Other Days

Some days, you just start out tired.

Some days, you make yourself go for the early morning walk, but it’s more of a trudge, and mean dogs snarl behind high fences, crows cackle cruelly, and other walkers cross the street to avoid you. Social distancing: you know, but still it feels cold and rude, because some days just dawn that way.

Some days you wish you had a nice bowl of granola for breakfast, but you just really don’t feel like making a batch. Maybe later, you think, disgruntled and weary. And you eat a leftover bagel, which you really don’t want, but it lets you wear your scarlet martyr patch– I am eating the leftovers so we don’t throw them away!—right there on your chest.

And you sigh, deep and heavy, because it’s just what you need to do this day.

Some days you feel like you might just fall down under the weight of technological expectations. Do I really need to manage this, you think bitterly, by MONDAY?

And where, you ponder bleakly, is your TECH support?

You send them another email, but you don’t expect an answer, not on a day like this day.

Not when the temperature has dropped twenty degrees in two hours and the clouds are the color of pulsing old dirty lead, and that heaviness is escaping them, falling to earth in straight chilling lines.

Some days the weather app says it probably won’t stop raining until after supper.

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But then, once in a while, you surprise yourself and figure out, say, how to install Zoom. And you go to your morning appointment, and, another surprise: it’s a good rich Zoom meeting. You scribble notes in your old black-speckled composition notebook, and those rusty doors in your mind open up, and you GET it, you really do.

And one of those people at the meeting proposes an easy work around to your technology issue, and it’s simple and beautiful and doable.

You sign off from the meeting with a clear picture of what needs to be done next, and you realize that what needs to be done NEXT doesn’t have to be done NOW. And you go downstairs and eat a salad, and a leftover pork chop, and a handful of Muddy Buddies, and your husband comes in and says, “Would you like a fire? Just to take the chill off?”

And, “YES,” you say, because once in a while, a fire is the best thing, and you realize this is one of those whiles. And you take your book, and you sit by the fire, and the rain falls in vertical sheets, the wind buffets, and the words take on new meaning. The fire crackles.

You turn the pages of the book and the story makes you think and makes you realize; little walls that used to mark off half-ruined, half-hearted stereotypes crumble completely, and there are clearer, broader vistas in the horizon of your mind.

Some days open doors, and some days you are ready to walk through them.

And you close your book and you drowse by the fire…not really sleeping, just resting and gathering.

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And you remember, suddenly, a soup recipe that calls for four things you have in the refrigerator—the leftover chunky meat sauce with tomatoes, the beans, the sausage, and the spinach. Some days are soup days, and this day, with the wind barging insistently against the bay window, is surely one.

This is crazy, you think, as you wipe down the counter and lay the recipe, copied from the Internet down flat. Soup made from leftovers?

Come on.

But you heat the oil and sauté the onion and stir in the garlic; you defrost chicken broth while the red peppers flakes simmer and the tomatoes soften. You open cans and measure macaroni and stir broth and white beans into the pot.

You chop fresh spinach—locally grown, farmer’s market spinach,—into thin little ribbons, then turn them around and cut the ribbons into rectangles.

And the boyos come out; they say the mess on the stove smells GOOD, and they say, You know what? We’re going to get some crusty bread!

And they make a reservation for a curbside pick up and head off cheerfully into the rain.

Which, now you think of it, has slowed down quite a bit.

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When the car pulls back into the driveway, you stir the spinach into the simmering soup pot, and you watch it wilt for a minute. Then you pour in parmesan and stir. And it really, really does smell wonderful.

And the boyos come in with a fresh loaf of tomato basil bread, and the soup is just right, a thick, hearty, peasant-y kind of a brew.

You mop the last juices from your bowl with a piece of good bread, and you agree with your husband: that was just the right soup for a day like this day.

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And by the time the dishes are done, the evening sun shines, pale and hopeful, and you lace up your sneakers. And it is cool out, but also amazing…flowering bushes and trees preening in the sun, cardinals and robins swooping and darting. Squirrels leap onto tree trunks and fat bunnies find their speed and leave arrogant kitty cats behind and bereft.

And you walk in the waning sun and breathe in deep gulps of fresh, cold air and you think that some days, you need to stop careening, all crazy and thoughtless, down some steep and nondescript hill. You need to veer off the path and sit on a rock and look to see how far you’ve come.

Some days are all about action and other days are all about perspective.

And some days, you just need to rest.

Soup

Image found on Pinterest…

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Tuesday morning: 5:42. Rain pounds relentlessly.

Mark goes off to the gym, umbrella opened as he runs to the car, and I sit in the dining room and write my morning pages. Water sluices down the windows. My all-knowing phone app says that, with a break here and there, rain will fall all day long.

