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Spring continues lovely here in NorCal. I have a red dogwood which has finally come into its own. Long after other pink and white dogwoods have bloomed and then leafed out, my pretty little tree grows a full coat of green and then studs it with beautiful white blossoms. The result is a tiny slice of heaven, right in my own front yard. Bonus:  it sits a few feet from my office window, so I can admire it all day long.

In this past week, we’ve also been blessed with rain–a rare occurrence for mid-May, but welcome. We need the water. It’s also lovely to see the fields around us still dressed in green, despite a few days of heat the week before. We will have our golden hills soon, but for now, temperatures are pleasant, everything is verdant, and we’re getting the water we need so badly. Even as I write, our sky is dark with pregnant clouds, heavy with rain. Our blessing may well continue. I’m grateful.

Lockdown continues here as elsewhere, but we are in one of the first two counties in California to begin reopening. Our numbers have been so low, and our county’s plan for reopening so good, that our state government gave us the go-ahead. Many businesses opened their doors last Monday. Tonight, Roger and I ate out–actually sat down in a cafe–for the first time in weeks. The staff all wore masks, our table and our seating were washed down with disinfectants while we watched, and the menus we received were a short-form version of the former menu, all printed on one piece of paper that was binned for recycling as soon as we ordered. (We had touched it, after all.) This may be a preview of what our “new normal” will look like, but what a pleasure to see a bit of our old normal returned!

Most of our meals are still prepped in our own kitchen. Given our cooler weather this week, we have enjoyed hot soup again, likely some of the last I will want to cook as the temperatures rise. This is a favorite and can be made so thick that it might be either a soup or a casserole. I call it a can-opener soup, for reasons that will become obvious. If you like southwestern flavors (we do!), you may want to try this easy, filling recipe.

Southwestern Vegetable-Beef Soup

Brown: 1 to 1 ½ pounds beef stew meat or lean ground beef

1 medium onion, diced

Add:    2 cups beef broth

Simmer 2-3 minutes

Add:     1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 can corn, drained

1 can red kidney beans, with fluid

1 small can green chili

Simmer 20 minutes + or –

Add:    2-3 tsp. finely minced garlic

1-2 tsp. Italian herbs (or your own mix of oregano, thyme, and basil)

1 tsp. ground chili powder (or to taste)

Salt to your taste (about 1 tsp.)

Simmer 5-15 more minutes (adjust to fit your schedule; just let it cook together)

Add:    ½ cup dried corn

½ cup white rice

Simmer until rice is done, about 20 minutes. Watch the soup to make certain it doesn’t boil dry and stick to the pan. Add small amounts of water if necessary to prevent sticking. Just before serving, add ¼-1/2 cup fresh salsa.

Serve with cheese and sour cream, cornbread or other bread. Avocado and green salad go well.

Note:  As you may guess, this is a highly adaptable recipe. Throw in some leftover mixed veggies from last night’s dinner or add a handful of celery or carrots together with the canned ingredients. Change it up by using black beans, cannellini or garbanzos instead of kidney beans or in addition. It’s hearty, tasty, and filling. If you don’t have dried corn, add more rice or maybe some quinoa, or leave more liquid in the soup. Add or delete spices to suit your taste. Enjoy!

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