Comfort Cooking & My Favorite Carrot Soup Recipe

Carrot Soup recipe with potatoes and cashews
carrot soup ingredients: potatoes make it creamy, cashews add a boost of protein

You know how people talk about comfort eating?  Let’s talk about comfort cooking.

About hours in the kitchen, about softening onions and garlic in olive oil, stirring pots of soup, melding distinct scents into a new aroma that wafts up and envelopes you as you stand by the stove, wooden spoon in hand.  

For all the time spent growing and harvesting, it’s not until fall that I slip back into the kitchen.  

It’s the irony of being an organic farmer—we don’t spend much time cooking in the summer.  Amidst all the work, we prioritize easy, simple meals that don’t take long to make. But now the days are shortening, easing us away from the fields earlier each day, and I wish for long hours alone in the kitchen, music playing in the background.

So as the days grow colder, I’m wrapping myself in the comfort of soup simmering on the kitchen stove.

Of all the recipes there are to make, carrot soup is my favorite.

start carrot soup with organic carrots from the garden
organic carrot harvest

Unlike tomato or minestrone or squash or chicken soup, this one is built on root crops, and is grounding in a way the others can’t be.

Carrots and potatoes form the base of my recipe, and together they ground me in warmth, in the sureness and sweetness of soil. They offer me comfort from their own experience: you will be uprooted, but only then can you meld with the wonders around you in a new way.

When I first began cooking, I followed recipes often.  Now I use them more for inspiration, and let the vegetables at hand lead me along.  When I get a certain recipe down close to memory, like the soup described below, the experience of cooking is as grounding and relaxing as reconnecting with a dear friend.  And just like being with an old friend again, there’s a process of both discovery and sinking into a comfortable, known rhythm.

With that, here’s my go-to carrot soup recipe.

Since it’s slightly different each time, I’ve written it here with ingredients and suggested amounts, but I encourage you to experiment and find your favorite ratios.  I like to think of making soup as recipe-improv—giving you the characters, and letting you create a story in your own kitchen.

Creamy Carrot Soup
Author: 
Recipe type: Lunch or Dinner
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
This carrot soup is made creamy with the addition of potatoes. Delicious served with a handful of cashews or a dollop of sour cream and fresh baked biscuits.
Ingredients
  • Oil: extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
  • Onion, chopped (1 small-medium)
  • Garlic, chopped (2-3 cloves, depending on your taste)
  • Carrots, sliced into half-circles (1 lb)
  • Potatoes, chopped into 1” cubes (2-3 mid-sized, I like creamy varieties like german butterball or yukon gold best)
  • Water, to cover roots (about 4-6 cups)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Optional: herbs (dill, thyme, parsley); spices (curry, turmeric, black pepper); cashews, sour cream or plain yogurt for topping
Instructions
  1. Sauté onions and garlic over medium heat until onions are translucent.
  2. Add chopped carrots, potatoes, salt, and any seasonings you’re using. Sauté for about 5 minutes, letting the seasonings meld into the roots.
  3. Add water so the roots are covered by about 2” (the amount of water you use will affect how thick or thin your final soup is. If it’s too thick, you can always add more water at the end).
  4. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer until the roots are soft.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender (or pour soup into a blender and blend until smooth).
  6. Optional: Garnish with a handful of cashews, or spoonful of sour cream or yogurt. If you made this an herbed soup, finish with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley or dill.
  7. Serve with fresh baked biscuits.
 

How do you like to cook?  What meals feed your soul even as you cook?  I’d love to know, and I’d love to try cooking them, too.

To Young Farmer Moms: Strength is in the Softness

Raising strong kids from soft hears on the farm
Waylon in the garden, 2014

Today Waylon told me, “I want you to have 3 more babies, so you can have 3 more soft bellies, and then you’ll have 4 soft bellies and I can touch all of them.”

He explained to me that each baby I had would produce a subsequent belly on my back and each side.  5-year-olds are experts when it comes to mixing desires with logic. My belly has always been his safe place, his grounding, his comfort.  When we snuggle, he tells me, “I love your belly, oh I love your belly! It’s so soft!”

