Another weekend of get-up-and-get-goin' (that makes for 5 weekends in a row) has left me feeling a little on the ragged side, I really should enforce a bit more self discipline when it comes to winding down, but I'm a sucker for invites and it seems when you bake all the time, people really want to invite you places. This past weekend was spent camping in Gettysburg, PA and was chock full of family, round two of Guinness Cake, friends*, ghost tours, Snoqualmie, sour cherry slab pie, a broken ping-pong table used for firewood, mudslides, battlefields and no less than two conversations about kimchi.** A Sunday morning rain set my mood into motion, the quiet ping-ping of raindrops on the camper was soothing at first, but after a few moments it turned into full throttle downpour, sounding more like God was throwing boxes of nails on the roof of the camper than a slight drizzle. And here we are, packed into the itsy-bitsy bunk room like sardines trying to pretend we don't hear the deafening sound and force ourselves back to sleep. No such luck. We munched on bagels and played Taboo before hopping around puddles to pack up all the gear.
It's funny how the rain affects my mood, because there was nothing that could knock me out of my Sabbath day slump. I spent the afternoon in my room, reading and ignoring the clock, content to sit there and pout over nothing. I even made my umpteenth loaf of banana bread to try and break the self-induced silence, but it remained the same, stubborn girl I am. I did learn that I quite enjoy classical music on such afternoons, Debussy in the background on a Sunday afternoon does wonders for the soul. I was just settling back into my habitat, content to wish the day away, when it happened. The soup I can't stop thinking about. A pureed slurry of butternut squash, pears, and apple cider infused with vanilla bean cream. I came across the recipe reading Molly Wizenberg's book and marked the page with the intent to make it, but it continued to pop up in my head, as unmade recipes frequently do. It happened like a frenzy: one minute I'm lying on my oversized bed with my eyes half closed, the next I'm frantically scribbling down an ingredient list and I've got my arm in my purse up to my elbow trying to find my car keys. This sort of thing happens more frequently than I'd like to admit.
At first, it really does sound like more of a dessert than a savory soup, but it really is a teetering balance between sweet and savory, the sort that insists you take another spoonful to concentrate more intently on the flavors. I didn't get started on it until everyone else had already jumped into their pajamas, but I'm always content to work alone in the kitchen. I split the squash in two, inhaling the raw autumn smell that made me wish the leaves would change sooner than they ought to. The squash is sauteed with sweet onion and juicy pears until the pears are just tender before dousing the veggies with apple cider and simmering away until the squash threatens to fall apart. Then you blitz away in the food processor until it becomes a velvety-smooth blend of happiness, silky and pumpkin colored, before whisking in cream flecked with vanilla seeds.
When it was ready, I sat Indian-style on the countertops of my quiet kitchen while everyone else was snuggled under their blankets, bowl in hand. It was better than I'd imagined, it was rich and creamy but complicated, it took an extra moment or two to make sense of the flavors. I'd never thought to use vanilla bean in anything savory, but it works. I swallowed it in great big spoonfuls, letting the spoon clink against the side of the bowl and forgot about trying to break my mood. It occurred to me how entirely satisfied I was to be in a quiet sort of mood and felt silly for trying to break it. I needed the down time, and it was delicious.
Butternut Soup with Cider, Pears and Vanilla Bean
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life
3 tablespoons olive oil
One 2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 firm-ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsley chopped
1 cup apple cider
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of light cream
1 vanilla bean
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium low heat before adding the squash, pears and onions. Cook until the onions are translucent and pears are beginning to fall apart, about 15 minutes. Add the apple cider and bring to a boil before adding the broth. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
When the squash is soft to the touch, blitz the mixture in a food processor until very smooth. It's best to work in small batches - hot liquids expand. Return the puree to the pot and simmer on low heat until it is reduced in volume by about half. You can cook it longer if you like it really thick, it's completely up to you.
While the soup is thickening, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scraping out the seeds with the back of your knife. Put the pod, the seeds and the cream into a small saucepot and heat until it just begins to steam, don't allow it to boil. It's best to do this when the soup is nearly ready, if you allow the cream to cool too long it will get that weird dairy skin on the top of it, snatching up your precious vanilla seeds. Remove the pod from the cream and whisk it into the soup, it should turn a lovely pale orange color.
It's even better the second or third day, particularly if you eat it in a quiet kitchen by yourself.
* My Mom's two best friends are identical twins, they've been chummy since high school so when the entire group gets together, it's best to just sit back and watch.
** Garrett, who if you haven't met yet you simply must because he jumps off buildings and isn't afraid to sing karaoke, is going to Korea in a couple of weeks to teach English and it didn't take me 4.5 seconds to blurt out, "Hey! Do you like kimchi?"