BY WHATEVER NAME IT’S CALLED

I’ve been in my apartment for two weeks now and I’ve had homemade soup three times; potato soup, root vegetable soup, and bean soup. Sounds like I was soup hungry doesn’t it?

I love all kinds of food, but I’ve always had a special affinity for any kind of soup. I miss my mother in laws’ vegetable soup; I don’t know how she made it, I’ve tried to duplicate it but to no avail. My own mother was a master soup maker. I don’t think she had a signature soup, she just made all kinds. It was from her I learned to put my little dabs of left overs in a container in the freezer until it was full after which the contents was turned into a sumptuous soup.

Soup is the very epitome of comfort food. A steaming bowl of that deliciousness paired with crackers, garlic bread, biscuits or [my personal favorite with many soups] cornbread, elicits a deep sense of satisfaction derived no other way.

The history of soup is as old as the history of cooking. Combining various ingredients in one pot to make a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was somehow inevitable. It was perfect for both sedentary and traveling cultures, both rich and poor, for healthy people as well as for invalids.

By whatever name it is called, soup, stew, pottage, porridge, chowder, gruel, and lately ‘stoup’, it evolved according to available ingredients and tastes.  New England clam chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone , French onion, Chinese won ton, or Campbell’s tomato are a few popular examples.

Canned and dehydrated varieties were available in the 19th century and were used by the military, covered wagon trains and cowboy chuck wagons. These days we have dehydrated, freeze dried, canned, frozen and microwave ready soups. The forrunner of these modern soups was the ‘pocket soup’ which was carried by colonial travelers and could easily be reconstituted by adding hot water.

The modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup. Soups were the first items to be served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris. The name soup is derived from sop or sup, meaning the sliced bread on which the broth was poured and used to ‘sop’ up the liquid. In medieval times a piece of bread with broth poured over it was served for the meal at the end of the day, which was the lighter of the two meals. It was because of this normal inclusion of sop that the end-of-the-day meal became known as sopper or supper. Until bread was invented the only kind of thick soup was a concoction of grains, plants and meat cooked together. Gruel or porridge was a basic staple form of nourishment in Western countries. A thick porridge of some kind is still a staple of many people, made from grains, but many time from other starches, such as legumes, chestnuts or root vegetables.

Soups have long been prescribed for invalids. Soups made of beaten eggs, barley and emmer gruel, or the water from boiled vegetables and meats, or the puree made from vegetables, legumes or fruits have been used to nourish invalids and many times medicinal spices and herbs have been added for increased therapeutic value.

Americans are not such fans of cold soups such as gazpacho or fruit soups, but they are popular in some countries and the idea is intriguing to contemplate when it’s hot outside.

Some people argue that soup is a starter course served warm or cold, or a lunch dish served with a sandwich and a salad, and stew is a main course, always served hot. A new term ‘stoup’ has been coined, which means thicker than soup, but thinner than stew.

I’m not splitting hairs on soup terms; soup, stew, stoup, chowder or whatever name one cares to call it is delicious to me and remains among my favorite foods. One could eat a different soup 365 days of the year and still have a large variety left to choose from. I’ve thought of doing just that; it would be both delicious and inexpensive. The only problem is that I like too many other foods to do that. Yes you might say that food is my one weakness…and soup is still at the top of the list  Thank goodness for air conditioning!

MY HOW TIME FLIES

Summer is waning, the dog days are upon us and children every where are starting a new school year. The temperature has dropped a few degrees and there are signs that another summer is coming to a close. ‘Gilbert’ my sons grapevine [yes it has a name, as does the peach tree] produced an enormous amount of grapes and is now telling us he’s ready for a rest, evidenced by his darkening, curling leaves. The cicadas are less noisy, and the night air is very pleasant…if one can stand the mosquitos.

My how time flies! It seems only yesterday that I came to Texas [was it almost five months ago?] , but perhaps I’ve lived part of that time in a daze. For good or bad the daze  is wearing off and sometimes I’m only too painfully aware of my surroundings. At other times I feel a slight but definite twinge of something….excitement maybe, or a sense of an adventure unfolding?

I’m beginning to see just what a sheltered life I’ve lead…just how much my husband pampered me and took care of me. I’ve had to learn to pump gas, to get the oil changed in the car, to make unpleasant phone calls, to open all my own doors, to go places alone, and to speak up for myself to name just a few things. I now have my first apartment which is the biggest change of all, and it dawns on me that I must finally be a grown up girl to be living by myself…I just hope that I won’t wind up being a lonely one as well; but so far, so good.

I’ll have to say that I was a little worried about how that would play out but I love it here. It’s a very nice, spacious place even though it’s small; it’s light and airy and I feel comfortable and safe here. As an added bonus, I’m very happy that my children and grandchildren are close enough to just pop in to visit.

