Thursday, December 28, 2006

What I Got For Christmas

Lilah Irène
Born December 26, 2006 at 1:59 a.m.
6 pounds, 14 oz.
19 1/4 inches long

She was 3 weeks and 3 days early, but healthy as can be! We're both doing very well. Time for a nap. More later :)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I hate you, Martha Stewart!

So, it's been a busy week or so. My husband finished his Ph.D in August, but his graduation was this past Sunday. Graduations aren't the most entertaining, but I did tear up a little bit when he walked across with his advisor. Anyway, we had family in town, which is fun, but necessitates cleaning the bathroom and such :)

Our cloth diapers came in yesterday, so I'm prewashing those. I can't believe how excited I got about cloth diapers :) Areli, I'm due January 18, so it's coming up!

So, onto my Martha Stewart vent... I have this holiday cookie magazine issue of hers, and I've made several kinds of cookies from it. I've been happy with all but one (so 10/11 have worked out great) UNTIL last week. We have a friend studying baboons in Botswana for several months, and another friend is going out to visit her. She very kindly offered to pack any gifts we wanted to send to Liza (mailing stuff there is...challenging). So we put together a few things, and I decided to make Hanukkah cookies to send to her (I know doughnuts are the traditional way to go, but it's a multi-day trip and I didn't think they would stay good). First, I couldn't find Hanukkah cookie cutters except online, and I didn't have time to order any. But I had a six-pointed snowflake cutter, and Matt and I decided we could use frosting to make six-pointed star cookies. We also decided to make some monkey cookies, since Liza's a primatologist and she missed out on monkey cookies earlier this year. I decided to use Martha's basic sugar cookie and royal icing recipes. I followed the sugar cookie recipe exactly, and the dough was really crumbly. But there were a couple of chilling steps, so I thought it would end up okay (I've made sugar cookies maybe twice in my life and couldn't remember how the dough was). Nope. A crumbly, pain-in-the-tush mess of dough resulted. Matt managed to roll it out, more or less, and cut out shapes, though they were not smooth and shiny like the ones the lady in the illustration cut out. So then, I made the royal icing recipe, which called for beating the frosting on LOW speed for several minutes (which seemed weird to me, since I thought high speed would be more likely to thicken frosting). Naturally, it stayed thin and runny. I chucked in some cream of tartar and cranked up the speed and it worked out in the end. Throughout this process, there was much maligning of Martha's intelligence and ancestry. Anyway, here are the cookies:

On to...Knitting: My mom's scarf for Christmas is going.

This is the Column of Leaves Scarf and I really like it. It's an 8-row repeat, and it's fun. Even the p2tog tbl is entertaining. It's steadily growing. I have one more scarf to bust out this week. Matt will be opening a Christmas gift of one sock, as I won't have time to do the second one before Christmas. That way, I can make sure it fits him first, anyway. Thank you to everyone for the suggestions on picking up stitches. I'm sort of a sock spaz, since I don't have much experience with them, and I tend to be afraid to deviate at all from the patterns. I will pick up a couple extra on the next sock and see how that goes! I also chucked the lace photo mat idea, which was a nice one, but I just don't have the energy for high-pressure knitting right now.

Reading: Still re-reading the Davidson books.

Writing: Meh.

Cooking: Besides the Martha Stewart cookie drama, I made Cranberry Banana Muffins. I happened to be re-reading the Davidson book that includes the recipe for low fat banana muffins, and I decided to use cranberries and add citrus for a little tang. I also busted out my jumbo muffin tins, which I thought would be festive with company coming. So, here's the recipe:

Banana Cranberry Muffins
(makes 24 regular or 12 jumbo)

4 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 tsp salt
3 mashed ripe bananas (about 1 3/4 cups)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
juice and grated zest of one orange
2 cups fresh cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray. Sift together the dry ingredients. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together bananas, oil, eggs, buttermilk, and orange juice and zest. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients. Stir in cranberries. Divide batter evenly between 24 regular or 12 jumbo muffin cups. Bake for 25 minutes for regular muffins, or 35 minutes for jumbo. Check with toothpick for doneness. Serve warm with honey butter. This recipe freezes well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Afloat in a sea of pink

