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San Francisco synopsis with stockpot and soup

A week in the Bay Area has come and gone, and I’m back in my long black Neo-esque wool coat, lugging groceries home in the Seattle rain, fingers numb in my gloves. But no matter. Though it was delicious to have a full seven days with people I adore in what may well be the best part of this enormous country, nothing could match my contentment last night upon returning to my cold little apartment after midnight, cranking up the heat and a gritty old Rolling Stones album, unpacking my suitcase, putting everything in its place, and folding myself into my poofy white bed. This is how vacation should feel.

But as promised, you, dear reader, get the two-dimensional dregs of my San Francisco stay. From Arizmendi Bakery’s eggy brioche knot flecked with cinnamon and golden raisins to Max’s obscenely huge dark-chocolate-dipped macaroons (approximately one pound each and best if bought at the to-go counter and brought home for quartering and sharing), Dungeness crabs, and the Acme pain au levain and olive bread, it was a delicious week indeed.

And the holidays would be nothing without a few little adventures and last-minute errands for crafty present-related odds and ends, such as 9” red zippers at JoAnn Fabrics, where my very petite cousin Katie found the wall of cheap fake flowers very appealing.

And while a snowy white Christmas is appropriate every now and then, I never object to a Christmas Eve walk at Tennessee Valley and out to the beach with the twins, all of us bundled ever-so-lightly in hooded sweatshirts and scarves.

And as for Christmas morning, there was the requisite wearing of gift bows around our heads, and there were the oddly perfect gag gifts, such as my mother’s legwarmers, carefully selected by Sarah and Jim. After all, every Pilates instructor needs pink-and-gray legwarmers to wear with her high-heeled boots (aptly and unabashedly called “fuck-me heels” in this family).

Best of all, my kitchen reeled in quite a load of gifts, such as a long-awaited pair of poultry shears (no more standing on my tip-toes for knife-handling leverage; no more breaking a sweat!); a sparkling white 9- by 13-inch French porcelain baking dish; Katie, Sarah, and Jim’s The Little Family Cookbook; and an instant-read thermometer. There were also gifts for my geeky brain, such as Women Who Eat and Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. And there were gifts that shocked and awed in the best possible way, such as the twelve-quart stainless-steel All-Clad Multipot picked out for me by my half-brother David and his fiancée.

I’d always thought I’d have to wait for a wedding gift registry to get one of these heavy, gleaming beauties, but I apparently underestimated the generosity of my relatives. This may be the most luscious piece of steel I’ve ever seen. I held it and stroked its every curve and ridge. I’ll be with this pot for the rest of my life, and that’s a long time. Between me and this pot, it’s till death do us part.

So it was only appropriate that I get it down and dirty that very night and put it, naturally, to the old trial by fire. Indeed, my new stockpot was perfect for whipping up the evening’s first course, a double batch of apple and butternut squash soup with curry, cardamom, and mace. It’s a recipe my mother has been making for years, and it’s well-traveled, having led off a very raucous, drink- and dancing-filled French-style Thanksgiving dinner in Paris in 1999. Also in its favor is the fact that it’s very, very simple to make, assuming that you’re not averse to a bit of chopping and have some sort of blending apparatus handy. Smooth and warming with an undertone of curry, it’s just the thing for a San Francisco Christmas dinner, or Seattle winter nights with young Mick Jagger.

Apple and Butternut Squash Soup

If possible, make this soup a day or two ahead; its flavors meld and deepen after a day or so of sitting the fridge.

¼ cup olive oil
1 2-lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 flavorful apples, preferably Gala, peeled, cored, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
¾ tsp curry powder
¾ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 cup good-quality apple cider
1 quart chicken stock (vegetable works fine as well)
½ tsp salt
¼ freshly ground pepper, preferably white

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the squash, apples, and onion, and stir to coat with oil.

Sauté uncovered, stirring occasionally, for ten to fifteen minutes, or until onion is transparent.

Stir in the mace, curry, and cardamom, and continue cooking until the onion begins to brown.

Add the cider. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook for three minutes. Add the stock, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture, partially covered, for another 35 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Working in batches, blend mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth (be careful to not overfill, as hot liquid could expand when machine is switched on, making a huge, burning-hot mess). Return soup to the stockpot. Reduce the soup, uncovered, over medium-low heat, to about one-fourth. Stir occasionally. Stir in salt and pepper, and serve hot.

Serves 4-5.


Blogger Mark said...

I can tell you're enjoying having a digital camera!

That stainless steel pan looks lovely. I invested in a set about a year ago when I moved to this apartment. Along with my gas cooker, it is a match made in heaven, and I sorely miss them when I'm not here.

Once I get round to buying a blender I will try making your lovely soup. It sounds like just the thing to keep the cold at bay!

6:21 AM, December 30, 2004  
Blogger amylou said...

