Wednesday Night Soup: Borscht

Borscht is a great word to say aloud, isn’t it?

It’s a beet-based soup that originated in eastern Europe. It’s a bit dangerous to upholstery–Daisy says of another soup, “I blessed the Scotchgard we had thought to have the sofas sprayed with, for exactly this kind of occasion”–but it’s rich and satisfying on cold, blustery days like today. It’s also seasonal: we get a weekly food box from farmers, and by late October, the beets and kale are still abundant, long after the more tender vegetables have succumbed.

People have asked me about the soups as chapter titles. The book begins in late August and ends at Christmas, and I wanted to signal to the reader where we were in the year, according to the produce with which Daisy makes her soup. Sure we can buy asparagus in October sometimes and oranges in April, but not when we buy locally, from a farmer’s market or in a food box. Eating seasonally often means we get the nutrients our bodies naturally crave, and that we are in tune with the natural world. In a book that addresses the dangers of messing with that natural world, I wanted to emphasize the rhythm of the growing season.

And here’s Daisy’s recipe for Borscht. (Say it out loud.)

Pretty much all the work of borscht is prep work. There’s chopping and dicing and then throwing it together in a pot and letting it simmer. Dice 1 large onion. Mince 4 cloves of garlic. Peel and grate 2 carrots and 4 small beets. Peel and dice 2 potatoes. Thinly slice 2 cups cabbage. Add to 4 cups vegetable stock and 1 bay leaf in a stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer. Add ½ tsp dill, ½ tsp salt, black pepper, 1 tomato, chopped, 3 Tbsp lemon juice. Cook just a few minutes more. Remove bay leaf before serving.


Fracking Friday: Stop Fracking Ontario

One of the best things about the environmental movement is the sense of community among partners. In Ithaca, an anti-fracking rally is described like this:

There were signs and there was chanting but this was Ithaca and so there was music and laughing and there was coffee, stores offering us use of their restrooms. There were people I hadn’t seen since Arthur died, and there were hugs. The crowd was mostly young but there were people older than me there too–there were dozens of strollers but there was an occasional wheelchair too. I walked near the center of the crowd, with Lee at first, and we were joined by her ESL student Weng who linked her arm with Lee’s. And then I was stopped by the tattooed man from my class and I waved Lee and Weng on ahead of me. I began to see that there were a number of people from Wednesday night in the crowd. I felt tears prickle in my eyes at the idea of it. I found myself introducing people and there were handshakes, juggling of signs and banners. We walked through the Commons together and we filled the space as music fills a space, simply with its presence. I found myself smiling. I loved this place. No one had asked my age or laughed at me for being older. If anything, I felt like people were delighted to have older people among them; we were ahead of the curve, giving credibility and depth and wisdom to what they were doing and saying.

I participated in the local Climate Change rally on September 21 and there I met Dylan Siebert of Transition KW who kindly came to last week’s launch and talked about fracking and prepared handouts. The handouts were, in turn, partly based on work done by a group called Stop Fracking Ontario.

Stop Fracking Ontario has put together a helpful slide show about fracking in this area. You might find the maps in it particularly interesting, if you’re wondering whether this is an issue in your own area.

Here it is:

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday Night Soup: Red Pepper Soup with Pesto

What a lovely party we had on Saturday at the book launch. Big thanks to everyone who came. You asked such good questions and listened well. Thanks for the support. The only downside was that you didn’t eat all the soup. I brought some on Monday to a local refugee centre, and the rest I froze. I think we are going to follow Daisy’s lead and host a community supper for our neighbours. Why don’t you do the same–and let me know how it goes.

Here’s a recipe for a rich, intensely flavoured soup. I mention at the end of it that I make pesto and freeze it in small containers. Two pesto-related stories: this summer, basil didn’t grow well in our area and it just wasn’t available in large quantities. I did a little experiment on one batch of pesto–I used equal parts basil and arugula to make pesto. It tastes slightly different–more peppery–but it works. Some of this pesto is going to be used tonight on pasta, rather than in soup, for my middle child, who is running a huge cross-country race tomorrow, and for whom pesto pasta is a pre-race tradition. It’s a delicious meal–and so is this soup.

Red Pepper Soup with Pesto

Remove the seeds and stems from 4 red peppers (not hot peppers) and roast them in a hot oven until they are softened and slightly blackened around the edges. Take them out and let them cool slightly, then peel the blackened skin from the peppers. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, sauté  1 large chopped onion, 4 cloves garlic, minced, 1-1/2 cups carrots (or sweet potatoes – approximately 2 carrots or 1 sweet potato), chopped; 1 cup potatoes (1 potato), chopped. You can sauté this until they just start to brown. Then add 3-1/2 cups vegetable stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the roasted red peppers, salt and pepper. Blend thoroughly until smooth and add ½ cup of milk if desired. Serve this with a dollop of basil pesto in the center of the bowl.

