Tomato soup for the morbid and depressed

When I was little, I would float saltine crackers on my tomato soup, then nudge them down slowly into my bowl, watching the tomato lava well up into the crackers’ holes. “Stay on the raft, stay on the raft,” I would whisper in the voices of the doomed adventurers on the sadly absorbent raft. I don’t remember if my poor little soup adventurers managed to jump to the rim of the bowl, or if I was a morbid enough kid that they perished descending the crater of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup Volcano.

Tomato soup is as essential to my childhood as the sound of softballs hitting aluminum baseball bats and the hot, righteous tomato-red anger of yelling that it was Greg’s fault, not mine, slamming the door, and pulling at my own hair while scream-crying.

I figured I should add the last part because I always worry about sounding sappy, which I thought might happen after writing a list of childhood memories that turned out to be only one thing. Apparently, I also already forgot* that I lead with the tragic deaths of the tomato soup explorers.

Everything I do is overkill.

Anyway, speaking of scream-crying, this is exactly the brand of depression I was experiencing one particular night when it turned out that my partner would be working late and it would fall to me to provide dinner. This is the type of mental anguish which makes even searching for a tomato soup recipe overwhelming. The search was frustrating to begin with because, somewhere, we have a good recipe from when we first made homemade tomato soup back in 2007.

Back in 2007, tomato soup was still a mysterious thing. I had only ever tried it from a can, which is weird because I didn’t grow up eating a ton of processed food or stuff made from mixes. But Campbell’s tomato soup was a pantry staple. It was not a food composed of other ingredients, but a substance unto itself, a dull martian red liquid that could be listed as an ingredient in other recipes, such as meatloaf and hamburger pie. How many other soups can be listed as ingredients? There are no recipes that call for “an extra cup of tortilla soup, added at the end” or “corn chowder, added to the desired consistency.”

The only other soup that doubles as an ingredient is canned cream of mushroom, but I don’t know if “doubles” is the correct verb because I’ve never heard of anyone also eating cream of mushroom. It goes in green bean casserole**. That’s it. Then back in the corner. And when I say “corner,” I mean “dank dungeon with one of those giant, pendulous scythes.” I hate, hate, hate mushrooms, and for this reason, created an extremely factual infographic as a service to the world.

Back to the tomato soup. Combine a missing recipe with scream-crying depression, a baby I am responsible for taking care of, and the fact that I can’t chop onions anymore because of how quickly and painfully my eyes tear up. I can’t even chop a shallot, which is the size of the flesh at the base of my thumb. The weight of responsibility for cooking a meal–normally not one of my household chores–came to weigh on me like a couch being carried up two flights of stairs.

Why didn’t I order food out instead? I can’t remember why that wasn’t an option. Maybe I didn’t have the mental energy to dislodge the idea of tomato soup from my brain. Whatever the case, I arrived home from my parents’ house with a few tablespoons of dried minced onion and and some garlic cloves to get me started.

I sauteed the onion with butter, and burned it.

Luckily, I found that we had not been out of dried onion after all. I sauteed some more, and burned them again while focused on chopping the garlic.

But then everything clicked into place; I stopped burning things; the baby played nicely, banging jars on the floor and trying to sweep our filthy kitchen.

I prefer loose methods to recipes.

Here’s the tomato soup method I came up with:

Start with allium component–onion and garlic, in my case.
Add tomato component along with other liquids: water or broth.
Season while the liquids heat. Throw in a bay leaf, some Italian seasoning type stuff, if not Italian seasoning itself. Black pepper and crushed red pepper.
Add dairy component–milk or cream, plus some Parmesan for the umami.

And here’s what’s in that:

A few tablespoons of dried minced onion
A couple of tablespoons butter
3 cloves of garlic
One 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with added basil
Italian seasoning, or similar
Bay leaf
Black pepper
Crushed red pepper
Salt
A teaspoon of Better than Bouillon, veggie flavor
A cup of water
A little over a cup of milk

Serving suggestion for tomato soup topped with Cheddar Whisps
Sounds like my cheddar Whisps are volunteering to go on what will surely be an ill-fated rescue mission for the Saltines that have been lost these long years.

This made enough for two dinner-sized bowls of soup, and a couple mugs leftover to have with salad the next day.

Between the ingredient list and the directions, it ended up being a proto-recipe, one lacking in specific ingredients. Or does that lack make it a method? Either way, it’s something to throw together without finally-tuned spice blends, and in less-than-ideal conditions.


*If it makes it better, I don’t write in order.
**And even that’s a stretch. It’s pretty easy to make a quick sauce of broth and cream instead.

