Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yet Another Squash and Curry Soup

Seriously—does the world need another curried squash soup? Well, I thought this one was really good. I’m not lying, either, because I’m not much of a “soup” person. This made me happy! It turned out spicy-hot, the kind of heat that lights up the back of your mouth a few seconds after you swallow, which I adore! (A result of the type of chilis I used, no doubt; “your results may vary.”)

And it’s so creamy you’d almost think there’s cream in it, but there’s not even milk.

Vegans take note: With a few tweaks (substituting oil for the butter, and veggie stock for chicken), this becomes a perfectly vegan recipe! Anyway you go, it’s pretty low fat, and doesn’t need much salt due to all the lovely spices.

It’s based on a recipe in the Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook, by the Editors of Vegetarian Times and Lucy Moll (New York: Macmillan, 1995). The recipe I used as my guide is called “Squash–and–White Bean Soup,” on page 172 of that volume. But you know . . . who follows a soup recipe exactly? I’m not a recipe tester!

The original uses curry powder, plus cumin and allspice. I used some curry powder, but I used even more of my homemade garam masala. What is garam masala? You could conceptualize it as the “curry powder” that actual Indian cooks use! You can get g.m. at grocery stores nowadays. It’s really fun to make your own, however, and then it’s fresh and you may end up using it more (and using salt less). All the Indian cookbooks have recipes for it.

The original (soup) recipe also has you throw in the spices and stock at once—but I use an Indian cooking technique that heightens the spice flavors by incorporating them into the oil: I sauté the aromatics in butter first, then add all the spices, stirring them into the oil to make a paste (kind of like a roux). Butter and curry spices love each other! After they make love for a few moments is when I add the stock and squash.

By the way, the butternut squash can, of course, be substituted with canned pumpkin puree, though it’s not the same. The squash is sweeter, I think.

The ingredients and method are interspersed with the instructions below.

1 butternut squash
—split in half lengthwise, bake in oven with a small amount of water until soft; let cool so you can handle it; spoon pulp out of skin and puree in a food processor until smooth. Yield is about 4 cups. Set this aside.

While the squash is baking, you can prep the other stuff.

Chop up aromatic veggies and set aside in a bowl:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup sliced celery (soup is a good way to use the leafy, pale inner parts of the celery that no one wants as crudité)
2 cloves garlic, pressed (or minced)
4 tiny hot chili peppers, with seeds, minced (I have a bag of little red cayennes in my freezer, harvested from my garden before the killing frost—but use whatever hot chilis you want—to taste)
1 or 1.5 T minced fresh ginger root (did you know you can process ginger way ahead of time and keep it frozen flat in zip bags? It’s very, very handy!)

Measure spices into a little bowl:
1 t dried thyme leaves
1/2–1 T store-bought curry powder
1–1 .5 T garam masala (I have 3 types, and for this I used mostly a kind I made that’s heavy on the cumin. If your g.m. doesn’t have a strong cumin presence, then add more cumin, about 1/2 t.; consider adding allspice, too)

Also have ready:
2 T butter
4 cups (32 oz.) chicken or vegetable stock

Finally, prep the ingredients that will go in last:
1 can white beans
2 big handfuls of chopped kale (stems discarded)
2 T fresh parsley, chopped

The soup will take about a half hour to cook; do it all in one big pot. Heat butter over medium heat, add aromatic vegetables and sauté until veggies are translucent and fairly soft. Sprinkle in a little water if it wants to stick. Add the spices and stir to make a paste. Then stir in stock and squash and bring back to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for 15 or 20 minutes. Add beans, kale, and parsley, and cook another 5 minutes, or until the kale is cooked and still pretty green. Add salt to taste.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ascent from Deep River: Paintings and Drawings by the Late Tim Williams

I’m sharing this with my Op Op friends because I’m pretty sure we like the same kinds of things: Home; art; nature; heritage; creativity; things that make you think. Finding the glory in imperfect things. Glorying in things that are well done. Doing things with heart and with love. Treasures of people and places.

You would have liked Tim Williams, and you will love his art.

A native Columbian, Tim Williams painted in Central Missouri for decades, but he always seems to have shied away from putting his work in shows and galleries. He was a creator, pure and simple. As a result, though he was prolific, not many people have seen his works.

But Tim was a friend of mine (“is”—? Well, I have never stopped liking and loving him, so how does someone word such a thing, anyway?)—and because of this, I’ve been lucky for the past fifteen years or so to get to see his art; sometimes as it was in progress, but mostly as samples of it hanging in his and Jane’s home, and in Jane’s office, which was a revolving mini-gallery of his work. (You see, Jane was my managing editor, and Tim’s colorful and evocative paintings in her office provided a surefire mind-thrill during every Monday morning staff meeting. I sipped coffee those mornings, but with his art on her walls, I didn’t need to!)

I could try to describe Tim’s beautiful, brilliant personality, and his intriguing, beguiling art, but it wouldn’t work. It would come out wrong; as Laurie Anderson said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Instead, I recommend you go see his art, which is currently on exhibit (free!) at Orr Street Studios in downtown Columbia (106 Orr St., north of Walnut, east of 10th St.).

For a taste treat, check out his enduring Web presence at his Flickr photostream and his StumbleUpon page. The Flickr photostream is a trove of his art, with each work often paired with a poem, each pairing guaranteed to make you feel more human and alive. There are landscapes, portraits, self-portraits, paintings on Zen subjects, architectural paintings, and more. (The Flickr site is where I have copied the images in this post from. See below for a statement on my copying of his art.) The StumbleUpon site shows the breadth and depth of his curiosity and the wide range of things that tickled him.