We had a terrific thunder storm the afternoon I moved in that continued all night and I had a perfect unencumbered view of the lightning from my living room. I sat on my little patio this afternoon and gave thanks for the rain cooled air no matter how brief the respite might be. I’m ecstatic that the desert rose plant my son gave me for mother’s day is finally starting to bud…the one he got for himself at the same time has been blooming for a long time. I had almost given up on mine but I guess it’s celebrating the move to our new home where hopefully, we’ll both be very happy.

I’m anticipating cooler weather in the days to come, I mean September harks the change of seasons so it’s gotta bring cooler air…I’m definitely ready for the searing heat of  summer to take a vacation. Until then I’ll bide my time and venture out only in the early mornings and late afternoons. I took an early morning trip today to the nearest grocery store to get a few necessaties and discovered that my buying practices will be completely different now…I never realized just how many things I bought solely for my husband’s benefit. Did I ever mention how picky he was? My how I miss him…

 

 

 

TIME MACHINE

I have a necklace that makes me very happy; my youngest brother made it for me from a hickory nut cut in half, sanded and beautifully finished. It has a nail through the nut and the whole thing is strung on a thin bronze chain. It makes me happy because it’s unusual and beautifull, because my brother took the time to make it and send it to me, and most of all because it’s a nod to, and a reminder of, our childhood when we’d happily gather hickory nuts to crack open between two rocks. Most of the time a nail was used to pick out the nut meat, especially after I lost mom’s small sewing machine screw driver somewhere in the woods…I never knew if she suspected that it was I who borrowed it without permission and lost it….anyway the nails we used for that purpose worked just fine and it didn’t matter if we lost them.

Those were simpler times when simple activities made rich and lasting memories. I can’t help but feel sorry for youngsters today who have never played in the woods gathering and cracking nuts; who have never picked and eaten ripe persimmons right off the tree; who have never gorged on warm blackberries straight from the vine; who have never eaten the tart insides of maypops or sucked on sour sumach berries, or who have never spent a pleasurable afternoon in an apple tree, eating salted green apples. In certain  places or seasons our bounty at hand included pecans, muscadines, possum grapes, elderberries, mulberries, huckleberries, wild plums, figs, cranberries, and blueberries. No wonder we didn’t worry about getting home in time for lunch, it was all around us!

As cities expand father and father outward, the opportunities for such childhood activities grow ever smaller, even if  today’s youth were interested in such things. Considering my own childhood memories I can’t help but wonder what theirs will consist of…using their phones to text or skype with friends? Playing games or watching videos on their hand-held electronic devices? Sitting in front of a television screen playing games or mindlessly watching T.V.? Hanging out at the mall?

Some might say this is all a part and parcel of progress, but I’m disinclined to agree with that assessment. How can any of those things remotely compare to being out doors all day; running, jumping, climbing trees, swinging on wild grape vines, riding bicycles, playing ball, target shooting, and watching the clouds as new shapes emerge over and over again….all so much better than keeping ones eyes glued to a box while exercising only ones fingers.

I had a lovely childhood and I thank my brother for a memento of those lovely memories. Whoever said you can’t go back in time was clearly wrong for each time I wear that necklace I’m transported back  to my childhood with happy memories and feelings. The necklace basically works like a time machine, only better, with none of the physical worries or risks or science involved. What a genius my brother is, and how glad I am that he  saw fit to give me the gift of my childhood all over again… here’s to you Doug, may you also have an abundance of happy memories!

HEALTH NEVER TASTED SO GOOD

It’s the quintessential summer snack, sweet enough to be desert but good enough to be a health food and with only 84 calories per wedge. It originated in Africa several thousand years ago, traveled to Asia about 900-1000 A.D., then to Europe in approximately 1300-1400 A.D. It didn’t arrive in North America until the Europeans began to colonize North America. On average we now consume 15 pounds per person each year. Watermelons are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, related to cantaloupe, squash, pumpkin, cucumber and gourds. I can speak from experience that if these vegetables/fruits are planted  in close proximity they can [and probably will] cross-pollinate giving you a watermelon that tastes like cucumber, or a squash with a distinctive cantaloupe taste. While each is good individually, the taste isn’t so palatable when mixed.

The watermelon has many health benefits. It’s rich in the amino acid called L-Citrulline which the body converts into L-Arginine. This particular amino acid relaxes the blood vessels, improves circulation, and soothes sore muscles. Drink watermelon juice before a workout to reduce the heart rate and next day muscle soreness. One of my sons makes juices for commercial use and one of the most popular juices is the watermelon, ginger, and  lime combination….delicious AND nutritious!

My mother grew up on a farm where acres of watermelons grew each summer. They often ‘juiced’ ripe melons for a sweet beverage to take on picnics or to sip after a hot day working outdoors in the field or garden. They may not have known the nutritional value of doing that but they knew it tasted good and was very refreshing.

