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.

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Dorie’s Cookies – Salted Chocolate-Caramel Bars

Julia Child quotation apron

Last week, when I needed a little inspiration, I ran into a friend from my housing co-operative. She told me to stop by her house on my way home from walking the dog, because she had a little present for me. It turned out to be the apron you can see at the top of the post, featuring one of my favourite Julia Child quotations. I like to bring baked goods to meetings, both because it gives me an excuse to bake more often and because I believe sharing food helps build community. (I also believe sharing sugar helps get us through our agendas faster, but that part may not be supported by science.)

The third week of each month is meeting-heavy for me, and the meetings tend to be busy ones. I brought the rest of the Breton galettes to one meeting, pulling out the second log of dough a little late in the day and having to bring the cookies freshly filled and still cooling on the pan. But, at least they made it there.

Salted Chocolate-Caramel Bars

Later that week, I baked Dorie’s salted chocolate-caramel bars, intending to bring them to another meeting. Though the shortbread baked up beautifully and the caramel topping came together exactly as described, the topping didn’t set by the time I had to leave for my meeting. I was afraid to bring them, as I didn’t want strings of caramel spread across our board table. So, I cut them into squares, still in the pan, and left them on the counter to finish setting.

When I returned, the topping was still quite soft, so I put the whole pan in the refrigerator and hoped for the best. By morning, the bars were easy to pull apart and the topping was set (if still a little soft). For the purposes of scientific research, I tried them straight out of the refrigerator and then again when they’d come to room temperature. They’re excellent either way, but I recommend exercising a little patience. When they’re at room temperature, the caramel becomes ooey-gooey in that way that every child delights in and every adult of good character should, too.

The best part is that they keep well in the fridge, so I was able to share these over several days, making sure to partake in a respectable number myself. I’ll definitely be making these again, but a day ahead if I plan to share them. I can’t think of a better way to turn a meeting into a party.

Salted Chocolate-Caramel Bars

March’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here and here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Dorie’s Cookies – Valentine’s Day Share-a-Heart & Rose-Hibiscus Shortbread Fans

Rose-Hibiscus Shortbread Fans

In troubled times, nothing seems as healing as sharing food and company. I need to keep that in mind, the next time busy-ness and bitterness keep me away from my keyboard. Besides, in a city where the average rents are skyrocketing, we’re going to have to learn to rely on one another for sustenance and support. So, connecting through writing and food may become tools for survival as much as pleasurable pastimes.

That’s why Dorie Greenspan’s #cookiesandkindness initiative is such a timely project. Homemade cookies bring cheer while nourishing us in a deeply satisfying way – they may not be dinner, but psychologically and primally speaking, they will help assuage what ails you.

Valentine’s Day Share-a-Heart Cookies

Valentine's Day Share-a-Heart Cookies

Cookies certainly helped soothe my fellow committee members when we met on the evening of Valentine’s Day. I didn’t make one of the giant break-apart hearts that the recipe calls for, since it wouldn’t have fit on the table (or on the agenda, for that matter). Instead, passing these chocolate wafers around the table brought a necessary bit of cheer to the evening.

They remind me of Dorie’s Hot Chocolate Panna Cotta from Baking Chez Moi, with the same cocoa-forward flavour. The salt I used was a bit assertive, so I’ll probably reduce the quantity by 1/4 teaspoon next time I make these, but they were otherwise perfect. One of the delights of this book has been discovering how many delicious variations there can be for what seems like one of the most straightforward of cookies.

Rose-Hibiscus Shortbread Fans

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Shortbread is another cookie with simple roots and infinite variations. This version is made for showing off and sharing. Subtle notes of rose complement the brightness of hibiscus. My tea also included lemongrass, which added another layer of flavour. Rice flour increases the sandy texture of the cookies, which is welcome in shortbread. It’s perfect for an afternoon tea of dreaming and planning for a better future.

I want to believe we can beat the historical odds against curbing inequality. I hope that affordable housing solutions like housing co-operatives can once again build diverse communities in our cities. I’d like to see intersectionality become the guiding principle in movements and in everyday life.

Along the way, I’ll be baking and cooking to soothe myself and to nourish those around me. It’s a small thing, but it’s a necessary one.

