Monday, March 25, 2013

Orzo and Chickpea Soup and Buttermilk Crackling Cornbread

I wanted to just write about this soup, which is very good, but the pictures I took were pretty bad. To be fair, the cornbread was a revelation, but it was a recipe from Joy of Cooking that I didn't change a bit.  I put the soup photos here just to illustrate what it looked like, but I'm aware that they are not pretty shots. I would like to absolve myself here by saying I'm not a photographer! I don't practice it, and I don't try to get better at it; not proud of that fact, rather just stating it. I never stage shots, I just take them when it seems right. At most I take about ten photos of a thing, usually it's just a few. I wish I were more focused (ha, ha) but I'm not. I really admire all my friends who take photography seriously and get better at it every day. I am trying to learn how to practice things and get better at them. It's a fault of mine that I don't. I fly into things with good intentions, and end up being a little sloppy about them because I've got twenty things like it going on.

I do, however, enjoy practicing cooking every day, and I'd say I always get better at it. (That doesn't mean I don't still make lots of mistakes!) Yesterday, I was working in the yard---finally!! I transplanted some trees, chopped some gnarly poison ivy vines, and cleared the perennial garden--and something obvious dawned on me, as I thought about all the things I like to do. In my life, I've gotten sidetracked by enjoying doing so many different things. There were so many things I wanted to be and to do! A musician, songwriter, photographer, writer, photo editor, film maker, actor--the list goes on. There were things in that list that I got good at, and worked really hard at, but they didn't seem to really take off. I was thinking yesterday as I raked--such good meditation--that in order to be good at something, you must not only put the work in, but really, you should enjoy the work involved. Obvious, right? Isn't it funny how something so obvious can suddenly seem so clear to you? Forcing yourself to put in the work that you don't truly enjoy to get to an end that you desire, well, that's just not going to work. At least not for me. 

Recently, I started to unclutter my life: getting rid of things that have been piling up, not being used. Another facet of this de-cluttering is to remove the doing of activities that might be better left to others. I'm trying very hard at streamlining my life, and to not desire to do things that might dilute the other things in my life. For example, I recently gave my chickens to my neighbor. I miss the chickens, but they took up brain space (and money) that perhaps gave me less time to spend on my garden and fruit trees. I still get great eggs, but now I am focusing on treating my trees a little better. I also sold my serger (a finishing sewing machine). I decided: you know what? I'm not a sewer! I like the idea of making something I dream up, but I'm not good at it!! I don't want to put in the work. So I retired the idea of being a sewer. I kept my old Singer for small jobs--hemming and the like--but I allowed myself to let go of making ambitious quilts or a clothing line. 

You catch my drift here? It doesn't mean that I'm putting down my guitar or camera, but you know the saying "Jack of all trades, master of none?" 

What I'm focusing on these days: the freezer and the larder. Using things up, although we still have a few months before true bounty is upon us, is one of my priorities. A couple of true gems I made this year were pesto, oven roasted tomatoes and salt pork. Pesto and oven roasted tomatoes have been standbys for years, the salt pork is new. Instead of freezing all the back fat I got from our half-hog for sausages, I made it into salt pork, cubed it, and froze it in ziploc bags. It has proven indispensable. But the best thing I have made with it is this buttermilk crackling cornbread. Oh, my. This fresh out of the oven with syrup and (redundant) butter was heaven. It was equally good the next morning, and aside this soup. (The recipe for the cornbread is in a link below, if you don't have Joy of Cooking. Let me know if it doesn't come up; it was a preview of the book.)

 Orzo and Chickpea Soup

Can you tell me when people started thinking that soup had to be the consistency of pudding? Whenever I stop in a diner and have soup, it's gloppy and horrible. Why?? This is a hearty soup with a nice broth. The way it should be. Soup, to me, isn't a science but an amalgamation of some good things in the fridge. It always starts with good stock. The ingredients here are just a guideline. Soup loves creativity and turning leftovers into gold.