Before I was pregnant, I prized strength.  I did ab workouts each day. I felt quietly proud when my midwife would declare “you’re so strong!” as she felt for my baby’s position.  It’s not until that baby stretched my stomach out did I discover the strength in softness.

Like seeds, babies teach us that strength comes as much from muscle as it does from gentleness.  

To Young Farmer Moms: Strength is in the Softness

We need that outer coat to protect the embryo within, we need our abs to lift and push and propel us forward.  And then we plant the seed, and we need it to soften its coat. To give way to gentleness in order to set roots down and send up a shoot.

The body of a mother is simultaneously the strongest and the softest.

What I’m getting at is this: it’s okay to be soft.  To be gentle.

It’s okay to feel your body and heart shift with the seasons, to grow closer to the soil, to tend to yourself as you would a seed.  Motherhood and farming changes us in ways we could never imagine. They change the shapes of our bodies and the size of our emotions and widen our sense of connection.

Because sometimes, the only thing that will keep us sane in the season of young motherhood and young farms is the understanding that everything’s connected—even when it feels as if we’re alone in our doubts and failures.

Under our feet mycelium is running, sending signals to the kale and chard, invisibly carrying us from the garden to the forest, whispering messages to trees.  Let yourself be carried.

You don’t have to build up muscle all the time.  

Your body will change, as will the fields.  Your children’s bodies will grow, and through it all your gentleness will be the nourishment that growth depends on.  

To Young Farmer Moms: Strength is in the Softness

So take a deep breath.  Honor the soft parts of your own body.  It’s where all the strength comes from.

Sink into soil.  Sit among crops. Witness how easily the trees drop their leaves in the fall, and remember that new ones will grow come spring.  You can do this, too.

How to do it all: Finding balance on the family farm

How to do it all: Finding Balance on the Family Farm

“How do you do it all?” she asked.  

We were setting up next to each other at the farmers market when my fellow vendor posed the question with a note of defeat in her voice.  It startled and surprised me, and for a split second I thought the question had to be for someone else.

“I don’t do it all.  If you could see the list of things I don’t do that I want to do…” I said.

When the question came, I’d just spent the previous 2 days in a wash of anxiety and tears, not triggered by any one particular thing, but seemingly rising on the crest of changing seasons and changing desires and changing ideas of who exactly I am meant to be.  

There’s not enough space in a blog post to dive fully into these questions, but the heart of it is that I often feel like I should be able to do more and wonder how everyone else does it.  

In the years I’ve lived with anxiety I’ve had to learn over and over how to draw myself back to right now, to right where I am, without comparing my situation to the outer veneer of another’s. 

Through it all, I’ve discovered that doing it all isn’t what I’m after.  What I’m after is balance.  

How To Do It All

1. Decide what’s important

When we started Good Heart Farmstead, we literally wanted to do it all.  Our dream was to create a year-round, full-diet CSA for 40 families. We envisioned providing everything someone might want (you know, beyond coffee and chocolate): vegetables, meat, grains, sugar in the form of honey and maple syrup.  

At the same time, we’d drafted a Holistic Goal for our farm, and saw that quality of life was at the root of what we wanted to create.  We wanted to grow a farm, yes, but we also wanted to grow a life that had space for creativity and adventure beyond the fields.  

Even though we set out to do it all, we knew the most important aspect to us was to create a farm that supported our lives, rather than our lives constantly supporting the farm.  

So ask yourself: what’s the most important thing for you?  

2.  Let go of everything else

We got one season into our goal of producing a full diet before changing directions.  It just wasn’t economically feasible or physically realistic for two people and a newborn to do so much.  

We recalibrated what was important, let go of the livestock and became a vegetable farm.  

At the end of the day, we wanted to enjoy our farm, and the sheep’s constant escapes and escapades were preventing that from happening.  

The details may change—no more livestock for us—but the core goals remain the same—a farm that holistically supports our lives.  

What do you need to let go of to focus on what’s really important?

