the best tomato carrot basil soup

tomato, carrot and basil soup

When it comes to my inbox, I feel like I’m waiting for Godot. I’ve three proposals out in the world, three exciting projects, and I’m hoping one of them lands before April. After seven months of anguish and anxiety, I’m ready for a little light. So I’m hopeful. I try to be productive during the day while I periodically hit “refresh”. I think about ways in which I can reframe my portfolio to account for storytelling that is both creative and data-driven. I’m considering launching a series of writing workshop or marketing classes via Coach (is this something that piques your interest? I’d love your feedback!) to supplement my project work. I’m reading, writing essays, and making healthy food I can afford.

It’s hard not to be a clock-watcher, to not stare at a date that looms and hope for that one yes. That one email in my inbox. Until then I press on. I keep going. I keep having hope.

INGREDIENTS
2 shallots
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt + 1/2 tsp black pepper
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 carrots, washed and roughly chopped (don’t peel them!)
3 tbsp tomato paste
3/4 of 1 qt. low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) stock
1 cup basil
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese

Note: I make my soup with buckwheat groats (terrible name, for sure, but I love that the groats thicken the soup and are gluten-free and super healthy). See how I cook them in this post.

farmer's market tomatoes
carrots at the farmer's market

DIRECTIONS

In a large pot, on medium heat, saute the shallots in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for an additional minute until the mixture is fragrant. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, carrots, and stir to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes. Add in the basil. You can either use a food mill, blender, or immersion blender, but blitz until smooth. Pour the blended soup back to the pot, add the cheese (and cooked groats if you’re rolling with them), and simmer covered for an additional 10 minutes. Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot!

Note: if you like a little cream in your soup but don’t want to deal with dairy, you can use cashew cream! Four hours before you make the soup, rinse a cup of raw cashews and then soak them in a bowl. After four hours, add them to the soup when you’re about to blitz and voila, cream!

tomato carrot and basil soup

triple tomato soup with buckwheat groats

triple tomato soup

For the whole of my career, I’ve been running on empty. Fresh out of school, I worked the long hours, took on all the projects just so I could prove myself. With every job or assignment I took, I always maintained a side-hustle–a creative outlet that invariably led me to my next job. Because when you’re interviewing alongside dozens of candidates who are essentially photocopies of one another, anything you can do to set yourself apart was tantamount. I’d never worked in book publishing, but I secured a job in online marketing in 2006 because I’d ran and publish a successful literary magazine, built and marketed a dot.com business from the ground up, and learned the fundamentals in marketing at a corporation where you needed to complete a requisition form in order to get a new pen.

I lived to work.

All those years I never found the fact that I’d sometimes go months without seeing daylight strange. I assumed it was par for the course, this is what you did in order to be successful. Giving the whole of yourself over to somebody else in exchange for a paycheck–you never stopped to think of what would happened if you gave away all the best parts of yourself, put yourself up for auction, what would be left? And is selling yourself and the years worth the paycheck? Because, invariably, you might make more money but the money only funds the distractions that take away from your overworked, anxious life.

When I left a job as a partner in a social media agency, I knew I would probably never make as much as I had but I was okay with that. I learned that I didn’t need things, and as long as I had a shelter, food, books, and the ability to travel and care for my cat, I’d be fine. I didn’t need fancy handbags or clothes each season since I normally wear the same ten items in my closet. I ended up donating and giving away my closet. I ended up making a fraction of what I used to make, but I got my sanity back. I became the friend who listened instead of waiting for her turn to speak. I became the friend who never took out her phone at dinner. I became the kind of friend who stopped cancelling plans.

I was present.

One of the reasons I moved to California was that I craved a quieter, slower life. I knew the risks–fewer friends, meager professional network–but I assessed that if I were going to panic about project work at least I wouldn’t be doing it in six feet of snow. Last year’s thirteen-month winter was relentless; I was tired of the grey mornings and cold that burrowed its way under your blankets and settled. Last year I woke daily to sadness, and I came here hoping to feel less of what I felt then.