Watermelon helps the heart function better and helps to alleviate high blood pressure. It’s a natural diuretic, and is more than 90% water; a 10 ounce wedge has 1/3 of the recommended daily value of Vitamin A, C, and B6. It also has a hefty dose of Potassium and Beta-Carotene. So if your children won’t eat their greens, smile to yourself while you serve them watermelon.

It’s one of the best sources for lycopene, an antioxidant linked to the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer. Lycopene is also important for cardiovascular health as well as bone health and it protects the skin from wrinkle-causing UV rays. Studies show that lycopene doesn’t start to deteriorate in a melon that has been cut until after seven days of storage in the refrigerator. That makes it easy to cut a melon and enjoy it over several days time, as long as it’s kept covered well. The phenolic compounds make it full of antiinflammatory and antioxidant benefits that boost the immune system.

Interestingly enough the seeds provide both iron and zinc as well as one gram of protein per 24 seeds, so don’t fret if you swallow a few. In Asian countries the seeds are salted, roasted and eaten as a snack; they are also ground for cereal or used to make bread.

These days seedless watermelons are popular and it might be comforting to know they are the result of hybridization and not genetic engineering. It’s estimated that 85 percent of all watermelon produced in the U.S. today is seedless.

Tests have shown that the white part of the watermelon that is closest to the rind is equally as nutritious at the red part. The rind itself can be marinated or pickled and many such recipes can be found. My mother often made pickles of the rind, specializing in a spicy red one she called “Christmas pickle”, saved and eaten of course, at Christmas time. She, like many of her generation, didn’t believe in wasting anything…a good policy for all of us to embrace as the price of food grows steadily higher.

Nothing says summer like watermelon. I enjoyed some icy cold last night…and this morning…and most likely will again tonight. At the rate I’m consuming it that melon won’t even begin to last seven days but that’s okay, summer is short and health never tasted so good!

JUST A BILLFOLD

It started out so innocently, just a quick look in my husband’s billfold for his driver’s license number to settle an account no longer useful to me….and wham, a whole life story assailed me, bringing sharp fresh grief to a heart I thought was healing nicely.

Along with my husband’s driver’s license [complete with a picture of his mischievous little smile] there was the social security card he got when he was 17, still clearly legible though now brown and worn with age; there were his business credit cards, his bank cards, his well used Golden Age pass which allowed us free access to national and state parks [that in itself sparking countless memories], his gas card, his insurance cards which no longer hold value but were worth their weight in gold when he was alive, the cards describing what kind of coronary artery stents he had, a free meal pass to Colton’s steak house, a list of the medication’s he was taking at the time, a current temple recommend, random names and numbers of  colleagues or potential customers and pictures of family members.

It was only a well used black billfold full of the kinds of things any man might carry, but it was totally lethal to my sensibilities. Each card it contained told a part of the story that made up his life. Only those who really knew him would know that the Colton meal pass represented his favorite food which was steak. Or that the gas card and the golden age pass represented his love for traveling. When he was teaching school we traveled each summer and after he retired we traveled year round, even surviving a few harrowing experiences in the winter months. Our children for a time were literally spread from coast to coast, so in order to see them all we traveled many a mile, mostly by car. Baptisms, weddings, moves, these were all excuses for travel and when we didn’t have an excuse we traveled ‘just because‘.

His business credit cards tells the story of his construction business which he started after he retired from teaching school. He bought most of his materials from Lowes and Home Depot as well as a local Ace lumber and hardware store. Those cards along with his cell phone were how he ran his business. I will forever see him with cell phone in hand ordering supplies for a job [or two] he had underway. He employed scores of people over the years who needed work, especially young people, many whom had been his students at one time.

The list of medications and his insurance cards tell another part of his story. He had some health problems, some quite serious, but he never let them get him down or even slow him down for many years. He was always an optimist, happy and outgoing, doing his best and seeing the best in those he came in contact with. He kept busy, put on a happy face and worked almost until the day he died, despite his health issues. Those medical cards were used too often in the last few years but how very fortunate we were that he had such good insurance.

His temple recommend and pictures tell another part of his story. He loved his family completely and he showed it by word and deed. His children will vouch for his constant devotion and help…nothing they needed or wanted was too much or too hard for him to comply with. He served his family and his God till his last breath and he left this world in good standing with his church and his Father in heaven. Because of the good life he led he was ready to go when he  was called home; I wasn’t ready for him to go, but he was at peace with the way he’d lived and he knew all was well.

So, just a billfold? I think not; I believe that humble receptacle holds much of my husband’s life story. Instead of keeping it tucked away in a drawer, I’m placing it in plain sight on my night stand to remind me of his story lived thus far and the story that continues to unfold beyond the veil. I’m confidant that someday I’ll know the rest of his story…someday I’ll even live it with him again.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER?

