Vintage MD: Soup's On

Let's just call me lazy. Or maybe I'm enamored of my own previous posts... 

A few years ago, I wrote this blog post about autumn soups. Because I keep coming back to these again and again, I thought I'd introduce them to any new readers who may not have made it that far back into our archives and also remind our regular readers about these culinary delights. Madison is enjoying an Indian Summer right now but, as soon as the sun goes down, it gets cold and I want warm comfort food. Both of these soups fall into that category. I hope you enjoy them. :)

Soup's On! (originally posted on 9/24/10)

Autumn came unceremoniously to Wisconsin - as it often does. There were a couple of "transition" weeks thrown in there where it rained and got a little cooler but, for the most part, it was summer one day and not-summer the next.

This season is bittersweet. I hate that summer is over because I love the sun and the warmth and the activity. Plus, the end of summer means that winter - my most hated season - is just around the corner. (Argh!)  But there's something lovely about autumn too. The crisp feeling in the air. The smell of crumbly leaves. Wrapping up in a favorite sweater. And, for me, the return of comforting soups.

Now, don't get me wrong - I eat soup year round. I'm a huge fan of cold soups in the summer with Cold Cucumber Soup being my favorite. But there's something so nest-y and "mom" about a good, solid hot soup that I think of autumn and the subsequent unmentionable season asthe seasons for this particular food.

There's also a nice dovetail with soup and the dreaded "garden clearing." The last of the tomatoes (which look kind of puny), the overgrown and flowering basil/fennel/oregano/etc., the squash, etc. all need to be dealt with. They're generally not nice enough to stand alone at this point so they need to be cooked into some lovely concoction and soup is the perfect vehicle.

Coincidentally, Bon Appetite Magazine's September (2010) edition has a really nice article about a woman who taught herself to cook by making soups. It's a fun story and I recommend it for both the treatise on soups and the provided recipes.

So, to kick off your autumn the right way, make a big pot of soup this week! Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. One uses up the last of the garden and the other is a fast and easy soup created from canned beans. Enjoy!

Squash & Tomato Soup

3-4 large tomatoes or the equivalent in medium to small tomatoes, skin & seeds removed, chopped
4-6 cups of various cubed summer squashes (eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, etc)
1/2 a large onion diced 
1-2 cloves of garlic, diced
2-3 T olive oil 
Basil, oregano, thyme, (or Italian-blend seasoning) to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste
(optional: diced bell pepper; kale; spinach; cabbage)

Heat soup pot on medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Saute onion until translucent. Add garlic and saute for one minute. Add chopped squash. Saute for a few minutes - until squash is a bit soft. Add chopped tomatoes. Stay with the pot, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down enough to make a broth. If your tomatoes don't have enough juice to make a broth, add a small can or two of diced tomatoes with their juices. Add your herbs. Once the consistency is sort of stew-like, lower heat to simmer and cover. Let it cook for thirty minutes or so and check that the squash is done. As soon as you're happy with the consistency, salt, pepper, and cheese to taste. Serve hot with a cheese to sprinkle on top.

This is the base soup. You can add many different veggies to this (see "optional"). Any vegetables you add, just saute for a bit before you put the tomatoes in. Common sense says that harder veggies (eggplant, carrots, celery, etc) should cook a little longer. Softer veggies like spinach and summer squash need less time to cook so plan your sauteing accordingly. :)

Three Bean Soup

2-3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small head of green cabbage, chopped
2 cans of garbanzo beans
2 cans of canellini beans
2 cans of black beans
Stock (preferably vegetable) to cover
1 Bay leaf (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add cabbage and stir well to coat cabbage with oil/onion mixture. Cook until cabbage is wilted and a little soft. Add the beans and mix well. Cover with stock – I use vegetable stock but chicken is also good. The use of vegetable stock means no additional fat is added to the soup. Add bay leaf and salt if desired. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for one hour. I usually cover it to ensure less splatter but if you simmer uncovered, the soup will boil down a bit and be thicker.

edit: When I made this soup yesterday (9/18/11), I added some browned ground Italian sausage. It really adds a new dimension to the soup - if you're not a vegetarian of course.

Buon Appetito!

- Alex

Friday Finds: The Interrobang

I'm sure it's no secret that I'm a bit of a word-nerd. I love the anthropology and evolution of language. Of course, it can also drive me nuts. Misuse of words or weird language evolution ("...a whole 'nother'...") will often send me into fits of rage. Well, that might be overstating it a bit. Tirades of frustration is probably more accurate. :)

Recently, a friend (who is also a word-nerd) posted something on Facebook that totally caught my eye. And, while I'd never actually seen one before, I intrinsically knew what it was.

