{{ right now }}

Amazed by and sort of angry with Mother Nature. Hail in March, come on.
Loving that my boy likes books and biscotti in the morning as much as mama.
Anticipating the arrival of a niece and wishing I could be physically present for every moment because I already love her, and her mama...so much.
Admiring my husband's enthusiasm for seeds, plants, and all things growing. Spring is starting, at least in our basement.
Astonishedby how scribbles have turned into letters drawn in crayon by my girl.
Finding it comical that my home is "decorated" in crafts. But, sort of loving it.
Disturbed that trusty pairs of shoes that have run with my boy and danced with my girl are now in the give away pile. But, I can't seem to actually give them away.

I've had a pleasant discovery. The more I photograph, the more I am able to appreciate things in my life that might have otherwise gone over looked, or been forgotten. Creating a pretty picture out of a moment, somehow makes it official. It's not that I will always remember that moment, because some of my pictures are of a messy drawer or dirty shoes. But, the camera helps me find beauty in my everyday. I can appreciate the dirty shoes for what they gave to my family, how well they were used, and the wobbly steps they helped the kids make.

Sometimes, I look around my house and want everything to be replaced, recovered, torn down, taken away, or redone. But, through the lens, I can soak up my surroundings and make something that might not be ideal, into something (that I think is) beautiful. So often I turn to the internet, browse my favorite shops, and flip through magazines to find pretty pictures. I'm trying to refocus that energy on finding coolness within OUR doors. And, I'm finding alot of it. I should have picked up one of these things a long time ago.

Anyway, I'll sporadically be doing {{right now}} posts, showing you some of those things I am appreciating. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to do the same. Feel free to leave your link if you have some lens love {{right now}}.

Dinner @ 226 - Lentil Sloppy Joe's

Okay, so I definitely didn't think I'd be posting this recipe. I made these last week after flipping past them in a slow-cooker book I was pressured into buying. I was working a full-time job and was on the hunt for easy ways to put homemade dinner on the table without stressing. So, off to the bookstore we went. It was a family trip and I made a beeline to the cookbooks without even stopping at the home decor magazines or bestsellers, which is a feat. It wasn't three minutes later when our then two year old pooped in her recently potty-trained pants. We had to leave. I had to pick a book, so I did. I'm convinced that I chose the lamest of the lamer slow-cooker books in the bunch as I have not made anything from it since its impulsive induction into my well-loved and always-growing family of cookbooks. Yeah, it's a family. We're tight.

They're like loving mothers who don't correct your grammar at every given opportunity.

Or like quiet sisters who don't criticize the way you answer your phone. I love them.

I know, I have an addiction that can't be helped. I secretly wish for one as a gift for each passing holiday, I read them like novels at bedtime, and my Amazon wish list is frighteningly long. Like, so long, that if I lived to be 110, I don't think I will be able to purchase all the ones I want. They're just so beautiful and glossy. Okay, I'm officially crazy.

I sort of resent the lame slow cooker book for taking up space on my cookbook shelf when I don't even have room to house the ones I do love. They end up overflowing onto counters, phonebook cabinets, and dining room floors and shelves. And then, meat loving husband gets annoyed with obvious cookbook addiction and threatens to throw them away. At which point, I throw a tantrum. Obviously. When I flipped to these Lentil Sloppy Joes, I thought it would be entertaining to tell Jason we were having sloppy joes. Comfort food, a pot of savory goodness wrought with ground meat and a dark brown tomato sauce. My meat eater would start salivating, only to find out he was sinking his carnivorous teeth into lentils, instead of ground beef. Yes, I am cruel and I like to see him suffer.

But, unbelievably, he wiped the savory sauce off his chin and smiled, hungrily going in for another bite. What? He liked them? Wait, this is no fun. There was supposed to be evil eyes, and complaining of a legume obsessed spouse and how he was already feeling lightheaded due to lack of protein. And I was going to smirk, knowing how I had mislead the poor lad. Now, I get to play the part of a thoughtful housewife instead of deceitful trickster. I do not like this role. But, I do like these sloppy joes. So did the kids. So did the man. Make them. Now.

Lentil Sloppy Joes

I served these on fluffy little whole wheat buns with my favorite cabbage slaw and a green salad. The picture above is of lunch the next day when I served them on whole wheat pitas with a little Slaw and Joe tucked inside. Both ways were totally Nummy.

