Monday, September 22, 2014

ZUPPA TOSCANA SOUP







I really enjoy soup, especially in the cooler months.  The soups I ate growing up were pretty basic:

Beef stew—stew meat, potatoes, onion, carrots, canned tomatoes
Hamburger soup--ground beef, onion, canned mixed vegetables, canned tomatoes
Potato Soup--potatoes, onions, milk
Chicken and dumplings—chicken, onion, celery, canned biscuits (quartered)
Campbell’s Tomato Soup

And that was about the range of diversity at my house as a kid. While these are all still favorites, I really like to be more adventuresome. I like to make broccoli-cheese soup, 5 can chicken tortilla soup, turkey-white bean chili, potato-green chile-corn chowder, and chicken-rice soup with lots of vegetables, among others. 

I don’t generally eat soup at a restaurant, so when we visited family in Minnesota last month I was delighted to be introduced to a new soup, similar to one served at Olive Garden.  While mine was not as good as Jeff’s, this came out pretty good! It was super easy, and if you like Italian sausage, you will love this!

ZUPPA TOSCANA SOUP

·         8 slices of bacon, diced
·         1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
·         1 tablespoon olive oil  
·         2 cloves garlic, minced
·         1 large onion, diced     
·         6 cups chicken broth
·         3 russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
·         3 cups baby spinach
·         1 cup heavy cream      
·         1 tablespoon crush red pepper
·         Salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon to crisp in large skillet. Drain well on paper towel.

Add sausage to skillet, and brown well. Break up well while cooking (I used a potato masher to break up links). Drain sausage well on paper towel.

Heat olive oil in stockpot. Saute onion until translucent, then add garlic and stir for a minute or two, so it does not burn. Add chicken broth, 1/2 of the bacon, salt, pepper, and red pepper. Bring to a boil. I had chopped the potatoes into 1 inch thick sections, then sliced those with the mandolin so they were ¼” thick strips. I cut those strips to about 2” long, so they would fit on a spoon. The size resembled large egg noodles. Cook until just tender, about 10-12 minutes. (Do NOT overcook, keep potatoes slightly firm). 



Stir in sausage and spinach and simmer until spinach is wilted, 2-3 minutes. Stir in heavy cream until heated through, about 1 minute.



Serve garnished with the bacon.  We had ciabatta bread with it to soak up the luscious broth. 

This soup was DELICIOUS, It will definitely go in the "make again" file! Some recipes call for kale instead of spinach, but I loved the flavor the spinach added.




I actually prepared this soup up past the point of adding the raw potatoes, then just refrigerated it overnight. ( I went ahead and threw in the cooked sausage.) The next day, I brought it to a boil, timed it for the 10-12 minutes needed to cook the potatoes, and proceeded with the recipe, adding the spinach and cream. I think the potatoes probably absorbed some flavor overnight. :-)

Peace, friends.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

With This Ring I Thee Wed...And Happily Ever After


August 24, 1979

The old ball and chain.
Getting hitched. 
Tying the knot. 

Most common slang terms used to describe marriage often conjure up images of torture. And yes, some folks will tell you that is what being married is for them—torture. Many people marry thinking it is about "love", and living "happily ever after". While love is definitely on the list, there are many, many other things that make "happily ever after" happen. During these 35 years of marriage Chuck and I have gone through several on the list at one time or another to stay hitched:

Love/Lust—Passion is a powerful emotion that begins a relationship.  A feeling of completion by another person, and it can literally be the glue that keeps you together as a couple. It also makes butterflies appear in your stomach and simultaneously makes you blind to the other person’s faults. Trust me, that weird chewing thing he does will come back to haunt you later when the new has worn off.

Trust—Mutual trust is foundation of any relationship.  If you don’t trust each other with your heart, soul, car keys and credit card pin numbers, don’t walk--RUN out the door.  You are not ready for marriage to this person.