I write, “This is a good day to make some soup,” and I look at my written words and know they are exactly true.

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Summer is not a season of simmering pots, of things diced and sautéed and brewed up together. It is a season of grilled things—meats and veggies both—and of steaming ears of boiled corn. In summer foods are separate; they don’t touch on the plate unless the potato salad dares to encroach on the hot dog bun’s space, or the cowboy beans get overly friendly with the cole slaw. It is a time for sandwiches, for steaks and fillets.

It is a season for whole dinners that don’t require silverware.

I realize, on Tuesday, that I yearn for a big, long-simmered pot of something.

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I take some early steps inside; then I sit at the computer, work on syllabi, and charge Connie, my Fitbit. While I fine-tune assignments and pull up ice breaker possibilities, another section of my mind is weighing soup varieties. There is Jodi’s beef-barley stoup, which is rich and hearty. Kathie’s rice and chicken soup makes another thick, stick to the ribs, kind of simmering pot.

Both of those soups are delicious, but maybe too much for a day that, although the skies are wringing wide open, will still soar into the eighties. I think that I will save those pleasures for autumn, when the air crisps, and there’s a bushel of apples on the bench on the back stoop,—days when the thought of a steaming bowl of heartiness and a great chunk of cornbread, butter melting on its golden brown, crusty top, rewards me for persevering.

Then I remember Wendy’s chicken tortilla soup recipe,which is perfect for a stormy summer day, and I go searching.

I cannot find the recipe in any of my paper-recipe reservoirs; I give up and print it out again. This time, I promise myself, I will three-hole punch this treasure and put it in my newest binder of family favorites.

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I take a rummaging break. I pull two packages of chicken from the chest freezer downstairs. I’ll poach the thighs and shred the meat for soup. I’ll bread the boneless breasts with panko and parm for Jim, who, like many folks with autism, does not like his foods to touch, and does not like the texture of long-simmered veggies.

I bring up the three last frozen blocks of chicken broth, realizing it’s time to make more.

I find a tiny container of chopped tomatoes and a quarter cup of leftover corn hiding behind big jars in the refrigerator. I’ll add those to the canned, diced tomatoes from the pantry shelf and the cupful of frozen corn from the industrial-sized bag in the freezer. There is sweet chili sauce; there are onions and garlic. I debate dicing up one of the jalapeno peppers Mark broke home from last week’s Wednesday night Farmer’s Market.

I line the dry ingredients up on the counter, put the cold things together on the second refrigerator shelf. I have everything I need for a well-simmered meal.

Soup: the scavenger of pantry shelves; the simmering pot that purges leftovers.

At 10:00 there is a weather break; the dampness fades from the streets and sidewalks, leaving pale gray stretches between puddles. I check my phone for permission; it tells me that yes, I can probably squeeze a walk in before the next rain.

I lace up my sneakers and head off, headphones on. I see the burly cheerful guy who’s usually out when I am, early in the morning. We wave as we stride past, and we agree that we have a LITTLE window of safe walking time, and we go marching off in our separate directions.

I crank up the 100 best songs of the ‘70’s playlist and I walk fast. I walk with Elton John and with Grand Funk Railroad, and I hitch a ride with Janis. The sky turns ominous, and I turn back, having fit three-fourths of my usual walk into this rain-free time.

The music is hard and fast and I match my strides to its rhythms and I hurry home. I’m listening to faded rock icons, but I am thinking, “Soup.”

Soup: the promise of warmth and protection on wild weather days.

I soak the boneless breasts in milk; I put the still-frozen thighs in the old, old cast iron skillet. I pour in water, and I put them on the stove, over a medium flame, and I throw in some herbs and spices, salt and pepper, and I go back to work while they simmer. Scented steam sneaks out from under the glass top.

By the time Mark comes home for lunch, the house is perfumed, and the chicken is cooked through.

I lift the thighs from the pan with tongs and set them on a small platter to cool. Mark and Jim look at them longingly, but we slice yesterday’s roast beef for sandwiches.

The rain has come back; umbrella-ed, Mark darts off to work. James and I drive to the mall, where we head off to walk in opposite directions. I can hear the pounding onslaught on the flat metal roof of the shopping center. I weave in and out of families urgently shopping for school supplies, and shoes, and just the right shirt to wear on that all-important first day.

Connie buzzes: I have met my step goal for the day. I meet Jim at the food court, where he shares a cup of hot pretzel nuggets. We stop at a funky store that has an amazing variety of stuff, and Jim finds a lamp that he’d looked at online. Its two black metal dragons face each other, wings half-furled, supporting the base. A tomato-red jewel gleams between them.

