Posted by Guest Blogger, Kate Flora

My recipe box is a trip down memory lane. I can thumb through it and find not just food that I associate with special people and special occasions, but also familiar handwriting. There are even some small blue cards with my own early and awkward cursive. I’ve had the box since I was about eight, and over time, the cardboard dividers have disintegrated so that I have to thumb through the whole box whenever I want a recipe.
The other day, I was prowling through the box, looking for something to cook, and found Soupblackbean_small Judy Dickson’s black bean soup. I was carried through law school on a tide of Judy’s soup. Judy was a little older, had a decent apartment, and was nurturing. She was also a great cook. Our study group met at her place not just because it was pleasant but because we could always count on being fed. Food, it is said, is good for the brain, and mine was well nourished. I doubt that most lawyers associate law school with soup, but thirty years later, I still do.

Maybe it won’t make you smarter or turn you into a lawyer, but here’s Judy’s recipe:

Judy’s Black Bean Soup
1 c. dry black beans
¼ c. oil
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped celery
2 cloves of garlic, crushed.
2/3 c. raw brown rice
5-6 c. stock
½ t. dry mustard
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
2 whole cloves
1-2 t. salt
1 bay leaf

Cook beans ‘til tender; drain and mash slightly. Save water for stock. Heat oil in a large pan sand sauté onion, celery, garlic and rice until veggies are soft. Stir in 1 c. stock & simmer while adding herbs & spices. Add rem. stock and beans. Simmer 1 hour or until rice is tender. You can mash some of the beans to make it thicker. Serve topped with plain yogurt.

Soup was then, and still is, a comfort food. So many people associate soup with comfort and nurturing that chicken soup is a universal remedy for disaster, distress, and the common cold. I even put chicken soup in one of my early mysteries. In Death in a Funhouse Mirror, Thea arrives to comfort her old college roommate whose mother has been murdered. Remembering how she was comforted with soup after her husband died, Thea brings supplies, and as soon as she’s through the door, she begins to cook a pot of soup. As she throws together a pan of blueberry muffins to go with the soup, detectives interview her about the dead woman, Helene Paris, and Helene’s family. Then everyone—Thea and Andre, the victim’s husband and daughter, the husband’s boyfriend, and the detectives, sit down to a most uncomfortable meal.
Fran’s Muffins
2 c. Bisquick
¼ c. sugar
1 c. sour cream
1 egg

Muffin Beat with a fork and add 1 c. fruit. Top with sugar & lemon peel & bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes.

There was a brief interlude between when I stopped practicing law and when I became totally immersed in writing in every free moment when I used to join some other neighborhood mothers for lovely ladies lunches. At one lunch on a fall day, we sat in someone’s bright kitchen and watched fall leaves drifting down beyond the floor to ceiling windows. It was cozy and companionable and represented one of the rare times when young mothers ever sat down. Along with a crisp green salad and some warm bread, this is what we ate:
Pumpkin Mushroom Soup
½ lb. mushrooms
½ c. chopped onion
butter or oil
2 T. flour
1 T. curry powder
3 c. chicken broth
1 can pumpkin
1 T. honey
dash of nutmeg. Salt and pepper
1 c. evaporated milk

Saute mushrooms and onion in butter or oil. Add flour and curry and stir. Gradually add broth. Add everything but milk and cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes. Add milk and heat through without boiling. May top with sour cream or yogurt.

Everyone thinks that having the writer’s life must be ideal—all that flexibility and time to myself must leave me free for errands and reading and shopping and cooking—unlike the poor office slave. But the opposite is true. Since I’m my own boss and my office is just steps from the bedroom, I make myself work all the time. That means I’m as eager to embrace quick and dirty recipes that can be produced from the cupboard as anyone. My Muli friend Nancy McJennett’s Mulligatawny Soup is a perfect one. I once served it to great acclaim when I returned from driving my son back to school up in New Hampshire and returned to find eight unexpected guests for dinner.
Mulligatawny Soup (serves 12-16)
2 cans each: cream of chicken soup, chicken-rice soup, chicken broth
2 cans each: creamed corn and corn niblets
4-5 cans boned chicken or 4 large boneless chicken breasts
1 lg. can evaporated milk
3-4 large onions
1 jar of applesauce
raisins, light and dark
2 t. or more of curry powder (to taste)

Saute onions (grated or pulped) in butter; add applesauce and curry powder. Add to cauldron of chicken, corn, and soups. Heat through and stir. At the end, and 7-8 ounces of light and dark raisins. Top, if desired with grated egg, cashews, chopped scallions, chutney, bacon bits, banana or chopped green apple.

Last fall, Cheryl Anzaldi, the librarian at a local voc-tech high school, invited me to speak about my true crime book Finding Amy, to all of the freshman and sophomore English classes at the school. Speaking for six periods to literally hundreds of students is a grueling task, but the students at Tri-County are a wonderful group, and Cheryl is determined to do everything she can to get them interested in books and reading. During our lunch break, we go to the café where the students who are learning culinary arts make us lunch, and we talk about food.
Cheryl loves to travel and loves to cook Italian food, and the second day I visited, she gave me this wonderful “kitchen sink” soup recipe from her Italian Family Cooking cookbook.

1 large head cabbage (2 lbs. preferably savoy)
3 T. olive oil
1 lb. very lean Italian sweet sausage, casing removed, crumbled
1 lg. yellow onion, finely chopped
1 can Italian plum tomatoes, juice included, coarsely chopped
1 T. salt
1 t. fresh ground black pepper
2 t. sugar
2 T. fresh minced basil or 2 t. dried basil
6 large carrots, diced
8 large celery ribs, diced
2 ½ quarts chicken broth
½ c. Arborio rice
1 20 oz. can kidney beans, drained
1 20 oz. can cannelloni beans, drained
freshly ground parmigiano or romano cheese for serving

Shred cabbage & set aside. In 8-quart stockpot, heat oil until haze forms. Add sausage, turn heat to low, and sauté just until it loses its pinkness, about 3 minutes. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and basil. Cook 15 minutes. Add cabbage and cook until limp. Add carrots and celery. Cook, stirring, another five minutes. Pour in broth and bring to boil. Then lower heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until vegetables are cooked, about 45 minutes. Stir in rice and cook over low heat 10 minutes. Stir in beans. Cook, covered, another five minutes. Remove from heat and let soup rest 2 hours. Skim fat from sausage if necessary. When ready to serve, reheat. Ladle into bowls and top with freshly grated cheese.

Next week: Thea’s Quick and Dirty Cocktail Party recipes for An Educated Death

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Comment by Naomi Hirahara on November 10, 2007 at 12:37am
Yum! I'm a big fan of soup. This summer, with my mother supplying me with an overabundance of tomatoes from her garden, I made some gazpacho. During the wintertime, I often make cilantro soup. I'll try some of yours. The muffin recipe looks great as well.

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