A few weeks ago, I was able to head to Seattle for the baby shower of my dear friends, Cynthia and Nik. Rumors say the little Mister is likely to come nearly any day now, as he has already begun to outgrow his surroundings, despite a May 12 due date.
I was called up last minute for cake duty, and I am pleased to note that if you are asked to bring cake on the Amtrak train for approximately 20 people, it’s not as difficult as one might imagine.
The best solution is to make 2 of Molly (aka Orangette)’s “winning-hearts-and-minds-chocolate cakes“, keep them in their tins in a tupperware, and then douse with fresh strawberries & fresh whipped cream upon arrival. It wasn’t necessarily a baby shower cake, but I’ve found people get over the lack of pastels & overly sweet frosting when you put a delicious chocolate cake in their faces.
While my cake made it safely and in a timely manner to Seattle, my return trip was not as smooth.
I had the unfortunate luck at the end of that weekend as I stepped into the train station approximately 30 seconds after they closed the train doors & refused to let me or another passenger on. They did offer me a spot on the next train leaving at 5:30pm (the time was now 2:22pm). *(and nicely did not charge me extra – try that one at the airport! I do love you still, Amtrak, even if you are stubborn)
So…I found myself with about 3 hours to kill in Seattle on a lovely sunny afternoon (ironically, I’d been bemoaning the fact that I’d be spending such a nice afternoon on the train). Conveniently, Pike Place Market is a fairly short walk from the train station and a perfect place on a spring day.
Even more conveniently, one of my favorite specialty shops EVER is right behind the market — World Spice Merchants. They have jars and jars of spices and blends from all over the world – many I’ve never heard of – and they encourage you to open the jars & take a sniff if you like.
The place feels like old Seattle to me — the floors are little funky and the bricks show through, the light filters in softly, and there is a tea area on the next level down. It’s the Seattle I used to love as a teen – not the overly trendy, pricey, urbanized Seattle that sometimes feels like seeing someone you knew as a toddler now wearing too much make up. The counter staff is exceptionally nice, and don’t complain when you order 1 ounce of 5 different spices (most of the spices have a 1 ounce minimum order; some have 2 ounces, especially the blends, I think).
This place is great for trying out new spices without committing to a full jar. And, we all know we’re supposed to toss those jars annually for freshness, so why buy that much to begin with? *(confession: I don’t toss my spices, I’m kinda thrifty at the expense of good taste).
On this lucky bonus visit, I got aleppo pepper, dried chipotle flakes, gomasio (Japanese sea salt/sesame seed condiment), and garam masala (Indian). The aleppo (a dried & crumbled pepper from Syria) has been the star so far — it’s a lovely way to add heat without overpowering a dish.
I’d been nervous about the chipotle being quite hot as I am a little bit wussy about hot peppers, but I found it was perfect in the black bean soup I made this weekend. Earlier this year, I went in on an order with a friend of Rancho Gordo beans – they are a farm that specializes in heirloom beans and shipping is a flat $8, no matter what you order so it’s worth ordering with a friend or two to split the shipping cost. I got the sampler pack as it was my first order, and I wasn’t sure what to get.
I’ve only just started cooking beans from scratch — canned beans are so convenient, but I can tell the difference with the dried beans in taste and texture (and sodium!). I was perusing the recipes on the Rancho Gordo website for ideas this weekend and decided to go with a variation on the vegetarian black bean chowder from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks (a great food blogger with a focus on healthy recipes), as I wanted to try out my package of Midnight Black Beans.
Here’s my spin on it – I decided to mix the tangy kick of the OJ with the toasty chipotle heat & smoky paprika. Feel free to toss in whatever veggies around your crisper or lingering in your leftovers:
Black Bean & OJ Chipotle Soupa glug of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 shallots, chopped 1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, minced 2-4 small zucchini, chopped 1-2 carrots, peeled & chopped
~4 cups of Rancho Gordo midnight black beans, cooked and drained (I started with about 1/2 lb dried) or about 2 cans of black beans
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups of orange juice
1/2 tsp dried chipotle flakes (could sub cayenne pepper or canned chipotles — use chipotles to your level of acceptable spicy-ness!) 1 tsp smoked hot paprika good shake of chili powder & cumin — maybe 1 tsp each
Saute onions, shallots, and salt in olive oil in a large soup pot for about 5 minutes or till softened. Add garlic after about 3 minutes, once the onions start releasing some moisture (I always overcook my garlic if I put it in at the beginning with my onions). Add other veggies (zukes & carrots) and cook till softened.
Toss into the pot: beans, tomatoes, orange juice, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, and simmer (covered) for 10 minutes. Add salt if needed. I served mine with a little sour cream & cheese for topping, along with corn bread on the side.
Last night’s recipe via the web (a sweet-n-sour tempeh recipe) that I tried out was not so successful and resulted in a painful burn from honey (don’t ask!) and lumpy cornstarch. So, not all internet recipes become princes, but this soup has royal status in my house.