A recipe for goblin candy

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about goblins, it’s that they eat most of the same food as chickens: fruit, bugs, and various forageables. At least, the goblins in Pumpkin Goblins do. Even though I have chickens, this is actually a weird coincidence. I did the earliest work on Pumpkin Goblins almost two years before the chickens came on the scene. Since Pumpkin Goblins is coming out later this month, it’s occupying a lot of my mental space. So much, in fact, that it has seeped into my snacks. Thus, here is the story of how I ended up making goblin candy.

Every time I needed a goblin to mention some kind of food, my first thought was: Worms? Or graveworms? Goblins eating bugs was an easy option, kind of a default idea, and I usually like to challenge those and do my own thing. Since the goblins snatch pumpkins rather than growing them, I figured they weren’t big on agriculture. Their village is in the middle of the woods, so it didn’t seem like a great place for any sort of farmland. They weren’t going to be raising pigs and cows, or eating bacon cheeseburgers. But I could imagine them growing little gardens, or picking fruit from the woods. The bugs still fit the image I had in mind, and every time I mentioned goblin food, it was mostly bugs and fruit:

“A conspiracy as vast as an ocean of soup, as intricate as a puzzle box or a lattice-weave pie crust. As dangerous as undercooked cricket brulee with the crunchy top.”

A goblin from the front row stepped forward and handed Hobkit a lumpy biscuit.

“Thank you, yes. Bat-darnit, I was hungry.”

and

The smell of burnt applesauce hit him as soon as he started down the ladder. Applesauce with mothwings and nutmeg, an Ebleween favorite. The familiar scent tugged at Torlik’s memory.

The idea of goblin candy came from a very quick bit of dialogue in Pumpkin Goblins:

Amber shared a bit of her Halloween candy with Falkit, who in all her years as a driver, had never tried it. Spitting it out, the goblin dramatically pretended to throw up. “It doesn’t have any apples,” she complained.

“It’s a chocolate caramel, not a caramel apple.”

“No apples, no worms. Nothing juicy-good like goblin candy.” She spat again. “Sticky.”

Even though this is a very minor bit of the story, I have a vivid image of what goblin candy is like: dark and fruity, gooey in texture, with a hint of spices.

Goblin candy: not known for its looks. In fact, it inspired someone to tell me a story about a prank in which chocolate was presented as bear poop.

My recipe for goblin candy is based on a recipe for No-Bake Pecan Chocolates from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I’ve made the original recipe many times, and at this point, I kind of make it my own way. Since it’s a deliciously sticky mass of chocolate and nuts, I thought it would be a good starting point for goblin candy. Btw, I highly recommend Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, vegan or not. And I’m not; it’s just a collection of awesome, unique cookie recipes. Their gluten-free flour mixture alone is worth the cost of the book.

Goblin Candy

1 cup chocolate bits
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup almond meal
1 cup dried cherries and currants
1/2 cup chopped pecans
A pinch each of allspice and cloves

Directions:
Melt the chocolate on the stove, over the lowest heat possible. Stir in the brown rice syrup, salt, and vanilla. Stir in everything else. Form into candy blobs, preferably on parchment or waxed paper. Dip hands and utensils into water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking. Refrigerate until firm.

Bugs are an optional ingredient. I do know people who eat bugs. If there’s a bug out there that complements fruit and chocolate, and you eat that bug, why not add it?

Aiming for a caramel vibe, Vegan Cookies calls for brown rice syrup. But the book is for vegans, and if you’re not, you could probably go straight for the caramel. Point is: sweet and very sticky.

Likewise, it doesn’t really matter if you use almond meal (which is my own addition, anyway). Point is: ground nuts of some variety. Cornmeal would probably be a terrible substitute (I don’t know why that even popped into my head.) I’m sure you could swap out the pecans too. In fact, I’m not sure how much goblins really like recipes, so if you want to ignore the whole thing and smash ingredients against the walls of a haunted house, that might work too.

Bulletproof coffee: underwhelming

I have now tried both bulletproof coffee and the bullet journal. I have not tried putting these things together, though if I did I imagine the result would be an artful-yet-greasy coffee ring.

Here’s my take on bulletproof coffee, also known as coffee with butter in it. The bullet journal deserves its own entry.

First off, I dislike food/recipe names that require explanation. Especially if they’re being brought to a potluck, which I guess I wouldn’t do with bulletproof coffee. Is there any reason this stuff couldn’t just be called buttered coffee? I’ve seen the term used as an attention grabber in headlines, but never actually heard anyone use it.

Anyway, I’ve been hearing about the stuff for years. It’s popular with paleo diet and rewilder types, which makes it seem like something I would have tried 6 years ago when I was unemployed and did time-consuming things like prepare paleo food. For some reason, the fact that it seemed like something I would have already tried in another era of my life, combined with enthusiastic testimonials, made me not want to try it. Even though I love coffee, butter, and coffee experiments.

Here are some of the claims about buttered coffee:

  • Energy!
  • Weight loss!
  • More delicious than expected!
  • Tons of energy!
  • Breakfast and coffee combined!

