Easy Pumpkin Soup

I’m sort of in a rage right now*. It might be that I’ve had three bourbons tonight, or it might be that just a few minutes ago, on my phone, a notification popped up informing me that Donald Trump intends to do away with the tax subsidies that have allowed tens of thousands of Americans to purchase their own health insurance at an affordable price.

I dunno, maybe it’s a combination of the two.

I wrote a post yesterday about this pumpkin soup that I’ve been making for years. It’s easy, it’s comforting, it’s delicious. Recently I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to post more recipes on School of Home because food is a big part of my identity, and a huge part of what Harper and I are trying to convey here on this website. Food is home, and home can often be found in food.

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Well. Fuck that. (Not the food-is-home sentiment, but rather the original folksy post about the soup.)

I want to share my recipe for Easy Pumpkin Soup, I really do. I also want health insurance. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive, yet somehow it seems utterly cruel and inhuman that I would even have to utter that last part.

As a condition of many of the jobs I have worked over the past decade I have gone without health insurance. I once broke my pinky finger during a game at a gay kickball league (one of the gayest injuries any person can ever sustain) and went to the hospital, sans insurance, to deal with it. After seeing the bills I wish I had just re-set the finger myself or cut the damn thing off.

Imagine if that had been my wrist. My leg. A heart attack. Cancer.

The Affordable Care Act meant that for the first time in my adult life I could actually afford to purchase health insurance without a major financial sacrifice. I’m not talking about sacrificing cable TV or buying video games. I’m talking about deciding whether I could afford car insurance so that I could drive myself to work or whether I should spend that money on health insurance. Pay my student loans or pay for health insurance? Pay rent or pay for health insurance?

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I sit here today in admittedly a much more fortunate position, however still dependent on the ACA for my health insurance. All but one health insurance company has dropped out of the North Carolina market recently. By my own research (seriously, I called up a Healthcare.gov representative the other day), re-enrollment in the most basic of health plans this fall was going to mean a premium increase in the HUNDREDS of dollars each month.

And that was with the subsidy.

Without the subsidy it is within the realm of possibility that my out-of-pocket health insurance costs would have increased by more than septuple what I had been paying. Even before Trump’s announcement that he would end subsidies I was looking at a premium jump of over 750%. My out-of-pocket insurance costs would have gone from just shy of $1200 a year to closing in on $10,000 a year.

WITH SUBSIDIES.

Now I’m not saying that the Affordable Care Act is perfect. I’m not saying that its the right answer to our health care issues.

I’m also certainly not saying any criticisms I have warrant its dismantling.

What I am saying is that what Donald Trump and his misfit band of heartless cronies are doing right now is cruel.

They are dangling the very lives of the most vulnerable amongst us in the air while they enrich the pockets of their peers.

They are hell-bent on carrying out a political vendetta at the expense of the American citizens they pretend to represent.

So I sit here tonight with my bourbon and my rage and the assumption that rather than re-enrolling in a health plan, however imperfect, next month, I will most likely be once again joining the ranks of the uninsured.

Self-medicating when I feel a flu coming on. Ignoring chronic pain or persistent dental problems. Crossing my fingers that I don’t get in a catastrophic accident, and knowing that when and if that does happen, the only way out of that debt will be bankruptcy.

At least I have soup. Soup is easy, and comforting, and will never hurt you (unless you spill a pot of scalding hot broth on yourself, hope you have insurance).

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So here’s a recipe for Easy Pumpkin Soup. I meant to present it to you with all the joy and excitement I feel each fall as the weather turns colder and I can start pulling out my sweaters, but Donald ruined all that, as he and the fascist asshats that surround him have ruined many days this past year.

All I can give you today is anger, frustration, and a soup recipe.

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This truly is Easy Pumpkin Soup - the whole thing comes together in under 30 minutes and can be endlessly modified. Toss in some spices if you wish - cinnamon and cloves if you want to take it in a more pumpkin pie direction, curry powder and paprika if you're looking to get interesting. 

The simplicity of this recipe can also be its downfall. Because there are so few ingredients, quality is paramount: 

Use real maple syrup, not pancake syrup; Aunt Jemima has a place and time, and it is not here.

Homemade vegetable or chicken stock will go miles in this recipe.

Make sure you have pumpkin puree,  not pumpkin pie filling.

