Cooking

Dark Days Challenge Week 7 & Loose Ends

Every 6 months or so my company sets an entirely new schedule for clients, one from January to June, one for the summer vacation season and one from September to year-end.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the schedule resets. On the up-side it helps work feel less stagnant and gives me a chance to plan a bit around the seasons.  It’s a total bummer though that each time we get a new schedule, I have what I describe as fish-out-of-water-insomnia.

Each time my schedule gets stuffed in the blender, pulsed a few times and spit back out, for the first month or so I have a really hard time sleeping restfully through the night.  I’ll wake up at 2:30 in the morning in a panic because I can’t remember if I’m supposed to be at Appointment A or B in the morning.  I have to get up, check my planner to see what the day looks like, visualize exactly how my day will look step-by-step including what I’ll need for each appointment, what needs to be accomplished and how long I have to finish everything, etc. If there’s a glitch in my plan, I have to figure out a new solution before I can go back to bed. It’s like I’m flopped on shore and can’t breathe until I find the perfect way back to the pool. When I do finally get back to bed, sleeping is a toss-up.  Sometimes I can fall asleep right away, sometimes it’s a few hours of staring at the ceiling, sometimes the alarm rings in an hour and it’s just easier to be awake.

Whether it’s by acclimation or pure exhaustion, my fish-out-of-water-insomnia typically ends a month into my new work schedule.  So bear with me friends. It may be a few weeks of “what the @*#$ is she talking about?” Even my best laid blogging plans get lobbed aside when I’m over-tired. Today I wanted to post a new Dark Days Challenge meal and tie up a few loose ends from earlier posts. We’re 7 weeks into the Dark Days Challenge and there are things that got away from me that I really want to share. Just like my brain on 4 hours of sleep, here’s my mis-matched hodgepodge for today:

A Special Congratulations
I wanted to wish a special congratulations to fellow Minnesota food blogger Liz at Carpe Season. She and her husband Eric are expecting their first child in 2012; her blog post and announcement on New Year’s Day had me laughing and choking up all at the same time. Then she follows up yesterday with a post on making the perfect loaf of whole wheat bread. A gal who can make bread and babies is about as awesome as it gets. Let’s just say she has a not-so-secret admirer here at Minnesota Locavore.

A Second Special Congratulations
I also must wish Maria Werner Slavik a special congratulations. She was the winner of the “Best of 2011” Giveaway on Facebook. Maria blogs about her Minnesota garden and good food at Sweet Domesticity. She was selected at random from the Facebook votes and will be shortly mailed a copy of the St. Paul Farmers’ Market cookbook and a surprise Minnesota-made treat! Thanks to all who voted!

The final result of the “Reader’s Choice” poll was the Rhubarb Ketchup recipe posted in May. The kitchen partner and I incidentally just opened our last jar this week. It was way better than we anticipated and we’ll be looking for the first rhubarb this spring to make more!

Some Housekeeping 
I had a few questions about what the kitchen partner and I were up to during our vacation last week. We literally ripped apart our upstairs; repainted the bathroom and added new fixtures, re-arranged the office and hung some new decorations. Put together the Black Pearl Lego set and played with our new Breville Juicer What we didn’t do was: take down the Christmas tree, laundry, dishes, or the vacuuming. The perfect vacation if you ask me.

The Dark Days Challenge
Right now we are in Week 7 of the Dark Days Challenge.This week I chose a recipe that is as simple as it gets. Cream of Carrot Soup with only 5 ingredients and finished in under 30 minutes. Perfect for fish-out-of-water insomnia season. It’s warm and get this…full of rich, creamy dairy products again. The carrots are the last of our cold-storage ones from the St. Paul Farmers’ market and the half-and-half was from Valley View Farms in Hastings, MN. The original recipe called for heavy cream, but in attempt to regain my pre-holiday figure I showed some restraint. Next week I can’t promise anything.

Cream of Carrot Soup

Ingredients

4 C. chicken stock (homemade)
4 C. carrots, chopped into large chunks
1 C. half-and-half
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
Parmesan cheese for topping

Instructions
1. Place chicken stock and carrots in a large stock pot over medium-low heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender (about 15 minutes).
2. Remove from heat and using a stick blender or food processor, blend soup until carrots form a thick purée.
3. Return to heat, stirring in half-and-half and maple syrup. Re-heat until warmed. Top with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

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