Split Pea Soup

IMG_0775Some find the color off-putting. In fact, I almost posted this split pea soup recipe sans photo, as it isn’t likely to win any beauty contests (unless it could really nail the talent competition). But those who can get past the unappealing color are rewarded with a healthy, hearty, full-flavored soup. We have a pot of this in the frig at least once a month, making for an easy lunch at home or work. It doesn’t magically appear in the refrigerator, lest you think we have a shoemaker-and-the-elves situation in our kitchen. No, it takes a couple hours to make, but it’s not hands-on labor. You get it simmering, and let it be.

I used to only make this soup when I could beg the ham bone off my mother after she’d hosted Christmas or Easter dinners. Then I discovered most grocery stores carry ham shanks just for making soup. Who knew? Now I make this high-fiber soup outside of holiday seasons. Making it yourself means you can control the sodium, a problem with the canned varieties. Making it yourself also means you’re saving big bucks—this is another soup that figures in at about a buck a bowl. Budget buster…BAM!

If a gallon of soup is more than you can handle, no worries. This soup freezes really well. You can have some now, and save some for later. I usually give a quart to my son Justin, who lives on his own, or my co-worker Annette, who loves it as much as we do. Just spreading the love. Oh, and where’d I find this recipe? In my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, copyright 1981. It’s the one where the homemakers are rockin’ really hot helmet hair-dos as they assemble Jell-O molds. 

Serves 8-10

1 pound bag dried green* split peas, rinsed and drained
8 cups water
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cube chicken bouillon
1 teaspoon marjoram or summer savory
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 ham shank (or ham bone)
4-6 carrots, peeled and chopped
3-4 stalks celery, washed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In Dutch oven, combine dried peas, water, onion, bouillon, marjoram, pepper, and ham shank. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. Remove ham bone and let cool. Add carrots and celery. Bring to boiling again, then reduce to simmer for additional 30 minutes. Once bone is cool enough to handle, remove meat and coarsely chop. Return meat to soup and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.

*NOTE: I once tried the yellow split peas, thinking it would be a fun change of pace. It was the most sickening shade of pale chartreuse I’ve ever seen. You practically had to close your eyes to eat it. Never again.

Flower Power

tissue flowers IMG_0115Cheap can be chic. Trust me—I’ve done dozens of table tops on “we have no budget,” and sometimes the lack of funds forces creativity where a big budget wouldn’t have. Here’s an example of some items I’ve mixed and matched for use on several different occasions, and they might spur you on to other ingenious ideas. To start with, the photo at right shows a tissue paper flower centerpiece made with materials I had on hand. Supplies needed and how-to details below.

IMG_0703Let’s start with the base to this theme. I purchased 1 1/4 yards each of the red and white geometric print, and the mini-floral teal print. I quartered the yardage to make four napkins of each print, then rolled the edges and hemmed them. I also bought 1 1/3 yards of daisies with bright-colored centers on a teal background. This piece I left whole, just trimming the yardage as necessary to create a perfect square, then rolled and hemmed the edges. (These fabrics were all found at Jo-Ann’s—during a sale, of course.) This square can go over a solid white tablecloth, or a mini-checked lime gingham, or just about anything that coordinates. It was much cheaper than buying a full-size tablecloth, and adds a pop of color when laid diagonally on a round or rectangular table. (Unfortunately, a couple napkins fell into bleach in my laundry room sink, so they’re ombré now—white on the edges, gradually moving into teal floral. But ombré is super hot now, right? Ugh.) The plates pictured here are Fiesta—turquoise (purchased recently) and cinnabar (a discontinued color bought several years ago).

The other element to this decor scheme, was a vase of tissue paper flowers (pictured above and below). I made these using tissue paper I keep on hand for stuffing gift bags. With no money allotted for centerpieces for a ladies tea event at church, I cut organic shapes from tissue, and scrunched and taped the pieces with floral tape onto green floral wire. I started with a fringe of tissue for the “poppies,” then added overlapping petals, pleating at the base of each petal, and rolling them onto the stems with the floral tape. Then I wrapped the stems in floral tape to give them some heft. The pom-pom flowers were just large fringe pieces cut and twirled onto the floral wire stems. You could also do this by pleating the tissue like shown on this HGTV video of “how to make a tissue pom pom“. The leaves are just two leaf shapes cut from tissue, with the floral wire running down the center between the two pieces. I glued these together with one of my son’s left over glue sticks (which fortunately hadn’t dried out yet). The wire helps to be able to shape the leaf when putting it in an arrangement. I tried to do other types of flowers, too, but these were the only ones fit for public viewing. My attempts at daffodils and tulips were pathetic.

flowers and banner IMG_0202I added some orange “poppies” to the mix for a summer bridal shower, and used the square daisy print on the table top again (not visible in this image). Cut from simple construction paper, the ubiquitous pendant banner pieces were tied together with twine. Hand-lettering is not my forte, so I ran off the letters needed in black, 220+ point type on my home printer, cut out the letters with an X-Acto, and glued them on the triangles with the aforementioned glue stick.

