Monday, December 26, 2011

The Soup Project: "No-Turkey" Noodle Soup

I don't have any turkey leftover, but since it seems a tradition to make turkey noodle soup after Christmas, I thought it would be interesting to make a vegetarian version of this soup without the bird. Could it be done? I think the flavor mostly depended on the bird.

I scanned my vegetaran cookbooks and didn't find the "no turkey" noodle soup that I'd started dreaming up.

My biggest quandary is flavor. A meaty texture can easily be found in mushrooms or Field Roast, but the flavor--it's got light notes of poultry seasoning, not dark notes of say rosemary or sundried tomatoes.

I found a recipe on Chow Vegan for chicken noodle soup and thought I'd use that as a pattern for my creation. But her recipe used a packaged broth, which in my opinion is first--cheating, and second--a second-rate or cop out choice for flavoring soup. But the comments she got were all good and her blog actually looks like a great blog to follow for recipe ideas.

I thought I'd use this mushroom broth that I'd made for a Winter Mushroom Soup a few weeks ago. It would make the soup a little darker, but would add a rich flavor.

I got out the carrots, onions, celery and the udon noodles that I'd thought were perfect for this soup.

My assistant is trying to reach his favorite celery. I guess I should count myself lucky that he loves the green stalks. It's right up there with carrots in his book.

If you aren't into faux meats such as Field Roast, use mushrooms, if you Pan fry the mushrooms in a dry pan until their juices appear. They develop a nice texture and the flavor becomes more concentrated and used in soups they add great texture and flavor.

I've gotten garlic powder from the farmers' market for years now. Occasionally I find onion powder. I got a couple large bottles of it from Rent's Due Ranch.

I didn't use Mama Lil's peppers in the version I made but I know they'd be good in this soup. How could they not? Seriously, these peppers enhance everything except dessert. If you don't know them, maybe you should give them a try. I know I sound like I must get paid, but I don't. I just love them and there isn't anything else like them on the market. My New Year's wish is that the creator and owner of Mama Lil's, Howard Lev, never goes out of business.

Here's the recipe:

"No-Turkey" Noodle Soup
(Serves 4 to 6)

4 ounces dry udon noodles
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 cup diced onion
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 cup diced celery
1 cup carrots cut into batons
1 small potato, diced small
1/2 teaspoon garlic or onion powder
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped Mama Lil's Peppers (optional)
5 to 6 cups mushroom broth
1/2 teaspoon hickory smoke flavoring or 1/2 tablespoon Bragg's Liquid Aminos
1 cup diced, pan fried Fieldroast
1 cup of finely chopped kale
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Boil 8 to 10 quarts of water and add udon noodles. Cook according to package directions to al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.

2. Heat a soup pot over medium heat. When it's hot, add onions and olive oil. Stir and sweat the onions until they're translucent. Add the garlic. Stir and cook until garlic caramelizes.

3. Add celery, carrots, potato, garlic powder, fennel seeds. Stir to coat with oil. Add Mama Lil's Peppers if you want. Stir in the mushroom broth and hickory smoke flavoring. Simmer on low for 20 minutes.

4. Stir in Field Roast and kale. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Divide the noodles between the bowls and ladle soup over them.

Chop sticks or spoon? Take your pick!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wish Lists

I spent a few days in San Francisco last week where holiday themed cookies and treats lured me. These were definitely on someone's wish list.

Sure he looks cute, but he's probably wondering whether he could snarf the cookies before I grabbed him.

At the Ferry Plaza Market I found the biggest carrots I'd ever seen. I suspected they were as sweet like Nash's Best carrots. Someone on Facebook said they were "horse carrots." I didn't happen to have a knife back at the hotel to cut these babies up, and I didn't think they'd last till I got home, so I reluctantly passed on them.

Winter citrus-- all I've got to say is it's one sweet reason to take a vacation to warmer climates during winter. "Just headed to the farmers' market, see you tomorrow." Not quite that bad, but I bring things home when I go anywhere, don't you?

The best thing about another city is its farmers' market. Plays, restaruants, museums, skiing, hiking--it's all meaningless when great food is neglected.

