Oct 20 2011

Homemade Vegetable Soup

For the past three years, I’ve made a point to take a trip to Massachusetts in the fall.  After so many seasons of what can only be described as “summery” autumns in Austin, I realized that I wanted—nay, needed—some foliage; an October chill; cider doughnuts and crisp Macintosh apples.

For the first two years I was met with perfect New England weather:  Blue skies, sun warm to the skin but cool enough for a light scarf.  Sparkling days and clear, shivery nights.  I was lulled into forgetting that fall in the northeast is often accompanied by dismal, arbitrary, confounding bouts of crummy weather. 

This year my visit was, indeed, rainy and gray.  On Friday night Claire and I made several mad dashes in and out of bars.  On Saturday, my family and I emerged from a movie to find that the temperature had dropped substantially, and we braced ourselves against the cold.  I went for a run on Saturday morning, fondly recalling the sensation of cheeks rosey from the wind and a jersey damp from—as Claire called it—a “driving mist.” 

My parents kept apologizing.  “We’ve had so many beautiful days!” my mom exclaimed in frustration. 

And you would think that this dreary weather would disappoint me.  But after months of draught in ATX, I welcomed the rain.  It was such a relief.  I woke up every morning and buried myself deeper under the covers to listen to the persistent patter against the skylights and watch the streams of water cast shadows on the floor.  I felt no need to race around town, instead embracing the excuse to stay in my pajamas longer than necessary and curl up with my coffee, a book, and my family.

On Sunday, we decided against grilling during the Patriots’ game, unanimously agreeing that vegetable soup was far more appropriate.  So we watched the football game comfortably nestled into the family living room, in pajamas and sweats, under blankets and dim lights.  (None of this helped with the truly horrific pile of grading in front of me, mind you, but I was so cozy that it was a fair trade.)  I idly shared some of my favorite (and most entertaining) student work with the room.  We alternately cursed the Patriots’ defense and cheered their offensive successes.  Timmy and his adorable girlfriend, Kerry, snuggled at the end of the couch.  Our very old, very deaf, very blind family dog, Lexie, wandered aimlessly around the room when she wasn’t settled on my dad’s lap.

And at halftime, we all gathered around the table for fresh bread from the local country store and, yes, my mom’s vegetable soup. 

It was perfect.

Now, here’s the thing about soup, if you’ll pardon my digression.  I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll pretty much only eat it homemade (and I make a mean soup, if I do say so myself).  Among many other things, I’ve learned that the longer it simmers, the better it tastes.  Stands to reason, right?  The flavors develop and blend; the broth gathers layers and depth.  The potatoes and carrots soften; the garlic matures.

But it’s so hard to wait!  When you walk into the room and you can smell it on the stove, all garlic and onions and spices…Well, you can’t help but want it RIGHT NOW. (Especially when you’re like me, and you like things to happen immediately.  Or better yet, yesterday.) 

But it’s so worth the wait if you give it the time.  If you let it do its thing.

Okay, by now it’s obvious I’m not talking about soup.  Not exclusively, anyway.  When I visit my family, something settles in me.  I slow down.  I comfortably percolate.  And I remember how much I’d benefit from simmering a little more in my life in general. 

I’m getting better at this.  At breathing through the fray; at exercising my patience both long and short-term; at taking my time and trusting that there’s something really amazing up ahead, but that I can’t rush its arrival.  In fact, I need to allow it to develop and unfold for me.  I need to remember that, while it’s true that life is short, I do have time.  I don’t need everything instantly, whether it be answers, or a returned text, or decisions, or that show that I’ve been wanting to catch on Hulu.  And in fact, when I rush things, I often spoil them.  Those incredible things up ahead?  I also need to be ready for them.  And I’m not always ready rightnow, no matter how much I may want to be.   I’m better after a good rolling-boil, too.

After all, the soup tastes that much better when you have the appetite for it, right? 

