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Tortellini Soup

A year ago today, I did something I never thought I’d ever be able to do. I started a blog.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I wrote that first post about chicken noodle soup. I was sure no one but my mom and dad would read it, and I never imagined I’d be sitting here a year later writing my 39th recipe with no plans of slowing down.

I was kneading dough for my grandmother’s shortbread cookie recipe when I got the idea to write a book about my newfound love of cooking, and its ability to connect me to the woman I thought I’d all but lost a chance to know. It was kind of a breakthrough moment for me, at a time when I knew my future was coming whether I wanted it to or not, and decisions needed to be made about the next few steps I’d take.

Writing a book seemed a little far-fetched for me at that point. I was 21, in my fourth year of university and in the midst of battling a fairly intense bout of depression. The commitment of writing a book seemed far too much for me to handle.

“Why don’t you start a blog?” my boyfriend asked one evening, shortly after we’d watched Julie and Julia.

I think I responded with something like, “Yeah, maybe,” code words for, “Probably not, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Then I was sitting on the living room couch one Friday night when it popped into my head.

“Stuck in Thyme,” I blurted out to TJ. “I could call my blog Stuck in Thyme.”

I still don’t know where that name came from. I suspect it has something to do with a sketchy little sign for a mending service in the top window of a run-down building next to my orthodontist. That’s the only reasonable explanation I’ve been able to muster up.

But I think it’s the idea behind the name that makes the most sense to me. At the time I started this blog, I was suffering from depression, severe anxiety and an even worse lack of confidence. But when I baked, I was me. I wasn’t some girl on pills that needed frequent naps, I wasn’t a twenty-something in knots over the future, and I wasn’t sad or angry or disappointed in myself. I was just a girl adding flour and eggs to chocolate chips in order to make cookies.

Cooking was and still is exhilarating. It’s the one time of day when I don’t have to be thinking; thoughts come naturally. Cooking challenges me; some days recipes come together effortlessly, other days they’re disasters. But after each screw-up, I’m always wondering what went wrong, and what I can do differently next time. I’m by no means an excellent cook, but I do believe I’m getting there, albeit slowly.

To date, this blog’s been viewed more than 5,000 times in the past year. It’s a modest accomplishment, but considering my doubts that no one aside from my direct friends and family would ever want to read my stories, it makes me incredibly grateful.

For Stuck in Thyme’s one-year anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to make another hearty soup. This one, fortunately, is much simpler than chicken noodle from scratch, but it’s every bit as good. It comes from one of my favourite cooking blogs, the Tasty Kitchen Blog.

Tools

large saucepan
measuring cups
measuring spoons
cutting board
large kitchen knife
wooden spoon

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, with juice
salt and pepper to taste
9 ounce package of tortellini
3 cups chopped spinach
parmesan cheese

Instructions

In a large saucepan, fry oil and garlic for five minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then add tortellini. Cook until al dente, about 10 – 12 minutes. Add spinach and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, and serve. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

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Broccoli and Garlic Penne

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. It’s crunch time in my final year of university and it feels like life won’t allow me to breathe. But the funny thing is, every time I’m free from my scholarly obligations, my mind drifts to something much more uncomfortable and scary.

I graduate in two months. For the first time in 16 years, I’m going to be able to choose what I want to do with my life, and frankly, this scares the hell out of me.

I’d like to able to say that I have a plan, or at least a vague idea of what I want to do after I graduate, but I don’t. The thing is, I’ve grown up around people who settle for whatever comes their way first, and I’ve seen how unhappy they are because of it. But to get what I want, or what I think I want, I have to take a risk, and that’s something I’ve never really done.

I applied for jobs I really wanted and got shot down. I then applied for jobs I didn’t want, and got shot down again. I’m beginning to feel like maybe it’s just not in the cards for me, that all I can ever attain to be is ordinary.