1 T vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 t dried oregano leaves
1/2 t coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup tomato ketchup (I use Trader Joe's Organic Ketchup because it tastes
amazing and because it does not have high fructose
corn syrup in it)
1/4 cup water
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T brown sugar
1 T Dijon mustard
2 cups cooked lentils (You can use canned lentils, but they're sort of soggy
for me,especially when they're going to spend an extensive amount
of time in a slow cooker. I just cooked up some dried ones and kept the rest
in my fridge for salads and such during the week.)

Heat oil in a large pan. Add onion and celery and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring for one minute. Stir in ketchup, water, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and mustard. Let the flavors mix up for a few minutes. Transfer mixture to your slow cooker.

Add lentils and stir well. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 3 hours, until hot and bubbly. Serve with hot buns and hot sauce, for those who want it. Add a big green salad and some crunchy slaw if you're looking to balance things out a bit.

Note: I imagine this meal being pretty great when the kids are old enough to have all kinds of activities going on. I could just leave the slow-cooker on the counter on Warm, buns in a warm oven and the salad easily accessible. Although I dread the day when they don't have time to sit down for family dinner, and I will resist as long as possible...it is inevitable. They can just run through the kitchen, grab a plate and load up.

...and rock on with your Vegetarian Self.


Dinner (not really) @ 226 - Sick Kid Diet Part 2: The Recipes

Vita C Salad

1 Pineapple peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
4 Mangoes peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
Juice and zest from 2 oranges
Juice from 1 grapefruit
Juice from 1 lime
1 Tablespoon raw honey

Mix chunks of fruit and pomegranate seeds together. Whisk together orange zest, juice from oranges, grapefruit, lime and honey. Pour over the fruit and mix.

I usually leave this out on the living room coffee table while we're watching a movie, or reading, or resting. You can't get a sick kid to eat a WHOLE lot, but they do mindlessly pick at foods that are left VERY accessible. If your kids are old enough to use them as something other than eye daggers, set out some toothpicks too. It makes it more fun, like a little kid cocktail hour. And fun is appealing.


Sick Girl Smoothie
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen pineapple
1 cup frozen mangoes
1 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 of 1 avocado
Juice from 4 oranges
Honey (optional, depending on how sweet your frozen fruit is)

Blend well. It is great to get the calories and healthy fat of the avocado into your sick child, as they probably haven't eaten much of anything else. Also, it gives your smoothie a super creamy, thick texture.


Hungry Monkey Smoothie (not necessarily a sick kid smoothie, but one of our favorites, nonetheless)

1/2 cup ice
3 bananas, chopped
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
1 Tablespoon honey

Blend well.


Sick Boy Smoothie

1 Cup frozen Blueberries
1 Cup frozen Rasberries
1 Cup frozen Strawberries
1 banana, chopped
Juice of 2 oranges

Blend well.


Our Green Smoothie

6 leaves Lacinato Kale, torn
1/2 cup frozen mango
2 sweet apples, cored and cut into chunks
1 banana, chopped
1/2 cup organic, pure Apple Juice
Juice from 2 oranges

Blend well.


A note about smoothies: depending on the sweetness, ripeness, juiciness of the different fruits and vegetables used, the recipes can change. Put in honey, if you don't think it's sweet enough. Add more fresh orange juice, if it needs more juiciness. Feel free to adapt the recipes to fit your family and the fruit they love.

Whip out those blenders, people. And fill those little loves full of fruity goodness. And, take them to the park!!


Beach People

I don't think we can keep living this sham of a life as Ohioans. We are clearly beach people, at least two of us are.


Dinner (not really) @ 226 - Sick Kid Diet

I really try to stay away from the doctor. I realize this might be controversial to say, but I don't totally trust the health care industry with the wellness of my family. It's certainly not the doctors themselves, I'm sure they got into the field with the best of intentions. It's the money that fuels the industry, with all its tom-foolery, out right deception, and greediness, that I don't trust. I also don't like medicine for my babes, at all.

Of course we visited the doctor when Reed fell into an uncovered register vent and slit her shin open to a tune of seventeen stitches. It was a positive experience because our pediatrician could be the most helpful man, ever. We also went when Beckett was five months old and we were convinced that he had Sleep Apnea, because he would wake himself in the middle of the night with an inability to breath. The "professionals" found nothing wrong in the test results. It was not such a positive experience. Because the symptoms continued into his tenth month. On the bright(er), the test tech geeks did get to see my engorged boobs every few hours, for 12 hours, as I was still nursing. It was a joy, really.