I’ve also seen articles raving about how it’s better for you because it doesn’t have sugar in it. I think obtaining a cup of coffee without sugar in it is more easily done by simply not adding sugar.

My love of coffee experiments won out. I tried the common method of blending coffee with coconut oil and good quality butter. Here is what I found:

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Here’s one example of what a breakfast might look like. Breakfast should never look like a liquid. Even smoothies are better with a sorbet consistency.

  • Energy? Duh, it has caffeine.
  • Weight loss? No idea. I drink iced coffee most days, and a coffee with this much fat will not work iced. Therefore, I will not drink it most days.
  • More delicious than expected? It was about what I expected. Is it so hard to imagine what butter and coffee would taste like combined? It’s a little bit creamy, and fairly rich.
  • Tons of energy? No, just a normal amount. My breakfast tends to contain a lot of fat anyway, so maybe I’m more accustomed to this than the non-fat yogurt crowd.
  • Breakfast and coffee combined? Ok, I’m kind of annoyed at myself that I did fall for this one. I was hungry again in about an hour, and since I assumed the coffee was my breakfast, I didn’t bother to eat anything to soak up the acidity.

Despite being underwhelmed by buttered coffee in its standard form, my partner and I now drink buttered coffee as part of our Sunday morning breakfast routine. Like the author of the article on the New England Coffee blog, I too needed to tinker with the standard buttered coffee recipe. Dirtying the blender for a cup of coffee? Too much work. Inspired by the mocha recipe in the article, our version mixes butter with steamed milk that we pour over strong spiced coffee and a touch of maple syrup.

Buttered coffee, breakfast tacos, and Sunday morning cartoons. We’re in our thirties and everything.

Mushrooms: the danger at the grocery store

My partner posted an anti-brussels sprouts infographic on his facebook, and I retaliated in the only way I know how: by attacking what he loves most with an infographic of my own. It’s 2016. In this day and age, there should be more factual, heavily-researched, and completely not-made-up information about mushrooms.

mushrooms

The text, if you can’t read it:

All about Mushrooms

Learn about the danger at the grocery store.
Leave mushrooms in the forest and in drawings of fairies.
Punch anyone who pressures you into mushroom pizza.

Did you know that 60% of American pizzas need to be disposed of each year due to mushroom contamination occuring when a stray mushroom slips onto a pizza half that was supposed to be only pepperoni?

78% of tantrums thrown by 91% of children ages 4-12 are caused by mushrooms. The resultant elevated stress levels in parents, siblings, and adjacent restaurant-goers have been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and leprosy.

There are thousands of different types of mushrooms, and only a small percent are technically edible. The rest will cause the following types of fatalities: literal, spiritual, emotional, textural, imagined, and hoped-for.

Nintendo is in the pocket of Big Mushroom and has received billions of dollars since the mid-1980s to promote a mushroom-positive attitude in their games.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that most serial killers have in common an experience of uncertainty concerning whether or not an eggroll has mushroom in it.

Peanut Butter Rice Pudding and Pickiness

With all the constantly created recipes on food blogs, constantly cloned onto other food blogs, and constantly combined with other recipes to form mutated recipe-spawn, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a recipe. Yet once again, The Internet failed me. Actually, this happened twice in the past few weeks, but I just don’t feel that drive to write a blog post about the Fruit Dip Disappointment.

I had leftover rice, and I wanted to make it into rice pudding. But not the same two types of rice pudding I always make with leftover rice. I wanted the rice pudding version of my brother’s peanut butter cookies.

When I posted about the Banana Gingerbread Granola I made awhile back (by adapting another recipe), I referred to myself as a “granola curmudgeon.” That’s true, but it also implies that I have this one quirky thing where I’m super picky about granola, but pretty chill about other foods, and maybe other things in general.

If I were rich*, I might say things like, “Gracious! You mean to say your chef used those geese in the park who so haunt my morning constitutional? In the foie gras? How creative!” And then I would share a sidelong judgmental glance with my blonder-than-blonde lady friends.”

I’m picky. Not about vegetables, or trying new foods, but about quality. That’s how I was raised: no Hamburger Helper, no Shake ‘n’ Bake, and no freakin’ cake mix. Baloney was, and still is, an object of derision for my dad, an ersatz almost-food he pities others for eating because they don’t know any better. We didn’t eat anything fancy. My parents never ranted about how unheathy processed food is or talked about organics**. It was just an unquestioned fact that we had homemade cake on our birthdays. The cake was not a lie.

Learning to cook, after being raised in such an environment, only made me pickier. I developed the observational skills to taste things and complain about how little nutmeg they contained. I’ve even developed a reputation as a good cook, but the truth is that I’m an average cook who’s damn picky.

Did you want to see a picture of mushy, nut-tinged rice? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re welcome.