Brussels sprouts--in season, but pricey everywhere it seems; but the thing is, fresh sprouts are heavenly. After a good frost is the best time to get them; they're sweetest then. These were on my wish list for our holiday dinner.

And if you wished farm laborers made fair wages this year, check this out:

This is the first time I've seen a "Union Labor" sign on produce but I bet it won't be the last. These strawberries were totally worth $3.50 a pint--amazing flavor, the best I'd ever tasted.

And check this sign at Ranch Gordo beans.

If Rancho Gordo beans, weren't on your list, they should be. The flavor, texture and well to put it delicately, the digestability--all make these beans true treasures. I only got red pop corn and midnight beans because my suitcase was too small. First rule in food travel--bring a big suitcase.

I also picked up my favorite almond butter and roasted almonds. Bringing a lot of food home from a mini vacation is expected at our house. Food hunting in 2011 takes on a new look.

The Satsumas didn't really make it long enough to be stocking stuffers.

May your holidays be warm and peaceful.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Soup Project: Black Bean Chili with Hominy (and 48 more soup recipes)

I was so busy last week, but it was all fun, and I'll tell you more about that in another post, but when my schedule is full, I bring out my favorite default recipes, like chili.

I posted this chili recipe from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook last February, so I suppose this makes the second chili recipe this year, but the truth is it's one of my favorites and I never get tired of variations of chili.

I found another version in Lorna Sass's classic Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. I added hominy to because chili and corn are meant to be together and since fresh local corn isn't available in the winter, dried cooked hominy is a great option with a sweet flavor.

I used Rancho Gordo hominy this time. I first tried this hominy last year and my Cooking Assistant was willing to pose with the package, but he didn't like this little school boy outfit I made him wear for the picture. He definitely isn't a "dress-up" dog.

Rancho Gordo hominy has a different appearance than Ayers Creek hominy and the recipe for cooking it seems a bit less labor intensive than the posole or hominy from Ayers Creek Farm, but the flavor of these dried versions are more rewarding than canned hominy, which I've never really liked.

I mean seriously, take a look at those cans of hominy in grocery stores, how long have they been sitting there? Who eats that stuff?

Here is the post on how to cook hominy the Ayers Creek way--it's a bit of a process, but the colors are lovely and the flavor, stunning.

Cooked in a pressure cooker this recipe is ready in minutes. My Cooking Assistant almost missed posing with the soup of the week. But he runs fast, at least he thinks he does.

I don't think he realizes how goofy he looks when he runs.

This chili is definitely worth racing to the table to eat. I hope you like this version adapted from Lorna Sass's recipe.

Be sure to check out the other recipes I've posted since last January. The Soup Project only has a few more weeks to go, and I've got a few ideas for themes I'm noodling about for my Monday posts for 2012. If you have any suggestions for themes--sides, salads, etc., let me know.

You can make this chili as hot as you like, depending on whether you leave the seeds in the smoked jalapenos or take them out. Also I taste as I cook and if the flavor is too acidic, add a half a teaspoon of honey or sugar to the mix.

Black Bean Chili with Hominy
(Serves 4 to 6)

1 cup dried black beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked for at least 4 hours
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 cup minced onions or shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 or 2 dried chipotle, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried whole fennel seeds
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 28-ounce fire-roasted canned tomatoes
1 large carrot, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup cooked hominy
2 to 3 cups boiling water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup minced cilantro
1 lime cut into wedges

1. Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in the pressure cooker over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and let them sizzle until they begin to pop--5 to 10 seconds.

3. Add onions and garlic; stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add reserved beans, chipotle chili, chili powder, oregano, fennel seeds, cinnamon, fire roasted tomatoes, carrot, hominy and 2 cups boiling water. Add more if you want a more soupy texture.

4. Lock lid in place Bring to pressure over high heat. Then reduce heat, just enough to maintain temperature and cook for 12 minutes. If using a regular soup pot, simmer, covered, on medium low for at least an hour, stirring every once in awhile.