We have made quite a routine of treating the symptoms of an encroaching cold, naturally. So much so, that I went on a small tirade and threw away all the over-the-counter junk that Parents magazines said were necessities in the medicine cabinet. That happened a few years ago and the cabinet remains void of any child specific grape flavored goo and the such. I really do believe our bodies can do it themselves, if we feed them properly. I've done a little bit of research, read a few books, and articles, seen a couple of documentaries regarding natural healing, and am hoping to learn much more in the future. This, however, does not make me an expert. But, neither of my children have been to the doctor for sickness in the past two and a half years. A pretty good record for weathering the erratic Ohio winters, as baby-toddlers.

As I was sitting with a group of friends the other day, two sisters jovially mocked their father for giving them a book for Christmas regarding the natural healing process. When I said, "I don't give my kids medicines.", the record sort of stopped and the there were a few crickets. Then she asked me, "Well, what do you give them?" and like the charismatic, persuasive person that I am, I froze. And didn't give her much of an answer at all. I think it sounded like I was the maniacal, rough and ready, tough it out you pansies, I don't give a stink if you're feverish, suck it up type mom. If there is that type of mom out there, I hope to never meet her. I am not that mom, for reals.

So, I thought I would share with you some treatment tips that we use when we see a stuffy nose or hear the first cough. I will avoid any obvious tips like, wash hands regularly because I am confident that the mothers that are reading this are not idiots. Although, if you want to see signs like that, visit your local doctors office. These tips will mostly be about nutrition, or what you put into your body, naturally. I am not speaking, errr typing authoritatively, I am just telling you what has worked for us, in an effort to help YOU!

*Take immediate action. Upon the first signs of a creeping sickness, I go into mega-healing mode, attempting to treat the sickness before it ever really becomes one. Most of the time, I am successful. Pay attention to your child's behavior and note any sluggishness, stuffiness, unusual coughs, or overall fussiness.
*Remove dairy and other greasy forms of fat. If the child is stuffy, and has Post Nasal Drip and drainage, dairy and greasy foods can often cause an upset stomach, and even pukies, which is no fun. Plus, dairy offers no nutritional benefits known to help the common cold. (think: no pizza, steak, macaroni and cheese, etc.)
*Look to clear liquids. You want to prevent dehydration and maximize the digestion of the healing fruits and vegetables. We stick to water and decaffeinated tea. If they want something warm, I recommend low sodium vegetable broth, homemade or store bought.
*Stay away from sugar. My mom used to make me hot Tang or Sprite for my "clear liquid." Though they both taste like my childhood, they have a decent amount of sugar and a laundry list of artificial ingredients. We try to stay away from sugar for the duration of the sickness.
*Push honey. I realize this sort of contradicts the last tip, but honey has so many healing benefits, you should really take advantage of it. We add a huge tablespoon to the kids' teas and they even get a spoonful before going to bed because it is the best known natural cough suppressant.
*Stay away from the popular sick foods. I know, as a good mama, we often look to our past to find the answers to current kid problems. But, times have changed, and canned Chicken Noodle Soup has no nutritional benefits. Moreover, the sodium content is nearly incomprehensible, which will actually serve to dehydrate your child. Again, stick to low sodium vegetable broth, homemade or store bought.
*Think RAW. One of the best ways to get the maximum nutritional benefits from your produce is to eat them raw. If it is appealing to the sick child, salad, apples, oranges, bananas, grapefruit, dark greens are all good ways to pack in the nutrients. I make a "Vita C Salad" for my sick family. And I will write-up the recipe in tomorrow's post.

*Push those smoothies. One of the easiest ways to sell raw food to a sick child, is via SMOOTHIE! Okay, they're not the Popsicles that soothed soar throats of yorn, that are artificially flavored and colored and full of sugar. But, believe me, your kids will (and probably already do) suck them down. If you use frozen fruits, they're super easy for mama to whip up in the morning and serve many times throughout the day. Depending on the produce, you can incorporate an awesome amount of vitamins, fiber, and other cold-fighting nutrients. I will include some of my favorites in tomorrow's post. Just remember, to stay away from the dairy when making these cold-combating treats. That creaminess can be achieved through banana and avocado, both of which have major health benefits. On a side note, Trader Joe's sells frozen mango puree (pictured below) in packets of four. They're under two dollars, with one ingredient: mango, which is bursting with Vitamin C. So, I always have one in the freezer for when I'm not motivated to make smoothies, or just want to add to the smoothie. I just pull out however many I need, let them rest on the counter for about twenty to thirty minutes, cut the top and let the kids squirt them into their mouths. I mean, even sick kids should be able to have a little fun. Right?

