vulnerable path

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Kitchen Therapy

When the leaves begin changing colors and the temperatures start to drop, I get the urge to cook! I abandon my kitchen for most of the summer.  Summer is salad time, and grill time.  But with the arrival of the fall season, I am ready to get back in the kitchen and pull out my favorite recipes.

veggiesIt’s time for warm kettles full of soup or chili. One-pot dishes are my favorites because I love prepping ingredients, chopping onion, celery, and carrots for a hearty chicken soup.  Or dicing up red and green peppers for a vegetarian chili. Cooking is meditation for me.  It’s therapy.  A good pot of soup not only nourishes the body, but its creation nourishes my spirit.

My local farms are bursting with pumpkins, squash, and apples. October is the beginning of the best cooking months of the year, with Thanksgiving and Christmas right ahead of us.  The house fills with the aroma of baked pumpkin loaves and apple cobbler.  My daughter and I have made a tradition of baking and decorating Halloween cut-out cookies.  And, of course, we must roast our pumpkin seeds the same night we carve our Jack-o-lantern.

I’ll be getting my Thanksgiving Day assignment soon. My favorite contributions are home-made cranberry sauce and wild rice stuffing.  What wondrous treats will my brother-in-law concoct this year?  He has upped the ante on Cope’s corn, all creamy and sweet, with chewy chestnut pieces and a secret blend of seasonings.  It’s blue ribbon!  And if we are all really lucky, my niece’s friend Lindsay will show up with a pecan pie.

Then it will be Christmas-cookie baking day. We’ll converge on my sister’s kitchen with a slew of batters.  We’ve been doing this annually since my Mom was still alive, well more than 20 years ago.  Mom and Grandma started this tradition, and our children have grown up with it.  My Dad attends every year and helps roll those chocolate snow-caps in powdered sugar.  There will be tins stacked full of chocolate chip, soft sugar cookies, ice box nut wafers, chocolate snow caps, peanut-butter kisses, and white chocolate macadamia nut.  It’s baked love.

To quote one of my favorite chefs,  “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” Anthony Bourdain

And now, for today’s therapy session: Minestrone Soup.

4 slices bacon – about ¼ C chopped

1 C chopped onion

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 pound ground beef, or more

1 C chopped celery – I like mine sliced on the diagonal

1 C chopped carrots

2 C tomato puree

2 (14.5oz) cans stewed tomatoes – may need to cut into smaller pieces

1 (14oz) can beef broth

1 (10.5oz) can condensed French onion soup

Water – 2 to 5 Cups (to taste)

¼ C red wine

1 t dried oregano

1 t dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 C shredded zucchini – a great way to hide a veggie from the kids

1 C spinach, rinsed and sliced

1 C or more small pasta – shells or elbows, cooked separately

1 (15oz) can garbanzo beans, drained (or any you prefer)

¼ C chopped parsley

In a large stock pot, cook bacon and drain off fat. Add onion, garlic, and beef.  Break up beef and cook until no longer pink.

mixture_2Add celery, carrot, pureed tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, broth, condensed soup, wine, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Simmer until carrots and celery are tender.  Add water until soup reaches desired consistency (taste test).  Stir in zucchini, spinach, beans, parsley.  Simmer until spinach and zucchini have cooked.

 

Add cooked pasta and simmer a few minutes longer.  Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Chow!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

better soup photo


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I belong with Pig Stomach

 

My family has a unique tradition.  We celebrate my Father’s birthday with a special meal — Pig Stomach.  If you are German, or Pennsylvania Dutch, you might have heard of this dish.  But more likely, you think we’re nuts!  Yet, this is what we do every February.

My Father turned 87 years old this year.  As he tells it, this was a dish that his Mother used to make.  He’s not quite sure how it became his special meal.  After he married my Mother in 1950, she learned how to prepare it.    The actual stomach of a pig is stuffed with diced potatoes and sausage meat.  It is sewn shut and either boiled and then browned in butter, or baked to a golden brown.  The once a year feast also includes Angel Food Cake and Pineapple Delight for dessert.  We have been making this meal for our Dad for as long as I can remember.  When my Mother passed away in 1992, the torch was passed to my sister.  She and her husband are foodies, so the recipe has been jazzed up to include peppers, onion, various types of sausage, and different blends of seasonings.  There is often a fruit cup appetizer, endive with hot bacon dressing, vegetables, and bread as well.  No one goes home hungry.

 

IMG_3039Our family not only converges for my Father’s birthday, but also for a few other birthdays, holidays, and summer picnics.  It’s not unusual for some of us to not see or speak to each other except on these occasions.  Our busy lives have taken us in different directions.  We live far apart.  But we still pick up right where we left off.  We catch up on careers, school, kids, pets, activities, and travels.  We are all very different.  But this is our common bond.

It’s fun to invite a newcomer to Pig Stomach dinner.  If they can accept Pig Stomach, they will probably make it OK in our family.  Otherwise, that’s not a good sign.  That person might not value family tradition the way we do.  I’m not saying all of us just love the stuff.  There have been years when someone refused to eat it.  There have been years when we have made a roast on the side!  But respecting the tradition is what matters.

Pig Stomach isn’t the only special meal either.  There is also my Grandmother’s pork loin platter, mounded with mashed potatoes, and encircled with creamed spinach, carrots, hard boiled egg slices and bacon strips.  There is Filled Noodles.  There is spaghetti and meatballs with triple almond fudge cake.  My sister and brother and I cherish these family traditions, and we have taught our own children their importance.

IMG_1732It’s been said that we cannot give our children what we don’t have.  Our parents had an abundance of love.  The kitchen was always filled with it.  The orchestration of a family dinner was how our Mother and Grandmother  literally fed us love.  Love was stuffed into that Pig Stomach.  It was baked into that pumpkin pie.  We were marinated in it like a pickled egg.

Love and belonging are something we all crave but sometimes find lacking in our lives.  The world, or at least a few of the people in it, have rejected me at times.  Heck, I have rejected myself a few times!  But it’s within our families where we first learn love and belonging.  Family traditions like ours continue to reinforce it as years go by.  Family gives us stability, security, and our sense of identity — all part of the recipe for healthy, grounded children.  It was truly what my parents fed me that gave me the strength to handle the things life brought my way.  I always knew who loved me.  I knew who accepted me in spite of my mistakes.  No matter what has happened, I have found kind words, reassurances, and encouragement in my family.  It’s where I am worthy.  It’s where I am healed.  A good Pig Stomach dinner will always nourish my soul.

 

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

 

Want to join the conversation?  I’d love to hear your comments.  What does love and belonging look like in your life?  Do you find it within your family and family traditions?