What I hadn’t expected, so quickly, is how I’d become allergic to my home. It’s incredible how geography and proximity to stress changes things. Out of the maelstrom of the city, I started to react to calls where people would talk loud, fast and over you. I grew tired of the ubiquitous panic, the urgency, the we-know-we’re-not-curing-cancer-but-we’ll-still-act-like-we-are, anyway. The velocity and intensity with which people worked unnerved me, and yesterday I spent an hour with a wonderful client explaining how we could do great work without having an aneurysm.

Because I’m not living like this. I have this one life and I’m not living it to crawl my way into an early grave.

I know I have this privilege of risk, of turning away work with the knowledge that I may have to put my rent on my credit card. But I’m okay with that. Because if I wanted constant anxiety I would’ve never left my former life. I never would’ve given up a biweekly paycheck and health insurance.

I’ve worked for nearly 20 years and I finally want to choose the way I want to live this one life. For as long as I can, I’m going to try to live it on my own terms. And I’m not going to shoulder unnecessary stress.

My call went better than I expected, and I tucked into this soup late last night spent from the day but happy.

INGREDIENTS
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped into fat chunks
1 28oz can of diced San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, rough chop
1 qt of vegetable (or chicken) stock, reserve 2 cups of the 1 qt aside
6 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stems
1 cup of basil, roughly chopped
Salt/pepper
1 cup buckwheat groats, rinsed and drained

DIRECTIONS
This is honestly the easiest soup you’ll ever make. Add the oil to a large pot and turn the heat to medium/high. When hot, add the shallots and garlic with a pinch of salt, sauteeing the mixture for 1-2 minutes. Tumble in the heirloom tomatoes and toss with the shallot/garlic mixture for 3-4 minutes. Add the San Marzano tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, stock, and thyme, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook on low heat for 25 minutes.

Five minutes in, fill a small pot with 2 cups of the reserved stock and 1 cup of the rinsed buckwheat groats. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low, cover, and allow to cook for 17-20 minutes.

Add the soup to a blender with the basil (or you can use an immersion blender) and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the large pot, add the cooked buckwheat groats, stir, and cover. Cook for another 10 minutes on low.

Season with salt/pepper, and chow down.

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triple tomato soup

heirloom + sundried tomato soup (+ some thoughts on kindness + judgment)

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I was going to talk about this soup, and I am, but I’m distracted. I’ll get to the soup, I promise. But first, this:

Have you ever met someone whose voice grated? Or maybe you don’t meet them at all. Maybe it’s someone who stands in front of you while you’re ordering coffee, or perhaps it might be the best friend of a woman you admire, and you end up asking yourself: how could she be friends with her? Have you ever spent time with someone who isn’t your vibe? And have you then rendered a verdict of this person (rights read, quick jury trial, sentencing)? As if to say that you know the whole of them based on a singular encounter?

We judge. Recklessly so. And we do it all the time. We roll our eyes; we smile and nod while plotting escape plans; we become ardent clockwatchers; we shift our seats; we leave altogether. I’ve done this, more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s a flaw of mine that requires constant work. I use to judge people who didn’t read “the right books” (I no longer do, or identify a book in terms of right and wrong). I used to judge people who referred to sunglasses as “sunnies.” I used to judge people who were sloppy drunk and then I reminded myself that I’ve no place to judge since I’ve probably done everything you can imagine to humiliate myself when I used to drink.

We’re often cruel–even in miniature–but we’re cruelest to ourselves. And when you can longer bear the weight of the pain that you inflict on yourself (all this pain, where do I put it?) you easily snap, snip, snarl at others.

There’s a fitness studio I like, I go there often. I have my favorite teachers and I make sure to scan the schedule to ensure there are no substitutes. Over the course of my time visiting the space, I took three classes with this one particular instructor, whose energy was grating. She was too perky, too glib, said the word ass, and when I brought another friend to class with me, we decided, after, that the teacher just wasn’t our scene.