Sick today...

Pottery Barn Euro Sham-Cape-Wearing-Lamp Shade-Crown-Wearing-Super-Heroes-Tomorrow!*

*I say that like you would want this sort of silliness happening at your house.

Stay healthy, lovelies!


Dinner @ 226 - Chickpea Soup

I stopped eating meat around holiday time. I suppose this is when all (12!) the readers that were hoping for a stuffed pork chop take this blog off their reader. My husband still eats meats, but is one of the most adaptable eaters in the universe. I haven't quite figured out what to do with the children, yet. Right now, they eat what I cook, which are vegetarian menus. However, when the man takes the tongs and mama's at work for dinnertime, the kids usually eat an animal protein. For right now, I suppose they can get the best of both worlds and choose for themselves when they want that choice.

Being a vegetarian has been easy, really. A fairly natural transition. For protein, I generally turn to beans, and it seems I always have. In high school, my best friend and I were thoroughly devoted to Taco Bell's Pintos 'n' Cheese. Yes, there was a time in my life that I ate fast food...don't tell my kids. We would drift through the drive-thru in my '91 Lumina and, depending on the time of day, place a large order. If it was edging closer to 3a.m., it would be an even larger order. But no the matter, it always involved Pintos 'n' Cheese and there was no sharing them. We squirted the little bell clad packets of hot sauce on the top and slurped them up with our sporks. It was a very ladylike sight, indeed.

When my mom left my sister and I to our own devices, while in high school, we would come for lunch and many times turn to the same gourmet plate. We'd get out two cans of vegetarian beans in tomato sauce, carve open the tops and pour them into bowls and let them dance in the microwave for a few minutes. Pull them out and scarf them down in under fourty-three minutes - the time we were allowed for lunch before we had to return to school. Dessert was a few crunchy saltines on the walk back to school.

So, really, I could eat beans all week long and I've cooked them in almost every way. I usually cook a bag of dried beans in the slow cooker at the beginning of the week and they work themselves into our meals all week long. In tacos, on quesadillas, mixed in salads, thrown in soups, and spooned into curries. So, when I visited one of my favorite cooking blogs a few days ago and she had made a soup that I had never heard of and I had just cooked some chickpeas, it was so on. Obviously.

I had to make some minor changes to the recipe because the original involves jamon or Spanish ham. Often times, that sort of smoky savory flavor can be duplicated by using Smoked Spanish Paprika. So, after a few adaptations, this is the recipe I ended up with. And, both kids ate three bowls. Do I really need to keep typing?

Chickpea Soup with Crispy Croutons via wednesdaychef.typepad.com

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, plus 1 Tablespoon, divided
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 quarts water
Pinch of cayenne
Salt freshly ground pepper
1/4 smoked Spanish paprika
1 bay leaf
8 oz Soy Chorizo (available at Trader Joe's)
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 1/2 cup bread cubes (I cube and freeze stale baguettes, they make great croutons)
1/4 smoked Spanish paprika

Get out your soup pot and warm 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Throw in the carrots, onion, and garlic and let them get soft, about 5 minutes. Add the potato and push it around in the pan for about one minute. Add chickpeas, tomato sauce and water. Season with cayenne, salt, pepper, paprika, and bay leaf. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Pull the bay leaf out and discard.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender and return to soup pot.

While the soup simmers, make the croutons. Warm one tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic and chorizo and brown, about 5 minutes. Pull out the chorizo, and add the bread cubes, sprinkle them with paprika and turn them over for about 10 minutes. You want the bread to be crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and covered with the smoky flavor. Stir the chorizo into the browned croutons.

Serve soup hot and spoon the chorizo and crouton mixture over top. I served this bowl of deliciousness with roasted cauliflower and a big citrusy salad, with green olives.

finger licking...



We Hold Hands

It's a big world out there, Reedy. Thank you for holding my hand. Can we keep pretending I reach for it because I'm protecting you from passing cars?

Love, Mama

Lovelies, I hope your weeks are filled with lots of awesomeness.

