Soup to Heal the Heart – The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook Launch

Making Chicken Tortilla Soup

I received a review copy of The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook from Appetite by Random House at a book launch edition of a Soup Sisters evening. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

I firmly believe that cooking for others and with others is one of the surest ways to build and support community. It’s the belief that underpins block parties, cookie swaps, and soup swaps, as well as initiatives like the community kitchens that bring vulnerable people together to cook and connect or Montréal’s Newcomer Kitchen that gives space to newly arrived Syrian women to prepare and sell food, establishing themselves in their new home.

For Sharon Hapton, this motivation blossomed into the Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers, a network across 25 Canadian and U.S. cities that brings groups of people together to cook and eat, all for the benefit of women, children, and youth in crisis. A typical monthly gathering yields 150 – 250 litres of soup, which is brought to local shelter partners the next day. Participants benefit from working with a group of like-minded folks, alongside talented chefs that keep everyone on track in the kitchen. While the soup is simmering, those same chefs feed the night’s volunteers, starting with a hearty bowl of soup. It’s an elegantly crafted concept that’s resulted in waiting lists for these monthly gatherings and a steady stream of healthy, lovingly crafted food for folks who need it.

You can learn more about Soup Sisters directly from Sharon, in this interview:

Sharon Hapton on CBC’s The Homestretch

Last night, I attended a gathering at one of Vancouver’s regular Soup Sisters venues, Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. It was both a soup-making event and a book launch, because the third Soup Sisters cookbook, The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook, arrived on October 17th. Appetite by Random House and Food Bloggers of Canada invited a number of bloggers and foodies to make soup and learn more about Soup Sisters and its newest collection of recipes.

This isn’t my first introduction to Soup Sisters. I’ve been following their work for years and have always wanted to take part in one of their soup-making evenings. I also own a copy of their second cookbook, The Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers Cookbook, which I reviewed in 2015. I turn to it often for recipes and inspiration when I’m in a soup-making mood.

Like their previous cookbooks, the new one features recipes from chefs, bloggers, and Soup Sisters participants, but this time a number of the recipes were contributed by kids and teens. Cooking with young people is the focus of this book, with some tips and advice for getting kids into the kitchen and a host of accessible recipes. Making soup is a great introduction to cooking, especially with kids. It’s a process that can be broken down into many manageable steps, there is always something new happening throughout the process to keep kids interested, and the end result is the kind of meal that people of all ages will enjoy.

5 soups for Sereenas House

Last night’s participants split up into teams, each making one of five soups destined for Sereenas House for Women, a supportive housing program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. All the recipes were from the new cookbook, as was the soup that Chef Tony Minichiello made for our meal. His soup was a recipe from his wife’s family, an Armenian lentil and rice soup that has a deceptively simple list of ingredients for a soup so rich in flavour. My team (which dubbed itself “Team Nourish”) made a Chicken Tortilla Soup that was shared by Earls Restaurants. Other teams tackled Maritime Fish Chowder (Laura Calder), Spaghetti and Mini Meatball Soup (Bonnie Stern), Every Bunny Loves Carrot Soup (Skylar & Chloe Sinow), and Posh-Tasting Red Pepper and Coconut Soup (Taya Groner). Those last two were contributed by young participants and they were in attendance at the event to cook their soups with us.

House-made brioche topped with ricotta, arugula, and roasted tomato.

Our evening started with appetizers made with brioche the cooking school students had made that morning and topped with ricotta, arugula, caramelized onion, and roasted tomato. We were given an introduction to Soup Sisters, a presentation from a representative of Sereenas House, and a talk from Sharon Hapton, introducing the new book and talking about the program’s origins. Then we all went to our stations and started chopping and dicing. In no time at all, it seemed our soups were ready for their long simmer. In part, this was because many hands truly make light work, but it was really the help and guidance of Northwest’s chefs and students that made the work fly. They also kept an eye on our soups while we went off to prepare labels and eat dinner. Our dinner started with Chef Tony’s soup and he talked about the history of the soup in his own family while the bowls were passed down the table. The soup was followed by a salad rich in greens and topped with couscous and our meal finished with slices of light mousse cake that had been prepared for us by the school’s pastry students. After dinner, we ladled soup into containers and each team produced between 25 and 30 litres of soup for donation. I think we all felt a little spoiled and also quite pleased with how much soup we collectively produced.

The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook

We all went home with a copy of the cookbook courtesy of Appetite, but I think many of us will also be buying copies to give as gifts this holiday season, especially because the sale of the books helps to support the program. If you’re curious about any of the Soup Sisters cookbooks, they have some sample recipes from the 2nd volume in the series up on their website. I’m happy to have 100 more great soup recipes at my disposal and I’d especially recommend this book to anyone who cooks with kids.

