Monday, December 13, 2010
Well, the NPR Three Minute Fiction Challenge finally ended and the winner was chosen. To say that my paper was not among those mentioned would seem as though there must be the taint of sour grapes upon my words, but there simply isn't. I had a really great time writing a piece of fiction again after many years' hiatus. It held all the fun of an assignment's parameters - without the pressure of a grade. We were given the first and last lines, which I have underlined, and a limit of 600 words. I didn't like my title, so I'm leaving that out of this post. Any suggestions?
Some people swore that the house was haunted, although everyone knew the niece delivered groceries to her back out in these hills once a month. That’s just the kind of wicked thing kids would come up with, spinning tales to add delightful pleasure to torment. No one else ever drew near, and her world held safe and secure as it had for the past twenty-eight years. Only the monthly exchange of food and essentials for the waste she bagged up to be removed broke the routine of her days. Library books traded in and out on her niece’s card. Occasionally they would exchange small talk, but what was there to say, really? Her niece didn’t read.
She looked out the hazy window from her one chair, pausing her rocking at the end of a sentence, mid-paragraph. The niece’s visit had been three days ago; however her ears caught the unmistakable intrusion of tires. Instinctively, she took her glass of water, wiped the ring of condensation from where it had rested on the window sill, and stepped back into well-known shadows.
An old can-opener of a Buick crept close; it’s every advance whispering secrecy and shame, even in this remote place. Ever so slowly it rolled to a stop. She could see waxen hands behind the windshield, clenching and unclenching the steering wheel. The door uttered audible protest and two tennis shoes emerged, resting lightly on the gravel. The steady hum of the sun continued. A girl emerged to stand unsteadily on white legs, her movements painful and jerky. Opening the back, she pulled out an oblong swaddling of pale fabric and limped into the sagebrush. The swaying straw grasses caught one another as she crouched down like a rabbit, murmuring soft and vulnerable words. After long moments, the rhythmic scratching song of crickets rose with her and she returned to her car. Nothing would change. The door slammed shut with a muffled oath and the ignition turned over; she circled around and drove off, the dust barely rising behind her.
Behind the grey clapboard of the house, the controlled beating of the older woman's heart continued. Eventually she took measured steps toward the window, scrutinizing the faded scrub some twenty feet or so from her. A world away. She lifted her glass to her lips and drank. As she returned to her chair, it gave a simple wheezy sigh, receiving her with companionable familiarity.
She turned the pages, her every sense crackled sharply to what lay outside in the chasm of distance. In the hours following, all other accustomed sounds were muffled by the silence that met her ears, straining for a vibration unusual to the norm. Dinner was eaten in regular solitary stillness. Cleaning up and preparations for bed passed like the steady count of an old clock.
Deep in the dark blue of night a mewling, poor and faint, stroked its finger over her sleep. She remembered that softness. She knew. Two tight fists were struggling within the cotton folds of that bundle in the dark. Life was wrestling, pleading to be recognized.
The worn floorboards creaked in anticipation beneath her bare feet as she walked slowly forward and peered out. Nothing was ever the same again after that.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
My husband has been asking me to make chicken soup lately. 'Tis the season for it, I suppose. We have been relatively healthy in our house as Old Man Winter has approached, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – and chicken soup seems to be one of those magically special somethings that attend to both, as well as bringing comfort and joy to one and all. I made the traditional standard chicken soup for years; but some time back, in my efforts to improve upon the time-honored ingredients in the “holy trinity” of mirepoix, I began bringing a bit more oomph to my golden elixir. The naming comes from my passing this on to my own children, to be made for their future families, time in perpetua - as well as my sons' penchant for 'Yo Mama jokes. My personal favorite was a sign outside of a restaurant which read, "Your Mama Eats Here".
Making your own broth for your soup’s base feeds the taste buds as well as the body and soul. For newbies to healthy cooking, I strongly encourage you to start here. The first ingredient substitution was to exchange the humble potato for its sweet bright orange cousin. Garlic is highly favored in our home, and is routinely added in triple the called-for amounts. Including it and a lemony stump of ginger to the broth heightens the flavor. I also began adding spinach, the safe green choice for those first venturing into gourmet dabbling on their own. This time, however, I had a bag of mixed mustard and turnip greens in the fridge, and a new favorite was born! The leaves are delicious, but the real treat were the ribs, which add a nice sort of bok-choyish crunch to the soup. Those are the staples, with a little bit of this and that added from what we have on hand. I forgot to add leeks I’d purchased this time, but I did drop in some frozen corn and zucchini cooked til al dente – delicioso! I always add a generous squeezing of juicy lemon at the end for a delightful extra zing of flavor and Vitamin C. I am purposely not labeling amounts – just use what you like and make this your own! I read a wonderful book called One Bite at a Time by Rebecca Katz. I am on my fifth round of checking this book out of the library, so I clearly just need to buy it. She created what she calls the FASS Trick - which are the elements of taking a food to the YUM level. I now cook with this mental reference always in mind. If something's missing, its one of these four.
F - fats A - acid S - sweet S - salty
Ok, on to the cooking!
Ok, on to the cooking!
Chicken, onion, celery, carrots, bay leaf
1) 1) Begin by boiling your chicken with the veggies and leaf for broth – homemade is always best. Once the chicken in tenderly cooked, remove and allow to cool on a plate for de-boning. Separate into healthy bite-size pieces, not to shreds. Remove the veggies and toss (I give the carrots to the dog) - they’ve done their job of imparting their goodness to the broth.
Sweet potatoes, zucchini, corn, greens, ginger, garlic, olive oil, sesame oil, sea salt.
2) 2) Slip the piece of ginger and minced garlic into the broth. Peel sweet potatoes and chop into bite size pieces and add as well. While the potatoes are gently boiling, add chopped greens to a medium hot pan holding a drizzling of olive and sesame oils each. Cook til nicely wilted and add to the soup. Chop up zucchini and add just before the potatoes are done. Pour the frozen corn in, allow to reheat back up, then put the chicken (which should have cooled enough to be de-boned and waiting now) back in. Salt to taste, and don't be afraid. Soup needs some salt.
A little hint: your soup may be a bit oily on top from the chicken skin. I place a paper towel on top at the end of cooking to absorb the grease. Two rounds should do it, and it makes for a “cleaner” soup.
I also like to chop up cilantro and add prior to serving. A dribble of sriracha or other hot sauce is yummy too. Serve and share. To your health!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010