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Jan 13, 2008

Today



The New York Times front page story today broke my heart a little bit -- this coming on the heels of "Atonement" last night -- which, though a tiny bit over-dramatic, was as affecting and beautiful as the book -- and while I hate to wish a year away, I honestly can't wait too much longer for next January.

So this afternoon, melancholy and feeling a little weighted down after thinking about these things, I did what I usually do when I need to take a literal breath of fresh air -- I went for a run (6 miles, slow and steady as she goes) in the sunshine (o, glorious sun, thank you for making an appearance after far too long). It felt almost like spring -- the hopeful sun, the green grass in Golden Gate Park with the cool coastal breeze reminding me it's still winter on the calendar; and then I came home and to refuel had a bowl of the roasted vegetable barley soup I'd made yesterday afternoon.

This soup, I swear, can cure all ills -- or at least distract you from them for a little awhile. I came across the recipe years ago on the epicurious website when I was looking for a soup that incorporated barley because for some reason I had a lot of it (a good harvest? Or just overbuying), but the real bonus is that it's chock full of delicious vegetables, and if you're at all ambitious, you can adapt the recipe to incorporate whatever fresh veggies you have on hand (that's my strategy anyway). As in, you could go to the farmers' market and see what's available and looks good, and then use that (you'll see what I mean when you read the recipe). I love the versatility of it.


[Mushrooms, for soup, January 2008.]

So today I'd hoped to be more productive than I was, though I did manage to make my 'office' look more like its name than a storage closet, and I baked and photographed a whole slew of things that I should have written about for an article but will, tomorrow or the next day (darn it). Now I am drinking red wine and listening to Mozart's C-Minor Mass, which has strangely made me think of Greece (but, then, what doesn't?) and the scant summer weeks I spent there in 2005.

In particular, it makes me think of a moped ride I took on the Halkidiki peninsula, because of the little shrines scattered here and there, in which candles were lit at dusk, and these burned all through the long, slow twilight; it must be, then, because of the religious connection. That August was my second time there, and my first with someone who actually spoke the language (we know, of course, that it's only gotten better from that point on), and especially wonderful because it was with my best friend. But there's something about this music that can transport you -- either to a deserted road in Greece where you have to pull over to let a herd of goats cross the road, or to a little town along the coast of Northern California as the fog steals softly in over the hills to cover the bay -- and comfort, even when you think about the hard things.

I haven't written much here about new year's resolutions -- I hesitate to name them as such, because they are more like things I wish and want to incorporate into my life -- but one of them is to go listen to live classical music more often, which then leads to making time to play the piano more (and by 'more' I mean 'more than once a year when I remember'). I'm not sure why, but the winter months makes me want to sit down on the bench again to re-find what I spent 10+ years studying. What usually happens is that I dream of playing -- sometimes even wake up in the mornings with my hands still moving over phantom keys -- which thus motivates me to pursue it again, but I lack longevity. Since I don't have a piano in my apartment, I will only plot and plan until I can indulge again up in Sebastopol, and I hope I really will do it.

In the meantime, I shall make vegetable soups and listen to as much Mozart as I can stand. I suggest you do, too.


[Vegetables simmering, January 2008.]

Roasted vegetable and barley soup, adapted from gourmet.com

Olive oil
4 large plum tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), halved lengthwise
3 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled, quartered (about 8 ounces)
6 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch wedges through root end
1 red bell pepper, quartered
1 medium zucchini, trimmed, halved lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups (or more) vegetableo r mushroom broth
1 1/2-ounce package dried porcini mushrooms,* broken into pieces
thyme or herbs de provence
1 bay leaf
1 cup pearl barley

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil Arrange tomatoes and next 6 ingredients on sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables are tender and brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 55 minutes. Peel garlic and reserve. Coarsely chop half of vegetables and reserve. Transfer garlic and remaining vegetables from sheet to large pot (reserve sheet).

2. Add 1/2 cup vegetable broth to baking sheet and scrape up browned bits; add to pot with vegetables.

3. Add 7 1/2 cups broth, dried porcini, thyme, and bay leaf to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; cover and simmer until vegetables and porcini are very tender, about 20 minutes. Pour vegetables and broth into large strainer set over bowl. Transfer vegetables in strainer to processor and puree until smooth; set aside.

4. Return broth and bay leaf to pot; add barley and bring to boil.

5. Reduce heat to medium; cover and simmer until barley is tender, about 40 minutes. Add reserved vegetable puree and chopped vegetables to pot; simmer until soup thickens and flavors blend, about 10 minutes. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool soup slightly. Chill soup uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

Notes: really, you could use almost any vegetable -- yellow squash? portabello mushrooms? though I'd forgo potatoes as with the barley, it would probably make the soup too heavy -- here, and to be honest, I often skip the dried mushrooms because of the price tag. I'd up the mushroom and garlic content to compensate -- it's still quite yummy.

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