Saturday, February 17, 2007

Soup to the Rescue!

Don't want to cook but want a good dinner? Soup to the rescue!

When I worked I just crawled home exhausted most nights, and then collapsed in a corner! Soup was my salvation then in cool weather; big main course salads were my salvation in hot weather. It's winter now, so let's talk about soup first.

Even now that I am retired, there are many nights when I just don't want to cook; and yet I want a meal that has both great taste and good nutrition. Soup fulfills both these requirements. It is also very cheap, and most soups freeze very well.

I'm not talking about little watery soups, but big hearty soups with some substance to them - soups that are a complete meal with a whole wheat roll or a slice of whole wheat bread. (Or even white bread, if you must!)

There are many different soups that are good for this purpose; I'll mention just a few:

  • Beef Vegetable Soup

  • Chunky Calico Chicken Soup
  • French-style Vegetable Soup - my current favorite! (Recipe follows.)
  • Lentil Soup - there are many lentil soup recipes
  • Split Pea Soup
  • Hearty Tomato Soup
  • Black Bean Soup - my recipe is on this blog, in the
    post entitled 'Eating Beans and Rice'.
  • Hamburger Soup - ground beef and many vegetables
  • Ribollita - Italian-style vegetable soup with Italian bread.
  • Minestrone

There are many more. But even with only the soups I have listed above, you can have lots of variety and you won't be bored eating the same thing all the time.

First, a few general tips on making and freezing your soups:

1. Don't use pieces of potato in soup that you will freeze. Pieces of potato turn into nasty horrible cardboard (bad texture, bad taste) when you freeze them.

2. The more fresh veggies you can use in your soup (as opposed to frozen veggies), the better your soup will be. But hey, we live in the real world; not the ideal world. Sometimes I have to use some frozen vegetables, but I can
always use fresh carrots, onions, garlic, celery, and cabbage.

3. If you put frozen peas in soup, cook them separately and just put them in the bottom of the bowl you will eat the soup from, then pour the hot soup over them. They don't reheat well, they get nasty, and they don't freeze well either. This way, they won't be in the soup that you either freeze or reheat.

4. To make the soup hearty, you can add a drained, rinsed can or two of beans. I prefer cannelini beans for this. My second choice would be other white beans. Dried, home-cooked beans are even better. But again: we live in the real world. Sometimes I have home-cooked beans and sometimes I do not.

You can cook and can (bottle) beans at home, but I've not reached that exalted state of organization yet. It would be A Very Good Thing to have home-canned beans and maybe someday I will. In the meantime, canned beans are fine
if you drain and rinse them to remove most of the added salt.

5. If you have a food processor, you can grate up a pound or two of cheddar (or other cheese) and freeze it in plastic freezer bags. Then you just need to take out some grated cheese when you start heating your frozen soup. The cheese is put in the soup when you dish it out. This also adds heartiness to your soup.

6. I don't like to use plastic containers in the microwave. So I bought several small glass (Pyrex) containers of various sizes and shapes. One is just the right size to heat a one-person-meal amount of soup (for us, this is two bowls of soup per person). This is very convenient. Of course, you can reheat soup on the stove top also, if you prefer.

7. Soup can be frozen in the small Zip-Loc (or other brand) 'disposable' containers. In spite of the fact that the manufacturer would like you to dispose of the container after one use, you can wash them and re-use them indefinitely. They stack in the freezer, which is good. I have a lot of these containers in a 'one meal size'. Theoretically, you can heat soup in the microwave in these, but I prefer to put the container in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, then slide the soup out of the container, and heat it in a glass container in the microwave.

8. You can also freeze soup in plastic freezer bags. In that case, when the bags are sealed, put them all flat on a cookie sheet or plastic tray and freeze them that way. Otherwise, they slump down between the bars of the freezer shelf and stick to the bars. When your bags of soup are frozen, and
nice and flat, then take them off the cookie sheet and stack them on the freezer shelf. You cannot reheat in the frozen bags - just put the frozen bag of soup in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes, and then you can slide the soup out of the bag and reheat in the microwave (see #6, above) or on the stove top.

