Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sweet Potato Soup (and an ode to fall)

Since publishing last week's post (Apples, Nature's Delightful Bounty), I've had a number of requests for the Sweet Potato Soup recipe I briefly mentioned there.  This recipe in prticular and sweet potatoes in general seem appropriate now, as the nights have gotten cool and crisp and the fall colors here in central Virginia have begun to show.  And really, who isn't already making Thanksgiving plans?

An Ode to Fall (a serious digression)

 Every year I am absolutely mesmerized by this season.  It surprises and delights me each time it comes around (unlike the end of daylight savings time, which surprises  and annoys me).  I have yet to tire of the brilliant red and fiery orange of the maples, the rich scarlet of the dogwoods (usually the first to show), the crunchy, rust-colored leaves of the poplars and sycamores and the deep yellow-gold of the beeches.  Luminescent, iridescent, phosphorescent, I can't seem to get enough of it, I want to drink it, bathe in it.  And this is what I realized the other day - that the leaves in autumn seem to somehow, contrary to the laws of nature and physics, give off their own light.  I'm really not kidding.  As I drive to work in the barely-sunlit morning or drive home in the not-quite-dark dusk, the leaves glow, they practically shine, and not, mind you, from any reflected sunlight, but rather as if from within.  It's almost eerie but certainly astonishingly beautiful.  It's captivating really (and I do sometimes have to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road), an experience of nature I find completely compelling.
There is a particular stretch of road I drive almost daily that to me is the quintessence of fall color.  Route 6, where it straddles the Albemarle and Nelson county line is a state-designated "Scenic Byway" (a designation I'd agree with more if it weren't for the trash that's so often strewn along it).  For me it's about a 5-mile ride along Irish Road (as it's also called) and for much of it, the tall trees overhang it, their ends touching and overlapping the center in many places, no sky visible above.  It's beautiful in spring, of course, as the buds burst forth and the young green leaves begin to show themselves.  In summer too, I love the effect of driving through this long, dark, green tunnel, a worm-hole of dense vegetation.  But in October, it's magical.  It's like drifting, slowly, gently and effortlessly into a soft warm quilt; plush, deep and soothing.  It's an envelopment, a surrender. I can close my eyes and feel it embrace me.

Obviously my literary skill is not up to the task as adequately describing this.  Believe me, I've written many a lame poem about it in my attempt to somehow capture what I see.  My strategy here is clearly to just throw lots of descriptive words out and hope they stick. 
The other thing that struck me about fall this year as I've been watching the leaves turn for the past few days is its sort of yearning or waning quality.  If you think about it and give it its place in the cycle of the seasons (and see it in relation to all the other daily, life and cosmic cycles of which all life is a part), fall is, quite literally the dying time.  I'm not being morbid here.  It's the slow descent, like a late afternoon sunset, from the prime of summer, with all its heat, strength and vitality into the dark, quiet hibernation of winter.  I think that's perhaps why I'm drawn to it - there's a wistful something about it, a nostalgia, an obvious, but gradual, ending that is at once beautiful and sad.  It's kind of likr how my children make me cry sometimes.  No, not because they're being awful, but because they're so precious, guileless and innocent and yet I know how fleeting time is and I know that they will, soon enough, not be exactly what they are now.  I can't imagine there's not a parent who hasn't felt that.  Or maybe it's just me.  Maybe I just have a hard time with transitions.  I do, actually.  And speaking of transitions...
Back to Potatoes

Okay, okay, we get it, fall is here and I've got emotional issues, but isn't this a blog about food?  What about these damn sweet potatoes?  A brief word, then.

As humble as they may seem, making their quiet appearance in fall markets just in time for the Thanksgiving season, sweet potatoes are quite significant from a world-historical perspective (that's my thing now you know).  During the Neolithic Revolution, which began around 12,000 years ago, early humans in 6 or 7 different regions of the world, independently of each other, began for the first time to deliberately cultivate and domesticate wild plants.  It should be obvious to the reader here that this development radically altered the course of human history.  It's the event that marks the transition between the first human era (that of the hunter-gatherer) and the second, the agricultural era.  (We're of course in the third era, the industrial).  If you really want to see perhaps the best 9-minute summary of the Agricultural Revolution, watch this.  This guy is awesome.

Well it turns out that one of the crops grown by these earliest farmers (around 7000 B.C. in Highland New Guinea and 3000 B.C. in Sub-Saharan Africa) was the yam (not quite a sweet potato, but you get the picture - cultivation of the sweet potato proper dates to around 2000 B.C. in Mesoamerica and the Andes).  So the next time you bake, roast or puree one, stop to remind yourself that you're part of a (very) long line of humans that have been nourished by and enjoyed this food.  Comforting, isn't it?

Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup

Finally.  This recipe comes from a great cookbook, The Joy of Ginger, which I'm pretty sure I mentioned back when I wrote about ginger, here.  My wife loves when I make this, and I've made it for quite a few other people, all of whom have raved about it.

  • 6 cups cubed sweet potatoes
  • 3 1/2 cups stock (chicken, soy, vegetable)
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • In a saucepan (or stockpot) combine sweet potatoes, stock and ginger and bring to a boil.  (the liquid should just cover the potatoes - use water if you don't have enough stock)
  • Reduce heat and cover.
  • Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  • Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  (Be careful!  It's hot!  You may need to do it in batches depending on how much you're making.  BIG TIP - use an immersion blender - I love mine, and this way you can just puree it in the pot.  You still have to be careful, though!)
  • Return to the saucepan (if you've used a blender) and whisk in coconut milk, lime juice and salt and pepper
  • Cook over low heat until just heated through
  • Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with almonds, coriander and lime zest
This soup is hearty and delicious.  It sticks to your ribs and warms you up - mm mm good!!!!  As a matter of fact, I feel a batch coming on this weekend!
Two important notes:
  1. I  have NEVER made this recipe exactly as shown above.  First of all, if I make soup I want to have leftovers.  Lots and lots of leftovers.  Heck, when I make this soup, I want to have at least a gallon to freeze for later (it freezes quite well, by the way).  So when I make it, I usually quadruple the recipe (that's 4 times for the mathematically challenged) and make it in my monster Calphalon 14-quart stockpot.  This is the stockpot which, when my wife and I opened it at the brunch the day after our wedding, made me squeal like a little girl.
  2. There's no way that 4 tablespoons, let alone 1 tablespoon, of ginger is enough, at least not for me.  I don't really measure, but when I quadruple the recipe, I'm sure I put in close to a cup, if not more.  And you don't really need to mince it since it all gets pureed.  I've found slicing it is fine.
Another great way to enjoy sweet potatoes is to make sweet potato pancakes (not latkes, just regular pancakes with sweet potatoes in them.  But that does remind me that I have a pretty good recipe for sweet potato latkes, too).  Anyway, puree the sweet potatoes (steam them in the microwave for about 10 minutes wrapped in wax paper, then break them up a bit, add some water and throw them in the blender - or better yet, use the immersion blender) and add the puree to your pancake batter (like my delicious fat-free vegan pancakes).  Great way to get kids to eat these super-nutritious tubers, because really, what kid doesn't like pancakes?
Well, happy fall again - eat well and be well!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Apples - Fall's Delightful Bounty

The apple - so symbolic, so fundamental, so delicious!

Central Virginia, right near the mountains as we are, is apparently a great place to grow apples.  All up and down Route 29 in Nelson and Albemarle counties signs for orchards dot the roadside (as well as signs for wineries, but that's another post entirely - heck, that might really be another blog entirely "Sausage Boy Gets Drunk?")  Up in Charlottesville, right next to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, is a real popular place called Carter's Mountain.  The apples are good, the view from the top is totally amazing and it doesn't hurt that they sell these pretty delicious and addictive apple cider donuts as well.  For a lot of people in and around Charlottesville, apple picking means Carter's Mountain.  Not for us, however.
About three years ago we discovered an orchard more in our neck of the woods, Dickie Brothers, and it has become one of our favorite places.  The land has been in this family since it was granted to them by King George.  Yeah, really.  King George II, you remember, the egomaniacal tyrant against whom the freedom-loving American colonists rebelled and created their own nation dedicated to the proposition that...oh, you know the story (or at least that version of it).  Anyway, it's this complete out-of-the-way place, incredibly beautiful, tucked in this little holler of a valley right up alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Just gorgeous.  And they grow our favorite apples, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Fuji and Pink Lady.
My son Felix with what is arguably his favorite food.
Every year for the past three we've gone to Dickie Brothers at least twice, perhaps as many as four times not only to pick our own apples, but to get some of the pre-picked bushel boxes as well. The boxes of the premium apples (first quality) come out to 55 cents per pound and the boxes of the "seconds" (smaller, mis-shapen, slightly blemished apples) cost about 35 cents per pound.   For fresh apples, right off the tree - for nature's unbelievable health and bounty, it's a marvel I don't come home with 5 bushels every time I go.  We eat apples like crazy during this time of year, I know have at least three a day.  I make gallons of applesauce with the seconds, I juice with them and make dried apple rings in our food dehydrator.  Just writing about it now makes me wonder if I'll have time this weekend to go get more, our box upstairs is getting dangerously low.

