Black Bean Soup

Around this time of year I always get the same ambition. No matter how many times I’ve failed in the past, the sunshine (we do get it sometimes!), warmer weather, and my antsy-ness from being trapped at a desk all winter always leads to the same thought: this year I’m definitely going to be a runner. Now before you get any crazy ideas, let me clarify what I consider to be “a runner”: for me it means someone who runs on a weekly basis, for at least 30 minutes at a time total (this means running + walking), without feeling like they are on death’s door after every session. Pretty low standards, right? I think so. My body doesn’t agree.

This season in particular I got a stronger urge than normal. I think it’s because this time around – for the first time in about 5 years – I have to actually WORK at working out. No laughing, I’m serious! In the past, my hobbies had the (wonderful) added bonus of exercise: climbing, kayaking, biking, being on my feet all day in Japan or in a Vermont coffee shop… I just never had to worry about fitting exercise into my routine. Unfortunately, everything I do these days is in front of a computer screen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my studies and am really looking forward to having a summer free of classes to focus on my research, but I’m very quickly realizing I’m going to have to actually make an *ahem* effort to stay healthy now. Can you hear me whimpering?

So, full of naive ambition and covered in sunscreen (some of us only burn), I set out yesterday for my first run of the season. What started off so well quickly deteriorated and it always begins with the “stuff”: having exercise-induced asthma, my puffer is always with me. Then I carry my phone both for safety and for music. Next, I have to find room for a 4″x2″ laminated building keycard with attached apartment key. I settled on stuffing my 4″ puffer into the tiny pocket in my leggings, forcing my phone into my old iPod armband, and sliding the keycard under my waistband…only my puffer kept popping out, my armband kept slipping down (not made for the weight of the iPhone), and I gave myself an uncomfortable blister where the keycard rubbed against my upper thigh.

As I was jogging and juggling objects – more juggling than jogging – my left earbud also refused to stay in. Then the wind picked up (it IS Nova Scotia after all) and, believe it or not, kept blowing the headphones cord into my mouth every few minutes. If you had passed me on the street that day you would have seen a gal puffing her way down the avenue with her left hand on her ear, her right hand holding the cord while simultaneously trying to pull up her armband, a brass key flapping from the front of her pants, and a bulge sticking out the back like a little tail. Oh, and my face was bright purple. Of course.

In the end I gave up, turned around, and just walked home. I couldn’t have been out there more than 20 minutes and I feel like I honestly get a better workout just following my pilates or yoga DVDs in my living room…but those won’t get my outside and into the sunlight. I think I’m going to give running at least a few more shots and am brainstorming ways to make the experience at least more manageable if not less painful. I’ll run my headphones cord through my shirtsleeve next time to – hopefully – keep it out of my mouth. I’ll only run when Brad is home so I won’t have to take the cumbersome keys. I could just hold the phone, although I’m always afraid of dropping it…

How about you? Are you a runner at all? Were you one of the dozens of folks who so effortlessly bounded past me the other day – hands free and head high? haha. Tell me your tricks! My lazy bum may never get used to going more than 3 mph, but I’d at least like to feel able. We’ll see.

Black Bean Soup

(slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Soups & Stews 2010)


For the Beans…

1   lb.   dried black beans, picked over and rinsed (~2 C)

2   bay leaves

5   C   water

1/8   t    baking soda

1   t   salt

For the Soup…

3   T   olive oil

2   large onions, chopped fine (~3 C)

1   large carrot, peeled, chopped fine (~½ C)

3   celery stalks, chopped fine (~1 C)

½   t   salt

6   garlic cloves, minced (~2 T)

½   t   red pepper flakes

1½   T   ground cumin

4   C   low-sodium vegetable broth

2   T   cornstarch

2   T   water

2   T   fresh lime juice from 1 or 2 limes

For Garnishes…

lime wedges

chopped fresh cilantro leaves

finely diced red onion

diced avocado

plain, non-fat greek yogurt or sour cream

* Note: While the recipe calls for using the liquid the beans are cooked in, you don’t have to be that afraid of…shall we say…the “side effects”. The test kitchen chef explained that the added baking soda not only helps in keeping the beans an attractive black color, but also aids in reducing the bloat beans can cause. Hurray!


1) For the beans: place beans, bay leaves, water, and baking soda in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over Medium-high heat and skim foam from the service as needed. Once boiling, stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are tender – 1¼ to 1½ hours. If necessary, add an additional Cup of water and continue to simmer until beans are tender. Do not drain!* Once beans are done, remove bay leaves and set aside in remaining water.

2) For the soup: heat oil in an 8-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stockpot over Medium-high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add onions, carrot, celery, and salt and cook – stirring occasionally – until vegetables are soft and lightly browned – about 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to Medium-low and add the garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin and cook – stirring constantly – for a few minutes or until fragrant.

