The Best Month of the Year + RECIPE: Ham & White Bean Harvest Soup

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I got my Thanksgiving Bon Appetit in the mail on Monday. Do you know what this means? It means it’s November. Already! Also known as every food lover’s favorite month. Also known as the month where we kick-off the holiday season. (Nope, I’m not ashamed of humming Christmas carols. Ever. Not even during the first week of November). The turkey glistening on the cover got me all kinds of excited for family and football and mid-afternoon naps and ignoring Black Friday (go REI!). I just love the energy of the cool, crisp November air and the winding down of the farming season. It’s real good.

November also happens to be great for one more reason: it’s my birthday month!! This may or may not be the most important of these November facts for you to hold on to. Birthdays matter a whole heck of a lot to me. As is demonstrated herehere and here. And that is only the birthday fun that I’ve shown you. And never my own birthday fun. Just imagine how wild it will get!

I’m not really all that freaked out about getting another year older. Life certainly seems to be improving with age. More confidence, more wisdom, more patience (who ever thought that would happen?!) but still the same ridiculous amount of hopefulness, enthusiasm and energy for all aspects of life. Plus a little more money in the bank to put into all my crazy schemes. Having an adult job that helps fund my crazy schemes is definitely a part of adult life I enjoy. It’s really not half bad this getting older thing. It mostly feels really good.

Except for how fast life seems to be moving. That I do not like. A week ago my carrot pointed out that he’d be 50 years old 20 years from now and I almost had a heart attack. We’ve spent the last six years loving each other and it caused life to move rapidly. I’m talking blink-of-an-eye speed. If loving one Rudersdorf went that quickly, how fast will loving a whole family of Rudersdorfs go?! (Oh yeah, by the way, my married name is Rudersdorf. Ridic. I know).

But for now, I’m not going to think about 20 years in the future. Or our future adorable babies. Or even the next week. I’m going to bask in the little bit of this beautiful and successful 2015 farming season that remains instead.

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We just finished up our work in the fields on Wednesday. There is not one thing left to till, seed or harvest out there. Even the mulching of our garlic beds is finished! Luckily, our pantry is chock full of potatoes, onions and squash. Our fridge is heaping with leeks, carrots, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. The season may be over but the goodness certainly remains.

My general strategy towards food lately has been pretty pragmatic and completely unromantic. Pull a hunk of meat out of the freezer to defrost during the work day. Get home from work and throw as much produce and meat into a stock pot as I can reasonably fit. Add spices and dairy to round out the flavors. Repeat. Sometimes substitute beans or chickpeas for the meat. Sometimes use both.

I’ve got a lot of veggies to get through and this is no time for frills and fancy stuff. I refuse to let even one item turn brown and squishy in the fridge. We won’t have fresh produce again until April or May! Best believe I’m not going to let one morsel of this bounty go to waste.

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This soup celebrates every part of the end of our season. It’s bright and earthy (thanks to Greek yogurt,  coriander and paprika). It’s salty and sweet (thanks to the cured ham steak). It’s creamy (but not too creamy) and reasonably healthy. Overall it’s so much more than your average ham & bean soup and I really think you should give it a whirl because November is also known as the gateway month to a whole season of yummy, hearty soups.

Happy it’s-almost-the-weekend to you!

-Leek

HAM & WHITE BEAN HARVEST SOUP
This is what a ham steak should look like at the meat market or butcher shop. You can also pick them up at the grocery store, but they will likely be wrapped in plastic and super processed. We love Hoesley’s in New Glarus for all our pork and beef needs!

Takes about 1 hour
Makes 8 hefty servings

4 tablespoons butter
1 leek, white and light green parts only, diced (a yellow onion will do fine if you are all out of leeks)
2 carrots, diced (you can peel them to if you feel extra ambitious)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8-10 cups water
3 cups diced ham, preferably from a yummy cured ham steak and in ideal world, from your parents’ happy, healthy pigs
15.5-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well
2 cups Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled and diced
1/2 cup barley
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (or any plain yogurt you have on hand)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-low heat.  Add leeks, carrots, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Saute for 10 minutes until veggies are soft and your kitchen smells real good.
Add 8 cups of water, ham, beans, potatoes and barley. Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes uncovered.
Remove from heat. Whisk together the cream, yogurt and seasonings in a small bowl until smooth. Add to soup and stir until well mixed. (If you dump the cream, yogurt and seasonings into the soup without mixing first, it will take a little work to get all the yogurt lumps incorporated well. It is not impossible. It’s what I did the first time. It just takes more work than washing the bowl will take.)
Add soup back to heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes, adding more water 1/2 cup at a time until you reach your desired soup consistency. Adjust seasonings accordingly. You might need a little more salt if the ham you used isn’t super salty.
Enjoy warm with

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