Icelandic sheep on pasture at Good Heart Farmstead
goodbye, sheep—we just can’t do it all

3. Map out what you need to do to make it happen

I have a post-it note on above my desk that reads: Dream like an eagle.  Plan like a mouse.

I thrive on envisioning the big picture, but that sweeping goal will only be realized by taking a lot of tiny steps.  The dream is the spark that gets me going, while creating a plan and then acting on that plan is what gets me there.

Sometimes the enormity of a dream can overwhelm me—there’s so much to do!  How will I ever get there? It helps to break it down into yearly, monthly, and weekly tasks.  You don’t have to do it all at once (you can’t do it all at once).  You just have to take one step at a time.

What’s one step you can take now to get closer to your goal?

4. Make yourself accountable

As life and farming partners, Edge and I work together to make sure we follow through on our plans.  It helps, too, that we have customers who’ve paid up front for a season’s worth of veggies—they’re a strong driving force to getting the work done.

Sometimes we pile ourselves too high with to-do’s, and some things get left to fall to the wayside.  That’s okay. The important things will inevitably get done.

On the creative side, though, I don’t have a writing partner to stay accountable to.  When you’re working toward an individual goal, find ways to make yourself accountable.  Get a friend who will check in on your progress. Make promises to those who read your work (posting a new blog once a week, for example), and stick to it.  

How can you make yourself accountable?

5. Do it everyday

Farming requires consistency.  Even on the weekends, we walk the fields and water the crops.  Consistently showing up and doing the work is what makes the crops grow (at least what makes them grow weed-free).  

When it comes to creative work, set a time and space and show up.

Each morning I wake up, make a cup of tea, and sit down in my writing nook.  Sometimes I journal, sometimes I work on a blog or essay, and sometimes I only get a few good sentences out.  At the very least, I sit down in my nook.

What routine can you create to help you show up every day?

6. Give yourself a break

Some days won’t go as planned.  Some mornings you’ll sleep past the alarm and only have 15 minutes before your kid wakes up and needs your attention.  

But this isn’t about doing it all—it’s about finding balance.  

Be gentle with yourself.  Keep taking small steps forward.  Remember why you’re doing this in the first place: to grow a life you love.  

Sunset over the flower field at Good Heart Farmstead.  Choosing balance over doing it all.
grow a life that brings you joy

Tomato Lessons: Powdery Mildew, Aphids, and Why You Should Ignore Instagram

How to deal with powdery mildew on tomatoes

one of my few shots of beautiful slicing tomatoes, which made it despite the powdery mildew

We’re pulling the tomatoes today.  What’s left of them, I should say.

A full three weeks earlier than planned, the stalks are coming up, already leafless and succumbed to powdery mildew, and it feels like a failure.

All season I’ve been avoiding Instagram photos of gorgeous tomatoes, unable to look at them without a pang of jealousy.  Tomatoes are my favorite crop to grow—despite their finickiness and their long list of potential diseases. Tomatoes have a way of working into me, sending out invisible suckers to grow around my limbs and pull me back for taste after taste, a siren song that keeps my mouth wanting more long after my stomach is puckered with acidity.  

But I didn’t get lost in a jungle of tomatoes this summer.  

First, it was the unexpected freeze in early April that wiped out our early round of tomato plants.  Next, it was aphids in the greenhouse that attacked the plants we’d saved and were nursing along.  After that, it was the powdery mildew that came in on plants we’d bought to replace the ones we lost.

We pruned hard every week to keep the mildew at bay, but it wasn’t enough.  Eventually, white splotches of spores covered the stalks, and we succumbed, too.

My mom always told me there are no mistakes in life, just learning experiences.  I could list here the mistakes we made, but that wouldn’t do much good. Instead, I can tell you what I learned:

How to really control powdery mildew (turns out, pruning hard isn’t enough).  

Spraying a fungicide on a weekly schedule will kill the mildew spores and help keep it from spreading to uninfected leaves.  Also, don’t compost the leaves, as powdery mildew can be spread on the wind, and exposed infected leaves in a compost pile can continue to infect your garden or field.  

