zuppa toscana (gluten- and dairy-free)

Here's the concept: 
1 pot, 2 meats, 3-4 veggies, 5+ herbs/spices, oil, broth, & a kick.

Here's the Full (process): 

1 pot. This is a necessity for me. (I hate washing multiple pots and pans.) 
  • Make sure you pick a good size stock pot. 

2 meats: sausage and bacon. 
  • Start with 1 lb. of Italian sausage... 
  • And 4 thick strips of bacon, sliced. 
  • Throw it all in the pot, on heat 6/medium high. 
  • And keep prepping, stirring with each addition to keep the sausage crumbling and the bacon cooking on all sides. 

3-4 veggies: onion, potatoes, carrots and kale. 
  • Onion (and garlic). It's awesome if you can use real onion (and garlic), so chop up about 1/3 of a medium sweet onion (and a couple of cloves of garlic) and toss in while you're browning your meat. But it's really okay if you just add some onion (and/or garlic) powder later though, if you don't have an onion (garlic) on hand. 
  • Potatoes. Peel and dice four medium potatoes. Note: My mom prefers eight white potatoes, not peeled, and sliced thin. You choose. Additional note: When I've wanted this soup and haven't had potatoes on hand, I've been known to throw in a little mashed potato flakes after the liquid part. Just so you know you have options. The potatoes are important, but how they present themselves is entirely according to personal preference or present availability. 
  • Carrots. Grate 1-2 baby carrots. The little thin strips add just the right amount of sweetness and color. 
  • Kale. My favorite. Oh, sweet Kale! Kale is a newer companion of mine, but our relationship is just as deep as if we'd met a long, long time ago. A cross between spinach and broccoli almost, it's amazing and versatile! And Zuppa Toscana is a fabulous way to introduce this family to this fabulous friend. 
    • For this recipe, use at least as many stalks of kale as you can hold in one fist. Less is fine, but know, kale melts almost like spinach, so you can use more than you think. Just don't do what my  mom did and omit it. It wasn't on purpose, she just forgot to write it on her recipe. But Zuppa Toscana is just not the same without the kale.
    • To prep, cut out and discard the stem/stalk. 
    • Then slice the leaves two directions so that you end up with little squares. You can do strips, but even though the kale melts down a bit, it's nicer if you're not getting big long pieces, since you'll be eating this with a spoon.
    • Once the meat is browned/fully cooked, dump all the chopped kale into the pot and stir.
5+ Herbs & Oil.
  • Oil. Add a nice spill of extra virgin olive oil over the kale. 
  • 5+ Herbs. I can't tell you how much. I don't measure. And your tastes may be different than mine. So just remember, the name of this soup is Zuppa Toscana--soup of Tuscany--which would be Italian. So stick with herbs Italians love. Here's my list: 
    • Garlic and onion powder. If you didn't use fresh garlic and/or onion, don't forget to add these now. :) 
    • Italian seasoning. Or just a combination of basil, oregano and thyme.
    • Extra basil. Fresh, if you have it.
    • Parsley. Not too much.
    • Dill. This is my Mom's influence. I'm pretty sure she was influenced by my dad's Polish heritage on this one. But dill is hands-down the top herb of choice in my family. Even if I would consider it "optional" in this soup.
    • Celery seed. Another "optional." 
    • Pepper & Salt. Yes, I know these aren't actually herbs. And I know most people say it "salt & pepper." But this is where I add these. And I'm listing these additions in quantified order. I'm the kind of person who thinks we all consume too much sodium anyway, so I put my pepper first. I even put my pepper in the shaker with three holes and my salt in the one with two holes. Sorry, if that confuses people. But...it's better for you.
Broth & Kick. 
  • 6 cups chicken broth. I actually prefer using a ridiculous amount of Herbox chicken granules added when I add the herbs and just add 6 cups of water here, but I just realized Herbox uses "whey protein (from milk) and milk fat," so to stick with the gluten- and dairy-free promise, you'll want to use an approved broth in this step. I would recommend a low-sodium broth.
  • 3 cups soy milk. If you don't care about dairy-free, you could use 3 cups regular milk or 2 cups cream or 1 cup heavy whipping cream. But this soup has so much flavor that the soy is honestly not recognizable at all. And it makes it shareable with more people. 
  • Last but not least: Louisiana Hot Sauce. You could use any cayenne pepper sauce. Tabasco or Schlotszky's would be fine. I honestly really like the Burman's cayenne pepper sauce from Aldi. It's just the right finish! 
And here's the Short (recap): 
  • 1 stock pot. 
  • 2 meats: sausage & bacon. 
  • 3-4 veggies: onion (and garlic), potatoes, carrots, kale.
  • Oil. 
  • 5+ herbs: (Garlic/onion), Italian blend, extra basil, parsley, dill, celery seed, pepper, salt.
  • Chicken broth & soy milk. 
  • And the kick: cayenne pepper sauce.