My pesto consists of adding handfuls of washed basil leaves (maybe 3-4 cups) to a food processor, along with several cloves of garlic, several Tablespoons of either pine nuts or sunflower seeds, probably a ½ cup of parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. I then start slowly pouring olive oil into the processor as it grinds the basil and company up. I often stop the food processor after about 30 seconds to scrape down the sides (and to taste-test the pesto!) You want the consistency to be thick but definitely cohesive. I store pesto in small containers in the freezer, but that is mostly to keep it from my family.

Ithaca Launch in Pictures


Full house. And they asked thoughtful questions.


Me and my baby.


Talking with Pamela. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to really talk to everyone at the launch–especially those who came from far away and long ago, and completely surprised me.


Ithaca’s main character is named Daisy.


My son and daughter along with my daughter’s friend served three kinds of soup–all Daisy’s recipes–made last week with the help of two good friends.


Signing books.

Fracking Friday: Countdown

Tomorrow is the official launch party for Ithaca–and you’re invited! The launch is at the Waterloo Public Library (35 Albert St. Waterloo) between 2-4 pm. We’ve made vats of soup, have prepared a reading, have lots of books for sale, and have folks from Transition KW on hand to talk the science of fracking with you.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday Night Soup: Corn Chowder

Like many of you, we made turkey soup this week, using the leftovers and bones of our Thanksgiving supper.  As I’ve mentioned here before, my grandmother died this summer. Thanksgiving was the first holiday we celebrated without her. We actually had a lovely day, filled with kindness, laughter, sunshine and turkey–but several of us reported a gnawing anxiety afterwards, a sense that something just wasn’t right.

In the Corn Chowder chapter of Ithaca, Daisy, too, is “constricted by sorrow” and struggling with grief, finding her way in a new world without her husband. And that’s what soup does, too. It reconstitutes ingredients into something new, transforms them into something that nourishes and heals.

Soup doesn’t need bones to do that either. Here’s a recipe for Daisy’s Corn Chowder. Enjoy it now before all the corn is harvested.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp olive oil and add one onion, diced and sauté until softened. Add ½ tsp of thyme (or a good sprig of fresh thyme) and ¼ cup of flour. Stir in 5 cups of vegetable stock, 2 diced potatoes and 3 cups of corn (approximately 2-3 ears of corn). Bring almost to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until the potato is soft. You can blend the soup with a hand blender if you like, or blend it a bit. Add ¾ cup cream and salt and pepper to taste.


Speaking of soup, we will be serving soup at Saturday’s book launch at the Waterloo Public Library (2-4 pm and you are invited). I’m quite settled on two of the three soups but I’d love your input into soup #3. We will be serving Carrot-Lentil Soup with Lime and Cumin and Three Sisters Soup for sure. Should the third soup be Tomato-Basil Bisque, Corn Chowder or White Bean and Tarragon? We’re cooking tomorrow so let me know today!

Fracking Friday: Global Frackdown

Tomorrow, Saturday October 11 is Global Frackdown Day, an annual international day of action initiated by Food & Water Watch to ban fracking. Events will be held in more than 30 countries around the world, including in Canada. Organizers say the Global Frackdown will unite concerned residents everywhere to send a message to elected officials across the globe that we want a future powered by clean, renewable energy.

How can you get involved?

Find an event in your area:

Sign a petition to the Canadian government today:

Take a few minutes to learn more about fracking:

Know that you aren’t alone:

GFD Shareable Image1

So, what are you going to do tomorrow for the Global Frackdown?

Wednesday Night Soup: Lentil-Carrot Soup with Lime and Cumin

My criteria for vegetarian meals is that they have to be satisfying and flavour-full. When a meal has those two qualities, you don’t miss the meat. This soup is one of those. It’s bursting with flavour. In Ithaca, it’s described as the soup that brings someone back to the land of the living.

Let me know what you think when you make it.

Carrot-Lentil Soup with Lime and Cumin

Saute 1 leek (white part only), 4 onions, chopped, in 2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil until softened. Stir in 2 cloves garlic, minced, and 2 cups carrots, diced. Add 1 cup red lentils and 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let vegetables and lentils cook. Add 1 tsp cumin and juice of one lime. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

By the way, one of my soup recipes is featured in a book review on a food blog. Check it out and enter to win a copy of Ithaca.

Fracking Friday: Book Review

If Wednesdays are soup days, Fridays have to be Fracking Fridays, no?

Fracking was a new term to me when I first visited Ithaca in 2011. I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned about fracking in the last three years.