Then I think I used these flowers and the table topper again for my Dad’s 80th birthday party. OK, now I’m starting to sound just plain miserly… (But no worries. Dad took no offense to the pre-used adornments—he wouldn’t notice “decor” if it bit him in the behind.*) At any rate, if you happen to stumble across a versatile decorating scheme like this one, don’t be afraid to re-use elements of it, mixing and matching to suite your celebration.

*For those of you concerned I’m sounding disrespectful to my father, be assured I say this with the utmost love. I 100% guarantee he said “Get outta here,” with a big grin on his face when he read this.

Nelson’s Ice Cream

FullSizeRender-2I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! If ice cream makes you holler, then head to one of Nelson’s Ice Cream shops in Stillwater or St. Paul, Minnesota. My husband and I joined the throngs of folks waiting in line one balmy Friday night for the most generously scooped ice cream cones I’ve ever seen. With 40-plus tantalizing flavors of Brown’s ice cream to choose from, you need the wait in line to give you time to make up your mind. If you’re still torn between your multitude of options when your server yells “Next!”, don’t panic. They’ll let you have two flavors per cone or cup.

FullSizeRender-1As you can see from the picture of my Toasted Almond Fudge cone (being scooped by smiling server Dan), even the “child-size” cone is beyond belief. We used to joke when our kids were little that they weren’t supposed to eat anything bigger than their heads. At Nelson’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a child’s head smaller than the ice cream cone on which they are blissfully licking away. I don’t know how anyone could possibly finish the Lumberjack—five mammoth scoops of any flavor served in a bowl with your choice of toppings. Judging from the Wall of Fame reserved for those who’ve downed the monstrous mound, it’s a task best accomplished by growing teenage boys.

FullSizeRenderWithin the forty or so flavors, there are a few sherbet and frozen yogurt options sprinkled in. And don’t forget about Nelson’s infamous Superman ice cream—a trio of tie-dyed neon yellow vanilla, blue raspberry, and pink cherry that’s especially popular with the younger crowd. I’m fond of their waffle cones, and the reward for making it through the first scoop or two, is getting a bite of the crispy cookie-like crunch along with the delectable ice cream. It’s worth the dollar up-charge— $4.50 instead of $3.50—to get a waffle cone over a cup or cone. Your only issue with Nelson’s Ice Cream shop might be finding it. The St. Paul shop is obvious enough on Snelling Avenue, but the Stillwater store isn’t part of the bustling downtown. It’s off the beaten path at the intersections of Greeley and Olive, up the hill from the main business district. But if you really love ice cream, you’ll find it. And you’ll be so glad you did.

Black Bean Soup

Black Bean Rice Bowl IMG_0601You’ll yield a wonderful, slow-cooked flavor when you simmer this black bean soup on the stove top. This is a Saturday soup as it needs a few hours of simmering to soften the beans, but it’s totally worth the wait. Serve this over some über-healthy brown rice and it’s a whole meal. 

It makes a hearty batch—about a gallon—so you’ll have plenty leftover for lunch at the office, or dinner some night when you’re in a rush. I usually package up a quart to give to my son Justin who lives on his own, and he’s always thrilled to get this in his “mom” bag. Another plus to this recipe? It’s a budget buster. I think I figured this costs about a buck a bowl to make. As for the origins of this recipe, I got it from my girlfriend’s mother several years ago, and it’s scribbled on the back of a hockey practice schedule. I can’t tell you any more than that!

(My husband thinks I should have captioned this photo: “Husband starves to death while wife does photo shoot of his dinner for blog.” He’s fine, people, really, he’s just fine.)

Serves 8

1 pound dry black beans
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 ham shank or meaty ham bone
1 yellow onion, chopped
¾ cup celery, chopped
½ to 1 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can (15 ounce) tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
1 cup brown rice, cooked according to package directions
Sour cream (optional)

Cover the black beans with cold water in large Dutch oven, and soak overnight. Drain and rinse beans, then add fresh water to 1-inch above beans. Bring beans to a boil, then add vinegar and ham shank or bone. Reduce to simmer and cook for 2 hours.

Remove ham shank or bone from soup and set on plate to cool. In sauté pan on medium heat, cook onions until translucent. Add celery and green pepper, and cook until tender. Add garlic and cook a minute more. Add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano and stir to combine. Stir vegetable mixture into cooked beans. Return heat to high and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook another hour with cover cracked open to allow steam to escape. Soup should reduce down and thicken as it cooks.

Remove as much meat as possible from the ham bone and shred. Add meat to soup and stir to combine. Serve over cooked brown rice. If desired, top with sour cream.