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Filled with possibility

In the woods I can see from my window, the ground looks patchwork brown and white; an Appaloosa's coat imposed onto the landscape. Much of the snow remains, but in those places where it has gone, it's revealed the rock and earth beneath.

I am enough of a realist to accept that this most likely won't be the last of the snow, that the earth might soon again be covered, and that spring is still a ways away for us. For today, that glimpse is enough.

Right now I'm content to think of sweaters and wool blankets. But soon, quite soon I think, I'll be longing for the day the snow melts for good. Anxious and fidgety for a trod through that wood in the time of almost spring. Before the shoots begin, when all is brown and filled with possibility.

A walk where each step of rubber-clad foot is followed by the echoed squelch of the mud beneath.

In my mind's eye I see broad-checked flannel and tins of pretty cookies for later. But first, a thermos full of soup to bring warmth to the enjoyable dampness that surrounds. And as of this moment, if I had to decide, it would be mushroom soup that we'd sip and spoon.

I made some yesterday, so even though that picnic upon the forest floor is weeks away, you can still get the general idea of the way I'm thinking.

It has an aroma dense with notes of growth and loam. (Loam is such a good word, stretched out and rounded like a yawn.) Both fresh and dried mushrooms are cooked in a pan with olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. After 20 minutes of cooking, the mushrooms have gone through stages of transformation; first pale and spongy, then wet and a soggy, then as that moisture evaporates the mushrooms turn deeply golden and their texture goes satisfyingly chewy.

A pour of Sherry to deglaze, it sputters and bubbles into a winey syrup that coats the vegetables in gloss. In goes the stock, and all's left to simmer for 20 minutes more. Whirred to a foaming, ethereal purée, the soup is done save for the indulgent dollop of mascarpone right at the end.

And with that, into the woods we go.

One last thing, I'd like to thank Stephanie Levy for asking me to be a part of her Artists Who Blog series. If you'd like to take a look at what we talked about, she's posted my interview on her site.

The Real Mushroom Soup
From Jamie Oliver, the title's his, too.

Now mushroom soup depends greatly on the mushrooms itself; not only for flavour of course, but also for colour.

The bulk of the fresh mushrooms I used were the bark and black beauties, crimini and shiitakes, with only a handful each of ochre chanterelles and ivory oysters to counter that darkness. A mix favouring the paler varieties would result in a soup with looks more fawn than mouse.

That business on top there, there is purpose to that prettiness. A bit of herbs, croutons torn into buttery crumble, some sautéed mushrooms, together create the ideal counterpoint to the mellow earthiness of the soup; a freshness to the musky depth of its flavour and essential weight against the lightness of the emulsion. Mr. Oliver suggests a tranche of grilled bread instead of croutons, use whichever you like.

The only change I made to the recipe was the addition of Sherry when cooking the mushrooms, leaving out the lemon juice to finish.


Reader Comments (46)

I actually made this soup last winter and I didn't enjoy the dense loam. But I am however enjoying your post regardless.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkickpleat

beautiful post tara! spring is slowly creeping it's way here in seattle but it is still chilly so this soup seems perfect!

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCoco

i think this looks wonderful and a fine thing to see us through til spring. here in dc it was quite warm (for feb) yesterday...took my dog out for an hour and between the smells and the birds and the not bitter breeze, it really started to seem like spring might not be too far off!

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbraiseandbutter

I totally agree on both counts - loam is a great word and false spring is lovely but hasn't quite managed to lull me into a false sense of security yet either.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSasa

Oh yeah! Mushroom soup and sherry!
My favorite. I've never made Jamie's recipe but I've copied and saved it.
I thought spring was here as well, but there is more cold weather coming the end of the week.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

looks great, and a great portrayal of how many of us feel right now! it just snowed again in chicago today so it's definitely icky here :(

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterheather @ chiknpastry

I love a good mushroom soup. This looks like a winner.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

i have heard such great things about jaime's recipes, but have yet to try them. your soup looks perfect.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

i am not sure about the soup...i would give it a try because of the images...stunning!

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterred or gray art

So lovely! I would like to crawl into your world, words always so soothing. Better than soup, even (and as a soup lover, I do not say that lightly:-)

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTea

Oh the soup looks beautiful!

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSook

i absolutely love the way you write about food.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSTACEY MCCOOL

Mmmmm... mushroom soup is one of my favorites.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I tried making a similar soup a couple of weeks ago, and frankly found it too loamy--but I was also using chestnut puree, which is probably what put the earthiness over the top.

I was working on replicating a soup I had in a restaurant, and I did finally succeed. The recipe is here:

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Rowdy Chowgirl

kickpleat, so sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it!

Coco, thanks so much. In a fit of irony, Mother Nature thought it funny to bury us in some fresh snow about an hour after I posted this. Soup definitely called for.

braiseandbutter, yes yesterday was lovely here too. Mild, considering, and the sun was bright and golden. A great day to be outside.

Sasa, the peek at spring was nice, but not giving up my duvet yet.

Barbara, so happy to have the company of another mushroom and Sherry fan.

heather, I hope you thaw out soon!

Maria, we liked it quite a lot. I hope you do too.

Sara, though not a vegetarian cookbook, Jamie at Home has some wonderful vegetable recipes. I could see you liking them.

red or gray art, thank you for that.

Tea, I'd love to have your company. Anytime.

Sook and STACEY MCCOOL, thank you both.

Rachel, my husband's too! He was really happy with this.

The Rowdy Chowgirl, glad you found a recipe that worked well for you!

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertara

Tara you write so beautifully. I see everything you write and believe me that's a great compliment. Just read your interview. Loved it.

Loam and gloaming, mellifluous and mushroom, so many lovely words and flavors all in one go. So happy for this soup and outlook, both. Merci.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermolly

Stretched out and rounded like a yawn, I love that bit. And the soup, perfection.

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternikole

This is yummy!

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMy delicious blog

what a lovely dish!

February 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I have never made a bad Jamie Oliver recipe, and this one looks especially delicious.

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterarugulove

I love the way you write. Because of that I am trying to make myself more aware of the world around me.

It's 7:30am in my part of the world now and I want soup! For breakfast!

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnnika

Lovely post!!! I always enjoy your writing! This sounds sounds fantastic to me- earthy and robust!

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

i like the addition of the chanterelles and ivory oysters. mushroom soup is one of those dishes which tastes gorgeous, but doesnt look as gorgeous- you have achieved both! best wishes, shayma

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershayma

Beautiful post! Makes me yearn for seasons I do not have...

This mushroom soup sounds delicious...I'll have it no matter what the weather :)

February 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChichaJo

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