9. If you make a big pot of soup, don't wait for it to cool down naturally - it can take too long to become completely cool: this gives bacteria too much time to grow. Put the pot in a sink of cold water (with ice cubes, if you have them), and stir the soup gently. Replace the water with fresh cold water if it gets warm. Then freeze your cooled soup. Or put the pot outside for a while in the snow, if you have deep snow. (At the moment, we have about two feet of snow on the ground! That would cool a big pot of soup pretty fast, I think.)

French Style Vegetable Soup

This is my current favorite soup; it is very loosely based on 'The Soup - French Style' from The Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon.

The amounts listed here actually made ten meals of soup. Each meal also included some kind of bread or roll, and often included grated cheddar served in the soup.


  • 2 very large onions or equivalent amounts of smaller onions
  • 8 small cloves of garlic
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 large handful of fresh green beans
  • 6 large mushrooms
  • about 1/3 of a small head of cabbage
  • 1/2 a 32-oz bottle of V-8 juice
  • about 1-2 cups of white wine (didn't measure)
  • 2 28-oz cans of whole tomatoes (or diced tomatoes)
  • 1 can of canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • various herbs - basil, thyme, marjoram, a little tarragon
  • tamari (also called 'shoyu' - a superior kind of soy sauce)

Pretty cheap! Very healthy!

This is almost a minestrone - if you add cooked elbow macaroni, then it would be minestrone. It took about an hour's work. Well, I'll spend an hour to have ten nutritious and delicious meals meals any time. Warning: this soup is addictive. I've made it three times so far this winter, and will be making it again today. You can cut the quantities down, of course, and I usually make a smaller amount than given here.

By the way, this is one reason why I really love my food processor. You can cut all the veggies with a knife and cutting board and - indeed - you can do a more uniform and a prettier job with a knife and cutting board. But using the food processor makes the job go very fast.

I don't care about pretty in soup; I care about taste. Obviously, if you don't have a food processor, slice or chop by hand.

OK, from the beginning, this is how I make this soup:

I use the food processor for every veggie in the soup (except the canned tomatoes).

Chop 2 large onions and 8 small cloves of garlic in the food processor, put them in a bowl. Slice two stalks of celery with their leaves (try to buy nice leafy ones). Slice two peeled carrots.

Sauté all this in a a little olive oil. I do not have a large soup pot that will saute worth a darn, so I Sauté in another pan and then transfer everything to the large soup pot. I would like to get a better large soup pot someday.

Transfer the sautéed veggies to your big soup pot. Add two 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes - if using whole tomatoes put them in a bowl first and quickly chop them up. Top and tail the green beans, then slice them. Slice a peeled parsnip. Add the green beans and parsnip to the soup pot. Add a lot of white wine, maybe about 2 cups.

Add dried Italian parsley, basil, also some thyme, marjoram, and a little tarragon. Also some tamari. (When I last made this soup, I wanted to measure to be able to tell you how much of each, but I couldn't bear to slow the process down; my back really hurt at the time.)

Add about one pint (two cups) of low-sodium V-8 juice (tomato juice can substitute for this) and some water.

Bring the soup to a boil, then turn the flame down so it will just simmer. Cover the pot and let the soup simmer gently for about 40 minues.

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Slice the 1/3 head of cabbage finely. Add them to the soup pot. Drain the canellini beans in a colander and rinse them with cold water. Add the beans to the soup pot. Bring to a simmer again, and let the soup simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes - just until the mushrooms and cabbage are soft and taste cooked.

Taste - add more herbs or tamari if you think it needs them.

Frozen peas: just a few. I don't like frozen peas when reheated, whereas the rest of the soup reheats just fine. So I cook the peas separately, and just put some peas in each of the bowls before I dish the soup out.

Add grated cheese to the soup after it is dished out, if you wish. Grate black pepper over your bowl of soup if you wish, also.

This seems like a lot of work, but I want to emphasize that you are making about ten meals at a time. It's really not that much work considering how many meals you are making and how good it is.


16 February 2007

Copyright © 2007 Patricia Meadows

All Rights Reserved

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bone meal fertilizer and vCJD?

First, some vocabulary:

vCJD - variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease - the human form of 'mad cow disease' which is transmitted by eating brain or nerve tissue from infected animals. It is always fatal; no exceptions.