Recently, I found myself early for a class at the wrong location (chalk it up to absentmindedness), and as I was placing my towels on the machine, the teacher who wasn’t my scene came over and told me that I was in the wrong studio but did I want a private class? Because she’d be willing to teach it.

She’d been up since 4AM traveling to work and teaching classes and she could’ve simply refunded my class or shrugged her shoulders, but instead she was kind. There’s no poetic way to say how I felt, which was shitty. For nearly an hour, she adjusted my posture, gave me modifications for poses I couldn’t do, and worked along side me, cheering me along. After, we spent time talking and I found myself really liking her. The teacher was funny, smart, and she talked about how it hurt to see negative reviews of her classes online. How a woman once barked at her, you’re not motivating me!, and how that bruised her, so much so that she was shaken for the rest of class. I was standing in front of a woman who loves what she does, takes it seriously, who practiced grace and I felt…SMALL.

I walked away realizing that maybe I’d thought she wasn’t my scene because she she was exactly my scene. I’ve been told that my personality can be polarizing, that I’m sometimes impenetrable, and often my shyness around “new” people is mistaken for bitchiness. But I know that I’m a good person who is flawed, much like how I imagine everyone else sees themselves. Perhaps I was reacting to this teacher because I had a hard time accepting that I don’t always give a great first impression.

My friends, those for whom I would lay down, tell me that I’m the sort of friend who would go into the dark and pull them out into the light. I go above and beyond; I’ll do everything for the people I love, but when you first meet me you don’t know all of this. How could you? Exactly like how I didn’t expect this teacher’s extraordinary act of generosity. We don’t really know one another until we make the effort to, until we get past our initial discomfort or constructs of how a person should act or be. At the end of class I thanked the teacher profusely, and she shrugged her shoulders and said, We’ve all been there. I know how it feels. In that grace, I saw the lack of grace I’d been practicing, and I was grateful for the awareness. How the act of her kindness made me want to be kinder.

I’m thinking about our exchange, still. There are people who are unkind (and trust me, I’ve excised them), people who don’t deserve a setting at our table, but I have to believe the vast majority of people are good. Most of us mean well, but maybe we’re awkward, maybe we had a bad day or ten or 365. And it’s all made me think that if I can see something good in someone, even a spark or flare, I’m going to try to make the effort to push past snap judgments.

I was going to talk about this soup, I WAS, but I got caught up in all of the above. But know I’m spending the day indoors, working, writing, editing, sipping on soup and watching scary movies.

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp of avocado oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 1/2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
4 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup basil, packed
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot on medium heat, add the olive oil. After a minute, add the chopped onion + minced garlic along with a bit of salt so the onion sweats but doesn’t char and burn. Let the mixture cook until the onions are semi-translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sundried tomatoes, stirring the mixture so that the garlic and onions coat the vegetables. Add the stock and turn the heat up to high until the soup boils. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes.

I prefer my soup with buckwheat groats (2 cups of stock for 1 cup of groats, cook per the package directions), but you can absolutely rock this without the groats if you’re nixing grains.

After 25 minutes, add the basil, stir, and the mixture to a high-powered blender and blitz until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot and cook for an additional ten minutes. If you’re rocking groats, I add the groats when I’ve returned the mixture to the pot, so the grains can thicken the soup.

Serve hot, with basil and a little avocado oil, salt and pepper.

avocado squash + butternut squash tomato soup

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Just when I thought I found the perfect soup recipe, there’s always another. Another cookbook, another season rife with fresh produce at the market, and today I think I’ve discovered my favorite soup to date. This version, adapted from the Hemsley + Hemsley The Art of Eating Well cookbook (the gift that keeps on giving, my health conscious-minded folk. Thank YOU, Jamie, for the tip-off.) has everything you could possibly desire in an autumn soup: squash (I used avocado squash, which was a rare find at the market and butternut) and pounds of sweet orange tomatoes. Naturally, I added my buckwheat groats to give the soup some depth, heft and texture, and my recent travels to Spain have got me obsessed with chorizo, so I fried up some sausage and scattered the sliced links on top of my soup. I also love this soup because it keeps well in the fridge–perfect for packing meals for the work-week.