Lastly, if you can get your hands on pumpkinseed oil please do - not only does it add an extra depth of flavor to this soup, but its also amazing in salads or drizzled over cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 - 32 oz can pumpkin puree (or two 15 oz. cans)

  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

  • 1 quart vegetable or chicken stock

  • 1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter

  • Pumpkinseed oil

  • ½ cup sour cream

  • 1 Tbsp minced chives

  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 crushed garlic cloves. Saute, stirring frequently, for about 4-5 minutes or until the garlic has just barely begun to brown.

  2. Add the can of pumpkin puree and cooking, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes or until the puree starts to slightly deepen in color.

  3. Add the stock and half-and-half or cream and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

  4. Once the soup has reached a simmer stir in the tablespoon of pure maple syrup along with a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile mix together the ½ cup sour cream and the tablespoon of minced chives in a small bowl.

  6. After 15 minutes remove the pot from the heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Taste and adjust seasonings.

  7. Serve the soup warm with a dollop of the chive sour cream and a few drizzles of pumpkinseed oil. Some crusty bread for dipping would make a nice accompaniment as well.

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*I started this essay at 11:35 pm, Thursday October 13, 2017, approximately 15 minutes after I first heard of the new policy change. It was finished by 12:30 am, Friday October 14 2017.

Zagreb, My Heart

For years I've insisted, often and emphatically, that New York City is the best city on the planet. Sure Chicago and London have their charms, Paris and LA are, well, Paris and LA. Sydney, Rio, Berlin, Mexico City, Tokyo - arguments could be made for these or any one of the dozens of great cities across the globe. For me, though, New York City has been the center of the universe.

Lately, however, my center has been shifting eastward a bit. Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is slowly chipping away at New York's pedestal in my heart.

Dolac Market with Zagreb's iconic Cathedral in the background.

Dolac Market with Zagreb's iconic Cathedral in the background.

A recent article in TimeOut has put me in a nostalgic mood, thinking about all the things that make me miss Zagreb. The city is compact - almost everything worth seeing or doing is within walking distance or a short tram ride. The markets are bustling and full of local seasonal produce, meats, cheeses and more year-round. The restaurant scene is exploding with new cuisines and exciting chefs, and for an American an incredible dining experience can be had for a fraction of what you'd pay in a major US city. There is art, both traditional and weird (hello Museum of Broken Relationships). Zagreb's Christmas market has been named Best in Europe two years running, and it's hard to find a weekend without some sort of festival happening.

Hello pop-up wine shop at Food & Film Festival Zagreb!

Hello pop-up wine shop at Food & Film Festival Zagreb!

And there are the people. Actual Croatians enjoying everything the city has to offer. I've been to other major European cities where at times I feel that tourists outnumber the locals; not Zagreb. Zagreb is a city that is quickly becoming an international destination while at the same time somehow flying under the radar. It's avoided becoming a Disney-fied version of itself unlike, say, Florence or Dubrovnik or even Paris. 

Zagreb Art Pavilion

Zagreb Art Pavilion

Harper and I are getting ready to head back to Croatia over Thanksgiving for some meetings, a wine show, and some research for Croatia Itineraries. As we prepare for that trip, I'll be rolling out a series of short articles here on the blog covering some of the things that we love most about Zagreb - the food, the sights, the culture, and of course, the people. 

Zagreb Pride March, June 2017

Zagreb Pride March, June 2017

Stay tuned, and if you've ever visited Zagreb, let us know some of your favorite things to do, eat, and see!

When In Doubt, Run

I hated running when I was younger. Like, hated. Spinach, mayonnaise, naps, cleaning my room, and running. Oddly enough, all things I love now. (Ok, I could be better about cleaning my room.)

Running seems to be a pretty polarizing activity. There aren't very many people who are just "meh", take it or leave it, about running. You either like it or you don't. You're a runner or you aren't. 

I didn't identify as a runner until my late twenties, and it was sort of a revelation. This was the one type of exercise that I actively avoided in my youth (seriously - I used to get my doctor to write me notes to get me out of having to run the annual state-mandated mile). In the midst of the breakdown of an abusive long-term relationship I turned to exercise as an escape and, lo and behold, there was running.

I could run and be completely in my own world for a little while. I could run and not argue. I could run and listen to my own music. I could run and clock my accomplishments, revel in that next mile that was a little bit faster, push myself a little bit further. Going for a run meant I wasn't in the house for an hour or so, and that meant an escape from the tension and walking-on-eggshells and shouting and violence.

Running was freedom, literally and figuratively. 

