Keeping my Resolutions: Homemade Wonton Soup

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These are the finished wonton noodles, prior to cooking them.

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The finished soup.

In one of my “Five Easy Resolutions for the New Year” series, I resolved to learn how to make wonton soup, and now I can check it off my list (though I will definitely be making it again, it was that good). I followed this recipe — Simple Wonton Soup from The Woks of Life blog — and followed it to a T, with the exception of using regular Japanese soy sauce instead of Seasoned Soy Sauce (a Chinese soy sauce that reportedly has a different flavor from the Kikoman soy sauce that most of us buy) and fresh-ground black pepper in place of white pepper. The recipe only calls for a very small amount of both these items, so I didn’t see the sense in purchasing new products when what I had on hand was close enough.  I did, however, make a special trip to an Asian grocery store to purchase the specific type of wonton skins described in the recipe’s instructions, as well as a bottle of shaozing wine, which is a dark rice wine. You only use a tablespoon of the latter — it goes in the filling for the wontons — but as rice wine is quite different from most other wines, and distinctly Asian, it seemed essential to purchase it.

For the broth, I used my husband’s homemade turkey broth, which is slightly richer than chicken broth, but still a light broth. Homemade broth is, in my opinion, the only way to go for this recipe. Whereas the western tradition of soup-making typically involves incorporating a lot of ingredients into the broth — the diced vegetables and meats simmered in such soups flavor them to the degree that you can often get away with using a canned broth from the grocery store (especially if you’re also adding a cream to the base of the soup and pureeing it) — the Asian tradition is often towards a clear-brothed soup, and it’s essential for that broth to be tasty and stand-alone good. (A boxed or canned broth in this wonton soup would be too flat and wan-tasting.)

Even using the richer turkey broth (rather than chicken), my husband characterized this wonton soup as being “more delicate and also more complex” than the soup we get at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I’d have to agree — I have no complaints about the restaurant soup (it’s a favorite of mine), but this homemade version was more elegant in terms of its tastes. I’m glad I put it on my New Year’s Resolution list because I would never have gotten around to making it; I would have kept saying that I was going to do it someday, and then kept ignoring it in favor of making the steady rotation of soups that are already in my cooking repertoire because, you know, they’re easy. Not that making wonton soup is particularly difficult, but for someone unaccustomed to filling and folding dumplings, it was more time consuming than my normal style of cooking. I knew it would be, so I made it on a day when I had no other obligations and could relax. I set my computer and headphones on my workstation and listened to YouTube videos while I filled and shaped the wontons. Doing this reminded me of why I made my New Year’s Resolutions the way I did. When resolutions involve big changes or daunting challenges, chances are you won’t do them. I’d rather make a list of a bunch of things to incorporate in the year ahead, and have them be just challenging and out-of-the-ordinary enough that they get me out of my normal routine. And if they add an element of joy to my new year, all the better!

Tomorrow I’ll be posting my final installment of my “Five Easy Resolutions” series. I realize it’s the end of January and most people aren’t thinking about such things anymore, but I still am. 🙂

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Topher Brophy and his dog Rosenberg

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Instagram celebrities Topher Brophy and his dog Rosenberg. “We looks so much alike physically, and do everything together, so dressing the same just feels natural for us,” Brophy said in an interview at The Dodo (a digital media site).

I’m not an Instagram follower, but seeing photos of Topher Brophy and his Aussiedoodle dog Rosenberg could make me a quick convert. Judging by the very earliest photo on their Instagram page, these two bonded very deeply from their first meeting, back when Rosenberg was a puppy and Brophy’s beard was a lot more trim. Even then, there was a resemblance between the two, and Brophy decided to channel it into something that would give people a lift, creating a series of photos of him and Rosenberg dressed up in matching clothes and costumes.  “If we can make people smile, even for a second, we have something to be proud of — in addition to our matching, shiny, flowing manes and green eyes, of course,” he told an interviewer at The Dodo.

