Cooking Out of Chaos!

The great Celia Cruz
First snow on the mountain.  Outside an inch of icy crust covers the ground while inside a dozen pots full of still-blooming African daisy and sunflower crowd the entryway to the cabin.  Bruised and bandied by the epic cluster-fuck that is the Boulder county rental market, Greg and I still don’t know where we’re going to live; yet the packing continues.  After lighting the first fire of the season, I put on some Celia Cruz–-loud–and open the armoire in my living room.  Out comes every single linen I own:  duvets, blankets and sheets; towels, table cloths, place mats, and aprons.  I jigsaw pieces of my life into boxes, one fragment at a time by asking:  “What can I live without for 2 or 3 weeks?  What can’t I live without for more than a day or two?”

Colorado September: Sunflower with fire in the wood stove

In no time my tiny cabin is a mine field of boxes and assorted piles.  Every counter, and much of the floor space, is filled. 
In the kitchen, I take a whack at the bakeware and all that lidless plastic, tossing out bowls without tops and visa versa before diving into the utensil drawer.  Where did all this junk come from?

Before long, I am throwing out food stuff which includes, I blush to admit, more than one container of freezer-burnt god-knows-what,  and a few mouse-nibbled packages of flour, pasta, and rice.  An apple juice jar filled with sunflower seeds?  Someone is getting ready for winter.
In the midst of the mess, I think about dinner.  What could I possibly make in such a cluttered space?  Soup, of course!  All I need is pot and a cutting board.  Taking inspiration from a few ancho chiles I’ll either use or toss, and flush with a recent recipe I spied online at Saveur, I land on Sopa de Chile Ancho, a spicy concoction with very few ingredients.  The smoky scent of toasting chilies fills the kitchen as I keep packing.  I like to think my soup will end up popping the upper end of the Scoville scale, but my aspiration is laughable.  My chilies are so pedestrian they’re barely pink on the fiery scale, and turns out, I have the palate of a six-year old when it comes to most things hot–or at least that’s how I feel when I eat with Greg, who never, ever breaks a sweat. 
Still, my intention is to make the soup as blistering as I can stand as part of the finger I’m sending to the universe for the odd weather and crappy home-hunting, not to mention the anniversary of the 100-year flood in Jamestown which has people in these parts pretty sad. Nothing like spice, I say, to put a spur in your butt.   

Soup base
Into a pot of hot water go the toasted chiles while into the toasting pan go tomatoes, garlic, and onion until charred.  I deglaze with chicken stock, then the mixture is pureed with the seeded chilies and a bit of the chile broth until silky smooth.   I put the soup back on the stove and correct the seasoning with a little pepper, toasted cumin, and lime, and then let it reduce and concentrate.   Meanwhile, I’m cleaning out the Modelos in the fridge , along with the half dozen lime quarters residing there.  Perfect.  To complete my dinner, I make creamy avocado quesadillas made with corn tortillas fried crisp and filled with red onion, cilantro, tomato, and more lime topped with cheddar. 
Sopa de Ancho Chile w/Avo Quesos
There’s no sour cream in the house, but turns out crème fraiche works great.  The soup tastes like smoke and spice; it’s rich and deep and satisfying without being heavy.  

And dipping the quesadillas is pure luxury.  The flavors are so surprising and satisfying and earthy—and the food in my mouth gives so much pleasure,  I have the surest feeling that all the niggling details of errant weather and now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t rentals, not to mention moving for the first time in ten years, will work out just fine.

Oh, and oh yeah, tomorrow night I’m having my neighbors for dinner…

“So long as you have food in your mouth you have solved all problems for the time being.”
                                                                —Franz Kafka
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