The Soup with a Stone

Have you been slurping soup to stay warm this month? Good, because it’s National Soup Month. One of my favorite soups is Stone Soup. A rather anticlimactic name, eh? Why not a more appealing title, like Chicken Tortilla or Mushroom and Brie? Stone Soup may sound unimaginative, but in my family this soup is magical.

When I was growing up, my brother brought home Stone Soup from the library. He begged my mom to make it. Of course, I had to read the book, too. Any book that can make you ask your mom to make soup from a rock must be incredible.

And that’s where the magic began. If I’d been given the soup without the story, I might have liked it. Maybe. It was the story that made me crave a soup with a stone.

Bringing magic to the mundane often relies on how you introduce it. I remembered this when I made the first pot of Stone Soup for my kids. Toddlers have finicky taste buds, so I didn’t think they’d go for turnip greens floating in their bowl. (How many of us do?) I told my kids the story of Stone Soup just before I served it—my version. Wanting them to anticipate the soup, I played up the flavor with lines like, “Oh, it smelled so good!” and “They took the first bite, and it was delicious!” and “They ate it all up.” I told my kids it was a magic stone. I romanticized the whole experience and then put the bowls of soup in front of them.

It was really funny the first time because they didn’t know how to react to that first bite. It was a wholly new taste, but the story made it wonderful. Over the next few weeks, I introduced the soup again. They brought rocks to me, asking “Dis make S’one Soup?” If I’d cooked a ham recently, then I’d tell them they’d found the magic stone to make Stone Soup! (I never actually put a stone in the soup. In my version of the story, the magic stone disappears when the soup is made.)

Here’s my recipe:

Rilla’s Stone Soup

3 cups of water
1 hambone with some meat pieces still attached

Heat to a boil in pot on the stove. Simmer until the meat falls off the bone. Remove any pieces with gristle and remove the bone. Add:

5-6 potatoes, diced
4-5 carrots, sliced
1 onion, minced (almost puree for tikes)
salt & pepper to taste
3 cups of water
1/4 to 1/3 cup ham drippings

Cook until carrots and potatoes are done. Add:

14 ½ oz can turnip greens

Simmer a few more minutes. Serve with bread or crackers.

And here are two important ingredients for storytelling:

1. Be animated. Use your hands and your expressions. Play the parts. Be vocally dynamic to convey the mood of the story and the feelings of the characters.

2. Use tangibles. Anything that is experienced through the senses sticks in a child’s mind like glue. And it doesn’t have to be food. Stealing out of the house to a patch of woods beside a buggy little pond to share a book like The Witch of Blackbird Pond makes a setting come alive for a young mind.

Essentially, aren’t these the things that make a book magical, too? We write about the physical actions of the characters, how they feel, and their mannerisms. We write about what they see and smell and hear to make it come alive, to make it memorable.

Rilla's Stone Soup
Rilla’s Stone Soup

So, the moral of this story is: Never judge soup by its name.

Heads Up, Little Piggies

school lunch
school lunch (Photo credit: bookgrl)

The first thing I thought of when I read “Be Kind to Food Servers Month” was  ball-shaped instant mashed potatoes plopped onto my plate by a lady behind a cafeteria counter with a hairnet and a mustache. I shouldn’t tell you that because my grandmother was the head cook for a school cafeteria for many years. Before I knew this I had the impression cafeteria ladies couldn’t cook. The truth is: the recipes are strictly regulated by policies and budgets. My grandmother told me she used to cheat, and her food was so good the powers that be overlooked it. And she doesn’t have a mustache, so I believe her.

Not just the cafeteria lady deserves kindness. There are a host of servers who bow to our demands and whims in eating establishments everywhere. And what about the food servers who don’t see a paycheck for their trouble? Remember the mom from A Christmas Story who hadn’t had a hot meal in 15 years? Yeah, don’t be mama’s little piggy; give your food server an extra helping of kindness.

Pinterest Addicts Need Not Apply…Themselves

It’s International Creativity Month. Oodles of noodles, what do I want to create? Wouldn’t it be funny if this one came with the condition that you can’t use Pinterest? Seriously, if I got a quarter every time somebody mentioned something from Pinterest…Wait, Ben Silbermann is doing that already.

