Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Roasted Eggplant & White Bean Soup with Tangerine Gremolata

I'm hanging my head a little, and it's not just from the migraine that's kept me mostly non-functioning for a few days now. This post is a week late. In fact, not only did I miss the first deadline, I missed the second one!* sigh See, a couple of weeks ago a few of us were casually discussing comfort food on Twitter (as we often do, I wish I could surround myself with these people IRL so I could feel "normal") and the idea for a blogger collective soup-a-thon was born. Or something like that, who ever knows when I'm retelling the story? My first thoughts were along the lines of "yay, FINALLY a group-cooking effort I can easily participate in!!!" I've been creating soups out of seemingly nothing for the better part of the last 27 years (yeah, for realz! I'm THAT old!). Then I saw the mandatory ingredients -- eggplant, beans, and orange peel -- and I started whining, moping, and rending my garments. At which point, The Mister and The Dog rolled their eyes at me and put me on ignore for a few days.
*in another post I will address my fear of failure/success as it relates specifically to meeting deadlines
So this went on forever, and in the meantime Mo came back from the store with the best-looking eggplant he could find, one of only two at nearby supermarkets, which in this case meant something that looked almost unnaturally big, dark, and barely still fresh. I guess it's not a popular food item here in the hinterlands of NC? in early December? Hrmpf! I couldn't even bear to look at it; yes, mediocre produce gets the sideeye from me. See kids, when I think of eggplant, I think of those lovely lavender-hued ones I grew up on in Puerto Rico that I've occasionally managed to find at Summer farmers' markets here in the continental US. As an alternative, the long & skinny Japanese ones will do. But those big, dark purple things you USians are used to... eh, they've seemed ok for breading and turning into eggplant parm and such, but not anything requiring elegance and delicacy. I know, this is why The Mister rolls his eyes at me. By the way, part of my anxiety stemmed from the fact that the aforementioned has stated several times that eggplant is one of his least favorite foods ever, and also that The Boy is very picky about any new foods.

After all my kvetching (yes, PuertoRicans can kvetch, except we call it jirimiquear), I realized I better get myself in gear and figure something out, so I pawed through my cookbooks. Found nothing to inspire me there, except eggplant caviar, which sounds fascinating & delicious yet was no help for me here. So I hit the web, and after reading quite a few recipes, I settled on making a mashup of the one I found at Israeli Kitchen, and the one on Smitten Kitchen. Except that we are not creamy-soup people, we like our soups chunky. Which meant that adding the beans was easy, especially since we've made plenty of minestrone and pasta e fagioli from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which then led me to decide to also add pasta to the soup (I never need much of an excuse to add pasta to anything, I even love spaghetti pizza!). But I still had no idea how to incorporate the orange peel, which in my case would be tangerine because I have this weird allergy to oranges and no other citrus fruit. I went to bed on that Monday night, stressed out about how to incorporate that last component into a soup I had to make the next day in order to meet the deadline (heh!), and woke up with gremolata on my mind the next morning. D’uh, sometimes I know more than I think I know!!!

I took to heart what Deb at Smitten Kitchen said in her recipe, about roasting the vegetables for extra depth of flavor. I also decided to roast the garlic in a separate pan, and to puree the garlic & onion after roasting to “beef up” the broth (and also to keep The Boy from complaining about the onions).
Roasted Eggplant & White Bean Soup with Tangerine Gremolata
makes appx 10 servings

1 lb dry white beans (we used Great Northern), pre-soaked**
4 qts water (I use distilled)
1 tsp sea salt
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
1 Tbsp dried basil (or 2 Tbsp fresh, chopped)
4 cups chicken broth***
1 large eggplant, or 2 medium, halved lengthwise and scored
3 - 4 carrots, peeled
1 large onion, peeled, trimmed & halved
1 - 2 bell pepper, cored, seeded & halved
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 lb short pasta, preferably tube-shaped
Extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

for the gremolata:

¼ c fresh parsley, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
zest from 1 tangerine (appx 1 ½ tsp)

** There are many theories as to the best way to soak dry beans. I prefer to do a quick salt-soaking method with my dry beans: for every pound of beans dissolve 3 Tbs salt in 2 qts boiling water; combine dry, rinsed beans with hot salt water in pot and let soak for 1 hour (off the burner). Drain beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and rinse before continuing with the recipe.
*** I prefer to use Kirkland chicken stock or Pacific chicken broth as they have a cleaner flavor profile for me than other brands

Bring the beans, water, and salt to a gentle boil. Reduce immediately to a gentle simmer, add the bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender. Which, depending on the type of water you use and the quality of your beans, may take anywhere between 1 - 2 hours (we buy the generic supermarket beans, so ours always seem to take at least 2 hours!). Try a bean around the 45min - 1 hour mark to check the texture. If it’s still sort of hard instead of creamy, you’ve got some time to go yet. But you can go ahead and add the thyme, basil, and broth at this point.