Now, I couldn’t resist.  A post like this begs for a recipe, so I have two.  I hope you enjoy this week’s muses:

MOM’S VEGETABLE SOUP (a.k.a. “Rainy Day Vegetable Soup”)

*Contains meat


1 to 1½  LBS. chuck steak (preferable) or flat chuck roast * 1 bag mixed vegetables * Assorted fresh veggies, cut up small (i.e. mini-carrots, approx. 3 potatoes, one small onion, cabbage) * 1 large can or 2 small cans diced tomatoes * ½ box spaghetti or linguini * Salt and pepper to taste * Beef bouillion cubes


Cut off as much fat as possible from the meat and put in a large pot with about 8-10 cups water (more for a larger piece of meat).  Add salt and pepper and 2 beef bouillion cubes, and simmer for about 1 ½ hours.  Remove the meat to a plate and add the tomatoes and the cut up veggies to the water, and bring to a slow boil.  After it cools a little, cut up the meat, removing as much fat as possible, so that only the good pieces of meat go back in, and put back in pot.  Cook for 30 minutes, then add the bag of mixed veggies and cook for another ½ hour.  While the veggies are cooking, boil water in a large pot and cook the spaghetti.   After the soup has had time to simmer, put some of the spaghetti in the bottom of a large bowl and add soup on top.  Serve wih bread or saltines.  Enjoy (for a week or so)!

COLLEEN’S VEGETABLE SOUP (a.k.a. “I Wish it Were Raining Vegetable Soup”)



½ medium onion, chopped * 2 C. carrots, chopped * 2 C. celery, chopped * 2 T. finely-minced garlic * 4 T. olive oil * 3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced * 1 16-oz. can corn * 1 32-oz. can crushed tomatoes * 1 pkg. frozen or 2 C. fresh spinach * 1.5 – 2 quarts vegetable broth * Italian seasoning * ¼ – ½ bottle red wine (any type – you can add more or less depending on your preference) * ¼ – ½ C. vinegar (balsamic or white – I’ve used both and been happy) * Sriracha, to taste * Salt & pepper, to taste


In a large stew pot, sauté the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until tender.  (You may want to add the garlic toward the end so that it doesn’t burn.)  Add the broth, tomatoes, wine, vinegar, a few dashes of sriracha, potatoes, salt & pepper and Italian seasoning.  Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.  Add the corn and spinach and simmer a few minutes until the spinach is tender.      

 Note:  Check the broth often, adding vinegar, wine, sriracha, seasonings, etc. as desired.  Play around with the flavors and quantities.  You can also substitute red pepper flakes for the sriracha and/or add one 16-oz. can of kidney beans, if desired.

Oct 7 2011

Magic 8 Ball, Revisited

Dear Magic 8 Ball,

I know that four months ago I said that I didn’t need answers.  And I’m trying to be patient and cool about that.  As my Friends doppelganger, Monica, would say, “I’m breezy!”

I’m pretty proud of myself, really, for letting go of that sense of control.  I’m coaching myself to embrace the chaos and take it one day at a time.  But there’s only so much uncertainty that a girl can take.  I mean, you’ve been (pretty) wrong on several counts.  I’m asking you some important stuff here.  The least you can do is shoot straight. 

Let me offer an alternative.  If you aren’t going to accurately predict the future, perhaps you could try a sardonic and blunt approach, like, “Get your s**t together, Colleen.”  Or, “Stop being a dumba**.”

Another option could be philosophical and vague, a la Rafiki from The Lion King.  This style would allow you to wax poetic.  For example, “The answers live in you.” Or, “In life, there are no answers.  Only more questions.”  (Though that might be a little long for one side of that little cube.)

Lastly, there’s always the slightly-sarcastic, but totally fair, “Don’t ask questions if you don’t want to know the answers.”

So what gives? 

I’m giving you some flexibility, but the urgency is creeping in.  After a certain point, I have to wonder if there’s a difference between equilibrium and limbo.  I could really use your help.  Please see what you can do for me.




Thanks to Allison for her birthday Magic 8 Ball back in June, and to Gina for sharing a related link with me this week:


Gina’s referral prompted me to look up some other online Magic 8 Balls.  Maybe one of them will produce some answers?  Because I certainly have enough questions…




(For the record, I asked all of them the same question, and of course got a range of responses.  It figures.)