It’s New Year, new foods and new adventures

The first week of 2023 has raced past … as usual I have to consult my agenda to see what I did and who I did it with, besides Constant Companion, that is.

Many traditions abound surrounding the start of a New Year, whether the recent secular passing, or religious transitions. Often this involves some sort of round food, signifying no beginning, no end. Here, Cuban-Americans bid farewell with twelve grapes (uvas). My tradition is the round challah. Others each beans of all sorts.

I remembered this last one and searched for a recipe to use the handy bag of collard greens in the fridge and found this recipe for Collard Greens Soup, a vegetarian version since I don’t eat pork .Collards, as the recipe notes inform, are a member of the cabbage family frequently used in so-called Southern cooking.  Many people who did not grow up with them find their slightly bitter flavor off-putting. Soup with collards usually consists of three components: a hearty broth, beans, and ham (not in the version I chose) (

Collard Greens Soup.  First, warm two tbsp. of oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Add one large diced onion, 2 diced carrots, 2 diced celery stalks. Cook til soft, 5-10 minutes, Add 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves for only about 1 minute, season with salt and pepper. Then add a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes with juices*, 2 15 oz cans of white beans with juices (I used cannellini beans), 5 cups of vegetable broth, and 1 large bunch of coarsely chopped collard greens (I had a large bag and used them all – remember greens of all sorts cook down). If you’d like, add some red pepper flakes to taste. Bring the soup to a boil, the summer for 20-30 minutes.

*When I have slightly bruised, or tired as I prefer to say, cherry or grape tomatoes, I halve them, toss with olive oil, thyme, and salt and roast in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes. I used these instead of canned tomatoes.

We ended the week with another new green-rich dish; this time Smoky Lentil Stew. Heat some oil in the same Dutch oven, add 1 cup chopped onion and 1 cup chopped carrots (I guess you could add the celery, too, if desired), cook about 5 minutes.

Add 4 chopped cloves of garlic, 3 tbsp tomato paste, 1 ½ tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp cumin (because of Daughter’s* sensitive taste buds I used regular paprika and omitted cumin; I also omitted the ¼ tsp crushed red pepper), salt and black pepper; cook 1 minute. Add 5 cups of chopped kale and 1 ½ cups of brown lentils; cook, stirring often, until kale begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add 4 cups of stock and 2 1/2 cups water (oops, I only added the water). Bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

*Daughter really enjoyed this stew and asked for the recipe.

If you’d like to add protein, one at a time crack an egg and gentle slip it into the stew to poach (about 6-8 minutes). I’ve done this with other kale stews and it’s delicious.

In the spirit of the New Year; I took advantage of a tour offered by the local Tropical Audubon Society. Their offices are in the former home of a local pioneer and businessman, “Doc” Thomas. Constant Companion was feeling under the weather, so I ventured out on my own for a lovely afternoon.

Thomas, a pharmacist and land-owner, had been a long-time Audubon member and conservationist. He gifted the house he shared with his mother and much of the land around it in a now very suburban, developed area to the Audubon Society. The house, designed in 1931 by Robert Fitch Smith, the first graduate of the University of Miami’s School of Architecture. It is a wood structure with limestone features. Out came my folklore antennae and latent interest in vernacular architecture.

The limestone and coral rock fireplace is a focal point of the house’s main room. South Florida rests on a bedrock of limestone, in particular oolitic limestone. It is often mistakenly called coral rock, but … it’s not!

note the Audubon print and the regulator clock

Key stone, coral rock full of the remains of brain and fan coral, was used extensively as facing stone (the actual fireplace is brick) in homes as well as on the ubiquitous Art Deco and Mediterranean Revival structures our area is known for.

brain coral in the key stone
exterior of the fireplace

The wood used in this house includes red cypress, slash pine, mahogany, and oak. The floor in the living area is oak planks with mohagany pegs.

floor detail

The architect was known for his detail to wood working with is seen through the house and on the shutters.

I found some interesting hidden treasures on the grounds like these two bird baths decorated with swans and bleeding hearts. Their history is unknown.

And then there’s the grounds. An interesting plant that people often overlook is the epiphyte, resurrection fern. In the dry season, it appears as a dried up, lacey, brown fuzz hugging the sweeping branches of live oaks and other trees. Imagine the summer rainy season when it’s awakened and turns rich green.

resurrection fern

Also on the property was this imposing kapok tree. Again, history unknown

Upon leaving this delightful immersion into community history, I was struck by the proximity of the contrasting and imposing 21st century architecture. I’ve come to call these structures that are invading our landscape Tropical Bauhaus known for abstract, angular, and geometric features, with little ornamentation.

Tropical Bauhaus at it’s best!

Overall, a good start to the New Year.

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