Pasta e Fagioli

As Dean Martin would croon, “When the stars make you drool, just like pasta fazool, that’s amore.

From the minute I buy a cooked ham, I start thinking about the soup I’m going to make with the leftover ham bone. The soup I love to make with that ham bone is Pasta e Fagioli, AKA pasta and beans, a classic Italian comfort soup. And, once I start making the soup, forget it, I start humming Dean Martin’s song, That’s Amore. Ad nauseam.

I usually pick up a spiral-cut ham to have in the house for sandwiches during the holidays.  This Easter, I didn’t have a full house or a ham, but it is so automatic for me to make (and want) a hearty ham bone soup after a holiday that I drove to our local Honey Baked Ham store Monday morning to see if they had any ham bones for sale in their freezer. I was in luck, they were having one of their post-holiday buy-one-get-one-free sales, and I was able to pick up two meaty bones for seven dollars.

Technique Time: How to Add Layers of Flavor to a Soup
One of the cooking techniques I’ve learned over the years is the benefit of slowly sautéing chopped vegetables and aromatics in olive oil to create a flavorful foundation for soups, sauces, and stews.

Depending on who taught you how to cook, this flavor base is known as a soffritto, a mirepoix, or the “Holy Trinity.” For example, the French flavor base is called a mirepoix and includes two parts onion to one part celery and one part carrot, all of it chopped and sautéed in butter or duck fat. The Italians start with a soffritto that includes carrots, onions, and celery often with the addition of garlic, fennel, and parsley, and all of it sautéed in olive oil. In Cajun cooking, they have the “Holy Trinity” which consists of 3 parts celery, 2 parts onion, and 1 part sweet bell pepper, all of it sautéed in butter or oil. It is helpful to know these ratios as you start to create your own recipes.

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When making soups and even tomato sauces, you can add another layer of flavor by being intentional about what you use for the soup’s liquid base; the soup’s medium for flavor and heat. When you add raw or pre-roasted meat bones and simmer for a while, the bones’ marrow is released into the soup, and now you have enriched your soup or sauce even more.

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Finally, when making soup, you can add yet another layer of flavor to the vegetables you choose to use, such as the stewed tomatoes, beans, and fresh greens I used in this recipe.

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When you use this many layers of flavor, you’ll find you need to add a lot less salt, if any, to your recipe. I didn’t add salt to this soup because there is already plenty of it in the ham and cheese rind.

A few words on the main ingredients used to make Pasta e Fagioli.

The Beans
I start with a 20-ounce package of dried beans. The package comes with a seasoning packet that I have never used. In a pinch, you could use three cans of cooked beans, rinsed and drained.

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Take a moment to admire how pretty the beans look as you rinse and inspect them for tiny rocks and dirt. I love the different shapes and textures.

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Their color intensifies when rinsed, reminding me of pebbles rolling on the beach with the waves.

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You will need to soak the beans for a few hours to soften them, and then partially cook them before you start making this soup.

The Ham Bone
Recently, I happened to be at my favorite meat market, Hampton Meats, in Hopkinsville, KY on the day they were butchering a pig. I’ve been there on days when half of a cow was hanging there, too. There is nothing like seeing an animal carcass hanging on a hook to make you take a moment to reflect on the source of your food.  I have a copy of the “Meat Reference Manual” issued in 1942 by the U.S. Army for mess sergeants. I like the graphics of their meat charts and refer to them often.

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Have you ever wondered why, when you get to the end of a spiral cut ham, getting the meat off the bone is no longer easy or pretty? It’s because the pig’s bulky ball and socket hip-joint are hidden in there. I dissect so you don’t have to.

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The Greens:
Many of the cool weather greens growing in my backyard kitchen garden right now, such as kale, cabbage, chard, and spinach are suitable to use in soup because their leaves are thick and won’t disintegrate in the soup like lettuce would do. In the photo on the left, I’m growing “Alcosa” cabbage, a sweet and tasty variety of cabbage. I use the leaves while they are still young rather than letting them grow into a ball. In the picture on the right, I am growing “Winterbor” and “Red Russian” kale and “Bright Lights” chard. All will work well in this soup. Other choices that would work are spinach, collards, and escarole.

