Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Super Soup

For Christmas last year, my son John gave me a big slow cooker, one big enough for roast beast. I had a small one which he had also given me years ago with his paper route earnings, which I have used mostly for beef stew. Now I have one big enough to make a delicious pot roast with nice brown potatoes and carrots. This also results in a lot of gravy and general meat juices with which to make great soups.

One favorite is mushroom barley beef soup which is ever so good for one , with all that barley. If I throw in a little sherry it's even better. And if you have a glass of red wine, then you have an even healthier meal, since we all know that red wine is good for the heart, or arteries.

The other day I made the best vegetable soup ever. I had enough leftover potatoes and carrots to dice and added onions, broccoli, tomatoes and shreds of leftover pot roast and a little barley. It was very rich and almost stew-ish. With a good salad and crusty bread it was a very filling dinner. And a glass of red wine, of course.

John's girl friends' mother (I love serial possessives) gave him her recipe for butternut squash soup. He has made two batches so far. It's quite labor intensive and requires baking the squash, and lots of processing the pulp in small batches. It has fresh ginger and other spices and is very delicious. Her mother adds apricots, but John hasn't tried that yet. I found recipes online that are similar., which is where I found the directions for the following experiment.

I am not a squash person, but I found some of those really picturesque acorn squashes at the last farmer's market and decided to make soup with them. I had no idea they would be so hard to cut in half and at first I had the feeling that my best knife would be stuck in the first one forever. I finally gave it a good whack and it fell apart, so I whacked the other two successfully and put them into the oven to bake. An hour later, I opened the oven door and recoiled in horror. It looked as if I had baked a bunch of giant beetles. They gleamed like scarabs in a truly yucky fashion. Since they didn't crawl toward me, I removed them and let them cool in thier own beetle-y way. Then I had to peel them and dispose of a bunch of dead beetle skins. Ewwww!The soup turned out quite well. The recipe called for half and half, which I had on hand for coffee use. If I ever make it again, I think I will add sour cream or buttermilk instead.

One of John's clients gave him a beautiful pie pumpkin from which he has made two pies and has enough left over to make another - or perhaps pumpkin soup. It's been a very squashy fall. Soupy, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Breaking Taboos

I remember when Madelyn Murray O'Hair was practically tarred and feathered for defending the Constitutional requirement for the separation of church and state. She claimed that prayer in school was in violation, and furthermore, that she was an atheist! Well, you would have thought that she had admitted to some heinous crime against humanity. An atheist! Good Christian men awake! She was condemned in churches nationwide. Called terrible names. Taking prayer out of the public schools was seen as downright un-American.

Since I had attended Catholic schools where we prayed four times a day (first thing in the morning, before lunch, after lunch and at dismissal) , I found this puzzling. They prayed in public schools? Whatever for? They were all doomed anyway on account of not being Catholics. That's the sort of thing we learned when we were not praying.

Well, atheism has come a long way since Ms. O'Hair disappeared. It has become quite trendy, what with books out by Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and some other guy whose name I can't think of right now. Nobody has consigned any of these writers to hell or accused them of sexually abusing goats and chickens. Their books have been best sellers, they've been on TV without being scorned. It's possible that there are folks who are clucking about this on talk radio, along with the birthers and death panel fear mongers, but they're not on my radar.

But there are limits. Even though an African American can become president, and openly gay people can serve in Congress, I have a sense that an avowed atheist could not become president in this country. Ever since Reagan pretended he was a born again Christian, presidential candidates have fallen all over themselves to show that they are church-going, born bona fide Christians and true believers, even if they're not. I think atheism is the last taboo. We'll have a Jewish, black, gay female president before we'll ever have an atheist, or even an agnostic. It's the American way, init?

Friday, November 6, 2009


I have been reading a lot in the area newspapers about the consolidation of Catholic parishes and the closing of churches. There have been sad interviews with mostly older parishioners. These are people who were baptized, made their first communion, confirmed, married and their parents and grandparents buried from these churches. In large cities like Akron and Cleveland, most of these parishes were established in the late 19th and early 2oth centuries by immigrants from Europe: Italy, Poland, Germany, Slovenia and Hungary. They built magnificent churches, which became the centers of their communities, along with the schools they built to educate and "Americanize" their children and inculcate Catholicism, of course.

In some of these churches the mass was said in the language of the parishioners. (I attender a church in Berea where Polish was used for the mass and for the sermon.I never knew what was going on. My favorite story about that is that one day after mass I asked a woman I had seen every Sunday what the closing Polish hymn , which sounded very martial, was about. She said, "In don't know. I'm a convert.")

We never happened to live in an ethnic parish, mostly WASPY kinds of churches. We always attended parochial schools from first grade through high school. Aside from high school, our parish schools were pretty much neighborhood schools. It was like being in a large extended family, with a few crazy aunts thrown in (some of the nuns). Our parents were involved in church activities unrelated to the school - altar society, choir, that sort of thing. It was a strong part of one's identity. I have good memories and some not so good mostly related to the crazy aunts. They were great for English grammar, literature and history - except when it came to the Reformation. In my high school there were no art courses, drama or music classes, aside from the chorus, run by Sr. Margaret Angela, who had a voice like a steam whistle, causing dogs in downtown Springfield, Ohio, to howl in misery.

I am no longer a church goer, but I remember the sense of community engendered by belonging to a parish, and empathize with those people who are now forced to leave the places that fostered them and nurtured them throughout significant moments in their lives: birth, marriage, and death. The children and grandchildren of the founders are now in the suburbs, attending churches that look like shopping malls. The bricks and mortar buildings of their forefathers will stand empty, be razed or converted into some other use. It must be like losing a limb. You still have the rest of your body, but you will always be aware that something is missing.