Wednesday, January 21

Soup, Cornbread and Memories

At my age most of my friends talk about the same things: aches & pains, kids & grandkids, food and the old days. Last night was no different.

It started with my "cleaning out the fridge to get ready to go to Florida" soup. You know, the soup that is inspired by limp celery, halves of onions and opened bags of carrots. With these humble beginings, and the addition of chicken broth and a carton of tomatoes (grown by my cousin Dennis and frozen by me earlier last year), my soup was taking on the smell and taste of my grandmother's best vegetable soup. After much tasting, and the addition of a little salt and pepper, I decided I would add a package of frozen whole kernal corn and a can of drained white beans. This meant a trip to the store.

At the same time I decided I would make another soup, this one from a package of soup mix that came with a new soup pot my daughter, Liz, had sent for Christmas. This soup, called Spicy White Chicken Chili, called for putting the beans on to boil before adding fresh chicken breast and the contents of two seasoning packets. I put the beans on to cook and headed for the store.

Forty dollars later: I added the corn and beans to my vegetable soup and checked on my beans, which were cooking well. I cut up the chicken breast and added it, with the two packets and some chicken broth to the second soup. The fridge was looking good and the garbage can was full but I had way too much food for two people. I needed to call some neighbors in for a meal and when everyone accepted I needed to make cornbread.

At this point I got out my two matching frying pans and prepared the mix for a full portion of "top of the stove' cornbread. It's simple: the recipe is on the back of corn meal mix and just needs, mix, egg, oil and water. You pour the batter into a hot, oiled frypan and cover it with the other pan. Watch until the bottom is brown and the top is full of air holes. Keep the cover pan in place and flip the bread into the lid. Place back on the stove with the bottom pan as the cover and continue cooking until the bread springs back when you touch it. The whole process takes only about 10 minutes.

My guests enjoyed the two soups and hot cornbread and not having to cook dinner for themselves. We topped the humble meal off with warm peach cobbler (from the freezer) with whipped topping and coffee. Dinner conversation touched briefly on a bad back, to memories of grandmothers who didn't wear drawers, to my grandmother's reaction to Uncle Monk's big drunk and turning in the local moonshiner, to where and how to pee on the golf course, to upcoming travel plans, to Dave's new children's book, to early-in-life church experiences and registered sex offenders and pedofiles in our neighborhood. I was amazed that cleaning out the fridge could encourage such a diverse conversation between just five people.

With my seven children I am never at a loss to recall a favorite story or two, or seven. And I was really lucky to have two grandmothers and a grandfather in my life who continue to give me fodder for my writing and conversation. Last night I told a couple of stories about my mother that my children had remembered. When I asked my two oldest if they had a funny memory of Granny they both had stories I hadn't heard before. It's interesting to get your children's take on what they remember about your parent instead of your own memory.

During cleanup from the dinner, and much to my dismay, I could hardly make room for the two small containers of left-over soup in my fridge. What happened? I was supposed to be making room so I could clean out an empty space. I guess on the trip to the store for corn and beans I bought a few things I thought I needed.

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