In the meantime, set a rack in the center of your oven and the temperature to 400 degrees. I used a large shallow bowl to coat the eggplant, carrots, onion, bell pepper and garlic with the oil. Transfer to large baking pan (I put the garlic in a separate smaller pan so I could remove it after 10 minutes), place in oven, and delight in the smells. Now’s a great time to indulge in a glass of wine, a bottle of hard cider, or whatever floats your boat. And mix up the gremolata ingredients -- I had a couple of teaspoons of oil left in the shallow bowl I used for the vegetables, and I mixed that in with the parsley, raw garlic and tangerine zest in a small bowl. Set aside. I removed my vegetables from the oven at the 35 min. mark but I could’ve probably given them another 5 -10 mins. So, just watch them, make sure they get nice brown spots but don’t burn. Let them cool enough to handle, then scrape the eggplant off the skin with a spoon. I like to cut the rest of the vegetables to a size comparable to the beans and the chunks of eggplant. And I puréed all the roasted garlic and onion plus half the bell pepper in my small processor before adding to the soup. Cook together for about 10 minutes, add salt & pepper to taste, then add the pasta, turning up the temperature on the stove to Medium. Cook for however long the pasta manufacturer says it needs to be al dente. Then turn the stove off. I followed a Test Kitchen technique for Osso Buco, whereby you stir half the gremolata into the pot just before serving, then sprinkle a little on top of the individual portions. Ta-dá!!!

My thoughts: I tried this soup with and without the gremolata, and preferred it without. I found that the roasted vegetable flavor got lost when I added the last element. The Mister had the same reaction. I think the other two things I want to do differently next time is use a vegetable stock, and a parmesan rind. This is a very, very hearty, filling soup and I would suggest that if you prefer brothy-er soups, you can certainly make it without the pasta and it will still be a fairly hearty soup due to the beans. I didn’t have the ideal short pasta for this, like ditalini, so I threw in the ziti I did have.

Your thoughts? comments? Please visit the other #souperbowl posts and get some great, delicious ideas for your future soups!

Monday, September 04, 2006


when I was little, there was a running joke among my parents' mega-intellectual friends. We all lived near the university, and a lot of them were either professors there or they were working towards that goal. So the story goes that one day, Carlos was driving in the dark on his way home (after a long day at school, student-teaching and working on his dissertation) when he saw this huge, illuminated billboard with a single word that caused him profound excitement and roused his spirits despite his exhaustion. He came home to his wife and told her that apparently the government had started a wonderful and simple campaign that would surely have tremendous social consequences: he'd just driven past a sign that said "CONVERSE", people were being encouraged to talk to one another! His (American) wife, also a graduate student but ever the more practical of the two of them, gently broke it to him that the word on the sign was not a verb as he'd thought but rather the name of a company nearby that had a new shoe factory.

Their circle of friends lapped it up and repeated the story through the years, presumably as a reminder to never over-intellectualize things, although it never really stopped any of them from doing so. For years, I giggled every time we drove by that sign but I think deep down I did internalize the word as a verb. I'm no good at chit-chat. Don't get me wrong, I *can* do it but it exhausts me and makes me feel cheap, almost like I'm dirty and smelly with a big sign on my forehead that says "FAKE" in neon ligths. Have I said this before here? I don't remember. I'm the kind of person that wants to be able to sit with you somewhere comfortable and find out what you think, not about the weather or the latest celebrity breakup but about EVERYthing. I like to be able to have conversations about what makes people tick, why they get out of bed in the morning and why they want what they want and believe what they believe. Does that make me "intense"? I know some people have told me I'm too pushy, which horrified me because I don't ever push my beliefs on people (I don't think, at least I try not to), I just want to get to know them at a deeper level... which I guess is pushing intimacy, to a level that most people in this bullshit-coated society just aren't comfortable with. d'uh, funny the things I can figure out while I'm typing, I really need to do it more.

