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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

A Thanksgiving post by The Dog Picker

I've noticed at the dog park lately many dogs have been feigning a humble attitude toward Thanksgiving. Let me just say, a humble attitude is not something I endorse because a table heaped high with food and the gluttonous feast that follows only comes once a year.

I say make the most of this holiday. Here's to glasses filled with wine and plates left unattended.

Oh sure, be thankful for tiny crumbs tossed your way, but let me add whining and a stubborn attitude can take you a lot farther than you might expect.

People say they don't like whiners but why are they continually rewarded?

And while I'm giving thanks, let me add I'm also thankful for the school kids who continue to toss away their lunches. On weekdays the grade school routes are gold mines for hungry hounds. This week was no exception. I found two decent apples in the gutter. Carry your treasures home, then whine and pout. Someone is bound to give in and let you eat the apple. Trust me, whining works.

I'm also thankful for snacks left at eye level on the coffee table. Best advice--pretend to be in a deep sleep, but listen closely for the sound of foot steps leaving the room. People forget plates on tables a lot faster than you might think. Distractions, my friend, are a dog's best friend when it comes to snacks on plates. Celery and almond butter anyone?

I'm also grateful for memory foam, daytime naps and bedtime stories. Notice how I position myself in the middle of the bed? I say let the Golden Retriever be humble, I'll take the bed any day. "Off" is a dirty word in my world.

And coffee breaks? Kudos for Anne Bramley's Lemon Meyer Tea Bread--a treat to revive any napping hound.

And I especially give thanks to the management who brings home great food from the farmers' market every week. Our home is continually filled with the scent of vegetables roasting and desserts baking like this cherry crisp.

One of my favorite dreams is that I'm left alone with the entire dessert. Oh, I think you know how that dream ends--with a smile on my face!

Never lose sight or scent of your dreams.

May your holiday be filled with outrageous treats.

Yours truely--the dog picker.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Soup Project: Enchilada Soup with Black-Eyed Peas

Enchilada soup is one of my go-to recipes when I haven't decided what to make for dinner and I'm running out of time to decide. And as you might guess, the most important ingredient is enchilada sauce.

I found the best farm made enchilada sauce when I visited Gathering Together Farm. They bottle it at Sweet Creek Foods and if you live in Washington, Oregon or California, you can mostly likely find the Sweet Creek brand of enchilada sauce, which is pretty similar. It's sold at co-ops and natural food stores. I'm down to just one jar of Gathering Together Farm enchilada sauce, so I'll be first in line when their store opens next season.

Grocery stores around here mainly have Hatch brand enchilada sauce. Look for a more natural brands of enchilada sauce in natural foods stores.

This is the outdoor patio for the restaurant at Gathering Together Farm. Revisiting this pic makes me nostalgic for summer. I try to stop in at least a few times each season and now I'm long overdue for a visit, and now the farm store closed for the season this past Saturday. I can't wait till it opens again next spring.

An optional ingredient for this soup is a sweet potato or yam. The soup cooks until the small diced potato falls apart and this makes the broth thicker and adds sweet tones. Some farmers in Northwest grow hearty varieties of sweet potatoes and yams. These roots are typically grown in the Southern U.S. because they have a long growing season. They also need to be "cured" or stored in a very warm humid room for 5 to 10 days to develop the sweet flavors.

I also like to use grey shallots in this soup, but the truth is, the enchilada sauce can overpower them and onions work just as well and cost a lot less. I'd go for sweet onions, but it's entirely up to you.

I grew my own grey shallots for the past few years. I got quite a few from planting some of the shallots I bought at the market from Grouse Mountain Farm and the ones I got from Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon. Sadly I gave the job of planting shallots to Tom, possibly when he was paying attention to something else and jsut yesterday I saw those same shallots for planting in the same place on his desk. So much for grey shallots from our garden next summer. Do it yourself comes to mind for next year's garden plan.

One good reason for growing your own is the expense. I spotted grey shallots at the Bellingham Food Co-op last fall for $13.00 a pound last fall, making it worth it to try and grow your own.

Another optional addition to this soup is kale. It doesn't matter what kind of kale. I often have a bundle in the refrigerator no matter what time of year it is, and it's another way to use this great vegetable. Sometimes I sauté it with shallots and scoop it on top of each soup serving.

Finally, a word about the black-eyed peas. I have never found them at farmers' markets in the Northwest, so I concluded they must be a southern legume; after all Hoppin' John originated in the south with African, French and Carribean roots. I've used other beans in this and black beans seem to be a good second choice. But there's something so compelling about black-eyed peas--the texture, the flavor. I think I could eat them every day. Even if you don't like beans, just try black eyed peas and see what you think.

