cooking

An Unexpected Feast: When Grief Meets Gratitude

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, death, family life, flourishing, food stories, friendship, gifts, grief, kids, soup, Stories | No Comments

We dipped into hearty bowls of butternut squash soup garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley. We passed platters of golden roasted turkey, Nana’s green bean casserole, and homemade crescent rolls. My dear friend added a plate of her family’s special Salvadoran pupusas to the mix, while my famous pumpkin tiramisu chilled in the refrigerator for our grand finale.

What mattered that year was not what we were serving up on our plates but what we were serving up in our hearts. There was a deep gratitude that was almost palpable around the table after the grief journey we had endured as a family.

Just the year before, we had navigated our first holiday without my beloved husband. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer that May and soared to heaven in September, leaving our whole family and community reeling. I never imagined this would be my story. I didn’t ever believe the tasks of a widow-mama would be in my wheelhouse.

That first Thanksgiving we all had to recalibrate for we had lost our leader. I missed him helping me chop the celery for the soup. I missed his booming voice saying the blessing. I missed him entertaining the girls and laughing loud during dessert. His absence loomed large at the table. I had to dig deep to pull up the gratitude then. I had to train myself to name the small gifts – breath in my lungs, three brave daughters, sunsets chasing across the sky, and saving grace.

A year later, the landscape of my heart and our family had changed dramatically.

Just like the abundant food on our table, the blessings were abundant too. My fiancé sat to my right. He started the meal with a blessing-prayer, thanking God for our first meal as a family in the new home we just bought. My youngest girl with the golden hair, like her “Daddy with Jesus,” squeezed the hand of her daddy-to-be. She was bubbling with excitement for the wedding in January where she would be the flower girl.

My dear friend from El Salvador, her two sons, her husband, and his two sisters from India joined our table. They, too, had tasted grief that year as their dad had journeyed through cancer. These were friends who had become like family to us during crisis.

We shared tears and prayers. We drew close together in the gratitude.

After we had emptied the bottles of sparkling cider and most of us were pushing back from the table, there was a kind of hush…

To read the rest of this post, click here and join me at (in)courage.

Italian Wedding Soup: Sharing our souls over a hearty bowl of soup

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, food stories, Recipes, soup | No Comments

These past several weeks have been marked by tragic headlines – hurricanes whipping coastal cities and neighboring islands, floods devastating Texas, forest fires chasing up the state of California, and a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

These natural disasters and national tragedies weigh heavy on my heart. They push those in the eye of the storm into survival mode. First responders are called from all corners. And the rest of us must shoulder deep grief from afar. It’s easy to start processing all our feelings online and neglect face-to-face time with our family and friends.

With all the heaviness, I find myself hungry for more time with my people, and that requires being intentional.

I know I need to pull my girlies and my husband close and tell them I love them.

I know I need to carve out space to grieve together.

I know I need to lean into the loss and sift the feelings of fear that creep in.

That’s why I started thinking about comfort food this morning. Comfort food is something warm I serve up at my table for the purpose of gathering people and sharing our souls. Comfort food takes a while to assemble and cook. The time is important. We can’t offer comfort to one another in a rush either.

Today I’m sharing a recipe for one of our family’s favorite soups: Italian Wedding Soup. This one can feed a crowd. We serve it up in both the grief and the joy. The marriage of hearty vegetables and meatballs nourish the stomach and the soul well.

I’ve discovered that when I invite my kids into the kitchen to help me cook, it affords us time to talk, process, grieve and encourage one another. My Giada loves rolling meatballs, and Meilani is great at measuring ingredients. Zayla is good at stirring the vegetables in the pot. And everyone is good at the tasting part!

I encourage you in these difficult times to gather your people, maybe invite your neighbors and rev up a pot of Italian Wedding Soup.

For soup base:

1 cup onion, diced

1 cup celery, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

1 cup ham or bacon, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

12 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or a dash of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon parsley

1 bay leaf

1 can cannellini (white kidney beans)

2 cups spinach or kale leaves

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

 

For Meatballs:

Approx. 30 small meatballs (You may use already prepared meatballs or mix the following ingredients together and roll your own meatballs.)

1 pound ground chuck

1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon dried basil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together ingredients for meatballs and roll into bite-sized balls.
  3. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake meatballs for approximately 10 minutes so the meatballs will hold their shape in the soup.
  4. Meanwhile, put a large soup pot or Dutch oven on the stove and heat olive oil at medium heat.
  5. Chop onions, carrots, celery and ham and add to pot.
  6. Mince garlic and add to pot.
  7. Stir ingredients and heat until softened.
  8. Add chicken broth, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, parsley and bay leaf.
  9. Simmer 20 minutes over low heat.
  10. Drop meatballs into simmering soup.
  11. Cook approximately 10 more minutes.
  12. Add beans, spinach leaves and Parmesan cheese. Keep heat on low and cook 5 more minutes.

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Haitian stuffed chayote squash: It ain’t easy being cheesy

Posted by | community, cooking, creativity, culture, Haiti, Main Dish, Recipes, side dish, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to hang out in the kitchen with the native cooks. On my recent trip to Haiti, I did just that and learned a new recipe for Militon Faci.

Madame Adeline, a new cook on staff at the guest house where we stay, attended culinary school in Port Au Prince. I’ve long had a love affair with Haitian food. Although I’ve tasted and prepared lots of the Haitian dishes, Madame Adeline introduced me to some dishes I’ve never had before. She was delighted to teach my daughter, Giada, and me the recipe for Militon Faci or Stuffed Chayote Squash using some French cooking techniques.


Chayote belongs to the gourd family, along with melons, cucumbers and squash. Chayote is known around the world by other names including christophine cho-cho, pipinola, pear squash, vegetable pear, or choko. I’ve tasted chayote in Mexican salads and prepared Haitian-style cut in strips and sautéed in a tomato-garlic sauce.