Powdery mildew can affect weeds, too, (we found it on a few dandelions that had sprouted up in the pathways), so keep the beds and surrounding areas well-weeded.  

Cornell University goes into detail on powdery mildew and tomatoes on their blog.  Arbico Organics suggests specific steps to take for prevention and control.

Beneficial insects are the best way to control for aphids.

We were caught by surprise this spring when aphids showed up in droves inside the greenhouse.  It’s our third year with the greenhouse, but first with pest pressure so early on. If you have a nice protected space all winter long, it’s only a matter of time before aphids start overwintering.  

At first we sprayed neem oil, but we didn’t want to continually spray.  Even though it’s an organic option, neem oil can burn the plants if used too heavily.  We prefer preventative treatments, so we turned to beneficial insects that could control the aphids already present, and keep them in check in the future.

We talked to the folks at Arbico Organics, and ended up purchasing three rounds of green lacewings, both eggs and larvae.  In the future, we’ll also order ladybugs early in the spring to prevent aphid infestation in the first place.

When you lose a crop, you’re not the only one.  And you’re not a failure.

Instagram can make it seem like everyone else in the world has the most beautiful tomato crop.  It’s likely not true. Last week we hosted a soil workshop for farmers, and learned that everyone who bought in plants this year ended up with powdery mildew.  Along with that, we aren’t the only ones who lost an early round of tomatoes to freezing temperatures.

Sometimes, the best emotional remedy to a lost crop is to find others to lament with.  Don’t assume pretty pictures tell the whole story—you’re not a failure (we’re not failures!) just because a crop has a bad year.  

Reach out to fellow farmers and gardeners who will understand the pain of pulling tomatoes 3 weeks early.  “There goes $4,000,” one farmer lamented when we were talking tomatoes. I can’t tell you how relieving it was to hear this—not relieving to lose that much revenue, of course, but relieving to be in a crowd who understood.  Ask questions, give condolences, let yourself be condoled.

And when in doubt, just ignore those perfect instagram photos of tomatoes and spend some time in the field instead.  Rows of carrots and lettuce are much better comfort than a tiny screen of tomato photos.

Get perspective.

Organic heirloom tomatoes: how to deal with powdery mildew and aphids

heirloom tomatoes that made it through the powdery mildew

Last week a CSA Member told me she’s loved all the tomatoes in the share(!)

“Do you feel like there’s been enough?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, “I haven’t noticed a lack of tomatoes at all.”

Sometimes we just need some perspective.  I’m so used to being inundated with tomatoes that I didn’t see we still had enough.  Which leads me to asking the question: Am I showing up and seeing the result? Or am I getting lost in the challenge and missing the harvest right in front of me?

Getting lost is inevitable, but asking yourself if you’re showing up in the midst of it all will help see you through.  

We’re pulling the tomatoes, but that means we’re making space for spinach and kale, greens that will feel like gold come February and March.  

Growing food is a long game.  Even the fastest crops take a month or more to go from seed to harvest.  When something doesn’t work, pull it up and plant something new. See it as a sunk cost and move forward.  Yes, it will take months, but that space you clear now will make new growth and bounty possible.  

What comes from challenge and crop loss?  

What comes when we’re willing to look at it up close?  To work with it, clipping mildewed leaves until the decision must be made?  

There’s no hiding from challenge in the greenhouse and vegetable fields.  The only way is to get close, soil stained on your hands, the scent of tomatoes burned in your nose.  Maybe mildew will bloom, maybe flowers will. The only promise is that something will grow—be it tomatoes or yourself, or both.

Free the Zucchini! Gluten/Egg/Dairy-free Zucchini Bread that’s still delicious

Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free zucchini bread and muffins

I have a bone (er, seed) to pick with zucchini bread recipes.  

They don’t use enough zucchini!

In the middle of summer, when the zucchini starts overwhelming our CSA members, and we’re left with crates of it even after we urge them to take as much as they want, I turn to the kitchen.

I don’t know why I’m surprised every year just how little of a dent zucchini bread makes in the zucchini pile-up, but every time a recipe calls for just a cup of zucchini, I balk at how 1 cup doesn’t even use up one medium fruit.