Simmer. Or transfer to a crockpot on low for taking to your next Soup Celebration. 

And serve! Just as if we were at Olive Garden, I like to make Parmesan-Romano available for those who can enjoy it on the top. 

Bon appetit! And when people ask you for the recipe, you can send them here! :) 

With grace and peace,


God our hope...even through seminary

Seminary. The word itself once inspired vision and missional enthusiasm. But "in it" long enough, 'seminary' now echoes hollow like a long, lonely hallway of some academic institution...

This preparation for ministry--ministry still future, still hoped for. And the necessariness of this preparation--all too frequently called into question: Do we have to keep doing this? Is this really what God's called us to? Can't we just move on and start doing what we're going to be doing for the rest of our lives? And 'seminary' now conjures far different connotative emotions.

It's been tempting so many times just to quit. Just to move on. And we could. And I'm convinced it would be fine if we walked away right now. 

But, for us, the just-when-we-need-it-most encouragements and the providential, timely path-smoothings have kept us going. 

And I hope, for you, this post will be a just-when-you-need-it-most timely encouragement as I share a handful of things that I've had to be reminded of (still need to be reminded of) frequently along the way: 

1) I have to fix my hope in God. My hope cannot be in a degree or some future ministry position. To be "in the ministry" must not become an idol, replacing the God it claims to want to serve. My hope must be in God. God, alone. Now. Just as in all the ministry years ahead. I must pursue Him, realize He's pursuing me. I need Him like I need air. It's essential that I stay close to Him, that I read the words He wrote for me, that I pray--a lot--pour out my heart--about everything.

2) I have to keep loving my husband. At times, this can be tough. 'Seminary' can get in the way--way too easily. Finances and time are most likely both limited. So we have to get creative. And we have to keep believing, he loves me. We're in this together. For better or worse. And, at this point in the game, it takes two to be awesome. He needs you. And you need him. Keeping your marriage strong is perhaps the most important way you can make sure you're ready for the opportunities of ministry God opens up for your family. Now and in the future.

3) I have to think right about 'ministry.' Ministry is not some future thing. Ministry is every opportunity God gives us to display His glory, love and righteousness to other people. Every day. Every moment. Ministry may be a conversation or a FB post. It may be holding the fort while your husband studies several nights a week, doing laundry, dishes, homework with kids... It may be loving your kids, listening, playing ball... which brings me to...

4) I have to love my kids. If you (like me) have kids during these seminary years, then you know they're feeling this too. And the older they get, the more they feel it. They're part of the team. And they're sacrificing during these years too. Talk openly with them. Let them weigh in. Make the moments you do have count. One-on-one date nights, one-child with one-parent, can be a simple but very special way to keep everyone on the same page. And if you've added kids along the way (like we have), then you've especially got to remember this next point...

5) I have to stay flexible, willing to change things up from time to time. Sometimes a total game-changer is in order. A late bedtime, a Sunday-night family night, a break from what has come to be accepted as our "norm." We've had several "new norms" along the way. Our schedule has, out of necessity, changed multiple times. When one or more of us is to a level of frustration and discouragement that is beginning to be immobilizing, it's time to stop insisting on banging a brick against our forehead and ask God to open our eyes to a solution. Earlier would probably be better. But sometimes we don't see it then. Once we see it--or feel it--then we need to start thinking outside the box. And sometimes, we have to totally break down our box and toss it out and get a bigger box. 

6) I have to be willing to adjust my expectations. And this isn't just seminary, I guess. This is just life. Things don't play out the way we think. My "great expectations" are dashed a thousand times before they become even greater than I could've hoped for. 

7) I have to choose hope. (And I guess that was my first point too.) But I have to choose hope. Again and again. So I'll leave this here. Because I have to keep my eyes on Jesus--not my circumstances. I have to choose to walk by faith--not sight. I have to let go of what I think--lean not on my own understanding. I have to trust in the Lord with all my heart and settle my hope on Him. He will not disappoint. He is our Hope...forever...even through seminary. Hang on to hope. And if you need a friend through these seminary years, I'd love to be that for you. You can message me through my author page on FB or email michelle [at] vineandshoots [dot] com. 

Grace and peace, 
with love,