February’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here and here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Inside Green: Greening the City, From the Inside Out

Spider plant from Inside Green

As our cities move upward and inward, with concrete replacing much of the green space that intertwined traditional neighbourhoods, we risk losing more than just a little elbow room. Urban green spaces are the only connection some of us have to nature and when they’re farther and fewer between, we may lose that connection altogether.

At the same time, social disconnection in our cities is increasing. The Vancouver Foundation‘s Connections and Engagement report has become famous for exposing the loneliness and social isolation that many Vancouverites feel and its findings highlight the challenges of finding community in this city and others.

Sue Biely was well-aware of these issues, but she was focused on solving another problem: resistance to climate change action. There is a gap between the science and the action taken by governments and at climate summits. There’s an even larger gap in the understanding of the urgency of these issues between climate change experts and much of the world’s populace, especially in privileged regions of the world.

She began wondering, “What would be the minimum intervention that could increase awareness of environmental issues?” Activism and larger interventions won’t have an impact on people who don’t, in her words, have a lived, visceral connection to the natural world.

She was also looking for an additive intervention, as most of what we’re told around climate change action is what we shouldn’t be doing. What kind of small action would add to someone’s life, while connecting them to the planet?

Sue Biely of Inside Green
Image courtesy of Inside Green

“A wacky idea that took a while to articulate.”

Eventually, Sue found the inspiration she needed in her own home. As someone who travelled for work for many years, her first act upon returning home would be to check in on her plants. Her attachment to her plants was the genesis of Inside Green, leading her to wonder what impact plants could have as an additive intervention in city-dwellers’ lives, first as vehicles to increase climate change awareness and later as a method of increasing green space and social connection in urban environments.

From there, the idea of creating a web of plant stewards across Vancouver grew into a pilot project, funded by a grant from Arts BC and Creative BC. Inside Green started with a website and 400 plants that were selected by Brian Minter, who chose 10 plant varieties that are easy to look after and easily propagatable. Sue said she was especially thrilled to have him on board, as she’d grown up listening to him on the radio, which helped to develop her own love of plants.

Inside Green Plant Stewards
Image courtesy of Inside Green

A network of plants.

The first questions they wanted to answer were whether or not people would want to become part of a network of plant stewards across the city and then, what percentage of those people would propagate their plants.

After an initial test with friends and family, they took the project to Vancouver Farmers Markets. Just as Brian Minter had, they understood the project’s mission right away and allowed them to book community tables at four of their markets, in parts of the city that are the most urbanized. The response was overwhelming.

There are now 500 Inside Green plants in the City of Vancouver, with a 30% propagation rate thus far, and with some plants in their third generation. That more than answers their initial questions.

Over the next six months, Inside Green will be asking a host of new questions and exploring avenues for funding and expanding the project. The hope is that Inside Green will spread to cities across the world, but they like to have local impacts as well. Their first round of containers for the plants, which act as “cribs” for plant propagation, were made from tomato cans that were removed from the waste stream in a Yukon community that has the capacity to collect recyclable materials, but has nowhere to send them on for recycling. They’re also looking at working with the local binners program to collect and prepare cans, going forward.

Another initiative they’re testing is using proceeds from corporate gifting of Inside Green plants to fund plants for low-income people in places like social housing or seniors’ facilities. Making green space available to as many people as possible, regardless of socio-economic status, is something Inside Green is keen to explore.

It will be interesting to see where they’ve taken the project a year from now.

Arachne the spider plant

“Everybody deserves to have something to nurture.”

Most of us know that houseplants improve the air quality in your home, pulling out pollutants and carbon dioxide, while replenishing the air with oxygen and water vapour. They also calm the mind and provide some of the same mood and health benefits as taking a walk in the woods. As Sue points out, “people relax, heal faster, and learn better” when they live and work with plants in their spaces.

But it’s another one of plants’ benefits that is key to their role in Inside Green. They provide their stewards with an opportunity to nurture and intimately interact with a living thing. This is something that is becoming rarer in this city and in urban environments around the globe. In Vancouver, it can be nearly impossible to find pet-friendly accommodations, private outdoor green space is being eliminated with every new development, and the wait lists for community gardens can make them seem like a retirement dream.

For Sue, the idea that, in ten or twenty years, many people may have no visceral connection to how nature works is sobering. But houseplants provide an intervention against alienation from nature, one that works in the most urban of environments, across economic circumstances. Caring for a plant requires attention to natural cycles, as plants grow at their own pace, with active and dormant periods. Inside Green’s plant stewards create a relationship with their plant that gives them a reason to connect – with their plant, with other people who have Inside Green plants from the same propagation lineage, and ultimately, with nature and the environment.

