(Gingered Squash and Apple Soup with cinnamon baked apple chips - recipe in post)
This soup was all about healing.
Over the past year, my body has been through a lot. Not in the sense that I climbed Mt. Everest or completed an Iron Man competition, but in that I'm normally a pretty active, healthy person and over the course of the past seven months I've been more sick than I've ever been in my life - fighting serious infections that have put me in the hospital more than once.
It's amazing how inactivity can become a burden so quickly. A week of working out and chances are you'll see very little progress, but a week of being bed-ridden will make you, well... weak.
I think of athletes who undergo surgery, and what they must go through to recover and get back in the game. Sure, they can remain sharp mentally, but getting over the hump of physical deterioration is no easy task.
I continually find myself trying to do things - like make it through a full week of work, or running more than a mile - which would normally be no problem, and winding up exhausted. Frustrating, no? While that doesn't stop me from pushing myself to get well, it has given me pause to appreciate a few things. Not only the big things, like the wonderful people surrounding me, but things I wouldn't normally notice like what an amazing machine my body is, and how powerful my mind is over it.
I remember reading somewhere about a machine that was built to mimic the human digestive tract. You could literally put a hamburger in one end of the machine, and it would, well, you know... out the other. The entire machine spanned the length of an enormous room, took obscene amounts of energy to power, and the whole process took it I don't remember how long. The food traveled to one machine after another, each individually performing the processes that our bodies do effortlessly every day.
It reminds me that we are (and I hope we will always be, though who knows...) the most advanced 'technology' that exists.
If the simple act of digesting one's dinner can seem so profound, I can hardly begin to fathum what goes on as my body fights this illness.
One of the things my doctors have asked me to do is take baths (strange as it sounds, but with very good reason). This is something I don't usually do. I don't feel clean after a bath, and I rarely have the time or patience to enjoy it. Now, however, it's on my agenda whether I like it or not.
For the first time in who-knows-when, I sat alone, quietly reading a book in a tub a hot, sudsy water. And I loved it.
Afterwards, being warm and relaxed, I did some stretches - yoga breathing exercises and gentle motions. As I loosened up, I noticed how sore my shoulders were, and how much my feet ached - so I rubbed them. I rubbed the palms of my hands and up my arms, and the whole while my mind was quiet. I wasn't thinking about work, or laundry, or anything else.
I think it's an important thing to remember, whether you've been through certain stresses or not, that taking a moment to give attention to your own physical and mental well-being can be incredibly powerful. Meditation of any sort, in fact. Simply taking the time to acknowledge all the things we do, thank ourselves, and let us rest.
Let me be the first to say that I'm in a wonderful, healthy relationship - but that doesn't negate the importance of loving (or at the very least accepting) one's self.
A lot of mush, I know, and not my usual conversational subject matter... but what can I say? Sometimes things need to be said.
So this is what I'm saying: give yourself a little 'me' time. Take a bath, read a book, meditate. Take a nap if you need one, or take a walk. Do it alone, let your mind wander, and then let it rest.
In the spirit of giving myself permission to take it easy, I wanted to make a meal I could really sink into and enjoy. Something that would fill me up, warm me up, and wrap me up.
To me, that means soup.
(Butternut, acorn, sweet dumpling, and... decorative pumpkin? Squash.)
Gingered Squash and Apple Soup with Baked Apple Chips
Makes about 12 cups
Vegan, gluten-free, fat-free, and packed full of fruits and veggies!
1 Butternut Squash*
1 Acorn squash (or other winter squash)*
2 large apples (I used a sweet variety) - roughly chopped
1 large pear (or another apple) - roughly chopped
1/2 onion - roughly chopped
3 large carrots - roughly chopped
4 cups water - roughly cho... wait a minute...
1 clove garlic, peeled and quartered
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
4 leaves fresh sage (or 1 tsp. dry 'rubbed' sage)
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary (plus more for garnish)
3 cardamom seed pods (or 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the apple chips:
1-2 TBSP cinnamon
Small pinch of salt
Optional: 1/4-1/2 tsp. other spices like nutmeg, anise, etc.
