Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Life Guest Post: Spicy Caramelized Leek Potato Soup with Baked Chickpeas

Today's post comes to us from Windwhistler, a rambler, itinerant bodhrán performer, and occasional wilderness experiential educator. She enjoys good people, good conversation, and, as you'll see, good food.

Spicy Caramelized Leek Potato Soup with Baked Chickpeas

One of the blessings of a Northwest Summer is the abundance of fresh produce, vibrant both in color and taste. Inevitably one discovers an abundance of a fruit or vegetable they cannot hope to use before it spoils, and begins pawning zucchini, tomatoes, chilies and apples onto their friends, family, and complete strangers. Two months ago I helped a man look for his keys in the parking lot, and gave him four jalapeños for my trouble. All this to say that I had been given a bag of produce involving six leeks, four golden potatoes and a bag of fresh Thai chilies. Seeing as I’d been craving potato-leek soup for about a year, I made the most delicious Spicy Caramelized Leek Potato Soup with Spicy Baked Chickpeas that I’ve ever had. It was delightfully spicy, with a little sweetness and hearty, rich flavors. I served it to my roommate, my sister and brother-in-law, and my boyfriend, and it was a spectacular taste bud sensation! A couple of disclaimers before we dive into the soup and splash around:

First, I’ve always wanted to make chili oil, so I tried it. I’m not going to bother you with the recipe, though, because even though the oil is spicier than when I started, I know I didn’t do it right. I am sure that someone in the world knows better than I do about making chili oil, so I would only lead you astray. Godspeed.

Second, and most importantly, I’ve never made this kind of soup before and so I went in search of inspiration. I drew heavily from a recipe for Creamy Caramelized Leek Soup with Maple Glazed Bacon from How Sweet It Is: (You should make that too, it looks delicious! And then invite me for dinner.) Although I love bacon, I refuse to cook it myself. I like baked chickpeas, so I substituted that for bacon (yes, yes, I know it’s not the same, stop grumbling) and I added my golden potatoes, because I wanted a thicker, potato-ey soup.

On to the recipe!


Garlic Bulbs: 4 small, or 2 large

Olive Oil

Potatoes: 2 large golden

Chili Oil


Leeks: 6 small, 4 large

Brown sugar



Crushed red pepper

Dry white wine*: 1/3 cup

Chicken or veggie stock**: 4 ½ -5 ½ c

Half and Half: 2/3 c

Chickpeas: 1 10-oz can

Cayenne powder


*Don’t cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink yourself. Find a nice bottle of dry white wine you are excited about, offer 1/3 cup to the Powers That Be (by way of the recipe), and drink the rest ☺

** The original recipe called for 4c of broth, but since I added the potatoes, you’ll want to add a little more liquid to offset the potatoes, depending on how thick you want it.

1) Roast the garlic! Oh my goodness, roast the garlic! (I just got on this bandwagon, and I’m so in love!) If you don’t know how to do it, start by preheating the oven to 450˚. Take a bulb of garlic and remove the papery layers that might fall off anyway. You want to keep the last couple layers that hold everything together. Next, chop the top off, so the tops of the cloves are exposed. I roasted 4 small bulbs, so 1-2 large bulbs would cover it. Drizzle olive oil over the cloves, and wrap each bulb completely in tinfoil. Stick in the oven and roast for 45 mins.

2) Boil potatoes until tender. Everything’s getting pureed, so 2-in cubes are fine. I used 2 large golden potatoes. Drain and set aside.

3) While potatoes are boiling, clean all the dirt from the leaks really, really well! Dry them as much as possible. Chop them into 1/8-inch half-circles

4) Heat olive oil, chili oil, and butter. At least 2 tablespoons of butter, and maybe 1 tablespoon of the other oils. This is a forgiving recipe, so do what you want. But the butter is key. Keep the heat med-low, so you don’t burn the butter or the leeks.

5) Add the leaks, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, and toss well to coat everything. Let the leeks brown for 20-25 minutes. Add a few teaspoons of brown sugar, toss again to coat the leeks, and caramelize for about 10 mins. Again, make sure the heat is low enough so it doesn’t burn. Add the wine, increase the heat, and cook until the wine cooks off.

6) Add stock and potatoes to the leeks. Bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer for 15 mins.

7) Roast the chickpeas: Heat oven to 350˚. In a bowl, add olive oil, chili oil, cayenne powder, and a little honey (maybe a teaspoon). Drain and rinse chickpeas, and then add to bowl. Coat the chickpeas well and spread onto a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the chickpeas are a nice golden brown (darker than when they started).

