Friday, October 30, 2009

Mindful Pumpkin Soup

My significant other, Beth Berila, is a feminist scholar and a yogini. Her work is about the commonalities between feminism and yoga, and meditation is one of her tools. Beth studies the mind/body connection and its power to help people—especially young women—live intentional, self-directed lives.

She also loves pumpkin soup. (You were scared I wasn't going to talk about food, weren't you?)

So, to honor Beth's work, her importance in my life, and the deliciousness of pumpkin, here's a cooking meditation to feed body and spirit.

Mindful Pumpkin Soup
This makes a ton of soup. Freeze some, or use a smaller pumpkin and cut the rest of the ingredients in half. The meditation is Daoist, not Buddhist, but I believe it will do the trick.

1 pumpkin, about jack-o'-lantern sized
1 quart mushroom broth
3 cloves garlic
2 4" sprigs of rosemary
5 or 6 leaves of sage
A pinch of summer savory
5-10 black peppercorns
2 T olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1 c red wine
1 cayenne pepper
1½ cups orange juice
1 pint cream, milk, or soy milk
Salt to taste

1. Cut up the pumpkin, remove seeds and string, and roast the pieces in a 400° oven until a fork easily pierces the center of each piece (about 40-60 minutes). Reflect on how your jack-o'-lantern's cycle is not exhausted, but is renewed as soup.
2. Peel the pumpkin and place in a heavy stockpot. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the juice and milk. Simmer until the garlic is soft and easy to mash with a spoon, about 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, contemplate the changing seasons: Your pumpkin sprouted in the spring, grew all summer, brought you happiness in the autumn, and now will feed you in winter.
3. When the simmering is done, purée the soup in a blender. You will need to do several batches. Return the purée to the pot over low heat. Stir in the orange juice. As you do, think about how the citrus lightens and brightens the deep, rich winter flavors of the roasted pumpkin. The soup holds lightness and brightness, depth and richness in a dynamic balance of deliciousness.
4. Add the milk and salt to taste. Heat, but do not boil, and serve. Be fully present to the comfort and pleasure of pumpkin soup.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pork + Cider BFF

Oh, swoon

Recently I decided to cut back on meat. I started by reducing it to no more than once per day. I am now eating meat no more than once every two days. My eventual goal is to cut down to no more than once a week. Once, long ago, I was a vegetarian; so I know from past experience that soon I will not miss meat anymore.

Soon, but not yet. In the meantime, I am looking forward to meat days the way a little kid looks forward to Halloween. It’s going to be so fun! What am I going to be this time? Last time I went as a hamburger. Should I be ham? Should I be chicken? What about fish? Naaah, that’s not even scary.

Here’s the bottom line. If I’m going to spend all my time slavering in anticipation and fetishizing my dinner, then I’m going to make damn sure the meal is worth the wait. So when foodie friends were coming for dinner this weekend, I intended to show off for myself as much as for them. My lovely consort, Beth, had been to the farmers market and had a refrigerator full of kale, butternut squash, and red peppers. We wanted a deeply-flavored, appropriately autumny main dish to go with them. It was time for a pork shoulder simmered in the juice of its very good friend Apple.

Over hours of slow cooking, the crystal tang of apple cider seeps into every nook and cranny of the pork. A bone-in roast means super-rich flavor. Salt and pepper are the only other things needed to render one of the simplest and best meals you could ever hope to eat on a damp fall night.

Pork Braised in Apple Cider
The two secrets to a good braise are proper browning and a low cooking temperature. Get them right and you have intensely flavorful meat that falls right off the bone.
Serves 6.

2 T butter
A 3.5-lb bone-in pork shoulder roast
3 c apple cider or unfiltered juice
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Melt the butter in a pot just large enough to hold the roast. Brown the meat on all sides. This will take you ten to fifteen minutes if you do it right. You want a good, even, caramelized crust. Watch carefully, and if the butter is getting too hot, turn down the flame.
  2. Pour half the apple cider or juice over the meat. Bring up to a boil, and then turn the heat to low. Cover the pan, leaving the lid a bit ajar.
  3. Simmer for an hour. Turn the meat over two or three times during this period.
  4. At the end of the hour, the juice should be somewhat reduced. Add the rest of the apple cider/juice, bring back up to a boil, and then turn back to low. Simmer another two hours. Keep checking and turning the meat every so often.
  5. Remove the roast from the pan and let rest while you do the next steps.
  6. Defat the pan juices. Put them over a high flame and boil them down until reduced to one and a half to two cups. Season to taste.
  7. Slice the meat, nap with a bit of the sauce, and serve the rest of the sauce at the table. I suggest you serve your pork dish with mashed squash or sweet potatoes. Slather pan juices all over those. Then check back here and tell me how all that worked out for you.

Mmm-hmm. You're welcome.