Commitment—The building blocks of the marriage. Most think love is what a successful marriage is built on, but it's really commitment. Love/lust ebbs and flows over the years, but commitment is what keeps you there. When times are trying, remember love/lust will return and make you butterfly-e and blind again, and even that chewing thing won't seem so bad.

HumorThere is nothing better than sharing a laugh with your loved one. Finding humor in stressful situations is often the best medicine! Laugh until you cry, snort, pee, or whatever it is you do when you are overcome with joy. Laugh at each other, and laugh at yourself once in a while! Trust me, no one cracks me up like me! I’m hilarious!

These are just a few “textbook” descriptions of what makes a lasting marriage. Then there are the real truths:
 
There should be a hotline for homicidal housewives.  I can name countless times I actively planned the hubby’s murder while cleaning the bathroom or picking up his stuff strewn from here to yonder. Or held a pillow at the ready at 3 a.m. when the snoring reached buzz saw pitch. Thankfully, my senses returned and I put those plans on hold. For now.

There should also be a hotline for homicidal husbands. For when their wives move their stuff. Or throw out their stuff. Or drink all their whiskey. Or spend too much money. Or when he wants to hold my mouth shut at 3 a.m. when that annoying popping noise I make when I sleep nearly drives him over the edge. 
Or when I Won’t. Shut. Up.

Time apart is important. Interesting fact: Paul and Linda McCartney lived together 29 years and only spent 10 nights apart. (When he was in a Japanese slammer for marijuana possession.) While I see the value in this for some couples, we have always embraced doing things separately.  We can enjoy our different interests, and come home with great stories to share. I think the hubbs would agree that going to 55 junk shops is not high on his list. And for me, indoor car racing on a dirt track doesn’t even make my top 20. That still leaves plenty of stuff that we enjoy doing together, and I won’t come home with dirt in my ears.

Time together is equally important.  Take time every day to have a real conversation. Ask what is going on at work or how their day went, and you will understand what is going on with your spouse. Sometimes we forget to separate our personal lives from what is going on at our jobs, and good communication helps us to diffuse a cranky partner.  Always try to "check work at the door". If all else fails, have a cocktail and put on some music. It's hard to be a "cranky pants" in a happy atmosphere.

Be flexible. Age, children, job changes, health problems—they are all powerful game changers in a marriage. Friends come and go, children grow up and move out, parents graduate to heaven. In the end it is you and your spouse against LIFE. Make sure you choose a good teammate that knows how to protect the goal, and don’t let your personal selfishness derail the team. 

Recognize who you are individually. Chuck loves tinkering in the garage, smoking meat, watching movies and TV, and playing cards. I like to cook, paint, write, refinish furniture, sew, do photography, and remodel the house.  Thankfully he has learned how to stay out of my way when some of my above-mentioned tornadic activity is happening, and I don't bet against him in card games. 

Recognize what you are together. We have worked together to build the life we have, with each of us bringing different aspects to it.  It has been 35 years of changes, as we have changed as people and learned to agree on a path going forward. Does that mean we always agree on everything?  Oh, HELL no! (Anyone who has been around us more than 15 minutes knows that!) While we might go to sleep aggravated with the other, thankfully neither of us remembers it when we wake up. (Best advice, right there.)  Life’s too short for grudges.

Don't,  for even one second, think the grass is greener somewhere else.  The grass is greenest where you water it. 





