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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bike Sharing and Bike Riding

Now that we are no longer in the throws of winter's chill with the ice, snow, and sub-zero temperatures, a no-so-young woman's thoughts of fancy turn to biking.  As soon as it warmed up I began biking from my house to the train station in Collingswood.  It's easier all around for me to ride the one mile with no hassles trying to find a parking spot. No wasted gas on such a short trip. Bonus, I get ten minutes of exercise twice a day.  Not quite enough but better than nothing.  I'm not able to bike too far these days since my back has been such a mess of fractures, impinged nerves, herniated discs.  I had to sell my road bike because I can no longer be hunched over the handle bars; I need a ride that keeps me upright.  

I have two other bikes that fit this mode so the road bike went to a better home. It was sold to a woman I know who's athletic and appreciated a well-maintained bike.  I'm sad, real sad.  It's a chapter of my life that's over and it makes me lament what once was.  Of course I can't stay in this mind frame.  Gotta look to the next chapter I suppose.  There's always the gentle ride around town, both in Collingswood and in Philly.  I can't ride into Philly like I used to do a few years ago, I cannot carry the bike up the steps of The Ben Franklin Bridge or even up and down the steps of the PATCO train.  Unless I were to drive into town and bring my bike with me in the car, I have not had a bike to ride in Center City for over two years.  Enter the Indego Bike Sharing program in Philadelphia.  

Philadelphia is the latest city to get with the bike share program.  Launched on April 23rd, with over 60 locations and 600 bikes, the IndeGo Bike Share program has locations at all the prime hot spots in Center City, Spring Garden, South Philly and University City.  The big blue bicycles and solar powered kiosks are hard to miss.  You can step up to the service kiosk, insert your credit card and for about $8 an hour, pedal around the city on these three speed cruisers.  Or for a $15 per month fee, you can be a member of the bike share program - getting an unlimited hour's-worth of free rides and then you pay $4 per hour thereafter. Katie told me she hasn't even reached a full hour's ride yet

"I've opted for the $15/month plan, and since all my rides so far have been about 20-25 minutes, not hitting the hour-per-ride threshold, I've not paid anything other than the $15 monthly flat fee. It's really a great deal for commuting"

A third option which I joined is a $10 annual membership and paying $4 an hour as a pay-as-you-go option.  Once I read through all the legalities, debated on the merits of the program, mulled over the $1,000 liability claim waive should something happen to the bike, I decided that for my limited needs doing the pay as I go method was for me.  I now keep a spare bike helmet at my office for the spur of the moment errands and jaunts I may take throughout the spring and summer.  

There was a lot of consideration done on my part before I joined the bike share program.  My biggest issues are that this is a casual rider program, seemingly geared toward the tourist rider.  The rules of engagement are that once you remove a bike form the dock, you don your helmet (although wearing a helmet is strongly encouraged and HIGHLY encouraged by me, helmets ARE NOT provided) you ride around and then dock the bike at either the same location another station.  The bikes are not meant or allowed to be left, locked or brought into another space except for an Indego docking station.  This bothers me on a few levels.  Should I need to run an errand down to South Street, a few miles from my office, I couldn't bring my own lock with me that day and then lock the rental bicycle outside of a store.  If there's a dock station relatively nearby then I can ride form station to station.  All well and fine for mapped out errands.  

Last night I took my inaugural ride, picking up a bike at 17th and Pine Streets, riding down Pine Street to South Street.  I planned the excursion in advance, bringing my bike helmet with me into the city so that I could have it at the ready for the entire day and evening. After my leisurely ride down Pine and South Streets, I docked the bike at 2nd and South Streets. I met friends for dinner at 3rd and South, the one block walk back to the restaurant was no different than had I parked my car and walked to the restaurant.  I rode a total of 3.15 miles, for 21 minutes and was charged $4.  Cheaper than a taxi or Uber ride, faster and more convenient than had I walked saving me a lot of back pain!  The bikes are comfortable, easy to get on (a new consideration for me these days with all of my back issues and stiffness).  the bikes are a bit heavy but I'm used to riding sturdy weighted bicycles.

I've spoken with a few people about the program.  One woman I met, Jennifer B., an attorney and bicycle advocate, said she loves the program and didn't mind the fact that even though she had to walk a few more blocks to her home from the end--point stopping dock kiosk, she wanted to support the bike ride-share and it was more convenient to her than riding a bus from Center City to her home in the Spring Garden area.  A friend from Collingswood, Katie R, takes PATCO to Center City, picks up a bike at a location somewhere along the PATCO station stops and then rides up to her job in University City.  Katie checks the B-Cycle app on her phone to see which station has bikes available before she goes to that location.  Katie says that the program has been smooth sailing with the only snags so far being that once or twice the kiosks didn't have a bike available even though the app indicated that a bike was waiting for a rider.  

