Roasted Butternut squash soup

It’s time for some new recipes in the MTLM world. 

Roasted butternut squash soup

A clean, warm soup flavored with fragrant herbs and spices, this soup is the  perfect answer to that first fall day, with crisp air and crunchy leaves. Paired with a loaf of crusty home-baked bread, this soup makes a cozy meal. 

You’ll need:

1 butternut squash, halved and seeded

1 bay leaf

3-4 coriander seeds

1 can coconut milk

1 cinnamon stick

Fresh or dried rosemary 

2 tsp coconut oil

1 tart apple, cored and diced 

1 yellow or white onion, diced 

2 cloves garlic, diced

1/2 inch fresh ginger root, diced

1/2 inch fresh turmeric root, diced

8-10 button or baby Bella mushrooms

1 strand saffron

Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Rub olive oil into the cut side of the squash. Salt to taste. 

Roast the squash until a fork slides into the flesh of the squash with no resistance. 

In a heavy bottomed stock pot, heat coconut oil. 

Add bay leaf, onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric. As they start to brown, add coriander seeds, cinnamon and rosemary.  Add diced mushrooms and sauté until softened. 

Meanwhile, scoop squash flesh out of the skin and blend with coconut milk. Thin to desired consistency with either stock or water. 

Add squash mixture to the stockpot and simmer until fully cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add saffron strands about 2 minutes before removing from heat. 

Serve hot or freeze for later. 

A new member of the family

It’s been a rough couple of months in the MTLM household. So we did what anyone in their right mind would do: we adopted a furry friend. 

Angel is 4 years old, a mix of Jack Russell terrier and beagle. She’s timid and gentle, but incredibly affectionate. She likes peanut butter and pizza crust, and is a little princessy about where she sleeps (the sofa is her favorite). 

We love her. 

  

On Doctoring: A lesson from a patient

I spend my days, and often my nights, in the hospital caring for patients – or so I think. As a physician, although I’m providing the care, more frequently than not I come out of the interaction  feeling that I gained much more than I provided. 

Today, I encountered an elderly gentleman who accosted me with a cheerful ‘Good morning, young lady!’ This was a patient with metastatic cancer who was admitted with a urologic emergency, bound to his bed and frustrated as a child who’s stuck indoors during recess. 

 He asked, “Did you win the lottery last night?” 

I clearly did not – I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.

“Your smile is glowing all the way down the hall,” he remarked.

I gave credit where it was due – a bright sunny day, a hot cup of coffee and finally, enough sleep at night. 

Mr. A, however, had another thought.

“It’s all in your head, young lady,” he said. How could the sun be in my head, I wondered.  What he said next may just be one of the most profound things I have heard in a very long time.
 

The sun is always shining, he said. The sun is always shining. It’s up to you to rise above the clouds to find it.



Now how’s that for a doozy?

N.b. The photo is from our trip last year to Yosemite, halfway up the hike to the top of Yosemite Falls. 

Seed starting log: Optimal conditions for germination

Gardening, I have found, can be either a highly scientific process or a highly artistic process. This depends largely on who you are and how you think. I started out a couple of years ago with no real plans, just a few seeds and a real desire to make this work. It kind of did, but mostly didn’t. Last year, we were a little more deliberate about it. We calculated seed starting times, tried to put them under lights, and transplanted them out when we thought they should go out. Some varieties flourished, like the ‘rose Quartz’ tomatoes and the Russian kale, but others didn’t really take off until August, leaving me with very little time for a crop in my 5b growing season. 

This year, we decided on an intentional, deliberate and – dare I say it? – scientific approach to seed starting. Plants are very much like people. Finicky and particular, they really care exactly how you treat them. And if you don’t treat them the way they want you to, they simply will not respond. 

Here are some lessons I’m learning as I start my seeds. 

  • Tomatoes like to germinate in the dark. Just make sure the place you put them isn’t freezing, and they’ll come up just fine. I like to plant my seeds in yogurt cups with drainage holes poked in and covered with plastic wrap. My tomatoes are mostly germinating between 3-5 days after planting, at which point I take off the plastic and move them under the grow light. 
  • Peppers like light and warmth. These guys are not going to do great if I try to sprout them in my basement under the grow light system. I’ve been preparing my yogurt cups, putting the whole thing inside a ziploc bag, and putting that on top of the radiator. My cubanelles and mini yellows sprouted beautifully. I’m still waiting on the ‘Santa Fe’ peppers, which haven’t been on the radiator. I think my experiment is working. I also sow the seeds directly on the soil surface to allow the most light penetration. 
  • Don’t drown your seedlings. Use a spray bottle, tepid water, and some love. How would you like a bucket of ice cold water dumped on you whenever you got thirsty? Your plants hate it too. 
  • Love your seedlings. I know this sounds goofy, but I firmly believe that your seedlings can feel your love and affection. Care for them as if it matters, and they will respond. 

