As I reflect on another year of life in Lakeland, “soul warming” seem to be the perfect words for it. Somebody said that living without reflecting is like eating without digesting. I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever plan on doing that!

So, out of curiosity and wanting to fill up on love, I set out to gather a few good stories from a few good friends. Here are some reflections of 2016’s moments recounted by Lakelanders. These stories are the soul-warming kind. They’re brimming with love, new beginnings, and hope for yet another beautiful year together.

An elderly gentleman complimented a young man on his proper parallel parking job because, “Not many people know how to do so these days.” Got to love downtown!

We welcomed over 3,000 newborns at Lakeland Regional Health! I wonder how many will be our leaders of tomorrow. How beautiful is that?

Lakeland local and nationally recognized author/illustrator Fred Koehler used illustrations of Lakeland in the majority of his book, Super Jumbo.

Vibrant, healthy, but hearty soups. Flavor-packed, and with just the right amount of depth, they are, dare we say, soulful.

With the help of organizations like Catapult, many entrepreneurs launched new businesses, giving us even more to love while living local.

After a long, slow climb, the housing market is healing and has allowed many to sell and move into new homes. We’ve celebrated anniversaries and mourned the loss of those we love.

We came together around Lake Mirror as fellow Floridians with support for the victims and families of the Pulse shooting in Orlando.

And for the 36th time, thousands of us gathered downtown for lights, floats, and fireworks during Lakeland’s annual Christmas parade.

(*Insert a memory you cherished here!)

As for me, I realized that honest, genuine relationships are a necessity to our community. Friendships are built when least expected, because life doesn’t give us formulas or plans for that sort of thing. It’s during parades, cups of coffee at a cafe, a walk around the lake, or a stroll through the farmers market that we find love.

While I sit Indian-style on the couch writing this, I hope you find yourself reflecting on your own special times. Precious are the moments we have with each other. May your 2017 be filled with immeasurable joy. You are beautiful, and you deserve beautiful.

Here are a variety of warming recipes to start your year right. Vibrant, healthy, but hearty soups. Flavor-packed, and with just the right amount of depth, they are, dare we say, soulful.



[item title=”Tortellini Basil Pesto Minestrone Soup”]

Tortellini Basil Pesto Minestrone Soup

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 leek, sliced thin
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 15 oz. can of chickpeas
1 28 oz. can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with juice
1 cup kale, chopped fine
9-ounce package of quality cheese tortellini
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling (optional)Grated parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook for a couple minutes, until they start to brown.

Add 2 more tablespoons of oil along with the chopped onion, garlic, and leek. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until softened.

 Add the chopped carrot, celery, zucchini, and potato, and stir for a minute or two. 

Add the stock, the chickpeas, and then the tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes with your hands as you go. Add a few generous pinches of salt (be judicious if your stock is salted already). Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender.

Add the kale and the tortellini, and continue to cook over a simmer until both are tender and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve garnished with a spoonful of the pesto, a few drops of the aged balsamic, and a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

[/item][item title=”Basil Pesto”]

Basil Pesto
for Garnish

1 cup loosely packed basil

2 Tbsp pine nuts toasted (can substitute other nuts)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

1 Tbs olive oil

Chop the basil until you reduce it down to about 1/4 cup. 

As you chop the basil, start to incorporate the other ingredients and chop them fine, too, until you have a lovely, finely chopped pesto.

Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the olive oil. Use as a garnish for the soup.

[/item][item title=”Turkey Pho”]

Turkey Pho

Toast the spices
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
4 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick

Heat a cast-iron skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves, star anise, and cinnamon stick. Toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices into a bowl to avoid burning them. Set aside.

Make the turkey pho

1 quart turkey or chicken stock 
1 bunch green onions (green parts only) chopped
1 3-inch chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 tsp brown sugar, or more to taste
1 Tbsp fish sauce, or more to taste
2 cups kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 lb cooked turkey (or cooked chicken or beef), shredded
1 bunch (about 2 oz.) cellophane/bean thread noodles (or enough flat dried rice noodles to serve 2)
1 to 2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped – for garnish (optional)
1 to 2 Tbsp chopped green onions (white parts only), minced – for garnish (optional)
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
Sriracha to taste
Hoisin sauce to taste

In a large pot, add the toasted spices and all ingredients from stock through fish sauce. Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.

Taste the broth and add more sugar or fish sauce, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids. Add the kale and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Remove from heat. 

Add the shredded turkey and the cellophane noodles. Allow to sit for a few minutes while the noodles soften.

Ladle the broth into bowls. Divide the kale, shredded turkey, and the noodles evenly into each bowl.

Sprinkle on the garnishes and add sriracha or hoisin to taste. Squeeze lime juice to taste over the top of your bowl before eating. I love mine with a little fresh cracked pepper, too!

[/item][item title=”Split Pea Soup”]

Split Pea Soup

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 to 4 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs of rosemary or thyme
6 whole black peppercorns
1 lb dried, green split peas, rinsed 
2 lbs smoked ham hocks 
3 quarts chicken stock
2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper and paprika to taste

Heat the olive oil in a deep stock pot, and add the onions, carrots, and celery. Sauté until soft, about 12 minutes.

Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook for 2 minutes.

Make a bouquet of the herb (herbs) and put them in with the peppercorns.

Pour the peas into the pot, and place the ham hocks on top.

Pour in the stock, add salt, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 hours, skimming foam from the top and stirring occasionally.

After simmering, remove ham hocks from soup and cool. Remove bouquet and discard.

Chop up the ham hocks and return to pot.

Season soup with more salt, plenty of freshly ground pepper, and some paprika to taste.

Serve piping hot with crusty bread or crackers. Garnish with a drizzle of your best olive oil, herbs, or cheese.

[/item][item title=”Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread”]

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1-1/4 tsps salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
1-5/8 cups of water

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran, or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees F. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.