I'll have to try this out a few more times before I can fully endorse the program but so far so good based on my one ride and the experiences I've heard from friends and acquaintances.

In Collingswood, the bike share program that the Borough has is called  Collingswood Bike Share. I've known about the program and location for the 3 1/2 years that we've lived in Collingswood but as I have not had cause to use the program, I never explored the site.  You can basically pay a $25 a year membership and "borrow" a bike for the year, renewing each year thereafter. You can come in and work on bikes and the volunteer staff will help you fix a flat, mend a popped chain, even help you re-true a wobbly wheel.  There are spare bike parts, tires, cables and all kinds of reflectors through which to sort.  The C'Wood Bike Share is modeled in part on programs like Neighborhood Bike Works, allowing kids to come in, work on bikes and even earn a bike for their services.  People "donate" old bikes, parts, tires, etc. so this is the stock from which Bike Share Bikes are re-purposed.  

One recent Tuesday night I spent the better part of the evening hanging out at the Collingswood Bike Share. I had picked up a tag along bike for my wee lad. The fine dudes and dudette at the shop tried to help me fit it into my bike. No go. They huffed and they puffed but they just couldn't get that tag along to go. No problem señor Joseph Edward Bonaparte Junior did a mighty fine job working on the bike until we realize it just wasn't the right fit. I'll be back and I encourage all my Collingswood friends to support this amazing and hidden gem of Collingswood's bike culture.

It's really not fair to compare the two bike sharing/bike riding programs.  Bicycles to Mopeds in a way.  Yes both will allow you to ride around and get from point A to points B, C, and Z, and each have many merits.  I'm a lucky rider to have so many bikable choices in my life; my bikes, a Collingswood Bike Share if I need it, a quick zip around Center City on a rent-a-bike.  Bicycle culture is alive and doing very well.  Happy to still be a part of it while I can still get my aching tired body around!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Soup Swap - African Peanut Soup Recipe

I hosted a Soup Swap at our house this past Saturday.  The idea was floated in one of my Facebook groups and I hopped the idea and made it an event while the interest was high.  We had 11 participants, mostly from the Collingswood area, come over on a slushy/snowy afternoon, all bringing pints and containers of homemade soups.  The swap was a great way to re-introduce food swaps to friends, old and new, and it rejuvenated me with the idea of wanting to organize food swaps again.  The last swap I hosted was in May, at our 1 year anniversary.  While I've attended a number of swaps - the last one being in December, which was a lot of fun and one of the best events I've attended in terms of the people and food stuffs, I just haven't felt like organizing one.  The October event I wanted to run didn't get any interest and mine just waned.  Hosting the soup swap party truly rejuvenated me.  

I put together the invite on Facebook, on our closed group page - and many people said they would participate.  The idea was to make 5 to 8 pints of soup and then bring them over on Saturday and trade a pint for a pint of soup, stew or if someone felt like making a casserole, they could make that too.  We had pumpkin and turkey chili; pumpkin and onion soup; lentil soup; broccoli cheddar cream soup; chicken and dumplings; kale and curried chick pea; butternut squash and loaves of homemade bread; Tuscan bean soup; tortellini soup; and my favorite in terms of presentation, my friend, Lori, made a Winter Chili Soup, in a dry pack - she layered beans and grains in pretty mason jars and sealed them.  Tied around the lids, with the instructions/ingredients, was a Serrano chili pepper.  A clever and longer lasting packaged soup to take away.

