Vegan Minestrone Soup (with a side of Geology)

What do Vegan Minestrone Soup and Geology have in common?

Here’s the long answer.

As new empty nesters, Pete and I were able to take our first kid-free, week-long vacation in I’m not sure how long.

LONG.

A long time.

We headed to Sedona Arizona, a nice little six-hour plane ride plus two-hour car ride from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, and well worth the time. This was our second trip to Sedona, having taken our two kids there about ten years ago when they were nine and eleven years old at the suggestion of my sister-in-law, Janet. It’s a fun destination for kids of that age, and it’s a fun destination for couples too. We saw it the first time and vowed to return.

Sedona is located in the north central area of Arizona, south of the Colorado Plateau into which the Grand Canyon is carved. Sedona is, of course, known as “Red Rock Country.”

I mean, you know, because it’s where you see the red rocks.

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OK, I can do better than that.

Sedona’s red rock history began about 320 million years ago when the southwest was closer to an inland sea and nearer to the equator. What is now red rock was originally soft mud and sand. During that time the area was a low, arid coastal plain next to a shallow sea evidenced by sea-creature fossils in many of the rock layers. Over the years, rivers, wind, and ocean currents (and waves) deposited sediment. When the sea level rose, layers of mud accumulated on the sea floor topping river deposits. When the sea level fell, wind-blown sand and dunes covered the area.

After time, sediment changed to hard rock. The rocks’ red color is caused by a thin coating of iron oxide on the rock particles. The iron oxide was formed by chemical weathering of iron-bearing minerals in the rocks in the arid setting. At one time about 1,900 feet of red rock covered the entire Sedona area. Local Oak Creek and its tributaries have eroded large amounts of the rock, creating canyons, mesas, plateaus and other formations. The broken rock was transported to the ocean by way of Oak Creek and the Verde, Salt, and Colorado Rivers. If it weren’t for erosion, there would be no Red Rock Country for us to enjoy in the United States.

(Much of the above information is from an article by Larry D. Fellows published in Arizona Geology.)

Most interestingly to me, erosion formed several natural bridges in the area, all of which can be reached by trail. We hiked one of the most famous trails to The Devil’s Bridge, a very popular tourist destination. It involves an easy hike followed by climbing, although nothing too difficult. It’s thrilling but manageable.

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One can always find a friend and fellow hiker up-top to take a picture as you round the final bend and walk out onto the bridge:

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The Devil’s Bridge allows an excellent view of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.

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Our agenda each day was morning hike followed by poolside reading followed by cocktails and dinner. It’s a solid plan for anyone visiting Sedona, although there are jeep tours and mystical meditation-type activities such as yoga, vortex visiting and crystal healing. I’ll have to outline those some other time. We limited ourselves to hiking and swimming.

We had choice of resort pool...

We had choice of resort pool…

...or spa pool (No kids!)

…or spa pool (No kids!)

We stayed at the beautiful Enchantment Resort and Mii Amo Spa nestled into Boynton Canyon, Sedona Arizona. See how it’s incorporated into the canyon?

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Note: This is NOT the same resort from my prior post on the Noisy Minibar. That was a temporary stop in Scottsdale before we headed into the mountains of Sedona.

But how is geology and a trip to Sedona related to Vegan Minestrone Soup?

It all begins with simonjohnsonofclowne, a blog written by Simon Johnson, a retired English and Geology teacher, who is mostly known for biking through Scottish and English towns, reporting on his adventures including photography. Right now he’s at the end of a series called “A-Z of English Towns,” and he is in the Vale of Pickering, home of Ampleforth College “considered to be the original of Hogwarts.”

Once a week–Sundays, I think–he almost always does a post called “Mostly Concerning Food” where he talks about the food he ate (and shared with family) over the week. This must be how we originally connected–through food posts–although it’s always difficult to trace the original connection between bloggers.

My most favorite of his posts are those about Scottish geology and early geologists. These posts should NOT be lost to speeding-by timelines and busy schedules! They are fascinating!

Mr. Johnson said, “Scotland has some of the most remarkable geology on the planet which may explain why it was in Scotland that the world gained a new science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the science of geology. Understanding the planet was all very easy before these people started looking more closely at the fabulous rock formations of the Highlands. Before this group of brilliant Caledonian thinkers came along, there was only really one geological textbook. It has become, in our own century the most blindly adhered to, and the most scathingly derided book of historical physics of all time. It was, The Bible.”