Militon Faci reminds me of a twice baked potato. The shell of the chayote provides a vessel to hold the cheesy mashed insides. It’s pretty dish with melt-in-your-mouth goodness. We were begging in Haitian Kreyol for more!


What’s your favorite squash dish? What culture does it represent? We want to hear all about it in the comments!


Ingredients:

-5 chayote squash

-1/2 teaspoon salt plus 1/4 teaspoon salt

-1 small onion

-1 small green pepper

-1/2 cup flour

-1 cup milk

-1/4 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons cut into small chunks

-3 sprigs parsley

-1 stalk green onion

-2 drops Tabasco sauce

-1 bouillon cube

-1/4 cup parmesan cheese


Directions:

1. Cut 5 chayote in half. Remove center seed.

2. Boil 10 minutes in salt water (1/2 teaspoon salt).

3. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Remove soft insides of the squash. Mash squash with potato masher.

5. Chop one small onion and small green pepper.

6. Put mashed squash in strainer to drain juice. Discard excess juice.

7. Measure out 1/2 cup flour.

8. Heat pan and add 1 cup milk and 1 cup water. Heat through but do not boil. Set aside in separate bowl.


9. Create a bechemel sauce: Add 1/4 cup butter to pan. Whisk until completely melted.

10. Add chopped onion and green pepper to butter in pan. Sauté.

11. Add flour and whisk together with onions and peppers for 1 minute. Add milk and water to pan.

12. Tie together a small bundle of parsley and 1 stalk green onion to create a Bouquet Garni (pronounced “bo-KAY gar-NEE”). Add to sauce to flavor it.

13. Add 2 drops Tabasco sauce, 1 cube bouillon. Keep whisking.

14. Add 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Let mixture bubble until it thickens. Add small amount of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon).

15. Remove parsley and green onion.

16. Add bechemel sauce to squash and stir together to incorporate.

17. Grease/butter a cookie sheet with sides.

18. Line up squash shells on pan. Fill with bechemel mixture.

19. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

20. Add tiny piece of butter (about 1/2 teaspoon) to the top of each squash.

21. Put tray in oven for 20 minutes to brown tops of squash.

Freedom Soup: Soup Joumou (Haitian Pumpkin Soup)

Posted by | cooking, food stories, kids, Recipes, serve, social justice, soup, world travel | No Comments

My family is flying out to Haiti this evening. We are so excited to see all our friends after two years. I decided to share with you today one of my favorite main dishes they make us in Haiti. It’s called Soup Joumou or Pumpkin Soup. It’s really more like a stew.

Soup Joumou (pronounced joo-moo) is a central part of New Year’s tradition in Haitian homes. The hearty dish commemorates January 1, 1804, the day Haiti was liberated from France. The soup was once served to French slave masters but the slaves who cooked it were forbidden to eat it. After they won their independence, Haitians prepared and ate the soup to celebrate their freedom. Haiti was the world’s first and only slave nation in history that won its own freedom.

In rural Haiti, where I have spent a lot of my time, the soup is prepared on a three-legged circular iron basket filled with charcoal where the pot sits directly on the coals. The most popular type of pumpkin used to make the soup is the kabocha, a squatty and often speckled green pumpkin that boasts orange flesh. Every Haitian has their own version of Soup Joumou, but it usually includes garlic, onions, plantains or sweet potatoes, cabbage, pasta or rice and the pureed pumpkin to thicken the broth. The soup simmers for several hours. Some kind of seasoned meat, often beef or goat, is added to the soup making it a savory one-dish feast.

Soup Joumou is often made in a large aluminum pot with plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors who gather to celebrate the New Year and Haiti’s hard-won freedom. I like to call it Freedom Soup!


Below are the instructions on how to make Soup Joumou. This recipe has been adapted with the help of my Haitian friend, Gerby Seriphin, to simplify it. This one-pot meal is great to serve for a large group or a party. You might get some crusty bread and butter to serve alongside it!


Ingredients:

Epis Seasoning:
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
6 scallions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves with tender stems
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
6 basil leaves

Soup:
1 cup distilled white vinegar, divided
2 pounds stew beef (preferably chuck) cut into 1″ cubes
1 lime
1 tablespoon sea salt
16 cups beef or vegetable broth, divided
1 medium calabaza or butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
1 16-oz. can pumpkin puree
3 large russet potatoes, diced
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 small green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
1 1/2 cups rigatoni, penne or other pasta
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
1 parsley sprig
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted

Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients for the epis seasoning in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth like a paste.
2. Pour 1 cup vinegar into a large bowl. Swish stew beef in vinegar to rinse. Transfer beef to a colander and rinse with water.
3. Stir Epis Seasoning Base, juice from lime, and salt in another large bowl. Add beef, toss to coat, and let marinate at least 30 minutes.
4. Heat 6 cups broth in very large stock pot over medium heat. Add marinated beef, cover, and simmer until meat is beginning to soften, about 40 minutes.
5. Add squash to pot on top of beef, cover, and return to a simmer. Cook until squash is fork-tender, 20–25 minutes.
6. Add can of pumpkin to the broth.
7. Add potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, celery, leek, rigatoni, cloves, garlic powder, onion powder, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoons pepper, parsley, and remaining 10 cups broth. Simmer, uncovered, until pasta and vegetables are tender, 30–35 minutes.
8. Add oil, butter, and remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beef is very tender, 15–20 minutes more.

Serves 15.

 

**Read more about why I’m returning to Haiti here. Do you have a special cultural dish you make in your family that holds a special story? Please share in a comment. I’d love to hear all about it!

Summer soup?!: Tomato-Basil Bisque

Posted by | cooking, Recipes, soup, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I know what you’re thinking. Soup is the last thing you want to make – let alone eat – when the temperatures are soaring. I hear you.