This recipe takes little prep and it could use other vegetables you have on hand. Rutabaga, celery and potatoes come to mind. If you're pressed for time this week or you just want an easy dinner plan, try this soup. All it needs for accompaniment are warm tortillas and a tossed green salad.

Enchilada Soup with Black-Eyed Peas
(Serves 4)

4 small or 6 grey shallots, diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
1 cup frozen corn
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced small
1 1/2 cups dry black-eyed peas, rinsed
1 16-ounce jar enchilada sauce
4 cups water
1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped (optional)
Salt to taste
Parsley for garnish (optional)

1. Heat a heavy stock pot or pressure cooker over medium heat. Cook the shallots in oil, stirring constantly until browned.

2. Remove pot from heat and add sweet potato or yam, black-eyed pears, enchilada sauce and water. Secure lid or cover soup pot. Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes. Allow pressure to come down naturally. For a soup pot, bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until peas are soft.

3. Add kale and simmer over low uncovered until kale wilts. Add salt to taste and garnish with parsley. Serve with cornbread or warm corn tortillas.

PS--A special thanks to Jill Nussinow and her new book for her excellent tips on pressure cooking. I've got to say my pressure cooker was the best investment I made this year.

He was being so good, but suddenly he couldn't resist. And I didn't see it, until . . .

Then I laughed. Now he doesn't take me seriously. I wonder if he ever really will? Training lessons continue on a daily basis with hound dogs since they fake deafness whenever a command doesn't appeal to them. One can only hope for the best with a willful hound. Sometimes I think I'd have the same issues with a bear or raccoon, but hound dogs have an appealing way of making you forget their food obsessed faults.

I believe he gave it four paws up.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Soup Project: Mushroom and Arugula Soup with Ravioli

Cool weather makes me more appreciative of chunky soups. And adding hearty greens like kale, collards and even turnip greens to soup makes me feel like I'm doing my body a favor. You put all these pampered vegetables from local farms into one pot and how can it not be good for you?

I wasn't sure what my soup of the week would be, but I knew the market would provide inspiration, and when I saw the bundles of arugula, I knew it was time to make a soup featuring this distinctive green.

Rain or shine, arugula shows up at markets almost all year in the Northwest. If you count your lucky stars by the amount of arugula we have at markets, you'll see there really is a "dark" side to too much warmth and sun. Greens wilt with too much heat. Just taste California arugula compared to Northwest arugula and you'll notice a big flavor difference. Cold enhances flavors. Hearty and resilient--I like to call arugula the optimistic green because it loves cool damp weather. No seasonal affective disorder for this baby. It's so hearty, I've even seen this green in February at the markets.

Lately, I've been dreaming about arugula's peppery, slightly bitter, assertive flavor that spikes salads, wakes up sleepy sandwiches, and perks up pasta. I puzzled a bit about using it in a soup, and when I asked a farmer what he thought, he said he'd only heard of people adding it to salads and maybe lightly sauteing it. Was it a gamble? Would it get tough? Lose it's flavor?

I had read how other people used arugula in soup recipes, but I wanted to make it a star. I didn't want to go with the obvious and puree it with cream, or the vegan equivalent. What's the fun of doing something expected?

I confess, I really just like to play with food. I didn't grow up an Italian grandmother, and I didn't go to culinary school, where I imagine budding chefs learn about every possible vegetable, so I thought back to the time when arugula first came into my life.

The first time I tasted the spiky green was from Lombrici's Organic Farm at Pike Place Market in the early 1990s before the U-District Market opened. Katherine Lewis and Steve Lospalluto of Lombrici's in the Puyallup Valley grew the most amazing organic vegetables and every Wednesday I'd drive from Edmonds to Pike Place Market. On "Organic Wednesdays," and I drove there with the faith that Katherine would be there selling her organic produce. She often gave me tips about how to cook and prepare things like salsify, celeriac and probably arugula.

I don't remember when they moved but, the U-District Market opened in 1992, and now Katherine and Steve's farm in Skagit Valley is called Dunbar Gardens. I'm not certain whether they sell produce to the public anymore, but Katherine is well-known for her amazing woven baskets. Check out her baskets here.

Yes, I'm certain it was Katherine who first introduced me to this amazing green.

In case you don't know, arugula is a member of the brassica family whose relatives include:
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • kale
  • collards
  • turnips
These brassica or cole crops love the cool damp weather. So whine about the weather all you want, but upside of rainy weather is we have an abundance of cole crops year-round here and that makes up for the rainy days.

If you love greens with an attitude like the spicy mustard greens that grow in the winter, you'll love arugula. It transforms salads and adds pizazzz to pasta and pizza.

