Golden Carrot Soup with Pickled Raisins and Harissa

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We are already halfway through January and my brain is knee deep in February. Somehow, I knew this was exactly how it was going to go. Two short weeks into the year and I feel like so much has happened. I keep penciling things into the calendar, watching it all fill up so fast. It's overwhelming and invigorating all at once.

My mind toggles between the regimented mindset that answers to calendars, reminders and alarm clocks, the side of my brain that keeps pace with the modern world. Then there is the other half, the one that hopelessly wanders, wide-eyed and desperate to soak up all the magic in the present moment. It's the side of me that wants to read all the books and do all the things.  

I've always had this duality.  Most of my life I was a rule-follower- an academic, well-mannered young lady, a straight A student destined for a safe, stable lot in life. I talked often of becoming a lawyer and wanted nothing more than to fit.  Somewhere in college, it all went Pete Tong and I delved into my disco-loving, whiskey guzzling, hallucinogenic dark side. In that space, I was bold and fearless, a criminally reckless, devil-may-care spitfire. Which was fun, until it wasn't.

In the mildly mature calm of my early 30's (I'll be 33 next week, eep!), I struggle to reconcile these two natures. Maybe harness them in a more definitive way? Naturally I have begun the search for answers by obsessively self-administering  "Which side of the brain do you use most?" tests (that's normal, right?) and quite possibly driving myself halfway into crazy town, fearing the worst- the early onset of left brain-ness or, complete and total rational thinking. That, my friends, is crazy talk.  

I picked up the carrots for this soup with the right-side of my brain the other day. I plucked the golden bunch with the daydreaming part of my being that wanders through farmer's markets imagining myself barefoot in a farmhouse somewhere in the Spanish countryside where my only job would be to cook and tend a massive garden, harvesting the day's ingredients into a large woven basket. I'd chop and stir while the hem of my indigo skirt skimmed the dirt floor, my gypsy bangles jingling the meditative rhythm to which I would cook the day's meal. Yep, that's where I went when I saw these beauties. 

This soup is warmth in a bowl punched up with spices and ginger and topped with pickled raisins that have a sweet and acidic dual nature. Harissa adds heat to warm your chilly winter bones while a dollop of garlicky yogurt tempers the heat into comforting submission. Here's to having the best of both worlds.

Golden Carrot Soup with Pickled Raisins & Harissa 

You can certainly substitute regular carrots in place of the golden carrots if you can't find any. Look for harissa at International markets. I hit up the Halal Market in Charlotte. You can also make your own.  This green version would be an ace variation too.  

For the pickled raisins:

For the soup:

  • 2 lbs. golden carrots (or regular carrots), chopped 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ghee
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed 
  • 1/2 inch nub of ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 4 cups vegetable stock 
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt 
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed 
  • pinch salt 
  • Harissa 
  • Green onions, sliced

1. Make the pickled raisins and set aside. You can do this a day in advance if you like.  

2. In a large soup pot, heat oil and ghee over medium heat. Add carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin and salt, stirring until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Pour in vegetable stock and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. 

3. To blend the soup, pour into blender (I freaking love my Vita-Mix) or use an immersion blender to puree. For an extra smooth soup, use a chinois or fine mesh strainer to further strain the soup and remove the pulpy fibers.  Mix yogurt, garlic and salt together in a separate bowl.

4. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a dollop of yogurt and a swab of harissa paste. Top with pickled raisins and a sprinkling of green onions. 

Happy New Year!

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Technically, we rang in the new year six days ago, but I'm "officially" beginning mine today. So, Happy 2014! I spent the last five days in a sort of quiet reflection that seemed to be equal parts hibernation and meditation. I didn't tweet or Facebook much nor did I venture out of the house save a couple outings to enjoy time with friends on New Year's Day.  I journaled. I read books. I cooked and allowed myself to savor the blessed space between the start of the New Year and the "official" return to the grind. 

2013 was big. Real big.  As I journaled my experiences from the year, I realized just how much of the year was a divine gift, opportunities that materialized through no effort on my part. Honestly. I didn't have "drive across the country with my best friend" penciled into my planner, but I did it.  I didn't have "travel to Asheville, New York, Greenville and San Francisco" on the calendar and yet, I went to all of those places. There was so much more too. Rich experiences, new people and entire communities of individuals that have extended their own brand of kindness to me whether it be through food, friendship, work projects and even financial assistance. I planned none of it. 

Last year, I worked harder and happier than I have in my entire life. My plate was full with abundant opportunities and I simply showed up and went to work. At times, I feel like writing professionally took up much of my free time and I fell short in some areas. Managing a full workload was challenging and the learning curve, steep.  I could've nurtured my friendships better. I wish I had more time to extend thoughtful gestures and to see more people I love more often. To that end, I wish I could've done more. 

Typically, at the end of each year I go on a maniacal list-making spree, hammering out goals and resolutions all neatly bulleted into categories, subcategories and micro-categories. I don't know if it was the torrential inundation of "top 10" lists, "Best of 2013" lists and "14 things I won't be doing in the New Year" lists, but I just didn't feel the urge like I have in years past. 

Instead, I found a word. Actually, it found me.  I was in the shower in Tennessee over the holidays, visiting with the Mister's family, not thinking of anything in particular when the word GROW came into my consciousness. Like many of my experiences in 2013, the word simply showed up through no effort on my part. I thought, "that's my word" and have spent the days since thinking about what "GROW" looks like applied to all the areas of my life- my marriage, my spiritual life, my professional life and personal health. 

