Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nights of 1000 Soups

When the snow starts flying, whether you live in the wilds of Northern Ontario or halfway between the beach and the mountains in sunny North Carolina, it’s time to bunker down. For the Southerners this means freaking out and racing to the store with a false sense of safety in their SUVs, buying stores out of water and milk and bread and sausage biscuits. For those of us raised miles from the closest Piggly Wiggly or equivalent, taught to keep a fully-stocked pantry of dry goods and at least 7 or 8 different freezers chock-a-block full of assorted meats and vegetables, it means time to make soup. Because nothing keeps the howling winds at bay like, well, some nice bay. Leaf, that is.

First understand that it’s just me and Jellybean living in the house. There are no hungry woodsmen or field hands or hockey teams. Plus, Jelly is a toddler. This means she doesn’t like any vegetable, even the simple unassuming potato. If she were ever to deign to eat a vegetable, such as a perfectly cooked tiny carrot, if it happened to have ANY part of it even TOUCHING another vegetable, like the lonely tasty potato, the carrot would be immediately ostracized for the association. Poor, bad influence potato. This means that Jenny will eat no soup. None at all. Not Mulligatawny, with crunchy apple bits and a hint of curry. Not White Bean, slow-simmered with a smoky ham bone. Not Minestrone, with fun-shaped pastas, nor Avgolemeno, simple and salty and just a bit tart. I love to make soup in winter. I love a cheesy Cream of Potato, started with a basic white sauce and sometimes jazzed up with a bit of roasted garlic. I like Roasted Squash, swirled with a hint of exotic truffle oil and served with toasty brioches.

I give you - The World's Best Veg Beef. Why the best? Because if you poured a spoonful in a bowl and added a can of water it would taste exactly like Campbell's, and it would taste like childhood, and that rocks. Also, check out how thick it is with all that nice barley. Some onions and garlic were sauteed in a touch of butter and olive oil, and made nice with celery and carrots. There's plenty of happy potatoes, and even a turnip just to mix things up. I slow-roasted a chuck roast then diced it in little chunks - they melt in your mouth. Some frozen mixed veggies, because that's just what you're suppose to do when you make soup. And that broth! It's practically gravy. The only thing missing that other people might like is some nice meaty mushrooms. Because mushrooms are the devil.
Then there was was a decent enough Italian Meatball. Too heavy and red for my taste though. I thought Jellybean might like it. I thought wrong. Let's go back and eat some more of that other one.

The closest Jelly will come to touching soup is chili. And that’s only if it’s spooned onto rice and wrapped in a fried corn tortilla, in which case it’s not really part of the soup family any more but a freaking taco, which she adores almost as much as McDonald’s French Fries. Alas, poor Jenny was forced to endure not one but TWO meals of soup, slow-simmered while we played in the snow and watched movies and explored Christmas gifts. I think she’ll pull through.

Luckily she's got a Canadian Nana who sent her an inflatable sled. And her resourceful mama fashioned a handle (because of course I don't have rope or clothesline or anything stronger than cooking twine laying around the house) out of - wait for it - this crazy stuff that is meant for wrapping plants on posts. It was bendy, and sturdy, and didn't hurt my hand, and stayed on the sled handles. And could haul 40+ lbs of Beans.

Her reward for not screaming and sobbing too much during the Soup Trials was to make Maple Syrup Candy. This is something Laura Ingalls Wilder taught me how to make, and made sound crazy delicious. I guess for kids who never get candy or sugar this would be a pretty big deal. Jenny didn't really think so, but still enjoyed the idea of eating snow. I used up all of the little souvenir bottle of real syrup I brought back from my last Canada trip - Aunt Jemima just wouldn't give you the same results.

Melt a little butter with some real syrup.
Make sure you have a helper and taste-tester, preferably one who is going to sneeze without warning in everything you are cooking.
Get things rocking with a nice rolling boil.
Keep it rocking for about 5 minutes. Test occasionally by spooning over the snow.

See, this isn't quite done

But this - this is the money. The candy cools instantly in the snow and hardens to make either a toffee-like chewy candy (my favorite stage), or a harder suck-on-it candy.

Make sure you eat your fill before the snow melts, because then all you'll have is a bowl of goo.

Then, when you're done screaming at your kid for refusing to eat dinner, get the leftover snow and pick out some of the veggies from the untouched soup and build yourself a nice little snowman. Check out his saucy biscuit hat - so debonair.
Well, you have to play with your food SOMETIMES.
Yes, this is what being snow-bound does to me. It's not a pretty thing.

I got a night out for New Year's, which was nice, but then Jelly refused to allow me to go anywhere today so used the time wisely, for once. I got every last speck of Christmas, including the glow-in-the-dark window snowflake stick-ons, packed away. Jealous much? Yes, it is a little early, but hey, Christmas is over. Let's move on. Plus, I leave for Canada in a week and don't want it to be March and there I am all white trash with a tree still in my single wide.

Happy 2011 Jellybean Mama fans and stalkers! Love you, mean it. Also - I turn 40 this year. Gulp.


Barb said...

Yum. I'll take some of that soup. As will my 3-year-old. For some strange reason I ended up with a toddler who actually love vegetables. :) I will definitely have to try to maple syrup candy some time. Looks like fun. But for now I'm just trying to survive the weekends with a toddler and an infant who doesn't want to be put down. These are the days when I appreciate all the beef veggie soup mom made and filled my freezer with earlier this year. Thank God for soup. Happy New Year. And don't sweat 40. You're going to love it. 40 rocks. As does 41 and 42 and 43. I'll let you know about 44 come February.

Stephanie said...

I have recently decided that I'm going to start cooking grown up food and children that don't eat can have PB&J. How can I possibly convince them that yummy food is delicious if I'm eating the same damn nuggets they are? This is my theory, at least.

Oh-- my kids totally dissed store brand chicken nuggets. Made me think of you. Though to be fair to them, the nuggets were orange. Not McDs orange...nuclear orange.