Vegetarian Chili – A Labor of Love

“The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children”
― Philip Carr-Gomm

My late grandfather Thomas Puskala was a soil artist and his straight, manicured vegetable rows were a work of art. He was an organic gardener before it was hip and he carefully recorded the seasons and moments of insight on his calendar. He cited the migration of geese and robins, jotted down when he planted the peas, and detailed the ebb and flow of frost’s destructive fingers. I think of Grandpa when I publish a new blog post. He would have loved how I document my garden with snippets of poetry, layers of photos, and the capacity that my words and recipes have for outreach. Technology affords us the opportunity to document our lives with vibrant threads of meaning.

Thank you to my cousin Alicia for this photo of Grandpa Puskala. ❤

I thought of Grandpa this past summer and fall when I grew and put up over thirty quarts of garden tomatoes. Our new hoop house made for a remarkable growing season and our tomato plants became tree-like and laden with juicy fruit. It felt therapeutic to quarter the scarlet orbs (skins and all) and roast them with garlic and onion for marinara, plunge them into boiling water to remove the skins for stewed tomatoes, and add spices to the boiling pot and render salsa with fiery depth. Though, through the canning process, I am preserving more than just an Upper Peninsula of Michigan summer in jar. I am also encapsulating Grandpa’s old fashioned values and his affinity for nourishing his family with wholesome food and living as close to the land as possible. Every bubbling pan of lasagna and simmering pot of tomato basil soup is a homage to my grandfather’s legacy.

I know that I am not alone in taking extra steps to make healthy meals for my family. However, with cold comes with an offering of food temptations. Making wise food choices can be a challenge and craving comfort food makes it easy to surrender to indulging in too sodium and sugar laden treats. With spring right around the corner, you may be thinking of ways to jump start your healthy intentions. A great tip that I try to incorporate into my family’s meal plan is to have soup or chili on hand. This guarantees that we always have a quick and homemade dinner or lunch in a pinch. The chili recipe that I am sharing with you is heavy on fiber from beans, which makes it filling.

I started sharing recipes on my blog in 2013, and I like to challenge people to experiment with vegetarian or Vegan recipes. Not only do those who practice a plant-based diet know how to find alternative and filling sources of protein, but often plant-based recipes use healthy spices and herbs for flavor. This chili recipe is one that I have shared with friends for years and I always mention, that if desired, they can add meat. However, most report back that they enjoyed the recipe without meat. This recipe is on rotation in our house year round, but it is especially satisfying in the winter months as the temperature dips (which is still the case in Upper Michigan).  I often make a double or triple batch and it freezes well. This year I even pressure canned a few quarts to keep on hand in case of an emergency.

Last weekend I participated in a chili cook off at the 5th Annual Wellness Fair at Gwinn High School. I took first place in the amateur division – winning over two student groups and my boss Sandy Petrovich, the Superintendent of Gwinn Area Community Schools. It was neat to watch Ms. Petrovich and her student competitors banter back and forth. It was exactly how a school function should run – it was well attended and involved all of our education stakeholders. The entire event made me so proud to be a Modeltowner!

The Wellness Fair was exciting to participate in and GACS Food Service Director, and organizer of the Wellness Fair, Barbie Ward-Thomas does a phenomenal job encompassing all types of wellness in the event: physical, emotional, financial, and social wellness. We are so lucky to have her as our support and advocate for health at GACS!

To see a story of the event covered by local media click HERE

My award winning chili!

I served up my chili with sour cream, wedges of lime, and fresh cilantro!

I was pleased to have been selected first place by community tasters (everyone is invited to sample the chili and cast a vote). It is always interesting to see the look on people’s faces when you mention that the chili is vegetarian. Some people look at you skeptically like you are trying to spread an agenda, but then I explain how flavorful it is and full of ingredients. If that does not win them over, I like to mention how easy vegetarian chili can be on your pocketbook since beans are extremely affordable (especially if you buy dry beans and cook them yourself). I also made sure to bring a jar of my canned tomatoes to show people the love and attention that I put into my chili. ❤ Love wins every time!

