Soup-er Simple: Autumnal beef, turnip, and cabbage soup

I love creating soups from scratch without a recipe. Sometimes the results are just “meh,” but sometimes I hit upon a dish that I think it worth repeating. Last night, I assembled a concoction that I found particularly delicious (I had 4 helpings!) so I thought I’d share the recipe with you. This is a hearty-yet-light soup, packed with vegetables and perfect for early fall.

One of my soup rules is that it’s fine to add or swap out ingredients freely based on what you have in your kitchen. Don’t have beef broth handy? Use veggie stock instead. Have some carrots that are about to go bad? Toss ’em in! Soup can be a receptacle for pretty much any vegetable that you need to use up.

Autumnal beef, turnip, & cabbage soup

Dairy-free, gluten-free. Recipe makes about 6 large servings.

1 package beef cubes (~1 pound)
1  large onion, chopped
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 large turnips, diced (or sub in potatoes or rutabaga)
1 small purple cabbage or 1/2 large cabbage, chopped
1 box lamb broth (or beef or vegetable broth)
1 cup red wine
Five spice powder (~1 tbsp)
Italian or poultry seasoning (w/ thyme, sage, etc) (~1 tsp)
2 bay leaves
10 whole cloves
safflower oil or another high-heat oil (~2 tbsp)
olive oil (~2 tbsp)
salt, black pepper, & cayenne pepper (add to taste)

Cook time: 1.5 hours or more (the longer you simmer it, the better it tastes!)

Add some high-heat oil (I used safflower oil) to a large stainless steel pot or an iron/ceramic dutch oven, and turn heat up to medium-high. Once pot is warm, add in beef cubes. Brown the beef on all sides. Once beef is browned and sticking to the bottom of the pot a bit, pour in red wine. Allow wine to cook for a minute, then pour in box of broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer. While this is simmering, you can chop up all the veggies. Beef should simmer for about 30 minutes before other ingredients are added in, to help it soften. Depending on the size of your beef cubes, you can remove the cubes to a cutting board, chop them into smaller pieces, and return to the pot.

Autumnal beef soup 1

In another large pot, drizzle ~2 tbsp olive oil. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, celery, and bell pepper with another pinch of salt, and stir over medium-low heat for awhile. Once veggies are softened, add these cooked veggies to the first pot with beef and broth. Add turnips, cabbage, bay leaves, five spice powder, cloves, and Italian/poultry seasoning to the main pot. Add water as needed to make sure veggies are just covered. Let simmer for ~1 hour, until everything is tender to your liking. Add cayenne pepper for a kick.

Autumnal beef soup 2

Enjoy with a glass of red wine or your favorite fall beverage!

Autumnal beef soup 3

“Picky eater” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy

Picky Eater

I frequently see articles and blog posts around the web espousing various tips and tricks to get your kids to eat healthy foods. Although I don’t have kids yet, I’ve certainly put some thought into how I plan to manage my eventual children’s diets. But I’m sure when the time comes, I’ll struggle to get my kids to eat their vegetables. What if I get the dreaded “picky eater”??

Perhaps the key is to do away with the concept of a “picky eater” altogether. I recently read this article on Huffington Post titled “6 Tips to Start Your Kids Off Eating Right”, which suggests a more relaxed approach to raising healthy kids. I’d recommend reading the whole post, but here’s the gist:

  • The term “picky eater” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you frequently label your child this way, he or she will make it part of his or her identity. “When a kid hears that they’re a picky eater, it validates for them that shunning certain foods is a part of who they are.”
  • “Hiding” healthy foods isn’t such a good idea.  (For example, concealing cauliflower in a macaroni & cheese dish.*) Your kids will catch on, and will become suspicious of food more generally. That’s definitely not a good thing!
  • Model healthy eating for your kids.  Even if they don’t like asparagus at first, if they see you eating it frequently, they might try it the 20th time. In fact, research shows that it can take 10-20 exposures for a child to begin liking a new food.
  • Your kids won’t starve.  Your job is to provide them lots of healthy options, but they get to choose whether and how much they eat. Never force your child to eat something – that will only create negative emotions around that particular food.

I’ll remember these tips when the time comes, and will be sure never to label my child a “picky eater”!

Do you have any strategies to encourage your kids to eat something other than goldfish crackers? If so, please share!

*Making cauliflower mac & cheese is a great idea – but no need to keep the ingredients a secret!

