I am not always good with change. Not sudden change, certainly. Even gradual transitions, ones that I know are coming, I resist if I sense I don't like where things are headed. I dig in my heels, hold fast, and oftentimes need to be forcefully dragged towards whatever the inevitable outcome is. This dragging, of course, stirs up a great deal of dust and debris, and leaves everyone around me choking and rubbing their eyes, still dealing with my irritating cloud hanging in the air long after I've gone ahead, given in, and accepted the change. Not so pleasant.
Let's just say I'm working on it.
There are some changes and transitions in my life, however, that I not only embrace, but actually anticipate all year long. These are not so much true changes as they are shifts in our rhythm, both internally and externally, that are tied to the seasons and the calendar. Transitions that are ingrained in us through years of repetition and tradition. And it's the repetition and tradition aspects that - partly, at least - make it so easy for me to move through one phase and into the next.
I'm thinking specifically about Fall, which seems to be on everyone's mind these days. Yes, Fall is here, despite the odd hot, muggy days that keep getting thrown into our weeks here in Maine. I love Fall. I've already told you that - all the smoky, cozy, spicy scents, the roasting and the sweaters and the crunching through brittle, earthy leaves. And the great thing about loving something as much as I love Fall is that it doesn't matter to me how it chooses to show up. Whether it arrives as sneak peeks here and there, as if summoning its courage before fully jumping into the game, or barrels in full-force, sails spread, practically shouting in your ear as it whizzes past, "How do you like them apples?" - it's all good.
For many of us in Maine, though, Fall can be here without really being here, not until one important marker is met: the weekend of the Common Ground Fair. Which around here is referred to simply as The Fair, and everyone will know instinctively which one you mean. It is a not-to-be-missed-at-all-costs ritual for my family, and this past weekend was no different. We planned, we anticipated, we got the kids good and excited, and then we went.
As is the case with so much of life these days, our schedule once we arrived was dictated largely by the kids. Animals, crafting, and eating were high on their list, so that's what we did. And it was so great to watch them get excited about all the same things I loved about The Fair as a child; the full-circleness of time and life, even as they march steadfastly forward, is eternally touching to me. We heard some music, ate some French fries and Indian pudding, attempted to roll a hay ball, and felted some wool. In short, we had a typical, wonderful Fair experience.
Which means that now it is really, truly, all-the-way Fall. (Regardless of the humidity today.) Kalen has been asking daily when we will be able to rake and jump into leaf piles. (Soon enough!) Wylie has begun talking to the mini pumpkins on our table in a sweet, soft, nurturing voice. (Which I suppose is more indicative of his weirdness than an embrace of the new season, but as the mother I get to interpret these things differently if I wish.) And I have been making soup.
School Soup, to be precise. I know that sounds like the most imprecise name for a soup, giving you no clue as to what its ingredients are, but in this family it's a very specific type of soup. When Kalen was younger (and I didn't have a second little one around to factor in), he and I attended a once-a-week program for young children and parents at our local Waldorf school. It was a lovely, calming time, a day for him to play with other kids outside of our home, while I got to connect with other adults. (Which, still, is a too-rare event!) One of my favorite parts of the program was the morning snack. Not simply because we were fed (and because my need to eat gluten-free was so graciously accommodated), but because of the spirit in which the snack was made. Whether it was contributing a piece of fruit to the fruit salad, chopping the apples for the applesauce, or bringing in a favorite vegetable to add to the soup pot, each day the children were involved in some aspect of the meal preparation. That, coupled with the focus on whole foods and the sense of community in which the food was shared - well, it was right up my alley.
So this soup. From the outside it just looks like a riff on basic vegetable soup, or really, stone soup. But the addition of a couple of unusual ingredients make it much more than just vegetable soup, giving it depth, complexity, and an air of mystery that no vegetable soup I've ever met had. It's delicious, and appealing in its inclusiveness - pretty much any mix of vegetables work in it. (At our house, the only objection occurred the one time I added mushrooms to the pot. Everything else, from kale to rainbow chard stems to winter squash to edamame has been embraced and devoured.) The soup is so good, and so well-loved despite its ever-changing roster of vegetables, that at school we had a running joke that the old red Le Creuset pot it was cooked in must have magic properties, to never be able to turn out a bad batch of soup. Well, I cook mine in a newer green Le Creuset pot, and I have the same good luck every time.
The magic is in two surprising last-minute additions: the soup is finished with a dash of tamari and a scoop of nutritional yeast. And suddenly, simple vegetable soup is infused with rich, almost creamy umami. It tastes like no other soup I've eaten, yet at the same time jolts you with an almost primal recognition of itself. Immediately, you know: "This is good." Simple. Perfect.
It's School Soup.
School Soup (or Really Great Vegetable Soup)
yields one large pot of soup
In keeping with the original, recipe-less nature of this soup, I'm merely providing you with some basic guidelines. But I encourage you to play with it, and make it your own. As long as you choose fresh, in-season vegetables and don't forget to add the tamari and nutritional yeast, I'm confident your soup will turn out as delicious as all of my versions have. Embrace change.
Chop an onion. Over medium heat, heat some olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven and sweat the onion - use a little more oil than you think you need for the onion, so that you have enough for the rice you're about to add. Sometimes I also add chopped garlic at this point. When the onion just starts to get some color, add a cup of brown rice and stir to coat with oil. Let the rice toast for a couple of minutes. While you're waiting, start chopping vegetables into bite-sized pieces. I use whatever I have on hand - carrots, celery, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, squash (summer or winter), potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, peas, corn, edamame, cabbage, parsnips, beets, Swiss chard, leeks, etc. - it's all good! After the rice has toasted a bit, add your liquid. Again, use whatever you've got on hand. I've used just water, water and vegetable bouillon, chicken stock, water and veal stock reduction, vegetable broth, and a random mix, and it always comes out great. I usually put in enough liquid to fill the pot halfway, assuming that the rice will absorb a lot and I want some left for the soup! For my pot, this is about 6 cups of liquid. Bring this to a simmer, then start throwing in your veggies. I add enough vegetables to bring the level up to within an inch of the top of the pot. Sometimes I find I need to add more liquid, also. Let this simmer, mostly covered, until the rice is soft (not al dente). By then, the vegetables should all be cooked through as well. Sometimes I also add cooked beans at the end, letting them heat through. Then I add a couple of splashes of gluten-free tamari and a 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (available in most health food stores), and check for seasoning. Whether or not you'll need to add salt will depend on what you used for liquid - sodium-free stock versus prepared broth, for example. Then it's done! It makes a lot, and I always plan on freezing at least half of it (in smallish containers), so that I have a couple meals' worth of dinners on hand for nights when I don't want to cook. Occasionally we make bread or rolls to go with it, but usually we eat it all by itself. Regardless, my sometimes-picky-about-vegetables boys always love it!
Posted by Tara Barker at 11:00 AM