One of the reasons I haven't posted lately is because I'm very introspective right now. As much as I've been trying to get to know others at a deeper level, and reading blogs is so great for that, I've been finding it so very hard to open up and let others get to know me right now. There are so many parts of me that I feel protective over, that are too vulnerable, and I need to find a way to get past that and open up. It was the whole purpose of having a blog, having a place to air out my feelings, ideas, frustrations and my whole life. Mo and I had a big "feelings" talk last night. I feel bad for him because I've got enough angst for the two of us and sometimes I'm afraid that it'll drive a wedge in our relationship. He says he loves that about me, most of the time... except when I start grilling him about having feelings that he apparently doesn't have. *sigh* So, I guess I am pushy?

Last night, conversation around the dinner table was 99% about this year's football season, college and Pro. heh. All I had to contribute was that I heard the other day (on TV) that Clinton Portis' most recent injury shouldn't be so bad as to keep him out of the regular season. Mo's a huge Redskins fan, so I try and at least have a clue. However, the rest of the convo went over my head, it was like they were speaking Chinese. *sigh* Then Hyde spent most of the night farting, these noxious, loud and way-too-frequent fumes until I finally sent him to his room so that we wouldn't ALL have to suffer. Mo and Hyde were cracking up over the farting, while I really don't see what's so funny. Between the sports talk, the farting humor and the frequent comments about random boners, semi-chubs, and all manner of penis-related topics I'd rather not know about, I'm more convinced than ever that I need a daughter (or two), someone who likes sports as well as art, ballet, classical music. Someone whose biological functions I can relate to. But that's a whole other conversation right there...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

National Association Of W Lovers

I don't know why but I love this song! And El Niño is obsessed with the letter W (I've mentioned this here before) so he's positively transfixed when I play this for him.

When the computer crashed last week, the one good thing that happened was that, once we got the PC back up and restored, the sound finally started working again. It mysteriously stopped working a few months after I bought the computer, and it was never a huge issue for us, I never cared enough to do anything about it. With the advent of YouTube and other video hosting sites over the past year, things are totally different now and I can honestly say that I'm enjoying the fact that I can now watch AND listen to all sorts of things on our PC.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

ugh!!! (or, why I'm throwing myself a pity-party)

our (desktop) PC crashed on Saturday, I'm still not really sure why. It's been nerve-wracking for me to be without access to the Internet and it's a royal pain in the ass to try to restore the computer back to where I had it before the crash. I'm not even halfway done and I'm already frustrated and pissed. The OSs had to be reinstalled (Win 98 first, then XP on top) and now all the miscellaneous software that makes my life convenient has to be downloaded, setup, etc. I had no backup this time for my Outlook address book (last time this happened, I at least had the info on my PDA), so right now I don't even have my best-friend's phone number or email addy.

I'm now totally convinced that my next computer will be a Mac (as soon as that unexpected-anxiously-awaited-money comes in) because I'm sick of worrying about viruses and buggy software and having to be a pseudo sys-admin to keep the computer healthy and working right. I crave plug-n-play convenience and have been told by many that Macs offer that, so Mo and I have decided that a Mac lappy's in our future. Oh, and I know I've said it before but I'm gonna say it again: Picasa ROCKS!!! I've been using it for over a year and it's better/easier than pretty much any other photo software I've used (FYI, I'm not well-versed in Photoshop). Well, it just effortlessly restored all the pictures that were in my hard drive, I didn't even have to use the last backup disk that I'd made with Picasa's easy-peasy backup feature. Why isn't Microsoft software as user-friendly as Google's??? If I had any money to invest, I'd be buying me some Google stock. I love their email, chat and photo software, including the new Web Albums feature (that'll be competing with Flickr soon I bet, and I can't wait for them to add a video feature to the albums so they can totally own me).

Oh, and El Niño and I are sick, on top of everything. It's quite a challenge to deal with a computer in need of massive work when one's body feels like an eighteen-wheeler's driven over it, one's head is totally congested, and one's teething toddler is also sick and congested and refuses to eat or sleep. I'll go crawl into a fetal position now...

Friday, August 18, 2006

blah, blah, blah-di-blahblah...

