It’s Hearty Soup Weather

2014-09-16 15.36.53 During most of history, people ate what they had put away for the winter in their cellars and barns. In Colonial New England, unless someone had a greenhouse a midwinter salad was unheard of. In the Middle Ages in Europe and Russia, fasting during Lent was a necessity because what little food was available to most by late winter had to be hoarded and used carefully. People ate with the seasons. Forty years ago on a late spring trip to Russia with my mother I recall cabbage being served to us daily. It keeps well if properly stored.

Root vegetables can stay fresh for months. Turnips, Carrots, Rutabagas and winter squashes keep when in a cold place. I recall the root cellar in my Great Aunt Alice’s large garden—a deep hole with a wooden cover where vegetables could be safely stored for the winter months. I prefer to eat with the seasons. I feel healthier eating root vegetables often in fall and winter.

One thing special thing about fall is that my appetite returns and I can eat more without gaining weight. Those extra calories burn to keep me warm. However I do not eat more empty calories: i.e. desserts, snacks, sweets. Instead I eat more vegetables and healthy carbohydrates. Soup calories are always good fuel for the body. Hearty fall and winter soups are made with root vegetables, winter squash, beans, and other appropriate ingredients.

Sturdy herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary and tarragon add flavor and food value to these soups as well. I begin most of my soup recipes by sautéing chopped onion, finely chopped celery, and ground garlic (not garlic powder, that has less flavor) in butter and olive oil. The mung beans in this recipe can be found at any health food store if your market does not carry them, and are a nice change from the more commonly used lentils or other kinds of beans.

My mung bean soup is a little different from the average bean soup. For this hearty recipe sauté ½ cup onion and 1 cup celery chopped small in 2 Tbs olive oil and 2 Tbs butter until transparent. Add 1 tsp each of thyme, rosemary, curry powder, and ground garlic . Stir in 2 cups peeled, chopped firm potatoes and 1 cup or more sliced carrots. Add 2 cups beef broth, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour or so, until vegetables are tender and soup is tasty.

Cauliflower has become popular lately. I have seen versions of it prepared in many ways. This is my cauliflower soup: Thinly slice ½ to ¾ of a large cauliflower and 1 or 2 large carrots. Simmer in 2 cups water until soft. Meanwhile, Sauté 1 medium onion and 6 cloves garlic chopped, black pepper and your choice of seasonings in olive oil. Mash simmered vegetables and add sautéed ones. Add 2 cups chicken broth. If desired, thicken with leftover mashed potato or a roux made from 2 Tbs butter and 2 Tbs flour stirred over medium heat, with 1 cup added liquid of your choice stirred until smooth and thick.

Creating a Memorial to Lost Loved Ones

SimpkinsMy father always made sure to put fresh flowers on the graves of two special friends on Memorial Day. Buried under two pink granite stones, they were an English couple far from home and family. My four year old self remembers them as two elderly people who smiled at me and gave me two porcelain statues of birds. Honoring someone once a year at the site of their grave is a fine act and the traditional way many choose. However, creating an ongoing memorial tribute could be an even better way.

On Memorial Day there is an annual ceremony dedicated to my grandfather in Beverly Farms, the town where he once lived where there is a square named for him. This year will be its hundredth anniversary. As it does every year, the parade will stop there, the band will play, and a wreath will go on the pole with his name. As they always do, my brother and his wife will attend the ceremony. While I once used to go with my dad, and later on with my young children, I no longer live near enough to attend. I am glad he will do the honors for the family.

One day time runs out for each of us. It can’t be helped. It is said there are two sure things in life: Death and Taxes. We come to terms with both as best we can. Memorial Day puts us in mind of the former. While my grandfather perished in World War I, no other members of my family fought and died or had any connection to the military. For me then, Memorial Day is an opportunity to think about my loved ones who have passed out of time and into eternal life. There are more of them each year.

What seems important to me is to create a tangible memorial as a tribute dedicated to the memory of those precious who have passed from this life. It was with the passing of my first son that I initially thought of this. I wanted to honor his life, and because he loved poetry I decided to dedicate my poetry to him. While I’ve always written poetry, my decision then inspired me to look at life with the eyes of a poet and to write about what I see. In the near future I will be bringing out a small book, Poems and Prayers, dedicated to him.