Sometimes you have to look for it at the market because lots of other greens compete for attention at the market. Kale, collards, spinach, these are all bigger leaves and usually more prominently displayed. Arugula bunches are a bit smaller, and as greens go, they are a tad more expensive than kale. If you're on a food budget, it's a cool splurge because the flavor makes it worthwhile, but remember you only really need one bunch for this soup.

Last last summer I grew arugula in containers. We had it in salads all summer. I probably should have planted more for fall, but I'm a sissy gardener and once it starts raining and gets cold, I retreat to my books and writing inside.

Thank goodness farmers are still harvesting. The bunches were small, so I grabbed two, but at $3.50 a bunch, one is enough for this soup. My Assistant isn't so sure about the greens. I think he was hoping there was something more on the plate.

If you buy two bunches, use one for a salad.

I searched my books and favorite websites for soup ingredient ideas. I found a creamy version with cream. Where's the imagination there? I found another with white beans and that had ocurred to me, but I was feeling like pasta since I found the secret to adding it to soup when I made Minestrone. You can add other vegetables like cauliflower and potatoes if you want. Soup is forgiving, you can alter just about any recipe.

A Few Notes
If you buy local celery, remember that it may wilt more easily than store varieties. Plan on using most of it for the soup. As for the carrots--I can't believe the size of the carrots from Nash's Organic Produce. The sweetness of these carrots is a testament that you can't judge a carrot by it's cover.

I used a packaged ravioli, cooked it al dente ahead of time and cooled it with cold water. The soup warmed it again. You can use another kind of pasta and make your own or substitute for the ravioli, something else that you love like white beans or sweet potatoes. You can also top it with bread crumbs--just crumble some croutons--if you pass on the cheese.

As for where I finally found a recipe--when I thumbed through my first book I found a recipe called Torteillini Florentine Soup. I revised it here, this time featuring arugula. It's funny the useful things you sometimes find in your own backyard.

Mushroom and Arugula Soup with Ravioli
(Serves 4)

1 1/2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1 to 2 tablespoon canola or extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion or 1 large leek, copped or sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's peppers (or use 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
3 to 4 cups stock or water
1 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 large carrots, sliced
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 sprig of thyme
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
Sea salt to taste
1 washed bunch of arugula, roughly chopped, about 4 cups
1 to 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
Cooked ravioli for four
Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add cremini mushrooms. Stir and cook in dry pan until onions lose their moisture. Add oil, onions, celery, garlic and peppers. Stir and cook until celery softens and onions and garlic are lightly browned.

2. Pour in stock or water and tomatoes. Add carrots, basil and thyme. Simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until carrots are soft. Add honey and salt to taste. Stir in greens and cook until wilted.

3. Stir in balsamic vinegar to taste. Divide ravioli into four bowls. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Soup Project: Minestrone

I've been thinking about Minestrone soup for a long time. For me, the best thing about Minestrone is the pasta. But I have to say, the worst thing about Minestrone is soggy pasta the next day. Waterlogged pasta isn't anything I look forward to.

I stumbled over a secret for the pasta in Minestrone in one of my favorite cookbooks.

I'll share the secret, but first I must share a few photos and tidbits about Nash's new farm store in Sequim Washington.

Last Friday I went to Nash's Farm store grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony.

Nash's Farm Store

I took the Kingston Ferry and from Kingston, it's about an hour drive, north towards Port Angeles.

I look forward to the reader boards at Nash's farm that change depending on the season. Saturday was kid's day at the farm store with a bunch of cool planned kids activities. Makes me wish I'd grown up near a farm like Nash's.

Nash's new store is just down the road from the old store. The building was once an old Tavern. It took a lot of work to get the smoke out of the walls and to turn the old building into a bright cheery store.

They hit a few snags along the way. Permits were higher than anticipated and the work cost more than they'd planned. So the farm crew solicited the community for donations to help make this store happen.

And the community came through.

The result is amazingly cool--just check out all the produce. Much of it comes from Nash's farm. Some produce, that Nash doesn't grow, comes some of the farms I profiled in my book, like Dennison Farms near Corvallis. Sometimes I see things from Oregon here and wonder if it came from Tom Dennison's farm. The Organically Grown Company delivers it. All the produce is organic.

I got to the farm store early, but it wasn't long before people began arriving. Must have been everybody in the community that came to see the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Music was provided by Kia's husband, Cort Armstrong.

This beautiful carrot cake was cut after the ribbon cutting, and tasted was good as it looks--sweet cream cheese frosting, and cake made with Nash's flour and carrots. It was the kind of cake I dream about. My Cooking Assistant would have been impressed.

