Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cucumber Soup

Right around this time last year, Scott and I made a batch of cucumber soup (read about it here), and lately we've been dreaming of making it again. It's easy and tasty and would have been the perfect thing last night, when we both got home from our respective Ultimate practices sweaty, hungry and tired.

This morning I hunted through my e-mail and found the recipe that we used last year! It's one that Lynne Rossetto Kasper published in her weekly "Splendid Table" e-mail. Without further ado, I present "Cool Cucumber Soup with a Cucumber-Herb Relish." Bon appetit!
July 12, 2006

Dear Friends,

We who dream up recipes for a living can fantasize all we want about America waiting breathlessly for yet another summer gem from our kitchens. Real world right now is, "Once I get home I want to stick my head in the refrigerator, then take an ice bath, then order in pizza, and hope no one will complain."

This soup might change some of that anticipation. You could have it waiting in the refrigerator, along with cheeses, crackers, watermelon and lemonade. No stove, no work, and if you serve on paper plates, no clean up. Then take the ice bath.

Cool Cucumber Soup with a Cucumber-Herb Relish

Excerpted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen. © 2006 by Deborah Madison. Used with permission of Broadway Books, New York. All rights reserved.

Makes 3 to 4 cups

This herb-green froth of a soup can be whipped together in a blender in moments, then chilled until serving. Served in glasses, it makes a refreshing way to begin a summer dinner, and it's a great convenience to have on hand in the refrigerator for a quick lunch or an afternoon bite.

A cucumber soup can be led in many directions. You can allow dill to predominate and garnish it with dill flowers, use a mixture of herbs as is done here, or use chives with a leaf or two of lovage, the perfect cucumber herb in my opinion. If you want the snap of chile, add minced jalapeño and lime.

The Soup:

* 2 pounds cucumbers
* 1 cup buttermilk, whole-milk yogurt, sour cream, or a mixture
* 1/2 cup coarsely chopped herbs, including basil, dill, cilantro, and lovage
* Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
* Zest and juice of 2 lemons, or to taste

The Cucumber Relish:

* 2 tablespoons minced chives or scallions
* 1 tablespoon minced dill
* 2 tablespoons each finely chopped basil and cilantro
* 1 lovage leaf, finely slivered
* 2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Peel and seed the cucumber. Use one to make a cup of small dice and set it aside, then coarsely chop the rest. Puree in a blender or food processor with the buttermilk, chopped herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the zest and juice from 1 lemon. Chill.

2. Just before serving, toss the reserved diced cucumber with the herbs, a few pinches of salt, the olive oil, and the remaining lemon juice and zest.

3. Taste the soup for salt, pepper, and acidity, adding more lemon juice if needed, then serve in chilled bowls with the cucumber-herb relish.


* Lovage has a flavor similar to celery, but bolder and spicier.
* Go for especially sweet cucumbers for this dish. The season is high, and stubby pickling cucumbers and the unfortunately named "burpless," or classier sounding "English" cukes can be treats. Don't wash produce before storing. If you seal whole cukes in bags, pressing out all the air, they will hold in the refrigerator a week.
* Even if it hasn't been possible in the past, it is time to buy organic directly from local farmers. If it's abundant and local, organic prices should be lower than at any other time of the year.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

This has been one of the nicest weekends in DC I've had in a while - lots of quality time with Scott, lots of soaking up what DC has to offer, lots of productivity around the house, and of course some Ultimate.

On Friday night, Scott and I went to the Tabbard Inn for dinner - we've been meaning to go since his birthday, since his parents gave him a gift certificate. We sat out on the patio, and it was a perfect evening. Clear light, ideal temperature, no wind. I ate my first raw oyster ever, as well as my first soft shell crab and conch, and I'm eager to have all three again. We ate at a leisurely pace but weren't quite ready to go home when we finally paid the bill, so so walked to Dupont Circle, sat on a bench and people-watched for a while. The brass band was playing on the other side of the circle, and their jazz wafted our way. Couples, dogs, chess players, frisbee players, drunk people, hurried people. What a night to be out.

We headed downtown again on Saturday morning to check out an exhibit at the Sackler called Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries. From the website: "The Portuguese voyages of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led to the first real interaction among almost all the world's peoples. An unprecedented exchange of knowledge, techniques, imagery and ideas inspired the creation of highly original works of art." The exhibit contained sections on Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and Japan. Lots of cool, scrambled things - like an Italian Madonna and Child in a setting with Chinese decorations. I got to visit Portugal for a week while I lived in Italy, and it was fascinating. I'd love to go back and spend more time there sometime.

Scott had to spend the afternoon at the office, and I spent it doing useful things around the house. Like cleaning mold off the underside of the mat in the shower. Gross, but satisfying. Scott and I met at the Carter Baron Amphitheater, a few blocks from our house, for a picnic dinner and a free outdoor performance of the National Symphony Orchestra. Again, a perfect evening to be outside. The NSO performed a neat collection of works by American composers. Bernstein's Overture to Candide was terrific. Grofé's Sunset from the Grand Canyon Suite was wonderful. And the encore was Copland's Hoedown from Rodeo - irresistible fun.