While I wrote an occasional poem prior to his passing, in the nearly thirty years since his death I have written a great number of them, some of which I have published in various newsletters and others in my two books of articles, Heartwings: Love Notes for a Joyous Life and Up to my Neck in Lemons. Writing poetry has become increasingly important to me as an expression of my creativity. I have created other memorials also: My father loved nature, especially trees. My tribute to him is my love of the natural world, often expressed in poetry; mine to my mother is my photography, much of which are also of nature.  I am grateful for the inspiration of the lives of these loved ones, and I honor them as best I can.

Mothers are Everywhere and Always

Family women 1989My mother did not have good training for the task of mothering. Her mother was the wife of a diplomat and spent her days doing what she needed to do to support my mother’s father in his position. Her children were cared for by nursemaids and tutors. I knew her briefly: a proper, formal woman who came to live briefly in the states in the late forties. I was a young teen at the time, not very interested in this elderly person. Now of course I wish I had asked her more about her life. She returned to Germany and passed on soon after. Ill prepared as she was, my mother did the best she could, and I honor her for it.

When I think of the word mother, I envision a womanly figure with her arms around a child, though not necessarily her child.  Many women without children do their share of mothering. One definition of mothering is taking care of or caring for someone. The nature of the caring embraces many actions. A mother cat keeps her kittens close, yet disciplines them as well. A human mother hugs her child and also disciplines that child—hopefully in a loving manner. Mothers of all kinds help children learn limits and learn to respect them.

Growing up, I was fortunate in being given a great deal of unlimited physical freedom. Nobody minded when I climbed trees or played explorer in the marshes behind our home. As long as I stayed on the property I could do as I liked. The few times I ventured off I was punished. However, my punishments were not cruel, only restrictive: being confined to my room for a long period. I’m sure my mother kept an ear out for me while I played, in case I needed her. She was at home with me and my siblings. Today’s mothers are fortunate if they can do that. In some respects not being able to makes mothering harder now.

I went on to have children of my own; all of my girls are now mothers themselves. Sometimes they need me to mother them; sometimes they even mother me. Mothering does not end when the child is an adult. However as many a mother must discover, mothering must be modified if one does not wish to annoy one’s children. There is a fine line between caring for someone you love and overdoing it: smothering versus mothering. Kindness is defined by how it affects the recipient; helicopter parenting, as it is called can have negative results of all kinds. Limits are for parents as well as for children.

Teachers mother students; some animals have been known to mother young ones not of their kind; I was comforted by the trees I spent hours sitting in– reading, and writing poems. Mothering is of the heart–the heart of the receiver as well as the giver. A difficult childhood results when the mother is unhappy or ill prepared for motherhood. It is easier to judge one’s childhood experience as an adult. Also, not only women can mother. Men can as well. I see them, infants on their backs or in a stroller, tending little ones in a loving manner. On this Mothers’ Day In my heart I honor all those who have mothered me, and I am grateful to each and every one.

The Graciousness of Trees

Down to her frillies 3

I grew up climbing trees. I loved to sit in them to read, and later when I was a teen, sneak up and smoke a stolen cigarette while reading. I appreciated their bounty too, as well as their presence. The many kinds of apples in my grandfather’s small orchard, the four kinds of pear trees in the garden, the raspberry bushes I was allowed to pick from were an important part of my growing up. I was always surrounded by growth and nature.

I realize now that I was extremely fortunate in having this small territory belonging to my family in which to adventure. Safely ensconced on the outskirts of a small town, the land where I grew up had originally been developed and built on by my great grandfather, an amateur horticulturalist. He died before I was born, so I never knew him. However I grew up with its many and various trees as well as the fruit trees, the lilacs and the roses he planted.

His gardens were extensive. His daughter, my Great Aunt Alice with the help of a gardener kept it all going. He certainly had plenty to do, and occasionally had another man to help him. The chickens provided fertilizer and the vegetables were very tasty.