3) Stir in all but 2 Cups of the beans w/ their liquid and all of the vegetable broth. If you want a perfectly creamy soup with no chunks of beans, add all the beans at this step. Increase heat to Medium-high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and let it simmer uncovered for about half an hour – stirring occasionally. This will blend the flavors and reduce the stock.

4) To finish, use an immersion blender to puree the soup until creamy or, alternatively, blend the soup in batches in an upright blender or food processor. Once blended, stir in the reserved whole beans (if saved). In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and water until all lumps have dissolved and then gradually add about half of the mixture into the soup. Return the soup to a boil over Medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, to fully thicken. If you’d prefer you soup to be thicker once it’s boiling, add in the remaining half of the cornstarch slurry (you may have to whisk it a bit to recombine it before adding to soup) and allow soup to boil for a few minutes to thicken further. Remove from heat.

5) Off the heat, stir fresh lime juice into soup until fully incorporated. Ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately with preferred garnishes. Be prepared for meat-loving friends/family to love this Mexican-themed, vegetarian soup. 😉

Beezer’s Notes:

I am really surprised how much Brad and I both liked this soup! This was supposed to be just another healthy meal to add to the repertoire (I adapted it to be vegetarian and used greek yogurt instead of sour cream). In particular, I was waiting to hear complaints about the lack of meat and giant dollops of yogurt – he did refuse to eat it until I confessed it’s true nature – but…BUT…he liked it! WE liked it. The generous amount of cumin gave the soup an unidentifiable richness and the red pepper flakes produced just a slight heat, satisfying without making you sweat. The beans were filling enough to make this soup a great stand-alone dinner (especially with toppings), but we didn’t feel weighed down like you’re apt to with other Mexican-themed meals. Finally, the source recipe suggests using chipotle chilies in adobo sauce instead of the red pepper flakes for a smokier taste. Somehow I missed that note the first time around, but I love my choptle chilies in adobo so I’m really excited to try that variation next time!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥  

Squash & Bean Bake

Just five days left until I can chuck my cell phone into the depths of my closet, grab a 6-pack of hard cider, and escape with my tent and books to the farthest campsite I can find. I’m constantly texting friends and family, and I’m not much of a drinker (my absinthe-loving days left behind me in Japan), but July 1st will mark the first time in just over two years that I will no longer be on-call 24/7! The tissue bank business is one that I really admire. They do fantastic work and I’m so proud to have been even a small part of it – but I find myself fantasizing about having a steady schedule, becoming a “morning person” because I get up early not for being up all night, and falling asleep at night knowing I’ll be free to sleep through its entirety.

I’ll be glad to have a bit of a respite before the Big Move, too. Anything that will help calm my nerves and settle my mind before selling my soul to graduate studies is well worth it. I’ve been climbing as much as possible just for that reason, the cost of the gym pass justified now since I doubt I’ll have much time to climb in Halifax. All I’m missing is a more-experienced partner so that I can get off the plastic and onto the granite. I boulder outside as the weather permits and I used to feel comfortable setting up solid (oh, ‘scuse me, I mean “bomber”) anchers, but it’s been years since I’ve worked any gear more complicated than an ATC (being on-call has a way of seriously restricting all mountain activities). I no longer feel confident enough to grab my less experienced friends for a day-trip of simple top-roping. I’m hoping to beg/plead/bribe my way into some more experienced groups later this summer but the clock’s ticking. Anyone confident in their trad skills and live in Vermont? Seriously, contact me.

Well, I could chat about climbing all day but then this wouldn’t be a food blog now would it? 😉 Back to the subject of the post: this simple but flavorful dish joins the ranks of those that were eaten up with such enthusiasm that I’ve only a few photos left as evidence of its existence. No joke, the recipe fills two 8 x 8″ pans (I prefer the depth of using multiple square pans over a single 9 x 13) and both were gone by noon the following day. Oh, and none of us are vegetarian. If that doesn’t convince you this is a winning meat-free recipe, I don’t know what would.

Squash & Bean Bake (adapted from Eating Well‘s June 2011 Edition)


For the Filling…

2   t   EVOO

1   large onion, diced

3   cloves garlic, minced

2   jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced

1   T   paprika

1   t   ground cumin

1   t   dried oregano

1   t   ground cinnamon

pinch of ground cloves

1   lb.   butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and diced (~ 3 C)

1   14-oz. can crushed tomatoes

1   C   vegetable broth

1   15-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed

1   15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed

¼   t   salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Topping…

1   T   EVOO

¼   t   salt

8   corn tortillas

1   C   sharp Cheddar cheese, grated


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. For the filling,  heat the 2 Tablespoons oil in a large skillet over Medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant – about 3 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeños and repeat for another minute more. Add paprika, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and cloves and continue cooking while stirring for another minute. Add squash, tomatoes, and broth; bring to a simmer. Allow dish to simmer while covered for 10 – 15 minutes or until squash is tender. Add beans, season with salt and pepper, and transfer mix to two 8 x 8″ square baking dishes or a single 9 x 13″ dish.
  2. Prepare the topping by combining the 1 Tablespoon oil and ¼ teaspoon salt in a small dish and brush it on both sides of the corn tortillas. Using a pizza-cutter, cut the tortillas into ¾” strips and then cut the strips in half. Layer the tortilla strips and cheese on top of the dish(es). I alternated strips, cheese, strips, and finished with cheese.
  3. Bake the dish(es) in the center of the oven until the center is bubbling and the tortilla strips have darkened to a light tan – about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Leftovers reheat well in the oven (microwave works, too, but your tortilla strips will be chewy).

