Caroline Barrett, Broccoli Soup

The Year Ahead: Looking Forward To The Good Stuff

Caroline Barrett, Broccoli Soup
I love my immersion blender!

Hi everyone, here’s my Times Union column for January. You can see it on their website here. It goes along with Roasted Broccoli Soup with Turmeric and Coconut Milk, Cowboy Caviar, Only Better and Ginger Apricot Pistachio Bars. As always, thanks for stopping by. 

How sweet it is to have a whole, fresh, brand new year ahead of us. Oh, the possibilities and adventures that await! I love to plan for trips and parties and outings and it’s these things – the fun, good stuff – that sees me through long days that are filled with work and not much else. When it’s a Tuesday in February and the temperatures are hovering at six degrees and the sky is a rainbow of grays, the smile on my face comes from dreams of summer concerts and last-minute road trips. It’s the thought of an upcoming ski on a clear, blue day (and the soup and brownies we’ll eat after) that brings me joy. In the same way, I like to think about the whole year in terms of the partying that will happen along the way. There’s got to be balance for the hard work we humans do. It’s work, and then fun. My dad taught me to appreciate and respect this balance, and I hope it’s been passed to my children as well. 


Coming right up on the big and fun planning event schedule is the Super Bowl. I don’t know who is playing and really, I don’t care. There’s so much talk in a football game – yards and downs and runs and whatnot – that isn’t important to me. What does matter is sitting on the couch in sweatpants as the game plays and eating snack-y, junk-y food that, for just one day, passes as dinner. Typically, this is a family event and young people will show up when there are nachos and chicken wings to eat. But, we are empty-nesters now and there are no children for football games and snacking. The game plays on though, and so must we. 


Cowboy Caviar is good – it’s a dish that is good for cozy, lazy football dinners, and also great for potlucks and dinner with friends. It’s beans and peppers, onions and corn, mixed up and meant to be scooped with a chip, and really, it’s loved by all. Be prepared for a non-traditional version here, as this one has vegetables that are sauteed gently, and then mixed together with the required black beans and black-eyed peas. (Traditionally, Cowboy Caviar is served completely raw, and everything is crunchy. It felt right to soften things up a bit, sweeten the onion and let the flavors meld.) Instead of bottled dressing, I whisked together a quick vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar, cayenne and enough maple syrup to only hint at sweetness. I also shook it up by adding avocado, greens and herbs. Those things were welcome additions for texture, color and flavor. This dish is perfect for football snacking, party-bringing and anytime it feels right to eat dinner in stretchy pants.


It doesn’t take a lot to make us happy when it’s stark and wintery outside. A big January afternoon might look like this: an hour of ice skating, followed by reading, napping and then bowls of soup by the fire. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? We eat so much soup that there are always the dregs of last week’s creation in the back of the fridge, even as I’m chopping vegetables for the newest batch. This week, feeling gloomy for the lack of snow and the rain and rain and more rain, I sought out a healthful, tasty broth that was completely different from the usual noodle-and-carrot pot of soup. I roasted up some broccoli with onion and garlic with sunny, yellow turmeric and then pureed it all with rich coconut milk. Paul and I both ate big bowls and then brought containers to work on Monday morning. It brought sweet memories of a splendid weekend, even if the events were rather understated. 


The standards for fun around here reached an all-time low when I began looking at baking as a legitimate event, something that not only nourished us, but was part of the schedule on a weekend afternoon. Can you call making a batch of cookies an event? Is dreaming up and baking a pan of brownies and then eating them, as satisfying as, say, going to a concert in July? 


For us, the answer is yes (but only, and hopefully, just until the first frost, when we emerge from hibernation). For this winter celebration, I bought a jar of sweet apricot preserves, because it tastes like summer. I made a simple dough, with plenty of butter and sugar and warmth from ground ginger. There was also shelled pistachios, for their buttery, salty flavor. I sandwiched the preserves between two layers of the dough – one pressed firmly and the other crumbled on top. I baked it all until the butter and preserves bubbled and the kitchen filled with the scent of goodness itself and then, really, there was absolutely no reason to go anywhere. So Paul and I stayed in, ate slices of apricot bars, and dreamed of spring. 


Though it sounds very sleepy, it isn’t only pajamas and baking around here. We have planned and done a few things recently: an art gallery with friends in Troy, dinner and cards with my dad. They are only diversions, really, until we can get back to the best winter events: cozy clothes and buttery desserts and for some, football games. To me, it’s first downs, touchdowns and other football gibberish, but my husband loves it all and so this one is for him: “Go Bills!”

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