Empty bowls for full bellies

For the last few years, I’ve gone to an “Empty Bowls” event in support of the local food bank. If you’ve never experienced this kind of evening, you should definitely look for one in your area.

The events are always in support of local organizations dedicated to helping the hungry, whether it’s a shelter, food bank or drop-in centre. Local potters donate their hand-crafted bowls, and restaurants donate soup and bread. Your ticket buys you the bowl of your choice, and access to taste as many of the soups as you like. There’s also a team on hand to rinse and dry your bowl between servings.

It’s always a warm environment, in every way; people always share which of the soups they liked the best, making recommendations for what to try next. This year, I also had the privilege of sharing my table with a local farmer. He was rather old school when it came to farming, meaning he “doesn’t do that organic stuff”, but I could have chatted with him all night.

 I did, however, feel a little guilty. My friend had an “in” with one of the organizers, who let us pick out our bowls the night before because we weren’t going to be able to make it until the last half of the evening. Little did I know this would result in some major bowl envy! As I went from station to station, I could see and hear people oohing and ahhing about my bowl. When I left it unattended for a couple of minutes to chat with someone I met at last year’s event, my farmer friend warned me that if I’d waited any longer to come back, it may not have been there.

Butternut squash cocount soup

The soup, in The Bowl. Also featuring a must-read for all.

By far, my favourite soup of the evening was Butternut Squash Coconut. Two favourite things in one warm (and lovely) bowl? And totally vegan? Yeah-huh! Despite the sloshing in my belly on my way home, I was inspired and immediately had to figure this one out. I know, a lot of my posts so far have been soup-centred, but it’s getting cold out there!

Butternut Squash Coconut Soup

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
1 medium apple, peeled and diced
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp mild curry powder
2 tsp fresh ginger (or more to taste)
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cumin
2 tsp lemon juice
1 can light coconut milk (14 oz)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Roast the squash: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel squash, cut in half and remove seeds. Place cut-side down in a glass container and cover with foil. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until fork tender. When cool, chop and set aside.

2. Heat the coconut oil in a large pot. Sautee the onion over medium heat until translucent.

 3. Add the apple, squash, spices and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer until apples are tender.

4. Place the contents into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender and puree until smooth.

5. Return the contents to the pot and add the coconut milk and bring back up to heat. Add salt and pepper as needed.

I just turned 40. No, it’s ok, I love it! Funny how everyone I’ve talked to about it asks me how I feel about turning the “big 4-0”. Really? I’m relieved. For some reason, it feels like the pressure is off.

What pressure? Oh, let’s see. I’m the youngest and only girl in a Catholic Italian family. My parents, both born in Italy, come from huge families, which means I have dozens of cousins. I’m unmarried, no kids. Yes, I’m straight, despite what the old biddies at church are probably saying. I stopped going to church over a year ago anyway, so who cares? I have a good job, my own house and car, and an adorable cat. Yes, just one; no crazy cat lady am I.

Given the demographics, you may imagine what growing up in that environment has been like until now. Although I never really got the “So, why aren’t you married yet?” drilling from my relatives, it’s always felt a bit implied. Then again, they may have already assumed an answer based on one thing: I’ve been chubby all my life. Despite my best efforts, all I seem to lose is sweat and patience.

So, with the mental chains that turning 40 seems to have released, I’ve embarked on a new adventure. Six months ago, I made the switch to being a vegetarian. I’d tried it before, but this time I was a lot more informed. It started when I watched the film Earthlings, which I think everyone should see. It’s free, online. Go now, and then come back. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

It leaves quite an impression, doesn’t it? That was enough to get me started, but it was just the first step for me. I’m an avid researcher, so I need to know all sides to a story before I commit to anything. Even paint colours for my house, but that’s another story.

I read lots of books on health and diet, plant-based programs, cookbooks and more. I saw other movies: Forks Over Knives, Food Inc, The Cove. I read the stories of real people who made amazing changes in their lives. I read about vegan athletes, even triathletes. With all that evidence and several flagged cookbooks in hand, I decided to jump in and go full herbivore.

That’s where this blog comes in. I’ve always been interested in cooking, though I don’t have a lot of natural-born skills. Geez, my mom did all the cooking, ok? I wouldn’t DREAM of touching her stove when I was growing up unless she asked me to stir the sauce or take something out of the oven to serve the menfolk their dinner.

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try all these vegan recipes I’ve collected; all the links I’ve saved, all the books I’ve filled with flags and whatever you want to send me. I’ll document my experiences, tell you what I would do differently and hopefully we’ll discover together how easy it is to cook and live in a way that’s healthier for body, mind, soul and planet.

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