Posts Tagged ‘home and family’
Cindy La Ferle on January 16th, 2013
To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” — Laurie Colwin
As my best friends will tell you, I’m your go-to gal if you need a good soup recipe. Come winter, there’s always something simmering in my slow cooker or on the stove — thick-as-a-brick pea soup, creamy potato porridge, vegetarian chili, or a savory minestrone.
The way I see it, homemade soup is a remedy for nearly everything.
It’s guaranteed to speed the recovery of a neighbor who’s nursing a broken heart or the common cold. It fortifies the friend who just returned home after knee surgery. In fact, homemade soup has a language all its own, which makes it ideal when you’re struggling to find a way to express sympathy to grieving families. It also works to convey gratitude when we need to reciprocate a kindness or a favor.
It’s methodical but soothing — the whole process of making soup from scratch.
I always begin with fresh produce from the market, then I gather the right combo of herbs and spices from the pantry, or, if I’m lucky, from the small potted “garden” in my kitchen window sill. From the moment I start chopping onions and garlic, every muscle and nerve in my body begins to loosen or unwind. And while I work, I think about the loved ones who’ll receive the first helping when my soup is finished and the flavor has mellowed.
That said, the soup I make at home never tastes quite as delicious as the soup from someone else’s kitchen. So when I’m feeling especially cranky or lazy, I head over to Niki’s, my favorite local diner here in Royal Oak. If you were a diehard fan of the long-running Gilmore Girls TV series, you probably remember Luke’s Diner, right? Well, Niki’s is just that sort of place –a cozy hangout where you’ll likely rub elbows with a neighbor at the counter.
Best of all, the soup at Niki’s is always homemade — and the perfect prelude to my favorite Greek salad on Main Street.
I’ve known Donna, the owner and cook, for so many years that I’ve lost count of all the gloomy winter afternoons I spent in her back-corner booth with my notebook and a pending column deadline. Those afternoons were always warmed by Donna’s chicken noodle, spinach-tortellini, or cabbage soups. I still like to remind Donna that she makes the best soup in town, and that I’ll always be her biggest fan.
Whenever you’re in need of a little home-cooked comfort — and your own mom isn’t around or able to provide it – it helps to have at least one good cook like Donna at the ready. We all need someone who can ladle out the perfect bowl of soul-filling soup, especially on chilly midwinter afternoons.
My favorite slow-cooker pea soup recipe:
16-oz package of Spartan (brand) green split peas
6 cups of water
1 large onion, chopped
5 or 6 small potatoes, peeled and sliced
4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves and/or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup finely sliced carrots
1 cup chopped celery
Use a large slow cooker; set it on high. Add the six cups of water. Rinse the split peas, then add to the water. Chop the onion and saute in olive oil with dried oregano and crushed garlic until onions are translucent and slightly brown. Add the cooked onions/garlic to the slow cooker and stir; add the remaining ingredients. Cook on high for five or six hours until the potatoes are soft and the soup is thick. (If you’re pressed for time, add a can of sliced/cooked potatoes to the batch during the last hour, instead of the fresh potatoes.) Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
I love making this all-day vegetarian soup in the slow cooker; I can leave it alone and let the flavors meld for hours. It tastes even better the next day, and there’s plenty to share. P.S. Prior to serving this soup, I might add a dash of sherry to each bowl, plus a dollop of sour cream, to make it more like a French Potage St. Germain.– CL
Cindy La Ferle on February 29th, 2012
One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story
Earlier this month, a couple of dear friends phoned to invite us over for dinner. They had a big pot of turkey chili bubbling on the stove and a loaf of cornbread cooling in the oven. “Nothing fancy, just comfort food.”
The spur-of-the-moment invitation was all the more delicious because Doug and I hadn’t planned anything for dinner that evening. And the cozy company of longtime friends was exactly what we needed in the middle of a crazy-busy week. It turned out to be a perfect evening.
That night, we also revisited an earlier conversation we’d started on the topic of entertaining.