THREE BEAN VEGETARIAN CHILI
*3 cups of tomatoes
*1 cup tomato juice
*1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
*1 cup chopped celery
*1 cup chopped onion
*1 cup of corn
*3 minced cloves of garlic
*1 cup white beans (cooked)
*1 cup black beans (cooked)
*1 cup kidney beans (cooked)
*1 small can diced green chilies
*1 Tbsp ground cumin
*1 Tbsp ground coriander
*1 Tbsp dried oregano
*1 Tbsp chili powder, (Add as much for desired heat.)
*Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Sauté celery, onion, green pepper and garlic with olive oil. Add all ingredients to crock pot or stock pot (you may also want to add a cup of water). The longer the chili cooks, the better it will taste. If I cook via stove-top I simmer for 60 minutes. Using the slow-cooker method I cook on low for 4 hours. Season to taste (adding more chili powder or “heat” if desired).

You can also toss in other vegetables that you have on hand. In the past I’ve added zucchini, carrots, and even cabbage.

While you can use canned beans that you purchase at the market, I suggest buying dry and cooking your own (makes it even more economical). I make the beans in bulk and freeze. One pot makes approximately fifteen cups. While it is fantastic alone, sometimes I like to add a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, an avocado wedge, whole wheat pasta or quinoa, and/or a squeeze of fresh lime juice to perk up the flavor even more. Add a side salad (the one featured here incorporates citrus, pomegranate, jalapeno slices, and avocado) and you have a nutritious and hearty, but not heavy, meal. For easy to assemble homemade salad dressings, make sure you check out my blog.

I hope that you were fortunate as my family to have a bounty of tomatoes over the summer. If you do not garden, you are missing out on one of life’s most simple pleasures. There is nothing like a tomato fresh off the vine – still warm from the sun. Take advantage of a blustery UP day to dream about tilling a small plot of land or filling a row of containers on your deck with lush plants. My husband and I will spend our winter months pouring over seed catalogs to fill our new hoop house in the spring. I know my grandfather is watching and I know that he loves our farm. ❤

My new cards I had printed to give out at the Wellness Fair in hopes of drawing in new readers.

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Spring Fever Remedy: Cucumber Soup

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

Our hoop house is in the distance, patiently awaiting summer.

 

 

Today is a snow day off of work/school and to say that I have spring fever is an understatement. I have been dreaming of leafy green vegetation since the first hint of snowflakes graced the sky. A couple of weeks ago my husband John planted trays of seeds in our family room window, and in front of our sliding glass door. Daily we watch the thermometer that measures the temperature in our hoop house – waiting until it is warm enough at night to start planting the seedlings. Today it is only 30 degree in the hoop house, but on sunny days it has been reaching the low 50s. Last summer was our first taste of large scale gardening and we are hooked. Winter was our time to dream and make plans for even better produce.

Morning Glory

This was in the beginning of the season. We ended up going to a drip hose watering method since the plants were ENORMOUS and a sprinkler wasn’t able to do the job.

Last year we were able to harvest cucumbers from July until late October. Not only were we able to fill our shelves with quarts of pickles, we were also able to share our bounty with friends.

It was a learning process since it was our first year with a hoop house. This year we will be adding a large fan to circulate the air and we will be start our pumpkins inside and move them outside. We will also make sure that we have plenty of seedlings as backup for when plants (such a broccoli) go to seed and stop producing.

We used a trellis system with pulleys and plastic clips for the tomato and cucumber plants.

As I tried to come up with different ways to serve up crunchy slices of cucumbers, I often joked that I needed to come up with a cucumber cookbook. While my eleven-year-old step daughter Avalon’s favorite way to enjoy cucumber is putting them on her eyes to pretend she is at a spa, I think one of my favorite ways is a cool and refreshing bowl of cucumber soup. In fact, this time of year I find myself yearning so much for summer that I make sure that I pick up the ingredients at the supermarket so I can whip up a batch.

We harvested this many cucumbers often on a daily basis.

 

My favorite way to eat cucumbers is sliced with some fresh dill, raw apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. I am even known to eat this for breakfast.

This soup is light, healthy, and a wonderful way to welcome spring. You will also want to set this recipe aside to recreate in the summer when cucumbers are in their prime. It is a wonderful meal when the temperatures soar and cooking in a hot kitchen feels out of the question.

Stick with wholesome and fresh ingredients and your body will thank you.

