easy super supper soup, with a humorous onion incident in the recipe.

I took a GRE practice test this evening. Ew.

Not ew? This soup that I ate for dinner afterwards.

First of all: it’s winter, and it’s finally time to make hearty soups. I loved my summer soups – especially that squash one with the masa dumplings! – but now it’s time for different fare. I saw recipes for bean and grain soups and thought, hold off, hold off. In the winter you will want those soups. And now it’s winter and I can make them.

Because it really is winter. It’s snowing in the mountains; the Mount Batchelor nordic center is opening tomorrow and I’ll be there skiing. In Eugene, it’s actually not incredibly gray, but the pouring rain has turned into a much colder mist occasionally cut with bursts of sunlight. It chills you to the bone even though the temperature is pretty moderate.

And so: this soup. I made it on Tuesday, froze a batch, and finished the original batch of leftovers tonight.

The recipe originally called for white beans, but I knew how long they took to soak and I didn’t plan far enough ahead, so I improvised with black beans. Would it have been better with white? I’m not sure. It was great with black. And almost all of the black bean soups I make are spicy in some way, maybe even with a sweet element; this was a more traditional, herby, refined soup. The way that the carrots and celery softened into silkiness was amazing. All hail winter soup.

As a side, I cooked up some of my grandmother’s Biscuits Supreme and used crème fraiche for most of the liquid; I also added in a bunch of chopped up chives which I had left over in the refrigerator from another project. Those were GOOD biscuits. I think that crème fraiche might go into all of my biscuits from now on.

So: in conclusion: in many parts of the world, there’s no snow despite the fact that winter is supposed to be here. But even if you don’t have snow and are simply cold and miserable from a neverending autumn that you’re totally sick of – cook up some soup. And dip biscuits in it. And smile.

Black Bean Soup With Parsley

adapted from Vegetable Soups by Deborah Madison

2 cups dry black beans

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 very large onion, that has been sitting in the pantry for so long that there are green shoots coming out of it, but it’s still totally fine and you cry like a baby when you slice it

2 carrots

2 celery ribs

2 garlic cloves

six or seven branches of parsley

salt and pepper

Serve with: Biscuits Supreme, adapted – base recipe here; leave out cheeses, substitute 1/4 cup crème fraiche for 1/4 cup milk, and add 1/4 cup chopped chives

Start by pouring boiling water over your black beans in a large bowl. Let them sit for about two hours, then drain out the water and rinse them. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, chopped medium-fine, and the carrots and celery in large chunks. Cook ten or so minutes until they begin to soften. Pour eight to ten cups of water over the whole thing, then add the garlic (finely chopped), parsley, and beans. Cook an hour and a half to two hours, until the beans are soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Wasn’t that simple!? Enjoy!

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silver falls half marathon.

So I promised a full writeup on my half-marathon, and then I kind of forgot about it because I’m so busy frantically writing and nursing my sore leg and registering for the GRE. WHAT!? Yes, registering for a stupid standardized test. I thought I would never have to take one of them again. Also, I made some amazing fish cakes and dilly potatoes from The Scandinavian Cookbook. No photos, sorry, but the recipe is here and you should make them. So. Good.

But back to the half marathon. I registered for this thing way back in August; I saw an e-mail from a friend mentioning that it was a great race and sold out very quickly, so the day that registration opened I went on line and bought myself a spot. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and at that point the race was months away. It just seemed like a good thing to do.

All through this month I felt the half marathon looming. I should do some threshold intervals, I thought. Or maybe I should do some more long runs. Either way, I should probably do something. I hadn’t been training – just doing easy runs and the occasional rollerski. Two weeks before the race, I actually had a good week of training. I did 3 x 15 minutes at threshold, and a rollerski, and some 60-second uphill intervals, and a 10-mile trail run. I knew that it wouldn’t do me any good physiologically, really, but I wanted to be mentally prepared to suffer.

Then the week before the race I woke up one morning hurt. It was my ankle at first – it felt weak and kind of crumbly – but it caused a shooting pain up the outside of my calf when I moved. I had no idea where this was coming from or what I had done to cause it. At first I thought maybe it would go away as quickly as it appeared, so I did an easy run. It didn’t get better. So then I took the two days before the race off. I was nervous, really nervous, that I was going to be limping around for 13 miles.

Luckily, that’s not how it happened. We arrived at the rainy, cold start in Silver Falls State Park about 40 minutes before the race, picked up our bibs, and tried to stay warm. I had an idea that I wasn’t going to go out too fast, that I was going to ease into the first mile to gradually get my heart rate up. The gun went off and I jogged about a quarter mile, and then my competitive juices got going and I thought, what am I doing!? This is a race! I started passing people and went through the first mile in just over seven minutes. My plan had failed, but the andrenaline kept me from noticing my ankle and calf. They didn’t complain one bit.