We did a fair amount of cleaning yesterday (fun!) and one of the things I did was to consolidate the shower gifts that were floating all over the apartment in gift bags and boxes. I now have piles of clothes to pre-wash (I hear no one does this except with their first baby, and I can see why, although washing and folding the little tiny things is strangely least for the first load of laundry), a stack of toys to put away, blankets to find a shelf for, and books already shelved in Butterbean's bookshelf. I set out a couple of boxes that need to be taken out to the recycling, and Mirando really enjoyed this one filled with tissue paper. He took quite a nap in it. He's always loved boxes (like Ralph Wiggum on The Simpsons, whose response to the news that their field trip will be to the box factory is the opposite of the other kids': "Yay, boxes!").

Geronimo is less into the boxes (though he enjoys them), but he really liked all the stuff I piled on the dining room table to await organization.

Knitting: Check it out--I made a sock.

Yup, that's a sock, all right. It's too big for me, which is good, because it's for Matt. The leg part, I'm a little worried about, though. It's not so big. I suppose I can rip back a few inches from the top and use bigger needles or something if they won't fit him. I hope you are entertained by pictures of that sock, because you can get ready for progress photos of another one EXACTLY LIKE IT for the next few days :) I like the striping a lot, and I'm eternally grateful to Rachel for suggesting the cutting out of yellow parts at the heel and toe. I think it looks much nicer that way. And another thank you because I will definitely wash these separately so we don't end up with even more pink stuff in this apartment! I wish I'd taken a "before photo"--that is, before weaving in ends and closing up the tiny holes I always get at each end of the instep stitches from picking up and knitting for the foot. Because I wonder what I'm doing wrong to leave the holes. Should I pick up one extra stitch at each side and decrease right away? Am I picking up stitches wrong? It's not hard to go back and close the holes; I just feel I shouldn't have to. I'll be sure to do photos of it on the next sock, and maybe one of you amazing knitters knows just how to fix it. Oh, and I think I'm pretty weird, because I just *love* doing Kitchener Stitch now that I've gotten the hang of it. It's so satisfying at the end.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that even though I've been knitting this around Matt, it may still be a surprise when he opens his stocking at Christmas. He seems to think it's a baby sweater, which 1. would be way cute! and 2. actually makes sense, since the leg part is a tube with ribbing on one end, which he's seen before as sleeves for sweaters knit in the round. Aren't non-knitters funny?

I'm going to start my mom's Christmas scarf soon, maybe tonight, so I'll have more than just repetitive sock photos to show you. I'm using Rowan Cashsoft DK in cream, and this lovely free pattern called Column of Leaves Scarf. My mom was quite complimentary about the Branching Outs I made for my shower hostesses, and loved the cream-colored one I did. I'm ready to do a non-Branching Out scarf, but I'm sticking with the cream color, which my mom pointed out would go nicely with her red coat. Since my family, who live in southern California, are dreadful to knit for (from a purely climate-related perspective), I was thrilled that she gave me this idea. After that, I have one more gift scarf to do for Christmas, though I haven't settled on a color or pattern yet.

Reading: Still on the Diane Mott Davidsons. I think I missed a book review, though, before Thanksgiving. I read The Flaming Luau of Death by Jerrilyn Farmer, the latest in her Madeline Bean series (well, the latest paperback. Call me a snob, but I don't buy mysteries in hardback. Some books are hardbacks. Some are paperbacks. Mysteries and romance novels? Paperback!) that takes place in Hawaii. It was cute and fun, as usual. I'm not sure who would hire this woman to plan parties that are destined to end in police tape and chalk outlines, but Madeline and her two assistant-type people are entertaining, and the rich/famous people they plan parties for in LA are always entertaining. The first in the series is called Sympathy for the Devil.

Writing: Slowly working out what Chapter 9 is all about. It's been kind of a nesting couple of weeks, with lots of cleaning.