8) Puree soup in a blender, or with a hand-held immersion blender. Return to pot, turn heat to low, and add half and half and season to taste (I had to add a little more salt, and of course a healthy dose of fresh-ground pepper, since my favorite thing about eating potatoes is to use them as a vehicle for fresh pepper, mmmmm).

9) Serve! I let people add their own chickpeas, and I had extra chilies for people to make it spicier if they chose. It was a lovely meal filled with good food, good companionship, and good wine. If only I had thought to take pictures…

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Culture: Flutronix

It's Wednesday and I'm in the midst of getting caught up on word count, so for your NaNo inspiration, here are a couple of flute videos!  Both feature eclectic duo Flutronix, to whom I was recently introduced, and if you're in the flute world be sure to check out their videos with Carol Wincenc and Gary Schocker.

For everyone else, Sweet Dreams!

And Stacked:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Writing: NaNoWriMo Week Three

NaNoWriMo Day: 17
Goal word count: 28,339
Actual word count: sad trombone

It has not been a week conducive to writing.  I haven't added up my actual word count from the belief that if I don't know, I can't get discouraged, but I estimate that I'm anywhere from 10k - 15k behind at this point.  Yikes.  This is without doubt the largest shortfall I've ever had in NaNo, and probably goes to show why you shouldn't try NaNo when you have other deadlines that must be met.

However, I still have two solid weeks (and Thanksgiving holiday!) to get caught up and I haven't lost hope.  Sure, 28k is a lofty goal, and I'm certainly not going to make up the shortfall in one day, but over a week I'm pretty sure I can catch up.  I ran into a little trouble with the sci-fi but now I'm back on track, and the hardboiled just needs a new section set up.  Is it too ambition to try to finish the hardboiled by the end of this week?  I originally wanted to write four short stories (hah hah) but it would be nice if I could at least get in two.

How is your wordcount?  Are you ahead or behind? 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Life: Cornmeal Mush

In the winter, Malt o'Meal was the hot cereal of choice when I was little.  There's something comforting about a hot, creamy porridge, and I always preferred Malt o'Meal (or Cream of Wheat) to its cousin oatmeal.  When I was in Senegal, we had a sweetened millet porridge that reminded me strongly of my childhood breakfasts.

But woman cannot live on Malt o'Meal alone, and sometimes, on special occasions (or perhaps just when my mom felt like it) we would get cornmeal mush.  Such a delicious food with such an unappealing name, mush is an old dish.  Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about eating it under the name "hasty pudding" and it shares antecedents with grits and hush puppies.  Mush is quick and easy to make, can be eaten hot or cold (hot is better) and makes a delicious treat for those cold school day mornings.

Cornmeal Mush (aka Hasty Pudding)

1 c cornmeal
½ tsp salt
1 c hot milk
1 level Tb flour

Heat liquid to boiling. Combine dry ingredients and moisten with water (make it fairly thin.) Stir into the boiling milk, until it boils a few minutes. It will be fairly thick. Drop by spoonful (I use a cookie scoop) into skillet with hot oil, flatten, and sprinkle flour over the top. It will brown much quicker than cold sliced mush.  Serve with maple syrup and milk.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alternate Histories: "Great Man" vs. "Currents and Forces"

by contributing blogger Alex Peterson

I often amuse myself and bug my wife by wondering how history would be different had different paths had been chosen. What would have happened if Harald Jager hadn't let East Germans through the Berlin Wall twenty-five years ago, signaling the fall of East Germany? Or what about if Archduke Franz Ferdinand survived the botched assassination attempt that started WWI? Or if Simon Bolivar had not lost his parents, would he still be known as "The Liberator" of South America? While these are fun thought experiments, they belie a simplistic interpretation of history that often traps us into overvaluing the importance of the individual. If you can spare ten minutes, read on to learn more about the "great man" and "currents and forces" theses, and just what the hell historiography means.

Last week celebrated the Fall of the Berlin Wall, a fortified border separating West and communist East Berlin. Over a hundred Easterners ("Ossis") were shot trying to escape East Germany over the wall and thousands were caught by the guards and razor wire. In 1989, an overwhelmed secret police officer, Harald Jäger, opened his gate and allowed free transit between the two parts for the first time since 1961. Within a year Germany had re-unified following the outpouring of joy on that November evening. It's easy to intuit that therefore Harald Jäger was responsible for a re-unified Germany. It's also wrong. Mr. Jäger was allowed to make his choice because a local politician misspoke on television. That politician was in the dark because the policymakers were new in their jobs and couldn't co-ordinate their messages. While Mr. Jäger did have a positive impact on the re-unification of Germany, he wasn't the driving force of it.

