Friday, January 8, 2010

Cold and Fat Is No Way To Go Through Life. (Anyone Else Remember "Animal House"?)

OK.  What’s wrong here?  I’m wearing jeans.  Ski socks.  Wool-lined boots.  (Really cute ones – black with tassels!)  A turtleneck and a hooded fleece jacket.  I’m zipped in and hooded up.

Yet, I’m popsiclesque.  In my own house.

Clearly, Charlotte – like most of the country – is in the midst of a prolonged cold snap.  Or more accurately, given these temperatures, a cold shatter.  Nevertheless, I’m indoors, and while the thermostat Chez Wiles isn’t exactly set at “balmy,” it is holding steady at 68.

Still, Snarky Son and Darling Daughter actually set off for school this morning dressed less warmly than I am right now.  (And no, SS wasn’t, as threatened, wearing his cheetah Snuggie.  Is it possible a teenager would say such things only to see how a parent would react?)

I’ve always been cold-natured.  And I could write the book, the employee manual, the very Gideon’s Bible on layering.  Just ask anyone who saw me in the ladies' room at last Sunday’s Panthers-Saints game. Or, more accurately, anyone who had to cross her legs, jiggle her heels, tap her toes, bite her lip, and clinch the very most inner part of her being, waiting for me to peel back all that fabric in my stall.  And continue to wait, while I took twice as long to reconstruct the elaborate textile structure I’d devised to help stave off the cold, including HandWarmers, BFF to many a woman of a certain age.  (I've actually slept with a Handwarmer under my pillow before.  Toasty.)

The “layering” premise isn't perfect, however.  I don't have scientific evidence, exactly, but consider this:  If layering really worked, then the 10-pounds I mortared on this holiday season would seal in some of my body heat, wouldn’t it?  Wouldn't I be warmer?  Fat chance.  And I say that without irony.  Fat.

Sadly, now that I’m a woman of a certain age, that's one layer that isn’t peeling off in a ladies’ room – much less anytime in the next few weeks.  As one dear friend put it, “Remember college?  After a big tailgating weekend, you’d put on five pounds.  So Monday, you'd skip dinner and that's all it took -- you were right back in your skinny jeans."

Those.  Were.  The days, my friend.  They ended.

Now that I'm in my 40s, skipping dinner is just a way to avoid acid reflux.  I need a more thoughtful, and perhaps, more nutrition-based approach to weight-loss.  And if possible, one that will also help defrost my fingers and toes (because I will not, I repeat, will NOT, raise the thermostat when I’m the only one here at home.  At least not while I’m still abiding to the holy trinity of New Year’s Resolutions -- losing weight, getting fit and cutting costs!)

I’m not in college.  I can’t lose 10 pounds overnight, but this vegetarian Black-Eyed Pea Soup has to be a good start.  Low in fat, but high in flavor, this soup is made with my other new BFF – Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles.  Which, coincidentally, also helps warm me up.

Don’t you love it when a recipe comes together?

Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Soup
If you want to add some type of meat, something as simple as crumbled bacon or sausage would be good here.  Or, you could add a slice of ham hock while cooking the peas.  Also, note that the consistency of this zesty soup will change considerably if you refrigerate it overnight – becoming more stew-like.  I eat it both ways and can't say which I prefer!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
12-15 baby carrots, sliced
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock, divided
1 10-ounce carton fresh black-eyed peas
½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 10-ounce can Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles
¼ teaspoon Liquid Smoke (optional)
½ cup raw rice

sour cream for garnish (optional)

In a very large lidded skillet or soup kettle, sauté onion in olive oil over medium-heat until translucent, stir in carrots and celery and continuing sautéing until edges of vegetables begin to brown.  Stir in garlic, and sauté another couple of minutes, until garlic is very fragrant.

Pour in 3 cups of vegetable stock, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Dump in black-eyed peas and salt and reduce heat to low.  Simmer, lidded, until peas are very nearly done.  Everyone says this should take fewer than 30 minutes, but it never has for me.  More like an hour.

When peas are nearly done (not crunchy or starchy, but slightly firm to the bite), stir in tomatoes, Liquid Smoke (if using), and rice.  Replace lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is done – about 20 minutes.

Check for seasoning.  If you like your soup more brothy, stir in remaining cup of vegetable stock.  Heat through and serve.  Top with a spoonful of sour cream, if desired.
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