Um, Molly? I hate to break it to you but I'm afraid that the very deep pot I requested from Santa mistakenly got dropped off at your brother's place. Then he must have, understandably, wrapped it up and given it to you. Please send it (via fed ex) to me ASAP. Or, at least think of me with my sorry squat pots while you use it.

Happy new year! Let 2005 be the year of all foods requiring 12 quarts of cooking space.

4:57 PM, December 30, 2004  
Blogger Molly said...

Yes, Mark, the digital camera may well be the best invention of recent years. I don't know how I managed without one. Ahhh, Sony Cyber-Shot, you're my favorite.

And Amy, I am sooo sorry that I accidentally stole your stockpot! I am not, however, sorry enough to part with it. In fact, it's already scheduled for another round of soup-making tomorrow afternoon. Want to come over?

Happy New Year, guys.

9:01 PM, December 30, 2004  
Blogger blakisu said...

The soup was excellent. Thanks for the recipe.

7:41 AM, December 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Blakisu, you're very welcome! This soup is a favorite standby of mine, and I'm glad to know you liked it.

9:05 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Janice said...

This is an extremely late comment, but I only discovered your blog this summer. When I saw the picture of the Arizmendi brioche, I had to comment since I am a diehard Arizmendi/Cheese Board fan. You have exquisite taste!

Speaking of stockpots, I have a story to share. Jacques Pepin and Julia Child were signing cookbooks at SF Union Square Macy's years ago, when they were working on another PBS series together.

I hurried from class across the Bay, hoping to get there in time to see and appreciate their lovely banter in person. I made it, but they had run out of the Julia and Jacques series cookbooks for signing...except for those included with a 12-quart stockpot they endorsed. A rash decision (and my non-foodie friends teased me endlessly about it), but it had to be done!

Thanks always for sharing your stories and recipes. They are such a treat and very useful to those abroad without their cookbooks!

3:46 PM, August 20, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

What a cute story, Janice! For a rash decision, yours is certainly one that I can get behind! Cheers to you - and your stockpot.

10:50 PM, August 21, 2006  
Anonymous psuklinkie said...

Tonight, I made my first "big-girl" soup. This is my senior year of college, and I had yet to break-in the biggest pot in my cupboard, but tonight I made "history" ... all thanks to you.
I stumbled across your blog just a few days ago and, while browsing the recipe index, fell in love with the idea of apples, squash and their lovechild: this amazing soup.
With a few alterations (I can't afford cardamom, but I do have cinnamon!) including adding some hot sausage for extra flavor and texture, I conquered this soup and my fear of cooking things for more than 20 minutes.
As per your suggestion, I'm letting the flavors meld in the fridge until I serve on Saturday, but my roommates taste tests all agree: you deserve a hearty thanks for crafting such an agreeable, perfectly warming wintery soup.

11:37 PM, January 24, 2008  
Anonymous PeppercornPress said...

Living in eastern Washington, we have an abundance of Apples this time of year. This soup sounds like the perfect way to end a chilly day. Thanks!

2:51 PM, October 15, 2008  
Blogger Matthew said...

Thanks for the recipe.
I like it better than most squash soups, of which I can only get through a few spoonfuls, even though they taste good. Must be because it's half applesauce...


7:58 PM, November 06, 2008  
Anonymous T2 said...

This will be my first year helping to cook Thanksgiving dinner, and I'll be making two of your recipes. This one and your changing minds cake. Wish me well!

3:47 PM, November 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, it looks like I'm six years late getting to this recipe, but can I ask what mace is? I'm from Scotland, does it have a different name in the UK maybe? Thanks, Elaine

7:38 AM, October 22, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, also, when you say apple cider do you mean alcoholic apple cider, because I think that's all we can get here, I'm being difficult, sorry. Thanks Elaine

7:41 AM, October 22, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

Elaine, I'm sorry for the lateness of this reply! I'm not sure what mace is called in the UK, but here's an explanation of what it is. (It comes from the fruit of the nutmeg tree.) If you can't find it, you can omit it. And as for the apple cider, what I mean is unfiltered apple juice. (Not alcoholic.) If you can't find it, you can use any kind of good, flavorful apple juice.

12:51 PM, October 30, 2010  
Blogger Hannah Mark said...

Absolutely delicious!
Many of your staples have become my staples, too over the past year, and I would just like to thank you very much. Not only are your recipes always (and I mean ALWAYS) fantastic, but your writing is wonderful as well, and reading your posts puts me in mind of late summer evenings and legs dangling from a bridge, toes grazing the stream below.
This may be a weird thing to say, but you remind me of my mother in attitude and style (younger, obviously, though I'm only 16), and I find real comfort in this blog.

Gosh, all that to say I loved the soup!
I did add a a good lump of ginger, but other than that followed your instructions to the word.

Thanks so much,

11:13 AM, December 06, 2014  

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