As these last days of autumn go by and the days grow ever shorter up to the winter solstice, we’ve been distracting ourselves by getting outside as much as possible. I can find myself really affected by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) during these periods of less sunlight, and find that a morning or early afternoon walk is absolutely a crucial, non-negotiable part of my daily routine for my mental health. Even if it’s raining, windy or bleak outside, we bundle up and walk. I look forward to these little pockets of our day, especially seeing the delight on the children’s faces when they find one sort of seasonal treasure or another- acorns, pretty leaves, a smooth rock, spotting a bird or squirrel busy at work among the trees. The things that spark their curiosity and admiration are usually always the simplest things I often overlook as a grown-up. Also, afternoon sunlight, if it peeks through, is just incredible and I find myself admiring the golden shadows it casts around the house or on our walks. Finding pleasure in these small things makes life a treat.
Yesterday I jolted awake, thinking frantically about garlic (yes, food, something I’m always dreaming about). I had planted some lettuces, hardy greens and onions a while back and somehow had forgotten about garlic. On some scratch paper, I wrote “Call Redwood Barn- is it too late to plant garlic?” and then laughed because that sums me up quite well- never planning and always a step behind. I mourned a little about the garlic that could have been. Happily, it was, in fact, not too late at all to plant garlic, and I picked up a few heads of Silver Rose garlic. It’s supposed to be a long lasting variety with snow white outer skin that yields to beautiful pink-wrapped cloves. I’m so excited to meet her in the spring. The kids and I planted loads of them all over in between the plants we already had in.
I always adore a good soup, even in the sweltering 100+ heat of summer in the valley, but around this time of year is when I always have a pot on the stove or in the fridge, or both. Soup is such a perfect food in that it is quite easy to make, tastes delicious, warms you up, and you can finish up any odds and ends laying around in it. I often will throw a bit of leftover risotto, roasted or sautéed vegetables, end of the jar ferments and other such little bits into whatever soup I’m making. I’ve got other soup recipes on the blog which you can find HERE, but today I’m sharing the one I made last night. I made it before I went to bed, knowing that it’d only take me a moment and then I wouldn’t have to think much about lunch. Plus, soup is one of those lovely dishes that only improves in flavor with time. In fact, this particular soup is so simple that I advise to make it ahead in order to let the flavors really meld and bloom. When eaten right away, it’s not as good. I use water instead of broth here as the vegetables I picked up to cook this were so fresh and beautiful at the market just that morning. If you prefer a stronger flavored soup, or produce on the declining side of life, I suggest making with broth (here’s my favorite broth concentrate to keep in the freezer this winter).
This soup was inspired and lightly adapted by a recipe by Mimi Thorisson, which can be found HERE. I always have fresh bay on hand from my grandma’s bushes, and I love its special flavor, so I’m always throwing a leaf or two or more in things- but feel free to leave out if you can’t source it or don’t want to.
To go along with the soup, we made some simple tartines which added some crunch and substance to the lunch- a simple green salad with vinaigrette, lentil salad, or a handful of cannellini beans into each soup bowl would make this delicious too.
simplest vegetable soup
(serves about 4 big bowls or 6 small bowls)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, white+light green part only, sliced into rounds (save the dark green in your freezer with other scraps for broth making)
3 medium carrots, sliced into rounds
1 stalk of celery, sliced
3 small/medium red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1/2 a head of napa cabbage (savoy or green cabbage is fine, too), roughly chopped
3 branches thyme + 1 bay leaf
4-6 cups water or broth (I used 6 but it will depend on your preference)
salt + pepper, to taste
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
Heat up the oil over medium heat in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the whole thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and all the veggies except the cabbage. Sauté, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes until just slightly softened. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil. If using green or savoy cabbage, add it now and cook for 30 minutes. If using napa cabbage, cook the soup for 20 minutes, add the cabbage, and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn off heat, cool and let sit overnight (in the fridge or on the counter, up to you). The next day, when ready to serve, heat up the soup. Taste and add more s+p to your liking. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle some chopped parsley in each one (we also like adding a teensy splash of white wine vinegar to our bowls, it just brightens the flavors a bit and doesn’t taste “vinegary”).
Other options are to add chopped cilantro + chile garlic paste, raw crushed garlic into the bowls before ladling the hot soup over, or adding a scoop of cooked chickpeas or white beans to each bowl.
watermelon radish tartines
for each tartine:
one thicker slice of sourdough or other crusty bread
one slice cheese (we happened to have leftovers of THIS one, follow your heart smoked gouda is my favorite store bought one, or use THIS ricotta and just broil the bread and then swipe the ricotta on)
thinly sliced watermelon radishes, or whatever radishes you like/have
a little chopped parsley
a few toasted walnuts, broken into smaller pieces- toasted pumpkin seeds work nicely, too
flaky sea salt
On each piece of bread, layer a slice of cheese on it and place under the broiler, letting it cook until fully melted and very bubbly + the bread is golden. Remove from oven and layer over the radishes, sprinkle over the walnuts and parsley, and season to taste with flaky sea salt and a good pinch of chili flakes. Enjoy while still warm.