I thought it best to leave them with the hosts...everyone knows how good leftover chocolate cream pie is). In order to fulfill my good girlfriend duties for the week, I made him another chocolate pie last night. This time I made a homemade chocolate pie crust, using a recipe from the Baking with Julia cookbook that has never led me astray in that confusing, complex world of baking.

The chocolate crust was a little difficult at first, but eventually I worked it enough with my hands to meld the dough and roll it out just fine.

And then the pastry tip was too small, so the whipped cream stars look more like cauliflower florets...more lumpy than decorative...but who cares? It tasted incredible. I used only bittersweet chocolate to flavor the custard so it had a very rich, full chocolate flavor.

D. fulfilled his good boyfriend duties by taking me to the movies yesterday afternoon. We saw Rachel Getting Married. It certainly felt more like an indie film than a Jonathan Demme film, meaning that they nearly went overboard with the handheld digital camera...and really amped up the bohemian vibe. It was alright....I could have used more exposition and fewer musical interludes. And hey! One of the guys from TV on the Radio played the groom! All in all, I gave it a B-.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

You Are So Beautiful To Me

When my boss asked me if I wanted to take off work Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my time off: go out to the Kings River to stay with a good friend recovering from massive surgery. I knew I could cook for her, and infuse her with love and healing that I put into my food.

The river this time of year is still astoundingly beautiful, in a quiet, clear sort of way.
Looking down the river, toward Arkansas

The bluffs across from the gravel bar are only visible when the water is really low

I love how the white bark of the Sycamores stand out in the wintertime

It was warm when the sun was out. We sat out in Patt and Craig's yard, soaked up the sun, and listened to the nature sounds up and down the well as the occasional gunshot reminding us that it's deer season.

Bella, sitting outside the fence and keeping watch. Patt's energy and color were surprisingly full and up! I could sit and listen to her stories all day...

Sweet Bella. She's a Tibetan Spaniel and yes, she is 100% warm, smart, soft, loyal, stinky, adorable love.

Tigger returns from the hunt!

He knows he's a badass.

No time to stop for a photo

"Excuse me, but I have a half-dead rodent to play with for 3o seconds and then ignore while it runs around in a shocked, dying state. That's how I roll"

Jude returns, rodent free

She is a perfect match with her surroundings....good thing the hunters weren't around

Jude's findings

Jude's fingers: graceful, expressive, lovely, and tastefully adorned

These hands were the very first to touch my daughter

If you live in Arkansas, it helps to love rocks

We turned our chairs around to face the west. I think what I love the most out here is the sheer e x p a n s e....the sky stretching so far in every direction. It's huge! It's impossible to NOT relax when you're out here
The afternoon sun in winter is softer and more amber glow-y and muted than in summer

This guy must be some sort of driftwood, river scrap sculpture

Those skeletal white Sycamores again

More muted and amber glow

The sunset was its usual incremental affair

It photographed darker when I faced it straight on

Than when the sun was off to the side

A giant kiss

Lavenders and greys... we sat and watched the light fade...all of a sudden we looked up and saw this bald eagle gliding right over our heads! Who knows if they exude this super regal and impressive air because their symbolism is so ingrained in us...all I know is that these birds are innately majestic.

America! Fuck yeah!

Overflowing Cornucopia

The night before Thanksgiving is the very best night of the year to go out. I'd spent the past few days out at the river and felt relaxed, happy, and ready for the company of people again. Stella babysat for Robin and Will so it worked out for everyone and we could have a grown-up night out. Jessica joined us for dinner at the best kept secret restaurant in northwest Arkansas: Cafe Soleil. It's not an overly fancy or show-offy menu, but every single dish I've tried has been delicious. The prices are very good and the wine list is small but well-chosen.

We all had to try the ginger, carrot, apple, cream soup, which sounded intriguingly delicious. And it was. I had the portabello napoleon which was served with a thin layer of hummus on the bottom. See? Not too showy, but an interesting twist. It was also very good.

Afterwards it was on to Chelsea's where it was like a reunion there were so many old (err..I should say "lifelong" instead) friends. It's such a warm, good feeling to be around people you've known since childhood.

Sunshine and Robin

Amanda and Robin

Our table: Jessica, D., Amanda, & Robin

Jessica, most likely 'splaining something


I've got the crazy eyes and Amanda is up past her bedtime

Sister look

Patrick and Sara Ann looking cute

The night ended pretty late and the next morning came entirely too quickly.

You should know by now that I tend to go pie crazy at Thanksgiving. This year was no exception. I have too many favorites! I put off making the four pies until Thursday morning.

I love going to dinner at D.'s mom's house because she pays careful attention to an underappreciated course: hor d'oeuvres.
Here we have three kinds of cheese (havarti, sharp cheddar, and buttermilk blue cheese), pickled okra, pepperoncini, roasted red peppers, olives, pickles, artichoke hearts, marinated asparagus and wild mushrooms, and a seafood dip she called a "shrimp scampi crab dip".....YUMMM. We popped the cork on a bottle of Domane St. Michelle brut and dug in. It was all I could do to stop after one plate....but I had to pace myself.

The gorgeous table, halfway set

Stella, sitting strategically in front of the dressing.

Chocolate cream pie, the homemade custard filling justifying the shortcut pre-made crust

Oh mama....coconut cream pie. Whipped cream instead of meringue, mm mm MM

Burnt pecan pie. I blame the unfamiliar oven! I plucked out the blacker pecans. I renamed it "toasted pecan pie" to try to make myself feel better. Under a blanket of whipped cream it tasted fantastic.

Why mess with a classic? Pumpkin pie, made using the recipe on the can of pumpkin.

We girls gave ourselves manicures. I'm mad about those massive, gorgeous eyes.

After the monster meal and dessert (four pies? Why?)....we dragged ourselves off the couches and drove back to Fayetteville. We fought off the tryptophan coma (requiring the sheer will of a gladiator) and went over to Orion's house that night in hopes of maybe playing some cards or seeing old friends.
Julie and her long, long legs

Orion, keeper of the flame

Flamingo Julie, amused Orion

Every step you take, every move you make, Blue is watching you

And THAT was only the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday nights....