Where are the flowers?
Creeks? Bugs? Walks? Sprinklers? Summer?
Yeah, no. Not going to happen today, actually.
The out of doors are sort of off our radar, at the moment. Just for now.
Just until the heat passes.
Any week now.
I'm not complaining. I'm bursting at the seams with slap-happy gratitude, actually. We talked to our pediatrician, Wednesday. He was out of power a week, following the storms. A week. Without power. In high-ninety degree heat. Sometimes hundred-plus. Not accounting for humidity.
We have power. Have had power. Have no reason to complain. Truly. We were without power for ten days, once, in Seattle. In December. With two small children, one still a toddler. I would take those ten days over two, here, now.
Not complaining. Giddy grateful. Just not going outside.
Much, anyway. We do make it to the pool, which continues to be a revelation.
My main experience of swimming in summer is of non-stop shivering. Growing up, I would often swim with friends in Lake Washington. It was lovely because it was calm and close and not salty. Also, notably, it was warmer, if you timed it right. Between mid-July and late-August, the first few shallow feet of water were sun-warmed. And if it was not warm exactly, it was not-freezing, which was something. Something special enough to make up for the way we'd always wind up hog-tied in milfoil.
The counterpoint to which Lake Washington was warmer was, of course, the Pacific. Every summer, we'd camp on the Peninsula, and every summer, we'd splash away much of the day. I loved swimming in the Pacific, hopping waves higher than my head, eating agates as I face-planted bodysurfed back to shore, beneath the breakers. Granted, I turned faintly blue fairly quickly, and would invariably be covered in orange spots, within the hour. They were extraordinary spots, vivid and large, dime-size, quarter-size, head to toe.
I still don't know what those spots meant. Probably nothing good. I never asked. I just got out, found my sandy towel, and huddled in a tight ball until they faded. Then ran right back into the ice-cold thrill.
We don't get orange, here. We don't even get blue. We huddle under umbrellas, for shade. We eat popsicles during rest breaks, to cool down. Our bathtub is edged in a steady parade of suits. I've learned to stock trunks in triplicate.
The pool, a mystery to me our first years here, is now as obvious as salt and chocolate. And as necessary.
But beyond that? We've been indoor dogs, these past weeks, waiting out this long, prolonged stretch of heat.
I don't mind this, either. I like inside. We hang out, hole up, see which whims strike.
We've watched feisty, independent redheads in air-conditioned theaters. (Highly recommended. Might be slightly biased.)
Watched episode after episode of Spiderman. (Hobgoblin is not Green Goblin is not Green Goblin Two. Who knew?)
Followed by Ice Age. (Wishful thinking. Can't hurt.)
Henry discovered, last week, that one length of yarn + one Playmobil dude + one laundry chute = one truly excellent superhero escape hatch. Three years, I've waited for him to figure this out. Took three hot weeks.
Boredom is good.
We flop on that couch, up top, a lot. Sometimes to read. Mostly because it's cool. We make noodles and oobleck and technicolor milk. Channel our inner Charlie Harper. Walk the foil dog. Compose sentences like, "The Ninjas were hired by royalty and other powerful cheeses to discover an enemy's delicious weaknesses. They would sneak into opposing camps to steal passwords, battle plans or otters." (Thank you, Mad Libs). We turned Team Vowel into a song. We're beginning to turn our socks into puppets. It is possible (A!) we are becoming (E!) a little batty (I! O! U!).
But we made it to the park two entire hours, yesterday. I see upper eighties in our forecast. All will be well.
This is not a post about making pasta, or oobleck, or for that matter, inedible milk. This is about the things that we do to adapt to our current environment. About flexing with the weather. About figuring out the pool. About learning to like love exist on cold soup. Cold beet soup. Cold gingered beet soup. Otherwise known as my 2012 Summer Soup.
(If heat or circumstance is keeping you in: Oobleck here, cool Non-Newtonian liquids info here. [I totally want to fill a pool, walk on water.] Pasta: 4 cups flour + 6 eggs + 1 sizeable threshold for mess; mix, knead, rest, roll, cut, boil, butter, smile. Sudsy technicolor milk.)
I've mentioned before that I'm a Molly-come-lately to the sizeable field of cold soups. For a very long time, I couldn't see the point. Cold soup, for the majority of my years, fit right into a list with jumbo shrimp and military intelligence. Turns out, I just couldn't channel the climate. Shauna's cucumber yogurt soup made me a convert. Amanda's gingered beet soup made me evangelical.
The Amanda in question is Ms. Hesser herself, Food52 mastermind and The Essential New York Times Cookbook editor. The latter is the sort of epic doorstop I usually avoid. I don't avoid this one. I dog-ear and splatter it. I've made a dozen-plus dishes from its pages, and every last one has been a keeper. This soup is the latest in that unbroken string.
What first caught my eye was the beets, a vegetable I've praised here before. What held my eye was the ginger, a match I've never thought to make with beets. (Spoiler alert: they get along swimmingly.) But what led me to actually fire up the flame was the abandon with which Amanda used both. One and one-half pounds of beets. Three (or five) tablespoons of fresh ginger. This, my friends, is some serious soup.
