Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It's My Minestrone and I'll Cry if I Want To*

*no actual crying occurred 

I am not a person who generally considers soup to be a legitimate meal. I've said it one hundred of times before, but eating soup is only good if you want to be hungry again in thirty minutes. 

But that was in the olden days of being in college, of canned Campbell's chicken noodle for supper when I had used up my meal plan for the week. 

I'm still one who generally skips that portion of a restaurant menu, but I have come around to the idea of soup as a satisfying lunch or dinner. Turns out, watery broth with thin noodles and tiny bits of chicken from a can is at the bottom of the soup quality scale. Rich, creamy potato with scallions and bacon or hearty minestrone garnished with fresh basil and Parmesan are where it's at

So let's talk minestrone. I have made it before and my favorite recipe is by Ellie Krieger of the Food Network. (Can't be bothered to link to it, you can use the Google.) But the beauty of minestrone is that it's a very accomodating type of soup. You can add or subtract ingredients as you please. A learned chef might argue that if you add and subtract too many things, you end up with something that's not minestrone at all. To them I say semantics won't make the soup taste better.  

Today at work (in my kitchen job) we were dreadfully slow so I decided to make minestrone for lunch for myself and the other employees. My number one love for my job is the latitude to create whatever I want in the slow periods, time and ingredients permitting. Seriously. WHATEVER. I. WANT. 

I grocery shop for the weekend supplies on Thursdays, so the pantry and fridge were on the bare side. Every recipe I pulled, I was missing three or four of the major ingredients. One even called for cabbage. What is wrong with you, Martha? No one likes leaves in their soup!  I put all the recipes aside and made the soup with what we had on hand that sounded good to me. 

Why is this noteworthy, you ask, that sounds like a normal course of events to the seasoned cook. But here's a secret about me: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING. EVER. I'm winging it in there, 24/7. I've never been formally trained. I make a mess, use too many bowls, and I hope you never have to witness my knife skills. I've broken spatulas, glasses, the butter dish, pots and pans, and even started two (2!!) small fires. 

My saving grace is that I know two important safety tips: always cut away from yourself and never use water to put out a grease fire. Seriously, those are the only reasons why I still have all of my fingers and eyebrows and I have never burned down a building. Were it not for my winning smile, can-do attitude, and innate ability to never overbake the cookies, my dear boss would have sent me packing ages ago. 

And so I rarely improvise. I'll substitute and skip a step here and there but for safety (and insurance) reasons, I FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Until today. I threw caution to the wind (but carefully and away from any open flame) and made soup. And here it is. 

(Me Ellie, not the Food Network lady)

1 tbsp olive oil 
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 green onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper (whatever feels right)
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 14 oz can French-style green beans, drained
4 cups chicken broth 
2 cups water
1 cup elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oil in your soup pot. Add the garlic, onion, and celery; sauté til celery softens, about 5 or 6 minutes. 
2. Add the seasonings and the diced tomatoes, juice and all. Let cook a little more. (No idea how long, really. A minute or two? Just until it smelled yummy and tomatoey.)
3. Add both kinds of beans, the broth, and the water and bring to a low boil. 
4. Add the pasta and let simmer 10-15 minutes. 
5. Ladle into bowls, pray it tastes ok, and then dig in. 
(Spoiler alert: it tastes ok. Good, even.)

There's at least eight things wrong with this recipe, including things like sautéing in a soup pot (amateur hour!) and using green onion (all onions are not created equal, you moron!). Also, in a perfect world, I would have added carrots and fresh green beans and grated parm--WHATEVER, IT WORKED. 

Those are the things I had, I put them together, and most importantly, I didn't apologize for the outcome. 

"Soup's up, take it or leave it."
We took it. And we liked it. 

Day 2: Try improvising

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An Orange Wingback Armchair

I'm afraid of moving forward and terrified I'm sliding backward, and so I grow roots right where I am, inconveniently in the middle of the street, and tremble in fear and indecision as time roars by around me. The wind of passing opportunity yanks out my leaves, creating bald spots in the canopy. Loud and troublesome crows are nesting in my hair. 

I'm so so scared that ten years will pass with a quick inhale and ten more before the same breath leaves my lungs. And I'll still be right there, a bit of grass at my feet and empty branches above. 

Where will I be? What will I be doing? Will I be all alone?

I don't know anything about trees. I assume it's easiest to move them at two points in their lifespan: when they are saplings and when they are dead. Transplanting at the ages in between would require an enormous amount of effort and machinery and patience, I'd imagine. Does one dig up the entire area around the base of the tree and get it all in a ball? If you cut away at the roots, will that make it more difficult for it to thrive in a new environment?

Something must be done. I cannot possibly remain here in the road. For one thing, I'm creating potholes. But have I waited too long? Are the roots too deep?

Enough about trees. Enough with metaphors. I'm stuck in a hole and my twenties are marching on. I'm ninety-three and it's only half past eleven in the morning. 

I'm doing nothing, dreaming about everything, and the time is passing all the while. 

I'm not even writing. I'm afraid to write because it's a mirror more effective than glass, than a powerful camera lens with 300x optical zoom. In words I can see past my skin and eyes and hair, past my bones and muscles, straight into the center of my heart. 

There's a fifth chamber in there, a secret chamber that the blood flows around, but never in. The chamber is comfortably appointed, with a rug and a slightly worn orange wingback arm chair and an oak side table with a large book on it. The book contains all the reasons for who and why and what and where I am. 

But it's like the journal Harry Potter finds in the second book, blank until written in. It absorbs the ink, dissolves the words I wrote, and writes out the answers. I'm afraid to see into the chamber, put words into the book, and see what it has to say.

"You're afraid of failing so you don't even try. And by not trying, that's the greatest failure of all." 

And there it is. 

I've failed without even trying. 

And so I stay exactly where I am, doing the same exact thing, and roots shoot deep into the earth, curling like fists around the bedrock. 

I'm ready to uproot, I don't want to be here forever.  So it's time to try. Try what? Literally anything. For thirty days. Maybe one thing, maybe thirty things. Exercise? Pottery? Vegan mayonnaise? The universe is my oyster. 
(Except oysters. Because food poisoning.)

I've already failed without trying, so let's see if I can try without failing.
*softshoes off stage*

Day 1: Try writing again

design + development by kiki and co. creative