BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Water, Water, Everywhere, and Only Soup to Drink

The world’s biggest water fight is going on right now, amid the hottest month of the year. Songkran, a celebration of the Thai New Year, has captured my imagination and jealousy for a number of years now. Temperatures can reach well into the 90’s, if not topple the scale and breach 100 degrees, which makes the waterworks both symbolic and necessary to keep one’s cool. Wash away the previous year’s misfortunes, transgressions, and any other ill will to start fresh and clean once more. Taking place April 13 – 15, anyone who’s not already sopping wet on the streets has missed the boat on this experience, but someday, it could be the trip of a lifetime. Just be sure to pack a bathing suit and plenty of towels.

Hot soup may not be the most appropriate dish for an actual Thai celebration, but for better or for worse, our April climate is considerably more mild. The time seemed ripe to dig this gem out from the recipe archive, especially since it had sat there for years without ever being made. Flipping through the recipe binder at Health in a Hurry one day, trying to straighten up the pages with Sue close at hand, I stumbled across this unassuming paper, filled with bright, exotic flavors that I had never seen grace our little soup bar. Without missing a beat, Sue scanned the paper and gave me her blessing to share it with the world, rather than let such a stunning formula go to waste. It’s such a shame that it took me well over another year to finally do so.

If you had seen that original recipe, though, you might understand. Only if you knew Sue could you translate such scripture. After a few tweaks for personal taste and volume, I had my own edible Thai festival for dinner.

Thai Vegetable Soup

1 Tablespoon Peanut or Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Jalapeno
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Finely Minced Ginger
1/2 Cup Red Bell Pepper, Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/4 Cup Jicama, Peeled and Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/4 Cup Carrot, Peeled and Sliced into 1-Inch Batons
1/2 Cup Sliced Button Mushrooms
1 14-Ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Lemongrass, Finely Chopped and Bruised
3 – 4 Kaffir Lime Leaves (Optional)
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Cup Snow Peas
1/2 Cup String Beans, Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
1/2 Cup Frozen Peas
1/2 Cup Asparagus, Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint, Roughly Torn or Chopped

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat before adding in the jalapeno, ginger, and garlic. Saute for 4 – 5 minutes, until highly aromatic. Add in the sliced pepper, jicama, carrot, and mushrooms, and cook for another 4 – 5 minutes until very lightly browned. Pour in the can of tomatoes, liquid and all, and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze the delicious brown bits that may be sticking.

Bundle up the bashed lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, if using, in a tea bag. Drop it into the stock pot along with the lime juice and 3 cups of the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the soup simmer gently for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but still crisp. Toss in the snow peas, string beans, frozen peas (no need to thaw) and asparagus, stirring to incorporate. Cook for just 2 minutes, until the newest vegetable additions are bright green.

Give the soup a taste, and add the final cup of stock if desired, and salt and pepper as needed. Remove and discard the tea bag full of aromatics. Top off with fresh mint and serve immediately.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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The Final Toll

Hurricane Sandy wreaked terrific havoc on safe, sleepy towns that had never before known the true meaning of natural disasters. The destruction that followed can be seen readily: a new landscape along the coast has emerged, deeply gauged by scars and burns that may never heal. Picking up the pieces is never easy, but the recovery process is already in full swing. Houses can be rebuilt, communities will return, the daily grind will inevitably resume. The path may be long and winding, but eventually, day by day, we will get there. However, so many questions still remain, despite optimistic forecasts projected by distant reporters. What about the lives that were demolished along with all of those homes, those safe havens for so many years? What about the dreams washed away with so many sticks of furniture, reduced to unsalvageable trash even worse than average pollution? Not everything can be repaired.

Losing electricity for a week, my household was among the lucky ones. Everything is back to some semblance of normalcy; I have a warm, bright home again, full of fresh food and easy access to more. There was absolutely no flooding in the basement, even with our typically permeable foundation. Most of all, I still have my family.

Suddenly, after the worst seemed to be over, we were dealt one final blow. It was a delayed reaction, but a very close friend of mine now has slipped away, another victim of Sandy not to be tallied in the body count, but in the hearts of hundreds. Health in a Hurry, my place of work and second home for over seven years, is gone. We are closed for business.