CREAMY CUCUMBER SOUP WITH AVOCADO & DILL (makes one large bowl or two small)

*1 large Cucumber
*1 cup of Plain yogurt (use your favorite brand – low fat or full fat version. Greek yogurt is thick and works well for this dish)
*Juice and zest of one lemon or lime
*
1/2 Avocado
*1 small clove of Garlic
*1 Tablespoon of Onion (or a couple green onions)
*Few leaves of Kale or Spinach
*¼ cup of fresh Dill (or to taste)
*Salt and Pepper to Taste

If it is a garden cucumber, or organic from the market, I only remove ½ of the peelings. Cut the cucumber in half and with a spoon remove the seeds (they make the soup too runny). Chop and reserve ½ of the cucumber. Add the other half of the cucumber and the rest of the ingredients to a blender. Do a quick blend if you want the soup to be chunky and longer if you want it smooth. Pour in a bowl and add the chopped cucumber to the top and a sprig of fresh dill.

This soup is extremely versatile and if you are not fond of dill you can use cilantro. I like to add different toppings depending on what I have on hand. Some of our favorites are kalamata olives, feta cheese, and grape tomatoes. Sometimes if I am looking for a lighter soup, I leave out the avocado. Since it’s so easy to make you can leave the ingredients out for friends or family members to make their own bowl.

It only seemed fitting that I snapped a photo last summer in the hoop house. ❤

If you have spring fever like I do, I encourage you to try a new recipe or do something light and lively with the decor in your home. Grab your camera and record the way the sunlight sifts through bare branches or watch the way your pets delight in puddles of sunshine. Continue to dream and eventually spring will be here! Until then, make the most of today and enjoy every healthy moment.

 

Here you can see the pulley system that we used for our plants. It really worked well and we will be using this system again. It is unbelievable how heavy tomato plants and cucumber vines get and this system really helped hoist them up.

A Love Affair With Cooking: Roasted Beet Soup with Ginger and Coconut Milk

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

I have said it before. Food. It should be simple. We should eat to live. Yet, we have an intimate connection to the food that surrounds us. Food is comfort, culture, community, family, and a way to celebrate and nurture others. Food is smell, taste, and texture. It even has socio-economic implications. While there are many emotional associations with food, I try to remember that the bottom line is that food is sustenance and fuel. Therefore, it is important to put wholesome food on the table for myself and family.  

If you are like me, the pleasure of cooking runs deep. It includes carefully selecting ingredients at the market (or even better, growing our own). It involves all the  slicing, roasting, sautéing, and simmering that brings a dish to the table. However, part of the enjoyment for me also comes in the presentation. I believe that we feast with our eyes first and the joy I find in a pretty plate of food back to my childhood. My mom made even a simple lunch elegant by serving mac-n-cheese (almost always homemade) on her cream wedding china with the delicate gold band and lime Jello (sometimes with grated carrot) in footed pressed glass dessert cups (purchased with Gold Bond stamps from the IGA). She taught me that meal time was an event that was worth our time and attention and I try to pass this lesson on to my own family. Sometimes this means something as simple as a sprig of fresh mint in John’s glass of iced tea when he’s working outside on our farm, a whimsical straw for Lukas’ smoothie, or Avalon’s handwritten name cards when guests pay us a visit.

Winters in the UP of Michigan are long and cold.  I winter my front porch geraniums in the window sills of my classroom, and in the mudroom of our home, so in the heart of winter their scarlet blossoms can remind me of July. Red is one of my favorite colors and I am naturally drawn to foods that are bright and vibrant as well. Tomatoes, bell peppers, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and apples are high in antioxidants and protect us against cancer and heart disease. I always remember learning in school that blood-red vegetables help fortify and our own blood and immune system.