5. Allow pressure to come down naturally or use quick release and if beans aren't quite tender, simmer a few more minutes. Open lid away from you. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving stir in cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

The 2011 Soup Project

1. Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

3. Basic Soup Stock

4. Locro Guascho Argentino (white beans, sweet potatoes and hominy)

16. Red Velvet Soup (with beets)

49. Black Bean Chili with Hominy (see recipe above)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Soup Project: Winter Mushroom Soup with Hazelnut-Lemon Gremolata

I love mushrooms, but I didn't grow up eating them, not even common button mushrooms from the grocery store. Campbell's mushroom soup was about as close as I got to mushrooms as a child because Mom never bought mushrooms, not even the canned variety. "Too risky," she'd once told me.

So I became a mushroom fan after I moved out and started cooking. In college I took a foraging class, and I'd never consider adding Campbell's mushroom soup to my pantry today. And with Found and Foraged at Seattle farmers' markets, I'm lazy and don't forage for my own mushrooms.

I keep at least one package of their dried mushrooms in my pantry all the time. Dried porcini is my favorite, but I'm fond of their wild mix as well. These dry mushrooms are the secret to great tasting meat-free gravy and their texture is chewy and can easily replace a meat in shepherd's pie or stews.

I was dreaming about mushroom soup and I looked for recipes that incorporate both fresh and dry mushrooms. I wanted strong earthy tones. My usual cookbooks wern't much help, but when I checked Barbara Kafka's Soup: A Way of Life, I found a mushroom broth recipe that seemed the perfect base for this soup. Then I looked online and found this mushroom soup by Paul Grimes which looked good, but half a stick of butter? Who needs that?

Right below Grime's recipe, I found another intriguing mushroom soup with dried porcini mushrooms and a gremolata. A what? A garnish made of minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic. I thought about replacing the parsley with mustard greens, and since the recipe had added hazelnuts, I kept that and changed the orange to lemon.

I imagined all the flavors flowing together, hazelnuts and that earthy mushrooms with the tang of lemon zest.

I combined the two recipes and adapted Kafka's soup broth for my recipe.

At the market I found chanterelles and hedgehogs. I chose the hedgehogs because chanterelles might get water logged too easily. I bought about a pound, but ended up only using half of that because I figured they'd also be good in a stir fry.

I had a package of dried shiitake mushrooms for the broth, but if you want local, Cascadia Mushrooms is often at winter markets. You can get mushroom logs to grow your own shiitake mushrooms. We did that one year. I'd ordered a shiitake log from a catalog. We kept it in the living room and it was damp all the time since we had to spray it, and it was ugly and it took forever before we got one huge mushroom. Finally a couple smaller ones appeared; we ended up with about five all together. Big woopie. I talked to mushroom expert Paul Stamets who said this was unusual. If you're interested in growing your own, check out Cascadia Mushrooms because they guarantee the mushroom kits they sell.

My Cooking Assistant likes the sweet carrots in this mix. With the chilly cold weater we've had, the carrots are very sweet.

I added a garnet yam to the line up because it also adds sweetness and can add more texture if you cook it long enough so it falls apart.

Winter Mushroom Soup with Hazelnut-Lemon Gremolata
(Makes 6 servings)

1 pound cremini mushrooms, rinsed and sliced

1 pound wild mushrooms like hedgehogs, sliced

1 cup diced shallots

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped hot peppers (Mama Lil’s)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup coconut milk

2 celery ribs, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 small garnet yam or sweet potato, diced

5-6 cups mushroom broth (see below)

1. Dry-fry mushrooms in a heavy soup pot over medium heat until mushrooms lose their juices. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add shallots and oil to pan. Stir and cook until shallots soften, add garlic and hot peppers. After a few minutes, stir in tomato paste and continue to cook for a few more minutes.

3. Blend in coconut milk, celery, carrot, sweet potato and 5 cups mushroom broth. Simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Remove 1 cup of the soup and puree.

4. Return to pot. Stir in mushrooms Season with salt.

5. Garnish with gremolata (see below).

Hazelnut and Mustard Greens Gremolata

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup minced mustard greens or kale

1/4 cup finely chopped hazelnuts

1 garlic clove, pressed

2 teaspoons finely chopped organic lemon zest

Mix olive oil, kale, hazelnuts, garlic and lemon zest in a small bowl. Top each serving of soup with it.