I made a list too, but nothing I will share here. The year will take me where it wants, I know that. I am hopeful and eager like I am at the beginning of each new year with a hungry willingness to learn what the world wants to teach me. These last few days in quiet contemplation have left me feeling rested and ready.  

With that "official" statement, I launch myself into 2014, once again open to the possibilities that await me, excited, joyful, hopeful and completely cognizant of my inability to manufacture what lies ahead. 

So, although we're six days in, it's finally nice to meet you, 2014. I think we're going to be fast friends. 

 

BOOKS!

Books! Glooooorious books! I can't/won't/will never/absolutely ever/never will have enough books in my life. Ever since I was a little girl, I remember the feeling of losing myself in the pages of books.  I vividly remember traveling to the worlds of Narnia and Oz and getting lost inside a magical tollbooth. I remember road trip escapades with the Sweet Valley Twins (don't hate), reading anything I could get my hands on (shampoo bottles come to mind) and copying pages of the encyclopedia for fun. Did anyone else do that or am I just weird?

Books make me feel secure. I find solace in their pages and comfort in their presence. When I travel, I pack mad books, more than I could possibly read, because it simply feels good to have them around.  Sometimes when I think about all the good books I will never read, I get weepy.  Am I qualifying for an hour with Sally Jesse Raphael yet? Or, this show?  

I fancy entire wings of my imaginary (and sprawling) estate filled from floor to ceiling with books. I want a two-story ladder on wheels that takes me from one end to the next of my giant, make-believe library. At home, my nightstand is piled with anywhere from 4-8 books at any given time. There are magazines too. Too many magazines. Something to read on nearly every surface. Okay, maybe a little mad scientist clutter. 

And now, since discovering my passion for home cooking and food writing, I have gone cuckoo for collecting cookbooks- for inspiration, for learning and for aesthetics. This Christmas I was gifted with an amazing collection of great food books including Ratio by Michael Ruhlman which I have heard is as indispensable as The Flavor Bible. The Mister bought me L.A. Son, the contemporary memoir by Roy Choi, who delivered this amazing speech at MAD Symposium this year. I was thrilled to open The Art of Simple Food II by the inimitable Alice Waters. I am looking forward to using this book as inspiration for our home garden after an epic fail last year. I cannot wait to crack open Andy Ricker's discourse on Thai food in his book, Pok Pok and to explore all the wonderful flavors of Thailand in my own kitchen. Then, for the rest of my life, I plan on working my way through the Bouchon Bakery and Bouchon cookbooks by Thomas Keller thanks to my mom. Check back on me in 25 years and I'll let you know how I'm doing with those. 

I'm over the moon for my new additions and cannot wait to study each and every one.  As always, I hope to share a bit of what I learn here on the blog. Here's to reading more books and finding culinary inspiration in 2014! 

 

 

Auction for the Philippines

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Shortly after the devastating typhoon ravaged the Philippines in early November, I received an email from a blogger friend, Diana Stewart of The Chic Life asking if I was interested in participating in an online auction and bake sale to help raise money for humanitarian aid.

Of course! What a wonderful idea. When a natural disaster of this magnitude hits all the way across the world, I often feel so small and helpless, as if there is nothing I can do to aid the victims. I often imagine myself jumping onto a plane and diving into the destruction to physically help repair what's been destroyed. I felt the same way during Hurricane Katrina or when I hear of suffering in third world countries.  

Thanks to Diana and her creative generosity, I could actually help in some small way. Diana devised an online auction, Auction for PH, where bloggers from all over Charlotte and beyond donated a baked good item for auction. Readers would bid on their favorite baked good items which translated to a monetary donation for the American Red Cross and World Food Programme to aid the Philippines. The winning bidder would do good by making a financial donation and receive something sweet on their doorstep from the long list of participating bloggers.

I donated a strawberry tart with vanilla bean creme and a traditional pumpkin pie. The tart, pictured above, was made for my buddy Mary , who shared her winnings with co-workers. The pumpkin pie found a home with a lovely woman named Sherry who was oh-so-kind and gracious after I delivered a less than photogenic pie to her. A new pie dough recipe flopped and shrunk on me. Drats!

That poor pumpkin pie, although tasty, was a rather disappointing aesthetic specimen. Thank you Sherry for not documenting the ugly pie publicly. 

Despite the imperfect pie, the auction was a success.  Diana raised over $3,000 for charity and worked her little Zumba-fied booty off to make it happen. Thank you for letting me be a part of such a wonderful cause and for reminding me that no matter how small our contributions, we can always lend a helping hand.

To see exactly how much money was raised and who participated, head on over to the Chic Life

 

It's a Thing Now

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Amidst the approaching holiday season and the final push of deadlines for the year, I almost forgot to share the good news.  Creative Loafing Charlotte gave me a new opportunity to eat all the things.  In my new monthly column, I will share inspired dishes from around the Queen City with CL's readers. They called the column, 'Keia is Hungry', after my Twitter and Instagram handles. So, I s'pose that's a thing now.

To learn more about the dope scotch egg from Block and Grinder pictured above, head on over to Creative Loafing Charlotte and read the full column