However, when you are tired of grilling and the crockpot, you might need to shake it up a bit and make some of this soup. (You won’t even have to heat up the oven!)

I love this bisque because it features some of my favorite summer ingredients fresh from the garden or farmer’s market. Basil. Tomatoes. Peppers. Yum! The original version of this recipe was shared by my college roomie Jen. She likes to serve it up on Sunday nights with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Yesterday I had a small group of ladies over, who are going to help me with leading the New Song bible study group this fall at my church. I know food is central to fostering community with this group of women. We all laughed about how silly it seemed to eat hot soup in summer. I cranked up the air conditioning, and then we licked our lips and dug in for more. The ladies insisted I share this recipe. (Chris and Diane, this is for you!)

In Spain, they serve a cold tomato soup called gazpacho that incorporates some similar ingredients. You could serve this bisque cold with crusty bread like gazpacho if you can’t bear the thought of hot soup in summer. Either way, you must try this recipe! It’s great for a crowd.

 

Ingredients:

2 cups celery, chopped (approximately 8 ribs)

2 red pepper, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup butter, cubed

3 cans (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained or 10.5 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes with juice

1 small can (8 oz) tomato paste

4 cups fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons organic sugar

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions:

1. In a large soup pot, saute the celery, onion and red pepper in butter for 5 minutes until tender.

2. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 minutes.

3. Stir in basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Either transfer half of soup mixture to blender and blend or use immersion blender in soup pot to process about half the soup until pureed.

4. Add cream and heat through. (Do not boil.)

5. Garnish with basil leaves.

**I’d love to hear from you? What is one of your favorite summer meals to gather people at your table?

Building community in the kitchen: The secret is in the sauce (and three recipes!)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, culture, end-of-school year, family life, food stories, kids, laughter, Main Dish, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

Cooking has always been a place of creativity, community and comfort for me. I grew up in the kitchen stirring sauces with my mama, kneading dough with my Italian Nana, and rolling lumpia egg rolls with my Filipino grandma.

As an adult, I have gathered many friends and family members in my kitchen to cook together. When I was a young married girl, I hosted a Cooking Club in my home for almost eight years. It all started because one of my friends told me she didn’t know how to boil water. Another friend loved to cook and asked if we could swap recipes. I looked around me and realized there were a host of women longing to learn and get in the kitchen together.

Our Cooking Club was born. We would meet monthly. I would choose a theme and some core recipes. People would bring ingredients. The ladies would cook and the guys would clean. We tackled time-intensive projects like homemade gnocci and and rosemary focaccia bread. We discovered new ethnic cuisines like Ethiopian key wot and Hawaiian sweet potato casserole. We created Pumpkin Party soup using farmer’s market abundance.

Through the years, we all started having babies and the Cooking Club grew to well over 40 people coming each month. We finally took a break when my husband and I took an assignment working full-time for a non-profit organization in Haiti. I still look back on those gatherings with fond memories. Maybe one day we will revive Cooking Club when all our kiddos are in high school.

I believe there’s so much to learn when we gather together to get our hands messy, employ our creativity, and share stories around food.

This school year I had the opportunity to teach a series of cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. My daughters attend Kepler Neighborhood School, a local charter that focuses on project-based learning. I started by sharing the children’s book I wrote. Cora Cooks Pancit tells the story of a girl named Cora who is the youngest in her family. She ventures into the kitchen one day with her mama and learns to make a Filipino signature dish called pancit. In the process of cooking together, Cora learns about some family history and history of the Filipinos in California. The book concludes with the recipe for pancit.

When I visit classrooms to share my book, I often teach the kids to make pancit. They help me wash and chop the vegetables and add the noodles to the pan. I am always surprised at the number of kids who taste the dish at the end even though it’s full of vegetables and new flavors for them. I think they feel ownership because they were involved in the process of creating the pancit.

I taught five cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class this school year. One of my favorite classes was teaching the kids the secret in the sauce. I have three go-to sauces in my Italian cooking repertoire. These sauces celebrate my Southern Italian roots and my own creativity.

I invited the kids to re-create two of the sauces – pesto and a sausage ragu. We talked about tips on combining ingredients. For example, a little sugar is added to tomato-based sauces to reduce the acidic.

Then I set the kids free to create their own recipes. I told them the ingredients in each sauce but I didn’t tell them the quantities or the process of making it. They had to be creative, think critically, measure, taste test and write their own recipes. Their teacher and I also made this into a math lesson so the students were practicing multiplying fractions.

 

I loved seeing the teamwork that happened naturally as the kids created their recipes. Some wanted to get their hands dirty and add ingredients. Others engaged their senses smelling the spices and tasting the sauces. A few dove right into the math problem, writing down the recipes. I thought back to my cooking club and how over the years each of those friends discovered their tastes and their gifts in the kitchen.

Each of these sauces are pretty simple to make. They do not require a lot of time or a long list of ingredients. They do require attention and love. The kids gained some practical skills in cooking but they also learned to engage their creativity in community.

I hope this summer you will take some time to gather some friends or your own children in the kitchen. You might choose a favorite family recipe or try one of these sauce recipes. If you want to get adventurous, you can cover up the quantities of each ingredient and let your kids explore and combine on their own. You might take advantage of this time together in the kitchen to tell stories about your grandpa or great-aunt who made a special recipe.

**I’d love to hear how it goes. Please come back and COMMENT below about your experiences. Did you find any creative uses for these sauces? Which was your favorite?

 

 

Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

½ cup walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor except cheese. Pulse or process until sauce has a course spreadable, texture.
  2. Stir in cheese at the end.
  3. A few options:

-Brush on pesto sauce top of chicken and grill or bake the chicken (30 minutes at 350 degrees).

