Five-Year Anniversary on Ice: Italian Bean and Kale Soup & Roasted (Acorn or Butternut) Squash

7 Nov

The view from my car as I waited for the road to clear on the second day of my longest commute home, like, eva'

When Stephen and I got married, we spent about a year engaged … in combat. Most couples seem to spend their engagement sipping hot cocoa, gazing worshipfully into each others eyes and saying adorable things in unison. We went the Bickersons route, and no road was too low for us to heedlessly gallop into.

But it was fun too. We managed to get all of our real ragers out of the way before we said our vows, and in between over-reacting to the other one’s egregious suggestions for the registry (“You like ecru placemats? I can’t marry someone who likes ecru place mats”) and make-up sessions, we found time to dream about our lives together.

It was a tense, fluttery rapid-heartbeat period of intense emotional, psychological and intellectual fencing, during which boundaries were tested, various territories were colonized and vast uncharted territories were explored.

Wild visions ensued. But never, in my most maudlin forecast, did I predict that I would spend our fifth wedding anniversary by myself in a cold, locked car at a Valero’s gas station under a bridge on Route 6 in Brewster. Stephen, meanwhile, was clutching our tick-covered dog on our living-room couch in front of the woodstove as a wet fire sputtered and spittered at him. (Thank you massive Nor’Easter!) Mother Nature, what a pal.

The lovely vista out my window under the bridge on a very, very long anniversary evening

Poor Stephen warmed a can of pork and beans on the stove top and ate it, hobo style, straight from the tin between bouts of MapQuesting and conversations with State Troopers to find out if he could either a) direct me on a safe, unclogged route home or b) come and save me.

Meanwhile, I tried to unwind from my hairy post-catering gig drive up 684 past downed trees, live, snaking power lines and cars overturned in ditches. It took me about 2 hours to drive what would normally take 20 minutes, and finally, the State Troopers pulled the plug on my little odyssey by shutting down the Interstate.

I wanted nothing more than to get home to Stephen, pick a fight about place mats for old time’s sake and kick back with a Six Point Sweet Action. Instead, I chatted with my new neighbors, changed my wet socks, threw on an extra scarf and the black velvet turban that my Mom gave me (I keep in my glove compartment to don during faux-crises because it’s ridiculous and it always makes me happy to wear ridiculous things), torn red mittens and puttered around the powerless Valero’s that valiantly stayed open and let all of my fellow stranded travelers eat our carrot cake, drink vats of coffee and munch on sunflower seeds while consulting our smart-phones for road conditions and gabbing about our travails that evening so far. Stephen and I stayed in touch, we both tried to stay warm, and neither of us slept more than a wink or two.

Day broke over my frosty car like a shattering bone china plate; I didn’t know whether I should cry or marvel at the glorious, stunning shards of destruction scattered around me. To my right, a young mother nursed her baby in her Suburban while her mother tried to keep them both calm. To my left, an elderly couple played what appeared to be a contentious round of Gin-Rummy in a pick-up Chevy.

Stephen called me, for the umpteenth time and we made the umpteenth plan for my escape; previous efforts to break out of Valero’s were stymied by downed Evergreens, overturned semi’s, countless minor and major accidents, but primarily, by Mother Nature, who is fond of running amok with dirty icicles. Stephen couldn’t even make it out of the driveway.

Twelve hours after I’d headed home, I pulled into the driveway. Stephen was waiting outside with a face as chapped from the cold and a cackle as unhinged from the storm as mine.

As our new neighbor said: “Welcome to the country.”

We salvaged a lot of the weekend from Mother Nature’s ravenous fun-munching raptors; Stephen’s surprise little vacation (I knew we were going, just didn’t know where), was unmolested. We headed to Saratoga and hid from our powerless, icy home, drank delicious Six Point beers, pigged out on chocolate and wild game, drank gallons of samples of different Saratoga Springs (who knew water could have so many complex flavors?), and didn’t get into a single fight about place mats.

The first spring we sampled

This man has serious business here, stop bothering him

Are you paying attention over there?

Note this hole!

My favorite thing about our marriage? Getting the engagement out of the way, so we could get to the really good stuff.

When we came home, we were still without power, but when it came on, I made some country classics to patch us through until the next storm. Click on for recipes for a hearty Italian-style vegetarian soup, and some fabulously rich-tasting roasted squash.

Our woodfire stove kept us nice and toasty (kinda!); I baked potatoes in a tin pouch in the fire, because I get cranky without carbs, and we were sick of chips.

Southern Italian Bean and Kale Soup

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • ½ small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into thick rounds
  • 3 sweet peppers, cut roughly into bite-sized pieces
  • 3-4 hot peppers, seeded and cut into thin rounds
  • 1 quart chicken or veggie stock + 1 quart water
  • 1-3 ounces pasta noodles or couscous or combination
  • 1 big bunch kale, chopped
  • 1 cup dried beans (soaked and cooked) or 1 15-ounce can beans rinsed (Northern white beans are ideal, but I only had pinto on hand and they were great too; garbanzo would be delicious and a bit heartier)
  • 1 ounce Pecorino Romano rind (I save mine in the freezer for soups, but a few ounces of fresh would work too – just finish the soup with it!)
  • 2-3 TBSP fresh herbs (I used oregano, rosemary and dill), minced

Method:

  • Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, sautee over medium heat until translucent. Add the carrots and peppers and sautee until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the broth and water, bring to a boil. Add the noodles and boil for a few minutes. Reduce to simmer. Add the cheese rind. (Reserve to the end if using fresh).
  • Simmer for 5 minutes. Toss in kale and beans and heat through, about 5 more minutes.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs and more cheese.

Nutritional Breakdown for Southern Italian Bean and Kale Soup: About 175 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving. Good source of protein, fiber, iron and essential vitamins and minerals.

Cost Breakdown for Southern Italian Bean and Kale Soup: About $1.50 a serving.

Verdict / In the Future: This is a super chunky soup; you practically need a knife and fork to eat it. It’s a seriously nutrient-dense package, and very low in calories. Great for vegetarians as a main meal with toasted garlic bread or pizza.

Roasted (Acorn or Butternut) Squash

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 squash, split in half, pulp and seeds removed and discarded (seeds can be reserved for roasting)
  • 2 tsp butter
  • Salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Walnuts, to taste (optional)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Place in pan (I use my trusty iron skillet) with about a 1/4 inch of water. Crumble a pad of butter the inside each half of the squash. Top with salt, sugar, cinnamon and cayenne (if you like it hot) plus crushed walnuts (if you like a heartier dish).
  • Bake until nice and soft and slightly golden, about an hour. Dig in!

Fierce

Faint

Nutritional Breakdown of Roasted (Acorn or Butternut) Squash: About 175 calories and 5 grams of fat. Great source of Vitamins A and C, plus iron and fiber.

Cost Breakdown of Roasted (Acorn or Butternut) Squash: About $1.50 a serving for organic squash.

Verdict / In the Future: Stephen hates squash, unless it’s pureed. It’s just the way it is. I love squash in every form, but this is my favorite. If I have my druthers, I’ll pick acorn over butternut any day – it’s naturally a bit nuttier and richer tasting and just a touch of butter and sugar goes a long way. Butternut squash always seems insipid next to acorn squash.

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