A few cloves of garlic
1 onion
6 or so white mushrooms
2 carrots
Salt, Pepper, dried Italian herbs
6 cups of stock, chicken or vegetable
1 cup of roasted tomatoes
1 tablespoon of pesto
1 can of chickpeas
1/3 cup of orzo
About a 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley

1. Saute one medium onion and a few cloves of garlic, diced up, in good olive oil.

2. Add some veggies, here I finely diced some mushrooms and added a few carrots, peeled and left in big spears.

3. Add salt, pepper, some dried Italian herbs.

4. Slowly add about six cups of room temperature chicken stock, letting it heat up before you add more.

5. Add about a cup of oven roasted tomatoes. It doesn't matter if they are frozen or not. I chose to leave them whole, but you can coarsely chop them too.

6. A heaping spoonful of pesto. Mix it in.

7. A can of chickpeas. (I like keeping a can or two of beans around to put together a quick meal.)

8. Have the soup simmering for about fifteen minutes to let everything mingle. Then add about a 1/3 cup of orzo. Let it continue to simmer on low to cook the pasta.

9. Add a bunch of chopped fresh parsley.

10. Serve with this cornbread. (Joy of Cooking, Buttermilk Crackling Cornbread, page 778.) And have any leftovers toasted with butter and maple syrup!


  1. I've made cornbread a couple times in the past month... with blue heirloom coarse cornmeal I found at the Amish Bulk Store out by my parents house. It's not so different a recipe, but you heat the pan and then put butter in the hot pan before adding the batter. The result is similar: browned butter crunchy crust!

    And good for you on the picking and choosing what you can handle - I could take a lesson from that. I have two old Singers (not sergers) and gobs of usable fabrics that are intended for re-purpose... but I'm not a sewer either. I think I'll do it one day, but who knows? I'm not getting rid of machines, but I'm trying hard not to keep collecting materials. Sometimes, a shirt wears out and I don't toss it in the overcrowded bin of fabric. Baby Steps!

    1. Hey R! Do people call you Becky? I always wanted to ask you that, since you starting writing that Becky-Home-Ecky column. What a great column title!! Anyways, this one has hot fat! Yum, hot fat rendered from the cracklings. The crust is amazing.

      What I didn't mention here was the huge amounts of fabric that I donated to a crafting organization at a local library. It felt so good to unload!! I also didn't mention the boxes and boxes of vintage tablecloths and curtains I still own. Sitting int he basement, taking up space. Sigh. Baby steps is 100% it.

  2. we gave all our chickens away last fall, and when i make scrambled eggs in the morning with beautiful fresh eggs from our friends flock, all I can think of is how i don't miss having to take care of chickens at all. i love chickens, don't get me wrong, but there were some days where i just really didn't feel like dealing with a bunch of chicken poop- especially in the dead of winter. super nice just to have someone else deal with it, and i'll just come over and give them some jam in exchange for some eggs.

    streamlining is such a good thing to do for your personal well being, but i think it also builds friendships and community since you end up working with other people who excel at what you've decided not to bother with.

    1. Caroline, I didn't know! Oh wow, that's a big change. You must feel like a big weight is off your shoulders. I only had four chickens. But yes, I don't miss it really, especially since I still get to have the eggs. And winter was never very much fun.

      It's funny, for years I always said I'd tap my maple trees and never have done it. The other day I traded a bunch of jam with some very nice folks for a half-gallon jug of syrup, and that suited me just fine. Not doing everything has its perks!

  3. mmm, I like a very thick soup unless I have an excellent bread to go with it. Your soup looks good (and I take food photos the SAME way you do! and no apologies over here about it!).

    1. Thanks, Margo! You take great pictures of great stuff. Love your quilt!

  4. How coincidental that just today I made the comment "Jack of all trades, master of none" to my boss. (We were discussing my crocheted hat, which I would never want an experienced crocheter to examine!) The idea of purging stuff (crafts explored and abandoned) appeals to me. I do it frequently. Unfortunately in my case, it seems to just free up space for new stuff for new projects I want to try.

    I still seem to think I want a few chickens, but in the meantime am quite content to get my eggs from my CSA farmers!

    1. Hi Dawn! Yes, it does seem that as soon as I unload stuff, there is something to slide right into it's space.

      One of the reasons I did let go of the chickens is how easy it now is to get great eggs. That made it easier. Much less work involved!

  5. Oooh, I have some buttermilk in the fridge that needs using & this may be *just* the recipe to try!

    1. I hope it comes out good for you. I am making more tomorrow, actually!