The Interrobang
In this age of emails and texting we write to each other more than we talk - and we need to find ways to express emotion so that our meaning doesn't get lost in the print. When I'm trying to express incredulity or surprise, I often use an exclamation point followed by a question mark (or vice versa). The interrobang was introduced in 1962 to represent this exact combination of punctuation. It was  used, primarily, in advertising for the next couple of decades but never made it to popular usage. The Wikipedia entry is fascinating and will send you down the rabbit hole of weird, unused punctuation.

I vote that we resurrect the interrobang. Who's with me

- Alex

Dutchman's Puzzle Quilt Block

 Hi there!

Today I have another beginner quilt block tutorial for you: The Dutchman's Puzzle.

I don’t know the exact origin of the Dutchman’s Puzzle quilt block, but I have read from multiple sources that it has been around since the late 1800’s. Whenever I am stitching one up, I can’t help but think about the generations of women who did the same over the last century. Of course, a lot of these women would have been stitching by hand, or maybe treadle sewing machine...but we have a kinship just the same. 

What I love about this block is the implied movement the rectangles make. Like a windmill...get it....Dutchman’s Puzzle? Even more so than a standard pinwheel block, this pattern looks like it is spinning in the wind. As a rule, my quilts usually are composed of many different types of blocks (because I have a taste for all things chaotic), but this block would really shine used alone.

This is a relatively simple block. It you keep an eye on your seam allowances (make sure they are a scant 1/4”) and remember to press well after each should do just fine.


The Dutchman's Puzzle Quilt Block

The finished Dutchman’s Puzzle Block is created from 2 different smaller blocks:

So, you will be making 4 of each of these:

These smaller blocks are technically called “flying geese”. You can find a whole host of ways to make flying geese, but the way I describe it here is my personal preferred method.

This block requires you to purchase 4 different fabrics. You can choose any fabrics you like of course, but I found that my blocks turned out with the most “movement” when I chose a light color with a subtle pattern for A.

Here is how the cutting goes:

Fabric A = cut 12 3.5”x3.5” squares
Fabric B = cut 4 6.5”x3.5” rectangles
Fabric C = cut 4 6.5”x3.5” rectangles
Fabric D = cut 4 3.5”x3.5” squares

Take all of your cut square pieces and using a ruler, draw a line diagonally across the block with a pencil or a fabric pen on the wrong side of fabric.

Time to sew a flying goose! Take a B fabric 6.5”x3.5” rectangle and place it right side up (RS). Place a fabric A 3.5”x3.5” square on top of it so the wrong side (WS) is facing up, lining it up to the right edge. (Both fabrics will have the right sides facing each other.) Pin where indicated. Stitch a seam on the drawn line where indicated on illustration below.

Trim fabric leaving a 1/4” seam allowance:

Set seam by pressing it as is, then fold the flap up and press it open. Have your seam allowance pressed upward as well so that it is underneath A.

The left side will use the same technique. When your flying geese block (including seam allowance) is done it will measure 3.5”x6.5” and look like this:

Then, take the C rectangles and using the same technique as with the B rectangles, sew the A squares and D fabric squares on:

You should now have 4 of each of the 2 flying geese blocks. Stitch one of each blocks together with a 1/4” seam allowance. Then press the seam allowance toward the top.:

The next step is to sew two of these 6.5”x6.5” blocks together with a 1/4” seam allowance. Then press the seam allowance toward the right.:

You’re almost there! The last two pieces stitch together with a 1/4” seam allowance like so:

Press it nice and flat and then you will have a gorgeous Dutchman’s Puzzle block!

Want a pdf of this pattern? Click here to go to Craftsy to download it today!

Feeding the Bees

Who would have thunk it? Sometimes bees need to be fed. 

Last week a very helpful fellow beekeeper came over to give me a hand with my weekly hive check. I had one, main concern and that was finding a queen - either the one I'd started with (whom I hadn't seen in three weeks) or a new one (which my bees were hell-bent on making).

This is a "queen cell" where a new queen grows. My bees made about 10 of these...

After digging around in the hive for about 30 minutes, we found her. A brand, new queen - already laying eggs. Whew!! I was relieved. Then my new friend said something that concerned me. It turns out that my bees had spent so much time making new bees to fill out the colony and worked so hard at making a new queen, they really hadn't spent enough time making honey. This is bad because they could, potentially, not have enough stores to get them through the winter.

