Build-a-Bowl Chicken Noodle Soup

A brisk day in late autumn. The leaves fell and were raked away long ago. A few snowflakes have been spotted. A huge container of mittens and hats and scarves sits by the front door, waiting to be decanted into the Hat Basket for easy access all winter long. Jacket weather is gone but I still refuse to wear my winter coat... not yet.

It's a chicken noodle soup kind of day.

I realize that my cooking legacy to my children may not be teaching them in person in our home kitchen. It might instead be this blog. Here is where I record my recipes and tips and tricks. I hope the Internet is still working when my children want to look up what I wrote. (I love you, future-children!)

My main trick for this soup is to cook the noodles separately. This makes the soup less starchy overall, and helps the noodles stay more intact. To serve, I "build" the soup by spooning the hot liquid part over the cooked noodles, mixing them right in each bowl.

Ingredients:

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced or crushed
2 breasts of chicken, cubed
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 box chicken broth (32 ounces)
pinches of oregano, thyme, basil and/or sage
1/2 cup frozen green peas
6 ounces egg noodles (half of a 12-ounce bag)

Directions:

1. Heat butter and olive oil together in large Dutch oven. Add onion and sauté.

 



2. Add cubed chicken and stir until mostly cooked (white) on all sides, about 5 minutes.





3. Add 1 clove of the minced garlic, and all of the celery. Stir together for another few minutes.





4. Add carrots and broth. Bring to a simmer.



5. Add herbs. Simmer for 20 minutes until carrot pieces have started to soften.

6. MEANWHILE, start heating a large pot of water for the egg noodles.

7. Add frozen peas to chicken soup. It can hold and simmer for as long as needed while the noodles are cooking.




8.  When noodle water boils, add salt and then noodles. Follow directions on package to cook (boil about 9-11 minutes).
 
9. Drain noodles in colander and toss with some olive oil to prevent sticking. Keep in colander until ready to serve (can cover with a lid).




10. Add the second garlic clove to the almost-finished soup. (This allows a fuller spectrum of garlic compounds, because the second clove will not get cooked as much.)


11. When you're ready, build each bowl by starting with a serving of noodles.




12. Ladle the soup on top and you're done!



This method lets the broth keep a consommé-like clarity, as it is not gummed up with starch from the noodles. It tastes light and veg-forward. However if you like a thicker soup, you can cook the noodles right in the soup by adding them at around Step 7 above.

This also makes great turkey soup, ideal for post-Thanksgiving. Just leave out the chicken, and instead add chunks of cooked turkey when you put in the broth.

Happy December!

First Frost Pesto

If you have an herb garden, you know how frost will kill delicate basil overnight. Don't waste those pungent leaves by letting them die. Instead, when that first frost warning comes, make pesto!

I pulled up my plants and cut off the roots, then covered with water.



Next, I pulled off all the leaves—getting everything healthy and green. My 10-ish basil plants yielded about one generously packed cup of basil leaves.




I followed my favorite 5-ingredient recipe for pesto, adapted from my memory of a Cook's Illustrated article from the 90s.



Ingredients:
  • Basil leaves
  • Garlic cloves
  • Pine nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese (grated)

The amounts of everything depend completely on how much basil you have and how much you like garlic. Please wing it!

With this recipe, there are three important verbs for the key ingredients. Attend them well.

BLANCH the garlic.
TOAST the pine nuts.
BRUISE the basil.

I used 2 cloves of garlic for this amount of basil, and placed them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then ran under cold water to stop the cooking.




My assistant toasted about 1/2 cup of pine nuts by continually stirring them over medium heat until they started to brown and smell nice, then he pulled them off the heat to slow cooking.




I squeezed the basil leaves as I placed them into the food processor to release the oils and kickstart the pesto flavoring.






We added the garlic and pine nuts to the basil, and put the lid on.

More verbs: You want to BLEND and EMULSIFY at the same time, which means drizzling in the olive oil while the food processor is on. Aim for the thinnest stream possible, and stop and scrape the contents occasionally. Check consistency.



We like rather dry pesto so stopped adding oil earlyish, but you could keep going if you want to aim for a juicier mix.

When it's an even, fine consistency, scrape out all the pesto into a container. Then mix in the parmesan. We put in about half a cup of finely grated cheese (we always add more later when it's hot).






You can also skip the parmesan at this point for a vegan option or to add later. If you freeze your pesto, I suggest adding the cheese later once it's thawed.





We used our pesto on pasta, and also made pesto pizza on my NEW pizza stone (blog post to come!).

Do you make your own pesto? Do you live in a zone where your garden freezes--and how do you deal?

5 Trail Race Essentials

I'm getting ready for my 4th trail race of the year tomorrow (Pisgah Mountain 23k), so I'm putting together my essential trail race items. No matter what brands or products you prefer, I think these are some key categories for a casual trail racer.


1. Trail race hydration & nutrition

This is a big category, but GU Roctane makes it easy for me since their mixes are hydration and nutrition in one. For the past two years I've been using a hydration vest with 2L reservoir, and the combination really works well. The vest also has pockets for phone, tissues, lip balm, sunglasses, etc.


