Have you heard? It’s raining in LA.  I am sure my readers in Canada and New York and Chicago and Utah and Montana and Michigan and… everywhere else outside California, with real, snowy winters of your own, may not consider several consecutive days of rain in Southern California to be newsworthy, but around here it’s quite the story.  In a land where “winter” is marked by blooming camelias and perpetual tans, a bit of a drizzle on the Golden Globes’ red carpet is practically unthinkable.


I miss seasons.  When our rain finally comes, I revel in it.  The towering eucalyptus trees across the street broadcast their mossy, lilting scent over our house whenever a gust of wind wafts through their rainsoaked branches.  As I climb the stairs to our front door on a rainy night, I marvel at the scent, thinking this is what every candle and fabric softener has tried to mimic with fragrance names like eucalyptus rain.


Evenings this week have been chilly and damp as the storms wax and wane.  It’s perfect weather for a bowl full of something rich and spicy.  The kind of thing you’d describe as rib-sticking.  I’ve been particularly enamored with quinoa recently, and find it to be a lovely base for this quick, spicy chicken stew.  You might not use all the quinoa you’ll make here – toss leftovers with the ingredients for a chickpea salad for a profoundly filling lunch.  Serve the stew with extra sriracha to keep your ribs warm as you watch your snow, your rain, or your camelias.
(Keep reading Spicy Chicken & Quinoa Stew…)


I love the color orange, in spite of myself. It’s a loud color. A sarcastic color. Orange is the color that recites dirty limericks in front of your grandmother. But it is also the color of the meatiest part of the afternoon, when the sun is flexing its last bits of daytime muscle before retreating into the softer folds of pink and mauve. It is the color of the shag carpet from preschool – the tufted, polyester lawn that cradles small, dream-filled heads every afternoon. And it is the color that never fails to make me happy, even amidst a swirling sea of very gray days.

But what does the color orange taste like? It’s cheating to say it tastes like that citrus with the same name. Too easy. And too simple. I think the color isn’t quite so sweet. It’s more jumpy. More hyper. With an arched eyebrow and that throaty laugh that comes from eating too many sweet tarts. It’s just…more.


I set out to make an orange soup the other day. In order to fit more easily into searchable categories and whatnot, I will hang my head and call it “carrot soup” here, though that’s a bit like describing Gene Kelly as an “actor.” It started with carrots, then onions, then wine. A note in the Flavor Bible reminded me that carrots lose some of their carroty brightness when they are cooked, so the carrots that make up the base are boosted by a generous handful of raw, grated carrots at the end. Garlic for integrity. Cumin for complexity. Lemon for acerbic wit. And a little mint for fun.

This is fine to eat right away and hot, but if you can hold out until at least a few hours later (if not the next day), when it has had time to properly chill and the flavors can really get to know each other, it’s so much better.  It really shines when eaten cold, like an orange gazpacho. Use it to brighten your day when all else fails. I have it on good authority that it works wonders.

Chilled Carrot Soup

Serves 6

1 yellow onion, diced
6 medium carrots, washed and peeled
1 cup water
1 cup white wine
1 cup broth - chicken or vegetable
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 bay leaves
Juice from half a lemon
1 T Cumin
10 fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
Sea salt, at least 1t


  • Chop 5 carrots
  • Boil the liquid
  • Add the vegetables
  • Simmer for 15 minutes
  • Blend
  • Mix in the rest

Cut five of the carrots into small disks, no thicker than ¼”. Bring the water, wine, and broth to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan or dutch oven (whatever you cook it in, be sure you have a lid). Add the diced onion, sliced carrots, crushed garlic, and bay leaves and turn the heat down until simmering. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and carefully remove the bay leaves. Working in batches, blend until smooth in a blender. As I’ve mentioned before, be sure to keep a hand on the blender lid to avoid a painful geyser of hot carrot mess. After each round of blending, transfer the newly smooth contents to a large bowl or Tupperware (something that will hold the whole batch with a little room to spare).

After you’ve blended it all, set it aside and grate the remaining carrot. Chop the mint as finely as possible. Fold the grated carrot and chopped mint into the soup, stirring well until fully combined. Add the lemon juice, cumin, and salt. Once you’ve really stirred it up, taste it to see if it needs more salt. Adjust as needed, chill, and enjoy.

Cut to the chase and take me to the recipe


Lately, I’ve been making my own vegetable stock on the weekends. I’m normally a chicken broth kind of girl – it serves me so well whenever a little extra liquid and extra flavor are needed, and there are several decent varieties for purchase in most grocery stores these days. Yeah, yeah, it’s wonderful to make your own chicken stock, but I don’t always have time to deal with it, and it’s one of those areas where I feel the store-bought version is good enough to justify the shortcut. Sue me.