I’ll start today with a book review of a book from an energy reporter who presents different sides to the argument. This review of mine first appeared in the Waterloo Region Record.

The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World by Russell Gold. Simon and Schuster, 2014, 366 pages. $32.00

Pulitzer finalist and Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold has written a book about the history and reality of fracking in the United States. Fracking is both a shortened version of hydraulic fracturing (a means of getting natural gas from shale rock) and a curse word invented by a tv show.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Gold has been an energy reporter for a decade and that this is a highly personal issue as Gold’s beloved family farm is being fracked, Gold manages to come down squarely in the middle of this issue. Where this is beneficial is that Gold manages to take much of the rhetoric and emotion out of the issue, at least long enough to fully explain the process of extracting oil and natural gas from previously un-mineable shale rock, and to document the history of fracking and the men who contributed to this. It is also helpful to see how dramatically quickly the energy landscape has changed—the first successful frack only happened 15 years ago—and how fracking has become a key player in the search for energy.

At the same time, although Gold’s eyes are open to the real and potential hazards of fracking, he is surprisingly equivocal about the issue. Early in the book, he says he advised his parents to sell the fracking rights to The Farm they owned since they arrived there as hippies in the early 70s.  Essentially, although Gold sits on the fence about fracking, he believes it is not unlike methadone: “it’s a way for an energy-addicted society to get off dirtier fuels and smooth out the detox bumps.” He also argues that the development of fracked gas and oil should accelerate competition among greener energy sources, such as wind and solar, to make cost-competitive options available to an energy-guzzling public.

The book bogs down somewhat in the second half with a sequence of stories about oilmen who pioneered the way for fracking; their stories and identities seem somewhat interchangeable.

What is most frightening is the lack of regulation around fracking: The United States has not had a comprehensive energy policy for decades; it relies on the free market to determine its energy system. Of this, Gold says “it can make you want to turn away and not look too closely.” Gold says that no one would build a nuclear power plant without making sure it is safe and strong, but because the risks of any single fracking well are tiny compared to those of a nuclear plant, corners are regularly cut.

The real gap in Gold’s book is the analysis which is only a few fleeting pages at the end, and the fact that to a certain extent he shrugs off the risks because the gain satisfies our collective appetite for fuel. I’ve long felt that fracturing the earth by pumping it full of a cocktail of chemicals, water and sand is a dangerous proposition. While it did not change my mind on this, Gold’s book gave me pause to consider both whether fracking could ever be done better, and also whether my own energy consumption makes my opposition largely academic.

Wednesday Night Soup: Tomato-Basil Bisque

Ithaca is about soup. Well, that’s not the whole story, but soup plays an important role in the book. I’ll let Daisy, the main character, explain:

I should explain about Wednesday nights. It started when Arthur was new at the university, new and assigned grad students. It had been my idea for him to get to know his students outside of school, off campus. I had suggested they come over for supper. And so they did and so they devoured the food I made them. And no one suspected how young I was. We invited them back and soon it became a standing date in our calendar. They brought their girlfriends and then their wives. Sometimes Arthur’s colleagues would come too. When Nick was a toddler, he loved having the students over, loved the energy of the house.

Eventually it drifted away from any affiliation with the school and it just became Wednesday night. I made pots and pots of soup, a different kind each week. I stocked up on bowls and spoons at garage sales and estate sales, mismatched bowls. You might get a bone china bowl or a wobbly earthenware bowl made in someone’s pottery craze.

Each of the chapters in Ithaca has a soup title, one that corresponds both with the food Daisy serves on Wednesday night and with some of what’s happening in her life. Each week this fall–on Wednesdays, of course–I’m going to post an original soup recipe, developed by me on Daisy’s behalf. The recipes are all vegetarian at heart. Like the mismatched bowls, the recipes are also imperfect: I’m no recipe developer. Feel free to add, subtract, modify–and tell us what you did to make the recipe better. I just realized also that I don’t suggest how many servings each recipe will make. That may depend on the size of your bowls anyhow. Each recipe should serve at least four people–or one really hungry teenager.

This is a nice comfort food kind of soup for a cold, gray day like today. If you’ve got lots of last tomatoes from your garden, feel free to substitute them for the canned tomatoes.

Tomato-Basil Bisque
Saute 5 Tbsp butter with 1 onion,diced. When softened, stir in 4 Tbsp flour and 2 (28 oz) cans of tomatoes. Add a pinch each of fresh dill and oregano. Stir in 6 c. of vegetable (or chicken) stock and bring almost to a boil. Add 3 Tbsp honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat to simmer. Add a small handful of fresh basil, diced and ¾ c. cream (or coconut cream).

Today is Ithaca’s release day. Let’s all celebrate by raising a soup spoon! Or by reading the book.