What’s for supper? Vol. 102: Barely soup

IT IS OCTOBER AND NOW WE CAN HAVE SOUP! I’m trying to pace myself, though. Just one per week. BUT OH BOY!

SATURDAY
Jalapeno chicken quesadillas, tortilla chips and salsa

I had tons of leftover chicken from last week, so I roughed it up a bit and added it to the cheddar quesadillas, along with some sliced jalapenos from a jar and some chopped scallions. Excellent, if a little difficult to flip intact. Jarred jalapenos are finding their way into more and more of our meals.

Also on Saturday, we harvested the last thing from our garden

and thanked the Lord of the harvest that we don’t have to survive on things we grow in our garden.

***

SUNDAY
Beef vegetable soup, pumpkin bread, caramel apples

This was supposed to be beef barley soup, but I lost my list

at the beginning of a 3.5-hour shopping trip involving five stores.

 

Guess what? I remembered every last damn thing on the list, except barley. So I threw some macaroni in the pot, instead, and it was fine.

This may be my favorite soup. First I sauteed up two diced carrots and a diced onion in olive oil, salt and pepper, then I added a few pounds of cubed flank steak and lightly browned it. A couple of cans of diced tomatoes with the juice, about a pound of sliced mushrooms, about eight cups of beef broth, a little water, and a bottle of hard cider (I usually use red wine, but I think the cider is even better), and let it simmer all day. I added the pasta twenty minutes before it was time to eat.

As I made the pumpkin bread, I thought happily to myself what a foolproof, reliable recipe it is, and how it never, ever comes out bad. So you know what happened next. It was flabby and dense, with a harsh, unpleasant taste.

I have no idea what I did. I think maybe the baking soda was too old, and . . . the pumpkin was cursed? I don’t know. I’ll make it again, because I’ve made it fifteen times before with great results. But I’m buying new baking soda first. Oh well.

The soup was so good, I ate it for lunch the rest of the week. Every time I reheated it, the macaroni got a little bigger. It was like an edible coming of age story.

After years of struggling with candy thermometers, I have discovered that those caramel wraps you can buy are so worth the money. The kids can make them almost unassisted, and there is no mess.

We put ours in the oven to soften up and then tried to press rainbow sprinkles in. That was probably the most labor intensive part, and they didn’t stick well. Next time, we’ll just leave them be.

***

MONDAY
Pulled pork, roast butternut squash, tater tots

Another excellent meal for fall weather (and also a good one to prep ahead, if you are going on a Girl Scout hike and coming home hungry from all that confidence-building).

I have a picture of this meal, but where? Well, pulled pork doesn’t look like much of anything anyway. The squash is so pretty, though.

I put a pork shoulder into the slow cooker with salt and pepper, a quartered onion, several cloves of garlic sliced, and a can of beer. Nice and easy.

I was feeling all cozy and nostalgic about the return of squash season, until I tried peeling the squash. Ten minutes later, I was out of breath, my arms were trembling, I had removed about three square inches of squash skin, and Corrie was looking at me anxiously, trying to figure out why I was so mad.

Happily, I found this cheat. You poke the skin with a fork, cut off the top and bottom, and microwave it for three minutes.  So easy! Then, it says, you “Delight at how easily the skin comes off.” That was the only part that didn’t work. I ended up cutting the squash into pieces and microwaving it several times. It became slightly easier to peel, but there was definitely no delight involved.

I eventually cubed the squash, mixed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and laid it on a shallow pan and roasted it at 400 for maybe 35-40 minutes. To me, the sweet, buttery taste of squash goes perfectly with pulled pork. To everyone else, there certainly was a lot of squash for Mama to eat.

(Dramatization)

***

TUESDAY
Frozen chicken, chips

We tried one of those bags of violently red, ludicrously spicy chicken things, plus a bag of some kind of batter fried honey chicken things. We ate them.

***

WEDNESDAY
French toast, sausage, grapes

That was for the kids. Damien and I went out to Applebee’s because did you know they have $1 margaritas all through October? Normally we avoid Applebee’s, because the food is shiny and limp, the service is indifferent, the music is worthless and way too loud, and the decor makes you feel like you’re inside a pinball machine. However: $1 margaritas. I had some kind of Asian shrimp and rice ladyfood vegetable nonsense, and Damien had a bacon burger, and we both had . . . kind of a lot of margaritas. Oh, we’ll be back.

(Reminder from a friend: If you send your waitress back and forth many times to fetch you lots of cheap margaritas, calculate your tip based on all that trotting, rather than on the artificially low bill.)