A few years back, I wrote a poem and would like to share it again:

Perfect Love

If you're looking for perfect love, it just doesn't exist

It changes completely after that first sweet kiss

Challenges present themselves every day

Making it hard to find your way

There's love and lust, and sweet adoration

All of which have brought down nations

The strength of them just boggles my mind

But it is nothing compared to the daily grind

Constant see-saws in the struggle for power

Moods swinging wildly, almost by the hour

A woman marries a man, thinks all his faults she will tweak

He'll even clean and wash all the stuff in the sink

He'll iron all his shirts, and give her a massage

And he'll mow the yard and clean out the garage

He'll bring her fresh flowers when her day has been rough

And serve breakfast in bed, and all that kind of stuff

A man marries a woman, thinks she will forever be the same

Not even prepared to play the marriage game

No more parties with the buddies, no nights on the town

And God help him if he doesn't put the seat down

Forget the sexy jammies, they are long gone

Replaced by a t-shirt—NOT worn with a thong

And then come the kids, the pawns on the board

Here everybody wants to try to keep score

Oh yes, there are good times, and time spent in bliss

Then times you are not speaking, much less want a kiss

You are up, then down, then spun around crazy

You gotta hang on tight, you can't be lazy

Love takes lots of work, lots of give and take

You can't have it all, you have to give them a break

Yes, stand up and demand it, if it's something important

If it's not, let it go, it will all get sorted

Once you get by that first flush of love

You need help from heaven above

'Cause Lord knows, none of us are perfect

Love is hard and something you have to work at

It's not about finding someone who perfectly fits YOU

It is not like going shopping to find the right shoe

It is more like searching for buried treasure

You can't see their worth, can't even measure

It's all just a gamble, just rollin' the dice

But so is everything worth having in life





Now, some awesome wedding photos. Enjoy. (If you can't tell, our colors were blue. You gotta love the '70's.)
The Announcement
The Wedding Party

 L to R: Carrie Bryant, Christie (Miers) Beer, Sandy Bryant, 
Blushing Bride, Handsome Groom, 
Jimmy House, Randy Miers, Tom Shimon

The Bridal Portraits...


And the Groom...





And don't forget to laugh.










Happy 35th Anniversary, Chuck. You are my "Happily Ever After" 






Friday, June 27, 2014

CHANGE



Change. You either love it or you hate it.

We love it if it is our idea. We hate it when it's not our idea. And sometimes, we hate it even when it IS our idea. The hard fact remains that change is the only thing in our life that stays the same. Everything around us and in us is in a constant state of change.

Planet Earth changes. The scientists study it, the scholars write about it, the Chicken Little’s warn us about The End coming any day now. They chronicle earthquakes and volcanic explosions with great alarm, like this was the first time EVER this has happened, and are genuinely shocked that it does, and “what can we do to stop this terrible thing”. Droughts come and go, as do rainy seasons. Rivers flood, change paths, and dry up completely. Pretty much the only thing that stays the same on this planet is the wind blowing in the Panhandle of Texas, but even then the dirt it is blowing in changes--sometimes it is Colorado dirt, sometimes it is New Mexico dirt. (Insert theme song from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" in your mind here.) Fact is, this planet is in constant flux and always has been, always will be. It is a growing, changing, expanding piece of the galaxy, and there is speculation that in a few hundred million years our Sun will implode and Earth will forever be gone. As much as I try to watch my health, I don’t think I will be around to see it, so I am not concerning myself too much with this fact.





Technology changes. I deal daily with computers. They are truly both a blessing and a curse—love them when they work, hate ‘em when they don’t. The software constantly needs updating, and then you can’t find a blinking thing on your desktop anymore, and there are all new symbols and a jillion new options, most of which you will never have the time to learn to use...all part of the culture. However, for all their pitfalls, I would never go back to the “old way” of doing things, and quite honestly don’t think anyone else wants to, either. Notebooks, ledgers, file boxes, filing cabinets, snail mail…no thanks. But please, let’s all stop reminiscing about how easy Windows XP was to use and move on. Everything is stored in the cloud now, you can access anything from anywhere—the convenience this brings has quickly advanced our culture and lives. Can it be a pain in the butt? Absolutely, but only if you let it.



