Wild Meat

An average day

How many types of plants do you eat in a day? I tried to count the daily variety of plants in my diet, and the number is on average around 15 a day. I included a couple of pieces of fruit, a salad with 6 vegetables, and a diner that includes 5 more, for example a side dish, onions, garlic etc. I guess if I included spices it would be higher. I didn’t count things like flour or sugar, as those things aren’t really like wheat or cane anymore. So lets call it 20 on a good day.

Recently I’ve been reading about things like polyphenols, curcuminoids, flavonoids and things like food combining for bioavailability. Spell check doesn’t even contain these words yet, because they are new terminology for new things no one even knew about 3 years ago, and they go way beyond your daily vitamins. You won’t find them on your USDA food plate. Suffice it to say, there is a whole lot going on behind the scenes when it comes to our relationship with food and health. My take away so far is….we don’t know the half of it.

What I do know is that in almost every instance, a variety of things is healthier than a whole bunch of only one thing, in the garden, in the kitchen, in life. I know that things grown in a natural manner are healthier than things grown artificially. I know that, when we eat something, our bodies take on the benefits of that thing, in the form of nutrients and energy and satisfaction, and, I’m certain, in ways we have yet to discover. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that eating a wide variety of foods, the widest possible variety, would give you the broadest spectrum for health and wellness?

A wild ruminant can consume over 200 species of plant life in a day. 200! And they eat tons of things that you couldn’t even chew, let alone digest, like lichen and tree bark. Imagine what unknown flavonoids could be lurking in those funny red berries you saw in the woods last fall (that you should never eat without properly identifying!) Maybe the deer will eat them.

I think we really have no idea what’s going on at all when it comes to our food relationships.

That said, I’m going to stagger my odds and try to capitalize on those 200 plants. I’m going to eat the deer that eats them.

Below you will find many other healthful reasons to eat venison. If you are wondering where to get some, ask any hunter. We love to share! Don’t know a hunter? Go to a gun store and ask. Believe it or not, hunters are really friendly people.

On the table is Corned Venison, in honor of St. Patrick’s day next weekend. I poached this recipe directly from honest-food.net, my favorite wild game chef. Thank you Hank Shaw!

Corned Venison

Prep Time 20 mins, Cook Time 3 hrs, Total Time 3 hrs 20 mins 

1/2 gallon water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 ounce Instacure No. 1 (sodium nitrite) Don’t leave this out! You can order if from Amazon

1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds

6 bay leaves, crushed

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 cinnamon stick

5 chopped garlic cloves

A 3 to 5 pound venison roast

Instructions

  1. Add everything but the roast to a pot and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover, then let it cool to room temperature while covered. This will take a few hours. Meanwhile, trim any silverskin you find off the roast. Leave the fat. Once the brine is cool, find a container just about large enough to hold the roast, place the meat inside and cover with the brine. You might have extra, which you can discard.
  2. Make sure the roast is completely submerged in the brine; I use a clean stone to weigh the meat down. You can also just flip the meat every day. Cover and put in the fridge for 5 to 7 days, depending on the roast’s size. A 2-pound roast might only need 4 days. The longer you soak, the saltier it will get — but you want the salt and nitrate to work its way to the center of the roast, and that takes time. Err on extra days, not fewer days.
  3. After the alloted time has passed, you have corned venison. To cook and eat, rinse off the meat, then put the roast in a pot just large enough to hold it and cover with fresh water. You don’t want too large a pot or the fresh water will leach out too much flavor from the meat — it’s an osmosis thing. partially cover the pot and simmer gently — don’t boil — for at least 3 hours and up to 5 hours. The meat itself will be cooked in an hour or less, but you want the sinews and connective tissue in the roast to soften and that takes time.
  4. Eat hot or cold. It is absolutely fantastic with good mustard and some sauerkraut on a sandwich.

One final tip: When you are done with the corned venison, leave it in the cooking broth. Store that in the fridge. Why? The broth keeps the venison moist. Without fat, if you leave it out of the brine it can get very dry and even crumbly.

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A Slow Food experience

Everything happens in it’s own season.

