Well, that was a busy weekend. On Friday, we attended our first Michaelmas celebration. Since Kingston just started preschool three weeks ago, it was our first school festival.
As the grade schoolers gathered in a large circle, we sat at the edge of the wooded playground with other parents, friends and acquaintances eating our picnic dinner while we watched a dragon get slayed.
Because that wasn't enough excitement, Kingston helped use a two-man saw to cut a log into chunks. He then promptly went over to the hammering table and began putting 1-inch nails into a piece of wood he'd just cut.
We watched the fifth grade parents work the apple press to make cider using fruit collected from all the families. We shared an abundance of home baked bread slathered with butter.
Then all the way home, Kingston chanted, "Michaelmas, apple sauce!" Just because.
But Saturday was a new day as we put our Friday adventures behind us. It was our Fall Soup Swap and it was a good one.
If you have never been to or hosted a soup swap, maybe it's time to join in and make one happen. It is the best reason to gather a bunch of friends and neighbors together and a chance to fortify everybody when the weather starts to take on a chill.
All of the soups we had were delicious. Butternut squash and curry, carrot yogurt, Tuscan white bean, pumpkin and Jerry Traunfeld's herbed black bean concoction. I made Senegalese peanut soup. Everyone brought containers and filled them up before they went home.
Lately, I've been on a soup kick and I can't help it. Soup in all its incarnations is one the greatest things a person can cook or eat. It's not usually complicated, it's nutritious and you can generally feed a lot of people with a single pot.
Our soup swap underscored all this plus more. People love sharing. People love trying out new flavors. They love taking home quarts of soup that they didn't have to cook. They are happy to know there will be a meal or two they won't have to make, other than heating something up. There's also the bonus of getting to visit with one another.
Senegalese peanut soup is one of my favorites. The best version I've had is the one that Jim makes at The Rhody Cafe and the Farm to Market Bakery (next door to the cafe) down in Bow-Edison. If you ever find yourself driving south from Bellingham down Chuckanut Drive, you will see it on the left side just before you get to Bow Hill Road.
Jim's version is full of shredded chicken and is warming and complex. It's offered every day both at the Cafe and the Bakery, served with pieces of the Breadfarm's most perfect baguette.
But circling back to Michaelmas, it is a festival that has been celebrated since at least Roman times, if not earlier. There are different stories related to it including that of St. George slaying a dragon to save an entire village.
It's a reminder of the personal dragons we each have and the need to find the courage to tame them. Gathering together, finding strength through community by sharing something as simple as soup is one small way to shore ourselves (in these northerly parts especially) against the darker months ahead.
As our school newsletter states, "Let's use the energy and focus of the Michaelmas season to resolve to be courageous -- which means 'take heart,' subdue our inner dragons and serve the good. Celebrate our inner strength and courage and let Hope and Love prevail."
Or, as Kingston says, "Michaelmas, applesauce!"
And as I say, "Soup Swap!"
Senegalese Peanut Soup
This soup happens to be dairy and gluten free, vegan and vegetarian. It does, however (and unavoidably) contain plenty of peanuts, as the name suggests.
Slightly adapted from Soup Club, a book that celebrates friendship, food and sharing through a soup club in New York City.
Makes 4 quarts.
2 cups roasted, salted peanuts
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 small red onions, cut in half and sliced thinly
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons mild curry powder
pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne
1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes, with their juice
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 13.5 oz. can of unsweetened coconut milk
1 bunch cilantro, divided
1 cup unsweetened natural peanut butter, well-stirred
8 ounces swiss chard leaves, sliced into wide ribbons
To finish the soup
black pepper, freshly ground
crushed or whole roasted, salted peanuts
Use the side of a large knife to crush the peanuts.
In a large pot, heat the coconut oil. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, curry and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2-3 minutes longer until the spices are fragrant.
Stir in the tomatoes then the sweet potatoes. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring. Roughly chop half of the cilantro and add to the pot. Add 4 1/4 cups water and the coconut milk then give the soup a good stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender.
Remove from heat. Into another container ladle out 5 cups of the soup, including chunks of sweet potato and pieces of tomato and onion. Set aside.
Stir peanut butter into the remaining soup in pot. Use an immersion blender to puree until peanut butter is incorporated and soup is fairly smooth. Return the unblended portion to the pot. Add the chard and stir. Allow chard to wilt. Adjust soup for salt and add pepper as desired.
Serve in bowls garnished with cilantro and peanuts.