Jobs change. If you are one of the bazillion of us out here who make up the working sector, you know the challenge of change in the workplace. New programs, new equipment, new insurance, new employees, new owners, new brand of toilet paper in the restroom—the list of “new” goes on and on. I have never understood why people will leave a job they know well and have done for years because of changes within the company, and go to a completely new job. The fact is, there is more change involved in that move than there is in tweaking the one they have! But it goes back to my first line—if it is not our idea to change, we are usually going to resist it. If we choose to change jobs, it is a choice we make, and therefore embrace it. Aren’t we humans funny?



Our bodies change. They grow, evolve and age. First we grow from a child to an adult, then revert in many ways to being childlike again. We gain weight, and we lose weight. We get “in shape”, and we get “out of shape”. Our hair changes color, either with help or on it’s own. Parts get wrinkled and saggy, joints quit working like they used to, and some of our "innards" do too, even on a healthy body. We can fight these physical changes, but they come on steady and sure. There are a plethora of solutions from creams, to supplements, to surgery, but at the end of the day, improvement is still change, and believe me, I am all for improvement.


Our minds change. And no, I don't mean that whimsical "I changed my mind about what shoes to wear" kind of change. Our thoughts and opinions mature through the years, with accumulated experiences and attitude affecting change. Well, most of us do anyway.  There are those who are so unsure of themselves that they refuse to grow and increase their knowledge and experiences because they feel safe doing things the same way they always have--change frightens them.  Some of us expand ourselves, sometimes learning from the past, sometimes learning from repeating it.  Our perception of the world and those around us changes with every life experience.  A choice few embrace change, loving the challenge new ideas bring, excited to step out into the unknown and gain new knowledge. People are born, people die, disasters happen. Disease and other physical ailments plague us. Our bodies wear out. Our spirits can go from the dungeon to the stars in an instant. Every day changes us—more on some days than others. It’s what life was meant to be.

                                                                        


Our daily life changes. Our reluctance to change really becomes apparent when it comes to our "stuff". I can move the furniture and paint the walls, and the hubbs will be like, "Wow. You changed things. OK, I will get used to this." But move the man's remote control to another drawer and watch what happens. Switch his sock drawer with his underwear drawer, and stand back, it can be drama for days--because his "stuff" isn't where he is used to it being. Now, I have to admit, I wouldn't like him moving my "stuff" around either, but let's face it, sometimes re-organizing is necessary--no matter how traumatic. And yes, I am that person who will look for something "where I used to keep it" 10 times before the change sticks. But then sometimes I think I could hide my own Easter eggs, so that isn't new.


Change. The bottom line is, you can make it EASY or you can make it HARD. It’s all up to you. But if you stop and consider for one moment that the main thing God asks of us is to trust in His plan for us, what really is the big deal? Why do we let our egos get "too big for their britches" and have all control? In the Bible, it was called "pride", and was a block to entering God's kingdom. I have a sweet friend whose father has had some serious ongoing medical problems, and her mother uses the phrase in her updates, "I am holding on to the hem of His garment in faith" to describe her trust in God concerning her husband's recovery. What a perfect description of what we all do when we trust our faith! Whatever change is handed us, is always manageable with faith--all we have to do is hang on.




So now,  I guess we need to make another "change" to our thinking, because "hanging on"  really means "letting go" doesn't it?  

Peace, friends.




(Want to listen to the theme song to the movie, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly"?  Listen here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFa1-kciCb4 )