Seeds fall, sprouts grow, flowers bloom, fruit ripens, matter decomposes. Life happens. Especially with weeds. Those invisible weed seeds are just hiding out everywhere, waiting to pop their tiny green heads into the world and thwart us gardeners. But even tomatoes will grow where tomato seeds have fallen, whether we want them to or not, if the conditions are favorable to them. Life is undeniable.

As gardeners, we try to orchestrate conditions to be favorable to our needs, the needs of producing food and flowers. Our actions can have some influence over the seasons of things, to a certain extent. We force seeds that wouldn’t normally sprout by adjusting the amount of light, the temperature, the humidity, even the wind. We trick things into growing outside of their seasons, even outside of their regions. We grow them under cover to protect them. We grow them in planters to contain them. We grow them in cloth or plastic to give them more chances at life, for our sake. But life is undeniable. Even when it goes against our interests.

There are very few times when a gardener is unhappy about things sprouting. Sprouting means life. It means growth and promise and hope and bounty. Most of the time.

Disaster!

I’m weeping in my cup this morning because my garlic is sprouting. And I don’t mean the garlic that I intentionally planted in the garden last December. I mean my stored cache of cooking garlic that I cured last summer to last me all the long winter months and then some. Sprouting. Green. Bitter.

It’s my fault, of course. It should have been kept in paper bags rolled tight to keep out the light. But for some reason I thought it would be nice to have it accessible in a basket in the kitchen, hanging from one of the rafters. I though it looked pretty. All the purple and white bulbs in a big pile ready to be chopped, diced, crushed, cooked and consumed. Did I mention I love garlic? I have unwittingly provided it with the right amount of daylight hours and what it believes are about 62 degree soil temperatures, so it has decided that now is the time to push out new life and reach for the sun. I have deceived it.

What do I do with it now? If I do nothing, it’s taste will get worse and worse. It will eventually realize it has no soil, no water, no actual sun, and it will start to rot. But the garlic I planted last winter won’t be ready to harvest until July. That’s five long months with no garlic.

But all is not lost, I think. It’s not yet too bitter to use. I could slit open each of the cloves and mine out the green shoot to use in stock. I could chop up the shell of each clove, press it and store it in olive oil in the fridge. I could even plant some in a box inside and see if it grows. But that’s a ton of work. Hours of work. Whatever I do with it, I’ll be crushing out it’s first hopeful bid for life.

What’s the big deal, you’re asking yourself. Crying over some sprouted garlic? Get over it, you’re telling me in your head. Pull yourself together, woman, and go buy some fresh. It’s only about 5 bucks for three cloves of organic garlic. Times 40.

In 2014 I went to the Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival in Bethlehem CT http://www.garlicfestct.com/ where I found people who celebrated garlic as much as I do. There I sampled many varieties of garlic and purchased several types to grow myself. Since then I have been selectively storing and planting my favorites for four growing seasons. This garlic represents four years of being on my knees in the heat of July, carefully lifting out the bulbs to cure them, and four years of being on my knees in December, fingers frozen as I poke the cloves down into the frosty soil. And over fifty months of garlic bread, garlic chicken, garlic vegetables, garlic shrimp, garlic aoli, garlic sauce. At least I have some still tucked away in the frozen earth, waiting for it’s proper time to make a play for life.

I’m actually doing it.

And so I peel and chop. And peel and chop. And continue to peel and chop.
And I remind myself, dear reader, that this is slow food. My fingers, sticky with garlic juice, are tarred with garlic paper up to the middle joint. My kitchen smells like, well, a really garlicky place. I’m doing this not because I can’t afford to buy fresh garlic. Not because I am a food hoarder. Not because I have too much time on my hands. It’s because this garlic represents my labor. My care. My intention. Even, yes I’ll say it, my love. I love this garlic. It matters to me. I am not willing to cast off the result of four years worth of effort and buy some anonymous garlic. I take pride in cooking with food I have grown myself. Surprisingly, I feel that my garlic has a certain provenance. It’s journey has become my journey.

If you don’t already think I’m nuts, just keep reading.