Most fortunately I had the freedom of a good number of acres to roam around in as I pleased. I was given this from the age of around six or so, and I felt quite safe and free. There were lots of kinds of trees to climb. To my mother’s despair I probably ruined more clothes than the average girl, tearing them on branches or staining them with pine pitch and bark. I lived in the country and there were no neighboring children for me to play with. It was as though the trees I climbed and played around were my big friends. I have always been grateful for their company.

My father was a horticulturist by profession. Working for a tree company he supervised the care of the trees and plantings of his many clients.  He would have  the recent articles about how trees communicate with one another and even how they protect one another from invasion by noxious insects. Trees, like animals, deserve more of our respect than they have had in the past. Researchers estimate that if every city dweller spent just 30 minutes per week in nature, depression cases could be reduced by 7 percent.

Trees provide for life on earth, and have been influential in its evolution from the beginning of life here. Scientists have lately begun to understand more about trees’ ecology, studying the way they learn to survive and to thrive in difficult conditions. As we have learned that animals, birds and even insects exhibit signs of intelligence through their behaviors and use of tools, we have gained in respect for them. Now it is the turn of trees. Grinding them up to make paper may become a thing of the past. Trees are sentient beings and perhaps one day we may even learn to speak their language.

 

The Beauty and Bounty of Fall

 

Autumn Blaze

One house we lived in had a window in the upstairs bathroom with a view of trees and fields. Each year in August I would look out this window in anticipation of the bright red patch that always appeared in an otherwise green expanse of a maple tree. It seemed that much brighter for being surrounded by the remaining green leaves. Later the rest of the tree would turn red, yet there was something very special for me about that first splash of color.

Perhaps that is because it heralded my favorite time of year. I cherish the first tinges of red and yellow beginning to blossom in the trees by the roadside. It is truly said that the strong colors of fall echo the pastel shades of spring except that they are strong and vivid. I have also noticed that in the weeks before the autumn colors emerge, the green of tree leaves takes on a grayish look that hints at the ageing of the leaves, preparing them for their ultimate brilliance. The other colors are present in the leaves all along. When the cooler weather comes, the green disappears and the red and yellow take over.

Fall colors are lovely and bright. Pumpkins, squash, chrysanthemums, apples, and fiery leaves are all part of its panorama. Highway vistas of hills plumped up with pillows of brilliant hue are a delight to drivers and passengers alike. As spring is a time of tentative melodies and pastel colors so fall is loud and strident, its colors are bold, its thunders vibrate around us. Farmstands open up and share their bounty with passers by. In more rural areas little collections of garden produce appear by the side of the road with prices and trustful boxes for payment.

When I was a child I delighted in scuffing through the rustling leaves. I loved the sounds and the tastes of fall. The sweet concord grapes that grew on the fence around my great aunt Alice’s garden tasted so wonderful. I was equally happy to breathe the slightly sharp air of fall that held a tinge of the frosts to come. I didn’t care much for raking the leaves, however I got paid to do it and that helped. I never tended my parents’ gardens, nor was I asked to. Later when I had a garden of my own, as fall emerged I hurried to pick the last tomatoes as well as the remaining marigolds. However I paid someone to rake the leaves.

Busy squirrels scurry around storing up food for the winter. Some alas are harvested by swiftly traveling automobiles. These provide a feast for the crows, so nothing is wasted. Autumn is a time for all of us to store food. My mother busily canned and later froze her garden produce. When I had a large freezer I did too. I loved the feeling of providing for my family. Now I can’t store much food for the future, however I can take advantage of the seasonal plenty. I got out my old Fanny Farmer’s cookbook and looked up apple recipes. We had Apple Brown Betty for supper. Yummy! Fall is my favorite time of year and I rejoice in its bounty as well as its beauty.

My Grandmother’s Zinnias

Born in 1879, My paternal grandmother’s life was as different from mine as possible. Prior to World War Two she had visited Italy almost annually. She loved it there and even sent money to help out the family of her gondolier—the equivalent of a taxi driver for the canals of Venice. When I was born, she asked that instead of being called “Granny,” she be known as “Nonny,” a variation on Nona, the Italian word for grandmother. She was very fond of me, her first and only grandchild until eight years later when the first of my siblings was born.