I'll take a break now from discussing babycarriers to dish about one of my other favorite things: shoes! I recently got myself a pair of Croc-offs (pictured) because I went in to Payless looking for something else and when I saw these, I just HAD TO have them and fortunately I'd just gotten some birthday money. They're very comfy, and contribute to my ongoing habit of dressing like a toddler. (I think the last time I dressed like an adult was for a wedding we attended a couple months ago) I know a lot of people just loooooove to go on and on about how fugly Crocs are, and I sorta agree. But periwinkle tie-dye? You had me at periwinkle, baby! Now the clever folks at Crocs have come out with two more mainstream-looking designs for the Fall, one of which is a Mary Jane. OMG!!! It's like the best of all worlds... If, like me, you're convinced that Crocs are a blessing to anyone who walks and/or stands on their feet all day, Journeys has them right now in a few colors, or you can wait until the Fall release next month (which will offer more color options). I had to go try the MJ on and am totally sold, it's waaaaaaay cuter than the regular Crocs but still just as comfy. Mo will soon be getting one of the Rx options they offer, and I'll be getting the MJs as soon as I can pick a color.

Staying on the subject of shoes, El Niño totally screwed us over by outgrowing his practically-new-just-bought 'em-in-June shoes. I'm so glad they were all shoes from babyGap that we'd bought on clearance. (in case anyone's wondering, this isn't surreptitious product placement or blogvertising... this is really me propping up the stuff I like, and I plan to do that often because I'd like to make sure the products that work for me stick around, unlike the china and flatware we registered for when we got married) Buying shoes for this child is tricky because he seems to have a high instep and very sweaty feet. All-leather shoes are out, and a lot of slip-ons are as well because they won't, hrm, slip on. We'd bought him a pair of Ecco sneakers we all loved but he outgrew too fast, then we tried a pair of Stride Rite sandals that were extremely cute but he kept taking them off and much to my chagrin I saw they left red marks all over his feet. The two pairs of babyGap sandals he liked so much he'd put them on at home, while he was otherwise running around naked (great way to potty-train, more on that in a few). I'm finding that a lot of the shoes at babyGap are actually excellent, very bendy soles and well-made enough to take a beating being worn to the playground every day, as well as the constant toddler on/off at home. And of course I only buy them after they've been marked down at least three times and cost less than $10, because if I remember correctly from my days as a Gap employee (a lifetime ago), their markup on footwear and accessories is 300+%, and I'm not paying that. Unfortunately, he wore his verycute sandals for two and a half months before busting out of them to a size 8. Seriously, we were caught with our pants down again and at a difficult stage of Summer-to-Fall retail transition. (I wish I could shop at thrift stores like Dutch but I never find anything other than books to buy there) So, we were out on the Eastside on Tuesday for a business-sushi-lunch and managed afterwards to go to the Marshall's store at Lloyd Center and score some great deals on shoes for all of us, including our third and only successful attempt to get comfortable Stride Rites for El Niño and some Cross Country sneaks for Hyde. Oh, remember the toddler-sized blue flame Chucks I wanted to get? We finally got those too, for $12 at Freddy's, woo-hoo!!! But they don't fit yet, these are a size 9 so maybe next month... and I guess they're not really flames as much as a tattoo design. Whatever... he keeps trying to put them on, it's cute.
On the potty training front, El Niño's been consistently staying dry overnight for over two weeks now. This is huge! Now all we have left to do is get him used to staying dry while he's wearing something... a note to the fine, hardworking people at Kimberly Clark: the idea of the "feels cool/wet" liner in your Huggies Pull-Ups product is clever but it doesn't work for a lot of boys who couldn't care less about being wet or slightly cool in their crotch. I have no experience with potty training girls but I can promise you that *my* boys could lay in enough wetness to constitute a pond and neither one would care one bit, it wouldn't signal to them "hey, you need to go to the potty NOW, Bud!" Oh, and the fit is horrible on skinny boys, El Niño's pants always get soaked when he pees in his Pull-Ups. Can you guys do something about that too?
The talking thing is progressing now at quite a clip, and last week we were surprised when Hyde was heading out the door and El Niño went running after him, yelling "byyyyyyyeeeeee, I wuuuuv uuuuuu!" Sentences are becoming commonplace, and it's clear that English dominates at least his spoken language skills, even if he still understands what I say to him in Spanish. What's funny is that he's also making more of an effort to use signs now, after a few months where he wasn't really trying to use them. The other day he even grabbed my hand and "forced" my fingers to make a sign he was having trouble with, and had forgotten the spoken word for, it was one of those awesome moments where maternal joy and pride just welled up inside me and almost knocked me out.
Sesame Street has begun their newest season, with a much-heralded "lead female" puppet character, Abby Cadabby*. I'm not crazy about this pink puppet with fairy wings and I'm not convinced that she's a necessary addition to the SS cast of characters... call me cynical but I have a nagging suspicion that this was more marketing-driven than anything else (with less Federal money going to fund public television, they've gotta find ways to pay for the show and they've gotta compete with Dora and the Disney Princesses, right?). Don't even get me started on Elmo and his takeover of about a third of the show, blech. The good news is that by adding this new character they've also had to add new content, and it looks like this season the show's being truer to its roots as a result: I've noticed more songs and more of the educational content that I grew up loving. If you're wondering why I care so much about the show, it's because I benefitted immensely from watching SS when I was an intellectually precocious and bilingual little girl. And I was also (28 years ago) one of the kids CTW used to review content for its shows. Most children's television is garbage, and I wasn't happy with the direction SS was taking in the last couple of years I've been watching. So, I'll be watching and probably commenting on Abby in the near future. Oh, and can I just say that for some twisted reason, Cadabby in my brain gets turned into cadaver, so she's Abby Cadaver to me? Oy!
* I would've linked to the New York Times article, which was pretty interesting to read (especially between the lines) but apparently they now require you to subscribe even if you just want to read one piece...
We met our opposites on Saturday... at the Lloyd Center MAX stop on the way home. Mo heard the dude talking and asked me what language he was speaking, and I told him Spanish. My husband's ears perked up and he immediately asked me to go over there and "freak him out" by speaking Spanish to him. For some weird reason, he finds this sexy, that people are surprised by my unaccented efforts at communicating with them in Spanish. Except that this man is as fair-skinned as I am (or more, he's blonder than Mo), so I was certain it wouldn't even faze him. And it didn't. Well, dude's my freakish-counterpart-PuertoRican, living right here in Portland with his Indiana-born wife and three kids. Some pleasant conversation was had and phone numbers were exchanged. As busy as we seem to always be (I don't even know how that happens or how we even have friends still), it *would* be nice to add The Opposites to our social circle. I miss hearing Spanish spoken in my accent... not to be a snob or anything (which I guess I kinda am) but after a while, hearing only the Mexican accent really gets old. And I think it'd really be good for my boys to be around other bilingual/bicultural kids with a similar background. I've called and left a message and now it's their turn. Tag you're it & hope they call back!
I haven't really caught up yet on everything I need to get out of my system but at least this is a start (especially since I started writing this post on Saturday). I have some deep thoughts I need to hack up out of my brain like a hairball but I'm not there yet. Happy Friday!