Beets are one of those vegetables that people seem to either love or hate. I grew up adoring my mom’s pickled beets and as I grew older I enjoyed roasted beets as a side or in a salad. While it is an acquired taste (my husband did not enjoy this recipe and he does like beets). I thought that I would share a recipe for you that uses this root vegetables as a main ingredient. This dish would be a perfect starter course for a romantic Valentine dinner. Afterall, beets are earthy, sensual, and when roasted take on a sweet taste and luscious texture. The color of this pureed soup is exquisite and begs to be ladled into a pretty bowl with a backdrop of glowing candles and soft music. Corny? Perhaps. However, trust me, if soup can be sexy – this one is! If only my husband John would agree. 😉 

ROASTED BEET SOUP WITH COCONUT MILK & GINGER
*2 bunches of beets (roasted)
*4 cups of coconut milk soup base (I found locally in Wal-Mart. You can substitute four cups of vegetable or chicken broth and ½ can of coconut milk from the Asian food section)
*1 rib of celery, chopped
*¼ cup chopped onion
*1-2 cloves of minced garlic
*½ inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
*Olive oil (couple of Tablespoons)
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – garnish with chopped cilantro or dill

I found this product at Wal-Mart and I will buy it again.

Preparing beets can be a bit messy but their sweet flavor and silky texture makes
them worth the mess.

Cut the beets into several pieces. Scrub well and leave the peelings on. If you
have smaller beets you can cut in 1/2 or thirds. Once they are done roasting the peels will slide right off. Roast the beets for 40 minutes at 450 degrees (time may vary depending on your oven). After 20 minutes give them a toss. Let the beets cool a bit before removing the peel.
Saute the onion, celery, garlic and in olive oil until soft. Add the ginger and saute for a few minutes. Add the coconut milk base (or stock and coconut milk) and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and puree soup in the blender. Warm the soup to serve. If you desire, garish with a sprig (or chopped fresh dill) or cilantro (both flavors work well with beets).

Printable Recipe HERE: ROASTED BEET SOUP WITH COCONUT MILK
One of the benefits of living in a cold climate is that winter allows us to spend time inside and enjoy the pleasures of cooking. Remember to nourish your body with a rainbow of vegetables so your health benefits from a variety of nutrients. With this soup, you have the color red covered! If you love beets as much as I do, make sure you check out my other recipes that use beets (Links to recipes below).

Roasted Beet, Mango, and Blueberry Salad with Orange Dill Dressing

Scarlet Salads in a Jar with Cherry Chipotle Vinaigrette
Peach Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Pistachios, & Raspberry Orange Dill Dressing

Spaghetti Squash Soup with Tomatoes

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver

As the wind howls and snow falls outside I contemplate this beautiful scene. We had an incredible growing season in our new hoop house and I cannot wait to see what 2018 brings for the Waldo Farm.

As 2017 takes its final bow, I imagine that I am not alone as I reflect on the past year. Experience has taught me to not have regrets, but to believe that everything happens for a purpose (even if we are too close at the time to realize that gifts come in multiple wrappings and disguises).

I believe that we are our worst critics and that we must focus on the positives in our lives and not wish time away waiting for the things that we long for. We must focus on the now, while planning for the future. Even small changes can impact our tomorrow and help us achieve our dreams. 

What if we decide, as we reflect on the past year, to not beat ourselves up for all the broken promises we made (to ourselves or others), and we focus on the strides we made to live a full life? What if at the same time we made small and manageable resolutions and intentions to plan, grow, and set goals? Imagine entering 2018 with a mindset that allows us to move forward with wisdom and courage.
My goals for the New Year, as every year, are to focus on my health. After being diagnosed with Hashimotos disease this fall I have had to take many deep breaths and learn new things about my body. I profoundly believe that taking care of ourselves allows us to better take care of others. Since we have to eat every day, the way we nourish our bodies seems to be a natural start. While my taste buds naturally gravitate to fruit and vegetables – I can easily be lured into treats and indulgences that are heavily processed (especially over the holidays). Therefore, I have to make time to prepare wholesome food in my own kitchen.

While you will find a wide array of salad recipes on my blog, in the winter months I enjoy accompanying my greens with a steaming bowl of soup. Broth based soups help fill you up at mealtime and even make a satisfying and guilt-free snack. I love filling my stockpot, or crock-pot, with vegetables and have found that sliced cabbage or spiralized squash make a wonderful substitute for rice or pasta.

In the soup recipe that I am sharing with you today, I use spaghetti squash to bulk up the bowl.  This was a recipe that I shared back in 2013 and it is one that I keep going back to. This year this soup is extra special to me because I was able to can tomatoes from our hoop house and had a bounty of spaghetti squash. Of the benefits of growing squash in the summer is that when kept in a cool place it will last for months. Plus, I have noticed that local supermarkets offer a wide variety of squash throughout fall and winter. Some people are intimidated by the task of preparing squash, but they actually are not labor intensive.