He then expands on information about these historic “thinkers” and the reactions and consequences they faced as they uncovered and reported their discoveries. Over a series of five posts, he discusses more of:

  • geologists bumping heads with theologists. (How old IS the Earth?)
  • women geologists of the time. (Yes there were!)
  • theories explaining why the fossil record of north west Scotland should more resemble North America than England.
  • the idea of continental drift based on Scottish discoveries of near identical fossils thousands of miles apart. (“Either the creatures had traveled thousands of miles or the continents did.”)

Here are the posts. I highly recommend them.

A Scottish Rock Star
Shoulders of Giants
Women of Rock
The Big MacBang
A Matter of Convection

Still, though, what about the minestrone??

Well, it was just before our trip, I was reading one of Mr. Johnson’s “Mostly Concerning Food” posts and commenting about, for one reason or another: Minestrone Soup. I told him I’d work on a vegan version. I’m not sure I remember WHY! In any case, I left for my trip thinking about Vegan Minestrone Soup, and I enjoyed my time in Sedona only wishing we had along a scholar who could tell us about the rocks! Of course, Mr. Johnson came to mind.

And true to my word, I came home and worked on a recipe for the soup. The first time I tried it using vegetable stock as a base. But the second time I tried it, I used bean broth! And let me tell you, bean broth is the trick!! This is a delicious and hearty dinner for the cool weather we faced upon our return from the desert to Pennsylvania.

Vegan Minestrone Soup with Bean Broth Base

Ingredients:
Four tablespoons water for sautéing, adding more to the pan as needed
One large onion, diced
Four cloves garlic, minced
Two stalks celery, diced
One large carrot, diced
One-third pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
One teaspoon dried oregano
One teaspoon dried basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 28 -ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
One 14 -ounce can crushed tomatoes (or used preserved tomatoes from your garden described in this post, three or four small tomatoes)
Six cups garbanzo bean broth (recipe here)
One 15 -ounce can low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Eight ounces whole wheat spaghetti (or other pasta such as elbow macaroni)

Instructions:
Pour the sautéing water into the pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about four minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the celery and carrot and cook until they begin to soften, about five minutes. Stir in the green beans, dried oregano and basil, three-quarter teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; cook three more minutes.

Add all the tomatoes and the bean broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans and pasta and cook until the pasta and vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.

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It’s a rock-solid recipe!

Last Resort

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We did it! We vacationed as empty nesters for the first time! We stayed at a beautiful resort, which I’ll always remember because of our noisy minibar. (Minibar Rule #One: If you want me to pay nine dollars for a two-ounce peanut pack, you have to be quiet.)  Every four minutes or so, it began a new noise sequence. First, three loud hums, followed by eight quiet hums, then a beep as from an elevator arriving, though the resort is mostly one level, no elevators.

I fixate on things like that until I’m very bothered. Pete heard none of it. He’s easy-going.

I learned my noise sensitivity from my older brother. He chafed at many things I might do, such as swallowing Hawaiian Punch while gulping and humming. He didn’t like it. I took a lot of grief before I learned to swallow my punch in silence, and to this day I drink quietly. Try me. I’m a discreet beverage consumer.

I like to think my loud swallowing was retaliation for the things my brother did to me in return. For example, he pronounced the word “blueberry,” by saying “blueburry,” the “burry” part rhyming with the word “scurry.” The first time he said blueberry this way was an accident, a slip of the tongue. We were discussing pie. It rubbed me the wrong way, he picked up on it, and the word was blueburry forevermore. The bigger my annoyance grew, the longer he persisted.

Blueburry! Blueburry! Blueburry!

I tried shouting. I tried whining. Nothing stopped him. Until, as a last resort, I yelled what any younger sibling finally yells. “I’m telling mom!!!”

These days, “I’m telling mom” might get a kid somewhere, but back in the 70’s it was about as effective as using band-aids to fix broken arms. My mom–like other moms in her day–was not impressed with anyone “telling” her anything, and if you went ahead despite this knowledge, you were probably met with a blank stare (best-case scenario) or a flying hairbrush (worst-case scenario).