To join Inside Green’s network of plant stewards, start here. Alternatively, you can make friends with one of the many plant stewards who have plant babies on the way. Once my plant babies are ready to leave the nest, I’ll be sharing a follow up post, on my experience as a plant steward, another steward’s thoughts, and more.

Thanks to Sue Biely and Regan Gorman of Inside Green, for taking the time to talk to me about the project.

I learned about Inside Green from a friend who became a Plant Steward on a visit to Farmers Market. I reached out to them for interviews and signed up to be a Plant Steward. No compensation was received for this piece.

The Swiftest Month

Has September been as busy for you as it has been for me? It seems to have flown by so far.

I’m trying to remain present, though, even through the busiest of times. When the glory of Metro Vancouver’s mountains, forests, and oceans are all around us here, it would be a shame not to be awake to it. 


I haven’t been so busy that I’ve let go of doing some planning for the blog, though.

I’m starting to put together the list for my annual holiday book review series, starting with Better Baking by Genevieve Ko. If it’s any indication, this year’s series is going to knock it out of the park.

And I’m working on a feature of a local social and environmental initiative that I’m excited to tell you about.

In the meantime, I’ve got some cooking and baking to do for Cook the Book Fridays and Tuesdays with Dorie.

September shows no sign of slowing down yet.

A Late Summer Round-Up

Informal Installation

August means vacations, farmers’ markets, days at the beach and in the woods. But there’s also a surfeit of festivals, performances, and events this month. So when your vacation days are spent, your fridge is full, and hungry bears take precedence over hikers, there’s still lots left to do.

Here are a few of the things that caught my attention:

The PNE is more than just mini-doughnuts, Superdogs, and gravity-defying rides – it’s also a musical treasure trove. Their Summer Nights series is a mixed bag of nostalgia acts and current bands, with great seating (if you get there early) and an unbeatable price – it’s free with admission to the Fair. This year’s highlights include Culture Club and A Tribe Called Red.

The Museum of Vancouver has another intriguing exhibition running this summer and fall, All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds. I love the way their curators stretch stretch the boundaries of what a museum is supposed to contain. This show includes a seed bank, fly fishing gear, action figures, and drag wear.

The Vancouver Mural Festival may be over, but its legacy is the art it has left in its wake. Make your own Mount Pleasant walking tour, using the mural map as your guide.

And then, there’s Pet-A-Palooza, for those who think that free samples aren’t something that should be restricted to humans.

There are also festivals, markets, and performances happening all over Metro Vancouver over the next few weekends. It can be hard to decide what to do. I had that problem this past weekend. I ended up at the Columbia StrEAT Food Truck Festival. On Friday, I’ll tell you why.

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?

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G-W Portraits: Vivienne McMaster

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Each time I do a G-W Portraits interview, I’m struck by the way in which each participant brings something new to the three simple questions I ask them. Vivienne McMaster brings a photographer’s eye and a transformative perspective to her answers. She spoke about the “evidence of community” that can be found all around Grandview-Woodland, on sidewalks and in community book exchanges, in gardens and on the verges.

Vivienne’s work can be found at Be Your Own Beloved, along with links to her e-courses, workshops, e-books, and more.

You can find the rest of the interviews in this series here: G-W Portraits

Operation Whirlwind – A Holiday Inspiration Pass Adventure

Pass

December is a busy month, with year-end gatherings, holiday celebrations, and special events. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, baking and cooking in anticipation of Christmas, but the holidays took me out of the house just as much.

This year, though, I had an extra reason for running from one side of the city to the other. After waiting more than three years, it was finally my turn to receive Vancouver Public Library‘s Inspiration Pass. Mine came into effect on December 9th, giving me until just before Christmas to visit as many of the attractions available as possible.

Beatty

Considering the time of year, I think I did quite well. I skipped the garden tours, as the weather was stormy for most of the time I had the pass. I also skipped the Park Board offerings, choosing to concentrate on museums, exhibitions, and performances.

I went to UBC one day, Vanier Park another, then tried to fit in as many of the others as I could.

