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Green soup? It must be spring!**

Today is the fourth full day of Passover and I am happy to say that I am not weak with hunger yet. At the wonderful Tuesday-night seder that I went to this year, my former roommate reminisced about how last year I was totally grouchy and impossible to get along with for an entire week. I think she’s forgiven me by now.

This year I’ve protected myself from such severe moodiness mostly by bending the rules of passover considerably. Once you cut out leavened bread (pasta, rice, cookies) and legumes (peanuts, beans, soy) from my vegetarian diet, there’s hardly anything substantial left. After years of starvation I’ve decided that, given that the ancient Egyptians were able to supplement their diet with lamb, I feel comfortable eating the occasional lentil. And I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the bible about peanut butter.

My current interpretation of the laws of passover is simple: no bread, and no corn. I like this definition because in practical terms, it means I have to cut out all the processed and pre-made foods from my diet. Bread is my most common pre-packaged indulgence, and corn (corn oil and corn syrup) is basically ubiquitous. Keeping kosher means I have to go back to basics, and prepare my meals myself.

I don’t fast for passover because I want to be hungry. (I save that for Yom Kippur). I fast for Passover because it’s a way of bringing a new kind of awareness to my life. The Emotional Calendar says that awareness is one of the keys to maintaining emotional stability, but it’s easy to forget about when you’re caught up in major life changes or a heavy work load. I like passover because it imposes awareness and brings me back in touch with myself. That’s a lesson I try to hold on to all year.

I also like Passover because it makes me get creative about my meals. Last Wednesday I took the evening off to try out a new soup that I found in my Moosewood cookbook. It’s super easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it’s kosher for passover. Doesn’t get much better than that.

My slightly modified version is below. I’m writing it from memory, so you’ll have to forgive me if I miss a vital ingredient or essential step. One thing to keep in mind: it’s better if you let it rest at least an hour before serving. Even better if you make it a day in advance.

Curried Zucchini Soup

olive oil
2 cups diced onions (1.5 onions)
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
3 tsp curry powder
2.5 cups water
5 cups zucchini (5 small supermarket zucchini)
2 cups potatoes (2-3 medium sized)
1 cup plain yogurt
1.5 tsp salt + pepper to taste
fresh cilantro to taste, chopped.
1. Dice the onions and saute them in olive oil over medium-low heat in the bottom of a soup pot until translucent. About 10 minutes.
2. While the onions are cooking, slice the zucchini in half and then chop into semi-circles. Also chop the potatoes. Set aside.
3. If necessary, peel and chop the garlic (or you can put it through a garlic press).
4. When the onions are done,  add the ginger, garlic, and curry powder. Cook for another minute.
5. Add the water, zucchini, and potatoes. Cover and let simmer until soft. I forget how long this takes – 20 minutes? Add salt and pepper.
6.  Remove from heat and add the yogurt and cilantro. Allow to cool until it won’t hurt you anymore.
7. Blend in batches in the blender until it’s a consistency that you like.
8. Refrigerate. This soup gets better after sitting for at least an hour. I made it a day in advance. You can eat it cold or hot, with a dollop of yogurt in the middle, and matzah on the side.

Weather:
57 degrees and sunny now, but ridiculously cold last night.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I’m happy for the weekend.
Anna: 7 out of 10.

**I don’t know who to give photo credit to but I got it on a diabetes website. I should really get my own camera.

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No scones here!

This weekend I’m doing a two-day Wilderness First Responder recertification. I’ll be renewing my CPR and first aid skills. I’ll also be learning all sorts of emergency tricks for situations like: what to do if you fall on your ice-pick while climbing in the White Mountains in January. Or how to respond to a snake bite in the back country in Arizona. It should be a lot of fun.

Of course, now that I live in Somerville, wilderness survival is less relevant than it was three years ago, when I took the original course. These days, my emergency survival kit includes things like an extra T pass, several Starlite mints, and a travel toothbrush. Just in case.

And when things get really desperate (like they did last week), my response rarely involves binding a broken limb with twigs, an old t-shirt, and a sleeping pad. Instead, I turn to baked goods, like the Emergency Scones that I made last week. The recipe, modified from epicurious, is below. Whether you’re feeling desperate or not, I recommend these for a delightful Sunday morning treat.

I’ve also included some tricks for working butter into flour, and for not having to go out and buy buttermilk (especially during a snowstorm). Naturally you should feel free to disregard.

Pea-Sized Pieces: the trick to making these scones is crumbling the butter into pea-sized bits. If you’ve ever made a really good pie crust before, you know that this is what makes flakiness happen – each pea-sized bit melts into a thin film that separates the layers of dough. If the bits are too big, you’ll get uneven dough. If they’re too small, you’ll get a heavy dough. And if you smear them together as if you were making cookies, then you’ll get, well, cookies. To make pea-sized bits: take a stick of cold butter and dice it as if it was an onion. Cut it lengthwise and widthwise until you have lots of discreet, rectangular butter bits that you can throw into the flour mixture. Dump the butter into the dough. Then use your hands and break the bits up until they are pea-sized, or really a little bit smaller. More like a lentil. Keep in mind, once you add the wet ingredients, that you want to keep those butter bits intact as you mix the batter.

Buttermilk Substitute: Buying buttermilk is silly since I never use it and it goes bad quickly. I mixed together 1/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk. Then I squeezed in the juice from half a lemon, mixed, and let it sit while I made the batter. Tasty, cheap, and I didn’t have to go to the store!

Emergency Scones

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat, plus some whole wheat, plus some white. go crazy.)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • grated peel from one lemon
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips. (Or chop up regular chocolate chips, or a bar of chocolate).
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk (or 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, and the juice from half a lemon – see above)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon peel.