Pinterest case in point: Right before Christmas, I had a friend who left burnt bread in my fridge. He said it was a new recipe he’d tried from Pinterest. It was called “Good Bread,” and the recipe consisted of slathering butter on both halves of the bread and broiling it in the oven to blackened perfection. My husband said, “Hey, maybe we can find a recipe on there that tells us how to put meat and cheese on the bread!” Novel thought, that.

English: , a science fair experiment. Utilizes...Actually, I’m kind of out of creative ideas at the moment. This is science project month—to help those prepare who are going to Regional. I decorated for our science banquet by making kits for simple experiments to do at the table. (I didn’t even look at Pinterest. Really.) No, there was nothing chemically toxic to mix and nothing that required flame. We were all able to experiment and eat simultaneously. It made for great conversation pieces at the very least.

So I’m all done inventing. Okay, I’m never done inventing, but I’m finished inventing this post. Have a creative day, friends!

Eat More Pie, Half-Pint

Apple pie
Apple pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s National Pie Day—the edible kind with the ‘e.’ Please don’t make me watch another video with a song to memorize 3.14…blah, blah, blah—and what is the point of knowing all those numbers again?

My favorite pie was once Peanut Butter. I had a boyfriend in college who told me he tried to make a peanut butter pie for me but accidentally dropped it while taking it out of the oven. I still think he was lying because any peanut butter pie connoisseur knows it’s a chilled dessert, and the few that touch the oven should only do so at the crust stage. But what do you say to a guy who makes up something he thinks will please you? You kindly say nothing—and then you begin to wonder what else he might be coming up with just to make brownie points. (Looking at it from his point of view, it would’ve been a good idea to get out of a relationship with a paranoid girlfriend.)

My favorite pie is Apple now. Very American of me, eh? My quest for the perfect apple pie began when the kids and I read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Almonso’s family ate apple pie for breakfast and lunch. They were always eating apple pie. I thought if they could do it, so could we. So we did. We ate thick servings of mouth-watering, tart Granny Apple slices topped with a beautifully browned lattice crust and cooked in caramel sweetness.

I make one a month on average. I tell myself they are much better than the Oreos and powdered donuts that my husband and kids would eat if I didn’t. When he calls from work to check if I’m still alive, I like tell my husband, “There will be apple pie when you get home!” Then I feel like I have my own Little House on the Prairie.

 

Apple Goodness with an Apricot Twist

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Voila! Scrumptious Baked Apples – but next time I’m cutting around the stem of the apple to prevent cracking. 😛

It’s Apples and Apricots Month! I made this cozy, healthy recipe for breakfast, replacing the sugar-free apricot jam it called for with puree canned apricots (adding a little agave nectar). I also replaced the apple juice with frozen apple juice concentrate to make up for the sweetness I took out by not including the sugar.

20130107aMaking this was completely kid-friendly, but it doesn’t compete with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Puffs cereal. The consensus was that it was good, and that’s all. (One would’ve gone with ‘meh,’ but was persuaded to change her vote by the kinder votes of her siblings.)

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Warmed the leftover apricot juice and added a cinnamon stick to that, too. The picture wasn’t complete without bunny ears.

My rating system is ever partial to foods that taste a little more real. So I gave it five stars, and my vote counts as ten. It’s a wonderful way to start a crisp January morning—warm and wholesome-tasting. And the aroma of cinnamon and apples that wafted through the house was incredible!

Veggies that Begin with ‘A’ Go Here

Craving artichokes and asparagus lately? That’s because January is the month to celebrate these funny veggies! Asparagus is in season in the spring, but you can get the canned kind at least. I celebrated by making a mayo-free spinach artichoke asparagus dip.

My Spinach Artichoke Asparagus Dip before it was demolished
my Spinach Artichoke Asparagus Dip before it was demolished

I found the recipe on Ree Drummond‘s site, the Pioneer Woman. It’s called, “The Best Spinach Artichoke Dip Ever,” and it definitely lives up to its name. I tweaked the recipe (I’m a rebellious cook) by adding asparagus tips, cooking them with the artichokes. Mmmmm…

Say Puh-roon, California

It’s California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month. No, I’m not making this up; and yes, in California they call it a dried plum. It’s wrinkly, it’s amazingly sweet, and you’ll have the trots for days.

Guess who proclaimed the first California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month? Oh, come on, you know. In Terminator 2 he said something like, “Eat dried plums if you want to live.”

Come to think of it, this might be the reason it’s also Bath Safety month.