Our lives often seem to revolve around food, we’ve found. Be it planning our day around a big dinner we’ll make in the evening or a new restaurant we’re venturing out to for lunch, food often brings us experiences that aren’t necessarily confined to the culinary world. That was the case in pre-COVID times, it’s the case now, in the midst of this pandemic, and we fully expect it to be the case in whatever post-COVID times look like.
All of that seems to be playing out on these pages of late too—in the previous post regarding food, I alluded to some big life changes we’d experienced of late.
Though we truly + dearly love Los Angeles and the community of friends + neighbors we’ve built up there over the past seven years, we’ve felt the pull back east to our mutual home state of Virginia for a time now, largely so we could be closer to family. We had to fast-track all of that consideration + planning for reasons I won’t go into here. Some of the results, though, were a sudden necessitated cross-country flight for all of us followed by a solo flight back to LA for me (Troy), where I packed up our home + office for movers who came less than a week later—on Halloween morning, actually—and a drive across the US with cats and dog and sundry other items in the car (mostly plants + pizza). So, suffice to say, it was a stressful, hard time for all of us; it still is, to be honest.
Typically, habitually, we’re not ones to lean on friends or ask for help—we don’t want to put people out and like to do things for ourselves. If we can’t do it ourselves, maybe it shouldn’t be done, our collective line of thinking usually goes. But in these times, we’d tried to set that mindset aside as friends and neighbors repeatedly offered to help in myriad ways and we came to the realization that we needed that help to do things that had to be done. Our friends + neighbors Dave + Allison brought our ’92 Volvo 240 down to our trusty mechanic Art in Bellflower (shout-out to Fjords of Sweden, the best Volvo mechanics around); our friend Becky picked me up from LAX, which we’ve never asked anyone to do for us; our next-door neighbor, Matt, shipped the ancient first Mac laptop I bought in 2002 but accidentally left behind to us here in VA (still works, by the way); friend, studio mate, and illustrator Stacy Michelson helped out closing up the studio after I left town; and our friend and former companion animal/kid sitter, Angela—pictured below at said kid’s birthday this past February—watched our animals while we were away, helped me pack, and did basically anything else asked of her in that blur of hurried days I was back.
Knowing how much we both hate food waste, she also took the wealth of farm fresh vegetables we had just received from Edible Gardens LA and made a wonderful soup for me to enjoy that night I got back after what felt like an endless day of changed planes, travel delays, stressful distancing from unmasked strangers in airports, and non-stop worry.
All a long, winding, personal way to get to the fact that our friend Angela found the recipe for this supportive, sustaining soup in our copy of Mark Bittman’s classic cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I reached out this week to Mr. Bittman, asking if it’d be alright for us to post that recipe here on these pages, not really expecting a response back from such a busy guy and, to my delighted surprise, he wrote back the next day with some kind words and permission to share that recipe, so here it is.
Mixed Vegetable Soup, Spanish Style (p124 of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, 2007, Mark Bittman)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 medium eggplant, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium zucchini or summer squash, peeled and roughly chopped
1 potato, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped, juices reserved
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups vegetable stock (ideally homemade) or water
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a roasting pan or oven-proof and stovetop-safe casserole dish, combine the onion, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, potato, tomatoes, all but a tablespoon of the olive oil, a large pinch of salt, some pepper, and the cumin. Toss so that all the vegetables are coated with the oil and roast, shaking or stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are nicely browned, about 45 minutes.
Carefully move the pan to the top of the stove and add the stock and reserved tomato juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, another 15 minutes or so. (You may prepare the soup in advance up to this point. Cover, refrigerate for up to 2 days, and reheat before proceeding.) Taste and adjust the seasoning.
At this point you have two options: cool slightly and purée about half the soup, then reheat, add the parsley and remaining olive oil, and serve. Or do not purée; simply add the parsley and oil and serve.