Monday, January 24, 2011

Sopa Seca

I know it has been awhile since I posted anything noteworthy around here. Sorry. The post I meant to put up was fully typed and ready to go and then evaporated into cyberspace. I was so frustrated that I gave up that night and and vowed to get back to it later, and then I skipped town for a week and a half to be with family. I got a bit preoccupied. But I am back now and re-energizing into my usual self. Being with my grandma Elsie Thackeray always bolsters me that way. She was the reason for my trip. I needed to go be with her, curl up beside her and tell her I love her; only to then have her overcompensate my efforts by telling me that I am her favorite, the best and my only Sandra Miss Clark (the moniker I went by at the age of five). Nothing feels better than being absolutely adored. The praise she dispenses without temperance is nice too. And it seems selfish that I needed to be told all those things in person, but I reckon, since it was most likely the last time it is all forgivable. 

My grandma has been one my most ardent supporters, never judging or teasing me for the changes I have made in belief and lifestyle related to the word of wisdom.  She has totally praised my efforts and told me how much she appreciates the way I care about things (even when we all know I may seem to care too much). She  has shown me to how to toughen up, that there is nothing with a strong opinion or backbone to support it; and yet there is wisdom in humor to laugh at yourself and the ability to roll with the punches and cheap shots others may throw at your to test your conviction. All of which have been necessary lessons for me to survive family, friends and life with my wits in tact. I know no better example of someone who balances her stubbornness with her humor. I aspire to her tenacity. Thank you, grandma. 

Things are not typical right now at my grandma's house. Usually when I go, my grandma is at the helm of the house, keeping everything humming and the kitchen stocked with everything delicious. She is a fantastic cook. If you want the best recipes from the Etna Ward cookbook, you search by contributor. Hers are the best. She taught me how to make bread has a fantastic recipe that I still use. She loves to eat and delights in anything new and exciting. So when I would visit I would always bring her things at are hard to come by in a tiny mountain town six hours north of San Francisco, just below the Oregon border. She would swoon over the novel items like I had brought something really important and fancy; when it was really just a bag of fresh lychee fruit from Chinatown. I like to think she bestowed the love and curiosity for food I inherited.

So instead of having my grandmother cook me something from her classic repertoire this time, I cooked for her. The sad part is that she can't really eat much of it. I baked bread, made rolls, recreated favorites from my San Francisco bakery, chocolate things and brioche knots, made cider syrup, tortillas, minestrone soup, biscuits, brown sugar muffins, Hungarian potato soup, and more that I cannot recall. I made it all with the hope that she could eat anything; but there was little she could. I confess that my grandma is on my short list of favorite people to cook for, just because she enjoys it all so much. Cancer is not kind; with all of things it has taken and in still taking, it has my grandma's appetite. She eats as much as a baby now. Dainty portions of  whatever what she things looks good or will not upset her stomach, which is not what it used to be. I've never known my grandma to be a fickle eater. But for breakfast one morning we split a muffin and she was full. 
I have felt bittersweet gratitude realizing all that I have to enjoy, by seeing how much she has lost in these few months she has been ill. Her cancer is terminal and her life is now comprised of a lot of "lasts": last holidays, last visits and last remembrances. 

I am grateful for the week I had visiting her, sorry that I won't have more time. I am grateful for the things she has taught me, sorry for what I still need to learn from her. I am grateful for all she is to me and sorry my kids won't grow old enough to truly appreciate her in their lives. Life isn't predictable or fair, all I can do is be thankful now, and sorry if I haven't shown her I love her enough, because she has certainly shown me how to.

This is a recipe I cooked for my grandma while she was visiting. Sopa Seca is "dry soup" or also known as fideos (noodles), a traditional Mexican dish, that isn't wrapped in a tortilla. I adore this dish and it is a favorite with everyone at our house.

Sopa Seca
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

I have made the mistake of making this too spicy before. If you are worried about that, go easy on the chipotle- you can always add more heat later- but don't forgo it. The smokiness and depth that it adds to dish paired with the toastiness of the noodles really makes this dish for me. Add the optional ingredients as you see fit. I almost always add the beans to bulk the meal up and make it a one dish meal, but if I making a larger meal I serve beans as a side dish. The chorizo is also not a requirement, I make this both ways, you don't need much to add the flavor. If you do add beans or chorizo- add it with the tomatoes and broth. And the avocado is lovely diced and sprinkled over the top or sliced along side as a garnish. 

1/2 lb thin spaghetti noodles, broken in half or fideos (look for the goya brand)
2 T. oil
1 large onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t. cumin
1 1/2 cups tomatoes (fresh or canned- no need to drain)
1 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced or  1/4 t. chipotle chili powder
1/3 cup good Mexican melting cheese (or go for Monterrey Jack or Munester)
handful of chopped cilantro

1 cup avocado
1 1/2 cups black beans
1/4 lb. chorizo sausage, cooked and diced.

Toast the noodles in 1 T. of the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until golden and fragrant. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add 1 T. oil and bring to a medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering add the onion 1/2 t. salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and the cumin and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add in the tomatoes, the broth and chipotle. Bring to a boil.
Stir in the toasted pasta. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until all of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. If you skillet is drying to fast and the pasta is not tender enough add a bit more water to correct it.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with the cheese and allow it to melt. Sprinkle on the cilantro and serve.


  1. Just found this blog not too long ago, and am really enjoying it. You post such delicious recipes and encouraging/inspiring thoughts on life.

    I'm very sorry to hear about what your family is going through regarding your grandmother. It's heartbreaking and scary. My brother passed six months ago and my only real comfort was that I knew he would be with God and family who'd passed before him. I'll be praying for your family. It's wonderful that you have such a close and loving relationship with her.

  2. I am so happy you were able to go spend time with your grandma!! You & she will be in my prayers.

  3. Hey, so I'm reading the Barbara Kingsolver book and LOVING it!! I hope you get to finish it too.

    Hang in there with family. God be with you.

  4. Does a large bowl of Corn Pops count as one vegetable serving or two?

  5. this was so beautifully written sandra miss clark. what sweet memories and inspiring thoughts. thank you for your reflections. they are dear.

  6. Lindsay- Glad you are reading. It's nice to have you. I'm so sorry about your brother. Thanks for the condolences.

    Sheryl- Thank you. It was a good trip.

    Jess- Thanks. I finished it months ago, but still need to write a review. It was great.

    Clank- do you need to ask, Kelly Jean?

    Likely- Thanks so much.

  7. We made this last night, and it was a winner! I love cooking with chipotle peppers--yummy warm spiciness.


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