She wasn’t a cookie baking, knitting “granny” sort. She was a forceful, energetic, woman whose hair remained a light brown with occasional gray roots between visits to the hairdresser, for all of her eighty years. She enjoyed my youthful company and we spent many afternoons playing card games or going to the various church fairs that occurred all during the summer months while I was growing up. She would give me money to buy pony rides and trinkets from the White Elephant table while she checked out what was being offered to the people attending the fairs.

For her, because she ran our local church fair for most of my childhood, these were a kind of business trip. One year she had a circus theme and hired an elephant. It was brought from upstate New York for the day. I remember riding on its back in a howdah. The elephant spent the night in our garage, though I was not allowed to visit it, I remember hearing i trumpeting. She enjoyed life and participated in it to the fullest. I loved it when she shared bits of her life with me. It was a very different one from the one I knew, as different as mine was from today’s grandchildren.

She was a passionate gardener and grew lots of flowers as well as vegetables in a number of gardens presided over by Mr. Patch, an Irishman with a squeaky voice. I remember that he wore overalls and seemed always to have a gardening implement in his hand. There were two narrow flowerbeds beside the gravel walk that led to her front porch. Each and every year they were lined with Zinnias. I can see them even now, so bright and strong, like her. I never heard her complain or bemoan her condition. She was an inspiring example of strength and fortitude as well as generosity.

While some of her attitudes and opinions were old fashioned—she believed that a “lady” ought not to have a job or work for money, she kept up with current affairs and read three newspapers daily. She also did volunteer work and gave generously to charity. As I advance in age I have grown to appreciate her more than ever. She loved life. Born in a time before automobiles, during the twenties through thirties and forties, she drove her Pontiac through every state in the union. She passed on in 1959. I feel fortunate to have had her in my life for as long as I did. She was a fine example of aging in a positive way, and as I too age, I am even more grateful to her.

We Need Both Darkness and Light

Shadow fenceWhen I first learned to read I fell in love with the printed word. After that I devoured as many books as I could get my hands on. Like many children, once in bed at night after I was supposed to be sleeping, I hid under the covers and read by flashlight. If I woke up ahead of my parents as I often did, I did, I pulled up my shade for more light, or perhaps again used my flashlight. Reading wherever I was every chance I got, I accumulated knowledge and stimulated my imagination giving me a rich childhood and a good basis for expansion as I grew older. I still love to read however I no longer use a flashlight under the covers nor do I fear the approaching footsteps of a parent suspicious of my eagerness to go to bed.

As I have grown older, darkness has taken on more of an impact for me. The dark winter hours mean I sleep more, which is enjoyable. However, nowadays I need more light to see by. With the onset of Daylight Saving and then the Equinox that is on its way, I will enjoy the longer hours of light. I appreciate being able to see more clearly later and later in the day. Yet were it not for the contrast of darkness or the shadows cast by the light, it would be more difficult for me to perceive the size, shape, and outlines of objects around me. Also, without the dark hours of winter the trees and perennials would not get the rest they need to rebirth themselves in the spring. As do I, nature needs both to function properly.

Darkness is as necessary to us as light. It is what helps us define and manage the world around us. Early in their development as we attempt to shield our children from making mistakes we teach them about right and wrong. Sometimes this is a tricky proposition. As one of my teachers used to say, there are no absolutes. We teach our children and young adults not to kill or cause harm or hurt to others. But then they join the armed services and find themselves given a gun to aim at someone who is called the enemy. So in that instance killing is right or so they are told now. Could that have something to do with why so many individuals return from combat with troubled minds?

The Equinox presents us with equal hours for day and night. After March 20th the days will be longer than the nights until the process reverses with the Solstice in June. Meanwhile the world around us will begin to wake up from its long winter sleep in the dark. Balance in all things and the achievement of that balance is one of the important goals of the universal natural process of growth and decay. In addition we too participate in this process as we learn and grow, shining the light of our understanding on the darkness of ignorance. It is the contrast between them together with our moral compass that guides us toward the wholeness that is made up of both sun and shadow, darkness and light.