Gratitude, Day 4: Lettuce Soup, Or How I Realized I Was Rich

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

Luxurious abundance.
Luxurious abundance.

In 1996 when I moved to Seattle, I rolled into town with just $200 in cash (and no credit to speak of, plus one black cat and a car of dubious quality). Even back in 1996, before the construction boom that is currently overtaking the Pacific Northwest, this small change didn’t get me very far. I slept on the floor of a friend’s cousin’s house for a couple weeks, then moved quickly onto another floor of a stranger’s house in West Seattle after the cousin began to hit on me.

At that time, I had just a college degree, no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and about $75 left, so I applied at a local temp agency and quickly found work that paid every Friday.

Temp work was steady but didn’t pay well, and the end of the week often found me short of cash and hungry. Too proud at that point to apply for any kind of financial assistance from my new city, I solved the problem with what I had at hand: coffee.

Every morning I would drink a fortifying cup of coffee for the commute to work, then continue to drink copious amounts of coffee throughout the day, lightened with a considerable amount of milk and sugar. This got me through the day without lunch (except for the days when someone would bring in doughnuts or bagels), saved tons of money, and allowed me to pay my bills without applying for any kind of financial assistance (from the state or from my parents).

These days, I can still stretch a dollar until it screams, but as I look back on that time I realize how rich I actually was. I was educated and had a job and a safe place to sleep at night. These days in Baltimore, 20% of Baltimore’s children face food insecurity in that they have no idea where their next meal is coming from. They may not have a safe place to sleep, and their parents may not have the educational resources (or, let’s be real, the skin color) to easily secure even a temporary job.

A couple months ago, I learned about a local organization that helps remediate food insecurity and works to alleviate food deserts: Gather Baltimore. This organization uses volunteer labor in the fields and on the street to gather food that would otherwise rot or be thrown out. The food is sorted (with decomposing or inedible food going to compost) and packed into big blue Ikea bags to be sold for $7 to anyone who wants one.

These bags generally contain between 30 and 40 pounds of produce and are designed to feed a family of four for one week. Bags also often contain bread, crackers, and occasionally, chips.

While this amount of food can be a lifesaver, one considerable issue can arise: what do you do with ten pounds of lettuce? Or five pounds of jalapeños? Or that crazy, lumpy brown thing that you know is a vegetable but you have no idea how to actually cook it?

For people who lack basic cooking skills or too many extra ingredients, this can be a considerable challenge. I have used the Gather bag to make some delicious things I would not have otherwise made, including a spicy corn relish that I could eat my bodyweight in.

The lettuce thing actually happened once when I got a bag that  contained not only two heads of butter lettuce but also a two-pound bag of shredded iceberg lettuce. From this, lettuce soup was born. Overall, this entire recipe cost me about $2, as I made the vegetable stock from peelings and vegetables from the previous Gather bag, and the spices were purchased from the bulk section at MOM’s in Hampden for less than a quarter.

It may sound crazy, but lettuce soup has French roots and is often a light course in a sumptuous French meal. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.


1 large onion, chopped (at least one cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon allspice
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
5 cups vegetable stock
8 cups of lettuce, any kind, but tender-leafed lettuce (e.g. butter lettuce) works best
4 tablespoons of butter
Optional garnish: Greek yogurt or sour cream, chopped cashews, mild white cheese


Heat two tablespoons of butter in a stockpot over medium heat. Add onions and cook for two minutes, then add garlic and cook for one minute more.

Season with salt and pepper, then add coriander and allspice and cook for one minute more.

Add potato, lettuce, and stock. Bring to a low boil, then turn heat down and simmer. Cook until potato is tender.

Puree the soup in one of two ways:

1. Working in batches, use a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

2. Use a handheld immersion blender and puree in the pot.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with optional garnish.

Image source.

Gratitude, Day 3: Cocktails

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

Is it wrong to be thankful for cocktails?

Conversation starter.
Conversation starter.

I don’t wanna be right.

Apparently, ’tis the season, because back in October of 2015, I wrote this post about fall cocktails, including the Hanky Panky and a chipotle cherry bourbon smash, among others.

I think I also celebrated National Margarita Day shortly thereafter (and I am not sure it was actually National Margarita Day).

Anyone reading this blog might think I have issues with alcohol, but truthfully, I drink infrequently and selectively. My days of falling over are, well, over (minus one memorable reunion evening last year with very, very old friends), but I do enjoy a finely crafted libation from time to time.

Trouble is, many trendy cocktails have just one ingredient too many, especially in my neighborhood which is overrun with mustache wax and beard oil. That one extra ingredient might be a trendy bitter or smoke flavor or some other kind of bullshit that adds a potent medicinal quality to what otherwise might have been a simple and delicious beverage.

So today I am grateful for cocktails that get it right, that strike the balance between boozy and flavorful. Those cocktails that walk the line between innovative and traditional.

Tonight I am giving thanks with a Red-Headed Ginger; recipe from the original blog posted back in February of 2016.

“And since it is February, a month that simultaneously screams love and death in the Kolbeck household, red seems a perfect color. And ginger beer is appropriate anytime of year, but the bite of this one will wake you up, keep you focused, and make you talk.

Drink this with Florence + the Machine in the background, but just lightly. You know, so you can talk.