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Flying



As a child I dreamt I could fly 



Soar at dawn across the sky 




Gazing down on the houses below 




Seeing things I couldn't possibly know 




The fading street lights, the shadowed yards 




The old dirt school yard where I played so hard 




The tiny churches where I learned to pray 




Never thinking I'd grow up some day 




Above the elevator, I'd fly so high 




With no fear that I might fall from the sky 




The dusty old fields, the tractors at rest 




As for dreams, this one was the best 




Again and again it would come in the night 




And while I slept I would take flight 




I'd awake in the morning, wishing it wouldn't end 




But I never told anyone, not even a friend 




"They'll think I'm crazy" is what I always thought 




But the freedom of that dream was constantly sought 




I wish I could dream it again to this day 




But I grew up somewhere along the way 




I still believe one day my soul will take flight 




And fly again over those houses at night 






Like ·  · 

When the Stars Go to Sleep

I love early mornings, it's my favorite time of day

When it's cool and dark, before the sky begins to grey

From the sun coming up to illuminate this globe

But you have to have the constitution of Job

To make yourself calm down, clear out your head

The night before, and just get your butt into bed

So you can breathe fresh air early, when you arise

And get out and enjoy all your daily exercise

I love being out there, by myself, all alone

To sort out my thoughts about work, life, and home

But there is something magic that happens each morning

I try to watch for it, it comes without warning

The stars go to sleep, but I never seem to catch them

When they close their eyes, and I've tried to see when

They twinkle out, it seems they are VERY sneaky

Like they are shy, don't want me peeking

One minute it's dark, and they are shining brightly

Next minute they are gone, and they do it again nightly

I swear, they are here, and then they are gone

Hidden by the glory of the breaking dawn

My morning date, with the stars I will keep

And keep trying to catch them when they go to sleep



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Food, Glorious Food



I am a foodie. Love to cook it, love to eat it, love to talk about it. I am a walking, talking officially certified foodie. Food is such an interesting, broad subject, and I find that most people are fairly opinionated about their food. We all know food is a very personal connection we have to home, family, and our childhood.  Our likes and dislikes all started when we took that first nibble of gooey rice baby cereal. The ensuing personal path we each chose differs from person to person. Some kids use food as a tool in a power game with their parents; others sometimes don’t eat at all. Apparently my brothers and I "bellied up to the table" every time we were called, regardless of what was served. There was none of this nonsense that if we did not like the meal, a better option would appear; there were no options. Eat what was here and be grateful for it, or leave the table. 

Growing up during the 1960's, our house was served typical country food—fried chicken, meatloaf, ham, roast, potatoes with gravy, green beans, corn, lettuce salad—basic menus.  Oh, and that ever-present pot of pinto beans. Growing up with limited resources for my parents meant you boiled that little smoked ham hock in with your pinto beans, and served it with a heap of homemade chow chow, chopped onion and crispy scratch made cornbread. (Pintos are not my favorite bean, so I always piled on the chow chow and ate lots of cornbread.) There was rarely steak and never fish. We seldom ate at a restaurant, and when we did it might be a burger at Myrtle Armstrong’s cafĂ© or The “Y” cafe. A “fancy” meal out would be at Meyer’s Fried Chicken in Amarillo. I always wanted to eat something exotic like pizza or Chinese food, but never got to.  (I have to say however, I would kill right now for some of that yellow gravy from Meyer’s over some mashed taters….)

See? Just thinking about those times at the dinner table as a kid has taken me back to that very moment when I could dig into my mother’s fantastic cooking. Mmmmm. But I have come to realize that every person has their own version of that memory. My husband’s family never ate black-eyed peas in Iowa, so he does not share my fond memories of a big, steaming bowl of those things cooked with salt pork and served with a big slab of cornbread. (And that was after I spent the morning picking them and the afternoon with a newspaper in my lap shelling those little boogers.) Like my dad’s biscuits and bacon gravy for breakfast and epic Thanksgiving dressing, every household has their family food legacies. I have some Hispanic friends who get all swoony talking about their mother’s menudo. (Gag, gag, shudder.) Or the friend who talks about her family’s traditional Russian meals with names that I don’t understand.  And even the friends whose mothers did not cook remember the pancakes or bacon-egg sandwich that their dads used to make.



When I think back to those days, Hartley had a tiny grocery that had a small meat market, and a few rows of staples. We did not have these massive grocery stores that we enjoy now. Our grocery trips were pretty simple, because at our house we had the four basic food groups: Miracle Whip, Velveeta, Spam and the garden. We had huge gardens and canned almost everything imaginable. My grandmother had a good two acre plot full of fruit trees and we planted that to vegetables too. My mother made jellies, relishes, pickles, canned green beans and tomatoes, froze corn and fruit. That is when I honed my sous-chef skills peeling, chopping, seeding, shelling and dicing.