-Mix in with cooked, hot pasta of your choice and serve.

-Spread pesto sauce on top of toast or pita bread for an appetizer.

 

 

 Italian Sausage Ragu Sauce

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1 onion, chopped

-1 (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes

-1 (15-ounce can) can tomato sauce

-1 tablespoon dried oregano

-1 tablespoon fennel seed

-1 tablespoon basil

-1 tsp salt

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 teaspoon organic sugar

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1 package uncooked Italian sausage (I love Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage.)

 

Directions:

  1. Heat saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Meanwhile, chop 1 onion.
  3. If sausage is inside casings, squeeze out into a bowl. When oil is heated, add sausage to the oil. Use a potato smasher or a fork to break it up.
  4. Once the sausage is lightly browned, add onion and cook until clear/translucent.
  5. Add the spices: oregano, fennel seed, basil, salt, sugar.
  6. Chop two cloves garlic or mince in garlic press.
  7. Add sugar, parmesan cheese and mix together.
  8. Pour in cans of marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. (Meanwhile, prep your favorite pasta/noodles.)
  9. Add to cooked pasta and garnish with more parmesan cheese.

 

 

Alfredo Sauce

 -1 cup of butter

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or light sprinkle)

-1/4 teaspoon dried basil

 

Directions:

  1. Combine butter and cream in a skillet or shallow frying pan.
  2. Heat to medium and let slowly simmer. Turn down heat once bubbles start. As bubbles form, sauce will thicken. Whisk frequently and be patient.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta as desired.
  4. Add salt and basil to sauce.
  5. Stir in parmesan cheese.
  6. Pour over pasta and serve.

 

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10 creative ways to honor a loved one’s memory (and clean out the garage)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, death, family life, gifts, grief, hope, Pinterest, Stories, transitions | 3 Comments

Have you recently lost a loved one? Do you know someone who has? Perhaps one of the biggest challenges after the funeral is figuring out what to do with all the stuff left behind. Last week I posted a blog about “Sorting through a loved one’s treasures.” I shared my personal story of sorting through my late husband’s belongings after his death. That sorting was much harder than I anticipated mostly because I had to make so many difficult decisions about what to keep and what to give away or donate.

While it was easy for me to purge my own excess clothes and my kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to pass on. Should I keep his T-shirts, his shoes, his journals? What about his G.I. Joe collection, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? And all those boxes of books from his days teaching and coaching? What would be meaningful for my girls to have in our new home? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

Here’s the reality: I couldn’t keep everything.

Before moving to our new house, I did the bulk of the sorting. I cried a lot of tears. I shared a lot of items with family and friends. By the end of that month of sorting, I was exhausted physically and emotionally. The final items I packed up into about 10 boxes and brought them with me.

I have a confession. Those boxes are still sitting in my garage and we can’t park my car in there quite yet. It’s a work-in-progress. I’m giving myself grace today as the courage rises in me to tackle the sorting again soon.

As promised, this week I’m returning with some practical and creative ideas on how to preserve a loved one’s memory without having to put up with a garage full of stuff. There are hundreds of ideas out there if you search Google or Pinterest. This is a specially-curated list of unique ideas I completed or plan to create in the future.

If you know someone grieving the loss of a loved one, these also could serve as meaningful gifts you could help make or buy.

  1. Make a photo memory book. My husband loved photos. He had albums from holidays, sports events, memorable trips and teams he coached. Photos are difficult to throw away but albums also take up a lot of space. One idea is to scan some favorites and put them into a digital memory book. Think of it as a “Best of” album. I love to use Shutterfly or Picaboo. Once the photos are uploaded to one of these sites, you can choose your own layouts or have the program assemble the book using premade templates. This is one way to consolidate and preserve photos without having to store a lot of different albums. You can view the book online or order a printed copy.
  2.  

  3. Frame a recipe or letter. Recipes are not just instructions on how to make something. They also tell a story about the person who made the food. If your loved one left behind recipe cards in their handwriting, you might consider framing it as art for your kitchen. You can do the same with a special letter or card. This is a precious way to showcase your loved one’s handwriting. You never know when you might want Grandma’s secret sauce recipe or that favorite cookie recipe your mom made at Christmas.
  4.  

  5. Sew a Memory Pillow. I asked a friend of mine who likes to sew to help me make these special pillows using a pattern we found. You can take button-down shirts your loved one left behind and cut them to make into pillow cases. We each selected one of my husband’s favorite shirts. My friend sewed them and we slipped pillow forms inside. My girls especially loved this because the memory pillows are something to hold and hug when they miss Daddy. Some people put special tags on the pillows. We love the ones that say, “This is a shirt I used to wear. Whenever you hold it, I am there.”
  6.  

     

  7. Decorate with books. My husband had a large collection of books and combined with my own collection it was way too much for our new home. A recent trend in home decorating is the use of old books. I got this idea to select some of my husband’s special books like his Bible, favorite devotionals or even coaching books to stack around our home for people to peruse. Books tell a story of a person’s interests and loves. If you prefer not to have fingers staining the pages of the books, you might tie them together with raffia or twine and stack them on the mantel, place them in a vintage bird cage or in a glass case.
  8.  

  9. Download pictures and documents to a drive. We had pictures and videos my husband took stored on all different devices. One of my goals is to consolidate all these digital images and even documents written by my husband on to one hard drive or thumb drive. It might not sound very aesthetic but I know these may be important in the future as I am trying to share my husband’s legacy with my daughters and perhaps grandchildren. The devices can be disposed of or sold and the treasured files will be preserved.
  10.  

  11. Piece together a T-shirt quilt. My husband was an athlete and he had quite a collection of T-shirts from special races and sports events. As a gift, his mom had a T-shirt quilt made using his favorite T-shirts. This is something that can be used daily, or displayed, or even passed down to future generations as a memory of his athletic achievements.
  12.  