We all admitted that, in the past, we often avoided inviting friends for dinner because we thought a meal for “company” had to be fancy or labor-intensive. Which is silly, of course, but it was an easy excuse to make when we were too busy or too lazy to break bread at home with friends.
Along the same lines, anyone who reads gourmet cooking magazines on a regular basis will admit to feeling intimidated sometimes, even by featured recipes described as easy or simple. If throwing a dinner party requires performing a culinary miracle, well, we’re not likely to host very often.
One of the great gifts of midlife is that you start getting over these things. You realize that “the good life” is what’s real — not a page out of a glossy magazine. You remember that your true friends love you just as you are, and that any dish that’s good enough to serve your family is good enough for them, whether it’s your favorite mac and cheese or turkey chili.
Not that foodies shouldn’t have some creative fun in the kitchen.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to master a few healthy recipes that work for company as easily as for the two of us.
For instance, in the March issue of Prevention, I found “All-American Family Favorites,” a feature that includes several no-fuss, kid-friendly dishes that can be prepared in no time at all. The Skillet Chicken “Parm” looked fabulous, so Doug and I put the recipe to the test after shopping for a few items at the local market. The ingredients are as basic as you can get: chicken breasts, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil.
I’m very happy to report that the meal was both easy and delicious — and perfect for casual dinner guests. Topping it off, our own red skillet looked so colorful with the basil garnish that I had to share my photo with you. (I don’t have the rights to reprint the recipe, so you’ll have to pick up the March issue of Prevention, still available on newsstands.) From now on, I’ll be on the lookout for more recipes like this.
There’s nothing cozier or more satisfying than raising a glass to old friends around a dinner table. So when the mood strikes, call your best friends and invite them over for a simple midweek supper. Don’t worry if the house isn’t clean. Dim the lights, uncork a bottle of wine, light a candle, and let the conversation flow. Cheers! — Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on January 29th, 2012
All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. ~John Berger
Sometimes I have to rely on the lens of memory to see her as the true beauty she once was.
Waiting for the occupational therapist to arrive, my widowed mother is slumped in a chair in her new assisted living apartment. Her naturally wavy gray hair is long overdue for a good cut, and the navy stretch suit she’s wearing is at least a size too large. She looks older than her 81 years.
Mom doesn’t seem to care, which is totally unlike the woman she was before vascular dementia began devouring her pride, her self.
Not long ago, she was the sort of woman who wouldn’t be seen anywhere without a fresh application of her favorite Estee Lauder lipstick.
Not surprisingly, she’s confused and miserable in her new surroundings. She spent a week in the hospital at the end of last year, then another four weeks at a nursing rehab center. She wants to go back to her own condo — now — but I don’t have the heart to tell her (again) that this will be her home for a while.
Working with the assisted living staff, I keep trying different things to distract her. I want to help my mother enjoy what’s left of her life; to earn back her approval. And I desperately hope to see a glimmer of happiness or a trace of contentment on her face. But as I listen to her litany of complaints and watch her struggle just to rise from her chair, I can’t help but wonder if the goal is out of reach.
A museum of her former life
After my visit, I drive across town to retrieve more of Mom’s clothing from her condo. As soon as I arrive, I wander each room tentatively, half expecting to find evidence of intruders. Or ghosts.
Gathering dust in her long absence, the whole place is as quiet as a mausoleum. A recipe box sits next to her blood pressure cuff on the kitchen table, exactly where my mother left them the day after Thanksgiving — the day I drove her to the emergency room. There are plates in the dishwasher and an old grocery list on the counter. With no one else living here now, the condo feels like a museum of my mother’s former life. And every piece of furniture is a relic of our family’s past.
Which is partly why I’m overcome by an urge to dig through Mom’s closet for an album of family photos dating back to her childhood in 1930s. At first, I tell myself that the photos might trigger some happier conversation with my mother at the assisted living residence.
But in reality, I’m the one who needs to be reminded of the strong, beautiful woman she once was.