My mother always had a plan for her meals—she said you needed a meat, a vegetable, and a starch at every meal. Desserts were for special occasions.  We always had a slice of bread and butter with our meal.  Various salads were common—carrot-raisin, waldorf, cabbage-apple, and at least a thousand variations of Jello salads containing fruit or vegetables. You could always count on knowing what the holiday meals were going to consist of. Thanksgiving: Turkey, Daddy’s dressing, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, candied sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, a cranberry Jello salad and cranberry jelly, and a huge relish tray and homemade bread. Pumpkin chiffon pie with Cool Whip or fresh pecan pie followed. Christmas and Easter:  ham, mashed potatoes, ham gravy, candied sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, corn, a fruit salad, a jello salad, rolls, and that ever-present relish tray and loaves of delicious freshly baked bread. Dessert was usually homemade pecan pie, apple pie, and occasionally a chess pie. If everyone was home, they would have both ham and turkey, with all the above. Occasionally, she might make baked beans instead of potatoes to have with the ham, or occasionally throw in a broccoli rice casserole. The amount of food was ridiculous--we ate on platters instead of plates.  But we were young, and usually all "made a hand" at this table of plenty.



When I walk the grocery aisles now, I can get overwhelmed by the thousands of products available.  All of that pre-cooked, ready-to-eat stuff contains ingredients that have more letters than the VIN number on my car. I can avoid whole aisles, as they don’t have anything we eat on them. I don’t cook anything remotely like the way my mother did these days as it is not prudent for our health. (Mother’s food was usually delicious thanks to butter, salt, bacon/bacon grease, or sugar.) These days I just throw a piece of meat, chicken or fish on the grill, roast some fresh vegetables in the oven, chop up a salad, and call it. I really look forward to having company to cook for, as most recipes make more than a party of two can eat. That is when I might make a good chicken fried steak and potatoes or huevos rancheros for breakfast. I have my mother’s recipe book with all her wacky hand-written recipes on napkins, waitress tickets, grocery receipts, and more. I love my old Hartley Cookbook, and the Dalhart Community Cookbook, and my Beta Sigma Phi cookbooks.  Donna Bryant’s “Thumbprint Cookies” recipe, and Karen Brown’s “Chicketti Cassarole” recipe from the Hartley Cookbook are both favorites.  Helen Summerour’s “Snickerdoodle” cookie recipe from the Dalhart Community Cookbook is the best ones I have found. I have adopted Opal Baker's oatmeal coconut cookies recipe as my own.  It is kind of sad that I have most of my recipes on the computer or pulled from online these days, cookbooks may soon be a thing of the past—heck, at the rate we seem to going, COOKING may be a thing of the past!





I wonder about parents now, feeding their kiddos fast food meals and fruit drinks that aren’t really fruit, all the while complaining about the GMO foods, and demanding free range chicken. Some kids eat more meals in the back seat of the car than they ever do at a table. They don’t consider that all our non-GMO vegetables were bathed in pesticides to be able to make a crop, and  I wonder how people would react if they knew that “organic” veggies and fruits they are eating were probably fertilized with cow or chicken poop. I am sure there would be an outcry, spreading poop on the fields would be outlawed, and we would be left with mountains of poop sitting around to deal with. 

The bigger picture is that the only real bonding time for a busy family is often at mealtime. We always turned the TV off and sat at the table to eat. Even until my girls were grown and left home, we tried to eat together at least once a day. With school and sports, at times it was just a rushed lunch--but it was a little window to talk with each other. It really doesn’t matter so much what the food is, it’s about the love and connections we make while eating it. What are some of your favorite family food traditions? Are you continuing your family traditions? Leave me a comment below.


Peace friends--