Friday, January 28, 2011

Foodie Fridays: Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

If you live in the snowy northeast, you are probably very tired of snow. While I like winter (and snow), the tall piles of dirty snow, the narrowing sidewalks, and the icy/slushy/snowy puddles are starting to get a little trying. If you have the winter blues and need something to help you warm up, soup is one of the most comforting (and most affordable) ways of doing so.

Not so long ago, I considered myself a soup failure. While I enjoyed soup, I seemed to lack the ability to actually make a good soup at home. However, after Thanksgiving 2010, I found myself with scanning websites to find something to do with the turkey breast carcass that was taking up precious refrigerator space. Luckily, I found an awesome stock recipe as well as a good recipe for turkey and wild rice soup. I did a little tweaking (some of it based on other reviewers' ideas) and found that the soup was flavorful, hearty, and filling. As an added bonus, the recipe is relatively low in calories (according to the calorie calculator I use, it is around 215 calories per serving)

Chicken (or Tukey) and Wild Rice Soup (based on this recipe from

-          3 (10.5 ounce) cans condensed, low sodium chicken broth*
-          2 cups water*
-          ½ cup finely chopped green onions (optional)
-          ¾ cup chopped carrots
-          ½ cup chopped celery
-          ¾ cup chopped onions
-          2 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
-          ½ - ¾ cup of wild rice (you can also use long grain white rice, but the cooking time will be shorter)
-          ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon butter
-          1 tablespoon olive oil
-          ¼ cup all-purpose flour
-          ½ teaspoon salt
-          ¼ teaspoon poultry seasoning (or chicken bouillon)
-          1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
-          ½ cup half-and-half
-          ½ cup 1% milk
-            - 2 cups cooked, diced turkey or chicken meat
*I typically like to use homemade stock in place of the condensed broth and part of the water. I will usually use 5 cups of homemade stock and ½ cup of water.

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter with the olive oil. When the butter is melted and the oil is hot, add the chopped carrots, celery, green onions, and onions. Allow them to cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Halfway through this, add the garlic if using.
  2. Add the chicken broth, water, and rice to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender (35-40 minutes for wild rice, 20-30 minutes for long grain white rice).
  3. When the rice is tender, melt ¼ cup butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour, salt, poultry seasoning (or bouillon), and pepper. Cook, stirring, until smooth and bubbly. Stir in half-and-half and milk, and cook mixture until thickened (about 2 minutes).
  4. Stir the flour mixture into the rice mixture. Add the chicken or turkey. Heat through. Makes 9 servings.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: "Eden's Outcasts"

Growing up, I was an avid reader. Besides the shameful Sweet Valley High series, the Nancy Drew Files, and the strange spate of teen horror books that were popular in the late 1980s/early 1990s (think R.L. Stine and the like), I also loved Little Women. Until I was nine, I didn't have a sister, nor did I have a particularly involved mom or a handsome boy next door, so Little Women seemed like a great alternative (the genteel poverty and the Civil War didn't seem quite so menacing when I was younger).

Last fall, I picked up John Matteson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, which serves as a dual-biography of Alcott and her father, Bronson Alcott. Initially, I was very skeptical; despite his ties to education (Alcott had several failed schools, including one that was eventually disbanded because he allowed a black child to attend), I didn't have a serious interest in learning more about Bronson. I even considered skipping the Bronson chapters and going straight to the ones that were about Louisa. However, I managed to resist this initial urge, and I'm very grateful that I did.

Louisa May Alcott's life has undeniable ties to Bronson's, and in order to truly understand her dreams, her fears, and her career, you must also look at Bronson. Bronson, a figure in the United States' transcendentalist movement, possessed lofty ideals and goals but had a difficult time living up to his true potential. His ambitions and strengths were many, but his limitations and weaknesses, including mental instability and an utter inability to support a family, irrevocably shaped Louisa's outlook on life as well as her career, since she did much of her writing, including Little Women, to help support her family and pay back her parents' crushing debt.

Furthermore, the book also shows us the complicated relationship between Bronson and Louisa. Louisa longed for her father's approval, while Bronson wished that Louisa possessed the more retiring and obedient dispositions found in eldest daughter Anna (who became the model for "Meg") and third daughter Elizabeth (who shared her name with her Little Women counterpart). He had a similar view of his wife, Abba, with whom Louisa was very close. Consequently, Louisa's personal and professional lives both involved her desire to conquer her temper and win her father's appreciation.

Besides giving us a complete portrait of Louisa and Bronson, the other strength of Eden's Outcasts is the careful attention to detail Matteson puts into his research. In addition to the excerpts from Louisa's writing, the book also includes quotes and sections from the the letters, diaries, and writings by the Alcott family and their friends and contemporaries. By letting us read the words of Louisa, Bronson, and others, it made the past seem more immediate and helped support Matteson's claims regarding the Alcotts.

If you are interested in the lives of Bronson and Louisa May Alcott or if you just want a sense of the transcendental ideas that were percolating in the United State during the mid-1800s, Eden's Outcasts may be the perfect book for you. It isn't a quick read, but it is an engrossing and thoughtful one, and people who are only familiar with Little Women will find a greater appreciation for the author's talents as well as a better understanding of how and why she tried to conquer her demons through her work.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Good Words for Hard Times

Ever since the shooting in Arizona on Saturday, I've been struggling for some way to address it. I tried finding a poem to offer solace and comfort, but I haven't had much luck. However, like the speaker in Stephen Dunn's "To a Terrorist," I feel like I must "[speak] out loud to cancel my silence."

Beyond the tragedy of the people killed and the others injured, one of the most maddening things that has arisen from this experience is the finger pointing that started almost immediately after the shootings. The anger is certainly understandable, but what makes my head pound is the fact that we, as a nation and as a human family, cannot just allow ourselves a few days to mourn with the victims and their families.

Furthermore, there is the sinking but undeniable feeling that we, as a society, are all guilty. We didn't pull the trigger that severely injured Representative Giffords or killed 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, but our acceptance (either by tuning in or by ignoring it in the hope that it would go away) of the violent rhetoric spouted in the name of politics makes us all culpable to this tragedy. Furthermore, the fact that people are so quick to brandish freedom of speech as a rationale for spouting this vitriol is wrong-headed and heartbreaking. As Paul Krugman so eloquently put it in his op-ed column:
There's room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn't any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary. And it's the saturation of our political discourse -- and especially our airwaves -- with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence... [E]ven if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn't excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.
These words ring too true. Perhaps some people need to remember (or be reminded by others) that just because you can say doesn't make it right and it certainly doesn't mean that you should say it.

So what about those good words I mention in the post title? In this time of sorrow, I've found myself turning to a rather surprising source for comfort: Bill Clinton. During the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial service, Clinton offered these thoughts:
Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, let us "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope that all of you have had a good 2010. Here's to 2011 - may it bring better and brighter days for us all! And what better way is there to usher in the new year than listening to some Florence + the Machine? (Just try to ignore the fact that this was used in the trailers for the awful Eat, Pray, Love - it is a good song, despite this unfortunate association :)