“This is just like the one online,” he says, “but it’s twenty dollars cheaper!”

It will look great in Jim’s newly painted, deeply blue room. We buy the lamp and head off in the rain,–heading home to make the soup.

Soup: that magic potion that draws us home.

I dig out the heavy sauce pot. And finally, I can cut and chop.

I dice onions and garlic, toss them into the heated olive oil; their enthusiastic simmering drowns out the rain, once more churned into torrent-force. While the veggies soften, I pull chicken, carefully saving skin and bones to make more broth.

I assemble spices, and I add a little water to the dregs on the bottom of the sweet chili sauce bottle, shaking it to get all the last bits of good flavor excited about going into soup. I dig out the big old can-opener and turn open a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato sauce.

This is a perfect recipe, but like any fine soup, it does not suffer from substitutions or additions. We don’t have a can of condensed tomato soup, but the tomato sauce will do fine. Sweet chili sauce will fill in for chili powder. Cayenne will do for cumin, too.

I nuke the frozen blocks of broth. The onions and garlic are soft and fragrant. The shredded chicken joins them. I pour in the broth, already steaming from the microwave. I stir in spices and potions and the canned tomatoes; I throw in the refrigerated leftovers and the cup of frozen corn.

I stir and stir with my big wooden spoon, introducing all these disparate elements, urging them to get along, to work together to create something wonderful, and bubbling, and new.

I dip the boneless chicken into panko bread crumbs mixed with parmesan, and put them on a tray, and slide them into the oven.

It is four-thirty in the afternoon, and I take my Donna Leon murder mystery to the reading chair. And at that moment I cannot think of a better place to be, my bare feet resting on the old fuzzy gold throw, my imagination traveling on a Venetian canal with Commissario Brunetti, searching for answers. It’s been a good day’s work; my syllabi are almost done; the house is straightened up. Laundry tumbles below me as rain pounds above.

And from the kitchen, a wonderfully perfumed steam emanates.

Soup: an elixir of anticipation.

Mark comes home a little after 5:00, and, “Oh, man. That smells GOOD,” he says, and he heads off to change. I struggle out of the comfy chair and we converge in the kitchen.

Jim puts tots in the preheated air fryer to roast up, crispy and sizzling. I find the block of Vermont cheddar in the fridge, and Mark digs out the cheese slicer. There are whole grain crackers. There is a new bag of crunchy corn tortilla strips.

We pull roasted chicken from the oven, and Jim makes himself a plate of golden treats and wanders off to eat and type.

Mark grabs the old white ladle from the crock, and we fill the heavy white ceramic bowls with soup that is thick with meat and veggies and the exact rich tone of that jewel in the dragon lamp. We sit at the table and slurp; we slice cheese almost so thin we can see through it and we fold it onto those fresh, crunchy crackers.

And the day releases. Goals fulfilled, tensions melt in the fragrant steam.

Soup: the reward at the end of a stormy day.

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Wednesday dawns bright and washed clean. I lace up and head out, seventies music pulsing me along. It will be a busy day, and it will be a hot one. Today, I think, we’ll rub some chops and throw them on the grill, put together a lettuce salad.

It’s a day to gather with retired teachers for an outdoor lunch, to mow the lawn, to trim the iris leaves, browning and curled. Today the air conditioning needs to be invited back on.

Today we will eat summer food, and I will pack the leftover soup into freezer containers. I will label those containers carefully and hide them away in the frosty dark. They’ll abide until the next damp and stormy day, when chill breezes breathe.

They’ll be there, those little chunks of frozen treasure, ready for us, the next time we have a day when we need soup.

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Wendy’s Delicious Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 tsp .oil

I cup chopped onion 

2 cloves garlic, minced 

2 cups cooked shredded chicken 

1 cup frozen corn

1 tsp cumin (or cayenne)

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp chili powder (or sweet chili sauce. Or chopped jalapeno, or red pepper flakes…)

8 cups chicken broth or stock 

1 can diced tomatoes (10 or 12 oz) Diced tomatoes with green chilies add a little zip , but you can use plain 

I can undiluted tomato soup (or small can tomato sauce)

tortilla chips 

sour cream, diced avocado (Nice, but not essential!)

Saute onion and garlic in oil . Add all ingredients  except chips etc. Bring to boil , then simmer 1 hour on stove top or 3-4 hours on low in slow cooker. 

Garnish with crushed tortilla chips , sour cream and  diced avocado as desired. 

Recipe freezes well and is easy to double or triple for a crowd. 

Enjoy !!