Beezer’s Notes:

If you’re trying to introduce more legumes in your diet, find new ideas for your CSA share, or get your kids to eat something other than mac ‘n cheese I really recommend making this bake. It actually went above and beyond my expectations. I first highlighted it simply as a way to use up the can of beans sitting in my cupboard (although neither kidney nor cannellini beans are called for in the original recipe) and I’m so glad I did. I think the magic’s in the spice/herb combination as the flavor is fantastic. It helps to like squash, but even if you aren’t much of a fan it really just adds a subtle sweetness to the mix – squash isn’t the central flavor by any means. Also, don’t worry about the heat: the filling isn’t spicy at all (you’d need to keep the jalapeño seeds in for that), but tastes like a Mexican-meets-Thanksgiving dish, haha. Not the best for summer, maybe, but with all the cold rain we’re having up here you’d never know. Finally, the crunchy-cheesy topping went perfectly with the soft filling; the baked tortilla strips a genius move for having healthy substitute for a pot-pie crust. I have only a few tweaks for the next time I make this: add some corn and maybe even a Tablespoon of chipotle chili in adobo sauce too add some smokiness. Overall, though, an excellent dinner!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Hearty Kale and Kielbasa Soup

I was determined to make this soup after trying the very first delicious spoonful from our Co-Op a few months back. Hearty Kale and Kielbasa Soup, brainchild of Linda Glenn, was the winning recipe of the “Souperbowl Challenge”: a friendly competition in which locals submit recipes to be made and judged by cooking classes. In celebration, the winning soup was served at the Co-Op’s hot bar for a week; during which time yours truly sampled a taste and quickly bought a bowl! With big chunks of kale and kielbasa, subtly spicy undertones, and softened beans and squash holding it all together, this is the perfect cold weather soup. You get your vitamins, protein, and tummy-warmer in a single cup.

Hearty Kale and Kielbasa Soup (from Linda Glenn via the Onion River Co-Op)


* Note: I’d like to take a moment to mention that one of the attributes the Souperbowl contestants were judged on was their use of local ingredients. Please, if at all possible, support your area’s agricultural community and buy locally. Your taste buds will thank you! 🙂

1            bunch of fresh kale

1            large yellow onion

3           Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cubed

1            medium squash (or 2 sweet potatoes), peeled and cubed

8     C    chicken broth

¼    C     EVOO

6             cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1  15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1  15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1     lb.    kielbasa sausage, sliced

1             bay leaf

1             hot pepper, seeded and chopped (you may want gloves)

2     T    paprika

salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a large pot, saute the onion and kielbasa in EVOO. When the onion is translucent and fragrant, add the garlic but do not let it brown (the sausage doesn’t have to be cooked through yet).
  2. Add the squash/sweet potato and diced hot pepper and cook for 5 more minutes.
  3. Season with the paprika and add the broth and bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. While waiting, prepare the kale by rinsing it thoroughly and tearing the leafy portions from the thick ribs or stems. Discard the stems and tear the rest into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Add the potatoes and kale to the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes before adding the beans. Heat for another 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper to taste.

makes about 6 quarts of soup! great for a dinner party or freezing for later.

Beezer’s Notes:

This recipe was a blast to make. True, it does require a large amount of ingredients and quite a bit of chopping, but you soon get to the fun part of just tossing things into a pot and letting the magic happen on its own. At this point, you can sit back and breathe in mouth-watering smells...mmm…

I think my boyfriend may not have such a fond association with this soup, as he was the one seeding the peppers. I deliberately bought the mildest hot peppers I could find (not having much experience with such things, I was a bit intimidated, haha), but the juices were still devious in the way they clung to his skin after a quick wash. “I’ll be back in a sec!” he said, as he casually finished rinsing his hands and walked toward the restroom. A few minutes later he returned to offer assistance, but didn’t stay very long. I remember a growing look of alarm on his face as he walked – this time much more quickly – back to the restroom. He didn’t return for quite some time.

Needless to say, I highly recommend using gloves when cutting and seeding hot peppers of any kind. If you do brave the burn bare-handed (hah! how’dya like that alliteration?), make sure to wash thoroughly with plenty of soap and warm water; especially before touching anything…um…shall we say… sensitive. 😉

Overall Enjoyment: ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥

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