Visiting Jason’s folks always makes me nostalgic about country living. Even though their town is not quite rural, still they wake up to a view of rolling hills and a medley of trees centuries old.

I got really excited about all the walks we could take while here, in Texas. Yesterday, after all the Christmas commotion settled like dust on the electric snowman, we finally wrapped ourselves up in layers of T-shirts and flip-flops we brought from California, and entered THE COLD. I know what you’re thinking. “You’re from Poland! You should be used to winter chill.” Oh, bullocks! Living in SoCal for more than one winter erases any memory of cold, hence your endurance to temperatures below 50° is no longer and your inner WIMP is revealed.

With trembling hands and clicking teeth, while freezing winds shook up my insides, I pulled out a camera and bravely marched ahead. Here’s what we came across on our walk in the neighborhood.

Buffalo.

Cosmo discovered he really is a Sheppard and not a Shih-tzu dog.

Dead Santa. Drunk maybe?

After such a REFRESHING walk, nothing is more comforting than a hot shower, a fuzzy blanket over my body, Jason right beside me, and a book in hand. I started reading the one I gave Jason for Christmas, “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo”. After a few pages I paused perplexed and looked at the name of the author:

“Stieg Larsson is a guy’s name. Hm. The book reads as if it was a woman writing as a male character. Strange.”

Jason put down his read, looked at me, and said:

“Hm. He’s dead, the author.”

“He was still a man before he died, right?”

“Probably. (pause) I never saw his penis or anything.”

“Have you seen his face??”

“Nope.”

“His rear end?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“So you wouldn’t recognize it anyways, even if you saw it now, walking down the street for example.”

“Probably not.”

“And now, that the guy’s dead, chances are rather slim you would ever come across his ass anyways.”

“Yeah, it’s highly unlikely me thinks.”

“But you never know.”

“True, you don’t.”

And we both got back to reading.

I owe you a recipe for the MUSHROOM SOUP WITH BARLEY I made for our Christmas dinner. As far as appliances go, all you need is a big pot, a food processor, a sharp knife to chop your veggies, and a cutting board (for obvious reasons).

The soup INGREDIENTS are as follows:

-       1 celery root (or 4 celery stalks)

-       4 carrots

-       2 parsnips

-       1 med leek

-       1 onion

-       3-4 dry bay leaves

-       7-10 whole peppercorns

-       1-1.5 cup of dry wild mushrooms (medley)

-       4 cups low sodium chicken stock

-       2 cups water

-       3/4 to 1 cup barley

-       1 tbsp of dry marjoram

-       1-2 tsp nutmeg

-       1-2 tsp cumin

-       2-3 tbsp heavy cream

-       handful of fresh parsley or dill, chopped

-       1-2 tbsp of olive oil

-       kosher salt + ground black OR white pepper to taste (about 2 tbsp each total)

Start with soaking the mushrooms in lukewarm water for at least 45 minutes before you even begin prepping your meal. Wash and peel all the vegetables, with a special emphasis on cleaning the leek. Roughly chop all the carrots, parsnips, celery, leek and onion.

Drizzle olive oil in the pot and heat it up. Toss the onions and leeks inside the pot, sprinkle with crushed marjoram, season with salt and pepper, and mix everything well. Sautè the veggies until they get translucent over low heat (5-10 minutes). Add the rest of the vegetables, and season with more salt and pepper. Let them get comfy for another 10 minutes. Now, pour the mushrooms into the pot along with the water they were soaking in. Stir and increase the flame to medium. Cover with a lid and let everything cook for about 10-15 minutes. Turn the heat off and scoop the content of the pot into the food processor. Blend the veggies into a coherent mass and bring back to the pot. Add the chicken stock and water and turn the heat on medium-high. Throw in the bay leaves and peppercorns, season with nutmeg, cumin, more salt and pepper and stir. Add barley, stir again, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with the lid, and let the soup become a soup for about an hour. Check on the dish every so often and stir again.

The soup is ready pretty much when the barley is fully cooked. It will soak up a lot of water, thus making the dish deliciously hearty and thick. It’s up to you if you want to add more water, or leave it as is. Just make sure to taste the soup before feeding your peeps and add more salt/pepper if needed.

Right before serving, pour a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream into the pot and toss a bunch of chopped fresh parsley or dill. Stir and serve. Y.U.M.

The soup is very low on fat, and yet highly nutritious and comforting. Jason likes to soak some bread in his bowl, while for me the soup itself is plenty of food at one sitting.

Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves and peppercorns before serving the dish!