Our crowd was mostly women, but a few ladies brought their husbands, so we had some male influences and Nate had a few guys to talk Star Wars Legos and show off his buildings and such.  We mingled and sampled and nibbled for an hour or more.  Some of us also enjoyed a late afternoon cocktail or two as I brought out the Firecracker Cherry Bourbon that I still have around from the holidays.  It was a very pleasant afternoon filled with a lot of laughter and good company.  And while this is a lot of work to organize and pull together, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The soup I made was African Peanut Soup, and oldie from my days at working for Jill's Vorspeise in the Reading Terminal Market.  I haven't made this recipe since 2006/2007.  When I pulled out the recipe files, from my teaching days at Williams-Sonoma, I had to laugh at myself and how much I've learned in the intervening years about cooking.  I've also learned so much more about recipe writing.  The benefits of having been a food blogger for all these years.  The recipe is easy with few ingredients and it's vegan.  But to make it taste really good, you have to be patient and coax out of the flavors of the vegetables so as to not to rely on adding extra salt or oil to this.  I wish I knew back then what I know now, that you don't need veg stock, extra fat, extra salt, or other extraneous stuff in your food to make real food taste good.
For my swap, I nearly tripled the recipe I had originally written down. I made 6 quarts total.  To re-created it to make it work the way I now know it should work is tricky.  I usually just cook out of my head, tossing in things as I see fit.  Recipes lie.  I try not to lie, but...It's hard to write a recipe exactly as it's actually meant to be made.  Don't worry about exact measurements of the vegetables.  A bit more veggies and a bit less liquid, just try to adjust as you go along and reduce the liquid down if things seem too watery.  Be careful with the salt.  The peanut butter, the soy sauce, the hot sauce, probably the tomatoes all have sodium in it.  I'd say you don't need to add in any more.  And the flavors are going to develop along the way - you'll be surprised how much of a kick this soup has, so be careful with the hot sauce - it can bite!

African Peanut Soup Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable, Canola or Olive Oil
  • 1 Large Onion - Small Dice (about 2 Cups)
  • 3 Large Carrots - Small Dice (about 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 3 Celery Stalks - Small Dice (about 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 3-4 Garlic Cloves - minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger - peeled and minced - or finely zested on a micro planer
  • 1 Large Sweet Potato - Peeled and Medium Diced
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoons Dried Marjoram
  • 1/4 Cup Hot Sauce - or more to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce - or more to taste
  • 1 Cup Smooth Natural Peanut Butter
  • 1 - 28 to 32 ounce can Chopped Tomatoes - low or no salt (if using whole tomatoes, chop into small dice)
  • 1/4 Cup Cilantro - minced
  • Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste


  1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions, carrots and celery and sweet the vegetables until they turn translucent and begin to give off their water - about 20 minutes.  As the vegetables sweat, stir them from time to time.  Sweat them until the vegetables turn a light golden brown, all told, this may take up to 25 minutes for the vegetables to slightly caramelize.
  2. Once the vegetables have caramelized, add in the garlic and the ginger and sauté for one minute, then add in the sweet potatoes, bay leaf, marjoram and water.  Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cook the mixture until the sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart - knife tender, but not mushy - cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. When the sweet potatoes are tender, stir in the hot sauce, soy sauce and peanut butter.  Stir until the peanut butter is mixed in through and is not clumping.  Add in the chopped tomatoes and the cilantro.  Bring the mixture back to a boil and then reduce down to a simmer again, stirring continually so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot and burns.  Cook for another 30 minutes so that the flavors can meld together, stirring frequently.
  4. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more pepper, soy sauce, and hot sauce as needed.  As with most soups or stews, this soup will improve with age as it sits over-night.  
  5. Cool in a large, shallow pan before placing the soup into containers.  Refrigerate and eat within three days or freeze and use within one month.  Reheat this soup in a pot on the stove.  If it needs to be thinned, add a bit of water to it.  
  6. Makes about 3 quarts of soup - or 8 generous servings.  This soup is very rich!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tomato Vegetable Soup Many Ways!

It's winter. It's cold, and dreary and we've all just spent a month eating and drinking WAY TOO MUCH.  We need healthy quick meals that are tasty, easy and budget friendly.  The less I need to do, spend, cook, prep the better.  If it's free, it's for me.  But I have to want to eat this too.  If I make too much of anything I never want to eat the left overs.  That's a major problem with soup making, it's hard to just make a small batch.  When I put stuff in the freezer, it's the land where food goes to die in my house.  Clean eating meals have to be meals that I want to eat more than once, preferably more than twice since I'll be making this in a larger batch.  

Someone I know posted a photo of minestrone soup on a Facebook group to which I belong.  All week long I have been craving this kind of soup.  A vegetable rich stock, full of hearty filling vegetables and tomatoes that I can enjoy at home and at work (you know, at my kosher/vegetarian required workplace by day).  I tapped into my brain storage files of soup repertoire from my days at working at Jill's in the Reading Terminal Market.  
Funny how I didn't appreciate the food nearly as much then as I should have but now I turn to it all the time, seeing the sensible recipes and ways to make good food out of almost nothing...except for that one case of having to turn potato skins scraps destined for the trash bin into something edible...but that truly is another recipe story for another day.

We didn't have much in the cupboard, pantry, larder, or vegetable bin and yet somehow, with a few carrots, onions, stalks of celery, peppers, cans of diced tomatoes, Israeli couscous, can of chick peas, frozen peas and corn and a handful of dried seasonings, I turned what might have been destined for the compost bin into a meal that's been feeding my belly and soul over through our first arctic blast.