If she ever did intervene, it was only to say, “You know he’s just doing that to get a RISE out of you. If you didn’t react, he would stop.” Never did she address my brother and say, for example, “Stop bothering your sister!”

THAT’S something I would have enjoyed hearing even once.

Vegan Jalapeño Poppers with Limey 3-2-1 Margar-tinis

It’s September, and that means I have plenty of jalapeño peppers popping up in my garden.

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Here’s an alternative to the traditional cheesy, fried jalapeño popper.

Vegan Jalapeño Poppers (No oil or added fat)

Ingredients:

Jalapeño peppers, as many as you like

Black Bean Dip:
Two cups dried black beans, soaked overnight and cooked for two hours
One-half cup yellow onion, chopped
One-third cup chopped cilantro
Two cloves fresh garlic, minced
One four-ounce can chopped green chilies
Two tablespoons fresh lime juice
One-quarter teaspoon ground cumin
One-quarter teaspoon chili powder
One-half teaspoon salt
One-quarter teaspoon pepper

Ten or twelve, good quality corn chips (I look for a whole-corn, baked variety, but any kind will do), toasted until light brown under the broiler.

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Halve the jalapeño peppers lengthwise. Leave the stems in tact if that’s possible, just to provide a “handle” for the consumer, although the stem is not eaten. If you dislike spice, clean out the ribs and seeds, working carefully. Some people use latex gloves when they handle peppers. Cleaned-out peppers will look like this:

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I prefer my jalapeño poppers to be somewhat spicy, nothing too hard-core, but something with a little zing! If you’re like me, clean out most of the ribs and seeds, but leave innards behind like this:

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3. Puree the black bean dip ingredients in a food processor. You will have leftover black bean dip, which you may reserve and serve alongside corn chips or chopped vegetables.

4. Place the toasted corn chips in a plastic baggie and scrunch the chips with your hands until they are the consistency of cereal flakes, or smaller.

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5. Fill each pepper half with about a tablespoon and a half of the bean dip. Sprinkle the corn chip flakes over top of the bean mix, encrusting the top as best you can. The chips WILL stick well to the bean dip. Put the filled peppers on the prepared baking sheet.

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6. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until peppers are soft and everything is heated through.

7. Serve as a very healthy appetizer or side dish.

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Around here, we like to eat our jalapeño poppers with…

Limey 3-2-1 Margar-tinis

This drink gets its name from the proportion of tequila to lime juice to triple sec (or other orange liqueur) AND from the lack of simple syrup or sugar included in most traditional margarita recipes. We serve them “up” and without salt on the rim. The result is quite martini-like, and we feel very grown-up when we drink them (pinkies extended).

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Ingredients:

(For one generous serving)

Three ounces tequila
Two ounces fresh lime juice
One ounce triple sec (or other orange liqueur)

Instructions:

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into martini glass. Extend pinkie.

How To Ship Care Package Cookies

One of the first things you must remember when you send your youngest off to college is…

…to recycle all the champagne bottles from the big party you had when you returned home from dropping her off.

No, silly!

…to admire how the kitchen stays clean after you straighten it.

No. Well, maybe a little.

…to dress up your dogs like babies in bonnets and booties and things.

No! (Dogs hate it. Trust me.)

No, you must remember to pack up a care package full of cookies! You want your student to feel a little love from home during her first weeks away. But how to package cookies for shipping? That’s the question.

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No-Can Tomato Preserve

When life gives you lemons–which it’s known to do–make lemonade.
When life gives you tomatoes…

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Would you throw ‘em at people?

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Photo courtesy of World Festival Directory

OR…save ‘em for later?

I’d save ‘em. Here’s any easy way without canning them. (These tips are thanks to our friend, Janusz.)

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2 Weird Hungry Girls (Listen Up. It’s A Podcast!)

Note: Recipes for “Traveling Blackberry Margaritas” and “Vegan Cucumber Tea Sandwiches” appear later in this post!

A short time ago, I was a guest on the 2 Weird Hungry Girls podcast! (Click the link to listen to my episode.)

In their words, 2 Weird Hungry Girls are “two unapologetically cheeky chicks laughing and eating their way through life.” I’ve written about one of the weird girls, Phoebe of Phoebe’s Pure Foods (pictured below on the left). Here are Phoebe and Tracy:

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I was invited to discuss heart health and vegan diet.

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