Redheaded Ginger

2 ounces Lillet Rouge

4 ounces ginger beer

splash of grapefruit juice OR dash of grapefruit bitters

Two possibilities here:

Pour Lillet over ice in a Collins glass, top with ginger beer and splash of grapefruit/bitters, or combine Lillet/grapefruit/bitters in cocktail shaker and shake 30 seconds. Strain into martini glass, add ginger beer and serve with grapefruit slice.”

What are you grateful for?

Breaking Bread


Bread is elemental. Flour, water, salt, yeast: that’s it.

And yet.

Some of my best memories are wrapped around these four ingredients. The details are, as always, blurry-edged and cloudy, but the fragrance of baking bread is sharp and distinct in my mind. Something inside me unclenches every time  I gather bread-making ingredients and tools.

Funny thing about memory, though. Bread may have only four ingredients, but the success is in the practice/process. Time. Temperature. Precision (or not). In my memories of bread, as in all my memories, there is very little true understanding, in this case of what exactly it takes to make a perfect loaf of whatever I am making. I remember flat bread that shouldn’t have been and gummy, underbaked insides when the knocking technique just doesn’t quite work.

I come to bake bread when my brain won’t settle. When there is too much of something troubling, or happy-making, or any other too much of something floating around, making all other thinking impossible. When I need to get my hands into something that feels grounding and real and practical and not up-in-the-clouds where I usually reside.

Flour, water, salt, yeast. Hands in dough. Meditation. Kneading. Resting. Baking.

But as I am usually distracted and elsewhere in the brain when I settle into the practice of bread, my bread always seems to not…quite…work. Close. But not quite.

This seems to be the rule when it comes to distraction for me (maybe you, too). A temporary relief from whatever needs to be put away for a time, good or bad, but then whenever that distraction – bread, shopping, TV, whateverthefuck – is done, the thing you avoid comes roaring back.

“[People] can starve from a lack of self-realization as they can from lack of bread.” ~Richard Wright~

So the solution seems to be to focus as much on the bread as The Thing, not just as a distraction from The Other Thing. Not as an escape. #WhereeverYouGoThereYouAre

This morning I woke with Paris and chocolate and cafe au lait and love and baguettes on my mind. I give in, Universe. I give in to allofthethings, and I have made you bread.


NOTE: These are, as ever, gluten-free. Gluten-filled recipes for bread abound on the interwebs, and because it’s bread it is highly unlikely that merely swapping out regular AP or bread flours will work. 


250 grams (about 2 cups) gluten-free all purpose flour (or another one, but note that the recipe may not quite work. Avoid bean flours, as usual)

25 grams (about 1/4 cup) almond meal

3 T. powdered milk

1 T. xanthan gum

1 t. salt

2 room-temperature egg whites

2 T. olive oil

1/2 t. apple cider vinegar

3/4 c. warm (80 – 100 degrees) water

2 1/4 t. rapid-rise yeast (one packet)

egg wash (use the leftover egg yolks with a little water, an egg white with water, or skip this step)

spray bottle with water


Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, powdered milk, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment (or in a big bowl), combine egg whites, olive oil, vinegar, and water. Add flour mixture in and mix to combine, then add yeast and mix for two more minutes.

If you are not using a stand mixer, beat the crap out of the dough for as long as you possibly can. It will be stiff and sticky. #ThatsWhatSheSaid

At this point, you can prepare one of two types of pans:

  1. Fancypants baguette pan lined with parchment, which is really how it ought to be done except most people don’t have those and don’t want to get those because they are really only good for one thing (baguettes) and ain’t nobody got time for that.
  2. Plain old cookie sheet lined with lightly greased parchment paper. Errbody got time for that.

“Shaping” this dough is less like shaping and more like piping. There is no kneading because there is no gluten to develop, and the dough will be like very thick cake batter. Pour a splash of olive oil into a large freezer bag, then scoop the dough into the bag. Seal, then cut off one corner of the bag and pipe the baguettes into the pan you have prepared. This makes one big baguette or two thinner, smaller baguettes. Obvi, the size of the hole you cut out will determine the width of your baguettes and the cooking time. #KeepThatInMind

Brush the top of the loaves with egg wash if using, then use a very sharp knife to cut two or three diagonal slashes on the top of the bread. Place the loaves in the preheated-turned off oven for 30 minutes to rise.

Clean up your kitchen, surf the interwebs, navel gaze, meditate, write a letter to someone and mail it, call your mom, take a shower…whatever. There is nothing that really needs to be done while the bread is rising.

Remove bread and preheat oven to 375 degrees (regular oven) or 350 degrees (convection oven). Put bread back in the oven, spraying it with water as you close the door.

Baking times? Meh. They vary. 

I bake mine for ten minutes, spray, bake for ten minutes, spray, bake for ten minutes, spray, then let it go until it is beautifully brown. I have also been known to stick a toothpick in this bread, or use my beautiful new instant-read thermometer to make sure it is cooked in the middle (an issue for all bread but especially for gluten-free varieties).

Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

Serve warm with tons of butter or Brie. Consider bringing this and a cup of hot chocolate to your darling child who is STILL SLEEPING, or maybe your lover if you are A) lucky enough to have one who will appreciate it, and B) they are within arm’s reach.

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” ~Omar Khayyam~

What is elemental for you?