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New Hope – Mushroom Barley Soup

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                Honey Hollow Farm  

The soup:

Mushrooms have long been associated with medicine and magic. Referenced by the Romans as “food of the gods” and “plants of immortality” by the Ancient Egyptians, mushrooms were fit for consumption by royalty. In fact commoners were forbidden from eating them. Eastern cultures, such as in China and Japan, have been using mushrooms for medicinal purposes dating back two thousand years. The health benefits of the ingredients include:  Selenium (good for bones, nails, hair and teeth as well as being an antioxidant), Calcium, Vitamin D, Copper (antibacterial), Potassium, Fiber, and Zinc — to name only a few.

One of my favorite soups is wild mushroom soup. Although I typically go dairy free with my soups, there is something about the combination of the mushrooms, herbs and cream that make my tastebuds soar. Anytime I see it on a restaurant menu, my eyes light up and  I am compelled to try it. On the other hand, I haven’t always appreciated mushroom barley soup. Perhaps it was barley, but I would typically skip right over it without a second thought.

A few years ago, I was invited for dinner where mushroom barley soup was being served. During that experience, I had a mushroom barley soup awakening and really liked it. In fact, I appreciated the graininess of the barley, as it gives the soup a filling and hearty dimension. Not only did I like the way it tastes but I knew that it was doing wonders for my digestive tract, inviting the kinds of bacteria my intestines needs to stay healthy. Fortunately, I have never had cholesterol issues, but another bonus is that barley has been proven to demonstrate multiple benefits for those battling high cholesterol as well. Gluten-free eaters don’t need to shy away from this soup as the barley can easily be replaced with brown or wild rice which is also rice in nutrients.

I quickly took to making it in my own kitchen, playing with ingredients. I learned that although I like barley in the soup, there has to be just the right ratio of ingredients, my preference heavy on the mushrooms and light on the barley, avoiding a grain overkill. I add other vegetables such as carrots and celery as a base, but I also like to include a bit of fresh chopped spinach for an extra superfood boost.

It has become a soup that I make often for my family and is one of my best sellers when preparing it for others.

What you will need:

  • Soup pot
  • Sautee pan (optional can also use the soup pot)
  • Strainer (s) to clean mushrooms and barley.
  • Chopping knives
  • Chopping board
  • Bowls for ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 30 ounces of mixed mushrooms:

        My preference: 10 ounces of cremini mushrooms, 10 ounces of button mushroom, 4 ounces portabella mushrooms, 4 ounces of shitake mushrooms

  • 1/4 – 1/2 half cup pearl barley (depending on personal preference of barley); for gluten-free users 1/2 cup of brown or wild rice
  • 1/2 half cup of diced carrots
  • 1/2 half cup of diced celery
  • 1 medium to large chopped onion
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 cup fresh chopped spinach
  • 1 cup of wine (red or white)
  • 8 cups of vegetable broth (meat eaters can use beef broth).
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaf leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

 Instructions:

  1. Heat pan/pot with with a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Add the chopped onions and garlic and mix on low heat.Onions & Garlic
  3. Mix in turmeric and thyme.
  4. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
  5. Caramelize the onions and garlic until a golden color. Then turn off.
  6. Wash and slice mushrooms.
  7. Rinse the barley in a strainer.
  8. If the onions & garlic are in the pan, transfer to soup pot.
  9. Mix the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and mushrooms together. First start with heat at off then turn to low to medium heat.
  10. Add broth, barley (or rice), wine and bay leaves to the mix.mushroom mix
  11. Leave on medium heat to low heat.
  12. Will typically take an hour to cook. I don’t like the barley too mushy, so I typically check the barley around 45 minutes later.
  13. Since the barley and rice absorb water, you may need to add more water.
  14. When you are ready to completely turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves, add the cup of spinach and stir together.Adding spinach
  15. Salt and pepper to taste.
  16. Serve with bread and a glass of wine.the soup.

The Story:

My blood and breath rely heavily on a lifeline vein connected to a source of polluted air, noise and movement of the city. When I feel lifeless I look its fumes for resuscitation. When I am overwhelmed I take refuge in the comfort of its womb and the chaotic commotion lulls me. No matter how dirty or worn out, like a security blanket, just having it there makes everything ok.

I am an urban junkie. So how did I ever become a farmer’s wife?

