In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Guest blogger: Souper Stories

Dear Annie,

Extended family and friends are still basking in the happiness of Will's existence.  We hope at least some of you are getting some sleep, and that Will's entry into your family is going smoothly.

Today I get to introduce one of our regular guest bloggers, your pal Denise, who has written previously about social awareness, the essence of summer art and trying to read to two kids of different ages at once.  On this wintry evening, she is tackling the subject of soup, in many contexts.

The chilling winter days have been bringing out the soup in me. I started off the week with Red Lentil Soup (page 36) from a cookbook that Annie recommended,
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day
. The recipe was indeed simple and easy to modify based on the vegetables I had in my fridge: onion, ginger, carrots, roasted red peppers in a jar. While I cooked, the kids played horses and dinosaurs without fighting; less than 40 minutes later, the beautiful pinkish-orange soup with a slightly silky, slightly rustic texture was on the table. Most importantly, it was approved by the grand critic, Miss Jazzy. I served it with warm pita bread and sautéed kale, and had enough for a couple of lunches.

Later on this week, I made another delightful soup from this cookbook: North African Cauliflower (p. 33). This was Emerson’s favorite which isn’t surprising since he loves cauliflower the way most kids love mac n’ cheese. Three particular ingredients make this soup special: cauliflower, potato, and ground fennel. I sautéed shallots, shiitake mushrooms, and tempeh bacon and used this as a garnish. This was equally satisfying and warming.

This brings me to a few souper picture books on the kids’ shelves
Mouse Soup
by Arnold Lobel is one of those precious books that is funny and entertaining for kids and parents. I marvel over how cleverly it is constructed. The book begins with a weasel catching an adorable mouse who is reading a book under a tree (I can relate – so often I want to just read a book but am chased away by my duties as a mother and teacher). The weasel puts him in a pot to make mouse soup, but the mouse convinces the weasel that he needs four stories in it to make it good, so the mouse proceeds with telling distinct narratives. Some ingredients to these whimsical stories include: a beehive, stones on a hill, loud crickets, and a dying thorn bush that is revived. In the end of the book, the mouse tells the weasel to find the ingredients from the stories to put into the mouse soup which allows him to escape. The last page shows the mouse sitting in his chair reading his book, a moment I pine for.

Another story where soup also saves is
Stone Soup
by Jon J. Muth. Here three Zen monks, Hok, Lok, and Siew, go on a journey to answer the question, “What makes one happy?” They come across a village in the mountains where the people had experienced many hardships; here “the villages worked hard, but only for themselves.” This changes with the help of the monks who build a fire and make stone soup in a small tin pot. A little girl walks by and helps them find three stones. Then she goes home to get a bigger pot. Eventually, people from the village curiously peer from their windows and begin to offer ingredients to the large pot of soup. In the end, the monks as well as the villagers learn that “to be happy is as simple as making stone soup.”

These stories create an internal warmth much needed in winter, especially on those cold evenings after long days of transporting children, working, and carrying around book bags, food bags, heavy coats. I guess it would be best to leave that all at the doorstep and focus on making soup in the kitchen. The kids will chop and add ingredients to the pot; after, they will do the dishes while I recline in the living room chair and read. If only it were that simple.

Many thanks to Denise.  And wishing you lots of warmth in Brooklyn, Annie.



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