Sipping, slurping for United Way

Soup with friends was the theme Oct. 26 at First National Bank of Durango’s eighth annual Sip to Soup-port fundraiser for United Way of Southwest Colorado. Brandon Schwartz won the amateur category for his butternut-apple bisque with brats, while the winner of the professional category was the Strater Hotel for cream of porcini with rosemary and port soup. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Soup with friends was the theme Oct. 26 at First National Bank of Durango’s eighth annual Sip to Soup-port fundraiser for United Way of Southwest Colorado. Brandon Schwartz won the amateur category for his butternut-apple bisque with brats, while the winner of the professional category was the Strater Hotel for cream of porcini with rosemary and port soup.

The lobby of the First National Bank of Durango was fragrant with enticing aromas and awash with slow cookers at its eighth annual Sip to Soup-port benefitting United Way of Southwest Colorado on Oct. 26.

The 70 or so people who lent their taste buds to judging took it quite seriously, discussing the fine points of various entries and steering others to their favorites.

This was the first year I was able to make it, and it will definitely be a priority in future years, mostly to see what the creative cooks, both professional and talented amateur, will prepare.

If I have any complaint, it’s that no one brought a great chicken-noodle soup, a classic for a reason. Of course, it would have had to be a stellar chicken noodle to be a contender against this year’s great entries.

The professional category included wild salmon and green chile chowder from College Drive Café; acorn squash soup from Nature’s Oasis; pork posole from Iron Horse Pizza; chicken posole from Zia Taqueria; Hatch green chile-pork stew with purple potatoes courtesy of the Ore House; butternut squash soup from Guido’s Favorite Foods; chicken-calabacitas soup prepared by CJ’s Diner; harvest pumpkin bisque courtesy of Norton’s Catering; the Lost Dog Bar & Lounge’s Southwest corn chowder; Kassidy’s Kitchen’s pumpkin, acorn squash and white bean soup; Sopa Azteca from Carver Brewing Co.; and Raider’s Ridge Café’s James Ranch ham hock and great northern bean soup.

But the bragging rights in the professional category go to the Strater Hotel’s cream of porcini with rosemary and port. Since I’m allergic to mushrooms, I couldn’t sample that one, but I heard one woman say she’d never think of mushroom soup the same way again.

The amateurs were no slouches, with Moni Grushkin preparing green chile-chicken posole; Eliza Brown making a tortilla soup; Lacey Meador weighing in with spicy potato-corn chowder; Cathy Wilson providing white bean-and-chicken soup; Rachael Travis offering green chili: both Jessi Scavo and Robert Mazur throwing down with a version of hot ’n’ sour; Sonya Meador entering a baked potato soup; and the shy Kelsey and Amy, who both preferred not to give a last name. Kelsey contributed a spicy, creamy butternut soup, and Amy’s contribution was a rich dark lager-onion soup with smoked cheddar cheese.

The amateur winner of the Golden Ladle was Brandon Schwartz, whose butternut-apple bisque with bratwurst literally tasted like fall.

United Way spends about five months working toward a goal that will help it support 80 programs vital to the well-being of five counties in our part of the state. This year’s goal is $764,000, and United Way President and CEO Tim Walsworth tells it had reached 37 percent of the total as of Oct. 31. (The organization had reached only 33 percent of the goal by the same date last year, and the goal was smaller, so that’s a great sign.)

That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re home free, because they have almost $500,000 left to go. The organization raises that money through a three-pronged approach.

The first is fundraisers, such as the Four Corners Broadcasting Radiothon, two golf tournaments, the San Juan Brewfest, the Michael Franti concert and the Durango Wine Experience. The second is payroll deductions, with most of the major companies in town offering that option to their employees.

And, finally, anyone can make a tax-deductible donation by mailing it to United Way of Southwest Colorado, P.O. Box 3040, Durango, CO 81302.

Many people have told me there are so many good causes in Durango, they have a hard time deciding where to donate, and often end up donating nothing at all. My advice is always to start with United Way, which supports so many programs, all vetted by a committee, so they’ve done all the groundwork for you. You can pick some favorites to go from there.

We’ll learn in February how much the campaign has raised, but we can all do our part now in making sure that news is splendiferous.

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Here’s wishing the best of birthdays to my fellow Scorpios Patricia Beard, Price Bryant, Denise Noble, London Blalock, Lane Joseph, Debra Pene, Wayne Kjonaas, Katarina Seibert, Sofia Walt, Susan Terrill-Flint, Kalli Fassett, Michelle Unterberger, Dale Strode, Michelle Rabouin, Carolyn Bowra, Sean Jackson, Whitney Burns and Bonnie Flores.

Here’s hoping one of my favorite people enjoys all the best for her big birthday, Karren Little!

And because readers in the know have given me a hard time for not putting my birthday in Saturday’s column – I celebrated Monday – thanks for all the cards and good wishes.

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Like many La Plata County residents, I recycle, try to limit my water usage and, were I not on crutches, would be using alternative modes of transportation a few days a week.

But there are many people who are doing more, and the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center is on the front lines.

At 5:15 p.m. today, the doors will open at the Smiley Building for the center’s 11th annual REEL Environmental Experience fundraiser. The evening will begin with a community trash-art project and a panel of community members discussing what’s going on in our area on the green front.

The main attraction is at 6:30 p.m., the screening of the Sundance Film Festival and Academy Award-winning documentary “Waste Land,” followed by what Rachel Landis is billing as a “rowdy” live auction.

A suggested $10 donation will get you all that plus food by Zia Taqueria and beer and root beer floats thanks to Carver Brewing Co.

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David and Julie Downs are looking forward to an anniversary free of political advertising.

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Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high-quality, high-resolution photos (at least 1 MB of memory).

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