3. Add butter and work in until lentil sized. (see above for some tips.) Mix in chocolate chips.

4.In a separate bowl, whisk together milk/buttermilk, egg yolk, and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and mix gently to keep the butter balls intact.

5. According the original recipe, you can now take this dough, shape it into a large cheese-wheel on a lightly floured surface, and cut it into nice triangles. Instead, I scooped it up with my hands and formed it into scone-sized balls. Array the balls/triangles on a greased cookie sheet.

6. Sprinkle sugar on top.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until crusty and a toothpick comes out clean.

Weather:

34 degrees and sunny. A great leap forward from yesterday’s single digits.

Moods:

Hannah: 6 and TGIF on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 6 and really antsy.


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You may not have figured this out yet, but one of the many things that Anna and I have in common is a love of food. I love to cook (especially to bake, thanks mom). Anna loves to eat – and to talk, and write, about food.

So here at Ditch The Umbrella, we have decided to make Friday Food Day on our (emotional) calendar. We all know how a well-timed meal can heighten your sense of the season (or transport you to far-away places).  Healthy eating, like good sleep and exercise, is one of the cornerstones of a healthy body and mind. And most days, good food is enough to lift anyone’s mood.

For my first official Food Day post, I would like to invite you to journey with me to a place where the weather report is consistently sunny, and 62 degrees. Tunisia has been in the news lately for political unrest. If, like me, your knowledge of Tunisia’s history and culture is limited, I encourage you to read up on this fascinating north-African country. Or you can do what I did last weekend, and make yourself a variation of couscousi tunisie, a Tunisian stew as heart-warming on a cold winter’s night in Boston as it is on the Mediterranean shore.

With many thanks to Rachel, whose more culturally accurate version of the recipe can be found here.

Vegetarian Tunisian Couscous

Allow 40 – 45 minutes to cook
Feeds 5 people

Ingredients (with transliterated Arabic)

khodra (vegetables)
• 1 onion – DICED
• ½ kromp (cabbage) – THINLY SLICED
• 2 batata (potatoes) – CHOPPED INTO CHUNKS
• 3 sfineria (carrots) – SLICED INTO CIRCLES
• A lot of greens – I used spinach, but beet greens are better. – ROUGHLY CHOPPED
• 3 tbsp tomato paste
• 1 cup cooked fool (fava beans) (feel free to omit. I don’t like them.)
• 2 whole peppers – I used the spicier poblano, but green peppers are okay
• 2 cups couscous – Israeli or not.
• zeet zeetouna (olive oil)
spices
• melh (salt)
• harissa Arabi (a special type of spicy harissa paste used only in cooking. This is essential – although hot sauce is okay.)
• fil fil akhmar (paprika)
• black pepper

Directions

1. In a large soup-pan, cover bottom with oil (2 tbsp-ish) and cook onions on medium until translucent.
2. Add 3 tbs. of tomato paste diluted with ½ cup of water. You can dilute the paste before adding to the pan or after, either way works fine.
3. Add potatoes, cabbage carrots, and greens (everything but the poblano chili).
4. Add large pinch of paprika, and pinch of black pepper. Cook for two minutes.
5. Add approximately 5 cups of water. Add the fava beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
6. Add approximately 1/2 tbs. of the harissa Arabi paste to your liking. Stick to even less for shwaya har (a little spicy) or lean more towards 1 or 1½ tbs. for true Tunisian style, har (spicy).
7. Slit the green peppers (to let the juices in and out), and scrape out seeds.
8. In a small pan lightly coated in oil, pan-fry peppers until they are slightly tender, and slightly wrinkly. Keep them in there for a little longer. Set aside.
9. Cook soup until everything is tender (or for as long as you want – this is soup). Adjust spices to taste.
10. About 15 minutes before serving, prepare couscous according to directions on package. Or, use a steamer and cook directly on top of your simmering soup for a delicious flavor.
11. To Serve: put couscous in a large bowl. Pour two spoonfulls of sauce over and then all of the vegetables. Garnish with the roasted peppers. Serve the remaining sauce on the side for those who like it.

Weather: sunny and 62 degrees! Oh wait, that’s 32.

Moods:

Hannah: 7.5 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale. Looking forward to a good weekend.

Anna: 6.5 out of 10, for the same reason!

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Snowed in? Eat Cookies

Wednesday’s blizzard meant a day of working from home for me and my roommates. I decided to punctuate the day with a mid-afternoon molasses cookie break. Then I returned to my computer, fresh coffee and fresh cookies in hand, while the snow piled up outside. Perfect.

Molasses Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter soft enough to mix
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar (Next time I will use less – maybe 1/4 cup)
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses (I used blackstrap)
2 tbsp vegetable oil (this makes them chewy and delicious! do not replace with butter)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt

Cream: butter and sugars in a medium mixing bowl. Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Add molasses and oil and mix thoroughly

Mix: dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt) in a separate bowl. this ensures that you don’t get clumps of baking soda.

Combine: pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Refrigerate: Cover bowl (plastic wrap works well) and refrigerate for an hour or more. Refrigerating keeps them from sticking to your hands in the next step. If you’re not afraid of salmonella, taste test. amazing.

Scoop: Preheat oven to 325 (I did 350). Pour some granulated sugar into a bowl. Scoop up spoonfulls of dough, roll them in your hand so they’re balls, then dip them in sugar. Place them sugar-side up on cookie sheets.

Bake: 10-15 minutes. The top will crack and be a little bit hard to the touch but they will be really soft inside and floppy when you take them off the tray.

adapted from martha stewart’s cookies, which I was opposed to on principle, but oh, wow, they’re good.

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