Mushroom Broth (adapted from Barbara Kafka’s Soup A Way of Life)

3/4 pound cremini mushrooms

1/2 ounce shiitake mushrooms

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

6 cups water

Chop fresh mushrooms to a smooth paste in a blender or food process. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Bring the mushrooms and water to a boil in a stock pot. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, then through a damp cloth lined sieve. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Friday, December 9, 2011

From Farm to Cookie

The best thing about baking for the holiday season is that so many of the ingredients can be sourced locally. But that wasn’t always true. Five years ago at farmers’ markets, eggs were scarce, butter was hard to find, and freshly ground flour was just a pipedream.

With the increasing demand for everything local and with more farms diversifying, growing everything from seed crops and test trials for WSU, to quirky crops that chefs love, we’re seeing crops that haven’t been grown in the Northwest for decades.

One of those crops is wheat. But mention wheat and many people conjure images of Montana or even the Palouse in eastern Washington. You don’t usually think of the Olympic Peninsula.

That’s changing thanks to WSU extension center and farmers like Nash Huber in Sequim who have been growing test trials of wheat to determine the varieties of wheat that grow best here.

Nash Huber’s Organic Produce

Sequim lies in a rain shadow and it’s possibly one of the best places to raise wheat west of the Cascades. And Nash’s Organic Produce has been growing the whole-meal-deal—from row crops, apples, and berries, to eggs and pork, beans and grains.

Patty McManus-Huber, Nash’s wife, recently told me “What Nash really wants is to have a farm like the one he grew up on in Illinois.”

Nash’s parents and grandparents on both sides had been farmers—“all the way back,” he'd told me. When he was young, in the 1950s, farms grew a variety of crops with livestock and grass. An average farm size was about a hundred acres. “We didn’t call it organic then,” Nash explained. “That’s just the way we farmed.”

But agriculture changed after World War II. Farms grew and began specializing in one or two crops, using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. A drought in 1953 drove a lot of Illinois farmers out, and by the 1960s many farms had already converted to single-crop farms of a thousand or more acres. Nash left his family’s farm, got a degree in chemistry, and worked for an agribusiness company before he was drawn to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in 1968 and back to farming.

Nash started his farm by growing hay and raising bees on a few acres. Eventually, he bought a dozen acres and leased additional farmland, and in 1979 his farm was the fourth in the state to be certified organic. He built a packing shed and sold produce at his farm store and farmers’ markets, to restaurants and through wholesale accounts.

Today, Nash farms 400 acres, all certified-organic, and his dedicated crew also grows, harvests, processes and grinds flour for local consumers and chefs. I've mentioned before how the flavor enhances cookies and cakes, and if you're up for checking out this flour, why not search out other local ingredients baking quick breads and cookies.

Holiday baking

For baking during the holiday season, look for locally grown and processed wheat flour. The fresh flavor recalls memories of what baked goods were meant to be.

And speaking of adding local to your holiday baking, look for locally produced eggs, butter and hazelnuts or walnuts.

Nuts and oils

If you haven't heard about Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, check out markets and local stores. I found a bag of raw Duchilly hazelnuts at Top Foods. You can also get hazelnut oil and hazelnut butter from this vendor at local markets. The oil is probably best used for salads since nut oils tend to be more fragile.


Five years ago, if you didn't get to the markets early, you missed out on eggs, but now many farmers offer them but they tend to have less in the winter when chickens tend to quit laying because of the low levels of daylight.

I love the eggs from River Farm because the yolks are a deep yellow and have great flavor. These market eggs are more expensive than grocery store eggs but when you talk to farmers who raise these chickens you know how many chickens they have and how they are raised. At $6 to $7 a dozen you tend to eat less and appreciate them more.


If I buy butter, I usually get it from this Skagit Valley Farm, and if you're making locally-sourced cookies, local butter is probably a better idea than seed or nut oils.