SUMMIT TEA is delicious.

2. Trail race skincare, including SPF

Long-distance running usually means chafing where fabric rubs skin for mile after mile (or where skin rubs skin, ouch). I prepare with anti-chafing balm in key spots. Sunscreen is also a very good idea.




3. Bandana and/or trail race headwear

I hate the feeling of sweat dripping down my face. I carry a bandana in my hand (or tucked into my hydration vest if I'm not too sweaty) to literally mop my brow during a race. Also, think about whether you'll need a hat (for shade or for warmth), neck gaiter, gloves, and so forth.



4. Trail race camp chair

I learned this the hard way after races where I'd want to socialize and eat delicious food, but was SO tired of being upright. Bring a chair! Here's my setup after the Vegan Power 25k last June: water, vegan pizza, and super comfy chair. (Thanks mom for the Christmas gift!!)


5. Complete change of clothes including comfy shoes

I assume I will be soaking wet at the end of a race (from sweat or from pouring water over my head or both). There is nothing more delightful than stripping off the grimy race clothes I've worn for hours and slipping into something clean and dry. Loose slip-on shoes are also heavenly. Bonus: Bring a damp washcloth or sports towel for a little faux shower in the back of the car, or ideally in a spacious restroom right by the finish line.


Do you have essentials for the trail--races or hikes? Please share in the comments!

Enjoy these last few days of summer!

Lately: Catching up on June & July 2017

Hello friends! Summer is flying by! We have been busy bees. Here are a few photos from June & July.


I ran the Vegan Power 25k again. There was an awesome heavy metal band called "Tomato Soup" at the start/finish area. They helped power us along and ROCK.




I was a few minutes faster than last year and came in Third Place for women (and 6th overall). I got this cool sheep trophy. (The Vegan Power 25k/50k is a fundraiser for animal care & welfare.)




Next I drove to Cape Cod to join my family at the ocean side. I love how New England beaches have vast tangles of roses—is it like that on other coasts, too?


Random book in the house where we stayed.


 

On the Cape one day, six of us took bikes to explore the rail trail, starting from Nickerson State Park in Brewster.



It was a gorgeous day.



Our turnaround point was 2 miles out at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow, a chocolate/coffee/ice cream bar in Orleans. The selection was a little overwhelming!




On another day I had tacos (and sangria) at Guapo's, the tortilla shack outlet in Brewster. So delicious.



The blues of a summer day.



A view of Scargo Lake taken from Scargo Tower. We swam in the lake earlier in the day and it was a nice interlude from the insistence of the ocean surf.



Flash to the Fourth of July. We went back to Old Sturbridge Village for the 1830's style celebrations (with cannon!) and took a full picnic.



I didn't take many photos this year—here is a mama hen with her two black chicks. 





Family Movie Night later in the week. Soooo funny.





The garden is looking good!




I tried "frosé" (essentially a slushie made from frozen wine blended with strawberries and vodka). It was "not my favorite," as my son would say.



Inspired by our Cape Cod experience, this weekend we took another family bike ride to Jamaica State Park (in Jamaica, Vermont). Next we're thinking of maybe trying CAMPING.



On Thursday mornings I run up the local mountain with a few others from my running group. I made these punch cards to track our climbs. I'm up to 4 punches now!

How is your summer going?

Race Report: West River Trail Run 2017

Last year I tried the West River Trail Run here in Vermont and I loved it. It's challenging, but not TOO challenging. The first half is essentially flat, then there is a big mountain and a fun dam to go up and over, then 2 more flat miles to the finish. The 11-mile race went well, was nicely organized, and the day was cool and pleasant. This is just a quick photo recap.


This is around mile 5, before the trail starts to climb.



The wooded single-track begins around mile 6. There were a few muddy bits, but not bad at all. Here is Angel Falls, where the trail crosses over the water on some huge sturdy rocks.



The race course goes up and over Ball Mountain dam, using the service road that you can see going up from right to left.



This is taken from near the top of that road, looking up the West River.


The trail on the other side of the dam is a fun set of dropping switchbacks. I like to Z down this side at top speed.

Even with a bathroom stop this time, I was a bit faster than last year. I'm giving full credit to the Strength & Conditioning class I do every Wednesday morning. It's getting me fit in different ways, and also teaching me about endurance and perserverance.

2017 time: 1:53:38
2016 time: 1:56:33

I've got one more race report coming up (Vegan Power!!), then I'm taking a break during the hot months (I think!).

Gardening for Idiots: 4 Easy Steps

It's not that I'm a good gardener or a bad gardener. I am just Not a Gardener.

I do have a small, beloved herb garden that I struggle mightily (in my mind) to plant and tend each year, and that was already more than I could handle.

However, given today's bizarre political and cultural climate, I figured it's time to learn how to grow food for myself and my family... just in case. I have distilled my experiences into 4 easy steps for starting your grownup garden.