The food business is a tough place, harsh and hostile to newcomers. After surviving through some precarious times before, it was a lurking fear that our cozy cafe may still be in danger; when the hurricane winds came, they finally blew out the lights.

Health in a Hurry changed me, as a cook and as a person. Walking in there at 16, I didn’t know a single thing about real food prep; the most I could muster were tofu pups skewered and grilled over an open gas stove. The real value of those countless hours invested into thousands of meals were not numbers on a paycheck, but wisdom gleaned from my boss, mentor, and best friend, Sue. She continues to inspire me, taking this turn of fate as an opportunity for a new start, on to bigger and better things. I’m still trying to learn from her example, even if it won’t be in the kitchen from now on.

Sandy can wipe buildings off the face of the map, but she can’t even take away our memories. From the good times and the bad, I will never forget a moment of it. From the time I lost my grip and spilled miso soup all over the interior of a fully stocked fridge to the torture of rolling raw collard wraps well into the wee hours of the night, I have learned both patience and humility. Just as many times, hysterical laughter could be heard from across the tiny parking lot, as we fumbled and found humor in our silly errors. I will never, ever be unable to picture the exact moment when Sue, searching for her missing eyeglasses, curiously realized that they were in fact inside the oven, baking at full blast. I will proudly recall my very first wedding cake, the incredible stress that it created and the impossible success that resulted. I will miss dearly our Thanksgiving catering marathons with all hands on deck, dancing and thrashing about the miniscule kitchen as everyone churned out vast feasts for so many tables. The scent of sage and onions still lingers if I think back hard enough.

Health in a Hurry will always be a part of me, an indelible mark that will never wash away, no matter what sinister outside forces conspire against us. Saying goodbye to such a dear friend is the last thing I ever wanted to do, and so, I won’t. I’m still taking it with me in my heart.


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Curry in a Hurry

Few fast-casual eateries can lay claim to formulating their own signature curry powder, creating a distinctive blend of both warming and sharp spices unique to the establishment. Naturally, Health in a Hurry is no typical grab-and-go place, despite having all the speed and ease of ordering there. Though far from the only spice blend that we utilize in the kitchen, it has captivated me with its subtle sweetness and mellow heat; an incredibly flavorful mixture without the harsh bite of more potent chilies. It’s what keeps our signature Lemon Curry Rice on the menu year round, and a perpetual best-seller, too. With so much spicy potential right within arm’s reach every time I came in to work, I couldn’t leave this one alone. Pinching off a small container of the powder with permission from the wonderful chef and owner, Sue Cadwell, I took to my own home kitchen and began to play.

Keeping it simple was the best course of action to allow the delicate balance of ingredients to really shine. Hummus, that perfect blank canvas and familiar friend, is an ideal way to showcase such an ingredient. Gentle enough to embrace the most timid of palates, a similarly sweet curry powder is key here. Though I can’t divulge the secret formula of spices ground and mixed in-house, there are plans in the works to make bottles of the finished blend available for purchase online. For the time being, go with your favorite homemade blend, or Madras curry powder.

PS, if you’re in the area, you can grab a half-off Groupon for another day and try out curry (and other seasonal dishes) first hand!

Curry in a Hurry Hummus

1 (15.5 Ounce) Can Chickpeas, Rinsed and Drained
1 Garlic Clove
1 Tablespoon Sweet Curry Powder, like Madras
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water
Salt, to taste
Fresh Parsley or Cilantro, Chopped

Measure out and reserve a tablespoon or two of the drained chickpeas for topping. Take the rest of the beans, along with the garlic, curry powder, and 2 tablespoons of the oil, and combine them in your food processor. Pulse until the beans are mostly broken down. Add in the lemon juice, tahini, 1 tablespoon of the water, and salt as needed. Puree thoroughly, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure everything is getting incorporated, until completely silky-smooth. To achieve the best texture, have patience; this could take 5 – 8 minutes. Add in the remaining tablespoon of water if the mixture seems too thick for your taste. Though best when allowed to sit and chill for at least 24 hours, the hummus is still quite delicious if served immediately.

Transfer the creamy puree to a serving bowl, and top with the reserved chickpeas, remaining tablespoon of oil, and chopped herbs. Finish with an additional light sprinkle of curry powder if desired.

Makes a Generous Pint (A Little Over 2 Cups)

Printable Recipe

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