Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Majesty of West African Peanut Soup

I posted this almost exactly a year ago. This week's RemembeRed seemed like a good fit, as we're talking about memory and recipes. 

The boys and I went hiking today. The woods burst with little fireworks of wonder. We saw bald eagles. Grasshoppers. We collected leaves in a little bag,  We held our breath and listened to the wind and the trees as they whispered their wisdoms.

The kids hardly complained. This, in itself, is a revelation. 

Later, I dropped off soup for my friend. She  is having a baby tomorrow. How odd to write such momentous words so matter-of-factly.

She has a secret comet. For months, she's been watching it with open-mouthed wonder, as it illuminates the sky, leaving a silken trail of light. 

Tomorrow we will see it with her.  

The only way to address this majesty is to make soup. Really, the only way, sometimes, to address the majesty of this world, period, is to make soup. To create warmth and richness out of water and vegetables. To simmer, soak, stir, and taste. To eat until you are full. 

West African Peanut Soup

(This yields a gallon, but can easily be halved).  

4 cups onions, chopped
2 tbl oil (peanut or vegetable)
1 tsp cayenne (or other ground chilies) 
2 tsp ginger root, grated
2 cups carrots, chopped
4 cups, sweet potatoes, chopped (up to two cups white potatoes can be substituted)
8 cups vegetable stock or water
4 cups tomato juice
2 cups smooth peanut butter
2  cups scallions or chives, chopped
sugar (granulated (optional). 

1. Saute the onions in the oil until just translucent. 
2. Stir in the cayenne and fresh ginger
3. Add the carrots and saute a couple more minutes
4. Mix in the potatoes and stock or water. 
5. Bring the soup to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. 
6. In a blender or food processor, puree the vegetables with the cooking liquid and the tomato juice. 
7. Stir in the peanut butter until smooth. 
8. Taste the soup. Its sweetness will depend upon the sweetness of the carrots and the sweet potatoes. If it's not there naturally, add just a little sugar to enhance the other flavors. 
9. Reheat the soup gently, using a heat diffuser (if needed) to prevent scorching. 
10. Add more stock, water, or tomato juice for a thinner soup. 
12. Serve topped with plenty of chopped scallions or chives. 

Vegetarian, unique, and delicious. Enjoy! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No Athlete

I have PE first period.  If I were a vampire, seven fifteen would be the end of a long day of sucking. But since I'm me, there's ever-so-much suckage to go.

My polyester shorts itch as I sit on gym floor; the air smells of basketballs. I hope I don't have to touch one. Yesterday, I couldn't pay attention in algebra, swimming in the rubbery stench still festering on my hands. That grime, working its way under my fingernails.

Mrs. Harris stands in front, wide legged, her meaty hands resting on her hips. "We're doing the mile today," she barks, "You have twenty minutes to do it. Athletes do it in four."

I knew all about milers. When Dad was still alive, he used to perch me on his lap, watching track and field on NBC Universal. "Roger Bannister broke it first," he said, as we watched the runners, all sinew and motion, arms and legs pumping towards glory. "Maybe you'll break it someday."

"I will, Daddy," I rubbed the side of his face, scratchy and warm. "I'll beat you!"

"We'll see," he replied, kissing me on the head, "Maybe you will"

Mrs. Harris blows her whistle, and herds us to the track. The November wind bites my bare legs. Heather and Lauren laugh, arms interlinked. It seems so natural, the way other kids bunch together, mingling like wild grass.  Meanwhile, I play with my cuticles and pretend to tie my shoelaces.

Daddy used to do track workouts. He blurred around the circle, as I collected dandelions on the sidelines. I was in charge of Gatorade. I held the bottle for him, as he panted, hands on his knees, sweat dripping onto the black asphalt. "Thank you, Janie-Girl," he said. Sometimes, he let me have a sip.

I haven't been able to touch the stuff since the accident.

"Okay, folks, line up!" Mrs. Harris blows her whistle. I stare down the track, and decide I'm going to take the full twenty minutes.

I'm no athlete.

Meet Janie. She's the heroine of my National Novel Writing Month project. She's also the subject of this week's prompt for Write on Edge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lady Liberty

The music piped up---Madonna's "Like a Virgin"---as we walked in a circle in front of the judges.  I grinned, hearing the music forbidden in my home, and then remembered who I was.

I was Lady Liberty. A statue. And statues do not smile.

I paced, holding my flashlight torch aloft, resting my foil-covered dictionary just so. The green makeup itched, but I did not scratch.

I had this. My competition was a handful of punk rockers---Melissa, Jennifer, and Tiffany, all wearing the same costume, purchased at Smitty's, along with a can of pink glitter hairspray. Throw in Mike as a Ghostbuster, Joseph as Han Solo, and Amanda as an old lady, and the Best Costume ribbon was mine.

The music stopped. Mrs. Weimann, the PE teacher, thanked us all for attending the Halloween carnival. The muscles twitched in my upraised arm. I glanced at the blue ribbon resting on the table, pictured it on the bulletin board in my bedroom.