I am naturally drawn to metropolitan cities. I thrive on new places and faces. I revel in unfamiliar tongues and cultures. While most people avoid moving, preferring a constant familiar environment, I have always appreciated jumping from one spot to another. Frankly over the last twenty years of my life I have developed a codependent relationship with moving. With each move I look for whatever is lacking in my current surroundings. I have always maintained that I could live anywhere. Yet I have never clearly qualified where and what anywhere would be.  And I have learned that making sweeping statements, like boomerangs, will not only come back to me, but sometimes knock me straight over. This case is not an exception.  After years of effortless movement, I stumbled on move that was not only highly taxing but would take me somewhere beyond my comfort zone.

It was almost two years ago that my husband, who I call Goodman, abandoned the tumultuous finance industry. After a dozen-year stint he had become burned out with the roller coaster that is the world of stocks, bonds and options. For his own sanity, he wanted off the ride. Most people comb the newspaper and the Web for homes or property for sale, Goodman spent days and nights looking for a business. After months of searching, he stumbled on something green, an organic soil amendment company that produces and sells a range of products for growers of all kinds. When I met my husband, it became immediately clear that he is a quirky man, who consumes himself with a healthy lifestyle, reflected in the way he eats. And as the years have passed he has become increasingly obsessed with organic and non-GMO foods. What became extremely magnified, however, is his obsession with living off the grid and his dream to produce anything he would ever need to live. Like a beacon, this business beckoned him home.

Although the business could be run from anywhere, in buying it came the understanding that we would be relocating  to his parents’ farm in New Hope/ Solebury, Pennsylvania, where he would have the agricultural land and facilities to grow the business.

Although we had been out to visit his farm in New Hope many times before, the thought of living and raising a family there, never crossed my mind. It was a great place for a long-weekend, country-life getaway while visiting his parents in Philadelphia, but I was as happy to leave it as I was to arrive.

With a defeated and heavy heart I packed up, sold and/or donated all of our belongings.  Although I physically made the move, I emotionally and mentally refused to leave. I had come to depend on the circle of family, friends and the outspoken Persian community for support. New Hope felt like a world away. In all my years of watching Green Acres reruns, I never would have imagined that I could identify with Eva Gabor’s character. Alas, I was being dragged out of my beloved city living so that my husband could live out his farming fantasies. There I was a modern-day Persian Lisa Douglas, soon-to-be farmer’s wife. We had just six weeks to pack up our lives and move from California to Pennsylvania with two babes in tow.

Set in Bucks County, New Hope is a picturesque little town located on the Delaware River dividing Pennsylvania from New Jersey. I remember the first time Goodman brought me to New Hope while we were dating. I was instantly charmed by the cobble-stoned streets lined with quaint restaurants, roaring bars and kitschy shops. Stumbling on the town library, I fell in love with the delightful little structure that looks like an old church, complete with a steeple. It became clear why it is such a popular tourist destination. It has a certain small-town sweetness to it, making it a nice weekend getaway.  After moving to New Hope, however, I made greater discoveries  that became more appealing. It is a liberal and progressive town with a high level of culture, a bastion of artists – literary, visual and performing. I also developed an affinity for Lambertville which is just over the bridge in New Jersey. It’s less touristy and slightly more edgy reminding me a bit of neighborhoods I love in Brooklyn.

We live just a couple miles out of the town of New Hope on Honey Hollow Farm.

The first time we drove up the quarter-mile driveway  leading to the farm, I felt I had landed in a pastoral paradise. Built in the 1700s, Goodman’s grandparents bought the property back in fifties. His grandfather was among a handful of pioneers who lobbied to preserve the surrounding land and watershed, which is now a Historical National Landmark. Once they passed away, Goodman’s parents who I refer to as Father and Mother Blueblood transformed it into a bed and breakfast until a year before we moved in.

Walking around for the first time, I was captivated, as are most others, by the magnificence of the property. The scene of the stone house, barn, stables, and old creamery surrounded by the majestic sycamore trees was breathtaking. It is the kind of setting that artists dream of painting or photographing. There were stretches of corn fields. Just beyond the fields were the swelling pastures of green, where horses graze, that were sprinkled with a sea of yellow dandelions.

It is also home to the countless other creatures, like the dozens of deer that prance around. In fact, as a major animal activist, Mother Blueblood has rescued a whole slew of furry and feathered friends: horses; goats; pigs; a ram and sheep; a handful of gorgeously-plumed guinea hens to get rid of the ticks, about twenty chickens and two barn cats.