The realization that I’ve come to is that the scientific approach and the Zen approach are probably the same: treat your plants the way they want to be treated. They will flourish. 



Seed starting log: Dwarf tomatoes

A fresh, ripe juicy tomato is the crowning glory of the home gardener’s summer bounty – we all know that. There’s a lot that goes into that process, though, from selecting your seed variety all the way to knowing when to tell your plant that enough is enough. One of the biggest challenges with growing your own tomatoes, especially in a location with cold winters, is knowing when to start them. Most guides will tell you 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your zone.

The tough thing about that is that in many zones, my Zone 5b Pittsburgh garden included, I can’t really tell you when the last frost will be. Yes, the almanac says May 1. But honestly, I don’t quite trust that. One terrible frost and all the tomatoes will be goners. Having said that, delaying seed starting just to push the transplant date well into mid- to late-May is not a great plan either, knowing that it will cut my growing season short. Of course, there’s the added hitch – I simply don’t want to wait anymore! It’s cold, snowy, icy and bitter outside. I work odd shifts, sometimes not seeing the sun for days. Those little sprouts of green poking their heads out are pretty much all I have to remind me that this isn’t the end of the world.

So your question is probably this: What’s the solution to all this?

Well, there’s a magical little thing called a dwarf tomato. These are usually determinate varieties, which means they set fruit all at once, and are compact and well suited for container growing. Some examples of this are Tiny Tim, Goldilox, and Hahms Gelbe Topftomate, all of which I’m hoping to grow this year. The advantage of starting these seeds early is that even as they start to grow, you know that they won’t start to sprawl and creep all over the place. Even in case of a late frost, you can comfortably keep them indoors in containers and they won’t get rootbound or get out of control.

I started ‘Tiny Tim’ and ‘Hahms Gelbe’ a few days ago. I’ve heard great things about both varieties. Tiny Tim is a small red cherry, and Hahms Gelbe is a slightly larger yellow. Remember that tomatoes need lots of light to avoid getting spindly and leggy. Keep the grow light no more than 3-4 inches away, the closer the better. I’m using a cool fluorescent bulb set up in my basement, which is about 65 degrees F.

Follow along with me and we’ll see what they do this year – it’s all a big experiment!

Seed starting log: Genovese basil

I had a cinnamon basil plant and a Thai basil plant, both grown from cuttings, living in my kitchen window. Unfortunately, the dark winter and cold drafts took them both and I was left utterly basil-less. I waited until it was utterly impossible to wait any longer and decided to sprout my own. This year I have big basil plans, but I’m starting with just the one variety for now. I set this little pot underneath my lemon tree, in its pot, and let nature do its thing. These beautiful little seedlings thrill me to no end. They are so bright and sturdy. 



The little lemon that could 

You may recall my little improved Meyer lemon tree that has been struggling in my Zone 5B home. I originally bought it at the end of the summer in 2013, looking sickly and weary. I nursed it back to some health that year and watched it almost die over the winter. But it scraped through. Summer rolls around and it does quite well on my stoop, but the indoor air, dry with our heaters and quite dark, doesn’t seem to do it much good. Interestingly, this year we brought it in and left it right near the front door where it got about 4-5 hours of decent light, not great, and it did well until about January. Then the leaf drop started. I’m not sure if something changed or if it was just a delayed reaction, but I think the plant – and me as a result – went into panic mode. I set up a little grow light corner, and though the plant continued to drop leaves for another week, I think it’s loving the light. It’s coming back with a vengeance. If I can keep this lemon plant thriving in my dark, dry Pittsburgh apartment, I will consider it one of my greatest victories yet. 



An oversight

As I wait anxiously for the ice to melt and the snow to stop falling and Old Man Winter to withdraw his frosty tentacles and release me, I am disheartened to see that last year’s garden, which should have really been the star of the summer, never got its chance to shine. In this blog, that is. In real life, it gave me joy and wonder everyday. Somehow I managed never to document it, though. 

I will try to remedy that mistake by posting pictures from last summer’s garden as I start planning for this year. I hope to draw inspiration, learn from mistakes, and beat the winter doldrums away. 

This beautiful little flower looks like it’s just about to take wing and fly. It looks like a sort of sweet pea, and was an absolute delight in a little patch in front of my porch. 



Stay tuned for more!

a little slice of life