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Friendsgiving

I’m about to leave my thirties behind and a friend (who is only halfway through) recently asked me what I thought of the decade. I liked the last ten years of my life a lot. It was full of milestones: I fell in love and got married, bought an apartment, started a blog (!!!), and became an uncle. It was full of so many good things, and certainly beat my twenties by a mile. But after some reflection, I told her that the only thing I didn’t love was that the thirties felt like a tough decade for friendships. Many people (myself included, at times) turn away from friends and toward partners, or babies, or their career. Of course there are exceptions and friendships that remained constant. But there is a tendency to become more isolated. The intensity of friendships that I had in my twenties was, for the most part, waning. The spontaneous fun of hangouts, stopping by unexpectedly, watching TV together for hours, or sitting in bars was replaced with dinner in three weeks. It has all become decidedly scheduled.

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I recently watched the first season of Doll & Em on HBO. It is a show about a friendship. You don’t realize how rare and radical that is until you see it in front of you. There are a bunch of shows that claim to be about friendship (most notably, Friends), but mostly they’re about dating or New York or whatever. Doll & Em is about the beautiful (and sometimes difficult) complexities and value of friendships, and in particular about adult friendships (not a euphemism). I’ve loved both Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer for years, and so it was especially satisfying to see them tackle this subject together. The two are real-life friends, and they shine in the series. I laughed, I cried (I actually cried a surprising amount—fair warning) and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is a beautiful argument for the importance of working hard to maintain our relationships with friends.

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One of my goals in my last year of my thirties was to see as many of my friends as possible—a gift to myself. We’re spread out all over the world now, so I don’t get to see everyone nearly as often as I like. But this year, I managed to actually spend time with most of them. It felt  good, and it is the thing I am most thankful for this year.

I fear we don’t value friends as much as we should in our culture. They take a backseat to a lot of other things. But I wouldn’t be anything without the friends in my life. So, during this week of giving thanks, I’m feeling particularly grateful for my friends. If anything, this year (and even Doll & Em) reminded me that friendships are resilient and will bend and shift to accommodate our changing lives. But also, this year reminded me that it is important to make friends a priority and spend time nurturing these relationships, even when we have a million other things competing for our time and attention.

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You are undoubtedly busy with turkey and cranberry sauce and pie, at least those of you in the States. But since the internet is now comprised of mostly recipes for those things, I wanted to talk about soup.

Making stock is probably the kitchen task that I feel most overwhelmed and annoyed by. It requires a kind of effort I can rarely muster for something that is usually just a component of something else. But I really like soup, and I really dislike packaged stock, so I am trying to talk myself out of my aversion. I decided to start with vegetable stock, the least creepy of all stocks.

I’ve become a big fan of this recipe [1] from Kenji over at Serious Eats. It is really quite delicious and feels worth the effort, which admittedly is small. You don’t need to follow it exactly, though I think the kombu and mushrooms are important. It is now my go-to stock recipe. As for what to do with the stock you make, how about some toasted quinoa soup?

The recipe comes from The Chef Next Door by Amanda Freitag, which a friend sent me a few weeks ago. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who Freitag was—I don’t live in New York and I don’t watch food television. But her book has made me fall in love with her a little. Cookbooks by professional chefs are often the worst for home cooks, but Freitag seems to remember what it is like to be in a home kitchen. The recipes all are manageable, but interesting and make you want to get into the kitchen.

I’ve become a fan of this vegetable soup with toasted quinoa. It’s the simplest of things, but lovely in its way. It is obviously adaptable to whatever you have on hand, but really nice as written. It is an antidote to holiday meals and celebration cocktails.

Maybe make a bowl and share it with a friend?

A couple of notes: The small amounts of vegetables called for in the recipe could be easily obtained at a local grocery-store salad bar. My Whole Foods has all of these ingredients available on their bar and it will save you having to figure out what to do with the other half of each vegetable. You could certainly use chicken stock in place of the vegetable, but it seems unnecessary for a chicken to die for this. Serve it with some crusty bread and extra olive oil. It makes about 4 servings.

Toasted Quinoa Soup (adapted slightly from The Chef Next Door [2] by Amanda Freitag)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spread the quinoa in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast it in the oven until it changes color from beige to dark brown, about 30 minutes. Use a spatula to stir it every 10 minutes so that it toasts evenly. Set the quinoa aside.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, bell pepper, and a generous pinch of salt and cook over low heat for , stirring frequently, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the red pepper flakes, rosemary, and cumin and cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the potato, toasted quinoa, and vegetable stock and stir.

Bring the soup to a boil, then turn down the heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked. Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes more.

Taste the soup and adjust seasoning as needed.