BSE - Bovine spongiform encephalopathy - mad cow disease (the bovine form of the disease)

Scrapie - a similar disease in sheep

Chronic wasting disease - a similar disease in deer

Kuru - a similar disease that occurred in one particular tribe in New Guinea; this tribe was unusual in that they were cannibals but ate their dead relatives. (Cannibals generally eat dead enemies only.) Only the women and children ate the dead relatives. Only the women and children got the disease too.

Prion - all these diseases are thought to be to be transmitted by 'prions' which are a type of protein. [1] Prions can survive being autoclaved, heated to extremely high temperatures (way beyond what cooking would ever produce). In fact, we don't yet know any way to kill them.

Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy - all these diseases together are classed as 'transmissible spongiform encephalopathies'.

The BSE problem first surfaced in the UK in cows (1986) and later young people started dying of CJD. It is thought to have crossed into cows because they were fed on animal tissue, including tissue from sheep who had scrapie.

I read about BSE then in the news (as did everyone else), and I wondered about the safety of bone meal fertilizer.

But I didn't have any evidence then that bone meal fertilizer could *possibly* transmit vCJD. I wouldn't use it - that's for sure. But that's really not enough to send a caution about bone meal to other people. For that I needed to be able to connect the dots.

Since the British problem surfaced, there have been several cases of BSE in North America: 'As of August 23, twelve cases of BSE have been identified in North America. Of these twelve cases, three were identified in the U.S. and nine in Canada.' [1]

Then recently, I was doing some research on the hazards of wood smoke. I found 'Some of the smallest fine particles can go deep into the lungs and can even pass through the lungs into the bloodstream'. [2] Ah hah - here's the pathway by which bone meal could possibly transmit vCJD.

Bone meal, I now discover, is made from the bone and tissues of 'downer' cattle: cattle too sick to walk to the point at which they are killed in a slaughterhouse. [3]

I was reading a book yesterday entitled 'Deadly Feasts' by Richard Rhodes. [3] Rhodes tells the story of how the cause of kuru (the New Guinea cannibal disease) was eventually discovered and how its connection with BSE (and the other similar diseases) was tracked down. Many medical researchers were involved, of course, but the person probably more responsible for solving the mystery than anyone else was an American medical researcher named D. Carlton Gajdusek. Gajdusek won a Nobel prize for his work.

At the end of the book are the following paragraphs:

"You know the bone meal that people use on their roses?" Gajdusek asked me then. "It's made from downer cattle. Ground extremely fine. The instructions on the bag warn you not to open it in a closed room. Gets up your nose." The Nobel-laureate virologist who knows more than anyone else
in the world about transmissible spongiform encephalopathy looked at me meaningfully.

"Do you use bone meal on your roses?"

I told him I did.

He nodded. "I wouldn't if I were you."


This is good enough for me. When a Nobel laureate advises against something related to his own field of study, I tend to listen. The dots are connected now.

So I not would advise that bone meal fertilizer be used: not on edible plants, and not on any other plants either. There are plenty of other fertilizers that will do the job.



[3] 'Deadly Feasts', Richard Rhodes, 1997, Simon & Schuster, New York, p. 242.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

'Deep Economy' - Bill McKibben's New Book

Bill McKibben's new book 'Deep Economy' will be out in March 2007. I can't wait to read it! This is a book that I'll buy new and I will also suggest that our public library get it. (I almost *never* buy new books, but I will this time.)

Amazon is taking pre-orders now. On his website, McKibben asks that people purchase the book through their local bookstore and I would if I could! But we don't have a local bookstore - none in the county that we are aware of, in fact. So I'll order it from Amazon.

Amazon's page on 'Deep Ecology':

McKibben's site has a good write-up on it:

Folks, it would a great idea if you print the description of this book, and take it to your local library, requesting that they buy it. The Amazon page has two reviews that are used by libraries; so this would probably be of use to your librarian.

Better yet, order several copies of the book - keep one, and give the others to the library, and maybe even some to friends and family if you can afford it.

This is one thing that we all can do, every one of us, that would be direct and helpful action with regard to both Peak Oil and Global Warming. Even if you cannot afford to buy the book, you can almost undoubtedly manage to print the description and take it to your library.