  13. Assemble a memory box. This is a great project to do with little ones. You can buy a wooden box, use a small vintage suitcase or even a shoe box to create your memory box. Some people decorate the outside of the box with the loved one’s name or paint it a favorite color. The box can be filled with special items like photographs, keepsakes like a yo-yo, a medal, jewelry, a ticket stub, a favorite pen or cologne. I hope to work on this with my daughters so they each have some things that will remind them of their dad and time they had together.
  14. Order a piece of handwriting jewelry. I recently ran across this idea of taking something handwritten by a loved one and making it into jewelry. A quick search for “handwriting jewelry” on Etsy, for example, results in a lot of options of vendors who can artfully complete this project for you. I think these would make beautiful gifts with a message “written” by that loved one or even their signature.
  15.  

  16. Share the wealth. Many people have collections of certain items from china to figurines to baseball cards to other items. If you don’t want to keep an entire collection, you might select a few items and then divvy up the collection to family members who can display them or appreciate them in their own way. For example, my husband had a large collection of Christmas ornaments. Our first Christmas without him we invited over some close friends to help decorate our tree. We let all of the kids select an ornament to take home to remind them of my husband. I can still see the delight on the little boys’ faces as they held tightly to their Superman, G.I. Joe, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker and other ornaments.
  17.  

  18. Create a time capsule. As mentioned in my article last week, there were some items left behind by my husband that I just couldn’t decide whether or not to save. Give yourself a gift in the future. Pack these things into a box labeled with your loved one’s name and the words “time capsule.” You might have more energy at a later date to make those kinds of decisions and discover then something you really wanted to keep. This was a reminder I didn’t have to complete all the sorting in one season. It was very freeing for me.

 

Do you have more creative ideas you have seen or used to preserve a loved ones things without filling up your whole garage or storage unit? I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below or feel free to come back and share if one of these 10 suggestions works for you!

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

It’s a truffle, no it’s a cake: Flourless Chocolate Torte

Posted by | cooking, death, Recipes | No Comments

 

“Mama, we don’t have to worry,” came the sweet voice of my 5-year-old from the back seat.

“About what, baby?”

“Daddy’s birthday. I know God is going to make him the biggest birthday cake in Heaven.”

I smiled at the thought. April 2nd would have been my beloved’s 43rd birthday. He’s been in Heaven for three birthdays now. We still celebrate. We still remember the way he inspired so many to faith and fitness. The girls and I dream often about what he might be doing in his new heavenly home.

I was going through some old pictures on Sunday and I came across this one. This Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte was one of his favorites. In fact, this is the last birthday cake I made Ericlee. I imagine him digging into a giant version of this today with no guilt.

Baking for a gluten-free guest? Looking for something chocolate and decadent? (Who isn’t?) This. Is. Your. Cake. This has become one of our favorite chocolate desserts ever. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was gluten-free until after making it several times. I love the simple ingredients that I can always keep on hand. Think chocolate truffle in a cake-like form. Perfect for holidays, birthdays or baby showers.

It’s heavenly.

Rumor has it: the strawberry stands are open in Fresno-Clovis where I live. Add some fresh, sliced strawberries and sweetened whip cream and this cake is downright sinful!

Ingredients:

-16 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (I like the big bar from Trader Joe’s)
-1 cup butter (organic and raw)
-2 tablespoons strong coffee or vanilla
-8 large eggs, separated
-3/4 cup organic sugar + 2 tablespoons for cream
-1 pint whipping cream or coconut cream
-sliced strawberries or other berries for garnish

 

Directions:

1.Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a round spring-form pan with olive oil or line with parchment paper.

2. Melt butter and chocolate together over medium-low heat. Be careful not to burn chocolate. Use a whisk to incorporate the two. Add coffee or vanilla. Set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, separate the eggs and beat whites until peaks form. Set aside.

4. Beat egg yolks and sugar until a thick, pale yellow batter forms.

5. Add half of cooled chocolate and half of egg whites to yolk batter. Use a spatula to gently fold in. Then fold in the remainder of the other two. You do not want to beat this or overmix. This will make the cake light and fluffy instead of a a flatter, denser torte.

6. Pour batter into pan. Bake approximately 30 minutes until the center is springy or tiny holes have formed.

7. Let cool at least two hours before serving (unless you’re after a more runny chocolate lava-type cake).

8. To make cream, beat one pint of whipping cream until light peaks form. Add 2 tablespoons sugar.

9. Top cake with whipped cream and berries.

Pressing into the bittersweet {and a love letter to my widow friends}

Posted by | behold, community, compassion, cooking, courage, flourishing, food stories, friendship, grief, hope, Stories | 7 Comments

 

My love language is food, and I love sharing it with my people.  This past Sunday night I hosted a dinner party at my house. In the afternoon, my girls helped me roll meatballs, frost mini bundt cakes and dip chocolate strawberries. We scrubbed toilets and pulled out extra chairs so we could fit all the guests around the table. While my oldest prepared activities for the kids, I lit a mess of candles and arranged flowers all over the house.

The goal: to make our friends feel loved and cherished.

After all, it’s Valentine’s week, and we needed to celebrate. As the guests began to spill in the door, the pasta water began to boil. Everyone gathered in the entryway exchanging hugs and catching up. The kids found their way to our office/playroom with no trouble and started up a game of heart bingo.

The party had officially commenced.

A few friends helped me in the kitchen and we served up steaming platters of pumpkin ravioli with alfredo sauce and beef tortellini with tomato-meat ragu. We passed an antipasto salad and crusty bread with softened butter around the table. The volume rose with little clusters of friends all around the room chatting and telling stories.

You might not be able to tell it from the outside, but we all had one thing in common. We were all widows.