Cooking: Sunday night, I made Beer Cheese Soup from the November Cooking Light (I split the recipe so Matt could have cut up brats in his half) and a basic rye bread in my bread machine. This is as Wisconsin as cooking gets. Matt was happy with both components of the meal, though when pressed, he admitted that the soup did taste "kind of healthy" so maybe next time I do this sort of thing, I'll just say to heck with saturated fat and make a "real" version (well, as "real" as a vegetarian version gets). Despite all the simmering, the celery remained crunchy, which was weird, so I'd want to address that issue as well. It might have needed some, I don't know, butter or something to give it some oomph. The rye bread was nothing special, but we liked it a lot. I love my bread machine when I'm not up for the full-on bread-making experience, but I really want fresh bread. I wish there were some way to keep fresh bread fresh for longer, though. It's just so divine warm from the machine.

Thank you for the recipe link, Stefaneener! I love sweet potatoes, so I will have to try these.

We had a potluck kind of thing over the weekend, and though I felt like I *should* make a main dish, I *wanted* to make an elaborate, chocolatey dessert instead. Guess which one I did? I actually took a photo of my cake, since it turned out way less ugly than my usual decorating attempts. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera at the party to take a picture of the slices with their pretty pink filling.

The trick was that I didn't actually have chocolate on hand, and I didn't want to go to the store (I can barely reach the pedals on the car with my seat back far enough for my belly), so I had to get a little inventive. I used a Chocolate Buttermilk Cake recipe from Caprial's Desserts as a starting point for the layers. (I love this book. You can find it here. It's based on a number of "master recipes" for which she includes a number of variations. I have made several things from this book, and have been impressed every time.) I have a chocolate buttercream frosting recipe that's evolved over the years. Caprial's frostings are fantastic, but I was either missing ingredients or disinclined to make frosting you have to cook (lazy, I know). Both frosting and cake use cocoa powder, so the lack of chocolate was not a problem. For the filling, I decided to get creative. My first dessert inclination for the potluck had been to make apple cheesecake. I was actually a little obsessed with apple cheesecake, but I would have needed to go to the store for ingredients, and my husband (who is my voice of reason in cooking matters) suggested I find something else. Still a bit obsessed with cheesecake, I decided to make the filling out of cream cheese. And what's this in the freezer? Half a bag of cherries! So I tossed some stuff in the food processor and it was GOOD. I had a bit left over after filling the cake, so we've been eating it on bagels and it is GOOD. If you don't have Cherry Marnier on hand, you could substitute another liqueur. Chambord would be nice with raspberries in the filling. Grand Marnier would be nice, as well--it enhances chocolate wonderfully. Or use nuts in the filling instead of fruit and use Frangelico or Amaretto. So here's what I did:

Chocolate Cherry Layer Cake

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake (makes two 9-inch cakes):

3 cups flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 TBL baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
1 cup hot coffee
1/2 cup Cherry Marnier

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 TBL Cherry Marnier

Cherry-Cream Cheese Filling:
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup frozen cherries, thawed (do not drain)
2 TBL Cherry Marnier

2 oz. white chocolate*

Make the cakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. Mix dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment ON LOW SPEED. Add oil and buttermilk and mix on medium speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low after each. Add coffee and Cherry Liqueur gradually and mix on lowest speed (or it will splash and coat your entire kitchen). 3. Divide evenly between cake pans. Bake at 350 until cake springs back when touched lightly in the center, 30-40 minutes (depending on your oven and pans). Let cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Make the filling:

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional liqueur or sugar as needed for consistency.

Make the frosting:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Add additional sugar or milk as needed for consistency.

Assemble the cake:

Invert one cake onto your serving plate. Starting in the center and working outward, spread cream cheese filling not quite to the edges of the cake (leave maybe a 1/2 inch border). The weight of the top layer will squish the filling outward a bit, so I make the filling a bit thicker in the center and thin it out as I move outward. Save some filling for bagels later :) Top carefully with the second layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the buttercream frosting. Melt the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for 20 seconds at a time, stirring for 15 seconds after each interval, until melted. Transfer to a baggie and snip off the corner. Carefully drizzle over the cake in a design of your choice. To serve, cut into 12-16 pieces.

*Check the ingredients carefully. You want cocoa butter in your white chocolate, and no coconut or palm oils (white chocolate with the latter doesn't melt properly and you will end up with a gross, solid mass of slightly charred white chocolate. Ask me how I know). I use Ghirardelli or Droste.

