By Ann Cipperly

Every night people of all ages go to bed hungry in Lee County. This Saturday, Feb. 1, everyone in the community can help provide food to those in need by attending the 2020 Empty Bowls event at the Opelika Recreation Center on Denson Drive between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. For just $10 a lovely handcrafted bowl can be purchased and will include a ticket for a free bowl of delicious soup and bread provided by local restaurants and local cooks. All of the proceeds will be donated to the Food Bank of East Alabama.
Businesses contributing soup, chicken or bread include I Love Juice Bar, In the Kitchen with Chef Jim, Bow & Arrow, Zazu Gastropub, Cafe 123, Chicken Salad Chick, Niffer’s on the Tracks, Southern Hospitality/Martha Hicks Catering, Jim Bob’s Chicken Fingers and Panera Bread. In addition, many of the local potters are contributing soup.
The singing group AU Cappella will present musical entertainment. There will also be a raffle and silent auction, featuring a variety of items, including a four course gourmet wine dinner in a historic home. Potters will be giving demonstrations of bowls being made, and there will be activities for children.
While the Rocky Brook Potters in Opelika and Dean Road Recreation Center Ceramics Studio in Auburn alternate hosting the event every other year, potters from both groups create bowls for each event. When Opelika potters held the event two years ago, they raised $18,000 for the food bank. This year, the goal is to sell 2,000 bowls to raise $20,000.
The 7th annual fund raiser began when Sherie Spain, director of the pottery department at the Opelika Recreation Center, read about the Empty Bowls project that started in 1990 as a class project in Michigan. The class made ceramic bowls to sell and served soup for a food drive. The idea caught on, and other Empty Bowls events began being held across the country. “I contacted the Food Bank,” says Sherie, “and they liked the idea. I thought it would be good to get both pottery communities working together.”
Kitty Greene is the publicity chair for the Empty Bowls project. “I have always been interested in how to do pottery,” says Kitty, “so I took a few courses from Sherie. It has been a way for me to get involved in the community. I wanted to do something to help, and to me the Food Bank is really special.”
Pre-sales have been going on since November. Anyone who bought a bowl in advance can bring their ticket and attend the event for no additional cost. Everyone who buys a ticket receives a bowl they keep as a reminder of the less fortunate in the community and to remember, “no child deserves an empty bowl.”
“The Empty Bowls event gives us the opportunity to select a lovely, hand-made bowl that serves a soup meal,” says Martha Henk, executive director of the East Alabama Food Bank, “but this small bowl represents much more than simply my own meal.  By acquiring food through local donations and the national food bank network, every dollar given to the Food Bank enables us to distribute the equivalent of seven meals to people in need.
“I love the strong concept of an empty bowl. The bowl from an Empty Bowls event sits on my desk at work. I see it every day.  It serves as a concrete reminder that there are empty bowls in our community, and that there is something specific I can do to fill another person’s bowl. 
“In Lee County alone, more than 27,000 of our neighbors are food-insecure and lack a reliable source of food,” says Martha. “The Food Bank and network of partnering agencies serve an average of 30,240 people each month.”
Mark your calendar for the 2020 Empty Bowls event this Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Opelika Recreation Center on Denson Drive. Select a bowl, enjoy soup and entertainment while helping to feed those in need in our community.

Cipperly can be contacted at


Butternut Squash Soup
Kitty Greene
Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds, drizzles of balsamic vinegar, or sprinklings of paprika or cracked black pepper make appealing accompaniments to this soup.
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced (about ¼ cup)
3 lbs. butternut squash (about 1 large squash), cut in half lengthwise, each half cut in half widthwise; seeds and fibers scraped out and reserved
6 cups water
Kosher salt
½ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. dark brown sugar
Pinch grated nutmeg
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add shallot and cook stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add seeds and fibers from the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter turns a saffron color, about 4 minutes.
Add water and 1 tsp. salt to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, place squash, cut side down, in a steamer basket, and lower the basket into the pot. Cover and steam until the squash is completely tender, about 30 minutes.
Take the pot off the heat and use tongs to transfer the squash to a rimmed baking sheet. When cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scrape the flesh from the skin. Reserve the squash flesh in a bowl and discard the skin.
Strain the steaming liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a second bowl; discard the solids in the strainer. (You should have 2 ½ to 3 cups liquid). Rinse and dry the pot.
Working in batches and filling the blender jar only halfway for each batch, puree the squash, adding enough reserved steaming liquid to obtain a smooth consistency.
Transfer the puree to the clean pot and stir in the remaining steaming liquid the cream, and brown sugar. Warm the soup over medium-low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg, season with salt to taste, and serve. (The soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Warm over low heat until hot; do not boil.) Serves 4 to 6.

Tomato Soup
Lila Stone
Olive oil
Optional: homemade vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
Optional: Heavy cream/Greek yogurt/evaporated milk
In olive oil, sauté garlic and onions for about 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Shake in basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper.
Toss in 2-3 containers cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, or a bunch of regular chopped up tomatoes on the vine. Fresh tomatoes are the tastiest and sweetest. Add 2-3 cups of water and vegetable broth (for more added flavor). 
Cook it all down on medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes are softened. If you have a hand blender, blend it all together until it becomes a soup consistency. If you don’t have a hand blender, transfer to a blender and blend until soup consistency.
Then pour back into the pot and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so, adding the optional heavy cream, Greek yogurt, or evaporated milk to taste. Enjoy with grilled cheese!

