Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Felicity's Barley Soup

Or, the meal that was almost an utter disaster, but ended up working out okay.

My parents were out of town tonight, which meant my brother and I were left to our own devices for dinner. I decided instead of eating some frozen dinners or something similarly easy, I felt confident enough in the kitchen to think no, I'm going to do something different. I'm going to make a healthy, delicious dinner without anyone else helping me out in the kitchen, and no one and nothing is going to stop me!

Read on to discover how I thought my overconfidence would end in disaster.

First off was picking a recipe that wasn't too complicated, but hopefully included vegetables and protein in a way that 1. my brother and I would eat and 2. could get made in time if I started it around late afternoon. After looking through a couple cookbooks and not being that inspired by any of the ideas I came upon - I considered doing a pasta dish for a long time - I decided to turn to our friends over at History is Served again.


They had published a recipe for barley soup that didn't seem too hard, and I hoped would be something that would be easily stored and reheated if it made too much for the two of us to eat ourselves. Which it did.

So I ventured out to the grocery store with high hopes. Unfortunately, our local grocery store does tend to be a bit disappointing in terms of what it does and doesn't have, and today was no different. I managed to get carrots, onions and barley, but they didn't have turnips or any of the ingredients I needed for a cake I'm planning on making tomorrow, which will also be featured on this blog. I had to head over to our local farmer's market/produce empire I mentioned in the last post to get turnips and the meat. I realized while I was there that I'd forgotten to get the can of tomatoes at the other grocery store, and since I needed to pick my brother up from soccer practice, I didn't think I had time to go back and buy them. And, of course, the farmer's market didn't have them either.

I was already cutting it close with timing - this soup needs at least a good hour and a half to cook all the ingredients, and I knew it should probably be more like two and a half hours - and it didn't really help that I've currently got two really bad blisters on my heels which makes it almost impossible to wear shoes, and I underestimated how high the heel was on my moccasins. There was no way I was going to be fast enough to turn around and get the tomatoes with my hobbling pace without really reopening the injuries or starting this too late to get my brother from soccer practice on time, so I decided to take a gamble and hope we had some diced tomatoes at home.

When I got home, I discovered that nope, we don't have canned tomatoes in the pantry right now, just tomato paste. It was at this point that I decided to just forgo the tomatoes entirely and hope the soup wouldn't need them.

I chopped up the meat, measured out the water and barley, and dumped them into a pot.

Which didn't look all that appetizing. But hey, I've cooked worse looking things, so I decided to put the lid on the pot to make sure the water boiled in a timely fashion.

A watched pot never boils, Felicity!

At this point, you've probably read the above caption. I had the idea for the picture while trying to find ways to spruce up this post. I like to mix things up a little bit so that it's not just repeats of the same three pictures - the dolls looking at recipes, sitting with the finished piece, some in progress pictures, etc. etc. But it turned out to be somewhat fateful, because almost as soon as I turned my back, this happened:

Well. Whoops. For the record, Felicity was well out of harm's way when this happened.

You're (or at least, my mother probably is) wondering why I was taking a picture of this instead of containing the situation. I'd like to take the opportunity to reassure my readers and especially my parents that no one and nothing was harmed in this minor disaster, and after snapping these quick shots, I quickly turned the stove way down and tried to mop up as best I could while it was still cooking. I was feeling understandably discouraged after this happened, and felt like I'd maybe been a little overconfident in my ability in successfully making a meal I'd never cooked before without anyone in the kitchen watching my back.

Actually, I thought it was a little funny that this was all happening with a Felicity themed recipe. As anyone who's read her series knows, Felicity is an impatient and headstrong girl, who can often get distracted from household chores and wind up in over her head thanks to her overconfidence. I think the reason she and Kirsten have consistently been my favorites is because Kirsten shares more of my slightly anxious, shy qualities, and Felicity shares my impatience and tendency to bite off more than she can chew. There's more to it too, but it's what I was thinking about while I was wondering if I should just call it a day and throw out the botched soup.

I mean, it didn't exactly look appetizing.

But Felicity doesn't just give up on things, and I wasn't willing to, either. Even though I didn't have all the ingredients and kept running into road bumps, things were still salvageable and I wanted to keep going, so I gathered my vegetables, washed them, and got ready to chop them up. The store only had two turnips, but one of them was almost twice the size of the other, so I figured it would be okay. I also decided to throw in a potato, because I like potatoes, and it seemed like good filler for the lack of tomato and technically missing one turnip. Although it's not necessarily fully accurate to the recipe, there's nothing technically historically inaccurate about it. If for whatever reason my 1770's family didn't have access to three turnips and some tomatoes, you can bet we'd be improvising with whatever we could get our hands on, and I happened to have a potato on hand.

As you may remember from my previous Felicity themed post, onions and I are not friends. This time, I got most of the way through the first onion without feeling like my eyes were bleeding, and they didn't leave me feeling sore and miserable for the rest of the night, so I was pleasantly surprised. I still think I need to dig my ski goggles out of the attic for my next onion dish, though.

It was here I met my final road bump - I have never cooked a turnip before. But hey, how hard could it be, right? I just needed to cut it up! But, for some reason, it was only after I'd finished chopping up the first one that I had the thought hey, do I need to peel the skin off this?

I turned to Google, and as it turns out, yes, you are supposed to peel off turnip skin. Turnip skins are apparently bitter and nasty, and thus aren't a lot of fun to eat. Fortunately, it was only the smaller turnip that had already been cut up, but it was still annoying to have to slice off the skin as best I could from the diced pieces. I guess I'll know better next time.

Once that was all cleared up, I dumped in the vegetables and rushed off to grab my brother from soccer practice, hoping I wasn't going to come back to a bubbling mess in the pot and on the stove. And maybe the floor.

Fortunately, things worked out fine! I left the heat down very low while I was out to prevent disaster, and turned it back up again once we got home. It still took about another hour to cook the vegetables fully, and then I put in a generous amount of salt and freshly cracked pepper in to season it. It was very bland up until that point, but as soon as they got added, it really came to life nicely.

It made a lot of soup. That much became apparent after the vegetables got put in, but soup's not too hard to store, so I wasn't too bothered by it. I was more concerned about how it was going to taste, and warned my brother in advance on the way home that I was doing this and I would not be offended at all if he wanted to just heat up some fish sticks or something if it was terrible. But it was really good!

I brought birch beer as a treat/apology in case it turned out terribly.

Even though it was really filling, we both had seconds, and we've got plenty of leftovers to enjoy tomorrow and share with other people if they want to give it a shot. There wasn't much broth left over, but I think it'll still be tasty without a lot of it.

Felicity seems to think so, anyway!

Long story short, I'm pretty pleased with how things worked out. I still had a bit of a mess to clean up, but it could have been a lot worse, and now we've got some tasty leftovers to look forward to for the rest of the week. I still feel like a bit of an idiot for what went wrong, and the fact that I'm now documenting this on the internet for anyone to read, but that's the point of this blog, really. I'm still learning and I'm definitely still making mistakes. Hopefully the cake tomorrow won't have as many!

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