Update: Abby Cadabby was named "Person of the Week" by the ABC WNT crew... sheeeesh, it's like I have my finger on the pulse of our culture or something!

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I've been offered the opportunity to work part-time from home doing some Spanish/English translation and/or interpretation services. This may turn out to be an easy way for me to contribute to our currently struggling household finances. The businessman offering this opportunity is even willing to print out some business cards for me (at his expense) but has asked me to come up with a business name to put on the cards and maybe a little art to go with it. Hmmmmmmm... I'm really drawing a blank here, no creative juices flowing in this head, in fact I've been trying to kill off a migraine since 4am. Anyone got ideas for me??? I can't promise cookies, like one of my friends has in the past, but my undying gratitude will *surely* reap spiritual rewards for you...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

some fashion show pics

I love sharing pictures... some of these aren't all that great but I didn't get to take any of them so I can't complain. The first is of me, modeling a blue Panel Kozy (with a borrowed child on my back). The next one is of another local mamma, modeling a Bling Panel Kozy. *sigh*

The third pic is of Mo modeling the bECO XO, with
El Niño on his back. The fourth, fifth and sixth pics are of the totally awesome Amautik. If you saw the movie Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner, you saw the traditional Amautiks made of skins and fur and decorated with beautiful designs; the one Kristi is modeling in these pictures is a modern version made with modern materials. Mo and I joke sometimes about moving up to Alaska ("just how much further away from our families can we go?"), and if we wind up doing it, I'm *totally* getting an Amautik!

The last picture is of me, breastfeeding onstage during the show. Woo-Hoo!