This week is my first week back at work and my regular routine. Pray for a woman enduring jet lag!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Art of Eating Well (Serves 6)
For the soup
1 pound of butternut squash, cut in fat cubes
2 pounds of avocado squash, cut in fat cubes (note: avocado squash is not the same thing as avocados)
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes (used tinned San Marzano if tomatoes aren’t in season), rough dice
1 large yellow onion + 3 large shallots, rough chop
1/2 garlic bulb
1 tbsp olive oil + Salt/pepper to season the veggies
2 tbsp coconut oil
4 tsp of lemon basil (I found this at the market, but you can use rosemary, thyme, basil or sage), rough chop
4 cups of low-sodium vegetable stock
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
a pan-fried (or roasted) chorizo link per person
Sea salt, black pepper and a little fresh herbs for the finish

For the groats
1 cup of buckwheat groats
2 cups of vegetable stock

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DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 425F. Add all of your veggies (flesh side up), garlic, onions and shallots to a large roasting tray. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt + pepper. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Gently heat the coconut oil in a large pot and add the basil. Fry for a few minutes in low heat as you try not to burn your hands squeezing the garlic out of their skins. You’ll need 6 cloves. The rest you can use in vinaigrettes and perhaps some toast for you privileged GLUTEN-EATING FOLK. Add the contents of your tray to the pot, along with the garlic cloves and the vegetable stock. Cover and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, add the groats + stock to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes until the water is nearly absorbed. Fry up some chorizo links in a large saucepan. I like all my meat charred so I tend to start the chorizo when I start the groats. However, roll with it. Don’t have timing drama. This is cooking, not baking, which is such a blissful change of pace.

Add the soup to a high-powered blender (or use an immersion blender), and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, add the cooked groats, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. The soup will thicken. Ladle out soup into bowls, add the chunks of chorizo, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil for garnish. EAT THE FUCK OUT OF THIS.

Or you can be like me and package it up for the week!

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the triumphant return of the groat!

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When I made a seismic shift in my diet two months ago, many were aghast. The top five questions, in no particular order, were (and continue to be) as follows:

1. Aren’t you hungry?
2. No really, aren’t you hungry?
3. So, what do you eat?
4. So, you eat mostly vegetables, because gluten is in everything?
5. So, you can only eat rice and potatoes? Whoa, that’s sad

There’s a thread to these questions–some are filled with curiousity and wonder, and others are trying to imagine the unimaginable–but all of them consider my life change from the perspective of subtraction rather than addition, or dare I even suggest…multiplication. In food, like life, there are additions that are not purely mathematical. For years, I relied on a handful of dishes and foods to sustain me, and know that the irony of this–someone who eats by rote and routine–does not escape me, self-proclaimed foodie. I think it’s because we’re only present for the moment we consume, rarely do consider or tally up the totality of what we’ve consumed until we open our closets one day and collapse under the avalanche of what we’ve collected over time. Until the moment when you fill three huge boxes of food, all of them gluten-based.

Through constraints, you find abundance. You become agile, creative, and I liken this to writing prose, really, because prose requires that you look the world through a different prism. Writing is about what you see when everything else about a object has been stripped away. It’s like looking through the kaleidoscopes you had as a child. The world was filled with color, glass and beads, and as you look through one end, light floods creating patterns based on the reflection off the mirrors. Your whole point of focus has been reduced to the light coming in through the tube, and there were people who recited the list of things they saw, while I always imagined something other. I saw what wasn’t there; I saw the barest thing and from that I fashioned something so far from the collection of random objects. I saw the beauty beneath and beyond, if that makes any sense.