The “third presenter” method of streamlining your presentation


Here’s an all-too common scenario: Three presenters are scheduled to speak at a seminar, for 15 minutes each. The first two presenters go way over their allotted time, despite the timekeeper’s hand signals, in order hit upon every point they intended to make. The third presenter then comes up to bat, acutely aware that his or her time has been cut short. (S)he blows through his/her slides or notes, lamenting the lack of time, skipping the less-important or already-covered sections in favor of a few key messages.

Recently, I was the third presenter. I didn’t have PowerPoint slides, but had a long list of hand-written notes I intended to cover. The meeting started a bit late, and the two presenters before me went 5-10 minutes over their allotted time, so that by my turn, I was starting five minutes after I was originally supposed to end my talk. Even though I was allowed to take my full ten minutes, I knew that every minute I spoke would take a minute away from the discussion part of the meeting (undoubtedly the most valuable part). So I had to speak quickly.

As I glanced down at my notes, my brain automatically crossed off about half of the talking points on the page. That one’s not as important. That one’s self-evident. That one can be covered during the discussion. Instead I focused on the most salient and most interesting points, and expressed my desire to continue the conversation.

So the question is – if many of my points could be casually cut from the presentation, why did I include them in the first place? I think most presenters will agree that they try to squeeze too much content into any given talk, even knowing that the audience will only retain a few major points.

This experience gave me an idea for a way to streamline future presentations. The strategy is simple: pretend that you are the third presenter. Prepare a fifteen minute presentation as normal, but then pretend that you’re only allowed, say, seven minutes to talk. Practice out loud, using a countdown timer, to make sure that the time pressure is on. What messages and slides do you keep? What do you cut? Hopefully you will emerge with clearer picture of where the strength of your presentation lies. Go back and edit your presentation, focusing on the essential messages that you want the audience to retain. Plan for a clean, concise talk that goes under your allotted time.

…and next time you give a presentation as part of a panel, ask to go first! 😉

Three mantras for a less-cluttered home

For many people, myself included, being tidy and organized doesn’t come naturally. We tire of constantly fighting the second law of thermodynamics in our living spaces, and, dang it, spotless surfaces just aren’t our priority in life. That being said, I would prefer to live in a clean, uncluttered environment. Thus, for day-to-day life, I hold on to a few simple mantras to serve as motivation for tidying up my home. Perhaps they will help you out as well:

1) Complete the Task

How many times have your started a household chore or project – folding the laundry, sorting through old papers, decorating the walls – but stopped partway through? In our homes, we have the freedom to leave projects unfinished or dishes unwashed. In an attempt to counteract this tendency, I developed a very basic mantra for myself – complete the task. It provides a useful nudge to prioritize the unfinished chores or projects before starting any new ones.

  • Just cooked a delicious dinner, but thinking of leaving the dishes for tomorrow? Complete the task.
  • Paid some of your monthly bills, but letting a few linger? Complete the task.
  • Started organizing the pantry last weekend but never finished? Complete the task.

2) Gone in 60 Seconds

Admit it – you sometimes neglect to do the most basic of tasks, such as:

  • Putting a used dish directly into the dishwasher
  • Hanging up a piece of clothing you’ve decided not to wear
  • Putting the new roll of toilet paper on the holder
  • Filling the ice cube tray or the Brita pitcher

What do all of these tasks have in common? They all take less than a minute to complete. One rule that I’ve found very useful for household management is to never put off a chore that can be conquered in 60 seconds or less. A minute here and there should have little effect on your day. But if you continually put off the quick, easy chores for a couple of days, you’ll wind up with a major clean-up on your hands. I try to keep the 60 second rule at the forefront of my mind, so that I don’t procrastinate on simple tasks. Conquering the low-hanging fruit of chores keeps a house clean and livable.

3) A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place

This time-tested saying has definitely helped me organize my living space. To abide by it, every item in your home should have its own “place,” or a spot where it belongs. This goes not just for the obvious pairings – socks in the sock drawer – but for every knick-knack, piece of paper, food item, and toiletry. If an item doesn’t have a proper place, then you must either make a place for it, or get rid of the item. This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of all the miscellaneous or useless items in your home, but it does mean they need a designated spot, even if it’s just in the “junk box” under your bed. Once this rule is enforced, then cleaning & organizing becomes a matter or returning everything to its proper place. I think this feels much less daunting.

Do you have any mantras or rules that you use to keep your living space in order? I’d love to hear other suggestions, as I am always striving for a cleaner, less-cluttered home!


How to decrystallize honey: Just add heat (gently)!

Have you ever purchased a fresh jar of honey, and then discovered a few weeks later that it has entered a solid state? Don’t fret – the crystallization is normal, and the honey is still perfectly good. In fact, crystallized honey can be an ingredient of its own, making an excellent spread for toast, rub for chicken, or addition to a cheese plate. If you drop a chunk into your tea or any warm dish, it will dissolve in seconds.