So I knew precisely how peanut buttery, sweet, and tinged with cinnamon I wanted my rice pudding, and I rejected score after score, tab after tab, of online recipes. Well, I looked at seven or so, anyway. Any rice pudding recipe calling for uncooked rice failed immediately. Because making rice pudding by starting with uncooked rice should be an activity reserved for some circle of hell where poor souls are punished by stirring slowly-absorbed liquid until the implosion of time at the end of the universe.

That’s how long it takes to use uncooked rice. Eff that.

In the end, I don’t know why I bothered to check the internet for a recipe, since it took me all of two minutes to figure it out for myself.

Peanut Butter Rice Pudding

  • 1 cup leftover rice
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

To make, heat all ingredients except vanilla in a pot on the stove.  Use whatever heat your stove needs to be at to make this simmer and bubble, but not violently or in a volcanic manner which will result in lava rice exploding onto your face.

Stir very frequently, until it thickens, then add the vanilla.

It might not win the internet awards for best or fanciest, or Healthier than Thou, but it is the one my pickiness demanded.


 

*Ok, rich, verbose, and living at least one hundred years ago, in a place with parks. I live in the sticks. Everything is the park. And there are geese everywhere.

**It was the 90s. Few did.

The Ultimate Smoothie of Power

Now, I could have called it an Ultimate Power Smoothie, but that’s the jock name for it, and I prefer my smoothie to sound like something my Dungeon Master rolls up for me after I defeat five trolls.

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I blend my smoothies in a six-bladed blender. To add insult to injury.

I like the idea of starting my day with an Ultimate Smoothie of Power. The problem is, I’m a degenerate who cannot manage to make a smoothie in the morning. I can tell myself, “It’s just throwing things in the blender, no biggie,” but realistically, my torpid morning-self needs 30 minutes to make a smoothie. I can manage to roll out of bed and eat leftovers for breakfast, or if it’s a weekend, some kind of omelette that my partner makes me.

The paradox of the Ultimate Smoothie of Power is that I would have to have already imbibed it in order to have the energy to make it. So for me, smoothies are a lunch item. They are for when I would like to eat a fuckton of fruit without having to chew it.

Smoothies have certain requirements, as determined by some governing body, which I have made up in my head and believe to have a clever acronym, like ISAACTRON, whatever that stands for.

Here are the requirements for a beverage to earn the designation of smoothie:

  • Frozen banana. Frozen bananas make smoothies smooth, creamy and sweet. I am no longer happy with a smoothie that does not contain frozen banana.
  • Dairy. In the form of milk or yogurt, or at least coconut milk. Because more creaminess. If there is no dairy, it’s not a smoothie, it’s a fruit slush. These are technical classifications, which I have decided on in my head.
  • Protein. They need to have protein, in addition to the protein already in yogurt. Afternoon-self moves at a better clip than morning-self, but that doesn’t mean afternoon-self is interested in making time-consuming fruit drinks and still having to make lunch as well.
  • These ingredients must be pulverized, otherwise they’re just a bowl of yogurt with a lot of stuff in it.

Because of these requirements, in my world, there are really only four types of smoothie: Fruit Smoothie, Chocolate Smoothie, Pumpkin smoothie, and Smoothie That Has Oats In It.

Here, then, is the recipe for Fruit Smoothie, also known as the Ultimate Smoothie of Power.

Ingredients:

  • one banana, previously frozen.
  • two handfuls berries, possibly also frozen.
  • plain, full-fat yogurt.
  • almond butter
  • crystallized ginger
  • more cinnamon than you think you need
  • maple syrup or honey, if additional sweetening is needed
  1. Put all the ingredients in your blender.
  2. Add more cinnamon.  MORE.
  3. Turn on the blender.
  4. Do not drink the Ultimate Smoothie of Power while the blender is running, even if you’ve somehow convinced yourself that this might be a good idea.
  5. Drink the Ultimate Smoothie out of some kind of appropriate container. Or, one shaped like a penis.

TROUBLESHOOTING

Help! The ginger is still in chunks, and I can’t handle it because food texture is a huge deal for me.

Make the smoothie in two steps. Blend the ginger with the frozen banana so it all the hard stuff gets puréed together, then add the goopy ingredients.

Help! I want more protein in my smoothie, but I don’t have any nut butter and I’m too scared to add meat to my smoothie and still drink it.

Never fear! If you have nuts and a capable blender, first dump a bag of nuts into the blender and grind it into nut paste. Nut butter, if you will. You may need to add oil. Remove all the nut butter from the blender except for a couple tablespoons. Now you have nut butter AND a smoothie, and you didn’t need to turn this into two projects with dishes and everything.

Help! I have no frozen banana!

Rethink your life. You will never be able to drink smoothies professionally. Though, yes, you can use a room temperature banana with a handful of ice cubes.