To be honest, this is not the kind of gathering I ever expected to have at my house. This certainly was never the story I would have written for myself. When I read my wedding vows to my beloved Ericlee, the thought never crossed my mind that I would be widowed before the age of 40. I never thought about navigating grief with my three daughters all under the age of 8 when their daddy graduated to heaven. Prior to his cancer diagnosis, all our dinner parties were with family and couples and friends with kids.

As I gazed around the table Sunday night, I experienced something surprisingly bittersweet.

Author Shauna Niequist illuminates this poignantly: “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.”

As my widow friends told stories, rich laughter rang out around the table. It was contagious. One story led to the next and to the next. An evening that could have been somber, that could have been spent home alone on the couch, was suddenly dripping with bittersweet like those strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.

We savored every bite.

I know Valentine’s Day can be hard when you are missing someone you love. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were all surprised by joy and a few tears as we each remembered what we loved most about our husbands. Each one talked about husbands who had made them feel loved and cherished, who were their cheerleaders, their best friends, their spiritual leaders and the faithful fathers of their children.

I saw courageous mothers around that table. I saw women digging deep to rise above the ashes. I saw widows who were not willing to be defined by pity, but instead held fast to faith. Their strength buoyed mine.

We sent each of the women home that night with a bouquet of roses. As they drove away, I was struck by how, despite life’s thorns, God cultivates resilience in us through community. The blessing Sunday night was all mine.

 

***

 

Dear Widow Friend,

Today I know may feel bittersweet. I know the very thought of Valentine’s Day may prick your heart and trigger your memories. I know you will be scrolling through social media and see all the pictures of couples, and you will miss him.

You will stop and wonder how this came to be. You will ask yourself why you have to endure this holiday without your beloved. Again. I urge you to press in. Give yourself permission to grieve. Allow yourself to step into those memories. Don’t try to shut it down.

Remind yourself what you loved most about your man. Jot down some of those special things he did or the words he would gift to you on a day like today. Tell your kids about that silly gift he brought you that one year or the way he always showed up with flowers.

It’s ok to be a little sad on Valentine’s Day. It’s alright to shed a few tears – or even a deluge of tears if you have to – as you look at his pictures, as you remember the curve of his jaw and the tenor of his laughter.

I don’t want you to forget that you are still cherished. You are still loved.

I can’t help thinking about women in the Bible like Hagar who wandered in the wilderness with her child. God found her there. “Where have you come from and where are you going?” He asked her. He cared about her story. He saw her in her brokenness and leaned in close to see her, to listen to her.

Our God who sees is bending close to see you today.

I can’t help thinking about the widow, Ruth, who lost her husband and all the providers in her life. She followed her mother-in-law to a foreign land. She trusted God even in her grief. And He provided for her in Bethlehem. She was given food and shelter – and eventually a husband who brought new value to her life. A kinsman redeemer.

Widow friend, He provides for us in Bethlehem too.

I don’t pretend to know where or when or how God will provide for you, but I know He will. He is always, always, always working underground on your behalf. He may give you the gift of community. He may speak to you in a sunset. He may sing to you through the radio or the tune of a bird. Look for Him today. Listen for his love notes.

On this Valentine’s Day, I am extending my hands to you. I wish you courage and kindness and grace. And I wish you love.

Dorina

Holiday Mint Trifle: Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Posted by | christmas, cooking, family life, food stories, friendship, gifts, kids, Recipes | No Comments

Through the years there are some recipes that have become tradition in our home. I have so many memories of baking and cooking with my Italian Mama Maria and Grandma Sara. We would make Italian pizzelle cookies that looked like powdered-sugar-dusted snowflakes. We would wrap them by the dozens and share them with teachers and friends. Our whole family would gather to make an Italian Christmas pastry called pita piatta. My grandpa John and my dad used to get their muscles into rolling out the dough until it was paper thin. Before long, the house filled with that mmm-I-can-taste-it smell of sugar, cinnamon, nuts and dough. Through the years, my brother and my family have continued some of these traditions and started some of our own. We have added kids and variations to some of the original family recipes.

One year I happened upon a photograph in the newspaper for a beautiful Chocolate Trifle dessert. My all-time fave dessert has always been Italian tiramisu, which I consider the original trifle. People usually dip the ladyfinger cookies in coffee and a dash of rum, brandy or Kahlua for the traditional dessert that literally means “pick-me-up.” I was always searching for a kid-friendly version that could still wow the crowd with decadent layers of cream, chocolate and whipped mascarpone cheese. I decided to try that Chocolate Trifle recipe I found in the newspaper and the rest is history.

I added some of my own variations to that original, including Trader Joe’s Mint Joe-Joe cookies only stocked during the holidays. I actually run over there at the start of December and buy a healthy stash of these amped-up Oreos just so they can last the season (or longer than the season in my freezer.) Can’t get Mint Joe-Joe’s? No worries. Just add a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the whipped cream and you can still enjoy that mint-meets-chocolate marriage.

Through the years, the Chocolate Mint Trifle became our “Happy Birthday Jesus cake.” We make it for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day at our house. We put candles in it and all the cousins since “Happy Birthday” to Jesus before we serve it. Now my kids can make this on their own for company and birthday parties.

This year I’ve been teaching cooking classes for my fifth grade daughter’s class. For their class party, I taught them to make this decadent dessert. Everyone had a job – pounding the Joe-Joe cookies into crumbs, whipping the heavy cream, mixing the pudding, layering the ladyfinger cookeis, etc. We practiced reading recipes and multiplying ingredients for bigger portions. I also challenged the kids to be creative and think of variations they might make to this dessert. I had added mint, but what would they add? Some of their ideas are shared below.

I hope this season you will take time to gather some of your people in the kitchen and make something yummy together. Sure, it’s messy but this is how some of the fondest holiday memories are made.