And it’s not that bad, really. I could get a cozy little apartment in town with my boyfriend, just blocks away from my office. We could decorate our first Christmas tree together, get married and have kids, all before I reach the age of 30. I wouldn’t have to live off Kraft Dinner for a year or survive in a cramped rat-infested apartment, the way people always claim to have done before their big break. Best of all, I wouldn’t have to fail.

As tempting as this life is, I know it won’t make me happy. Because no matter how pretty my wedding dress is or how good my job benefits are, I will always ask myself the same question: ‘what if?’

What if it takes turning down a perfectly fine job to get what I really want? What if I have to move out of my comfort zone in order to move into something better?

These are the things that race through my mind when I’m walking home from school or cleaning my apartment. They take over my life when I let them, paralyzing me so that I can’t actually do what I need to.

But then there are times, those rare fleeting moments, when everything settles, and I think that maybe, just maybe, everything will turn out right. It’s these simple little times that get me through the day, the everyday pleasures that remind me why I’m here and what I’m supposed to do.

It’s the sound of my cat purring when I rub under her fuzzy little chin, reassuring me that my sole duty in this world is to make her happy. Tonight, it was the sheer satisfaction of making a recipe to perfection, for the very first time.

This broccoli and garlic penne is exquisite. It’s simple, requires very few ingredients, and takes under a half hour to make. Best of all, it is absolutely delicious, and it leaves plenty of left-overs for tomorrow’s lunch. Freshly grated parmesan is a must for this recipe. I’ve tried the canned stuff, and it’s just not the same.

Tools

large saucepan
colander
medium saucepan
wooden spoon
skillet
cutting board
large knife

Ingredients

1 lb penne
2 heads broccoli
3/4 cup olive oil
10 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper

Instructions

In a large saucepan, cook penne according to package instructions until al dente. Once done, drain in a colander and run under cold water.

Cut broccoli florets into small pieces. Bring medium saucepan to a boil. Add broccoli and boil for two minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water, and pat dry with paper towel or a clean dish cloth.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute or until edges are brown, shaking the pan often. Add cooked and drained broccoli to the skillet and stir well. Sprinkle with some pepper and cook for two minutes, stirring often. Add penne and butter to the skillet. Stir well, until all ingredients are mixed together. Cook for four minutes.

Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese and serve.

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Spaghetti and Meatballs

Free time doesn’t come easily to me. I’m in my final year of university, so any time not spent in class is devoted to essay writing, textbook reading and freelance work on the side to earn some extra cash. I don’t handle stress very well, either, which adds a completely new element to the fray.

Cooking is my release. When I cook, the thesis statements, cancelled interviews and sociology chapters fade from my conscious, and it’s just me and my food. There’s something therapeutic about doing something with your hands; the sense of satisfaction in manually creating something out of nothing.

This meal is ideal for those stressful days in life. While tearing the ground beef apart with my fingers and squishing it into little round balls, I finally allowed my mind to drift from all the negatives. My thoughts, which just minutes before were whizzing around chaotically, settled. Perhaps it’s the mindless, repetitive motion, or the hum of the onions simmering in the pan next to me, but in that moment, everything is okay.

Tools

large metal bowl
fork
cookie sheet
large saucepan
large knife
cutting board
medium saucepan
wooden spoon
measuring cups
measuring spoons

Ingredients

Meatballs
1 lb lean ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Spaghetti sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
28 ounce bottle of plain spaghetti sauce
1/2 teaspoon basil
one stalk of fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Crumble a slice of bread between your fingers to make crumbs. In medium bowl, combine thawed beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, salt and pepper with fork. With your hands, roll beef into one inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them over after seven to eight minutes.

Heat vegetable oil in large saucepan or frying pan over medium heat. Add onion. Crush garlic cloves with flat side of a large kitchen knife and add to pan.  Cook for two minutes, then pour in spaghetti sauce. If using fresh oregano, wash and chop finely, then add with basil to pan. Bring to a simmer.

Add cooked meatballs to sauce mixture and simmer, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes. Prepare spaghetti in medium saucepan according to package directions.

Serve sauce over hot spaghetti and top with parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!