At first I thought the fast pace was a huge mistake, but then I figured I would just go with it. In every long ski race I’ve ever done, I’ve been afraid to push from the start. I’ve thought about the distance and rationalized my way out of going hard. This time around, I ignored that. I watched my heart rate climb into the high 170s and low and then mid 180s and I embraced it. I just kept running. The first few miles were flat or rolling and it wasn’t until mile four that we had a big climb and I noticed that my legs were heavy and not really working the way they usually do. But oh well: I pushed anyway, and I passed some very athletic-looking guy who was walking. Walking! Four miles into a half marathon! Come on! At that point we were running 7:20, 7:30 miles, too. Walking. Sheesh.

It took a few miles to get to the real waterfalls. I was beginning to think that this race was some sort of hoax and the waterfalls were totally lame. But then: bam! There they were! And they were spectacular. Big cascades coming down from rock ledges. Huge drops. In a few places, the trail cut behind the falls and into the cavernous overhangs they came off of, which is an unusual experience to say the least. I have to give it to these guys for finding a unique and beautiful venue for the race.

Let’s see, blah blah blah. Eventually we started going downhill. When I thought about this race, I thought my strength would be the uphills. But instead, it turned out to be the downhills. All of that skier training – running on the Appalachian Trail, darting down singletrack – has made me relatively fearless. I would pass men and women who were daintily picking their way through the mud and wet leaves, afraid of slipping and falling. Me? I know that running downhill is simply a matter of channeling your momentum, so I just rolled along. It was fun! A friend later told me she thought it was my giant quads that made me good at the technical downhills, and I guess she probably isn’t wrong.

Even early in the race, I began rationalizing the distances. When I had run three miles, I thought to myself, hey, you only have ten miles left! That’s not so bad! Then when I thought about it, I realized that I’d only run ten miles a few times in the last six months, and that was actually still quite a task. Five miles in, I thought, hey, you only have eight miles left! That’s only, like, another hour.

And that’s where things started getting good. My least favorite training as a skier was the long run at a fast pace, or at a pace that’s just below threshold. Pepa would have us do these workouts to prepare for marathons where the entire point was to deplete your energy stores and force your body to metabolize differently. They would be two, two and a half hours of this pretty fast pace, but not fast enough to actually be fun. Just fast enough that two hours later you were amazed that you could keep it up for two hours.

Anyway, that was the best mental toughness training I could ask for. If you tell most people, oh, just run for another hour with your heart rate averaging, say, in the low 180s, they would say, holy shit, that sounds impossible. I thought that too, in half my brain, but in the other half my brain, I was thinking, I’ve got this.

And I did. I may not have maintained an even pace, but I maintained a hard effort. I pushed myself for another hour. Then after another couple miles I could change my mantra to, all you have to do is keep running for another forty five minutes. Why, that was even easier than before! Until I got to the climbs, that is.

From looking at the course profile, I knew that at about eight miles I would start climbing again and the fun would be over. I had it a bit off – the eighth mile was actually pretty easy. It was the ninth one that killed me. And the tenth. And the eleventh. As I said, I wasn’t expecting to feel so sluggish on the uphills, but it was really tough. The clincher was that after mile nine, the really big climb came as a series of stone steps. I was not expecting this. Running up steps is different than running up a hill because you can’t set your own rhythm or cadence – you are bound to take steps exactly as big as the stairs. It was the only time in the whole race where I walked, because after a while I just couldn’t find the right rhythm for those darn steps. And there were a lot of them.

From then on, it was ugly. With two miles to go I tried to pick it up, telling myself that I only had to run for another fifteen minutes, so how bad could it be? The worst of the climbing was over, but there was still plenty of gradual, rolling terrain, and I was beat. My strides had shortened and I felt awkward, like I was hobbling along as fast as I could. Still, I pushed it and I saw my mile splits come back down towards 7 after being up over 9 for the last really steep sections. With one mile to go I thought I could make it. I was so close. Just seven more minutes, I told myself. You can push really hard for seven minutes. Think of all the things you’ve done that are harder than that.

Then I came around a corner and saw a mountain.