Merry Christmas!

macie-layers-ladyfingers

Maycie helps layer ladyfingers on our Holiday Mint Trifle.

 

Ingredients:
-1 pint organic whipping cream
-1 tablespoon raw organic sugar or honey
-2 packages instant chocolate pudding mix (I love the Whole Foods version.)
-4 cups milk, divided
-1 package cream cheese (or 8-ounce container mascarpone)
-2 boxes ladyfingers cookies (Trader Joe’s sells a soft version but you can get these at other Italian specialty stores and grocery stores as well.)
-1 box Mint Joe-Joe’s cookies (or other chocolate sandwich cookies like Oreos)

1. Pour whipping cream into mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Blend in sugar/honey while the cream is beating. Set aside.
2. Place the 2 packages of chocolate pudding and 3 cups of milk in the mixing bowl and blend until pudding thickens. Add cream cheese and blend in. Set aside.
3. Place chocolate cookies in a large ziplock bag and use a mallet to crush. (You could also use a food processor but you want to make sure the cookies stay coarse, not emulsified.) Set aside.
4. Begin assembly of trifle. In the bottom of your trifle bowl, arrange a layer of ladyfinger cookies. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of remaining milk. Spread about 1/4 of the pudding mixture on top of the ladyfingers. Spread about 1/4 of the whipped cream over the pudding. Top with 1/4 of the crushed chocolate cookies.
5. Repeat these layers three more times and finish with the crushed chocolate cookies. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 15 servings.
class-making-trifle

Fun Variations:
-Make this a Garden Party Dessert. Add gummy worms to the layers. Cut out paper flowers and glue them to popsicle sticks to insert in the top.
-Add sliced berries as an extra layer for a Berry-Chocolate Trifle.
-Drizzle caramel sauce on top or add caramel pudding in place of the chocolate pudding.

Do you have a favorite trifle story? When and where do you serve it? Is there another favorite holiday dessert that always makes your family’s menu? Share in the comments!

Move over, pumpkin! A more sophisticated squash has arrived

Posted by | community, cooking, food stories, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

 

I am a pumpin lover. Let’s just be clear about that. I live in Central California so our weather is not always the greatest indicator that Fall has arrived. Sometimes it’s way into November before we get to pull out the cozy sweaters and don our boots. When I see pumpkin products at my fave grocery stores and coffee shops, I know it’s time.

That said, I have noticed some pumpkin backlash this year. The marketing of pumpkin products has pushed people so over the edge they can’t deal. Never fear: a much more sophisticated squash is here.

Butternut squash has long been one of my personal favorites. I love its subtle flavor in soup, chili, ravioli, lasagna, tacos or even as the more classic, roasted veggie side.

As with most squashes, the hardest part of dealing with butternut squash is actually breaking into the thing. You might want to skip your arm workout for the day if you intend to prep a raw butternut squash. I like to choose the ones with a longer neck and shorter bottom. This means less seeds to dig out and more melon-colored flesh to cube for your recipe.

Not up for veggie chopping therapy? There’s a simple short-cut. Go buy pre-cut butternut squash from places like Trader Joe’s or Costco. (It’s so worth it!)

Today I’m sharing two of my favorite recipes using butternut squash. One is considered a chowder, the second is our classic Thanksgiving first course. Tradition! (she sings loudly in her best “Fiddler on the Roof” impression…) Both of these recipes feed a crowd. It’s the perfect excuse to invite people to your table for some face-to-face time.

I don’t know about you but I’m longing for in-person connection these days. Everything feels so tense and nasty online. It’s difficult to wade through the newsfeed to really hear each other’s stories. I’m pushing myself to make space for community, for processing around the table, for asking the hard questions, for pressing in to engage with family and neighbors. Won’t you join me? Please share about your gathering over butternut squash in the comments!

 

The proof is in the pot

 

Fall Squash & Corn Chowder (serves 10-12)

 

Ingredients:

10 slices bacon, chopped (We prefer turkey bacon but you can choose!)

4 tablespoons organic butter

2 medium onions, chopped (1 yellow & 1 red.)

2 chopped bell peppers (red, yellow or green)

1/4 cup flour (I use gluten-free flour or whole wheat pastry flour.)

8 cups chicken broth

4 cups 1/2-inch cubed, peeled, seeded butternut squash (You can use a whole squash measuring about 1 3/4 pounds or get the pre-cut packages of squash in the refrigerator section of Trader Joe’s or Costco)

4 medium russet potatoes or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/2 tablespoons oregano

2 16-oz. bags frozen corn or 4 cups fresh corn kernels

1 cup whipping cream or plain yogurt

2 chicken breasts (Save time and buy a rotiserrie chicken & shred)

1 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Add butter to a large pot and melt.
  1. Chop bacon and saute in butter until crispy.
  1. Add chopped chicken to pot and saute with bacon until golden brown.
  1. Add chopped onions and 1 bell peppers. Saute until onions and peppers are soft.
  1. Add flour; stir 3 minutes until flour starts to bubble.
  1. Mix in broth, squash, potatoes and oregano; bring to a boil.
  1. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until veggies are tender (approximately 15 minutes).
  1. Add corn, cream/plain yogurt, remaining bell peppers and simmer additional 10 minutes.
  1. Add green onions, 1/2 cup cilantro; Simmer 5 minutes.
  1. Add salt & pepper.
  1. Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with cilantro.

Prepping butternut squash aka the best arm workout ever

Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Soup

 

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

2 medium butternut squash, peeled & cubed

2 tart granny smith apples, grated

1 cup celery, chopped

3/4 cup white wine (sherry or chardonnay)

Organic chicken broth (48 ounces)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon parsley, for garnish

1/4 cup heavy cream

 

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in large pot. Add butternut squash. Saute in pot for 15-20 minutes until soft.
  1. Meanwhile, prepare other vegetables and apples. Add to pot and allow to sweat until soft.
  1. Add wine, broth and spices to pot. Bring to boil and cook 5 min. Lower heat and cook for additional 45 min.
  1. Puree soup using immersion blender.