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Ingredients:
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20-ounce bag of dried beans, picked over and rinsed
5 stalks celery (1/2 pound), finely chopped
4 carrots (1/2 pound), finely chopped
1 large onion (1 pound), finely chopped
1 small head garlic (1 ounce), finely chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cooked and meaty ham bone, trimmed of visible fat
2 cans “Italian Recipe” stewed tomatoes, puréed first
½  of the heel of a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 whole bay leaves
12 cups water (3 quarts)
8 cups greens: cabbage, kale, chard, spinach (greens optional)
1 box ditalini pasta

Mise en Place:
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Instructions:
1. To cook dried beans: Place rinsed beans in about 10 cups of water. Do not add salt to the water. Bring to a rapid boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1½ hours. They should still be somewhat firm, but edible. Drain and set aside.

2. Pull some of the meat off the ham bone to use to sauté the soffritto. Set aside.

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3. Add olive oil to a large frying pan and get it started heating up. Next, add the soffritto, the carrots, onions, celery and garlic and pieces of ham. Sauté over medium-high heat for 15 minutes, frequently stirring, while vegetables become translucent and very lightly browned.

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In a large soup pot add the sautéed soffritto, the partially cooked beans, the ham bone, the 12 cups of water, the puréed stewed tomatoes, the cheese rind, and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the soup comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Test the beans to make sure they are cooked before adding the greens.

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Add the greens.
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Cook for five more minutes. Turn heat off and remove soup pot from the hot burner.

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Pull the ham bone out of the pot and place it on a cutting board. Pull the meat off the bone, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and return the meat to the pot.

Cook the pasta:
Put a pot of salted water on the stove top to cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. I never cook pasta directly in the soup because it drinks up all the soup’s liquid. Store the cooked pasta in a separate container from the soup, so the noodles do not become mushy.

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To serve soup, put a scoopful of ditalini in each bowl, top with soup, and pass the grated Reggiano cheese!

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Or, serve it without pasta.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Sick Soup, Sometimes Known as Snow Day Soup

A few years ago, my friend Jennifer told me her entire family was sick with the crud. What I heard was, “Stop at Kroger and pick up a ten-pack of chicken thighs to make the Johnstons some soup.” I got home and immediately set about making a pot of chicken soup. My husband came home and the first thing he asked when he walked in the kitchen was, “Who’s sick?”

Here’s what I remember most about my visit to Jennifer’s house to drop off the soup. I rang the doorbell, and her husband Tom opened the door. I brought the hot soup into the kitchen, left it on the counter along with a bag of cooked pasta, and wished Tom well. He walked me to the door, and after I had turned the doorknob to leave, he picked up a bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted a few drops into my hands. I’m not sure why that was so memorable to me, but it was. Maybe it was that Tom was taking good care of his visitors, too, and that was such a kind-hearted thing to do.

A few weeks ago I arrived sick with a cold in Florida. My mom’s sister, Rachelle, heated up a bowl of homemade chicken soup for me. Rachelle’s soup was warm and wonderful and I, of course, asked how she made it. She uses my bone broth recipe to make her chicken stock and her mother’s recipe to make the soup.

I love that Rachelle still uses her mother’s Revere soup pot from the Fifties to make soup.
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I thought it was funny that Rachelle’s soup pot looked like the Revere soup pot our great-grandmother, Mamanika, used to make her Italian cookie dough.
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A few words about soup ingredients before we get started cooking a pot of Sick Soup.

Chicken Stock
Lately, a lot of people are writing about the health benefits of bone broth. My friend Lou Ann recently sent me a link for Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, GOOP, where their writers extol the virtues of bone broth. You can read that story here.

I’ve written quite a few recipes for chicken soup over the last year, and readers have asked which method for making chicken stock is my favorite. I’ve listed each method in order of most flavorful:

Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
This stock is made with raw thigh meat, bones, veggies, aromatics, and water.
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Chicken Stock from Rotisserie Chicken Bones
This stock is made with roasted bones, veggies, aromatics, and water.
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Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage Gumbo
This stock is made with water and roasted turkey bones.
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Kelly’s Duck Stew & Lisa’s Award Winning Buffalo Chicken Chili
This stock is made with a reduced-sodium chicken base, from a jar, mixed with water. I don’t bother to use a homemade chicken stock when there are so many other ingredients in a recipe that would camouflage the taste of a bone broth.
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Canned Stewed Tomatoes:
I like to purée stewed tomatoes before using them in a recipe. While I love the instant flavor boost you get from a can of stewed tomatoes, I don’t care for the texture or taste of sliced and diced tomatoes. Rachelle turned me on to Del Monte’s brand of “Italian Recipe” Stewed Tomatoes and I like it.
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Heel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese:
Using the heel of a wedge of Parmesan as flavoring was Mom’s secret ingredient in both her spaghetti sauce and soup. I grew up with a baggie of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese heels in the refrigerator and for the longest time, I had no idea why Mom saved them. Truth be told, I may have even thrown a few away when I was cleaning out her refrigerator. Big mistake. Those Parmesan heels are solid gold. They are an instant flavor booster. They are also a little salty so be sure to taste test your soup before adding salt. Chicken carcasses, heels of cheese. You probably think I have eye of newt in my fridge, too.
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Ingredients:
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4 quarts chicken stock
2 cans Italian-Style stewed tomatoes, puréed
1 can Fire-Roasted tomatoes, puréed
6 cups sliced celery (1½ pounds)
6 cups sliced carrots (2 pounds)
½ heel from a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
2 pounds cooked chicken meat
2 teaspoons garlic pepper
salt to taste

And for a heartier soup version:
1 head of escarole or other mildly bitter green, leaves washed and chopped
2 cans quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Pasta or ravioli, cooked in a separate pot of water

Mise en Place:
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Instructions:
1) Add stock to a large soup pot and heat until the gelatinous stock melts.
2) Add tomatoes, carrots, celery, and the Parmesan heel. Bring to a boil over high heat and then simmer over low heat for about one hour.
3) Add chopped chicken and beans and simmer another 30 minutes.
4) About five minutes before you are ready to serve, stir in the greens. They will wilt almost immediately. Turn off the heat.
5) Adjust seasoning by adding salt and garlic pepper as needed
6) If serving with pasta, cook per the package’s instructions.

About escarole:
Escarole is sometimes hard to find in Nashville. I would check Whole Foods first and if they don’t have it in stock, try Kroger. It is often the green of choice for many Italian soups. It is mildly bitter.
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If you are going to serve pasta with your soup, I recommend using a box of ditalini, a small tubular and chewy pasta. It has always been my family’s favorite soup pasta. Cook it in a separate pot of water so the pasta doesn’t absorb all of your broth. Store unused cooked pasta in a separate container.
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Rachelle’s chicken soup is a great sick soup because there is a lot of broth in it that warms your soul and heals what ails you.
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Sick Soup can easily become a very hearty Snowy Day Stew by adding artichoke hearts, rosemary, and ravioli. Last week, for a quickly organized dinner party for neighbors during a snow storm, I used a 20-ounce package of Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli instead of the ditalini. I cooked the pasta in a separate pot; just as I recommend doing for the ditalini. Be sure to have a bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese on the table to share.
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One of my dinner guests, on that snowy evening, was my neighbor, Ann Shayne, of the dynamic knitting duo at MasonDixonKnitting.com. Ann and Kay Gardiner have recently published a best-selling knitter’s coloring book. Check it out here. Rachelle colored the picture on the right from her copy of the coloring book. In the background of the photo on the left, you can see the knitted mitered-square blanket that Kay taught me how to make. There are how-to instructions for knitting this blanket in MDK’s first knitting book.
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Like bone broth, knitting is good for you, too; just ask New York Times health columnist, Jane Brody. She recently posted an article about the health benefits of knitting in the NYT. I’ll find out real quick if my sons read my blog by whether they notice I’ve exposed a Mom’s Trade Secret about raising them in a comment I posted in response to Brody’s article.
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So, here’s to a little winter cold therapy with sick soup, or cups of bone broth, knitting, and coloring.
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LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Chicken Stock from Rotisserie Chicken Bones

Last year, about the time I started stockpiling turkey carcasses in the freezer to make Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage Gumbo, I had the idea to start freezing rotisserie chicken bones, too. To prepare my first batch of chicken stock, I thawed and then cooked the stored carcasses for about five hours in a pot of plain water, no vegetables, just as we did for the turkey stock in the gumbo. The stock was good, and by good, I mean adequate.

To make it more flavorful, I started simmering aromatic vegetables and herbs with my stash of frozen bones following the ingredients list from my recipe for Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup. Much better.