An album of another era
Flipping through the album I’d been looking for, I pause at the sepia-toned photo of Mom when she was barely three years old.
I am always moved when I see photos of my parents as children. And while dementia has rendered my mother more helpless than ever, this particular photo shows her at her smallest, most vulnerable self.
In it, Mom is standing bow-legged in a sandbox behind the Indianapolis home of her beloved grandparents, the folks who took care of her while her newly divorced mother was at work. A source of shame in those days, divorce was rarely discussed openly in my mother’s household. Much later, she’d share stories of how her young father abandoned his new family — right before she was born — and how her grandparents helped support her mother during the Depression.
In the photo, Mom wears a swimsuit and a pair of beaded moccasins. Holding a tiny shovel and a rubber ball, she looks as if she were caught off guard; her smile is more of a question than a statement. Still, there’s the twinkle of determination in her dark brown eyes.
The dance of her life
Mom’s stepfather, who came into her life a few years later, was an amateur photographer. His devotion to his hobby, and especially to my mother, is evident throughout the photo album.
In one portrait, my mother is dressed for a dance. Her prom gown flaunts an artful confection of ribbons on one shoulder – a testimony to my grandmother’s talent with a needle and thread. Mom is also wearing a corsage, and I can’t help but wonder if my handsome, black-haired father had presented it to her just before the photo was snapped. (My parents started dating after they met at a Presbyterian church youth group in Detroit.)
Because the photo is black and white, I can only guess that her dress is white, or maybe a pale shade of blue. It’s likely that her lipstick and nail polish are deep crimson, as dictated by the film stars of the 1940s.
But there’s no denying that my mother looks gorgeous and happy in this portrait. The sweet promises of true love, her own home, and a secure family — all she ever wanted — are almost within reach.
It also occurs to me that this album of memories belongs with my mother in her new assisted living apartment, not hidden away in a closet that she probably won’t ever open again. So I pack the book in my car along with another bag of nightgowns and a new package of incontinence products.
The following day, when I reintroduce her to the album and its treasures, her eyes light up as if she’s seeing the photos for the first time. Her oldest memories rush forward — they never left her, of course — and she recites the names of all the beloved people and places in the vintage photographs. She pauses at a shot of her grandparents and spins another reverie of their beautiful Tudor home on the river near Indianapolis.
I’ve heard the stories many times before, with or without the photographs, but that’s OK. For the first time in ages, my mother is animated and smiling. And her beauty shines through. – Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on February 27th, 2011
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” ~Jane Howard
It’s not always easy to be a family. For starters, our troubled job market makes it nearly impossible for relatives to live in the same community — or the same region. And even if they do live nearby, work and other obligations can make it a challenge to forge satisfying connections or offer help when it’s needed.
Earlier this month, my mother was finally sent home after spending two weeks in the hospital and another two in nursing rehab. Getting her settled has taken a team of visiting nurses and a physical therapist — and lots of family support. This week’s column in Royal Oak Patch tells the story of how my son’s surprise visit helped us “bring Grandma back.” Please click here to read it. –CL
Cindy La Ferle on November 22nd, 2010
Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” ~Jean Baptiste Massieu
My son Nate drove from Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with us, so I’m closing the door to my home office this week. Meanwhile, I’m sharing links to two essays with a Thanksgiving homecoming spin. The first is from the archives of my Michigan Women’s Forum column, and the other runs currently on Mothering by Jennifer Margulis. If you’re the parent of a college student who’s back home for the holiday, you’ll probably relate.
Another homecoming: My weekly Our Town column debuted on Royal Oak Patch yesterday. You’ll be able to read it all week (check under “Columns” or type “Cindy La Ferle” in the Search option). It’s fun sharing my little corner of the world, and I’m getting a kick out of the comments readers leave on the Patch site. I’ve even heard from folks who’ve left the state but still want to stay connected with their hometown. Happy Thanksgiving to all! –CL
–Photo by Cindy La Ferle–