Growing up in Central Oregon, my family always went out into the woods in early December to cut our Christmas tree. (And yes, I know it's summer outside right now, but bear with me…) We usually went with a passel of other families, kids spilling out of cars to tromp through what at the time seemed like very deep snow to find the perfect tree. Or at least one that would pass for perfect once we got it home and my dad drilled holes in trunk, sticking in a few branches to fill out the bare spots. When the tree had been shoved into the back of the station wagon, the kids would collapse, exhausted, to consume gallons of hot chocolate, soup and sandwiches.
Another tradition was the annual spring picnic, "spring" being defined as that time when the snow started melting from the Cascades. We'd all dress in our winter coats and boots, pile into the station wagon, drive out to the country, open the tailgate and eat hungrily from the basket of sandwiches and thermoses of soup that our mother had made that morning.
These heartwarming memories are all to cheer you up for the coming days of rain, when our planned weekend picnics are going to move indoors and the barbecues are going to go back under their rain covers until the sun graces us with its presence again.
But hey, make lemonade, right?
Or, in this case, a pot of soup. Because, at least in my book, the best antidote to cool, rainy days is something that'll fill the house with good smells and warm up our bellies. Put it in a thermos, pile into the car and take a drive. Stop someplace, let the kids out and have a picnic. Or just invite a passel of friends over for a soup dinner with a big loaf of crusty bread. I guarantee it'll make the rainy days go by a lot faster.
Mexican-style Black Bean and Greens Soup
1 lb. dried black beans
1/4 lb. bacon
1 1/2 c. yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped fine
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. oregano
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 28-oz. can tomatoes
8 c. chicken stock
4 c. mustard greens, kale or chard, roughly chopped
Cilantro, finely chopped
Put beans in a saucepan and cover with water by a couple of inches. Cover and let sit out overnight. Drain.
Sauté bacon over medium heat in large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion, celery and garlic and sauté in the bacon fat until tender. Add spices and stir for 1 minute until fragrant. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon, and stir; bring to a boil and add beans and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cook until beans are tender, at least an hour. Add greens and cook till wilted. Ladle into bowls and serve with cilantro, lime wedges and sour cream at the table.