So, what does one do? Well, it turns out that you feed them sugar syrup that they make "honey" out of. It's honey that's good enough for them to live off of for the winter but it's not really "proper" honey because it's not made from nectar. At this point, I just want to make sure I still have bees come spring time so it was off to the market to buy a bunch of plain, white, granulated sugar for me.

When you feed a bee sugar syrup in the autumn, you feed a thicker 2:1 (sugar to water) by weight concoction. I did the math and I needed 2.25 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. Then I checked out the various methods of delivering the syrup. Most people just punch a few small holes in the top of a mason jar and place that over the frames in the hive. The syrup drips, the bees eat, and there you go. Then there's the Ziplock bag method (I love this one) where you fill a gallon Ziplock back 3/4 full with sugar syrup, lay it on the top of the frames, and then cut a 1" slit into the top of the bag with a razor blade. The bees eat from the slit in the bag. Pretty efficient and not as drippy as the mason jar version. Then I stumble on the delivery system I decided I liked best - the chicken waterer.

Basically, you can buy these things for about $4 that fit on a mason jar. For chickens, you fill the mason jar with water, screw on the contraption, flip the whole thing over and the chicken drink from the little bowl. I like it because it means less syrup "drip" in my hive. The one thing most folks don't know is that bees are prone to drowning. They need something to sit on in order to drink from a pool of anything (including water) or they will, in fact, just drown. So I had to "fix" the waterer so the bees could use it. My beekeeper friends suggested using wire - so, this is how it happened:

Mark the wire mesh where you want to cut it.

Snip with tin-snips.


Push the wire mesh into place.

Fill the mason jar with sugar syrup.
 Screw on the waterer and you're off!

The waterer gets placed on the top cover, like so.

You place an empty hive box around the food supply and then put the lid on the whole thing.

My bees ate two quarts of sugar syrup in less than 24 hours.
So, I was kind of freaked out by how fast they ate what I put out for them. One of my fellow beekeepers said that I needed to think in terms of GALLONS of syrup, not quarts. LOL  Turns out bees are sort of piggy.

Here's the new batch I made last night. Just shy of 10 lbs of sugar made a gallon and a quarter of syrup. I get the feeling I'll be doing this a lot for the next couple of months. 

- Alex the sticky beekeeper

Friday Finds: Don't Judge Me...

When you spend a lot of time in doctors' offices, you read a lot of really crappy magazines - most of which are seriously out of date as well.

As we mentioned in recent posts, I've been spending a lot of time in doctors' offices lately. A few weeks ago, I had a series of appointments in an office that, for some reason, had an abundance of copies of Every Day with Rachel Ray. Now, I won't bore you with my tirade about why I don't care for Ms Ray but, I will say this... I've had to amend my tirade to include, "But her magazine is really good."

Occasionally the magazine is dumbed down to the point of being sort of offensive but, overall, it's accessible, nicely laid out, and chock full of usable content. 

Here are just a few of the recipes I captured while sitting...waiting...and waiting...and waiting...

So, don't judge me (I can do that on my own, thanks) and definitely check out a copy or two of Every Day with Rachel Ray. 

- Alex the Convert

Map of the World Quilt

The Wisconsin Quilt Expo is this coming weekend. Last year Alex and I had a blast meandering the vendor isles, admiring prize-winning quilts, and chatting with other crafty folk.

One of the things that really caught my eye was a colorful map of the world, baby-sized quilt on display by one of my favorite local quilt shops, Stitcher's Crossing. It was adorable but I couldn't justify another small blanket at my house. About a month later I realized we could use some car lap blankets for the kiddos so I ran over to Stitcher's and bought a couple of their last "Map of the World" kits.

Cuteness overload I tell ya.

The fabric is "What A World" by Jill McDonald for P&B Textiles. I can't seem to find the entire line available anywhere (must be the end of the run for this design) but you can find bits here and there.

I'm not one to usually buy a quilt kit (I fancy myself some kind of designer dontchaknow), but I didn't hesitate with this one. It was perfect because of it's simplicity. The fabric really needed to be the star anyway.

I did make some of my own modifications to the pattern. I added some ties so this quilt could easily roll up for storage in the car. I also complicated the quilt back by adding another fun panel from this line with a border instead of the all-over print included. It was REALLY frustrating once I went to quilt these suckers...but in the end, they turned out great.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to share these finished little cuties with you!