Dinner @ 226 - Spicy Eggplant and Tomato "Sauce"

I cook every night. No, people, I'm not bragging. I am telling you that I am an absolute wealth of failed and ridiculously awesome recipes. There are hundreds, most of which I have photographed with intent to post. Yes, maybe months have passed since we gave our thumbs up but that is in no way a reflection of how good the recipe is. Believe me, if Jason, the boy, the girl and I liked it enough to break out the old Nikon, realize that it is out of batteries, locate the charger which has been found anywhere from the Cat Bed to the compost bucket, charge the battery while we eat our first few bites, return to the charger only to discover it was plugged in to an outlet that doesn't work, change the outlet, force everyone to stop eating by having a mid-dinner dance party, return to the charger yet again, insert battery, and finally, take pictures while my poor family begs me for "just one more bite"...we liked it. And you deserve to know about it.

I love eggplant, it's true. I love it in Indian food, on pizzas, marinated and grilled, in pasta, as a spread or sauce. Unfortunately, eggplant season ended almost six months ago and we are still three months away from seeing any in our gardens or at the market. I try to buy seasonal produce, but sometimes I see something that I have to have and all rules are thrown out the 1992 Volvo window, as the item rides home with me. This time, it was eggplant. They were shiny and dark purple, and flawless. Wrinkle-less eggplant in February? Yes please. The stems were even green. How these perfect aubergines (as the British call them) make it all the way from California to Ohio with green stems, I do not know. But, I'm glad they made the trip.

I bought them because I had seen a tomato and eggplant pasta sauce on Lidia's Italy, a fantastic PBS cooking show. As I searched the interwebs for the recipe, I stumbled upon this one and took a new direction. Oh, and this direction was good. Like, way good.

No, i'm not an eggplant. But, i have/had cute hair.

The sauce recipe I was after was a pureed sauce, which still sounds delightful. But, the texture of this sauce was so appealing. It was almost meaty with big chunks of firm eggplant and nuggets of savory olive. I suppose the only thing about catching up on all these dishes that remain in my photo folder, is that I want to make it again. Tonight.

Spicy Eggplant Tomato Sauce via LunaCafe.com

I served it with a huge green salad, with a lemon garlic vinaigrette and some soft polenta. This is my standby recipe to create decadent, creamy polenta; which everyone in this family loves.

Though, I didn't try it, I'm certain that this sauce would freeze well.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (as always, adjust to taste)

20 Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
20 green olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked to soften, chopped*
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 big eggplant, or 2 smalled ones, stemmed and diced (I did 1/2 inch chunks)
2 bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced (I prefer red, yellow or orange)

1 28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes, crushed through your fingers as you add them to the pot**(same process as this recipe)
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped or torn
1 tablespoon fresh basil, torn

fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.In a large skillet, heat the oil.
2.Add, and then slowly sauté the onions with the dried basil, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper until softened but not brown, about 20 minutes.
3.Stir in the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic, and sauté for a few minutes more to meld the flavors.
4.Add bell peppers and eggplant, and stir to coat with oil. Sauté briefly, about 2 minutes.
5.Add tomatoes, red wine, vegetable broth, and tomato paste. Simmer very slowly for about 40-60 minutes, adding a little more stock if the sauce becomes too thick.
6.Add fresh oregano and basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
7.Serve hot over creamy polenta and topped with Parmesan cheese.
Makes 2 quarts sauce.

*I left out the sundried tomatoes, simply because we didn't have any and though delicious, they were not missed.
**In the summer, this recipe would be fantastic with (about 2 pounds, peeled, seeded and chopped) fresh tomatoes. Until then, canned, eh.


Professional Family Videos

Would you guys like to do something like this with your family? I sort of love the idea, but maybe it's just because the family (and house) are so stinking cute. It really is edited beautifully...and wouldn't it be neat to watch and hear their laughs and see their silliness when they're 33. It's sort of like having a professional direct your home videos. Sort of weird, sort of cool.

The Nichols Family! from SarahQ on Vimeo.

I'm on the fence, what do you think?


Twos and Threes

This is what TWO looks like:

This is what THREE looks like:

Do you think I'm a terrible mom, taking photographs of my children in the midst of a clearly emotional time in their lives? I will calm your nerves. Beckett broke down because I took away a container of pretzels, of which he had already consumed thirty seven. Reed was dramatically expressing her dismay about her non-attentive mother picking out socks that... DID NOT MATCH. Oh, the injustice. Here's to four and five...