"In third place, the award for best costume goes to Melissa the punk rocker!" My head turned as Melissa squealed, running to collect her award. Tiffany and Jennifer exchanged looks. She would pay for this later.

"In second place, the award goes to...The Statue of Liberty!" My arm crumpled down, and the blood pumped to my starving hand. I collected my prize; the red ribbon drooped in my grip.

"In first place, the award goes to....The Where's the Beef lady!" Amanda jumped up and down, a smile cracking her artificial wrinkles and age spots. She held a styrofoam plate with a large hamburger bun and tiny foam burger in the middle.

She collected her ribbon, and grinned as Mrs. Weimann said, "We all agreed that this was the most creative idea!"

Sure. Wearing a dress is really creative. Copying a commercial is so original. 

I walked past her, as the punk rock girls cooed, "Amanda, this is so cool. You are so funny."

I wanted to cry, but I did not. Because I was Lady Liberty. And statues do not cry.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Stephen

His fingernails, still etched with blue-dough. His chubby hand stiffened, then collapsed. The earth groaned and swallowed my Stephen away.

This week, we invited you to compose a text–160 characters–that would either elicit or express fear.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Muzzle Loading Season

When I'm visiting my husband's family in Wisconsin, glorious absurdities fly from my mouth.

Growing up in suburban Phoenix, I never got to ask questions like, "How did bear hunting season go this year?" or "Tell me about the time Grandma drowned that pillowcase of feral cats."

And yet, when in the Northwoods, I'm just making conversation.

I beg people to tell me the story of the Muskie that ate the hapless fisherman's big toe. And, of course, there's always talk of logging accidents. It isn't Christmas until we hear about Gundersen's two mile trek to his pickup. Sans legs.

I ask these questions out of genuine awe. All of the women in my husband's family ride horses, sew, plant at least an acre of vegetables each summer, and dress their own deer. Leisure activities include running 5K snowshoe races over frozen lakes, and kayaking through raging currents. With their children.

When we have a Mid-Atlantic "snowstorm" of two inches, I race to Giant with all the other drones, stocking up on bread, milk, and toilet paper. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin family cuts another cord of wood with an ax, and pulls some home-canned pickles from the root cellar. While wearing short sleeves.

I sometimes wonder what would happen to me if we moved to the Northwoods. Would I die? Or would I learn how to make venison meatballs and round my vowels?

I hope it would be the latter.

And yet, I know I still have a way to go. When I was up there in late September, the leaves were already dusting the earth's shoulders. The ground froze each night. And conversation turned to deer season.

"Tell me about it," I said. "And don't leave anything out."

"Well," replied a cousin, "First there's bow season. Then mentor-hunt. Next there's rifle shoot. And then there's muzzle-loader season."

"What's muzzle-loader season?"  I pictured deer in muzzles.  Who took the time to muzzle the deer first? And why?

The cousin stared. A moment stretched between us. Then, he replied, speaking as one does to such a question, "It's when you shoot the deer with a muzzle loader."

"Right," I said. "Obviously." I did not ask what a muzzle loader was. Obviously.

I sat in my lawn chair, listening to the Black River bubble away. I daresay it was laughing at me.  I took a sip of Leinie's (from the can), and changed the subject as only a city girl can.

"Tell me again about Grandpa's arm-wrestling days."

And then, I listened. With each syllable, I become more rooted to this family, and this golden-kissed land.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Cocoon

The crisp envelopes rest on my dresser. As they have for five days.

Condolences. Phrases etched from heartstrings to ballpoint.

And I haven't been able to open one.

Since we returned home, I've cocooned myself, wiping noses, packing lunches, and changing the subject.

I embrace the tasks, and pull away from the embraces.

And the envelopes rest on the dresser.

My husband and I discuss health insurance, retirement, and death certificates. We can clean up these twigs and branches, ignoring the hole on the side of our house.

But the envelopes wait, the voices trapped within.

It's time. I open a package, and find yellow Narcissus bulbs inside. "Plant these. And when they bloom, remember your mother."

And, holding that promise in my hand, I smile. And cry, a little.

I leave my cocoon. It is a cold, bright world, full of tomorrows.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pushing Towards Forever

We stood on the edge of the wooden platform. Amber and red jewels drifted from the lobes of the trees, stirring in the wind before resting on the ground.

I held his shoulders. The river rushed beneath our feet."Your grandmother will always be in these waters,"  I said."And she'll always be with you."

He pondered this, a divot creasing his front brow. And then, cupping his hands, his voice rang out. "I love you Grandma!"

The wind sighed, and the water continued to push toward forever.

My hands shook as I pressed his body to mine. All was salt and held breath.

"Mommy," he whispered,  "She said 'I love you, too.' "

And in that moment, I knew it to be true.

*With much love to my mother-in-law. Rest in peace. *