Soon I started running with my best friend and found myself panting through therapy sessions no money could buy. I began running with a run club at a local brewery and found the fun in communal exercise. I ran early in the morning and discovered that a whole world exists before the morning commute. I ran in the evening and discovered the joy in a slow Southern sunset.

I was running for me, not to escape what was bad but to find what was good. 

I'm not a dedicated runner these days, at least not as dedicated as I used to be. My running comes in fits and spurts, one mile one week and five the next. Four miles in a day and then I conveniently "forget" to run for a week and a half. I'm happy now, I'm more confident in myself and who I am. I'm not looking to exercise as an escape.

Running for me has evolved, its now many things. Its recognizing that my body is aging, and that if I pace myself at a decent 9:00 minute mile I get all the benefit with none of the sore knees. Its showing respect for my health and a commitment to continued physical activity. Its a way for me to understand the many places I travel to - an early morning run in a new city is worth a dozen guided tours. 

Post-run in Trpanj, Croatia.

Post-run in Trpanj, Croatia.

But mostly, now, running is a way for me to reclaim myself. 

I no longer run to escape what was or is bad. I conquered my demons, I made it through, I survived. I now run purely for myself, for my own benefit, and looking back on nearly a decade of darkness, I see that every mile I clock is a small miracle. 

Find your running. Find your escape. Embrace and nurture it and hopefully one day you will find yourself on the other side, and your escape will have become a past time, or better yet, a passion.

When in doubt, run.

(Speaking of which, I will be running in a 10k [~6 miles] race/walk this November in Central Park to benefit one of my favorite charities, Save the Elephants. You can join me by signing up here. Let's run together!) 

Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad

When things get a bit crazy one of my go-to stress relievers, cooking, is often the first casualty. I start eating out more or ordering takeout and the next thing I know its been a good two weeks since I've cooked a real meal. 

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Part of this whole month-long exercise of renewal is, for me, a recommitment to spending time in the kitchen. I am fully aware of the benefits cooking brings; it makes me less stressed, it brings me joy to feed myself and my loved ones, it saves money. I just need to carve out the time, to make cooking a priority.

This recipe is one I've made a few times in the past, but it seemed appropriate to share now that I'm in Hawaii. Fruit, especially the pineapple, reigns supreme on the Hawaiian islands. Within a 30 second walk from my brother's front door I can pick lemons, limes, or avocados. It's no wonder then that fruit plays a huge role in Hawaiian cuisine. This salad, while originally based on one from the Caribbean, would be just as at home here on Kauai as it would on a dinner table in Barbados.

So if you're feeling a bit out-of-sorts and cooking is one of your stress-relievers, like me, take a few minutes to brighten your day with this tropical salad. Bonus points if you can enjoy it overlooking the beach, but at the very least turn on some reggae and transport your kitchen to the islands.

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Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad

 (adapted from Maricel Presilla's "Gran Cocina Latina")

Prep time:  30 mins

Total time:  30 mins

Serves: 4-6

This traditional Cuban salad hits all the right notes. While the different parts of the salad can be prepped ahead of time, don't assemble the salad until right before serving to keep the watercress from wilting. Watercress can usually be found in most supermarkets these days, but feel free to substitute baby spinach or even mixed greens if you like. (Some sautéed or grilled shrimp added to this right at the end would turn this salad into a full meal.) 

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches watercress, thoroughly rinsed and dried
  • 2 Haas avocados
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3 cups pineapple, in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ⅛ tsp ground cumin
  • salt and black pepper

Instructions

  1. Turn your oven broiler to high and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Toss the pineapple with 1 Tbsp sugar and spread on a baking sheet. Broil until browned and caramelized, tossing a few times, 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on it! Remove and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. Chop off the thick stems of the watercress and discard. Rinse it to remove any dirt, then put the watercress in a large serving bowl.
  3. Peel, quarter, and thinly slice the red onion. Add the to watercress.
  4. Halve the avocados. Remove the pits and cut them in a cross-hatch pattern (to create small cubes). Using a spoon or knife gently dislodge the avocado pieces into a small bowl. Toss with 1 Tbsp. of the lime juice and set aside.
  5. Finely chop the garlic. In a small bowl whisk together the chopped garlic, olive oil, remaining 2 Tbsp. of lime juice, and cumin. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  6. Assemble the salad just before serving. Top the watercress and onions with the pineapple and avocado. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss.
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