There is some concrete science that says that food grown in a certain place is symbiotic with the surrounding biome. The plants and animals (us included) that live in that place have a certain microbiota different from other places. Those microbes that are symbiotic with all life in that area provide tangible benefit for their hosts in the form of immune support and disease prevention. All this really means is that different places have different germs, and garlic you grow yourself in your own dirt might actually be better for you than garlic grown elsewhere, in different germy dirt. That’s one of the reasons we eat local, right?

If you’re looking for me today, I’ll be in the kitchen creating my newest signature dish, winter sprouted garlic soup. I promise it will cure the sniffles with one sip. Ask me for the recipe!

Morning Score

This morning, as I walked up the cool dewy driveway to feed the horses, I noticed something in their pasture that hadn’t been there yesterday.  The pasture grows rocks;  I know because I pick them up and toss them over the fence regularly, yet there still seem to be plenty around.  This didn’t look quite like rocks though, or any of the other paraphernalia the horses lose in the pasture, so I walked down to investigate.

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Hooray!  It was what I was hoping they might be…some puffball mushrooms.  They must have blossomed in the field after the hard, much needed rain we had yesterday afternoon. The horse had stepped on some of them, but I managed to salvage some good mushrooms  “for the pot”.  I didn’t have my camera with me, so I can’t show you, but there was clear swath of darker color in the grass where the fungus was growing, like a big comma, and there was a sweep of puffballs, the fruit of the fungus, blooming right down the center.

As I walked back home with my loot I got to reflecting about mushrooms, for which I have a deep fondness.  They often grow in dead or dying material. In other words, they are a product of decay.  It amazes me that nature is structured in such a way  that life flows naturally from death.  Take compost, for instance.  I have a compost pile into which I tossed a rotting pumpkin last year, as well as all my other garden waste.  This year I can’t see my compost pile for the hybrid squash/pumpkin Audrey III growing there.  Abundance from decay.  And yet we still see death as a finality.

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Back in the kitchen putting away the mushrooms, I was chagrined to remember that I have two dozen jalapenos, 10 ripe tomatoes, 4 cabbages, 6 cucumbers, 2 giant zucchini the size of my arm, 3 peppers, a basket of green beans and a watermelon already stuffed in the fridge.  Why can’t I find a score of puffball mushrooms in February, when there is nary a fresh thing in sight?  So I’ll make some hot sauce, roast the tomatoes for the freezer (a yummy trick I learned from my mother-in-law)  whip up  some coleslaw for dinner, jar some pickles, freeze the green beans, and leave the zucchini in my neighbors car, but I am definitely having a mushroom omelet for breakfast.

MUSHROOM OMELET

2/3 cup mushrooms of any kind, diced

2 fresh local eggs (3 if you are hungry)

2 tsp. butter divided

1 oz. goat cheese

Salt and pepper

Heat a nonstick pan on medium low heat.   Crack the eggs in a bowl and scramble lightly with a fork.  Saute the mushrooms in 1/2 the butter until tender and most of the water has evaporated.  If the mushrooms dry out before they are cooked through, add a tablespoon of water to the pan and cook until it’s dry again.  Add the eggs and the rest of the butter and cover for 2-3 min.  When the eggs are mostly cooked, add the cheese to one side and gently fold the eggs onto the cheese. Turn off the heat. Cover again for a few more minutes until eggs are cooked through.

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Pretending, and other stuff.

Hello friends

You may have wondered whatever happened to me and my sometimes blog.  Well, I’ll tell you.  Last spring I was offered my dream job.  I was hired to design, build and manage a teaching garden for the Marvelwood School, a small Connecticut private school that both my sons attend.  I get to spend part of each day planning, organizing and actually digging in the dirt.  It was a very successful first season, and it just keeps getting better.  I was offered the use of a small greenhouse on the campus so I can continue puttering about with growing things this winter.  I’ll tell you a little secret…I’m experimenting with aquaponics too!  I already have 8 little goldfish working hard to produce nitrogen for my sprouts.  Well, they actually produce ammonia that will turn into nitrites that will turn into…that’s a story for another day, though.  Today we’re gonna talk about a freakishly warm December.