I posted this recipe before but it's so good, it deserves rerun. It's from my book and it was one of my mom's favorite recipes when I was young. She used to hide a personal stash of these cookies in Tupperware behind the pans because we all devoured the cookies so fast. I discovered them one day quite by accident and I remember helping myself, thinking she'd never notice if I left the ends--her favorites. She never did let on that she knew I'd raided her treasures, but those cookies were soon moved and I never did find her final hiding place.

What you have to keep in mind, is the texture of the biscotti must be stiff enough so you can touch it and form it into logs. All whole wheat pastry flour doesn't always work very well because it contains too much moisture, the cookies spread out and crumble too easily. It's the gluten that holds the dough and cookie together. Also, these cookies are just as good with walnuts and when you add some chunks of dark chocolate, they are amazing.

Hazelnut Biscotti

Makes about 3 dozen

3-4 cups flour (use a combination of unbleached, whole-wheat and whole-wheat pastry flour)

1 teaspoon each: baking powder and baking soda

Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped

1 cup chopped hazelnuts, lightly toasted

1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and hazelnuts in a large bowl and mix well.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl and blend in the eggs. Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir the wet into the dry ingredients, adding enough flour for a very stiff dough, if necessary.

4. Divide the dough in half and roll into 14-inch logs. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, flatten the tops of the logs, and bake until lightly browned on the bottom, about 25 minutes. Turn the oven off. Remove the logs from the oven and let them cool completely.

5. After at least 1/2 hour has elapsed, reheat the oven to 325ºF. When the logs are cool, slice 1/2 inch thick at approximately a 45º angle. Lay flat on a baking sheet or pizza screen. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. If using a baking sheet, turn halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Store the biscotti in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week or freeze.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Soup Project: Old-Fashioned Navy Bean Soup

I discovered this old recipe for Navy Bean Soup last week when I was going through files and found a thick red file labeled "Recipes." I hadn't looked the file in years, but it was thick and when I opened it, I found a treasure trove of old memories. A few recipes from clipped from old magazines, but most were my creations. Among the finds were Shiitake Pot Pie with Polenta Crust, Curried Lentil Salad, Smoked Chile Barbecue Sauce, Triple Chocolate Banana Cake and even a granola recipe from a friend's son that I'd misplaced when I was gathering recipes for The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook.

A version of Old-Fashioned Navy Bean Soup (with vegetables) is in my book, but this was the original recipe, typed on my old Smith-Corona about 30 years ago. It brought back memories of early soup making, when I was insecure about making stock and unsure about ingredients. I documented everything in those days and I recall wanting a soup that tasted like but better than Campbell's navy bean soup. I know, true confessions--my mom loved convenience and when I was young, I thought all soup came from a can.

I love it when recipes bring back sweet memories--like mushroom soup and our visit to the beach over Thanksgiving. (And that's coming as soon as I get some local mushrooms.)

The salty damp scents, the wind blowing the dogs' ears back as they raced across the sand, this rusty "free spirit" bike on the dock--who really wants to leave those memories behind?

Anyway, I needed something easy, something pantry-oriented because I didn't get to the market for the Cascadia Mushrooms that I'd wanted for mushroom soup.

Instead, my Assistant and I went to Woofstock--the Smiley Dog (delivery service) annual open house on Saturday. When we got there, the warehouse was all festive with hippie posters and heavy on the peace sign-tie dye theme. I loaded up on holiday gifts even got a free catnip joint for Mair Farm cat. My assistant was so happy to be in a room filled with people and dogs he went a little wild, acting like we were at a dog park. From Boston Terriers to Great Danes, Finn greeted them all.

And the cake? First time I'd ever seen a tie dye cake. It was definitely not for the dogs.

They also served the best vegan chili I've had in a long time. With grated cheese on the side, the chili had a variety of beans, carrots, corn, great flavorings and just the right amount of heat. While I enjoyed it, my Assistant tried to poke through my bags and grab his Christmas gift. Could be some coal in his stocking this year if he keeps it up, but then again he might just eat that too.

The chili put me in the mood for beans when we got home. In my pantry I found beans leftover from the markets--about a half a cup of Tarbais beans from Ayers Creek Farm, near Gaston, Oregon, and half a cup of cannellini beans from Willie Green's Organic Farm, just outside Monroe, Washington.