Pulling up to the farm years later, this time with the intention of living there, I was overcome with a sobering shot of reality. This idyllic setting didn’t care for itself. There weren’t little fairies who would feed the animals or extra farm hands to tend to the property. Mother and Father Blueblood had been handling the upkeep of the farm and animals for years. Once we moved in, they continued to make weekly trips out  to help, but the day-to-day chores of caring and cleaning up after the animals would fall to us.  No matter how oppressively hot or bone-chillingly cold, the animals need to be given fresh water and food daily.

Growing up I never had any pets. Being located in a secluded rural setting has taken some serious acclimation, without the animals. Having the animals has set the bar at a whole different level. My personal learning curve moved to a sharp and occasionally insurmountable incline.

It starts with the chickens who rule the roost. They are as free range as it comes, and strut around the property with a sense of entitlement. They will walk straight up to our front door or surround the car as we are trying to pull out of our driveway creating a racket. When the guinea hens chime in with their alarmist cries, it is absolute pandemonium. Here I am in my in-laws home, who are so mindful of our personal space, yet its the chickens who completely overstep all boundaries. They are as dirty as they are loud, leaving watery-brown poop everywhere. It is an odious chore of cleaning out the chicken coop several times a week. I recall one sweltering hot and humid summer day, dragging myself out to feed the animals and clean up the coop. Drenched in sweat and overcome by the gag-inducing scent of overheated animals and fecal matter, I was squatting to the ground, using all my elbow grease to scrape up the poop that had been caked onto the floor. In that moment, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry, wondering when in my previous life would I have ever been caught dead or alive cleaning up after farm animals.  I desperately wanted to click my heels and just be home. The reality was that this had become home.

As for the chickens, the only redeeming quality to having them around are the fresh farm eggs.  We do need to be wary of potentially fertilized eggs. As a farming neophyte, I have unknowingly boiled a few. When I cracked the shell, I discovered a solidified and bloodied baby chick’s embryo. I am sure my ear-piercing shrills of horror carried as far as California.

There are a handful of roosters who inherently fight. They engage in a violent pecking war where the feathers around their necks stand up, reminding me of the collars women wore in the Elizabethan Era. They fight until death or until one is balding and so badly hurt that they find a hiding spot in which to heal and live in banishment. In the dead of winter, when we have been stuck at home for days on end, I feel like a banished chicken, unable to roam where and with whom I want to.

In the first year here I drifted into a state of mental, emotional and physical paralysis, sometimes struggling to get out of bed.  Unlike any other move I experienced, I wasn’t able to adapt to my environment with my usual adventurous and open-minded spirit. It was all I could do to get through my days and weeks tending to the chores of the farm, helping Goodman with the business, as well as running a household. I had completely lost my footing. Before we moved, I had set out to start a soup business, but that all fell by the wayside. It was almost as if my life was the soup and I was an ingredient in it, that just didn’t belong. I felt an overwhelming experience of isolation. The winter months only exacerbate the situation. The cold was never a deterrent in moving back East, but suddenly the winter weather became intolerably bleak.

Yet as a mother, I could ask for nothing better than raising my children on a farm. Compared to life in Los Angeles, childhood on Honey Hollow Farm is magical. Just behind our house and down the grassy lane, lined with the sweetest smelling honeysuckle, are the woods. My daughter has labeled them the fairy woods. It is where the fairies come out of their stout mushroom-capped homes to dance and play under the towering canopies of the trees. Running around outdoors freely, they collect sticks, make forts, climb trees, tromp through the stream and scavenge through the woods looking for treasures.  I recall a playdate that my son had with one of his friends, who is a treasure seeker extraordinaire. Rummaging through the pole barn where the tractors are kept, they discovered a mummified corpse of groundhog and with such pride, as if they had struck gold, carted it out on a big shovel to show me. Of course I squealed and refused to go within 100 feet of it. They, on the other hand, marveled over it with keen fascination and even Lulu, my three year-old daughter, joined in without a trace of fear or disgust. Albeit far from my idea of Eden, they have found themselves in hog heaven. In these moments,  I remind myself of how much healthier it is for them to be experiencing nature and the love of animals in their upbringing, something completely foreign to me.