 

*For fancy garnish, drip small amount of heavy cream on top of each bowl of soup. Use toothpick to drag cream around in curly designs. Top with fresh parsley.

 

Serve with cornbread muffins, crescent rolls or other hearty bread.

Tortilla Soup: A true comfort food

Posted by | cooking, food stories, Recipes | 2 Comments

I started making this Tortilla Soup more than a dozen years ago. The original recipe was from my friend and former roomie Diana. We loved to host dinner parties, especially in Fall when the evening temperature in Fresno dips low enough to make it bearable to eat outside. This pureed version of Tortilla Soup with chicken was a favorite for our patio parties. The distinct cumin and chili powder flavors make it memorable.

It took a few tries to really master the soup. I recall making a few batches in a hand-me-down blender that exploded hot tomato-based soup to the white ceiling of our Tower District rental. We were covered in hot soup and drowning in laughter after that episode and a few more like it.

I finally invested in a fancy immersion blender for a less messier version of this recipe. (This is as close to power tools as I’ll ever get. Think blender blades attached to a power stick.)

After I got married and my cohort of friends started having babies, Tortilla Soup became the mainstay I would deliver after mama friends gave birth. I’d make up a batch of Tortilla Soup and a salad with all the garnishes packed into little baggies and containers. The soup was hearty and comforting – just what a new mama needs after the beautiful-traumatic experience of bringing a new life into the world.

I served up that soup for more dinner parties, baby showers, holidays, women’s luncheons and play dates than I could count. After a while I stopped making the soup because so many of my friends were making the recipe. I could enjoy the flavors and let them put in the work.

This past Tuesday I knew it was time to dig out the old favorite recipe for an important occasion. My dear friend, Yasmin, texted me the night before that her sweet mother-in-law had gone on to Heaven. She died suddenly – too quickly for the whole family. Some kind of heart complication. Verity and her husband already had booked tickets to Fresno from India to meet their newest grandchild, Yasmin’s baby girl born a few months ago. They had planned to stay six months to cuzzle sweet Sofia during the day while mama returned to work, to fix authentic Indian food for our crew, and to just generally love on their son and daughter-in-law and kids.

Life slips away so quickly sometimes; it’s hard to digest.

I told Yasmin she needed to come to dinner before she flew out for the funeral. I needed to just hug her tight and look into her eyes and say, “I’m sorry” in person. When she arrived there as a vice presidential debate playing in the background and kids doing gymnastics off the big red couch. It was hardly a solemn occasion but it was just what we needed – to sit across the table and just be together.

I dipped the ladle into the pot and served up bowls of Tortilla Soup. We added our own garnishes – a handful of sharp cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, chopped green onions, crushed blue corn tortilla chips, sprigs of cilantro. These add the color to the soup and make each bowl unique for the eater. We munched on chips and guacamole, and filled our glasses with sparkling cider.

On Tuesday night, Tortilla Soup was a true comfort food. We listened in as my dear friend unpacked memories of her beloved mother-in-law, as she processed her death and celebrated her life. We laughed and tears pooled in our eyes as we thought of the sacrifices “Momsy” had made so her three children could come to the U.S. for school. We dreamed about her Indian butter chicken and other famous eats made with love for all of us. We remembered the way she would sing for her grandchildren even on Skype. Tears are always welcome at my table. Tuesday night they seasoned our Tortilla Soup with love.

 

Dorina’s Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 organic boneless chicken breasts,
1/2 jalapeno, minced (1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
6 organic corn tortillas (7″)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups fresh sweet corn (or 2 – 16 oz. cans of organic white corn or 1 bag frozen organic sweet corn)
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 1 – 28 oz. can chopped organic tomatoes)
1/3 cup organic tomato paste
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 quart organic chicken stock

Garnishes:
Sour cream
5 corn tortillas cut in strips and fried in olive oil (or substitute organic tortilla chips crumbled into pieces)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
Green onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven-type pot. Cut chicken breasts into small bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with minced jalapeno or crushed red pepper. Sauté in pot.
  2. Chop onion. Add to pot and sauté until onions are translucent.
  3. Meanwhile, add three tablespoons oil to a large frying pan. Cut tortillas into one-inch strips. Add half the tortilla strips to the soup pot with the chicken. (This gives the soup a thicker base when it’s pureed.) Brown the other half of the tortilla strips in the frying pan for garnish. Fry until crispy and dry on paper towels. (For a short cut, skip browning the tortilla strips for garnish and use blue corn tortilla chips from Trader Joe’s broken up into smaller pieces.)
  4.  Add garlic and jalapenos/red pepper (depending on how spicy you like it) to soup pot. Add two cups corn and tomatoes to pot. Mix.
  5. Add spices: cumin, salt, black pepper and chili pepper. Add tomato paste.
  6. Finally, add 1 quart chicken stock. Stir ingredients together well.
  7. Bring soup to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender (or transferring to regular blender) and puree the soup. (You can skip this step if you prefer a chunky soup.)
  8. Allow soup to continue cooking at a low heat for 10 minutes. Continue to puree until large chunks of chicken and tomatoes are blended into the soup.
  9. At this point, you can decide about the consistency. If you like a thicker soup, leave as is and allow to cook longer. If you want to thin out the soup add 1/2 cup water until you are satisfied with the consistency.
  10. Add two remaining cups of sweet corn to pot, stir and serve.
  11. Put garnishes in separate bowls. Allow your guest or family to add garnishes their soup themselves for fun or you can do it and wow them with the presentation.

What’s your favorite comfort food? If you’ve had this Tortilla Soup before, share a story of serving it to your family or your people that provided comfort…