Any white bean works in this recipe. I originally wrote the recipe for navy beans because that's what you find in grocery stores, years ago that's all we could get, and that's what Campbell's bean soup is made with.

Navy beans are common and can be found in any grocery store, and you'll notice the cost of these conventionally grown varieties is much less (about $1.50 per pound, a dollar if you're lucky) than locally-grown organic (between $4 and $8 per pound, in Oregon a little less.) If you're on a food budget, these kinds of ingredients add up, and in that case, consider local beans as a treat, kind of like a vegetarian's version of grass-fed beef. Also consider this: when cooked these beans still cost less than a hunk of grass fed beef. Plus beans have a lot to offer--fiber, B vitamins and minerals with beans.

Shallots, celery and carrots make up the base of this soup. I got quite a few shallots a few weeks ago, and these store well over the winter in a cool room. Some farm vendors at the market still have celery, but it's fading from the local scene. Carrots are just getting sweet now because the colder it gets the sweeter the carrots become. I'm crazy about Nash's carrots, the big clunky variety , so recognizable about town.

If you have white beans from the market, use those, otherwise use navy beans from your pantry. And, it's not exactly locavore fare, but I'm crazy about South River Miso for the best flavor.

Old Fashioned Navy (or White) Bean Soup
(Serves 6)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive or canola oil
1 cup diced shallots
3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 cup navy or white beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
5 cups stock or water
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons barley miso
Sea salt
1/2 cup chopped parsley

1. Heat a stock pot or the bottom half of a pressure cooker over medium heat. Add oil and shallots when hot. Reduce heat, stir and when shallots turn translucent, add garlic and continue to stir and cook for a few minutes.

2. Add celery, carrots, white beans, stock or water, oregano, basil, fennel, bay leaf and pepper. Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, about one to one and a half hours. Or if using a pressure cooker, lock lid, bring pressure up over high heat. Reduce heat, keeping pressure up, and cook for 10 minutes. Allow pressure to come down naturally, then carefully remove lid, tilting it away from you.

3. Remove 1 cup of soup. Puree with barley miso, return to pot and blend in. Add sea salt to taste. Garnish with parsley.

Heat your favorite crusty artisan bread or warm some corn tortillas and enjoy a bowl of old-fashioned comfort food.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Soup Project: "Creamy" Parsnip Soup

I was looking forward to this parsnip soup after our trip to the beach this past weekend.

Since our families live far away, we decided to escape for Thanksgiving to Long Beach, Washington, definitely not to be confused with Long Beach, California.

It wasn't the first time we'd gone here on Thanksgiving, but last week predictions for rain had dampened my spirits just a bit. Don't get me wrong, I love the beach and I can wave watch in any weather and big waves are scary fun at first. But when the rain starts pelting me sideways and the drops sting like black flies, and the wind roars so loud I know the dogs won't hear me, it's time to get close to a fireplace inside and curl up with a good book.

We must have driven horough a foot of water over the road in Raymond. And of course, all the vehicles ahead of us had big wheels. It looked like the police were getting ready to rope off that section of road, and I breathed a sigh of relieve as we drove through it. But the road got better as we approached the beach, and when we arrived at the lodge, the sun was shining through dark clouds.

We were just north of Long Beach. But turn south off the highway and you'd end up in Illwaco, a historic fishing village that looks partly run down with empty storefronts that need repairs, tiny restaurants all offering "the best" clam chowder, and artist galleries with pricey art on the waterfront. Of course there were lots of fishing boats.

And bright cheery colors.

Lots of people think coastal towns are all grey with fog in winter but on the streets in Long Beach many buildings and houses have strong yellow, blue, purple and red colors. Look up, and you see rainbows just after a rain.

In the summer, kite flyers flock to the beaches. In Long Beach you can check out all the cool places to get kites for the annual kite festival in August. If you haven't been, you must go because kites aren't the simple affairs they used to be.

I never get tired of looking at the murals like this one of Jake the Alligator Man who appears to have just celebrated his 75th birthday party this past year. I wondered what kind of cake they served.