No, it wasn’t a mountain. It reminded me a little bit of a hill at the Thetford High School course back in Vermont, actually. It was just that it was quite steep, and not short, and 3/4 of a mile from the finish of a half marathon. That’s a lot different than being two miles into a 5k. When I finally got to the top of that hill – and several people had passed me during the process – I was faced with an equally steep downhill. Maybe even more steep. I’ve already told you I’m good at running downhill, but this was too much. My legs were jelly and I was afraid that they were just going to give out. It was muddy. I was sure I was going to fall, but the finish was so close that I tried to roll along anyway.

When I finally made it across the line, I just wanted to lie down. It feels so good to feel so tired, but it feels bad too. Honestly, I was proud of myself not so much for my time or place but because I had really pushed hard the whole time, harder than in most ski races. I didn’t have any mental issues to deal with, and I didn’t have any pressure: those were the two things that wrecked my ski career. At the half marathon, I didn’t have anything else to think about except working hard, and boy did I work hard.

There wasn’t time to lounge, though. I needed dry clothes, and more of them. I needed something hot to drink. Something hot to eat. I found some of my friends who finished before and after me and we ate chili provided by the race staff. It was great. We drank beer. After the awards we had a party and drank more beer.

And that’s the story of the half marathon. My leg is back to being all messed up, and it’s November, so I don’t think I’ll be doing any more running races in the near future – when I get back in action, I’ll be focusing on skiing – but it was an amazing way to cap off an awesome fall. I beat my half marathon demons and some of my more general racing demons, too. I’m ready to ski!

oh bacon where have you been?

I know, I know. A post with bacon in the title shouldn’t be about soup. It’s kind of a cop-out. You were expecting something way more bacon-y, maybe just whole slabs of bacon on a plate with some eggs, or some dish that really revels in the full wonderfulness of bacon.

But the truth is that I can’t have that relationship with bacon for a number of reasons. Do you know how effing expensive good bacon is? I mean, even not-as-good bacon isn’t cheap these days. Secondly, like the rest of America, I don’t need to be making pork fat a regular component of my diet.

I have missed bacon, though. I’m fairly certain that the last time I ate bacon was in Elinor’s house back in Vermont. Gosh, that feels like a long time ago. I was still ski racing in a black suit with green stripes. I was still training full-time. There was still snow. Oh, snow, how I miss you.

While I can’t do anything about the lack of snow in the Willamette Valley, I can do something about the lack of bacon in my refrigerator.

The funny thing is that I didn’t set out to buy bacon. I was looking for a soup recipe – I hadn’t made any in a while, and soup is a great thing to have as leftovers. So there I was, flipping through The Scandinavian Cookbook and there! A potato soup recipe. With chives and bacon.

Potato soup sounded great… and the bacon… and the chives… and what really got me was the photos in the cookbook. They were of a nice fall day with the fog hanging in the trees and the sun falling through the branches. I could almost feel the crispness – that morning cold that will warm up into an almost-summer by noon. It’s exactly that time of year in Oregon – the rain has stopped after teasing us briefly and it has been a beautiful fall. The grass is turning golden and some of the trees are even turning red.

So it all fell into place. It was a soup for the season, and I was going to eat my first bacon in more than six months.

The soup? Yummy. It’s a simple but elegant take on potatoes – just a leek and some garlic and cream, a bit like mashed potatoes gone soupy. And I don’t mean that as a bad thing.I left mine a bit chunkier than the recipe called for, maybe half-puréed. I don’t like completely mushy soup where you can no longer recognize the ingredients, so I wanted a few potato pieces to be left in my soup.

The first night, I reveled in the wonder of bacon and honestly overlooked the soup. But I brought some to work the next day, without the bacon but with the chives, and it was still great. The takeaway message is that this is a tasty soup, and you don’t even need the bacon to be have a delicious meal – although it won’t hurt!

Potato Soup With Bacon and Chives

Adapted slightly from The Scandinavian Cookbook

3 pounds of red potatoes

2 leeks

4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground pepper

4 cups water

1/2 cup heavy cream

chopped fresh chives

1-2 slices bacon per bowl, chopped into bits and cooked in a pan

Start by cutting the potatoes into large chunks. I left the skin on, but if you wanted to remove it, you would have a more technically refined soup. Place the potatoes in a saucepan with the water and bring to a boil. As the water is heating up, slice the leeks (white and light green parts) into small half-rounds and mince the garlic. Add these to the pot along with the salt and pepper. Once the water boils, leave the pot to simmer for 20 minutes. At that point, the potatoes should be soft enough to break apart with a fork. If they aren’t, keep simmering away. When they are ready, purée the soup in a blender until half or 2/3 of it is liquified and the remaining potato chunks have reduced in size. Put everything back in the pan. Stir in the cream and heat until everything is hot; taste and add salt if necessary. Top with chives and bacon.