Carrot-ginger soup and Crabtree's Cezanne Saison will bring a smile to your face

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One of the biggest challenges I face in life is making my girlfriend happy. We've been together almost four years, and I still haven't a clue as to how to bring a smile to her face. It's a beautiful smile, though, rare as it is, lighting up both the room and my heart, and worth the effort -- even if my cooking rarely brings it on. While I'm complimented frequently enough by friends on my work in the kitchen, my girlfriend hates almost every dish I present to her, something that leaves me with a heavy heart and a lot of leftovers.

So, when she casually mentioned a craving for the carrot-ginger soup her old roommate used to make, which she loved, I jumped on the opportunity to satisfy it.

And it was meant to be. In Season Local Market had fatefully procured some carrots that very day, their colorful radiance smiling at me as I walked in the door. Beyond that, I had everything else I needed to make a good soup.

Easily one of my favorite things to cook, soup is inexpensive, carefree and conducive to experimentation. Obviously, I wanted to make this one particularly special, which in my mind means serving it with a selected ale, so I stopped by my new favorite liquor store, Mr. B's Wine and Spirits, on the way home.

The small shop, located at the corner of 22nd and Market, might not look like an ideal beer spot, but it's smartly staffed with beer nerds and stocked with their selections. And in frequenting the place over the past few months, I've found their recommendations to be spot-on. (It's a great feeling to chat it up with a true beer-monger; it goes to show how far the beverage has come in this country.)

While perusing the bomber selection, I came across the Cezanne Saison from Crabtree Brewing, a farmhouse-style Belgian ale brewed with orange-blossom honey and rye. The blend of ingredients sounded like a nice accompaniment to carrot-ginger soup and inspired me to experiment a bit by adding some orange zest to the dish.

It turned out to be a good choice. Perfectly sour and subtle and well carbonated (not an easy task when bottle conditioning) with Brettanomyces, it was wonderfully drinkable. My girlfriend cringes when I cook with beer, but I couldn't resist adding a splash to the soup.

And she absolutely loved the result! She couldn't get enough, and even asked me to put some aside for her lunch the next day, something she rarely does. Truth be told, I didn't really doubt that she would. It was wonderfully savory, creamy and bright, and just as fitting for a warm, sunny fall afternoon as it was with the saison.

Alas, she hated the beer, wincing at its "funky aftertaste." I didn't mind, though: At least I'd fed her properly, and her yuck face just so happens to be as pretty as her smile...

Here's the recipe:

2 lbs. fresh carrots, chopped 1 large onion, chopped 2 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon orange zest 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger 1/4 cup saison beer 5 3/4 cups chicken stock 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream salt and pepper blender

1. Heat butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and saute until onions start to soften. 2. Add carrots and continue to saute until carrots begin to caramelize (a wonderful smell). 3. Add orange zest and ginger, and saute for a few minutes. 4. Add beer and stir, scrapping any brown carrot bits from the bottom of the pot. 5. Add stock and bring to a boil. 6. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 minutes. 7. Let cool for a bit, add cream, and, using either a hand-held or standing blender, blend until smooth. 8. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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