Is there anything more lovely than garden tomatoes?

SPAGHETTI SQUASH AND TOMATO SOUP

  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 28 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • Quart of tomatoes (large can)
  • 1/2 large chopped onion
  • 3 ribs of celery chopped
  • 1 bell pepper chopped (I use 1/2 yellow and 1/2 red)
  • 1 large carrot chopped
  • Large cooked spaghetti squash (Approximately 10 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon each of oregano, rosemary, and basil

To prepare the squash simply pierce with a knife, or fork, and place into a shallow baking pan that is filled with water. (I bake the squash whole and use about an inch of water).

Bake for approximately 60 minutes at 375 degrees (the time depends on the size of your squash).

Let cool and cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and use a fork to shred the squash. It will naturally pull apart in strands that will resemble pasta.

To prepare the soup, sauté the onion, garlic, celery, pepper, and carrot in the olive oil until soft and add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Makes 15 cups.

You could cut the recipe in 1/2 and it would still make a generous pot of soup. I like to make extra to freeze. You could add beans for protein and add any other vegetables such as zucchini and mushrooms. It is delicious, filling, and the addition of tomato sauce makes it taste similar to spaghetti.

When my friend Jackie made this soup she added a dollop of cottage cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan and said it tasted like lasagna. Add some croutons or a slice of garlic bread and you have a satisfying meal that will keep your healthy resolutions in check.

Whatever your goals are for 2018, make sure that they are achievable and realistic. Setting small goals helps us achieve success that will snowball and we can confidently make the next steps to finding our balance. Let us make sure to make time for our health in the coming weeks, month, and year. Trust me, we are worth it!

I was also able to can tomatoes and salsa from our tomatoes.



Roasted Vegetable Stew

Roasted Vegetable Stew by Produce with Amy“Just as a painter needs light in order to put the finishing touches to his picture, so I need an inner light, which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn.”
― Leo Tolstoy

My heart is not feeling autumn joy this weekend. The sky is gray and yesterday my husband Mike fired up the furnace. I guess when the inside temperature dips below 60 it is sign that it is time to rely on artificial heat. To help deal with my seasonal funk I made time to read, write, and I cooked up a storm. Chopping vegetables is therapy for me. Instead of turning to unhealthy food for comfort this coming week I decided to stock our house with an abundance of vegetable rich meals. I made a batch of autumn themed Mason jar salads, vegetable lasagna, and a rustic roasted vegetable stew (the salad and lasagna recipes will be shared soon).

Do you roast vegetables? It is a simple technique that brings out the sweetness in produce and makes the house smell incredible. When making this stew you may want to make extra roasted vegetables to use in other recipes and serve as a side during the week.

Roasted Brussels SproutsFor this stew I roasted the following in three batches:

1st Batch:
*Brussels sprouts (you will need 1 cup for this recipe.

I roasted extra for my jar salads for the week). If you are buying fresh, buy 2 cups (they shrink) or one bag of frozen. 

 

2nd Batch (Vegetable Medley):Roasted Vegetable Medley
*1 small zucchini
*1 medium onion
*3 ribs of celery
*1 yellow bell pepper
*8 ounces of mushrooms
*1 pint of cherry tomatoes (I add the cherry tomatoes in the last 15 minutes of roasting).

This recipe rendered 4 cups of vegetables. I used two cups for this stew and 2 cups for my vegetable lasagna. Therefore, you may want to cut the recipe in 1/2.

Roasted Root Vegetables

 

3rd Batch (Root Vegetables):
*3 carrots
*3 parsnips
*1 pound of potatoes (I used fingerling potatoes)

I did not season any of my roasted vegetables since the stew will be seasoned. I chopped, drizzled with a little olive oil, and roasted for approximately 40 minutes (turning at the 20 minute mark) at 400 degrees.

The carrots, parsnips, and potatoes were roasted for 50 minutes.  If I was roasting the vegetables to serve as a side I would also add salt, pepper, and minced garlic.