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a joke. His bodyguards didn't have good maps of the city, and couldn't plot a safe route away from the first attack. The heir to the ancient Austrian Empire overruled his bodyguards' attempt to whisk him from the city in favor of getting a sandwich. His car couldn't turn around when Gavrilo Princep recognized him and was unable to motor the noble and his wife away from the fatal gunshots. It doesn't take much to imagine a scenario where he could have survived. Even in such a scenario, though, it is likely that WWI would still have happened. Ethnic minorities in large empires (Russia, Austria, Germany) still wanted independence. The deep current of jingoism would still have poisoned the diplomacy of the era as well as the system of secret alliances. While some features of modern life would be different, the horrors of WWI would impact us in roughly the same way.

Simón Bolívar was a fantabulous man. He spearheaded a movement to free not just his country, but his entire continent. From 1810-1830 he broke the Spanish colonial empire and led many of the successor countries towards just, lawful countries. Part of his motivation was that he lost his aristocratic parents early on in his life and found a wise tutor who taught him according to the principals of the French (and American) Revolution: freedom and equality. But even if the Liberator had not grown up as he did, it was clear that Spanish rule on South America was failing. Taxes were down, corruption was rampant, the legal system was inadequate, Spain was occupied and conspiracies for independence abounded. With or without Bolívar Spanish rule over South America was doomed.

Each of the three "what ifs" explore the historical thesis of the "great man." History, up until about the 20th century, centered around exploring choices people made. The earliest histories, such as Gilgamesh, the Iliad & Odyssey, and the Bible, focus on individuals interacting with each other and their effects on the world. The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica put the history of the 5th-8th Centuries in the biography of Attila the Hun, under the reasoning that it was his choices that destroyed the Western Roman Empire. Around that time, though, historians began to challenge how history was portrayed. Historians studying writings of less celebrated ancients began analyzing how societies developed and interacted on a large scale instead of just how their rules did. These "new historians" developed the idea that the "great men" and the choices they made were impacted by their societies and that this aspect of history was neglected.

The early portion of "new history" concentrated on social, political, economic and technological developments on humans. Individual events were analyzed on the context of what else was happening, eventually called the "currents and forces" approach. This approach to history is now the standard practice among professionals (though victim to specialization: cultural history, history of science, history of ideas, political history, sociology, Marxist history, etc.). The new cutting edge of history is historiography: the study of how we remember the past. This approach to research tries to analyze how people lived when they were writing histories of the even further past.

In the past, historians thought of history as a simple chain of causes and effects related to human choice. Paris absconds with Helen and offends Agamemnon, setting the stage for Achilles to slay Hector and Odysseus' attempt to return home. More recent historians tried to tease out details about life for the unnamed characters in the epic war: the slaves, those left at home, the tribes surrounding Troy (which German archeologists found in modern-day Turkey), how the political system of the time allowed Agamemnon to raise so large an army. Modern historians may research such questions too, but also explore how 18th and 19th century fascination with heroic culture related to their culture of militaristic imperialism. Who knows what historians of tomorrow will study?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday Culture: All About That Space

Some geekiness for your Wednesday.  I was going to apologize for this because it's going to get "All About That Bass" stuck in your head, but I won't, because it's worth it.

Oh yeah, and then there's this one:

I'll save the Darth Vader dancing "Gangnam Style" for another time, shall I?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Writing: NaNoWriMo (Week 2)

Find Week 1 here.

Greetings, wrimos!  How are your word counts going?

I managed to catch up last week and even pull a little ahead by Saturday, but after a busy Sunday I'm back to a day behind.  Sigh.  Fortunately, I've found my daily bus commute to be a great way to bang out an extra five hundred to a thousand words every day, which leaves me with only six hundred or so words to finish up in the evening.

Lately I have been focusing on the hardboiled short story (which is turning out to be anything but short) and the sci-fi novel.  I'm finding that once I get into a zone with either of them, the words flow easily.  It's just starting that's the hard part.  For the sci-fi novel, I'm being a bit pickier so it's slower going.  I wound up rewriting a scene three times because it wasn't quite right, and I'm happier now with how it came out.  Still not perfect, but much better!

It turns out that writing multiple stories at once really works for me.  I had worried initially that I would have trouble getting in to either of them when I was trying to focus on both, but it turns out that all I have to do is read back a few lines and I'm right back into whichever world I need to write.  It's especially great because I can choose which story I'm in the mood for.  Plus, I can trick my brain into working by procrastinating on one story by writing the other.

Total word count: 13,457
Today's word count goal: 16,670
Shortfall: 3,213

It's catch-up time.  Wish me luck!