Winter, Changes and a December Soup

Winter has touched the landscape with its icy fingers.  This morning I woke up to a crisp 25 degrees outside.  A thick layer of frost blanketed the ground.  The apple trees and grapevines have been bare for over a week, the ice in the bird baths is 1/2 inch thick in the mornings, and piles of mittens, hats and mud boots cover our front foyer.  Yes winter has arrived.

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As the year comes to an end I have been thinking about where I am in my life and what has happened this year.  Things here have been so very chaotic since Gavin was born and as much as I am craving peace and serenity I am also craving great change.  During one late night of pondering I almost convinced myself to cut off all my hair which is a big deal because it reaches my hips when its down.  I thought maybe that was the change I was craving.  Thankfully it was the middle of the night and no one was open.

The last two years has been filled with “having a baby time” and now that Gavin’s becoming more independent I keep asking myself “what’s next?”  I remember feeling this way with my daughter.  Having a child does that to you.  It forces you to make those hard decisions.  You have to make sacrifices while at the same time trying to reach your dreams, if not for yourself, then for your kids.  It’s really really hard to do.

I see it like I’m closing one small chapter of my life and opening another.  For starters I’m going to be making some changes.  Some are already in the works like getting serious about cooking, eating right, writing and getting back to gardening.  Some of my thoughts are still wild crazy ideas like building a 175 sq foot mobile tiny house and moving onto some land or Tom quitting his job to work at the zoo. These will probably stay crazy ideas, but it’s always good to dream big.  I want to simplify and minimize my possessions.  Get back to a homesteading lifestyle and connect with the Earth’s seasonal energies.  Along with that I want to simplify my online life which has become exhausting to maintain.  Too many blogs, too many social media and photography sites to update, so I am condensing.  This blog will remain Shoots and Roots, but I am going to expand what I write about.  I have so many interests and I want to share them all in one place.  So we will talk about cooking, gardening, crafting, photography, art, homesteading, California, the raptors we work with, everything all in one place.  I will stop posting on my photography blog.  All those posts will now be here.

With that, I want to end this with one of the best soups I have come up with in a long time.  I LOVE soup and this one is absolutely perfect for this time of year and the cold weather we have been having.  It spicy and fulfilling and would be perfect for when your sick with one of those awful head colds.  Last week I was making dinner for our family plus a guest and I only had a few things left.  A couple of chicken breasts, a bunch of yams (never send your husband to the store for “a few” yams cause he will buy a crate full), some cans of beans and a packet of Rick Bayless’s taco sauce (which is the best, and I wasn’t paid to say that).  I was thinking of a chili/stew cross with sweet potatoes.  I wish I had taken a photo of it because it’s a colorful soup.  I hope you try it because it’s so comforting, so healthy and takes less than an hour to make.

Melissa’s December Soup

Feeds 4-6

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2- 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup of frozen bell pepper slices (Trader Joes)
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 can of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 packet of Rick Bayless’s Frontera New Mexico Chicken Taco Skillet Sauce with roasted tomato and mild red chili
  • 1 32oz box of chicken broth
  • water
  • plain Greek yogurt (optional)
  • cheddar cheese (optional)

1.  Heat up a couple of tablespoons of coconut or olive oil in a large soup pot.  Season both sides of your chicken with salt and pepper.  When the pan and oil are hot add the chicken breasts and cook for a couple of minutes on each side to brown them.  When both sides are a golden brown take them out and reserve on a plate.  Don’t worry if they aren’t completely cooked yet.

2.  Add a couple of tablespoons of oil if needed and then add the sweet potatoes.  Cook them until they soften up a little.  This should only take a few minutes.  Add the onion to the pot and cook for a few minutes until softened.  While the onion cooks roughly chop up the chicken into 1 inch cubes.  Add the bell peppers and tomatoes to the pot.  Cook for a minute while gently scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  Add the chicken and cook for another two minutes.  If your onions start looking too brown turn your heat down.

3.  Add the box of chicken broth while gently scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the yummy bits off.  That’s the good stuff.  You don’t want it burnt, you want it golden brown.  Add the beans and taco sauce.  Stir well.  Add more water if needed to get the consistency of stew.  Cook for 20 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are soft, chicken is completely cooked and the flavors blend.  Taste and add salt if needed.  Serve with dollops of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt and sprinkles of shredded cheddar cheese.

This fed three adults, a child and a toddler.  All the adults had seconds.