1. Visit the children's section of the public library and get a simple book on gardening. I chose My Backyard Garden by Carol Lerner, which is organized by monthly activities and has nice illustrations. The logic of getting a kid's book is that you will not get bogged down with details and possibly never move on to steps 2-4.



2. Plan your garden. Where will you put it? How big will it be? What will you plant? Carol Lerner says 20 square feet is a good size to start with.



Here's my plan. I got a little excited and planned an 80 square foot garden. I decided on lettuce, chard & kale, bush beans, beets & carrots, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes.



3. Prepare the garden space. I chose a rectangle of space at the southern end of our lawn. Part of it was occupied by the remains of a 5x5' sandbox, which we shoveled out and replaced with bags of topsoil (Moo Dirt to be specific). The rest of the space was grass, which I forked over, hoed apart, augmented with Moo Doo, and raked.


4. Plant! If possible, visit a garden center and get already started plants, then pop them in the ground after danger of last frost (aka Memorial Day). Water. 

Our actual selections at the garden center were pretty much in line with my plan. We did add a six-pack of bell peppers. We also planted some peas that had come home as part of a first-grade project. And I got seed packets of carrots, chard, spinach, and lettuce which I sowed in rows at the far end of the rectangle shown above.

Things are too close together and I'm sure the zucchini is going to riot in about 8 weeks. A bean plant has already completely disappeared. But otherwise it's all very satisfying.



I also put the annual round of herbs into the herb garden on the other side of our property—basil, cilantro, parsley, dill, plus a new Rosemary & a new Lavender to replace the ones killed by the savage winter cold. The sage, chives, rue, mint, lemon balm, and oregano all over-wintered successfully.

What have you been planting? Are you a Good Gardener?

Race Report: 7 Sisters Trail Race

I was winded, panting, a special kind of whole-body tired. Looking at the trail ahead of me, which meant looking UP a tumble of large rocks in the middle of the woods, I could see other runners picking their way up yet another technical ascent. More runners were right on my heels. I couldn't stop here. Gotta keep moving. But if things didn't change soon, I knew I'd have to drop out of this race. It was a 12-mile race, and I was only on mile 2.

The 7 Sisters Trail Race is an iconic race that I'd mainly heard about by reading one of my favorite running blogs, Relentless Forward Commotion. (Hi, Heather!) I probably should have re-read her race reports before signing up, or investigated the course in any way, but I did not. I signed up in a rush on the last day before the price increase. Only afterward did I sit down to research what I'd gotten myself into.

 

The course is 12 miles out and back on the Monadnock-Metacomet trail near Amherst, MA. The turnaround is the lowest elevation point of the race, and the 2nd half is more uphill than first, if you can picture that.

"Widely considered the most challenging trail race in the Northeast..." race website

"Might just be the most technical trail run in New England..." Runner's World

"It has always attracted the best trail runners in New England..." as quoted on Relentless Forward Commotion

So what does "technical" mean when it comes to trail running? Basically it means that the course demands a lot of attention and energy—roots, rocks, climbing (sometimes on all fours), and in this case on this particular day, add MUD to the mix. As one fellow runner said to me on the trail after we'd both been slipping and sliding all over, "I've decided this race is not about how fast you can run, it's about how long you can stay standing up!"

Skills I quickly learned on the technical trail: How to search for footholds on a natural rock staircase made for giants. How to grab roots or saplings when ascending or descending so as not to plunge down the hill. How to tell if a promising shiny spot in a large slick of mud is an actual stable rock or just more mud. How to walk in the middle of a stream because the water knows the best way. How to negotiate steep wet slopes while also staying out of the way of frontrunners (and midrunners) on their return lap. How to take in an amazing view while still moving moving moving.


Maybe I had no business attempting the 7 Sisters, but I didn't know that until I was two miles in and hoping SOMETHING would look up. I'd been training for a marathon all winter, so I didn't think I was out of shape. I've also been taking an excellent strength and plyometrics class that has been helping me cross-train as well as deal with discomfort and repetition... perfect for this race. But I had not been specifically training on incessant vertical terrain.

3,938 feet of gain on this course

Fortunately, things did start going my way.  First, my GU Roctane, the energy drink that I swear by, started to kick in. It contains caffeine, amino acids, sodium, and potassium and I adore it (now in delightful Summit Tea flavor! (I am not affiliated with GU)). I carried it in my hydration vest and sipped throughout the race, and I swear it gets me through just about anything. (I drank over 2 litres over the course of the race.)

Another thing that changed my mood was the return of the frontrunners. Their energy and verve and even reckless joy at running this thing FAST was contagious. As the elites all passed and the "regular" folks started passing me too, we'd exchange smiles, encouragement, quick tips.

And the nature of an out and back course takes off some mental pressure. Unlike my experiences with a looped course where I mentally grapple with multiple opportunities to drop out, here there was really nowhere to go but back to the finish. (Of course if someone needed serious help, it was available.) While the physical assignment was intense, at least I wasn't goading myself to keep going as I've done in some races, particularly the 6-hour ones. I just set the intention that I would finish eventually. And I did: In 4:29:37, in 390th place (out of 439).

Final thoughts: I would probably do this again.