But I’ve been trying to make more vegetable soups over the past few months, and they aren’t always conducive to chicken broth’s different melody. Sadly, I have yet to find a prepackaged vegetable broth that didn’t taste smurfy. I can’t put my finger on what I find specifically objectionable about the taste, but it’s just…off. It tastes like something completely wrong swam around in the pot for a bit while the flavors were mingling. A frog? A tuba? A mirepoix of tires and potato peels? Something totally weird.


Unlike chicken stock, which really wants several hours to simmer and amuse itself, homemade vegetable stock takes about 90 minutes, including chopping. It’s a true ensemble cast, too. Leeks, carrots, mushrooms, fennel, onions, tomatoes – all coordinate themselves together gracefully to produce a smooth, sweet, silky broth. No single element charges to the footlights to demand your attention. It doesn’t taste like fennel. It doesn’t taste like leeks. It tastes like a beautiful prelude to the fluttery melody that will come with the rest of the ingredients.


I had a pint of stunning roasted zucchini soup for lunch the other day. The restaurant in my office building has a take-out kiosk on the patio, and I often snag a quick lunch from them when I’m too lazy to pack something in the morning. The food there has gotten markedly better in the past three years, most notably the soups. This little roasted zucchini number was extremely simple – a delicate puree brightened with dill. It’s a good thing I like to keep my door closed when I eat at my desk, because nothing about the way I dove into that soup matched the delicacy of its gentle flavors. I scarfed. And promptly added zucchini to my shopping list so that I could make my own.


While the homemade stock isn’t life-and-death critical here, I really recommend you give it a shot. The stock can simmer while the zucchini roasts, so you aren’t adding much time to the whole venture. Let the pot on the stove and the tray in the oven do their thing while you amuse yourself with other stuff and before you know it, you’ll have everything ready for the final simmer.


About the color. It’s not exactly the most beautiful soup you’ll ever see. I know. If you must, take a slurp with your eyes closed. Let it roll over your tongue and warm your belly, and see if it doesn’t look ever so much lovelier when you open your eyes again.


P.S. Like the third photo above? It’s called Simple Greens, and if you would be so kind, I would greatly appreciate a “yeah” vote in the Color Theory competition at JPG Magazine. Thanks!
(Keep reading Roasted Zucchini Soup…)


In the past 29 years, I have rejected and subsequently reaccepted three categories of food in my diet: pie, soup, and Indian food. The latter was a matter of developing a taste for the flavor palette (and the result of the combined, persuasive efforts of many wonderful friends who had my best interest at heart and to whom I am incredibly grateful as I would have otherwise led a life without vindaloo). My vetoes of pie and soup were somewhat less rational. The pie thing was really a cake thing; I greatly prefer cake. Despite the fact that cake is not always available when pie is offered, I felt eating a slice of pie meant displacing the opportunity to eat a slice of cake. Much like my Doc Martens and paisley vest phases, it made sense at the time. I mean, for any given slice of cherry pie, can you really be sure there isn’t a piece of chocolate cake right around the corner? Hmm?

The soup thing…I can’t really explain. It was something about finding the combination of warm, savory, and liquid to be distasteful, though I can’t articulate anything more concrete than that. But the reason I started liking soup again was completely nutbar. At auditions for a production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in high school, I watched a line of hopefuls rattle off reasons why they each thought they would be well-suited to inhabit the role of Mr. or Mrs. Beaver. One girl (who ultimately ended up playing the White Witch), exclaimed “Mrs. Beaver just screams ‘soup’ to me, and I live and die for soup!” Thereafter, I liked soup. Nuts, right? I can’t make this stuff up.

But however it had to happen, I’m glad it did. Soup is a great anchor in the home cook’s repertoire. Most soup recipes can be doubled or halved with ease, making the output quite flexible to suit your needs. I like to make a batch and portion one or two servings into several Gladware containers – makes for easy lunches. Best of all, it’s so easy to get a full-bodied soup without adding much fat. Vegetable soups in particular offer a broad canvas for healthful creations that can, conveniently, make short work of any nearly ne’er-do-well produce lingering in your fridge. This little number served to salvage a massive wad of spinach that was starting to think about getting slimy.

As the title indicates, it’s stunningly green. If you’re looking for something a little less TMNT, add all of the spinach to the pot to simmer rather than adding half of it raw at the end.


(Keep reading Shockingly Green Cream of Spinach Soup…)