Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Back in the kitchen with a soup pot on the stove

These days it is becoming harder and harder for me to like being in the kitchen.  This must be how Working Mothers feel about things after a few weeks of preparing three meals a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for their families.  No wonder Mom wasn’t much fun in the kitchen when I was a kid!
As someone who’s always loved to experiment in the kitchen, I never would have believed that I’d become tired of cooking and baking.  But I have.  It came to me this past weekend as I was lugging the vacuum cleaner down the stairs for the second time in two days that I’ve become nothing more than the maid in my own home.  I prepare three meals a day, clean the house, do the laundry, take care of the yard, do the shopping, feed and wash the dog, and try to get Mom and Dad to brush their teeth and take showers just like any other Mother would do on a normal day.  And like any other Working Mom, I still work a 40 hour week.

Grandma Dessie in her apron - which is pretty much
how I remember her.  I'm beginning to feel more
and more like this every day.
Back in the gook old days, when I was old enough to help in the kitchen I would get phone calls from Mom asking me to peel potatoes and put them on to cook, or begin prepping the meal in other ways for dinner that night. Many times as I got older, dinner would nearly be on the table by the time they arrived home from work. 
In my ignorance of my parents current situation, I had often mused that it would be like that in reverse when my parents finally came to live with me.  I’d call home and ask Mom to put on the potatoes or put a casserole in the oven, or bake biscuits for dinner. 
Silly me.

Mom does try to help, only she can no longer follow simple instructions.  If I ask her to get drinks on the table, she may get as far as putting a glass for herself out on the counter and then just wander away.  Even given detailed instructions, she simply looses track after the words “Mom, can you…..”, the rest is just gibberish.  If I hand her potatoes, she will peel them, but it takes a good 20 minutes to do three of them.  Ask her to get the milk out for me and she heads off to the freezer and stands there looking for a few minutes before I notice she’s not in the right place.  While I’m cooking, she’s busy putting things on the table.  Yesterday we had two containers of butter, dog food, cold soup still in the can, a bag of shredded cabbage in a bowl (no dressing), brownies and some cantaloupe that had been sitting out all day and was spoiled (ask me how I KNOW it was spoiled, yes I ate some).
I guess what I’m getting at is this situation with dimentia driven parents is a lot like living with children.
THIS is how I used to feel in the kitchen. This is me
winning a chili cookoff back in 2001.  Whee!  Fun!
Only, of course, I’m not a Mother.  I’m the Daughter.  Mom, Dad and their dog now rely on me to keep them fed, safe and fairly clean.  I always figured the cooking part would be no issue because I loved it so much, but I was off base with that thought.  Most evenings, the idea that I have to go home and fix a full meal is daunting.  Plus, when it’s 90 degrees outside, no air conditioning in the house, and the folks keep closing the doors and windows and turning off the fans so there’s no air circulation, it simply becomes overwhelming at times.
So what did I do this past hot weekend?  Made three huge pots of soup. 
Mom and Dad eat soup three days a week for their lunch when I’m at work.  Frankly it’s very easy to be lazy and just buy cans of ready to eat soup and leave it at that, but I know that it’s usually full of salt and sugars that they really don’t need.  Plus, I’ve tried some of them and mostly they taste blah and sometimes even outright nasty. (Not that they mind, at this stage I’m not sure that unless it’s full of salt and sugar they really taste it.) 
But it’s been a while since I tried to keep up with their soup intake and this weekend, stifling heat or no, I was determined to get some into the freezer and try to stay ahead of their lunches for a little while at least.
I was in a bit of a hurry so there’re no photos of the process (simply too hot and hassled to think about the camera), but the recipe that I ended up liking best was the Creamy Tomato Soup (see recipe below).
I’ve always been a fan of the Campbell’s tomato soup Mom served us at home and there is usually a can stashed in the pantry for times when I’m feeling especially nostalgic.  For years I have been trying recipes that claimed to be “better than the can”, but frankly, I LIKE the can version.  Very little can make it better, in my mind, except some more sweetness or a bit more depth in the tomato-ey goodness.  This weekend I think I found that recipe.
Over and over I tell you that some of the best recipes on the web can be found at the King Arthur Flour site, and surprisingly, this soup is among their exceedingly good collection.  With a scant 3 tablespoons of their flour included, I imagine it made the cut because it would be so wonderful with any number of their bread or muffin recipes served alongside. 
This soup hit the spot on a couple of levels.  The depth of tomato flavor was just spot-on and the addition of the basil and thyme gave it an extra boost.  I did switch out the called for white sugar for a generous 1/4 cup of brown sugar and the result was a creamy, soothing, bowl of goodness.  Because the original recipe allowed for canned tomatoes in puree, and I chopped the onions especially fine, there was no need to puree the mixture in a blender.  I also used about double the amount of thyme and basil called for simply because they were fresh from the garden and I couldn’t resist.  
What I found during my stolen afternoon of soup making was, that if left alone for a couple of hours with a good sharp knife in my hand and a recipe or three in front of me, I can still enjoy the process.  Ten pints of soup later, I have enough stashed in the freezer to feel Mom and Dad for a couple of weeks.  Let’s see if I can stop buying the canned varieties for a while anyway.
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) chopped onions (2 small-to-medium onions)
1 (one) 28-ounce can tomato purée or tomatoes in purée
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon basil
a couple of shakes of black pepper
3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 can (a scant 2 cups, 14 to 15 ounces) chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 (one) 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan, heat the butter or margarine and the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté* until softened and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes (undrained), the thyme, basil, and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the flour and broth, whisking till smooth, and add this mixture to the soup, stirring constantly. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

If you've used diced tomatoes, purée the soup in a blender or food processor, or use a hand blender. If you've used tomato purée, there's no need to blend; the onion bits will give the soup a bit of body. Return the soup to the stove, and set it on a burner over low-to-medium heat. Stir in the baking soda (the soup will foam up briefly; don't worry, but be sure it's in a big enough pot), the brown sugar, the milk and the salt. Heat, stirring, to a bare simmer. Serve hot.

Yield: about 8 cups, about 8 servings.

To get to the original posting on the KAF site, follow this link - it will have photos and step by step instructions should you need them:

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