As those manes have gotten longer, the resemblance has only gotten stronger. (It’s been noted that they have very similar eyes, and this is so true when you see some of the photos close up.) And while their photos are a riot to look at, they are paired with captions that are of a tender, gentle nature… in other words, they’re sweet rather than attempting to be witty or cool or over-the-top humorous, and yet neither are they overly sentimental or saccharine. I think Brophy has a knack for striking a perfect pitch, and if he and Rosenberg had their own line of greeting cards, I’d be a customer, as I really like that combo of humor and sweetness.

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For more photos, follow the link to Topher Brophy and Rosenberg’s Instagram page

Around the Neighborhood

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I can see how I could write a bold account of myself as a passionate man who rose from humble beginnings to cut a wide swath in the world, whose crimes along the way might be written off to extravagance and love and art, and could even almost believe some of it myself on certain days after the sun went down if I’d had a snort or two and was in Los Angeles and it was February and I was twenty-four, but I find a truer account in the Herald-Star, where it says: “Mr. Gary Keillor visited at the home of Al and Florence Crandall on Monday and after lunch returned to St. Paul, where he is currently employed in the radio show business… Lunch was fried chicken with gravy and creamed peas”.

― Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

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I was thinking today about all the years I spent fervently wishing that someday I would move to Arizona, live under the hot desert sun and those blistering blue skies, and never have to pass another cold, dull, gray winter in Pennsylvania. I’d spent three vacations in Arizona and loved it each and every time I went, even when the temperature was 105 degrees in early May. But in the past year or so, I’ve had a change of heart — one that is pretty much a reversal of what I felt before. I feel so lucky now to live in a neighborhood that has lots of open space — there is a horse farm tucked into our development, and a wide park that borders it, too — as well as neighbors who are kind and who watch out for each other. There is no heavy traffic to deal with, there is not a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality here, and yet we are only fifteen minutes away from our cute college town, with its buzz of students and activities that come courtesy of a thriving university environment.

And when I walked around my neighborhood today, snapping these photos of my neighbor’s muddy horses, the bare trees in the park, the mostly abandoned farmhouse up the road with the beautifully weathered wooden door, there wasn’t a break in the clouds at all, but I didn’t mind. When the sun comes out again, I’ll be happy — and I probably will want to visit Arizona or New Mexico again at some point, because my wanderlust hasn’t vanished. It’s just that I finally looked around and realized that I could love the place where I am now for a very long time, and that’s a great feeling.

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Inspiration

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Maybe it’s a sign of aging: I went to Barnes & Noble a couple days ago to have a coffee and look at magazines, and I realized that I’m no longer as interested in the fashion magazines I used to spend hours poring over. I did sit and read one, but then went looking for Rolling Stone and, along the way, my eyes alighted on the latest issue of Runner’s World — the cover of which is pictured above — and I decided to buy it on the spot. The beautiful woman on the cover — Amanda Butler, a New York City runner, personal trainer, and fitness model — is more inspiring for me, in terms of thinking about beauty, than most fashion models, gorgeous as they are. Granted, at age 54, thinking about beauty is probably a waste of time — age is having a good laugh on me — but most women still think about the topic regardless of age. And as a runner, and someone who is only 5′ 2″ tall with thick thighs, it is really gratifying to see a model on the cover of a magazine who has big, powerful thighs and looks strong and gorgeous showing them off. This is true beauty, functional beauty, to my way of thinking, and seeing her makes me want to run hard!

My Husband’s Homemade Sourdough Bread

 

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Last winter, inspired by an episode of the Netflix documentary series Cooked (featuring journalist Michael Pollan), my husband Mark began experimenting with creating sourdough bread — from scratch. Which is to say that he didn’t purchase or obtain his sourdough-starter culture from another source, he simply began the natural fermentation process here at home, with flour and water, feeding the starter everyday until it eventually reached the desired level of acidity.

With his culture in place, he then began experimenting with all kind of flours, eventually settling on a combination of King Arthur-brand bread flour and an ancient wheat called Einkorn, which he mills himself into flour. He has been perfecting this loaf ever since — spurred further by a friend of ours who used to live near San Francisco, and who misses that city’s famous bread. She became one of his main taste-testers, and recently she initiated a blind tasting in which Mark’s bread competed with several high-quality loaves of sourdough that were delivered overnight from San Fran to her home here in Pennsylvania.  The result? In a double-blind test, Mark’s bread tied for favorite with one of the California loaves.

