Soup du Jour: Chard

iStockphoto/Suzannah Skelton

iStockphoto/Suzannah Skelton

My experience with chard began in 1998, when our family joined a community supported agriculture pod in our neighborhood. Yes, that’s right. A pod. We were pod people, although not body snatchers.

To say that our neighborhood was inhabited by organic militants would not be misrepresenting history. You may feel that it’s harsh of me to call my neighbors organic militants. But have you ever had anyone stand in your very own kitchen in your very own house and criticize you in front of children for serving said children Kool Aid containing Red Dye #5? I’m still smarting. So forgive my snarkiness, but really….

Back to chard. One week I picked up our box of organic produce from our podmaster’s house and saw that instead of the lettuce I ordered, a bunch of Swiss chard had been delivered. I am not a greens person like my grandparents who grew their own kale and drowned it in vinegar. But over the years I have grown fond of raw spinach and am absolutely in love with Utica greens as prepared by the wondrous North Syracuse restaurant Nesticos.

Seeing as how I couldn’t return the unwanted chard and had no idea what to do with it, and because I hate to waste food (child of people who lived through The Great Depression), I went online in search of chard recipes.  This was back when Yahoo was Altavista and our computer had dial up, so it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I found a lovely recipe for chard soup which I think is quite tasty.

Chard is a mellow green, not like its bitter cousins arugula and mustard greens, that easily melds with other flavors like onion and garlic. It comes in different varieties, Swiss and rainbow to name just two. And as a bonus, this soup recipe includes sound effects. You begin the process by heating mustard seeds in olive oil and as they warm up, they pop around the bottom of the pot like Mexican jumping beans only much smaller. So here is my chard soup recipe, ripped from the phone lines of slow internet connections.

Chard Soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 medium potatoes, sliced (you can leave the skin on if you like)
  • 1 bunch chard, shredded and stems removed
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • salt & pepper
  • optional: sour cream or yogurt, chives

Heat oil and mustard seed until seeds begin to pop. Sauté garlic and onion in oil until softened. Add celery, potatoes and chard. Add stock, boil and cook uncovered until potatoes are very tender, about 25 or 30 minutes. Mash potatoes in the pot until coarsely broken up. Add vinegar and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes to concentrate flavors. Salt and pepper to taste. You may serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt topped with a sprinkle of chives.

By the way, chard is a “super food,” as they’re called. You can count all the vitamins here.

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The Cheese Stands Alone

For most of my life, I have assumed the line “The cheese stands alone” from the childhood circle song “The Farmer in the Dell” had to do with the type of cheese we were singing about. I have always taken for granted that the cheese in question must have been stinky, like limburger, and therefore had to stay outside the circle.

limburger cheeseIn case you’re wondering which other cheeses of the world are odiferous, here is a list of the Top Ten stinkiest cheeses, according to one travel blog.

One might also wonder whether chucking the cheese out of the handheld circle is some ancient German form of bullying by exclusion. If so, we need to stop that right now and say something nice to the poor child who has become the cheese, like, “Aw, we didn’t mean it, come on back into the circle, you crazy cheese.”

If you Google “the cheese stands alone meaning,” you will find all sorts of theories posited on sketchy wiki sites. One interpretation has the cheese representing the means of production which surely smells like Marxian economics. Another explains that “the cheese” is slang for “anything good, first-rate in quality, genuine, pleasant or advantageous.”

My favorite pop culture reference to this phrase comes from character Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory”:  “Because I am without friends. Like the proverbial cheese, I stand alone. Even while seated.”Sheldon Cooper

I’m reading a wonderful book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, and her words are inspiring and teaching me as I write my first book. Her take on the cheese is the following: “The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell” standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes.” So being the cheese, I’ve decided, is about observing the world around me from outside the circle (a phrase I much prefer to the well-worn cliche “outside the box”).

I hope my blog posts here will include pithy observations and some cheesy recipes as well.