Serious to eat, though not to make, which is just my speed, come summer. The beets are first roasted, which I love, both because I can (and do) do it days in advance, and for the way it intensifies their sweet beet-ness. They are added to a mess of olive oil-softened-leeks, to which the fresh ginger is added and mellowed. The original recipe calls for half water, half chicken stock, instructions I followed the first time around, because I had homemade stock on hand. It added a palpable richness to the soup, and if you've got it and the inclination, go ahead. But since that first batch, I've used all water, a fine, and vegetarian, substitute. The beets and ginger have plenty of personality. And then, there's the matter of buttermilk...
Amanda's soup is a deep garnet red, the color of crushed velvet and smoking jackets, ca. Sherlock. Beautiful. But to my taste, a touch thin. With memories of that cucumber soup's yogurt swagger, I swapped a cup of buttermilk for the water. This had exactly the effect I was after, adding plush creaminess, without cream, plus a thread of tang I adore with beets.
It also turns the whole pot lurid pink. I, for one, consider this a win-win. (My kidlets, for the record, think the shade is magnificent. The soup itself has yet to pass their lips. Hard to argue, when fresh fettucine's on the table.)
So. Beets by the pound, jacked up on ginger, edged with buttermilk, blitzed smooth as smooth. The fresh ginger sort of sparkles around the edges, adding not heat, exactly, but a pleasant prickle. It works like vinegar on the beets, a tingly sharp to counter the roots' treacle. On top—because all puréed soups are incomplete without "on top"—is a trio of toppings as essential as the soup itself. A good dollop (or three) of whole plain yogurt, which marbles rich white throughout the magenta. A small mountain of minced cold cucumber, for crunch. And one finely chopped barely-hard-boiled egg, for nubbly interest and just plain lovely. The toppings are technically optional, though in my bowl, there are always equal parts soup and confetti. It is salad as soup, and soup as salad, vivid and bright and rich and light.
I'm on my third batch, and it's only July. I've called it lunch, for four days running. A pitcher on hand feels like a security blanket for summer, restoration guaranteed, sweet relief from the heat. My childhood blanket I wouldn't have sold for blood or money. This one's for sharing. If you've need, be my guest.
Gingered Beet Soup, Cold or Hot, with Confetti
adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser
A few notes. Season this soup when you make it, and season well again, after. The cold dulls the flavors dramatically, and the toppings, of course, are unseasoned. I often double the salt and lemon juice, the next day, and sprinkle a pinch of extra salt over the confetti.
As to ingredients, I like at least 4 tablespoons of ginger, which hums a little more loudly than 3, warm. Cold, I always wish I'd added 5. For your first go, you may want to try the lesser quantity. If you keep roasted beets on hand, this is a quick, 15-minute soup. Finally, Amanda suggests serving this hot or cold, and having tried both, I echo that. But in summer, I vote cold all the way. Allow a few hours to chill, if you go this route.
1 1/2 pounds red beets, roasted (see instructions below), peeled, cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek (or 1/2 onion), chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3-5 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
5 cups water (or 3 cups chicken stock + 2 cups water)
1 cup good buttermilk (Bulgarian or whole; not non-fat)
juice of 1 large lemon, or more, to taste
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1/2 English or Armenian cucumber, peeled, halved, cut into matchsticks, then chopped into 1/8" cubes
plain whole milk yogurt
hard boiled eggs, minced, optional
To roast your beets: Trim leaves, leaving an inch of stalk, and set aside for soups or sautées. Wash, and place in a baking dish (a Pyrex casserole washes up easily) with a half-inch of water, and cover tightly with foil. Bake beets at 325º, until a knife glides through the biggest beet with ease. This may take 45 minutes - 1 1/4 hours, depending on the size of your beets. Test after 45 minutes, and if you meet any resistance, return to the oven again, adding more water if needed, re-sealing foil tightly. When done, cool slightly, top and tail, then roll each beet gently in a clean paper towel: the skin will slide right off. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for later use. Roasted beets keep beautifully for 5-7 days.
In a large soup pan or small Dutch oven, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add chopped leek, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened and transluscent but not brown, 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic, and cook 2 more minutes. Add 2 teaspoons salt, then add chunked beets, broth (if using), and water. Bring to a simmer, and cook 10 minutes, to meld flavors.
Allow to cool a bit, 15-30 minutes, to prevent curdling, then add the 1 cup of buttermilk. Blitz with a stick blender, until smooth as cream, 2-3 minutes. Alternatively, blend in several batches in a stand blender, until completely smooth. Add juice of half a lemon, taste, and adjust seasoning (salt, lemon, pepper), until happy. Eat warm, topped with whole milk yogurt or sour cream, or chill in the refrigerator, overnight. The next day, stir, taste, and season again (see notes, top), then ladle into bowls. Top with generous portions of chopped cucumber, whole milk yogurt, hard boiled eggs, and/or herbs. Soup keeps beautifully for 7 days, refrigerated.