Friday, December 08, 2006

On the way to Hogwarts

Knitting: Nearly to the heel flap on the first Gryffindor sock, which is much faster than I thought I knit socks. I sort of wonder if my knitting has gotten faster, especially after the four Branching Outs in a week I did. I tend to overestimate how long a project will take now, where before I definitely underestimated. Anyway, I'm using size 1 dpns and the basic sock recipe in The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns (men's medium), though I only knit about an inch of ribbing at the top before switching to stockinette instead of the 4 or so the pattern calls for. Hope that's not a problem, but I have seen socks with only an inch of ribbing at the top. It's a top-down pattern, and pretty easy. I didn't bother with splitting the skein into two balls or anything, as I have a second skein of this yarn I can dip into if I run out. I love watching the yarn striping. If you are a Harry Potter fan, definitely try to score a skein of your favorite house's self-striping yarn from Sunshine Yarns. They can be hard to get, especially Gryffindor, but the rush you get when you finally make it to checkout with your skein is totally worth it :) I'm following Rachel's suggestion to cut out the yellow parts for the heels and toes.

Thank you for the ribbon warning, Yarnthrower :) I may try to tack down the ribbon to be sure it can't come loose. Or maybe it'll just be a carseat blanket for when someone else is in the car with us and can watch her. Rachel, the Branching Out-fest really took me by surprise, too. I just got into a groove with the pattern and couldn't stop! It's actually lace you can do while talking or watching a movie. My shower hostesses liked them a lot. It's such a nice, simple pattern, but fairly interesting to do, and it looks impressive. It's a great gift scarf. Plus, while traveling, it was nice to just have my notecards with the pattern written on them, a size 8 circ, and the four balls of yarn (well, five, because the Baby Silk one took two balls). Otherwise I might have tried what I did for my last shower, and made all different lace scarves.

Reading: Still on my Diane Mott Davidson re-reading kick.

Writing: Urgh. Trying to make progress today.

Cooking: Yesterday, I had a seasonal craving--latkes. I made a batch from this recipe and they were lovely. I went fairly easy on the oil, and I didn't have matzo meal and used flour instead, so I suppose they're sort of goyish for latkes, but were nice anyway. I prefer them with sour cream, though I've never actually tried them with applesauce. Mirando prefers that I have them with sour cream, as well, since he can sit next to me and I'll give him bits of it.

I decided to make pasta last night, using a Cooking Light recipe for Alfredo sauce. When I mentioned this to Matt, he said, "light Alfredo? Not real Alfredo?" in a hopeful voice, so I ended up un-lightening the Cooking Light recipe a bit, and it turned out very well. It got Matt's thumbs-up as well. The goat cheese, which I tossed in on a whim instead of CL's reduced-fat cream cheese, gives it a creamy, full-flavored yumminess (technical term) that pairs nicely with the earthy roasted veggies. I think it gives it a depth and richness that makes it okay to use 1% milk instead of cream. Substitute your favorite roasted, steamed, or sauteed veggies for the ones I had on hand (asparagus would be fantastic, especially with a bit of lemon zest added to the sauce; broccoli would be good, too). For a less artery-clogging effect, use all 1% milk and no cream, and reduce the butter as much as you like (but leave in at least a couple of teaspoons). You can also use cooking spray for the roasted veggies instead of the oil.

Light (But Not Too Light) Fettucine Alfredo With Roasted Vegetables

1 pound fettucine, cooked according to package directions

1 red bell pepper
2 TBL olive oil
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

1/2 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 cups 1% milk
2 TBL flour
5 oz. goat cheese
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 TBL butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup parsley, minced

1. Preheat the broiler. Cut the pepper in half, removing membranes and stem. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and flatten. Place under broiler until skin is blackened, then transfer to a baggie for 15 minutes to steam. Carefully remove pepper and peel under running water. Chop and pat dry. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 450. Toss zucchini with 1 TBL oil in a small baking dish. Toss mushrooms with remaining oil in a separate dish. Roast mushrooms until they've given up liquid (about 10 minutes). Drain well. Roast zucchini until browned, turning once (about 20 minutes total). Set aside.

3. While vegetables are roasting, in a blender, combine milk, cream, goat cheese, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.

4. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until soft. Add cream mixture and bring to a simmer. Simmer until slightly thickened, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Parmagiano-Reggiano and parsley. Toss with pasta.

Serve pasta topped with roasted veggies and additional cheese. Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back in the snow...

So, I did it again. I went out of town and didn't say anything, because I always think, "I'll have plenty of time to blog remotely." Ha! I should know better. I never blog remotely, even when I bring my laptop and camera and cable. Why? Not sure. The lack of wireless internet is involved. I am too lazy to plug the cable modem into my laptop and hit the reset button. And the computer desk there is not comfy. And I get busy doing things with my family. This deters a person whose first internet experiences involved AOL and a 2400 bps dial-up modem? Sad, eh? (That 'eh' is for you, Tim.) Anyway, I was at my parents' house in California for an extended Thanksgiving trip, since I won't be able to travel at Christmas. My husband had to come back shortly after Thanksgiving, but I had an extra few days, including a bonus day since I was supposed to fly back on Friday, but the blizzard pushed it back to Saturday. It was a lovely trip, complete with a wonderful baby shower. Watching all the parents with small children at the airport, I really appreciated how easy Butterbean is to travel with right now :) Sure, she makes my feet swell to unbelievable size on the plane, and my back hurt in the oh-so-comfy coach seat, but I got to travel with my own stuff instead of a huge bag of baby things, and she was very quiet on the flights and in the airport! In other news, the doctor says that Butterbean has turned head-down, so yay! Since it's been ages, I have a fair amount of things to blog about today.

Oh, this is funny. I was talking to my mom before leaving for California and I said something about how nice it would be in the warm weather, and she told me, "It was 55 today! It was cold! Bone-chilling cold!" Hahahaha!

Kitty story of the week: So, we have a down comforter with a cover that buttons at the bottom. Today, I hear Geronimo doing this weird meow in the other room, and I go looking for him. In our bedroom, I notice Mirando standing on the bed, but I don't see Geronimo. But then I notice that Mirando is standing on an odd lump that doesn't belong there. The lump is meowing, and Mirando is stepping all over the lump, clearly distressed. I lift up the comforter to check on Geronimo and realize that he has managed to climb up INSIDE the down comforter cover. Mirando obviously doesn't approve of this. Figuring Geronimo is stuck and can't figure out how to get out of there, I unbutton the bottom of the cover, reach in, and pull a meowing Geronimo out. He's fine, and goes running off. We are all covered in down. Lovely :) Cats are hilarious. We clearly need a cover that zips.

Knitting: Here's the baby blanket. I was going to do a nice ruffle edge, but I didn't have enough yarn. So I just picked up stitches on a long circ and knit around in stockinette, increasing two stitches at each corner on every row, with an eyelet row to include a ribbon, and a crochet cast-off. Cashmerino (or, Acrylicmerino, as the case may be) is easily tamed with a high-steam ironiing, so the stockinette was fine.

Number of eyelets I should have made per row: 10
Number of eyelets I did make per row (after counting eleventy-seven times "up, down, up, down" to make sure I would end up with the ribbon on the same side at each corner): 11
The ability to call a stupid mistake a "design feature" with a straight face: Priceless.

Pattern - sort of the Garter Stitch Blanket from Debbie Bliss Special Knits, except I made it a square instead of a rectangle. And there's no satin edge. And I knit on a border with an eyelet row for a ribbon. Okay, there's no pattern here. I wonder if I remember how to do it well enough to write it up...
Yarn - Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran in pale yellow (6 balls)
Needles - Size 8 (40" for border)

I'm done with the back and sleeves of the Ribbon-Edged Cardigan from Debbie Bliss Special Knits, and onto the left front. It's looking cute. If I have any yarn left, I'll knit up a hat to go with it. I started the Placket Neck Pullover from LMKG in Knitpicks Crayon in Purple, and got up to the armholes--it's a nice travel project. I'm thinking I'll unravel my T-Twist and use the Brooks Farm Fourplay in a baby blanket of some type. Maybe with another yarn in a Big Bad Baby Blanket? Not sure, but I love the yarn and want to use it. And it's December!!! I have to make at least my husband's Gryffindor socks, even if I'm flaking on any other Christmas knitting this year. I'm thinking of whipping up a couple of scarves for gifts, too, along with a couple of the Lace Photo Mats from Handknit Holidays. Physically possible? We'll see. My husband's pretty understanding--the year I made him a sweater, I wasn't quite finished at Christmas, so I wrapped up the WIP for him to open and finished it in a couple of days. He may be opening one sock this year. I've also made Butterbean lots of sweaters, and no pants. That look might work for Donald Duck, but I think I should get going on some pants for her :) I'll probably prioritize Christmas stuff first, then move on to the rest of the Butterbean projects. Two photo mats, three scarves, one pair socks. In less than three weeks. I think it's do-able with mostly small projects.