But if you’re like me, and you prefer your honey in its drizzly, viscous form for everyday use, then use this easy fix to soften it up. The key is to add some gentle heat, so that the sugary crystals re-dissolve into a supersaturated solution. Although this can be done in the microwave, I prefer to heat honey lightly on the stove. Too much heat will destroy the fragile aromatic molecules that make good honey so delicious.

I recently bought a glass jar of raw lavender flower honey, which was already 90% crystallized on the store shelf. After a couple of weeks, it looked like this:


Time to decrystallize!

First, I brought a pot of water to a very light boil. Then I turned off the heat and set the jar of honey in the pot, swirling the jar around in the warm water every few minutes.


After about fifteen minutes, the jar looked like this:


…I should have used a taller pot! To get the honey at the top, I re-boiled the water, let it cool a little bit, and laid the jar in the pot at an angle. I rotated and shook the jar every few minutes. Soon, the whole thing was liquified:


Voilà – Pretty simple!

A few weeks later, the very bottom of my jar has started to re-crystallize. It’s a very gradual process, so I am guessing I won’t need to re-heat the jar again before I use up the honey.

A few notes:

  • The stovetop method only works for honey in glass jars. The plastic bears just can’t handle the heat.
  • Be careful when you remove the jar from the pot – glass can get very hot! Use a glove or potholder if you’re uncertain.


Get your onomatopoeia fix with some multi-lingual farm animals

I’m a big fan of James Chapman’s work, and it’s not hard to see why – his illustrations are both adorable and educational! 🙂 He has a series called “Soundimals” in which he illustrates various noises in a variety of languages. Visit his website to learn the international sounds for popping, snoring, splashing, and more.

For those of us who work in agriculture in some fashion, I’ve highlighted some of the artist’s animal illustrations below. After all, you never know when you might need to speak to a rooster in Japanese. His depictions of the different dog breeds are just way too cute.

Click on each image to view a larger version.


Bringing technologies to scale in Nepal to increase farmer incomes: An interview with Bill Collis of KISAN

This post is cross-posted from Agrilinks.

A farmer’s cooperative in Nepal is reaping real financial benefits from producing high-value vegetables in the off-season. Cucumbers and bitter gourd are grown in low tunnels covered in plastic, which creates a greenhouse effect, reduces temperature fluctuations, and protects the crops from weather damage. This relatively simple practice can produce significant boosts in income, due to the timing of the harvest. The farmer’s cooperative received training on this practice through Feed the Future’s Knowledge-based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition (KISAN) project, a five-year activity that runs from 2013-18 and is led by Winrock International. While the training is one of the successful highlights from KISAN, on a broader scale the activity aims to put established knowledge into action in order to improve agro-inputs, extension, market access, and farmer livelihoods in twenty districts in Nepal. In addition to KISAN, USAID-Nepal also has awards with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, which both conduct research at local test sites to provide technologies and best practices that KISAN can bring to scale.

In March 2014, a group of USAID staff and partners (myself included) embarked on a two-day field trip to the Banke and Surkhet districts in western Nepal, where we visited field sites for the aforementioned USAID-funded activities. This trip was an addendum to the annual Feed the Future Innovation Lab Council Partners Workshop, which took place in Kathmandu. [Check out these blog post recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 of the field trip.]

I borrowed KISAN Chief of Party, Bill Collis, at one of the project’s vegetable sites for a brief interview about KISAN’s work on tunnel vegetable production. We also touched up the project’s model of collaboration with the Government of Nepal and with other Feed the Future implementing partners for spreading knowledge to farmers. Check out the video below!

Jeopardy Category: Food Labeling

A couple of weeks ago, Jeopardy had a first-round category on “Food Labeling.” I always get excited for categories that fall within my areas of expertise. The answers are listed below, and the questions (Jeopardy is reversed, remember?) are listed at the end of this post. Get your trivia on!






Bonus: On March 25, the Final Jeopardy category was “Agriculture.” Here’s the answer:








CORRECT RESPONSES (how did you do?):

$200 – What is Organic?

$400 – What is sodium?

$600 – What is the Vitamin B complex?

$800 – What is Free Range?

$1000 – What is a Rabbi? (My Jewish friend was quick to point out that Jeopardy got this one wrong. The answer should be mashgiach. Goes to show you that Jeopardy clues don’t always capture the finer details of their subjects, and it’s acceptable to guess the “obvious” response.)

Final Jeopardy – What are almonds?