We all know that apples are good for us, "an apple a day" and all that, right?  Well, I just finished reading a book called The Wisdom and Healing Power of Whole Foods.  It's pretty amazing.  The basic argument is that the best foods (and the ones that can actually heal us of our various food- and lifestyle-induced maladies) are natural and whole foods.  I'm probably preaching to the choir here.  But if you think about it, modern science and modern health care haven't really followed that approach.  Their approach has been "Oh, vitamin C is good for a cold, so just take some vitamin C and you'll get better."  The problem with that approach, and with any that tries to isolate or separate the constituent parts of a whole food is that they never work as well as the whole foods themselves.  Just look at the apple - in one clean, fresh apple there are over 300 different phyto-chemical compounds.  I imagine there are many whose function scientists and nutritionists are still unaware.  But clearly, those compounds work together to make apples incredibly healthful.  Compare that to the nutrition in a bag of potato chips, go ahead.  Yes, if salt and fat were nutritious, America would be a nation of super athletes instead of slowly becoming the laughingstock of the world as our obesity rates continue to skyrocket.  Whole raw foods are clearly what our bodies crave.

Apples' Sweet, Sweet Cousin (well, no relation really)

However, I digress.  Back to our beautiful orchard nestled in the Nelson county countryside.  It turns out that Dickie Brothers has not only the best apples this side of the Pacific Northwest (sorry Carter's Mountain), they also grow sweet potatoes.  My wife actually got me into sweet potatoes years ago, she's always loved them.  I'm now a huge fan, I even used them in a juice during my juice fast, and I make a really mean (I mean a really really mean) sweet potato soup.  I suppose I could write a whole post about the health benefits of sweet potatoes, how they are loaded with betacarotene, have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and how they contain 438% of the USRDA for Vitamin A, in addition to a slew of other important compounds and vitamins, but you should already know this.  It's one of those foods, with that deep, rich orange-colored flesh that you can look at and know how healthy it is for you.  Or at least you should, colorful foods being generally much more healthful than other foods.  The sweet potato is a pretty far cry from it's cousin the white potato, which is pretty lackluster nutritionally speaking (they're not even in the same family botanically).

So every year we get a big load of their sweet potatoes as well.  Which, finally, leads me to why I wrote this post - this recipe.

Roasted Apples and Sweet Potatoes

Forget the pecans, forget the brown sugar, milk, eggs and marshmallows.  Forget everything else that people throw together (in the form of sweet potato pie or casserole) to ruin a perfectly good and healthy sweet potato.  This recipe is as simple as it gets.
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cubed (you could peel them, but why would you?)
  • 3 medium-size apples, cubed (again, see above)
  • 1 ½-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Celtic sea salt (sea salt will do)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.   In a large mixing bowl, pour the olive oil over sweet potatoes and apples. Season with sea salt and stir to coat evenly.
3. Pour onto baking pan, spread evenly forming one layer.  
4. Bake for 15 minutes, then stir. Reset timer for 15 minutes and check to see if they are done, they should have some golden brown edges and be fork-tender.
5. Remove from oven and serve or store in refrigerator for later.  
(ps - These store great in the refrigerator and reheat well on the stove-top.  You can can even get them a bit crisper this way - I had last night's leftovers tonight as dinner)
One tip is to use a shallow baking pan to allow the sweet potatoes to get a little crisp - that's how I like them.

 So - go pick some apples and try this out.  Better yet, drive down to Dickie Brothers for yourself.

Have a great fall everyone!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Hill of Beans

So since I've been back to school, a colleague of mine has been quite eager for more new recipes.  She's embarked a major food transformation of her own and has gone vegan as well.  This recipe is for her!

I have thrown fresh tomatoes from our CSA into my White Bean Salad - so good!
I've thrown white beans into my tomato salads as well - just as delicious!

The Humble Bean

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who I guess has become something a nutrition hero of mine, holds beans in very high esteem, counting them among the five most important and nutritious foods to eat on a daily basis.  Greens, onions, mushrooms, berries and beans, and seeds (and nuts), GOMBS for short, is part of his shorthand for a healthy diet.  He recommends a cup of beans a day!  I've been eating beans a lot more lately because of  his advice.  I've always loved hummus and certainly didn't need a doctor's advice to convince me to eat more. 

So what's so special about beans?  Well, it turns out they are pretty serious nutritional powerhouses.  They're low in fat, high in protein, high in fiber, minerals and B vitamins.  They help lower blood pressure, they help diabetics control their blood glucose levels and, wait for it, they prevent and cure constipation.  Well, duh, right?  According to my search, there are 38,000 books that reference beans.  Okay, I'm not sure how many of them are cookbooks, but still.  The first one on that search list, Bean By Bean: A Cookbook , is on my wish list (hint, hint, Poppy Santa!). 
Many in the health-conscious, vegan and nutritarian community say that dried beans are best.  There seem to be pretty valid reasons for this, such as no added sugar or sodium and much lower cost.  I have not yet ventured into cooking with dry beans, which means either soaking them overnight in water and/or cooking them before use.  With two kids and a pretty busy life, I've stuck to canned beans for convenience.