There isn't anything hard about making this soup.  You don't even need to chop anything very precisely - you can use a food processor and rough chop stuff into small/medium sized pieces.  You can hand chop the vegetables.  You can use one of those chop-o-matics.  But do use mostly fresh vegetables.  Canned tomatoes - fine.  Frozen peas and corn.  Fine. But use fresh carrots, onions, celery and peppers.  The flavors will be better.  And you don't need vegetable, chicken, or beef stock.  As a matter of fact, it'll be better if you don't use a canned/packed stock.  Use water.  Less preservatives and salt.  Control the salt and fat.  Use more dried seasonings.  Develop flavors by slowly sautéing the vegetables and bringing out their natural sugars, slightly caramelizing the trinity of the basic three of the mire poix.  

You can make this soup like a minestrone - made with a small pasta and beans, like chick peas or small white beans.  The pasta can be pastina; Israeli couscous (which is a pearl sized pasta); or ditalini. You can add in some fresh or frozen chopped spinach.  

If you need a punch of flavor towards the end after the soups simmered for a few hours, add in some good balsamic vinegar instead of salt, and if that's not enough, add in a drizzle of a good olive oil.  Serve with some nice toasted crusty bread and a bit of cheese and you have a meal.
Tomato Vegetable Soup - Many Ways!
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Onions - Small/Medium Dice (about 1 Cup)
  • 4 Medium Carrots - Small/Medium Dice (about 1 Cup)
  • 4 Celery Stalks - Small/Medium Dice (about 1/2 Cup)
  • 3 Small/Medium Bell Peppers Red/Green/Yellow - Small/Medium Dice - (about 1 1/2 Cups-2 Cups)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - Minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Italian Seasonings
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Dried Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 14-16 ounce Cans Diced Tomatoes with their juices (no or low sodium, preferably unseasoned)
  • 1 Cup Tomato Puree or Crushed Tomatoes
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 14-16 Ounce Can Chick Peas or Small White Beans - Drained & Rinsed (optional)
  • 1 Cup Cooked Small Pasta or Israeli Couscous (optional)
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar - to taste (optional)

  1. Use a large stock pot - 6 to 8 quarts.  Heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Add in the diced onions, carrots and celery and sweat the vegetables until the onions and celery turn translucent and the carrots start to turn tender, about 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add in the diced peppers and sweat the vegetables another 10 minutes, until all the vegetables begin to caramelize slightly and take on a light golden colour.
  3. Add in the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds before adding in the dried Italian seasonings and dried red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and bloom the dried seasonings flavors.  
  4. Pour in the cans of diced tomatoes with their juices, the tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes), water and beans.  Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer the soup, uncovered, for about 2 hours.
  5. After two hours, taste the soup and season.  Add in the cooked pasta, if using, and the frozen peas and corn. Taste and adjust the seasons, adding in pepper, more dried seasonings if needed and a dash of balsamic vinegar.  Use the salt sparingly.  As the soup cooks and reduces the flavors will intensify.  If the soup is too watery, reduce it down further.  Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.  Makes about 5 quarts of soup.  Keeps for 1 week.  Freeze in small batches for up to 3 months.
  6. The second way to make this soup, is to either make it as a pure vegetable soup, with no beans and or no pasta.  Or to make it with the beans and pasta.  Or with beans or pasta.  Or with beans, pasta and spinach....or kale.  Okay.  I'll stop.  but you get the point.  It can be adapted to suit your tastes and what you have on hand!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mission to give

On the first Sunday of Advent, our church held and Advent Festival and dinner - crafting, dinning and then a Christmas Carol Sing-along featuring hymnal favorites.  It was a very well run event, with crafting stations carefully organized by the church volunteers and staff.  We had face painting; origami crane making, with the goal of making 1,000 cranes to be hung in the church; a scientific snowflake making station using Borax powder, string, Popsicle sticks, cuts and water. Our crystal snowflake is beautiful! Popsicle stick ornament making; linking paper chains together and topping them off with a star.
 My favorite area, crafting and writing cards to shut-ins and home-bound parishioners.  When I sat down to make a card I was over-whelmed with stickers and glitter glue!  I wasn't sure what I wanted to make but I put my inhibitions aside and just started crafting.  Before I knew it, I had a fun card and was ready to work on another.  
The creative process was easier than I realized.  It was the writing something meaningful that got me stuck.  And then I just looked around the room, listening to the sounds and I took it all in and put it into words.  I wrote of the experience of creating, of sharing a communal experience, of making something and giving it to others.  I wrote about the sounds I could here - the laughter and joy.  I wrote about the way the kids were so carefree and how much love and spirit was present in the Fellowship Hall on this day.  I wrote two letters, each describing the day's event in a way as to let the reader feel as though he or she were with us in the moment. 