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It’s a little more work, but the results are a flavorful stock. While it doesn’t gel up as much as the stock made from using the ten collagen-laden thigh bones in Aunt Bridget’s recipe, the flavor is rich and delicious. You should know the seasoning used to flavor the rotisserie chicken does carry over into the stock so it isn’t as pure as the more neutral tasting stock you might want for a delicate sauce, but it is perfect for making a hearty soup.

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Last week, I was at Costco and bought two freshly made rotisserie chickens to have in the fridge for “weekend food.” When I got home and heard there might be a lot of snow on the way, I decided to go ahead and use the rotisserie chickens to make soup since nothing says Snow Day like the smell and warmth of soup simmering on the stove.

At $4.99 each, Costco’s rotisserie chickens are considered “loss leaders” in the grocery industry; Costco knows they are going to lose money on them, but they also know they are going to draw shoppers into the store. Costco happily assumes that risk. I know I, for one, have never been able to leave Costco with just one food item in my cart.

I once spoke to a Costco butcher who told me each of their rotisserie chickens weighs a minimum of three pounds. Anything smaller is used to make food items such as chicken salad or chicken pot pie. The good news for consumers is that most of their roasted chickens weigh a lot more than three pounds, sometimes up to six pounds! Look for a chicken whose breast meat is touching the top of the packaging, and you’ll know you’ve picked a big one.

To give you an idea of how much meat you can get from a rotisserie chicken, I pulled off 2 pounds, 6 ounces from a chicken that weighed 4 pounds, 5 ounces. These results are consistent with those I described here.
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Between the two chickens, I bought that day I had five pounds of meat. That’s a deal for $10, even better when you consider the added benefit of getting stock from the carcasses.
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As I carved off the meat, I collected the bones, skin and even the gelled chicken juice from the bottom of the packaging.
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How to Make Chicken Stock from Bones

Ingredients:
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2-3 large cooked rotisserie chickens, or 2-3 frozen carcasses
5 quarts water
1 large unpeeled onion (1 pound), quartered
1/3 head celery, with leaves (½ pound)
4 unpeeled carrots (½ pound)
6 cloves unpeeled garlic (½ ounce), smashed
10 whole stems Italian flat-leafed parsley
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon pepper, no salt
2 tablespoons cider vinegar or lemon juice

Mise en Place:
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Instructions:
Remove meat from bones as described in this post. Or, use 2-4 thawed carcasses from the freezer. These carcasses are from rotisserie chickens from Whole Foods. I used the saved stems from parsley instead of the leaves. Also had lots of singlet garlic cloves that I threw in there.

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Place carcasses and water in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. The water should cover the bones. Add a little more water if you need to. Remove the scum that boils to the top, if any.

Add the vegetables and other ingredients all at once. There is no need to peel the vegetables, not even the garlic. Just smash it with a food mallet and throw it in the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a slow simmer. The acid in the vinegar helps to break down the cartilage in the bones and pull out the minerals, such as calcium. Allow to simmer, barely bubbling, for about seven hours. I found that if you simmer stock slowly, instead of boiling, the finished stock will be less cloudy. Cool for 30 minutes before handling.

Pour soup through a colander. Discard contents of the colander. Pour it a second time through a sieve or cheesecloth to remove tiny bones and food particles that remain.
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Store stock overnight in the refrigerator or outside, if it is cold enough. The next morning, scrape off the layer of hardened, yellowish fat that has risen to the surface and congealed. You should end up with about 4 quarts, or 16 cups, of chicken stock. If you are not going to use the stock within the next couple of days, it is best to freeze it.

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But, you might just want to start having a cup of bone broth a day to keep the doctor away.

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Or, make a big container of Sick Soup for an ailing friend. Recipe here.

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An FYI: A way to carve a chicken or turkey breast:

Carve out the full breast from each side of the sternum, cutting as close to the bone as possible. I often just pull the meat away with my fingers. Slice the breast meat as shown in the photo below. Each breast ways about 11 ounces.

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I usually reserve the dark meat for soup and save the white breast meat for salads and sandwiches.

Start saving dem bones in the freezer!