I’d also suggest, the next time you’re considering a gathering for a celebration or a team-building exercise, find out if there is a branch of Soup Sisters near you and book an evening. The fees go toward purchasing the best seasonal ingredients for the soups and you’ll have a richly rewarding experience and a richly delicious meal, to boot.

Mid-Summer Ambitions

Roxy's summer style

My ambitions this summer are modest: making the best of summer produce, experiencing what the arts and culture scene has to offer in the off-season, and keeping cool (though not as stylishly as Roxy, as you can see in the photo at the top of the post).

Old-fashioned blueberry bars

I feel a little behind on stone fruits this year, but I did a heroic job with berries and rhubarb, with some more blueberries waiting for this weekend’s baking. I got a small harvest of figs from my five-year-old back yard tree this year (beating last year’s inaugural harvest of exactly one) and celebrated with a fig tart and some very tasty jam. There’s also plenty of kale, cucumber, beets, and homegrown lettuce in the refrigerator, which will make for a very healthy weekend of lunches and dinners. I’ve scattered photos of some of my recent kitchen projects through this post – let me know in the comments if you think I’ve been giving summer fruits their due.

<Frangipane fig tart

As for my second summer ambition, there is plenty going on this weekend and for the rest of the summer.

If you can get yourself out to UBC tomorrow night, the Blackout: Night Sky Festival would be a wonderful way to spend the evening. It reminds me of my childhood trips to the lake country around Kamloops, when we would set out lawn chairs in our campsite and stay up late watching the Perseid show.

Fig, balsamic, honey, and vanilla jam

If your idea of making the most of this hot, muggy, smoky summer is finding something to do indoors, you’ve got lots of choices. Movie theatres are great places to hide from high summer and they provide their own kind of visual feast. I’d start with The Cinematheque‘s annual Film Noir program, then move on to the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

Or you can embrace the elements, heading out to sea with Caravan Stage Company’s Nomadic Tempest, then enter a salmon stream in the middle of the city with Uninterrupted: A Cinematic Spectacle.

Chocolate cookies and a whole lot of blueberries

If you want to get out of town, you can head over to the Sunshine Coast for the Rogue Arts Festival or out to the Shuswap for the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival. And if you’d like to skip the organized activities, you can DIY your own Okanagan wine tour, explore the Fraser Valley’s Circle Farm Tour destinations, or spend August the way my family did when I was a kid and find your favourite fishing spots in the Thompson-Nicola region.

I’ll bring the treats.

2017 Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

An icy intersection

It’s been quite a year so far, hasn’t it? Vancouver came sliding into 2017 on a tide of ice, but the year seems to resemble much more dynamic weather so far. Here are some of the things contributing to the first twenty days’ whirlwind, along with a few things that may help ground you as 2017 continues to bluster.

Political Shifts

Canadians were looking south today, as a new President takes the U.S. in a drastically different direction. Canada, huge in area but small in population, is particularly dependent on trade with our next-door neighbour for much of our economic well-being. So it comes as no surprise that Canadians will be marching in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, including in Vancouver.

With Canada’s Conservative Party leadership contest sounding many of the notes that defined the U.S. Presidential race, it might be time to look at how our understanding of political divides needs to change. This New Statesman piece is centred on British realities, but these divisions seem to be holding true in many Western democracies.

Bloggers Get Real

I know I’m not the only one who wishes they could still run to The Toast in times like these, but sites like The Establishment and The Belle Jar are helping to salve the loss. (I’d love to hear your about your favourite feminist/literary/pop culture/smart writing sites, too, if you’d like to share.)

Speaking up has become the topic of much debate in the food-blogging sphere, as Dianne Jacob explores in a piece that uses posts by Lindsay Ostrom and Molly Wizenberg as a jumping off point for questions about the risks and benefits of radical honesty in a niche that is often constrained by a perceived need to please everyone.

Cooking It Out

As important as it is to stand up and be counted, to keep abreast of world events, and to communicate our personal realities deeply with one another, sometimes it’s good to find relief in the arts and in some more homey pursuits like cooking.

There’s a new opportunity to cook the stress away coming up next month. The fabulous Andrea of The Kitchen Lioness is reconvening The Cottage Cooking Club for a six-month journey through River Cottage Every Day and Love Your Leftovers.

Or you could drown your sorrows in indulgences like Dine Out Vancouver or the Hot Chocolate Festival, to recharge for the next round of fate’s slings and arrows.

Happy Holidays!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve settled in for a long winter’s nap, or rather, a long festive cooking and baking spree with family and friends.