Today we spent lots of time in the garage, pulling out furniture that needs to be given away or trashed, and in the basement, packing boxes to ship to Davis. Today's "moldy shower mat" was a box of kitchen supplies that I had stored in the garage. A mouse had gnawed into it and made a nest of the potholders... and had left droppings amongst the silverware. I soaked it in bleach and washed it well, and then threw away the sponge and washed my hands well. Scott is as good as packing as I am bad at it. This entire process would probably drag on for weeks if he weren't here giving orders. Today, he's entirely responsible for my sanity.

At 3:30, I left the nice, cool basement and headed north to Pi practice. We worked hard and sweat a lot, and it was a long bike ride home, but it was good. Now I'm home, showered, fed, hydrated, happily ready for bed.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Day 8

We woke up and got moving earlier than usual, since we were on a tight schedule. We ate cereal rather than our usual full meal, loaded up the rafts, headed downriver 15 more miles, to mile 240. A speedboat was waiting for us there, so we loaded our luggage, said good-bye to our guides and cruised for 2 hours to get to Lake Mead. Our guides would spend about 7 hours making the same trip on the rafts. Flat water, low dirty yellow walls... an anticlimactic finale. At Lake Mead, our bus was waiting for us, and we rode 2 hours back to Las Vegas. Scott and I taxied straight to the airport, where we changed out of our river clothes into something cleaner. We got to Baltimore after midnight, caught a SuperShuttle home, showered and got to bed by 3 am, in a completely different world than the one we had woken up in.

A fantastic trip. I hope the Grand Canyon is preserved and not dammed up in years to come so I can go back again.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Day 7

Today was our last full day on the river - certainly bittersweet. I love the pace here, the rhythm dictated by the light and the water level rather than by work. But my body is ready to get back to more shade and less hot, dry wind. The river is much warmer now than when we began - its temperature rises 1°F every 20 miles, so today's water was around 58°F, rather than the 48° of Day 1. I'd been doing fine with the water the whole trip - sitting at the front of the raft, no rain gear, getting wet, shivering for a minute and then drying off and warming up. But it finally got to me. I was a little chilly, wearing a wet long-sleeved cotton shirt to keep the sun off, and I was worn out, so I got cold and cranky. Happily, people took care of me - got me situated in a warmer, drier place on the raft, so the day was not lost.

We didn't go on any hikes today, because we had to cover a lot of ground. Our only stop was at Pumpkin Spring, named for the bright orange arsenic and selenium deposits. It was right at the river's edge, and the river was wide and safe enough that we could climb up onto some high rocks and jump off into the river. It's pretty crazy to be shivering when the air temperature is 115°F, but Scott and I both were. It stayed hot for a long time once we got to camp. We sat with our feet in the water and wore wet clothing to try to stay cool.

We had a very good dinner of rib eye steaks, and then sat around together for closing remarks - good-byes, thank-yous, promises to exchange e-mail addresses and photos. All week our guides have been telling us what a great group we are, and we've been telling them what great guides they are, but it was nice to do it one last time, altogether, under a starry sky.

When we had said what we wanted to say, we went scorpion hunting. Ani had a black light along, so about seven of us followed her back along a path, peering under bushes and behind rocks. And we found some! They really do glow in the dark! Bright neon yellow. We even found one hunting - we watched it sting an insect with its tail, grab it in its left claw and eat it. It's a scary insect but beauiful, and amazing to watch. Very graceful.

The moon was late to rise, so I feel asleep under a black sky full of stars. The constellation Scorpio was hanging right over the canyon wall.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Day 6

We emerged from the bedrock, the hard schist, and returned to sedimentary layers - a pity, as the schist was really pretty.

We were all tired this morning. We've been out for long enough that we're starting to feel worn down. For the first time, I felt ready for the trip to be over. I was tired, heat-rashed and a little bored.

We went on a really neat hike along the upper rim of a slot canyon called Deer Creek Canyon. It involved some slightly frightening shimmying along a narrow ledge before the whole canyon opened up into a beautiful creek and waterfall. There were lots of big trees, which you don't see very often here. The hike had gorgeous views down into the slot canyon - lots of graceful, striated curves - and out across the Colorado River and the whole Grand Canyon.

We camped at Fern Glen Canyon, at mile 168, and after we set up camp and did our afternoon reading, we hiked back into the canyon. It involved some rock climbing to get back to the big, rounded out amphitheater, which was of course filled with ferns. The route back there made me nervous - I'm always afraid of falling off rocks - but I'm getting braver about following Scott's lead, and it's almost always worth it, both for the sights and for the feeling of accomplishment. We took our time back in the canyon, exploring different parts of it, and were happy for our evening baths when we got back to camp. The after dinner entertainment was trading jokes. Good times.