I’m a country girl through and through. I like open spaces, trees, rivers and lakes, a clear view of the stars, fresh clean air, and the enchantment of watching wild life. I’ve never liked being in a city where everyone’s scrunched together; the bustle of so many people in one place makes me uneasy as if I have an itch that I can’t quite tell the location of.

Dallas is no exception to my dislike for cities but some of the suburbs are still liveable…barely. The town I live in is one of a string of towns that run together, separated only by a street. On one side of the street is one town and on the other side is a completely different one. My bank is located in the town in which I live, but across the street my pharmacy is in another town. When I move to my apartment I’ll be in yet another town. Somewhat confusing to me at first but I’m beginning to make a little sense of it.

The thing which makes living in this area tolerable is that there are large swathes of farm land interspersed with highly developed properties. One can be driving through town and suddenly see acres of corn adjacent to a large shopping mall; or a new apartment complex flanked on either side by wheat and maize fields. The novelty of  this never ceases to amaze and charm me. It’s not solely country or solely city, it’s both…casually intermingled.

There are also large green belts throughout the area where no construction is permitted. Another unique thing is that wild flowers are protected here. There are some places where they grow prolifically and in these spots the grass may not even be cut until the flowers cease blooming. The apartment I’ve rented and will soon be moving into is right across the street from a large open field where wild flowers are continually blooming. I look forward to sitting on my patio and enjoying this lovely view while pretending I’m actually in the country; the beautiful Country Club just down the street from my apartment adds to this illusion. The golf course has a five-mile walking trail along the perimeter which, I’m told, is available to the apartment residents so I’ll be able to take nature walks whenever I desire [will I really do it? That remains to be seen] Since I no longer have my sweetie to hold my hand when I walk I’m investing in a hiking stick to help with my balance.

The bottom line here is that even though I’m in an urban area, I can still enjoy a small slice of nature, maybe even enough to satisfy this country girl. There are plenty of rabbit, squirrel, duck, racoon, birds of all kinds, and even coyote and fox to observe. There may even be a few deer, although I haven’t yet seen any myself. The stars may not be as bright as I’m accustomed to, but having the empty field directly across the street from me will eliminate a lot of the light pollution, making for better star-gazing.

I guess I can’t really complain about my circumstances or location since I seem to be in the enviable position of  having all the conveniences of the city, while enjoying the illusion of living in the country. As an added bonus I have several children and grandchildren near by. So my question is, what could be better at this stage of my life?  Oh yes indeed, I must remember daily to count my blessings.

THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY

I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome. I wonder if this applies to birds as well?

At my son Chris’ house here in Texas a Cardinal bird repeatedly flies into windows all day long. This particular bird starts about six a.m. attacking one of two bedroom windows; either the one where I sleep or the one where my grandson sleeps. He does this for an hour or two then changes to the other bedroom window for a while before coming back to the first one, striking it with his beak every second or two. Sometimes in the afternoon he changes to the dining room window…but not always, sometimes he just does battle with the two bedroom windows.

They’ve put long swirly things in the tree next to the windows to scare him away to no avail.  He’s very determined, and I’d think after doing this same thing for months, he’d be very tired. It seems to me his beak would crack, or his neck would be injured…or he would just get tired of his silly game. Obviously he has nothing better to do, not even eat…it’s almost as if he’s possessed.

In my research on this subject I’ve discovered that Cardinal birds are very territorial so perhaps this started because he saw his reflection and was protecting his territory from a perceived intruder and then it just became a habit. Strange to think of birds developing habits, especially bad habits. From all I’ve read on the subject if he can be deflected from doing this for a few days, the habit will be broken. It’s suggested that placing a black image of a hawk on the inside of the window or a hanging a basket of flowers on the outside of the window [not feasible in this case since it's a high unreachable window] might be enough to stop this unsettling behavior. Perhaps my grandson can be persuaded to climb a ladder and attach a hawk image to the inside of the glass. It would certainly be to his benefit….and mine.

I’ve seen birds in the past fly unknowingly into a window and become stunned or kill themselves. But this continual calculated pecking on the window makes one think of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds” which gave people nightmares and brought about Ornithophobia [fear of birds] in susceptible persons. Birds have long held a place in folk-lore for good or evil; take for instance the phoenix, rising from its own ashes, the blue bird bringing happiness, or the albatross as an unlucky symbol. Edgar Allen Poe wrote “The Raven” depicting mans decent into madness. Old wives tales often ascribe common birds, such as the turtle-dove, as harbingers of death. A kernel of truth maybe? Where there’s smoke there’s fire?

I’m certainly not afraid but I’ve moved from the bedroom to the living room and this insane Cardinal is now pecking the dining room window with renewed energy. It’s almost as if he’s tracking where I am to bring me as much unease as possible. I’m really not afraid but….dare I go outside?

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