Crack Chicken Chili
Martha Patterson
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 (11 or 15 oz.) can corn, drained
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (10 oz.) can diced tomatoes and green chilies (Rotel), not drained
1 (15 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes, not drained
2 cups chicken broth
1 pkg. cooked, chopped bacon
1 (1 oz.) packet ranch seasoning/salad dressing mix
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. minced onions
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
Mix all ingredients into slow cooker, except for the shredded cheese. Cook on low for 3 hours. When ready to serve, add the shredded cheese and stir.

Chicken Noodle Soup
Misty Ward
1 broiler fryer chicken (3-4 lbs.)
8-10 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. dried basil
1/8 tsp. celery seed
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
4 medium carrots – chopped
1 small onion – chopped
1 cup uncooked fine egg noodles
Combine chicken, water, bay leaf, parsley, salt, pepper, basil, celery seed and garlic. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 ½ hours or until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken from the broth and discard bay leaf. Remove skin and de-bone chicken; dice the meat and set it aside.
Add carrot and onion to the broth; cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add chicken and noodles; cook an additional 15 minutes.

Black Bean Soup
Amy Kaiser
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
Hot sauce (your choice), to taste
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 pinch black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth (homemade is best)
1 lb. bag of dried black beans, rinsed and cooked in water for 2-2 ½ hours (makes about 6 cups)
15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
15 oz. pkg. frozen whole kernel corn
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté onion, celery, carrots and garlic for 5 minutes. Season with chosen hot sauce, cumin, and black pepper; cook for 1 minute. Stir in vegetable broth, half of the beans, and corn. Bring to a boil.
In the meantime, in a blender, process remaining beans and the tomatoes until smooth. Stir into boiling soup mixture, reduce to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Cheeseburger Soup
Martha Patterson
1 – 1 ½ lbs. lean ground beef
1 pkg. bacon
8 oz. Velveeta cheese
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped carrot
7-8 oz. portabella mushrooms, chopped
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
6 oz. butter, divided
32 oz. beef broth (can be fat free), divided
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. black pepper
Cook ground beef and drain.
Melt 3 Tbsp. butter in large skillet; then add all the veggies and garlic and cook until tender.
Melt remaining 3 Tbsp. of butter in a second pan and add flour. On low heat, stir until combined and slightly browned; then add 6-8 oz. of the beef broth and stir until smooth to create a roux.
Add roux to veggies in skillet with remaining beef broth and simmer on medium until sauce starts to thicken.
Add cooked beef, seasonings, veggie mix and Velveeta into a slow cooker. Cook on low for 1 ½ hours and stir until complete blended.
Once done, you can top the soup with sour cream, shredded cheese and jalapenos.

Caldo de Queso con Papas 
(a classic Northern Mexican dish)
Jill Medina-Elizalde
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or safflower oil
4 small new potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups beef stock or veggie stock
2 Anaheim chilies, mashed, peeled, seeded, and deveined, then chopped, or 2 canned mild green chilies, drained and chopped
1 cup of half and half, or milk, slightly warmed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ lb. white cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, shredded
4 green spring onions, including tender green tops, finely diced
Using a large heavy pot over medium heat, melt butter or warm oil.
Stir in potatoes and onion and sauté until they begin to soften, 6-8 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so.
Raise heat to medium high and add tomatoes. Cook, stirring until quite thick, about 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and chilies. Simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are soft but not breaking apart, about 4 minutes.
Reduce heat to very low and add the half and half or milk, salt and pepper. Cook until heated to serving temperature.
Divide the cheese evenly among warmed bowls and ladle in soup. Garnish with green onions and serve at once.

Beef Vegetable Soup
Misty Ward
1 lb. beef stew meat
½ cup chopped onions
1 cup sliced carrots
1 medium can chopped tomatoes
8 oz. can tomato sauce
6 cups water
1 Tbsp. salt
¼ tsp. basil
¼ tsp. thyme
¼ tsp. pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. beef bouillon
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
Cut meat to desired size pieces. Add all ingredients except frozen vegetables into large pot. Simmer several hours. Toward end of cooking time, add frozen vegetables. Cook one hour longer without lid.
Alternative: Once meat is fully cooked, can be cooked all day in crock-pot on low heat.

Taco Soup
1 lb. ground beef, browned
1 onion, chopped
1 pkg. taco seasoning
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dry ranch dressing mix
4 cans (15 oz. each) chopped tomatoes
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans (drained)
1 can black beans (drained)
1 ½ cans shoe peg corn
1 can Rotel tomatoes and chilies
Mix all ingredients and cook until done. Garnish with tortilla or corn chips, grated cheese, sour cream, avocado (chopped) and/or green onions (chopped).

Chili Soup
Misty Ward
1½ lbs. ground beef
1 cup chopped onions
¼ tsp. garlic salt
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 can beef broth
2 cans tomato soup
1 soup can of water
1 can kidney beans (undrained)
Brown beef and onions; add garlic salt. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup
Misty Ward
1¾ cups chicken broth
½ cup finely shredded carrots
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 cups cauliflower florets
1¾ cups milk
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheese
In a medium saucepan combine broth, carrots, celery, onion and cauliflower. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6-8 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Combine milk, flour and pepper. Stir into broth mix. Cook and stir over low heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Add cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.

Cabbage Soup
2 lbs. ground beef
2 cans (28 oz. each) stewed tomatoes
1 medium head of cabbage , chopped
2 onions, chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown the ground beef. Add the other ingredients and cook until tender.