And so after a few weeks of whining and the like (I’ll have you know that my whining now revolves around my skin condition), I decided to reframe and think of all the things I can have. I imagine all the variations on a single food (cauliflower! kale! chickpeas!) and build and mutate, build and mutate, until what I have is so much greater than what I’ve lost. Make sense?

That’s a long-winded way (shocker, this is me we’re talking about) of saying that I can have rice (so many kinds and colors!), lentils (rinse, lather, repeat), quinoa, beans, buckwheat groats, and the list goes on. But beyond that, all the vegetables, meats, fruits, flavors, spices, herbs! It’s like taking a noodle and in one country, it’s Italian, in another it’s Greek, Indian, and so forth.

So I found a few recipes for my beloved groat (ah, the couscous of our gluten-free time!), one of which is this lovely side dish that has a very Indian feel (ginger, turmeric–though, I substituted for curry as I didn’t have turmeric on hand, cinnamon, orange flavors, cilantro), and I plan on hoovering this tonight with vegetables.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gluten, Wheat, & Dairy Free Cookbook, a gift from my dear friend, Amber. I modified the recipe slightly.
2 cups gluten-free vegetable stock
1 1/4 cups toasted buckwheat groats
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp turmeric (or curry)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 carrots, coarsely shredded
1/3 cup pine nuts (I nixed this)
Salt + pepper
1/4 cup cilantro and orange zest, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
Bring the stock to a boil and add the groats. Simmer for 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of oil, cover, and let cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender and all the water has been absorbed.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil and saute the shallots with a pinch of salt over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and slightly browned.

Add the garlic, ginger, and stir for 1 minute. Then, stir in the turmeric (or curry), cinnamon, orange juice, raisins, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the carrots, cooked buckwheat, and pine nuts, and stir until evenly heated. Season to taste with salt + pepper. Add chopped cilantro + orange zest for garnish.

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summer tomato soup with buckwheat groats

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Sometimes, all a woman wants is COUSCOUS. Preferably, Israeli couscous with its pearl pallor and miniature pea shape. Couscous is creamy, rich, and adds texture to a simple soup, and since gluten is verboten (What? Haven’t you heard?), I’ve been trying to find worthy, yet healthy, substitutes.

Enter the GROAT. The name is tragic, I know. It feels agrarian, pastoral, something you dig up out from the ground. I discovered the hulled seeds while trolling blogs for gluten-free recipes (such is my life), and contrary to what its name might suggest, buckwheat is not actually wheat. Rather, buckwheat groats are the hulled seeds from the buckwheat plant; its cousin is the rhubarb! Raw, it looks exactly like what it is…a seed. But when cooked, well, magic starts to happen, and the tough seed transforms into the texture of couscous, of rice.

You can’t imagine how excited I was to find a worthy pasta substitute. The tears were real, my friends. I invite you to try out this simple soup to see for yourself. And while many of you are all tra la la, eating gluten with aplomb, perhaps consider switching up your repertoire for healthier, vitamin-packed options.

So says the forced convert.

INGREDIENTS
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp of minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs of tomatoes, roughly chopped. I used a mix of heritage, cherry, beefsteak and plum
1 qt of organic, yeast-free chicken stock
1 cup fresh basil, packed
Salt/pepper to season
1/2 cup buckwheat groats
1 cup water

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, add the olive oil and turn on the heat to medium/high. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and chopped onion with a pinch of salt so the onions sweat rather than burn. Saute the mixture for 4-5 minutes until the onions are translucent the mixture is aromatic. Add the tomatoes, and stir to coat with the onion/garlic mixture. Saute for another 4 minutes.

Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, in a medium pot, add the water and groats and bring both to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook per the package directions, 10-12 minutes.

After the soup is done, add the basil, salt and pepper, and blitz using an immersion blender (best investment I’ve made) or a blender going through several batches. Add in the groats, stir, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.

Serve hot!

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