Tim’s Web presence gained him a large and loving international online following, and their appreciation was based only on digitized art glowing on a computer screen. Now you get to see the works up close, in real life. This is a huge opportunity!


Orr Street Studios (106 Orr St., downtown Columbia, Mo.):
Ascent from Deep River: A Collection of Work by the Late Tim Williams, Boonville, Mo.
Exhibition runs through February 10.
Gallery hours 12–3, Thursday–Sunday (or by chance).
Reception is Friday, Jan. 18, 6–9 pm.
“Remembering Tim” discussion is Tuesday, Feb. 5, 6–8 pm.

Here is what Orr Street Studios is saying about Tim and his work:

In 1990, Tim married longtime friend Jane Lago. As a practicing Buddhist, Tim annually went to Japan to meditate with other Buddhists. One day a Zen master asked him to illustrate a book of poems he had written. Tim’s response was, “but I’m not an Artist!” and the Master said, “oh but you are!”

So in the early 90’s Tim decided to go back to school to pursue an art degree, which he completed in 1996 from MU. His mentor, as he was for so many others, was Frank Stack [professor of art at MU]. Tim would travel to surrounding river towns with Frank, and sometimes with other plein air painters—Jane Mudd, Byron Smith, and Chris Teeter—to name a few.

He communed with fellow artists and nature, and he quickly gained an understanding of painting from life. He had a natural, raw talent that amazed and inspired all who knew him. Tim was also influenced by MU professors Jennifer Wiggs and Jo Stealey.

He was passionate about art history and collected many art books. He and Jane eventually decided to buy a house in Boonville with a majestic river view.

In recent years, Tim’s desire for making art intensified. He investigated form and idea with an even greater urgency, setting a goal to do a portrait a day. Tim was a tireless seeker, a fearless innovator and an extremely sensitive artist. He died suddenly Dec. 19, 2011, at 58 years old.

This collection is only a part of a vast body of work by Tim’s in his last 20 years. In addition to attending the Jan. 18th opening reception, please join the discussion “Remembering Tim” at the Feb. 5th “Seeing Visions” Orr Street Studio event, 6 to 8 p.m.

A note on the images in this post: They are all under copyright, and I've admittedly copied-wrong by pinching them from Tim's Shitao Flickr photostream. My intentions are purely to help promote the exhibition at Orr Street, and to encourage you to look at Tim's work online, too. The pictures I've selected may not be in the exhibit. Finally, depending on Jane's wishes, I may be taking them off this post when the exhibition's done (or sooner). But the links to Tim's online collections will remain.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

More Mystery Cooking Gadgets!

With a new year, there’s always the urge to get things done, finally begin those projects, and clean things up!

Ahhh, the kitchen junk drawer! I finally went through a collection of cooking gadgets that had come with our house. You all remember that we bought my grandma’s house after she passed away, right? Well, there was plenty of stuff in her kitchen “junk drawer.” You might recall the mystery gadget that turned out to be a butter curler?

I was able to figure out the butter curler because it had words printed on it that I could search on. But now I’ve got more mystery gadgets, and there are no verbal clues like that.

So I’m posting pictures of them here, and asking you to help me figure out what I’ve got. There are three mystery cooking gadgets!

(To give you a sense of scale, I photographed them next to a bunch of coins. It’s not that I have a hole in my pocket or anything.)

Gadget 1 is made of hard plastic, has an obvious handle (complete with textured surface), and features a pair of semicircular shapes very close together, like a very narrow taco shell.

The only writing on it says “Made in Canada” and “patent pending.” No help at all.

The length of the handle is 4.5 inches. The radius of the round part is 1.5 inches (meaning the maximum width of the rounded part is 3 inches).

The best idea I’ve gotten so far comes from Mom, who thought it might be a device to slip over the blade of a knife, to stabilize the blade in a vertical position while you press down on it with your hand. For when you’re cutting something really tough and you want to avoid slicing the palm clean off of your hand. (Do Canadians have to cut up a lot of really tough food?)

Gadget 2 is also plastic. I’d describe it as some kind of small spatula (length 6 inches), though the “soft” end isn’t really very soft (not like a really good, flexible rubber spatula, anyway). The “spatula” part is softer than the handle, however.

It’s mainly flexible just at the tip, which is the part that has me stumped: The end is split for nearly an inch, with a hole and a zigzag portion as shown in the pictures. What the heck is this for?

Last night as I tried to fall asleep, I mentally reviewed the entire produce, dairy, and baking departments of the grocery store, with this gadget in mind, and I couldn’t come up with a logical use for it.

Anyone got any ideas?

Gadget 3 is made of metal and has a hinge. Closed, it’s 4.5 inches long.

As the two handle-like parts are pulled apart, the opposite end shuts, like a pliers, only round, with one side overlapping the other slightly, kind of like the overbite of teeth.

The opening is about 1 inch in diameter. There are “teeth,” sort of, only they aren’t particularly sharp. They look like they’re for biting, however. Is it some kind of corer? If so, it wouldn’t work very well, since you have to pull the handles apart, which would ruin the cylindrical core you just made.

This thing is stamped “Taiwan,” which, again, offers little clue. (Grandma didn’t cook much Asian food.)

Sue suggested it might be an eyelash curler! Ha ha—she was of course joking. But it kind of looks like one.

This might be a clue, or not, but this gadget was in a section of the junk drawer that had a variety of beverage openers—a butler’s friend, corkscrew, that sort of thing. Maybe this gadget has some kind of cork-pulling function.

But it seems it would simply snip the cork in two, rendering it especially hard to remove. Well—who knows?

Seriously—does anyone know what these kitchen gadgets are supposed to do? (Or, at least, does anyone have any entertaining guesses?)