I cannot think of a better way to share some bit of love than through a personal letter.  While giving money or gifts, things that people truly need at this time of year (food, clothing, shelter) are our HUMAN duties and obligations to each other, it's not just a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other faith-based duty, it's all of our duty to one another.  The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, an organization that I know of, contacted me recently, asking me to help spread the word through social media, about what they do.  As I thought about what I could write, or tweet, or even Instagram, to help direct attention to The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, it dawned on me during the Advent Festival, that what I was doing at church was very similar to the work at the mission.  We were coming together to help bring a bit of happiness to those in need.  Granted, the snowflakes and paper chains are not going to feed, shelter or clothe a person in need at a mission, but the cards will be mailed out and given to people in order that a connection is made, a joy is shared, a person knows that someone is thinking of you.  

Our church family does a lot of work to help those in need.  We support other missions, do house building, send money, clothing, food to organizations.  We have served meals at Broad Street Ministry.  This coming weekend we are doing a meal pack of 10,000 meals in 2 hours, through an organization called, Stop Hunger Now! We are a community of doers and givers.  I'm happy to be a small part of this just as I was pleased to be asked to help spread the word about Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.  

If you can take the time out to not only make a financial contribution to this charity, or a charity of your choice, you can write a card to someone who may come to the mission for a meal. SBRM is accepting holiday cards and is hoping you will write "something from the heart or a meaningful quote".  Cards or letters can be sent to :

Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission
P.O. Box 297
Philadelphia, PA 19105

I think I'll go and make a few more cards now...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Third time is the Charm: Diner en Blanc Philadelphia 2014

Note - 4 months later - this post has been sitting in my draft file for all this time.  I cannot believe my procrastination.  It's really a symptom of my depression and lack of desire to write.  Which is a darn shame, the photos and video are meant to be seen and shared, finally!

I was a table leader for this year's 3rd Annual Diner en Blanc Philadelphia extravaganza, on Thursday evening, August 22, 2014. It was, by far, the best year, best event, best location!  The only down note of the whole affair was that Liz couldn't be with me, as she and Nate went to Colorado for a week's vacation on the same day.

As I was in charge of 50 people, leading them from a meeting location on North Broad Street to some secret location, I was totally into the event from the first moment to the last sweep up of the night.  I treated the entire month of pre-event planning, my small part that is, as all plans for a party that I was hosting. 50 people were going to rely on me to bring them to a swell party, I wasn't going to abandon them once we set up our tables.Before the event, I stayed in close touch with all the guests on my list.  At the event, I had gifts for each guest, bubbles in a silver wand, and candy, along with a tag with the hash tag and my contact information.  Another special thing we planned at the party was to do a birthday sing to one of guests.  It was the 23rd birthday for one guest, and his mom told me in advance.  Since most of my friends at the event are singers, we did an "impromptu" birthday sing - in the best operatic style of Happy Birthday anyone ever heard!  This was an event that no one could ever forget!

The above video illustrates the sheer mayhem, magnitude and well-choreographed work that goes into doing a  party for 3,500 people.  Rules are integral in keeping this event gorgeous and well-run.

My group was seated at the south end of the event, near to Spruce Street, between the Double Tree Hotel and the Wilma Theatre.

One of the most photographed table center pieces of the night - an Eifel Tower with lights and flowers.  It was part of one of my guest's talbescape - it took up so much room they barely had space to eat, but it was worth giving up the space. Pat and her guests were featured prominently in many articles, photographs and the #DEBPHL14 video.

This is one of my favorite photos that I captured on my brief walk down Broad Street once the party began.  Like many of my best photos, it was a lucky accident.  Sometimes I can get that money shot that captures everything about a mood in one fantastic moment.
LeAnne and I got a great tip from Philly Chit Chat blogger and photographer, Hugh Dillion - he told us to pose with our chins down.  Here we are, with our best foot forward and no double chins!
Capturing selfies - LeAnne and my friend, Maren (aka Super Maren) were in the process of taking a selfie photo - so naturally, I had to document the moment.
My friends, Dave and Suzannah - I think we were all tipsy by night's end.  Dave is being rather cheeky here, licking some whipped cream off his wife's cheek. 
All packed up and ready to roll back to our car.  Whew! It was a spectacular night that far surpassed all of my expectations.