***

THURSDAY
Sausage spinach skillet

Almost good. It certainly is easy and cheap (recipe from Budget Bytes). It’s supposed to be a stand-alone dish, but I made fettucine to serve it over, because I can see into the future and I knew we’d need a back-up dish. My husband thought it would be better in some kind of garlicky sauce, possibly a light cream sauce. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Or maybe I’ll just sit on a mountain and watch my tail grow.

***

FRIDAY
Pizza

Birthday party! The theme is Clash of the Titans, so we’ll see how that goes. The one thing I know is if you invite a bunch of rail-thin teenage girls over for a party, there needs to be a lot of pizza. A lot.

***
Book illustration photos from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel and The Funny Thing by Wanda Ga’g

Frog and Toad are their own right size

I come before you today with the unpleasant task of making the case against Frog, of Frog and Toad. In Arnold Lobel’s immortal series, the two friends play and work, suffer and triumph together; but Frog is the superior friend in every way. He is responsible and sensible, a hard worker, patient, and willing to try new things and enjoy every season. Toad is none of these things. Toad takes, and Frog gives.

OR DOES HE?

Consider:

He manipulates Toad into believing his head has grown overnight, rather than just offering to shrink his hat. (“The Hat” from Days with Frog and Toad.

He tricks Toad into thinking it’s Spring and that he’s slept for several  months

 

so Frog will be able to have company. (“Spring” from Frog and Toad Are Friends)

He forces Toad into winter clothes, coming into Toad’s house against his protests. “I have brought you some things to wear,” he said. Frog pushed a coat down over the top of Toad. Frog pulled snow pants up over the bottom of Toad. He put a hat and scarf on Toad’s head.

“Help!” cried Toad. “My best friend is trying to kill me!” (“Down the Hill” from Frog and Toad All Year)

He shames Toad for his housekeeping habits. Dusty chairs? Well, Frog, maybe if you came all the way in and visited Toad where he was, instead of sticking your head in and making him feel bad

the chairs would be free of dust. (“Tomorrow” from Days with Frog and Toad)

Worst of all — and I find this one really unforgivable — he holds the ball of string and makes Toad do a running try, a running and waving try, a running, waving, and jumping try, and a running, waving, jumping, and shouting try, and Toad’s legs are much shorter than Frog’s.

Why can’t Frog take a turn running? (“The Kite” from Days with Frog and Toad)

Listen, they are good friends. I can see that. Frog loves Toad. He tells him stories, he makes him tea, he teaches him how to do new things, and he prompts him to enjoy life more. He is endlessly patient while Toad has tantrums over buttons, and he does his best to chase away the curious creatures who want to see Toad in his bathing suit.

They spend Christmas together, they are brave together, and they enjoy the shivers together. In a forever-unrevealed Gift of the Magi scenario, they rake each other’s leaves.

And Toad needs Frog, certainly. Frog wants the best for Toad. Most of his excesses come from wanting Toad to learn a good lesson about life. He doesn’t just want Toad to be happy; he wants to improve him.

But this is not a clear-cut case of the good friend and the bad friend, the giver and the needy one, the shining star and the dead weight. Frog is the kind of person who mistakes inborn temperament for virtue, and I very much admire Toad for sometimes digging in his heels and spending the day the way he likes: In bed.

This is, of course, what makes their friendship all the more delightful and real. Toad is lazy, pessimistic, easily discouraged, and an occasional berserker; but he is also intensely loyal, and generous, if heavy-handed.(“Alone? Frog has me for a friend! Why would he want to be alone?”) He’s sincerely penitent when he’s self-centered. But it’s not just a one-sided relationship. They are deeply entwined with each other, and each provides something that the other needs, whether Frog knows it or not.

Toad’s love for Frog is revealed in the deep panic he feels on Christmas Eve, as he runs out barefoot into the storm, armed with a pan and a rope, imagining that Frog has simultaneously lost, being chased by an animal with sharp teeth, and in the bottom of a deep hole.

But Frog needs Toad just as much. He seems to rarely knows how to spend his time unless it’s with Toad, and when Toad has a problem or is sad, his day is consumed with searching for an answer. He sits all day with Toad, waiting for the snail to deliver his letter with the sole message that Frog is glad for Toad’s friendship. And when Toad is paralyzed over his lost to-do list, Frog buys into the idea that he can’t act without it, and works up a sweat trying to catch it. Frog is just as needy as Toad, in his own way. He needs Toad to need him.

Toad is painfully aware that Frog is more accomplished than he is, and it eats away at him, at least subconsciously. In his dream (which should be required reading for every adolescent and adult), he finally triumphs over Frog so entirely that Frog disappears altogether, and Toad realizes that being second-best is not nearly as bad as being alone. He wants Frog to be “his own right size,” even if that’s bigger than Toad.

I challenge you to find a truer and more beautiful portrayal of friendship anywhere, even in books with many more syllables per page.