Today, when he came home from work at lunchtime to bake, I photographed his bread (the pictures you see here) before he took it with him to give to his co-workers. They actually form a queue, waiting for him to deliver it on the days when they know he is baking. Since he has become quite expert at it, and so diligent about the process, I asked him to describe what motivated him to pursue it in the first place, and what continues to motivate him now. His answer: “I’m fascinated by how people did things the very first time [in the history of a practice], and what I discovered is that bread will basically make itself. Flour and water will eventually ferment and bubble, and then you can heat it up and make leavened bread. It might not be the greatest, but there you have it.”

And as for why he continues to do it, he says, “I like that it’s very simple — not necessarily easy, but simple. And people love it. It’s something I can do as an ongoing lightweight hobby.”

For other enthused bakers, I thought I would include his recipe and baking notes on his most successful loaf to date. See below:

White with 20% Einkorn Sourdough

60% hydration bread flour – current best result 1/25/2017

400g King Arthur bread flour

200g water

11g salt

Levain:

100g whole wheat einkorn

100g water

20g culture at 100% hydration

Stretch and fold until smooth in several sessions. The culture was fed 4 times per day for two days to vitalize it. It was previously smelling very sour and cheesy with a membrane on the surface. The previous loaves were sluggish. The dough was started about 8pm. I formed the boule at midnight and baked at noon. Heavily floured the linen lining of banneton with whole Einkorn flour; especially the center. Total ferment time was 16 hours. The dough rose to nearly fill a banneton in 12 hours in the basement at ~60 degrees with the edges rounded showing gas pressure. I made three radial cuts. The loaf displayed good oven spring. Preheated to 500, baked at 450 in my lodge dutch oven covered for 15 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes. I sprayed water inside of the dutch oven cover about 8 times.

 

“And Longer Than the Song of a Whipporwill…”

Writing my Valentine’s Day-related post yesterday put me in the mood for a Randy Travis love song. Ahh, Randy Travis: such a talented artist, such an incredible voice. He’s lived a troubled life in recent years, wrestling inner demons and health problems, but I have loved almost everything he’s ever sung, so I’m hoping he pulls through and one day will be honored for the things he does beautifully. Here is one of his early country hits, “Deeper than the holler,” which pledges love that is “longer than the song of a whipporwill.”

 

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Photo of Eastern Whipoorwill is from the Missouri Department of Conservation website, which reports that the bird’s well-known “whip-poor-will” call may be repeated hundreds of times a night.

Simple Gifts

The nearing of Valentine’s Day has me thinking about gifts that are more strikingly personal than the ones which routinely show up at this holiday. It’s true that most women delight in getting roses and chocolates: who wouldn’t want either of those things, or even just a sublimely romantic card? If your sweetheart is a traditionalist, then my advice would be to show up at her (or his) door with at least one of the aforementioned things, if not all three, and just ignore the rest of my post. (You don’t want to disappoint a traditionalist.) But, on the other hand, if your honey is turned on by gifts that are not only unique, but uniquely tailored to her interests, then what follows is my list of five gifts that might help you to think along those lines. These are gifts I received from various people over the years — not necessarily on Valentine’s Day — which proved memorable because they were so very unexpected yet, at the same time, so totally in tune with my tastes, making me feel like the giver really knew me. And it’s true that you don’t have to break the bank to make a lasting, favorable impression on someone. Most of these gifts are relatively inexpensive — it’s the way they are presented that makes them priceless.

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Does your sweetie like to cook or bake? Consider an apron in a fashionable stripe, and to romanticize it a bit, tuck a bottle of wine in with this gift and a romantic card. “Can’t wait to make waffles with you this weekend!” isn’t a bad line for such a card — it builds anticipation of when you’ll be spending time together. If you do decide to go the apron route, be certain you don’t write or say anything which sounds like a request (or worse, a demand) for your babe’s culinary services. (“You can make me dinner tonight!” is a no go.) On Valentine’s Day, presentation is everything, and though it might sound corny, that line from an old Hank Williams song — “How’s about cookin’ something up with me?” —  is close to the approach you should take with this kind of gift.