This weekend I also roasted 3 heads of garlic. If you have never roasted garlic before, you have to try it. Roasting garlic makes it sweet, mellow, and creamy. It is terrific in hummus, spread on bread, and is great in any recipe that calls for garlic. I added one entire head to this stew but if you are using regular garlic you can use a couple of minced cloves.
Roasted GarlicDirections for roasting garlic:

Slice the end off of the garlic bulb (the wider end). Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap in tinfoil. Pop into a preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes at 450 degrees (depending on your oven).

After roasting the garlic flesh will become soft and will slide right out of the bulb. It’s marvelous spread on bread, in hummus, and works well in any recipe that requires garlic. I always use all of my roasted garlic immediately, but it would keep well for a week in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

Roasted Vegetable Stew by Produce with Amy
ROASTED VEGETABLE STEW

*6 cups of vegetable stock (I used bouillon that I purchased at our co-op)
*1 head of roasted garlic
*2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon of dried)
*Handful of lemon thyme (or 2 teaspoons of dried)
*1 cup of roasted Brussels sprouts
*2 cups of roasted vegetable medley
*Roasted root vegetables
*Juice and zest of one lemon
*1 bunch of chopped, fresh parsley

Bring vegetable stock, roasted garlic, and fresh rosemary and thyme to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add all the roasted vegetables and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and zest and stir in chopped parsley.


Printable Recipe: ROASTED VEGETABLE STEW by Produce with Amy

Pin it HERE.

If you are like me and enjoy a steaming cup or bowl of soup to help chase away a chill and bulk up a meal – make sure you check out my other soup recipes.

As the cold weather progresses, I promise to share more ideas for healthy comfort food. Thank you for joining me on the quest to enjoy plant-based meals. If you have a favorite fall or winter recipe – please share. Make sure you stop by my Facebook page and join the conversation. I wish you a healthy and productive week!

Italian Vegetable Soup

Italian Vegetable Soup by Produce with Amy“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
― Susan Sontag

The first month of the new school year depleted my energy. Each evening I found myself returning home exhausted and in a fog. I felt filled up and content, but I had little energy to do anything but rest, eat dinner, and go to sleep.

Last week after arriving home from work I felt guilty sitting on the sofa as sunshine filtered Athenathrough the burnished leaves – autumn was quickly approaching and summer was making one last stand. The weather was warm and I should have been going for a walk.

Midweek I mustered up the energy to go outside and plucked a bouquet of blooms from my garden – late roses and the sunflowers that the birds planted. I placed the flowers in one of my Fiestaware pitchers and marveled at how splendid they looked set up against the setting sun. It was the perfect backdrop to snap a few pictures of a bowl of my latest recipe – a vegetable soup. Our cat Athena let her curiosity get the best of her, which led to a spontaneous photo shoot. Instead of shooing her away, I let the moment bathe me in beauty and I thought to myself how refreshing it felt to pay attention.

This tiny pocket of brilliance in my evening bubbled over into my classroom the next day. I took out a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and read to my creative writing students about how important it is for us to fill the well. I encouraged my young writers to fill their hearts and minds with sounds, scents, and sights. We talked about Cameron’s philosophy of going on an Artist’s Date to nurture our creativity.

I decided to follow my own advice and I took the weekend off. I did not grocery shop, cook, do housework, or grade. Sunday my husband Mike and I traveled a couple of hours north to Ontonagon, Michigan and visited the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and enjoyed the day basking in 80 degree weather. We swooned over the glistening beauty of Lake Superior and were rendered speechless at the sight of the Lake of the Clouds ensconced in waves of scarlet and copper hued leaves.
Lake of the Clouds

Two days into a new week and I feel a bit of my fatigue lifting. I believe it is because I allowed myself to be astonished by my surroundings and I made time to fill the well and nurture my own creativity. I snapped photos, scribbled in my journal, and laughed.

As testament to the lightness that I feel this week, I am able to share my latest recipe for soup. A steaming bowl of soup radiates fall and this combination makes the best of fire roasted tomatoes and the last of summer’s herb garden. Dried herbs will work – but as always – fresh is best.