But the best part of Long Beach is the beach. We've stayed at the same place for years. It's nothing to brag about but they take dogs and they're right next to the dunes. It's all about location when we go to the beach. (And who will take our motley crew.)

In the winter, the beach is fairly empty. Clammers (is that what you call the people who dig for clams?) come around sometimes, and you pass walkers, runners, sometimes cars drive past, and you meet other folks with dogs, but most of the time in winter it's just you and the ocean waves.

On a sad note--I wish people who use plastic water bottles would get a close up view of how the beach looks after a storm. Then go grab a bag and start filling it with bottles. Quit using plastic water bottles people! Our world is filled with way too much plastic.

Racing across the wet sand, ears flying, this trip was Chloe's (right) first trip to the beach with us.

Finn has to be lead dog. He's all about big drama. He runs and slams into Chloe like he's in a mosh pit. It's all great fun for him. He leaps and growls and mouth wrestles and he even bites Chloe's tail if she doesn't react in any way, but when he crosses a line, she runs out of patience, lets him have it. He hangs his head like a wayward husband who has stayed out late with his buddies. Times like this I wonder--who's the boss?

Flocks of birds gather at the shore moving north. Sometimes the flocks are big, but I can't say how big because these birds are small and they don't let you come very close. These birds land, run up to the waves, to get what?

They're moving north on the migratory bird superhighway. Sometimes the flocks pass each other and fly tandem or swirl around, flying in an uneven path heading north, looking for shore food.

On Thanksgiving we spent hours on the beach instead of at the kitchen table. The next evening we dined at the Shoalwater Restaurant. Tom had his annual steak; I chose Wild Mushroom Soup and had greens from a local farm with a lemonade vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was really good and seemed easy to make. Add more sweetener to a lemon vinaigrette and isn't that lemonade vinaigrette? As for the soup, while it was vegetarian, I'm dreaming up ideas for a vegan version for next week's soup.

I thought it would be hard say goodbye, but once the rain started pounding down on Sunday, even the dogs refused to head out to the beach for one last goodbye. They curled up on fluffy blankets, draming about biscuits and sunnier days ahead.

A kitchen vacation was exactly what I needed. On the drive home I looked forward to a bowl of steaming soup and crusty Italian bread.

Parsnip is the vegetable that inspires this week's soup. I didn't grow up with parsnips and for me, it seems like a vegetables that more people appreciate in the Midwest, but every winter when farmers bring parsnips to market, I try different recipes with them.

Parsnips are carrot relatives, first brought to this country by Europeans in the 1600s, but they never really gained popularity. Winter is the best time for these nutty roots that produce more sugars as temperatures plunge. This vegetable likes a long cool growing season--like the Northwest. That's why many farmers sell them at markets in the Northwest.

This parsnip soup was inspired from "Cream of Parsnip Soup" in the Victory Garden Cookbook (1982), by Marian Morash and "Creamy Spicy Parsnip and Carrot Soup" in Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini (2001) by Elizabeth Scheneider. Neither version was vegan, but I ofen turn to these books again and again for inspiration.

"Creamy" Parsnip Soup

1/2 cup dry porcini mushrooms
4 cups boiling water
3/4 cup cashews
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon juice
Chopped chives, croutons or Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Pour boiling water over mushrooms. In another container pour apple cider over the raw cashews and add the lemon juice. Set both containers aside for a few hours. Place the cashews in the refrigerator if leaving for more than a few hours. Strain mushrooms from broth.

2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onion and oil. Stir and cook until onions become transparent. Add garlic and continue to cook until lightly browned.

3. Stir in parsnips, turmeric, coriander and cardamom. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes, then add mushroom water. Simmer for 20 minutes or until parsnips are very soft.

4. Puree 1 to 2 cups at a time until creamy. Return to soup pot. Chop the porcini mushrooms and add them. Heat on low for 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Place the cashews and apple cider in a blender and liquefy. Blend into the soup mixture. Add salt, pepper and a bit of lemon juice if desired to adjust the flavors. Add more water to thin, if necessary. Garnish with chives, croutons or Parmesan cheese.

Finn waiting patiently for leftovers.