There’s only so much time to spend baking when there’s more zucchini growing in the field, and I want to make that time worth it.  

While I’ve come to acknowledge that eating zucchini in everything is the only way to make a dent in the zucchini haul, (really—zucchini and eggs for breakfast!  Zucchini stir-fry for lunch! Vegetable tian or noodles with garden pasta sauce loaded with zucchini for dinner!), I stubbornly stand in the corner of my 5-year-old, who declares that zucchini bread is the best way to eat it.  

I may be a vegetable farmer by trade, but I’m a baker at heart.

With a gluten-free husband, and a newly egg-free son, I’m here to tell you: “free” baking can still be delicious.  

I went dairy-free while on an anti-inflammatory diet during my Lyme disease treatment, and found ways to bake without butter thanks to coconut oil + milk.  While gluten-free vegan baking is challenging, it’s most delightful and successful in the form of quick breads.

Enter: gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free zucchini bread.

There’s nothing like a farmer with a zucchini problem to find a recipe that will feed everyone with food sensitivities and use up a sizable amount of zukes.  A few summers ago, I found the best gluten-free recipe from A Girl Defloured, and have modified it over the years to include more zucchini, plus make it egg-free.

My favorite thing about this recipe is its flexibility.  

If you don’t need it to be dairy-free or egg-free, measure out the milk and crack the eggs in!   I’ve tested it with three different gluten-free flour blends, and all work well. So don’t worry about taking an extra trip to the store just to follow this recipe to the T.  Use whatever gluten-free flour blend you have on hand (just not coconut flour—that one won’t work).

One more thing: don’t tell people it’s “free” unless they need to know.  

From personal experience, things taste better when you don’t know it’s gluten, egg, or dairy-free.  Let this bread bask in its taste and be described for what it has, not what it doesn’t. And what it has is zucchini.


What’s your favorite way to use up zucchini? 

In the midst of farming, I haven’t ventured beyond baking, eating fresh, and throwing sliced or shredded zucchini in the freezer.  So if you have the perfect way to preserve zucchini, let me know in the comments below. 

Gluten-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free Zucchini Bread that's still delicious
Author: 
Recipe type: quick bread
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 loaf pans or 24 muffins
 
This gluten-free zucchini bread actually uses up a sizable amount of zucchini, and can be made egg-free and dairy-free as well. You can make it in a loaf or muffin pan. Delicious toasted and paired with a cup of tea or coffee, or as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Ingredients
  • 2 ½ cups of grated zucchini
  • 3 C all purpose gluten-free flour blend (I’ve used Bob’s Redmill All-Purpose Baking Flour, and Bob’s 1:1 Baking Flour. You can also do a mix of 2 ½ C all-purpose flour with ½ C almond flour)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ⅔ cup canola oil (or other light oil)
  • 4 flax-meal eggs* (see note below) or 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup full-fat coconut milk (or regular whole milk)
  • 2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • ⅔ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
Instructions
  1. *To make flax eggs: 1 tbs flax meal + 3 tbs water = 1 flax egg. To make 4 flax eggs, you’ll need ¼ cup flax meal and ¾ cup water. Whisk flax meal and water together in a bowl, and set aside for 5-10 minutes (can be set aside for up to 30 minutes) until it becomes gelatinous.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch loaf pans, or one 24 cup muffin pan and set aside.
  3. Place the shredded zucchini into some paper towels and squeeze out the liquid. Alternatively, place shredded zucchini in a bowl and squeeze with your hands, draining the liquid into the sink. Fluff the zucchini with a fork and set aside.
  4. Put the all-purpose gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and whisk to blend. In another large bowl add the brown sugar, canola oil, flax eggs, coconut milk, lemon juice, vanilla and walnuts. Whisk thoroughly until smooth.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until combined. Fold in the grated zucchini (you can add it all in or reserve a little to sprinkle on the top of the loaves) and the nuts, if using.
  6. Divide evenly between the pans, sprinkle over the reserved zucchini and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean.
  7. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then carefully turn out to cool completely on a rack.