Tonight, I’ve been making whipped shortbread and sucre à la crème, with butter tarts and more tomorrow. There may even be an eggnog meringue pie, if we don’t finish the bottle first.

If you’re still cooking, Cinnamon-Cardamom Rice Pudding with Honeyed Rosewater Sauce would be a nice finish to a Christmas Eve menu. Patate Alpino and Vegan Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms make great appetizers on the big day and Kevin’s Vegan Hash will keep everyone happy during Boxing Day brunch.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a peaceful and joyful weekend to all.

Beauty Break

I’ve been taking a little summer break from blogging, but I’ll be back next week with a recipe of my own and another edition of Cook the Book Fridays.

In the meantime, here are some of my favourite photos of this year’s crop of dahlias. There are two more varieties that have yet to reveal themselves, so I may share a few more photos later on.
Tiger-striped dahlia

Spiral blooms

Lavender and gold dahlia

Hot Pink Dahlia

Fuschia dahlias

Cream spiked dahlia

“Line them up right here.”

East Van Foliage

It’s been quite a week, with the implications of Brexit to decipher, Vancouver developers making the most of the perfect spin on our housing crisis, and the end of that most perfect corner of the Internet looming.

East Van Flowers

Next week, it’s all cookbook clubs all the time, but I’ll have a little something more for you the week after that.

East Van Corn

In the meantime, enjoy a few photos of my neighbourhood’s gardens. I’m going to return to watching my way through the Thin Man movies. Nick and Nora’s cocktail-fuelled shenanigans are a welcome oasis in a complicated world.

A Late Start

A fig sprouting

It’s been so long since I’ve written about my garden. Perhaps that’s because I’ve hardly been able to attend to it until now. Three days after our annual soil delivery, I sprained my ankle rather badly and lost five weeks of backyard time. Luckily, I had planted tomatoes and strawberries in containers on the balcony, along with pineapple sage and tarragon, so I’m not as behind as I’d otherwise have been.

Yellow Brandywine tomato flowers

It’s only this week that my ankle has been strong enough to do some real gardening. Much of my time is spent battling morning glory, blackberry cane, buttercups, and nightshade – so much so that it’s almost become a refrain as I work. I’d cleared the worst of it in March, but by the time I got back to the garden properly, they’d all made riotous progress.

The hostas are flowering

I spent a day clearing blackberry cane and morning glory, pulling blooming shoots from the centre of the long-suffering bay tree at the corner of my yard. Then, I finally tilled the soil in my vegetable garden with a claw and a new-fangled hoe that my father found that looks more like a weapon for the zombie apocalypse than it does a garden tool. It was very satisfying. All I’ve got to do now is top up and mix the soil, mark off my square foot sections and plant. I’ve got lettuce, peppers, celery, and cucumbers waiting in pots, but I’m also going to take my chances late-sowing radishes. It’s perfect timing for my Tante Vivienne’s beans, which have been saved over generations, and I’m looking through my stash of seeds to see what else I can manage this year.

Wild carrot, with pollinators

Then, I’ll tackle the flower beds, though I’m leaving as many wild carrot plants intact as I can. I know they’re considered weeds, but I’ve seen at least eight different species of pollinator feasting on them. Maybe that makes me a bad gardener (along with the dandelions I leave in place in early spring, for similar reasons). Perhaps I’ll think of myself as a good host, instead.

A Wishlist For a Rainy Friday Night

Poppies in bloom

These poppies got a battering from today’s rain showers. I hope they survived it. We’re having a quiet evening in tonight, all the better to avoid a rain-battering ourselves.

It’s left me with lots of time to think on what I’d like to see happen in my community and beyond.

Here are a few wishlist items:

I’d like the City of Vancouver to give housing co-operatives a break on property taxes. They provide the kind of mixed income, diverse housing that the current council wants to see. And while we’re at it, let’s have the federal government provide grants to co-operatives who want to expand, especially in underserved categories like one bedroom, three and four bedroom, and accessible suites.

Oh, for some walkable, bikeable, human-scale development in the Fraser Valley. Langley’s Brookswood neighbourhood is being eyed by real estate developers, who’ll likely replace the quiet grid of half acre lots with condo blocks, shopping malls, and eight lane arterial roads. Instead, they could use subdivision to create density, then line the busier streets with midrise buildings that encourage the kind of businesses and street life that are being lost in the Vancouver neighbourhoods threatened by condo tower annihilation.

And then, a restructuring of our transit system might be in order, with low cost light rail serving neighbourhood hubs and fare structures that encourage drivers to abandon their cars, while ensuring youth, seniors, students, and the poor can get where they’re going.

I’d also like a patisserie to go into the vacant storefront at the end of my block, in case any entrepreneurs are feeling malleable.

What’s on your wishlist?

img_7108