Dinner @ 226 - Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash

We had quite a soiree for the Super Bowl this year. Actually, it was four adults and three children, one of whom isn't eating solids yet. But, two of the four adults love entertaining, menu-planning, and most of all preparing delicious meals. It becomes a problem when we get together. For this year's Super Bowl evening, our culinary ideas overfloweth and neither of us wanted to compromise. This is what resulted.

Steamed Mussels with White Wine and Fennel
Buffalo Chicken Wings & Naked Chicken Wings
Rubbed Smoked Ribs with Tangy Barbecue Sauce
Cabbage Slaw with lots of goodness
Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash
Brown Butter Cocoa Brownies with Walnuts

FOUR adults, people. It was obscene, but everything was outstanding. It was one of those great evenings where everyone contributes something. No one gets stressed. No one cares when dinner gets to the table. There was little planning and absolutely no structure. There are casual conversations happening all over the house, and even outside, by the smoker. We sat as an alert audience to impromptu dance parties. We had happy (and hungry) babies, plenty of cold beers, and oh yeah, a football game.

The best part? The food was marvelous. Beckett ate his weight in mussels, which shocked everyone. The little man, though a big eater, has an unpredictable palate. He eats buckets of brussel sprouts, but turns his piggy nose up at toast that has burnt edges. Unpredictable, I tell you. But he owned the mussels on this particular evening. Picking the shell fish out of the savory broth, slurping out the meat and tossing the shells into the trash bowl. It was an odd scene to see a two year old be that fanatical. But, I loved every moment.

The adults got their hands on a few mussels, very few. The meat eaters gnawed on spicy smoked chicken wings while the dinner lazily came out to the table. The ribs had been relaxing in the smoker for eight hours and had a spicy dry rub, topped with a vinegar-based barbecue sauce. They were everything a restaurant could deliver and more. The slaw was crispy, cool, crunchy, and the perfect counterpart to the heat of the ribs. I made a fantastic black bean chili, you know, in case there were still empty bellies in the house.

This soup was silly though. After eating three pounds of various meats, lots of cabbage, and some seafood, and knowing there were brownies that involved brown butter waiting in the kitchen, the soup was sort of overlooked. I mean, everyone tried it, and even finished their bowls. But not with the same enthusiasm had I served it as an entree, with an avocado salad. The other silly thing about this soup is that it was three times more delicious the next day. I knew it was special when I tried it but it became totally irresistible while it cooled and lingered in the fridge overnight. The thick, spiced broth drenched these tender pieces of sweet butternut squash. The quinoa added a texture that I loved, and had never had in my regular black bean soup recipe. All I know is that I cleaned seven soup bowls on Monday night. And for a family of four, that's alot of soup.

Bon Appetit calls this Black Bean Chili, I'd rather think of it as a really special Black Bean Soup. Chili, it is not. But, feel free to call it whatever you want...it'll disappear either way. Also, I apologize for the lackluster photos. But when the food and the company is that lovely, it hardly crosses your mind to stop and take photos. So, the photos are of the leftovers...which weren't leftover for very long. If it is at all possible, make this soup the day before you plan on serving it. It gains so much flavor and balance on the second and third days, which incidentally makes it perfect party food.

Black Bean Soup with Butternut Squash - Bon Appetit Feb. 2011
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 chili powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 pound dried black beans, rinsed
2 chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
Coarse kosher salt
1 2 1/4-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup quick-cooking bulgur*
Sour cream
Coarsely grated hot pepper
Monterey jack cheese
Diced red onion chopped
Fresh cilantro
Pickled jalapeño rings

Ingredient info: Chipotle chiles in adobo can be found at some super markets and at Latin markets. Look for bulgur at super markets and natural foods stores.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and beginning to brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Sprinkle chili powder and coriander over; stir 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice, beans, chipotles, and oregano. Add 10 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (time will vary depending on freshness of beans). Season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. DO AHEAD: Chili can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm chili before continuing.

Stir squash and bulgur into chili. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until squash and bulgur are tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide chili among bowls. Serve with sour cream, cheese, red onion, cilantro, and pickled jalapeño rings.

*I substituted about 1/2 a cup of quinoa for the bulgar, merely because that's what I had in the pantry. It worked beautifully.