 

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Source: sweetpaulmag.com (follow link for recipe)

Let’s turn that question around now. How about you — do you like to cook? Then by all means, whip up something special for your darling. One of the most memorable Valentine’s Day gifts I ever received was a package of chocolate truffles that my boyfriend in college made for me himself. He wrapped them beautifully in foil and put them in a little basket shaped like a kitty, because, at the time, I was a cat person. You can say Awwww and roll your eyes now, but if you’re even half-tempted to try this, then I’ve already got the recipe for you. Just follow the link (for Amaretto truffles) in the caption under the photo above.

 

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These sandals are from the Poet-Sandalmaker of Greece, a man who has sold his sandals to not only many tourists, but to some formidable celebrities, including John Lennon, Barbara Streisand, and  Jackie O.

Authentic Greek sandals.It might seem like a funny gift to receive in the cold month of February, but could it be that your dear love is a ‘summer love’?  No? Well, chances are she or he knows that summer (or perhaps a Mediterranean vacation) is just around the corner, and that’s reason enough for a gift like this. A perfume-blogging friend from Greece once gifted me with the sandals pictured above, and I consider them a unique treasure from a place I someday long to visit. If your summer-lovin’ darling loves shoes, you can’t go wrong with sandals. (Especially sandals with straps like these, which go all the way up the calf!) It’s a great gift to consider if you’re planning a getaway this year with your Valentine because, again, it’s a way of saying that you anticpate being with them, especially on a romantic holiday.

 

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How about daffodils — preferably a big bouquet of them — for their sunny nature, which is so uplifting at this time of year. No one expects to get daffodils for Valentine’s Day, and if you carry a vase of them to your sweetie’s office, they will stand out from the sea of roses and carnations that are the typical fleurs de jour that day. My husband gets me a big bundle of daffodils every spring and they make me feel like I’m (to quote an old Katrina and The Waves song) walking on sunshine, baby. Yeah!! Speaking of which …

 

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Shortly after college, I was in a long-distance relationship with a guy who had a very creative way with love letters, and in one of them he stuck in a 45 of this very record pictured above. “This is the way you make me feel,” he said, and yow! I felt it, too. I didn’t even have a record player at the time, but it obviously didn’t matter. Some thirty years later, whenever Walking On Sunshine comes on the oldies station, I still get revved up and so, so happy!

For not much cash, you can say a lot when you say it in vinyl (and you can say it with old-school cool).

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If You Could Meet a Famous Celebrity…

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Jacques Pepin back in the days when he cooked with Julia Childs. French by birth and upbringing, Pepin came to the US in 1959 and eventually made his home in Connecticut. “Most people who came here came for economic reasons or sometimes for religious or political reasons. I didn’t have any of this. I came here, I liked it, I stayed. So I’m a pure American – even more than people who are born here – because I did it by choice as an adult.”

If you could meet a famous celebrity, who would it be?

I was thinking about this question for awhile, and though the obvious answer would seem to be a film star, as I watch a lot of films, I realized that in truth I would really rather meet someone I have something in common with … someone with whom I could actually have a lengthy conversation or enjoy some level of rapport. So for me, my answer is someone who is either a writer, a chef, a perfumer, or a musician (the latter, not because I write or play music, but because I think of songwriting as being a form of creative writing, making for some common ground).

Of course, part of wanting to meet a famous celebrity usually involves having a bit of a crush on that person. As such, at the top of my celebrity list is chef and author Jacques Pepin. That accent, that smile, that calm, cool and easy way he shows off his culinary skills! He’s 81 years old now, but to me he still seems vibrant and, yeah, sexy.

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Jacques Pepin, circa 1966, with his wife Gloria (before they were married). Don’t you just love the way he is looking at her?  Photo source: The Wall Street Journal

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Jacques and Gloria Pepin with their family: daughter Claudine Pepin and her husband Rolland Wesen (also a chef) and granddaughter Shorey Wesen.

“My palate is simpler than it used to be. A young chef adds and adds and adds to the plate. As you get older, you start to take away.” —  Jacques Pepin