I almost forgot--while traveling, I busted out four more Branching Outs for my baby shower hostesses. One in Cashcotton 4-Ply in a light aqua, one in Cashsoft 4-Ply in cream, one in Elann's Peruvian Collection Baby Silk in lavender, and a shorter one in Cashsoft DK in dark red that's more of a neckwarmer. Did I take photos before gifting them? Of course not! I totally forgot. Here's the Baby Silk one, anyway.

Other people's projects: My grandmother came to my baby shower and gave me this gorgeous baby blanket she crocheted. It is so soft and beautiful, and it's so special that Butterbean has a blanket made by her great-grandmother.

My future sister-in-law is also a crocheter, and she made this darling hat and felted hedgehog. The cats have no idea what to do with the hedgehog. It has them completely perplexed.

Reading: Travel means lots of reading time. I finished Jane and the Wandering Eye, the third Jane Austen mystery. I continue to love this series. I also read Bubbles Ablaze, which I enjoyed. Bubbles is a hoot. I think I've mentioned this series before, but Janet Evanovich fans should check it out. What else? Besides baby books, I decided to start rereading the Diane Mott Davidson series when I was looking through the books for a muffin recipe I love. I like the books, despite some repetition and irritating bits. Seriously, having your character look in the mirror and describe herself? Bleh. (Do you hear that, Dan Brown?) Anyway, some of her recipes are really fantastic. The Grand Marnier Cranberry Muffins are divine, and the Gourmet Spinach Soup is lovely. And lots of nice baked goods.

Writing: Well, at least I got something done during November. The holidays pretty thoroughly derailed me, though, and it's back to work this week.

Cooking: I need to start baking stuff. I haven't baked in ages.

It's been cold, so there's been soup. I thought I'd post my soup blueprint for quick and easy veggie soup. I made a spinach version today that was lovely, though people less enamored of spinach may want to cut the amount in half (I used a whole box of frozen in three cups of broth). The blueprint makes two good-sized bowls. You might want to eat the whole batch if you're really hungry, or save half for the next day if you have bread or a salad to go with it. To keep it simple, I often eliminate the sauteeing step. So yesterday, I just chucked frozen peas and alphabet pasta in broth, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then whisked in egg and parmesan. Today I had a bit more time and did some sauteeing. I also do a cabbage and bean version or a tofu and pea version in which I eliminate the egg. Parsley is almost always very nice if I have it on hand.

I got the egg-thickening idea from this recipe for Paraguayan Zucchini Soup, and I love it. By the way, if you're a soup-lover, that's a great site to poke around on. Anyway, the egg adds protein, which means all I need to eat at lunch is the soup, and it really gives it oomph (technical cooking term).

Simple Soup Blueprint

Step One (optional): Saute some combination of onion, leek, and/or garlic (about 1/4 cup, obviously less if you're using garlic alone) in a teaspoon or two of olive oil.

Step Two: Add 3-4 cups of broth (I use my homemade frozen veggie broth) and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper and dried herbs to taste. If you use canned broth, watch your added salt.

Step Three: Add 1-3 cups of vegetables (e.g.; a box of frozen spinach OR a diced zucchini and frozen peas OR shredded cabbage and white beans OR frozen peas and diced tofu OR whatever's in your fridge or freezer) PLUS 1/3 cup tiny pasta OR 1-2 small diced potatoes. Simmer until tender.

Step Four (optional): Whisk 2 eggs together with 1/4 cup grated/shredded cheese (parmesan, fontina, asiago, romano, whatever you like) and gently whisk into soup together with any fresh herbs. Cook 3-5 minutes, until egg is well set.