Aquarium

Some of the highlights:

Speaking of c̓əsnaʔəm, it was very instructive to visit so many exhibits on First Nations culture in a short space of time. The Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Vancouver had sister exhibitions that explored the reclamation of the c̓əsnaʔəm village site by the Musqueam people, with a third exhibit showing at the Musqueam Cultural Centre gallery (which I’ve not yet seen). The MOA and MOV exhibits centre the voices of Musqueam people, while taking responsibility for their institutions’ role in recasting the belongings of a living people as the artifacts of a dead culture.

Anthropology

At the Museum of Anthropology, in particular, there is an ever-increasing emphasis on the institution as a repository rather than a collection. On the tour I took part in, the guide emphasized that the rights and stories of the items we viewed still belonged to the families who produced them. It’s a welcome change from the museum tours of my childhood, which presented them as the remnants of a vanished culture. They’ve also transformed the way their vast holdings from around the world are presented, collecting and displaying European artifacts in a manner that does not hold them above or apart from those of any other culture.

So, when I made my way to the Vancouver Art Gallery, I was very glad to learn that there was an exhibit of coastal First Nations art there, too. The pieces displayed were part of an unexpected gift to the VAG, which has extremely limited holdings of First Nations pieces. There was an acknowledgement to that effect and on one side of the exhibition floor, strong contemporary pieces by Robert Davidson were allowed to stand alone. On the other, historical pieces were paired with vast photographs by Christos Dikeakos serving as commentary. It felt like the VAG was very much at the beginning of the process that’s been undertaken by MOV and MOA. Even the exhibition notes felt sparse in comparison to those for the exhibitions on the floors below, especially those for the show that centred artists like the Group of Seven and Emily Carr, with a number of works that were dominant culture observations of First Nations coastal communities and cultural productions.

The closeness of my visits highlighted these issues, which then followed me to Roedde House, a museum that recreates a middle class Victorian family’s environment. This was an unexpected benefit of the Inspiration Pass and a welcome one.

The downside of getting the pass when I did was that I was only able to go to one performance, as my loan period extended into the Christmas week closure of many performance groups. However, those who get the pass in the off-season can’t see performances, either, so I’m not complaining.

Victorian

I’ll end with a few observations:

  • I’d love to see the pass program extended to some of our smaller institutions, like theatre companies and repertory cinemas. One of the goals of the pass is to encourage Vancouverites to get subscriptions to our cultural institutions, so it would be nice to bring up the profile of these ones. I could envision one choice being a movie at either Vancity Theatre or The Cinamatheque and another being one play from a list of theatre companies.
  • In the same vein, I’d like to see the program stretch a little further into East Vancouver. The volunteers I spoke to at the Beatty Museum of Biodiversity had never heard of The Cultch, can you imagine? Let’s get Westsiders to cross the city, too.
  • Since performance groups largely shut down during the warmer months, it might be nice to have the option to go to a baseball or soccer game instead.
  • Finally, I’d like to see some more flexibility from some of the participating institutions on how groups of four are made up. Goh Ballet allows four adults to come to a performance, but the Vancouver Symphony insists that only two adults and two children can be allowed as a group of four. For those of us who have elderly parents and grown up children, nieces, or nephews, that’s a shame. It also doesn’t take into account non-generational families and groups of friends. I’d like to see that change.

Planetarium

Many of the people I know had no idea that the Inspiration Pass was available to any resident of Vancouver with a VPL card. I’m not sure I should have told them, because they’ve all put a hold on it. There are eight passes per library branch and the number of holds keeps creeping upward. I wouldn’t be surprised if they reach 1,000 for each branch before long.

I’ve put another hold on the Inspiration Pass at my local branch. I estimate I’ll get it again in three-and-a-half to four years. Luckily, my partner has a hold on one, too. He’ll get it in two years or so. That’s not so long to wait.

G-W Portraits: Tara Sawatsky & Kevin Sauvé

 

Grandview-Woodland is home to a number of non-profits and many community activists, cultural workers, and civic sector employees make their home here, too.

Tara Sawatsky and Kevin Sauvé live in a housing co-operative in the Commercial Drive area, do great work, and love Grandview-Woodland.

We spoke on a windy December day (apologies for the sound quality), then headed off to a co-op holiday potluck.

You can find the rest of the interviews in this series here: G-W Portraits

Have you checked out my 2015 holiday cookbook review series? There are copies of 5 great cookbooks up for grabs. You can find the links to the giveaways here and enter until December 17th.