What's Cooking

funtocook Riley and I had been married for a couple of years when we got into a big fight about cookbooks. It went something like this:

Driving home after a long day, it had been quiet for an hour and then Riley spoke up,

Riley: You are always looking at cookbooks. You know that? Always buying them and reading them. But then you never make anything out of them. Ever. Do you know how annoying that is? It’s such a waste.

Me: What the hell? You are mad that I enjoy reading cookbooks? What kind of person gets upset about that?

Riley: You spend hours looking at those things. And you never do anything about it.

Me: Well. We’re broke. We don’t have enough money for most of the ingredients. And looking at all the recipes is a kind of escape. It calms me down. It makes me happy. I can’t believe you are angry that I have a little hobby that makes me happy.

Riley: Too broke to make ANYTHING? You’re buying ingredients for something every time you go to the grocery store. It’s not like we don’t spend money on food. Why not try all those recipes you’ve been looking at for once? Megan, I am not angry that you look at cookbooks. I am frustrated that you never do anything with what you find inside of them.

Me: Are we still talking about recipes here? Or is there something else going on?

Riley: No, I guess this isn't really about those cookbooks.

He looked at me once and then re-focused on the road. I got quiet.  He wasn't actually talking about cooking. He didn't really care that we ate the same five things ever week. With a fall of my heart, I knew what he was trying to say. For years, I had been talking about maybe writing or maybe this or maybe that. Maybe. Someday. Perhaps. A few days before I had cried because I hadn’t begun to do all the things I always thought I would do. He’d held my hand and told me to get started. Instead, I calmed down and went to sleep. The next morning, I’d forgotten what that ache felt like and moved on. I was skimming through my existence in the same way that I’d been skimming through those cookbooks. Flipping the pages of my own life - looking at the possible ingredients and shutting the book before I’d given anything a chance. I was without direction, without confidence and without courage. I’d forgotten how to become a participant in my own life.

I’d lost the savor.

The next day I pulled just one cookbook down from the shelf and opened it to the beginning. We had dinner from it the next night and the next and the next. I learned the beauty of french peasant food on a budget and the art of deglazing. I burned the hell out of a roast chicken and made the perfect pot de creme. I found myself within the constraints of creation - the measurements and cooking times and chemical reactions.The act of cooking was a gift to myself that also provided sustenance for those I love. And, blessedly, I learned that some nights it was alright to let the kitchen fires stay cooled. There was no shame in a little (or a lot) of domino's pizza, chicken nuggets or paper wrapped burgers.

As I cooked my way through that book, I applied the lessons I learned in the kitchen to my writing.  I don’t need a lot to create much. Sometimes intended masterpieces come out smelling liked charred trash can. There are constraints to my creation - limited time, limited talent and unlimited family. Those are not obstacles to be gotten over, they are a structure to be built upon. The act of writing is for myself but it has given additional happiness and purpose to our home, sustenance for those I love. And, blessedly, I learned that some nights it is alright to let my fires cool - to collapse in front of the tv or into a book or the sleep that promises to give me the next day.

I still sit in front of piles of cookbooks - flipping from glossy page to page. I still dream of far off spices and those unattainable (for me) perfectly light rolls. I still run my fingers across the possibilities for my life. And sometimes I still get overwhelmed. But now, when I am at my best, I remember to stop perusing and start cooking.

Life tastes just a little better now.

Five Fall Soups For the Ages

I don't know that that title means. But it sounds important. And soup is important. So. There it is.

I used to think the same thing myself. And then I realized how easy it is to make soup. And that any time spent in the kitchen is time spent by myself. Away from the children. I cook a lot these days. PS. How funny is the text in this ad? What better music can a wife hear, indeed. 

Fall is here.

How do I know? Is it the crisp weather? Changing colors? Or sudden desire to layer tights, socks and boots?

No.

I know because I spent the last two nights up with a sick baby. I am trying not to panic. I am trying to tell myself everyone has sick kids, suck it up. I am breathing and counting and pacing. It is almost working.

And I am focusing on my favorite parts of the fall/winter months of illness and homebound activity. And today, one of my favorite things is soup. So, the littlest list of the loveliest soups I have ever made. And yes, one is by yours truly. And yes, you should probably judge me for including it on a top five soups of all time lists.

Heaven knows I am judging myself.

So, without further ado, my top five fall soups.

Vidalia Onion Soup with Wild Rice from Smitten Kitchen. 

Ah, this soup will have you convinced that Fall is most certainly the best season of the entire, ever loving year. Every time I took I bite I turned to Riley and said, "Wow, this is really good! Do you think this is great? Let's have this all the time! Do you want to?"

He did.

Corn and Cheese Chowder from The Pioneer Woman

Ree Drummond is one of my good ole fashion home cooking idols and this recipe is just one more example of her down home prowess. The only change I made to the recipe was to fry up a little extra bacon to sprinkle on top. Naturally.

 Green Chile Butternut Squash Soup by, well, me.

Okay, not really by me. Really by my mom. And it is the best thing I make all fall/winter/colder spring months. I love it with sandwiches, by itself and sopped up with crusty bread. It is delightfully easy to make and freezes so well as long as you keep the cream out of it until you are ready to eat. I know these things to be true. Amen.

Beef Stew with Potatoes and Carrots from Gourmet

Beef stew. With potatoes. And carrots. With a hearty splash of balsamic vinegar. I really don't think I need to say anything more.

Roasted Cream of Tomato Soup from Smitten Kitchen.

Listen, I am totally smitten with Deb and her Smitten Kitchen. I could have easily made a top five list of soups just from her contributions to the culinary world. This one made the cut because it is easy and fun to make. (Who doesn't love squeezing the guts out of tomatoes?) And my kids slurp it up like it is a bowl of Lucky Charms with extra marshmallows and without all those pesky cereal bits.

So there. Five reasons I can cope with all the fevers, late nights and bleary eyed mornings that will descend on us over the next six months. (And by cope, I mean hide in a corner until it is all over, only emerging to eat and cry.)

What are your favorite soup recipes?