Yes, yes, yes, let's acknowledge the (stinky) elephant in the room - bean--induced gas.  Here's what I've discovered, though (which discovery seems to be borne out by scientific research): if you really chew your food thoroughly, it's a non-issue.  Heck, most Americans eat all of their food way too quickly anyway, I have 20 minutes to eat lunch every day, and chewing every piece of my big salad in that time is quite a challenge.  In snarfing down our meals, we often miss the signals from our stomachs telling us that we're full, so we end up overeating (and getting fat).  Ever hear of "Chewdaism?"  Believe me, I have long been a victim of this and still have a long way to go towards "savoring" my food.  Again, I should listen to my wife, who is always telling me (and our children) to do exactly that.  She's pretty much always right. 
One of my favorite, newly-discovered beans is the Cannelini bean, sometimes called a white kidney bean.  I've also just smashed up some Great Northern Beans, put them in a wrap with sprouts and veggies for a quick lunch.  I have a great recipe for White-Bean Hummus, using Cannelinis, that I discovered a few months back, but then, an even greater use for this bean emerged, hence this post.

Rae's Sweet and Tangy White Bean Salad

A few months ago, my mother made this fantastic white bean salad and sent us home with it after a visit. I called her immediately to rave and rave about it after taking a few unbelievably delicious bites..


  • Two cans of cannelini beans (white kidney beans) - rinsed well
  • 1/2 cup - 1 cup red onion, thinly sliced or chopped (vary quantity according to taste - I've come to love raw red onion!)
  • 1/4 cup capers (I could eat these right out of the bottle!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (flat or curly)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (essentially equal parts of the three liquids, more or less to taste)
  • Sea salt (I'm totally digging this Himalayan Pink Salt)
  • Pepper

Mix all the ingredients well in a large bowl.  It's best served nice and cold, but it's so good I usually eat almost half of it before it even makes it to the fridge.

This has become one of my absolute new favorite dishes to make.  It's SUPER quick to make, SUPER nutritious and SUPER delicious!

Here's to beans, a SUPER food!

Be well -

Monday, October 1, 2012

See You in September, er, October

Obviously it's been a while.  Just about three months.  What a complete slacker!  What has Sausage Boy been up to and where is heading these days?  Well, as my four-year old has begun saying "Come on, Vamanos!"

I Know What Sausage Boy Did This Summer

In brief - I went to a summer institute presented by the College Board so I'd be ready to teach AP World History this year.  Pretty great - it made me feel like a college student again (I would remain one forever if that were possible).  Professor Peter Stearns, one of the founders of the College Board's AP World History curriculum, came and lectured to us each morning, I filled two entire legal pads with notes!

Then, the day I got back, our power went out due to the "super derecho" that hit the midwest and mid-Atlantic on June 29th.  The power was out for 11 days.  (Yes, I did say 11.)

Went on vacation to the beach in Emerald Isle, NC.  Went to a great party in honor of my mother-in-law's 70th birthday.

Oh, and did I mention that our power was out for 11 days?  And that the daily outdoor temperatures hovered around 100 the whole time?  It was usually about 94 degree inside.

And then I went back to school.  That was six weeks ago.  (I told you about the power being out for 11 days, right?)

So fall has started and with it, routine. Funny how you wish to escape the daily grind when you're in it, but when your time is wide open you sometimes wonder what to do. Not that my summer was "wide open..."


The Return of Sausage Boy

All that being said, what should be obvious to all my devoted readers (???) is that I have been completely remiss in my blogging responsbilities.  One day back in early July I was SOO close to writing a post entitled "Ode on a Nectarine" after having eaten the juiciest and most delicious of them I had ever tasted.  I never wrote it.  But now, finally getting back into my school routine rekindled my urge to share - so here goes.  It will be brief
The nectarine I ate that July day in Food Lion brought a flood of childhood memories - love this fruit!

Props to ST

So I get back to school six or seven weeks ago and I see a colleague, a teacher in my department named Steve (he's the co-author of a great blog about eduction called Teaching Underground).  At first, months and months ago he was pretty skeptical of my whole juice fast/lifestyle shift (like the three other guys I sit and eat lunch with.)  By the time we got to May, though, he was asking me about juicing and getting one himself to try out.  Well when I finally saw him again the first day of school, he'd easily dropped twenty pounds if not thirty.  He and his wife had been juicng one or two meals a day for a big chunk of the summer.  I was pretty excited to have had a small hand in that - touching, right?

Well, I really just wanted to write this post to let you all know that I'm back online here and will soon be churning out more witty and informative tidbits about food, health and my journey with them.  I think next up are entries about salad and perhaps goji berries. 
Hope the summer has treated you all well!