Italian Vegetable Soup by Produce with AmyITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUPFire roasted tomatoes

*4 cups of vegetable stock
*3 chopped carrots
*3 ribs of chopped celery
*3 cloves of minced garlic
*2 cans fire roasted tomatoes (the cans that I used were 15 ounces each)
*1 can of tomato sauce (14.5 ounces)
*1 chopped green bell pepper
*1 small chopped onion
*1 spiralized zucchini (or chopped if you do not have a spiralizer)
*8 ounces of fresh, sliced mushrooms
*13-14 ounces of cannellini beans
*1/4 cup of chopped fresh basil (2 teaspoons of dried)beans
*1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley (2 teaspoons of fresh)
*2 sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary (1 teaspoon of dried)
*2 sprigs of chopped fresh oregano (1 teaspoon of dried)
*5 strands of fresh chives (1 teaspoon of dried)
*1 Tablespoon of cooking oil (I used coconut oil)
*Salt and pepper to taste
(I also added a few baby pea pods and green beans from my garden)

Saute the garlic, onion, celery, bell pepper, and carrots in the cooking oil until soft (3-5 minutes). Add the mushrooms and cook for an additional four minutes. Add the vegetable broth, fire roasted tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Cook on medium heat until the soup boils. Add the beans and fresh herbs. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the spiralized zucchini. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Since I like my spiralized zucchini al dente, I add it after the soup has cooked. If you are used chopped or sliced zucchini you may want to add it when you add the mushrooms.
I like to add the herbs close to the end of the cooking progress to maximize their flavor.

Simmering soupFinished soupItalian Vegetable Soup by Produce with AmyPrintable Recipe: ITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUP by Produce with Amy

Pin it HERE.

Find my other soup recipes HERE.

Thank you for your interest in my blog and please share if you enjoy my posts and recipes. I would love to hear from you. Make sure you follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and stop by my Facebook page and give it a like (all the links can be found on the right hand side of the page).

As we move into winter I promise to continue to share my ideas for healthy comfort food. This week I will be experimenting with a plant-based roasted vegetable stew. Have a wonderful week and I challenge you to pay attention and fill the well of your creativity.

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French Onion Soup – Healthy & Plant-Based

Plant Based French Onion Soup by Produce with Amy“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” ~William Wordsworth

What is there not to love about the above quote? As an English teacher and writer I try to encourage my students to tell their stories. This year my 9th grade students are so reluctant to write that first line. They sit paralyzed in their desks with looks of alarm on their faces. I try to coax them — sometimes quietly – and sometimes in passionate-crazy-English-teacher fashion to allow their hearts to lead them.

I think that the same can be said about cooking (just replace the word paper in the quote with stock pot, bowl, or plate). When I became a Weight Watchers leader I was surprised to learn how many people are reluctant cooks. I love being able to help provide my members, and readers of my blog, with an array of new food finds and recipes.

For my regular readers, I apologize that I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. Life is busy and it is a challenge in the beginning of the school year to find energy to do anything but work, eat, and sleep. In fact, my healthy goals for the beginning of the school year have been nutrition, drinking plenty of water, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour.  Luckily, I get in a lot of movement at work, but in the coming weeks I will be trying to add in more formal exercise.

Last week I started a new novel with my 9th grade students. We are reading Starved by Michael Somers. Somer’s novel details the story of Nathan Thomas who faces stress from school and his family life and develops an eating disorder. I think it is an important topic to discuss with teenagers and as I guide them through the novel, I anticipate many conversations.  In fact, this weekend the assignment was for my students to identify five healthy activities that one can engage in to manage stress. I look forward to seeing their responses tomorrow. As we brainstormed in class I loved hearing about how they love to hike outside and enjoy nature, go fishing, listen to music, and draw. It made my heart joyful when several shared that they enjoy writing when they feel overwhelmed emotionally. I hope that I can help them develop healthy ways to cope with stress at a young age.

My students were excited when I informed them that Mike Somers would be visiting us this year at our high school. What an exciting opportunity it is for them to be face-to-face with an author and be able to ask questions about the creative process. Especially an author that wrote a compelling book that addresses the overwhelming issues of self-concept, identity, and how to find control and balance in our stress filled lives.