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Related Posts:
Kelly’s Duck Stew
Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage Gumbo
Lisa’s Award Winning Buffalo Chicken Chili
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
Rotisserie Chicken Soup, Revisited

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

My Favorite Gazpacho

I returned from a week-long trip to find my vegetable garden laden with tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, green bell peppers, and okra. I brought all the produce inside, dumped it on the kitchen counter and tried to get inspired to clean and prep all of it; I knew once I got started, I’d be in the kitchen for the rest of the day … A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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Abundant summer harvests call for big recipes, and I have three go-to’s: ratatouille, gazpacho, and marinara sauce. Since there were no eggplants or zucchini, ratatouille was out. Gazpacho and marinara sauce were in. I made both!

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My tried and true gazpacho recipe comes from Open-House Cookbook, by Sarah Leah Chase, published in 1987 to instant acclaim. Over the years, I have found my own way to streamline the vegetable prep work, and, thanks to my mother, who also made this recipe and used Bloody Mary mix to spice it up, I use spicy vegetable juice instead of plain.

Ingredients:
Makes 6 quarts

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2 cups of freshly made breadcrumbs made from crusty bread
1-ounce garlic cloves, about 3-5 cloves depending on size
Juice of one lemon, about 3 tablespoons
2 bunches green onions
3  8 inch cucumbers
5 sweet bell peppers in different colors (I like to use green, yellow and orange)
8 pounds of tomatoes, about 10 large
46 ounces spicy vegetable juice
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin, first cold-pressed, olive oil
4 teaspoons sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper, add more as desired

Instructions:
In the instructions that follow, I’m going to show you how to prep each vegetable. Find a large bowl that will hold 8 quarts of chopped vegetables.

1) Prep Bread, Garlic, and Lemon Juice Mixture: 
-Make 2 cups of homemade breadcrumbs using the method described in Mom’s Meatloaf. Five or six slices of crusty bread should suffice.
-Juice the lemon as shown in the Ricotta and Lemon Cookie recipe.
-Peel the garlic cloves. I used three large cloves. If you are using medium to small cloves, you’ll need all five.  Always remember that uncooked garlic can quickly overpower a recipe, so be careful — you can always add more garlic to your recipe later as you adjust your spices.

Pulse garlic cloves in food processor until minced, add the breadcrumbs and lemon juice. You want the mixture to become pasty, so process it for about 10 seconds.

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2) Prep green onions:
Wash, cut roots off and trim off the top third of stems. Chop stems into 2-inch segments so they will fit nicely into the food processor bowl. If you put produce in the processing bowl uncut, they won’t chop evenly, and you’ll find yourself practically puréeing food to get everything chopped to a consistent size. Pulse green onions until they look like the photo below and then add to your large container.

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3) Prep Cucumbers:
Cut off ends and peel. Cut into long quarters. I always taste a homegrown cucumber before adding it to a recipe because sometimes, if the cucumber went through a dry spell while growing, it can taste bitter. If the cucumber tastes at all bitter, throw it in the compost. Remove seeds by quartering and using a paring knife to remove the “triangle” tip of seeds from each strip. Chop into 2-inch chunks before processing. Once processed, add to large container.

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4) Prep Sweet Bell Peppers:
I had a lot of small green peppers in my garden and used them, plus two colorful peppers I bought at the grocery store. To prep peppers: cut in half vertically, and remove core, seeds, and extra white pith. Chop into 2-inch chunks for even processing in the food processor. Add to the large container.

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5) How to Seed and Prep Tomatoes:
Over the years, I have learned there is no reason to peel the skin off tomatoes. I do, however, remove the seeds. This is easily accomplished by cutting the tomato in half horizontally and using your finger to scoop the seeds out.

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Use a paring knife to remove the stem and white core. Cut into 2″ chunks to process evenly. Pulse in batches. Add to the large container. If you are using homegrown tomatoes, don’t use any that have been pecked by birds or otherwise have skin that is not intact. Save imperfect tomatoes for cooking.  Tomatoes with white mold, ooze, or that have been partially eaten by squirrels go in the compost! (That last sentence is for my husband.)

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Photos of the bowl as it filled up …

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Food, Glorious Food!

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6) Add Vegetable Juice and Seasonings
Add the spicy vegetable juice, the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasoning.
Me, to my husband: “Try this and tell me what it needs.”
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Much later that day, after making marinara sauce and blanched string beans in vinaigrette, the kitchen was clean. All that remained was a pile of cucumbers that were going to be made into cold cucumber soup, but I ran out of steam, and my family had lost interest in cleaning up after me. Oh, and the okra, it went into the latest version of my “everything, but the kitchen sink” Shepherd’s Pie.

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Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.