It’s freakishly warm, right?  What the heck!  I waited until late late late in November to plant garlic, which I usually plant in the end of October, and still the garlic has sprouted and is 4 inches tall.   Further disturbing evidence of this unusual weather is the fact that my parsley is actually growing.  I have been pulling it in fist-fulls to use in the kitchen, but still it grows.  Hard not to when it’s 60 degrees out.  IMG_0679

I have still been able to plant narcissus bulbs, as the ground isn’t nearly frozen yet, and whenever I hit one that’s already there I find it has sprouted and is trying to pop out of the earth.  My strawberries have actual flowers, for crying out loud!  What gives?  Anyone?  Even I, who loves growing things, am ready for the season to end.  Enough already.

I’m trying to pretend it’s winter.  Despite the fact that they are still green and healthy, I pulled out my leeks today.  IMG_0677They last almost as long in the fridge as in the ground, and I keep telling myself there has to be a hard freeze soon, so I might as well get them out now.  Of course I was wearing a T-shirt while I dug, so it really was pretend.  I could have probably left them in another month.

I decided to make a real one pot winter style meal tonight with some of the leeks and other put-up foods to try to get in the winter mood.  I used the parsley, some potatoes and onions I have in the cellar, and some pheasant leg meat I had left over from a broth I made.  IMG_0682

I also had the good fortune to trade a venison sirloin for some guanciale with my good friend Sarah.  For those of you who are scratching your head (like me the first time I heard of it), it’s a pork jowl.  That’s right…pig cheeks.  and I’m here to tell you that it’s one tasty item!  It’s an Italian specialty food traditionally used in carbonara, and it is super yummy.  More delicate than pancetta, and with a stronger taste than bacon, it ramps up the flavor of any dish.  Here I sauteed it until crisp, removed it with a slotted spoon and cooked the leeks and onions in the fat left in the pan.

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The potatoes I diced and cooked until soft in salted water, added them to the leeks and fried them until a little crispy.  After that I added the removed guanciale, the parsley, the pheasant, salt and pepper to taste, a pinch of cayenne and finally shredded Havarti on the whole thing, covered it and turned off the heat.  Meanwhile I had a nice winter cocktail to get me in the holiday spirit.  Nothing wrong with rum and eggnog, am I right?

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The final product was a stick to your ribs one-dish meal that made everyone happy.  It’s still about 50 degrees out, but I’m going to go decorate my Christmas tree and pretend.  Happy Holidays!

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My First…Morel

For those of you mushroom fanatics in the know, and those who desperately wish you were in the know, finding your first morel is about as memorable as your first kiss.  Mushroom hunters spend months and years wandering around in dead fall and through mushy forests in search of these precious gems of the spring, and once found, guard the secret of the location like treasure.  Many’s the time I have engaged mycological foragers in conversation trying to ferret out information about when, where and how they found these fungal delicacies, and never did I get a hint of a reliable clue.  Sure, anyone will give you generalities that you might find in any book on the subject, like look at the edge of the woods near old orchards, or where there are lime deposits, or near dying ash or elm, but disclose their secret spot to an outsider?  Never.

A few weeks ago my husband came back from hunting turkey with a giant brownish fungi that he imagined I’d find interesting.  It was about 5 inches tall, hollow, and had spongy pits all over its “cap”.  Although his hunt was unsuccessful, I was much more delighted with his efforts than if he had brought home a fat tom.  Little did he expect my shrieks of delight and demands that he take me immediately back to the exact location where he had found it.   We agreed to go back and I spent the next half hour poring over my books and through mycology websites to ensure that what he had found was indeed a true morel.  I’m sure I’m not the only newby mushroom forager to worry about poisoning my loved ones!   In fact it was a real morel, albeit an old one, and off we went to see if there were more.

After a short hike through some soggy march and then woodland brambles, we found an old tree with a half dozen large morels under it.  Mushroomers say that in order to know mushrooms you must know trees, so I suppose I’m not much of a mushroomer.  It’s no wonder I haven’t found any myself.  I can’t identify an ash from an elm, so I have no idea what type of tree they were growing under or why.  They were easy to find as they stood 5 to 7 inches tall, and were about 2.5 inches wide.  Morels are best when young.  As they mature they tend to get drier and more brittle, less tender and moist.  We decided to give them a try anyway.  After picking off a few slugs and a good long soak to drown any other bugs inside, I cut them into chunks for a soup. IMAG0293