As the saying goes, you can take the girl out of the city, but never the city out of the girl. Footwear remains my weakness and I have bought a collection of wellington boots of various colors and styles since heels and ballet flats aren’t ideal for walking through the muck. I joke that the animals appreciate my sense of fashion and it gives them something to look forward to each day.

In all fairness, it would be dishonest not mention the respect that I have developed for some, but certainly not all, of the animals. I now have a fondness for pigs. Our much-loved pig Boris died just days after Hurricane Sandy hit.  I shocked myself with an uncharacteristic courage, nursing and spoon feeding him in the weeks before. When he finally died, I made the discovery on my own without the protection of Goodman or the kids. Instead of reacting with fear and disgust, I felt peace and relief that he was set free. Pigs, which I always think get a bad rap as filthy animals, are in my humble opinion endearing and intelligent.

The main place that has brought me a great deal of solace, especially through the colder months, is the kitchen. It is my personal quadrant where I experience the familiarity and consolation of what it means to be home. Admittedly,  as far as making soups, I stumbled on the perfect spot. There is no better setting for a bowl of pipping hot soup.  Living on a farm with so much land, Goodman has gone a little grow happy and is producing all kinds of fruits and vegetables. His chest never swells as intensely as when he brings in his own harvest of produce that he managed to germinate from seed, like a bonafide agronomist. Being able to put meals on the table and demonstrate to our kids that we can grow what we eat has been a priceless lesson. Even Kiko, our little food racist, has been dabbling in new things. Farm-to-table cooking has admittedly taken our eating experience not only a more delectable but integrated and organic level. It’s my little silver lining that glimmers at the end of the darker days.

We are in the midst of our second winter – a year and a half after our move. At times, I am still in disbelief. Of all people and places, I would have never connected myself with the life I am living. I no longer ask how I got here. I have come to understand that humor is the answer. It is the protective shield that guards me from feeling broken and displaced like I have never felt before. I always joked that I could live anywhere and it seems that anywhere has found me, leaving me to an unimaginable adventure.

When I think about what soup I identify with my time here at Honey Hollow Farm, I think of mushroom barley with spinach. It may not be the most intuitive choice. Others joke about a soup with chicken, ham, or even venison but in this case I can’t help but to think about soil and all the elements that go into creating it. It isn’t much different than good soup. As elements to a whole experience, mushroom barley soup with spinach says it all for me. It is about the transition from old to new, the soil in all of its wondrous ways and of course the green. The individual ingredients of soup blend together to create a complete living and eating experience rich flavor and texture. I didn’t always like that combination but recently, I have come to long for it.

Mushrooms are undoubtedly one of my top-three favorite vegetables. I can add mushrooms to just about anything: sauces, salads, eggs, pizza or just on its own caramelized with garlic and salt. I typically never tire of consuming fungi, the non-poisoning kind of course, and will eat it in just about all varieties. Although we haven’t mastered growing mushrooms, I am hopeful that one day we can harvest them ourselves. Ironically in this experience, I feel I identify with the way mushrooms grow in the dark, as I do the most growing in the darker months. When spring arrives, the inertia that consumes my spirit and my stride begins to let up and I begin to pop up. It’s no wonder the Persian New Year is the first day of spring, as it is truly a time of regeneration in more ways than one. It is when I discover the beauty that  this life transition has ushered in with it.

Incidentally, the key ingredient in Goodman’s products is mycorrhizae, a fungus – just like the mushrooms in my soup. They are as good in soil as they are in soup. The barley in the soup is like the changes we are making in our lives and on the farm. In farming cover crops are key to good soil. Barley is a kind of cover crop used to transition from one year’s harvest to the next. Not only has moving to the farm been a major rotation in our lives, we also happen to be literally rotating from a conventional farm to an organic one.

Persians can never get enough of eating greens sabsi and typically will eat most of it, raw or cooked. I like to add a little green to the soup as well. Mushroom barley soup does not typically call for greens. But again the soup is a little bit like me. Here I am a Persian woman in New Hope, not a typical ingredient, but one that adds a new dimension to the taste and texture.  The green is also relative to this transition we have made coming to Honey Hollow Farm. The greener life that we discovered and the greener pastures on which we aspire to grow our New Hope.

So my life as not-the-farmer’s wife continues, forcing me to shift my perspective and look at life through different colored-lenses. Albeit out of my noise-polluted comfort zone that is in the midst of the action, I have found a sweet and refreshing spot to raise my family and, for however long, call home.

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