Nash said a few words, thanked his farm crew and everybody who helped make the store possible.

This is Patty McManus, Nash's wife. She does the bookkeeping and marketing for the farm. The carrot ribbon--a priceless idea.

The picture behind Patty and Nash is a "mock up" of a mural that's going to be painted, I think on this wall. Everyone who donated for the store will get their name painted into this painting. You could buy your level--starting with helpful ant at $10, then butterfly, honey bee or lady bug. I wanted to be a butterfly. Kind of like the tiles at Pike Place Market.

Now the butterflies mean something.

Every wall inside the store is a different bright color. They have coolers for meat, dairy, eggs and nuts, and nice displays for the produce.

I love that they offer these overripe and damaged fruits and vegetables for less money. There was a basket filled with leeks that said "free," and everyone who came to the store opening got to take home a free leek. That's how leeks became the first ingredient for my Minestrone soup.

Five Cool Things About Nash's Farm Store

1.Offers great selection of farm grown organic fruits and vegetables.

2. Supports local crafts people and neighboring farms by selling their products.

3. Shows food movies like Food Inc. on a regular basis. (All I want to know is: is popcorn included?)

4. Has a great childrens' play area and tiny shopping carts for kids.

5. Offers bargain priced produce, marked down from regular prices. I love this as a way to save on my $100 a week food budget.

Creating Soup

When I got home from the event, I perused a few cookbooks to get some ideas for Minestrone soup. I checked out Barbara Kafka's Soup, A Way of Life from the library last week, so I scanned the index for Minestrone. Under the title Kafka wrote, "There are as many Minestrones, all somewhat different, as there are regions of Italy."

Just the kind of soup, I like. I had celery, carrots, onion as the main ingredients. Kafka's ingredients were vegetarian. I saw a few changes I wanted to make--dried tomatoes for canned and bread crumbs in place of Parmesan cheese.

I checked Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and she listed parsley and thyme. Seemed like the linking ingredients for Minestrone are tomatoes, pasta and vegetables. I took out a note card and made a list of all the ingredients I wanted to include in the Minestrone soup.

The next day I went to the market.

This is Nash's produce from the market. After paying $25 for round trip ferry rides, I wondered how much the farm pays to bring their produce to the markets here. We don't usually think of those kinds of farm expenses when we purchase foods, even at the market. It may be within 100 miles but that ferry ride is expensive.

Carrots are essential in a soup where you plan to use water not stock. One of the basic building blocks of stock, I always include them along with celery and onions when I don't to use a stock. Since I'm looking for ways to add flavor without a stock, I soaked dried porcini mushrooms. Soak these mushrooms and you end up with a deep rich flavored water, without going to the trouble of making stock. To bring the soup flavor even deeper I added dried tomatoes. I used to think organic sundried tomatoes preserved in oil were the best, but at $9, I'm looking for other options to boost the stock's flavor. I'm not out to impress royalty, I just want to eat well on a budget.

This was a perfect opportunity to try out my dried tomatoes.

The big secret is to cook the pasta ahead of time. Maybe you already knew that, but I like the idea of adding the amount of pasta you want after the soup is cooked. The hot soup heats the cold pasta.

Here's my recipe:

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 cup small shell, alphabet or orzo pasta
Handful of dried porcini mushrooms
6 to 10 dried tomatoes, chopped (or cut with kitchen scissors)
1 bay leaf
4 cups boiling water
1 very large leek or two medium leeks, sliced (about 2 cups of sliced leeks)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 jalapeno or habanero pepper, seeds removed, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 to 2 carrots, sliced
1 potato or 1/2 sweet potato, diced
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked red beans
2 sprigs of thyme
Apple cider
2 cups chopped arugula or spinach, chopped (optional)
Handful chopped parsley
Parmeasan cheese (optional)

1. Cook pasta, according to directions, until al dente. Remove from heat, cool with cold water. Drain and set aside.

2. Pour boiling water over mushrooms, tomatoes and bay leaf. Allow mushrooms and tomatoes to soften. Drain, reserve liquid, chop vegetables.

3. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks and olive oil. Reduce heat, stir and cook until leeks begin to get tender. Add garlic, jalapeno and tomato paste. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

4. Add liquid and bay leaf from porcini and tomatoes and celery, carrots, potato, beans, and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add mushrooms and tomatoes. Simmer until potatoes are and carrots are tender--about 20 minutes.

5. Remove bay leaf and thyme. Adjust seasonings by adding salt, pepper, and apple cider. Add water to thin. Stir in chopped arugula or spinach. Add the amount of pasta you want to each serving and stir it in before serving. Garnish with Parmeasan cheese (if desired) and chopped parsley.

Learning to read with alphabet soup.