I decided on a soup for two reasons; they were old, and my sons hate soup.  It’s not that I didn’t want to share, it’s just that they might be less likely to try mushroom soup than something like mushrooms in pastry crust, and therefore I had less of a chance of poisoning them if I had somehow made a mistake in my identifications.  Did I mention I was nervous to eat them?  I sauteed them in some butter and took a nibble.  The flavor was surprisingly good for slightly out of date mushrooms.  Earthy and pungent and very…mushroomy.  I waited a half an hour and didn’t develop stomach cramps so I decided to go ahead.  The recipe that follows is a delicious and decadent way to eat a morel.

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CREAM OF MOREL SOUP

4 to 5 cups sliced mushrooms

3 tbs butter

3 tbs flour

2 cups broth

1 1/2 cups half and half

1 tbs dry sherry

1 tsp fresh chopped thyme

Cut the mushrooms into small pieces and saute over medium heat in the butter until soft and tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour and stir.  Add the broth and stir until smooth.  Cook until the broth starts to thicken, about 5 to 10 minutes minutes.  Using a handheld puree tool or a blender, mix until smooth.  (if you like you can leave some chunks for texture)  Add the half and half and the sherry, making sure to keep the heat to a low simmer.  Serve topped with the chopped thyme and enjoy!

 

Pheasant Season

As I’ve mentioned, fall is one of my very favorite seasons, in part because beginning in late October and running through Christmas, Connecticut hosts a hunting season for pheasant.  Throughout the state there are controlled releases of birds on state land at irregular times during the week.  These are then hunted by upland bird hunters, usually with dogs to help them find, or flush, the birds.  Peasant is by far my all-time favorite animal to hunt, and I look forward to the beginning of the season all year.  They not only are a blast to hunt, but they make a delicious addition to the November menu!

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I first hunted pheasant, as well as chukar and grouse, with my dad.  I was perhaps in my twenties (I can’t remember because it was SO very long ago!) when he invited me along on a private hunt.  At a private club, the way it works is that when you arrive you determine how many birds you want to hunt, usually 2-4 per person, and the guides will set them out for you in the hunting area.  The birds are raised in huge pens nearby.  You relax for a while and then off you go to find the birds.  We didn’t have our own dogs then, so we used the dogs that came with the guide service.  This may seem to some like an unfair advantage over the birds, but let me assure you it is not.  Pheasant are not like wild chickens.  They are crafty and very fast and can often outsmart a dog by leaving a confusing scent trail, running in circles, or just generally blending into their environment the way God made them.  It is neither easy to find the wily creatures after they are freed nor is it easy to fell them, although I must say that pheasant are slower in the air then the average game bird. That’s one of the reasons I like to hunt them!  I need all the advantage I can get.

Back then with my dad I was an average shot.  I remember missing the first bird, but I got some that day.  Over the years when I lived in Colorado, my husband and I would often head south and east to Blanca in the fall and hunt birds there.  I was never a crack shot, like he was, but I hit most of what I aimed at.  Recently, when we were back in Connecticut, he and I decided to tune up our game by going over to Millbrook  New York and spending the day at the Orvis shooting grounds called Sandanona.   http://www.orvis.com/sandanona  They have a world class sporting clay course for wing shooters.  This was a real treat for us, and not something we could do very often.  100 clays at 20 stations each to practice on.  By the end of the day we had sore shoulders and tired arms, but we were smiling. He was smiling somewhat more than me, as he had schooled me at each station, hitting  approximately 70% of his targets to my somewhat less then 50%.  Needless to say I was a bit discouraged.  So the following Christmas, after a whole bird season of listening to me gripe about what a bad shot I was, my darling husband gifted me a trip to the Sandanona shooting school, where I would be taught the proper techniques and principles of wing shooting in a half day class with an expert.  I couldn’t wait.