Optional (if the apples aren't sweet enough): 1/2 TBSP brown sugar or maple syrup
*About 4 lbs. squash total.
Preheat oven to 400f.
Split squash in half lengthwise - I suggest starting the cut with a serrated knife, then rocking the blade in a seesaw motion to push it through.
Scoop out the seeds and innards (but don't discard! Squash seeds can be roasted for a delicious and healthy snack, just like pumpkin seeds).
Lay squash cut side up on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake 30-35 minutes, or until fork tender.
(My all-time favorite way to enjoy butternut squash? Straight out of the gourd with a spoon! Roast the squash as directed above, this time sprinkled with a pinch of salt and a few TBSP brown sugar or maple syrup. Let cool slightly, and dessert is served!)
To a large pot over medium-high, add chopped carrots. Cook over dry heat 4-5 minutes, or until they begin to caramelize. Stand back a little and add 1/4 cup water to steam them. Add apples and onion, cook until the water has evaporated, and add another 1/4 cup.
Scoop the meat of the squash out of the skin and into the pot - sometimes I add a bit of the skin for added flavor (especially the browned parts at the edges) but this is optional.
Add the remaining water, pears, garlic, ginger, sage, rosemary, and cardamom to the pot.
(Quick tip: to extend shelf life and for easier grating, store peeled ginger root in a plastic baggie in the freezer.)
Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook 45 minutes to an hour, or until the apples and carrots have softened.
Remove the rosemary, sage leaves, and cardamom pods, and blend with an immersion blender. Or, very carefully transfer the soup in batches to a regular blender. Drape a kitchen towel over the lid and hold your hand over the towel - pulse a few times before blending. Always use caution when blending hot liquids!
Add nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the apple chips:
Preheat oven to 200f.
Using a mandolin slicer or sharp knife, slice the apples into thin (1/8th inch) rounds. Pick out the seeds as you go, but there's no need for coring the apple.
Mix together the cinnamon and salt (and any other spices or brown sugar/maple syrup if using) and sprinkle (or brush, if using syrup) over the apple slices.
Lay slices on an aluminum foil covered baking sheet, without overlap, and bake for 1.5 - 2 hours, or until wrinkled and curled at the edges and beginning to brown on top. Rotate pan every 30 minutes to ensure even cooking. Remove from the oven and they will crisp up as they cool - if they don't get crisp, return them to the oven and bake longer.
The soup freezes and reheats well, and the apple chips can be stored (once completely cooled) in an airtight container or baggie in the fridge for several days.
I could get used to this whole pampering thing.
This was a wonderfully rich and flavorful soup, but I wasn't ready to stop there. For dessert:
3 Ingredient Monkey-Butt 'Ice Cream'
(Aka, "Elvis Ice Cream"*)
Vegan - no ice cream maker required
1 TBSP cocoa powder
1 TBSP peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
Peel banana, break into halves or quarters, and seal in a zip top bag in the freezer. When ready to make, remove banana from bag and place in the bowl of your food processor (or blender). Add cocoa powder and peanut butter and blend until smooth - serve.
*Elvis's favorite (and famous) sandwich was banana, peanut butter, and chocolate. Henceforth, everything with these three ingredients must be dubbed 'Elvis'. It's in the rules.
(Monkey-Butt ice cream)
I'm not even going to pretend to have made this up - the idea of frozen banana 'ice cream' has been a bit of a fad for a while now - but I couldn't begin to tell you where I first saw it or got the idea. Freeze a banana, add what you like (blueberries? cinnamon?) and mash it up. It's as basic as a banana in a blender. That's a saying, isn't it? Well, it is now.
As for the monkey-butt part... what can I say, I'm with Elvis. Banana, peanut butter, and chocolate are like a threesome made in heaven.
So - tell me - how are you going to treat yourself today?