Sunday, October 14, 2007

Stone Soup.

Ever in an effort to simplify, go greener by reduction of my family's carbon footprint, and live in a way that jives with ideals and principles, I've recently made a commitment to shy from conventionally raised meats in favor of locally humanely and free range / grass fed animals. We women of this country, as the buyers of most things our households require, exercise the greatest purchasing power of all: 83% of all spending in the US, according to Time Magazine. And because right is right to do and because it really does matter where we put our money, as we are an economical force ripe and ready to create change that does ALL of us good, I'm doing what I can, when I can, both for the nutritive and ethical health of my family and for the good of my community, and my planet. Lofty? Yeah. Elitist? I hope not.

I've gone round and round about this from multiple standpoints, and while my Mister still regularly purchases chicken livers from the Kroger deli in throwaway plastic clamshell packaging, I feel it's important and worthwhile to continue to do our part as a whole. We've had a CSA membership with Delvin Farms for several years now, and now, along with some mama friends, I've sought out local humane sources for the meat that our family continues to choose to eat. Vegetarian for a number of years, I've found that I just do better with meat, and feel strong and best about it when the source is right. To that end, this week has had a gaggle of us running from one end of town to the other with a host of coolers and drop off and pick up points for whole processed chickens from a Centreville family, and both beef and lamb from a Mennonite farmer just over the Kentucky line.

All of this took a great deal of coordination and phone calls and emails and such, as this is the beginning of something we hope will sustain our community farmers, AND our families for some time to come. One morning as Maria and I hammered out some details by telephone, Ziggy and another child I've been watching occasionally played on the swingset and in our backyard sandbox. "You know," said Maria, "sometimes we might complain about how much all this effort is taking and I have to call so and so again, but think of the community we're building around this!"

Right she is. We're also compelled, in these interactions, to rely on one another, to share our lives and to become less isolated. For me, a highly social being with a not so social husband who is gone from home seven days a week, this is critical. As it is for our very social toddler. The Mister, by his own admission, benefits from this network of community though he himself is not drawn toward growing it or maintaining it in large part. I have to say, however, that he is appreciative and involved when called on, as we have all relied heavily on one another in times of distress (illness, hospitalizations, marital strife, work loads...) AND in times of celebration (weddings, births, housewarmings and birthday parties). Too, during these get togethers (in person, by telephone, and online) based on task, we plan up additional projects, share recipes, pass along toys and clothing from one child to another, support one another's businesses and organizations and in general create a larger nest for our respective broods.

These friends, these connections, keep me wed to not just my husband (five years right 'round the corner) but also to my *life* in a deep way. Spiritually, ethically, socially, with joy and with gratitude. They keep me accountable and I enjoy that, seeing the rewards reaped for my boy and my man, in addition to my own self. Like I said, I'm social, and I recognize that not everyone shares this need for symbolic hand-holding round the pot of Stone Soup, but for those of us that do, finding our tribe is vital to our wellbeing.

And good food-- sown, grown, harvested and then prepared with some local lavish love-- binds us all together. Of late, that meant fresh salsas and simply *amazing* vegetable enchiladas for our Fall Fiesta, a combination housewarming and second birthday party for our boy. There've been salads and farm fresh egg sandwiches, and this very morning, butternut pancakes, in response to Ziggy's request for "Cake, please, Mommy!" in all likelihood a holdover craving from the pumpkin chocolate chip concoction for aforementioned party. And then last night there was this marvelous soup, as sustaining for the spirits as for the nurturing of the bodies of my family.

In thinking of how to best marry a chicken I thawed with a slew of goodies from my most recent CSA share, I was pondering on fall and warmth and came up with a nice variation on sweet potato chicken soup.

Sweet Potato Chicken Soup with Greens


1 small whole chicken
Olive oil, pat of butter
3-4 ribs celery, chopped
1 carrot, sliced in half moons
2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red Hungarian pepper, minced
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
5 small – medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Salt, pepper, cinnamon
1 bunch mustard greens, chopped

Boil chicken in liberally salted water and cool in its own broth. Sautee celery, carrot, onion, peppers, garlic in olive oil w/ a small pat of butter until all are slightly caramelized. Pull cooled chicken (will be warm, but NOT hot) from the broth. Add veggies to the broth pot and boil gently. Salt and pepper soup, add a dash of cinnamon. Pick cooled chicken, discarding skin and fat, save the bones in a freezer zip lock for soup another time. You can cube chicken or leave in rough pieces. Ten to fifteen minutes prior to when you want to eat soup, add your greens (use any dark fall / winter green) to the top of the soup pot and place lid back on, allowing them to steam but retain bright green color.

I would have made this spicier, but declined to do so in favor of the boy’s palate, which enjoys spice but not hothothot. The Mister and I seasoned our bowls of soup with the deliciously tangy green Tobasco sauce.

I imagine you could do this soup with any slightly sweet winter squash in place of the sweet potatoes. You could add a shot of lime and tortilla chips and add cumin to the seasoning. Canned tomatoes and / or green chiles would also be nice here. The variations are endless. In this one, the cinnamon with the spicy pepper and the Tobasco was really nice and very Autumnal.

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