The class was super fun, and I learned a ton about how to shoot.  I learned that my gun doesn’t really fit my body.  It’s too short, and canted too little to line up with my eye when I draw it up.  But I love my gun.  My dad gave it to me and I’ll never get rid of it.  I learned that even though I am right handed, I am “left eye dominant”, which means that my left eye leads and my right eye follows.  I learned that because of this I should be shooting left handed.  So I tried that.  It’s like walking with shoes on the wrong feet tied together. Not even safe.  I learned that I could compensate by using a patch over my left eye, to force my right eye to work.  I tried that and actually fell down. With a loaded gun. My shooting went below 30%.  I spent the next season practicing closing my left eye instead of my right while I draw.  Draw, close, aim, fire.  I hit a few birds, but didn’t even make my bag limit for the season.

What now?  I’m trying to get back to a place where I can forget my limitations and just shoot.  Where I can let instinct take over for ability.  I need to un-think shooting.  I’m trying to be OK with the fact that, for whatever reason, I’m just not a very good shot, and I’m trying to remember that even though I love to shoot, what I really love is to walk in the woods on crisp fall days with my husband and my son and my dog.

Here is a recipe for one of our very favorite fall meals.  If you want leftovers, you had better make 2.  It takes a bit of work, but is well worth the effort.  FYI the easiest way to get the meat off a pheasant is to cut the skin of the breast and peel it back, and then filet the breasts off the bone.  Then continue to pull the skin down over the thighs, exposing the legs.  Break the leg joints at the end of the ‘drumstick’ and again at the hip.  Use a knife to separate the legs from the body.

Pheasant Pot Pie

6 cups water

1 pheasant, breasted, and legs skinned

salt and pepper to taste

1 tsp parsley

1 tsp. thyme

1 bay leaf

1 cup diced potatoes

1 cup diced turnips

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced leeks

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup chopped onion

4 tbs butter

3 tbs flour

1-2 bullion cubes

1 pie crust.

In a stock pot, bring the water to boil and add the pheasant and the spices.  Reduce heat to low and simmer the pheasant for 20 minutes or until cooked through.   Allow to cool, reserving the liquid.  Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and mix in a large bowl.  In a heavy cast iron pan over medium heat melt the butter and then add the flour, stirring constantly until the roux begins to darken.  Stir in the bullion.  Add about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the reserved liquid broth to the roux and stir until you have a smooth gravy.  Freeze the remainder of the broth for future use.  Mix the gravy into the vegetables.  Cut the pheasant into bite sized pieces and mix into the vegetables.  Put all of it into a pie plate or a 9″ round cake pan,mounding to fit.  Cover it all with the pie crust, sealing the edges to the pan.  Bake in a 350 oven for 1 hour.  Serve warm with a nice salad.

November Soup

I’m a big fan of soup.  I serve it year round, from hearty stews in the dead of winter to a cooling gazpacho or an avocado bisque in the heat of July.  When chillier winds start to blow in November, soup is definitely on the menu.  It’s cozy warmth really help to bring the family together around the table when the darkness comes early.  And they smell so good too! 

Tonight’s soup is a perfect dish for early fall, as the ingredients are what is naturally on hand.  Parsnips from the garden and apples from the orchard make this soup a creamy delight.  Non-dairy, and not too sweet, it’s scented with cumin and coriander.  Perfect as an accompaniment to a roast or stuffed chops,  or serve it on it’s own, with a hearty bread like sourdough or cheddar biscuits and a green salad.  With only a couple of ingredients it’s super simple to make and can be made ahead.  It will keep in the fridge for a few days, too.

For a nicer flavor, roast the parsnips in the oven for about 40 minutes on 350.  You can peel them first or just leave them as they are.  It will slightly caramelize the sugars and make for a richer soup.  Any variety of apples will do, but my favorites are good old Mackintosh or Gala.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

2 tbs good Olive Oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 firm apples, peeled and chopped

8 to 15 parsnips, depending on the size. (more for 1″ or less at the crown)

3 1/2 cups (or more depending on desired consistency) of chicken or vegetable broth

Sprinkle of cumin

Sprinkle of coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the olive oil until tender.  Add the apples and a dash of salt and and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft.  Add the parsnips and the broth and cook for 20 minutes if you roasted the parsnips first, 40 minutes if not.  Allow to cool and puree the mixture in a blender, or use a hand blender right in the pot.  Sprinkle with the spices and stir.  Serve alone or with finely chopped parsley or a dollop of yogurt. Enjoy!