For me, part of the way that I deal with stress is to make sure that I am fueling my body with the proper nutrition. Therefore, this blogging adventure has been therapeutic in helping with the stresses of work and my personal life. I really struggled this summer after my beautiful aunt Bev passed away suddenly in June. While I did not share as many recipes as I would have liked, the constant flow of comments and messages from readers who enjoy my recipes kept my spirits up.
BEVolution of Kindness

My aunt owned a supper club,  Bev’s Supper Club, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She was an incredible woman and I will always struggle with the reality of her death.  I spoke at her funeral and shared how I was not ready to say goodbye to Bev. She was my babysitter when I was a little girl and I looked up to her and loved her. I asked all present at her memorial to please commit an act of kindness in Bev’s memory. I started a Facebook page called BEVolution of Kindness and I am thrilled that the kindness campaign is still moving. I also started a FB group that is currently 230 members strong and I hope the numbers continue to grow in the coming months. Please consider joining. You do not need to have known Bev to participate. All it takes is a kind heart and the desire to make a difference in the world. What I am asking people to do is commit an act of kindness and to pass along a BEVolution card to the next person (who in turn passes on the card etc.). My hope is that people find their way to the Facebook group and page and share their story and location that the act of kindness occurred.

Here is a link if you are interested in printing off BEVolution cards:Printable BEVolution Cards

Today’s blog post is in memory of Bev. My aunt’s baked French Onion Soup was enjoyed by her customers and was nearly world-famous (or U.P. famous).

My version of this classic soup is plant-based and was made in the crock-pot. A woman who I chatted with in line at the supermarket suggested that making a flavorful French onion soup without butter or beef broth was impossible. Not only do I think that I nailed this recipe – but I also managed to add crusty bread with plant-based cheese that came out bubbly and browned from the broiler.

Fresh herbs from my garden. I think that the secret to a rich French onion soup is caramelizing the onions and slow-cooking it with a variety of herbs. You do not need butter to caramelize onions – your favorite cooking oil will do the trick. I like to use coconut oil or olive oil – and if you do not have fresh herbs, dried will work.

Since my husband would be eating this soup I made a large batch so you may want to reduce it in half (but I promise you will not regret making a large batch if it is only you eating this soup…it is the perfect, healthy, comfort food).
Plant Based French Onion Soup by Produce with Amy

PLANT-BASED FRENCH ONION SOUP

*8 cups of vegetable stock
*Optional – 1 cup of red wine
*8 medium sliced onions
*4 minced garlic cloves
*2 sprigs of rosemary (2 teaspoons dried)
*2 clusters of sage (2 teaspoons dried)
*6 strands of chives (2 teaspoons dried)
*1/2 cup of parsley (2 teaspoons dried)
(I do not chop the fresh herbs but tie them in a bunch with string and add them to the soup)
*3 Tablespoons of your favorite cooking oil
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Loaf of crusty bread
*Swiss cheese (I used Daiya Swiss Style Slices non-dairy cheese. I highly recommend this product…it was perfect for this soup)

A steaming bowl of soup is the perfect comfort day for a crisp Autumn day. Divide up the cooking oil and onions in three batches and cook on low heat. Add a little salt to the onions and cook until brown and caramelized. Saute the minced garlic with the last batch of onions. Add the onions, garlic, herbs, and broth to the crock-pot. Cook on high for four hours (times may vary according to your slow cooker.  This soup could be also be made on the stove top and I would recommend cooking it on low for a few hours).

Serve the soup hot and top with toasted bread. Slice the bread, top with cheese, and allow to brown under the broiler. You can also make garlic toast and forgo the cheese if you are trying to save calories. Last week I spread olive tapenade on my garlic toast for my soup since I did not buy the Daiya non-dairy cheese until the weekend.
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Printable recipe:PLANT BASED FRENCH ONION SOUP

Pin it HERE.

Make sure you check out my other soup recipes.

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Thank you for joining me in the journey to eat more fruit and vegetables. As cold and flu season makes its ugly rounds this time of year it is important to fortify our immune systems with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Your body and health will thank you.
Plant Based Onion SoupI hope you enjoy this soup recipe that I am sharing in memory of my sweet auntie. There is nothing quite as comforting as a bowl of healthy soup. My aunt welcomed people into her restaurant as if it was her own home. She was known for her infectious laughter, warm personality, and her heart-of-gold. I am certain that if there were more people like Bev in the world – it would be a much kinder, gentle, and joyous place. I hope you will consider joining the BEVolution of Kindness that I started to honor her spirit of compassion. Thank you!

BEVolution of Kindness