Friday, November 13, 2015

Staring into my soup

Over dinner last night I sat staring into my soup. It was quarter to seven p.m. and I was struggling to stay awake.

Thank you time change, once again.
I know I'll have this fight until the end of December when I'll finally adjust.

The good part is I'm waking up early again, before birdsong, and getting good writing done again.
It's non-fiction, and mostly editing, but it's writing.

I've been having a lot of problems with my feelings about this blog ever since I decided to try to do the 30 gratefuls in November thingy.

It went good the first two days. The third was a trial and after that it became a chore, and not something I really wanted to do but felt stuck.

The thing is, I'm grateful all year round. And I'm not shy about posting here or on other social media sites, when I'm grateful for something. So why did I think I needed to put a strait jacket on it and march my gratefulness down the halls of THE LIST! ??

It had the opposite effect on me. I was not feeling grateful. I was feeling stressed and constrained and forced. I was not grateful for the grateful. :)

I know why I started the idea. I had gotten out of the habit of blogging again ever since I got back from my trip and hit the ground running. I wasn't making the time to blog, and thought if I did the GRATEFUL LIST thingy I would have something to say for 30 days and get back into the habit of blogging.

Instead, I've wanted to stomp on the computer.

"It was staring at me, officer. I couldn't help it!"


So last night I sat at the table eating dinner.

I try to have one day a week my meals don't contain meat or fish. Eggs and cheese are okay.
AND I'm sensitive to gluten, so sandwiches and pasta take a bit more effort than slap and boil.

It's a fun challenge and one I win more often than not.
Sometimes I fudge things a bit, like the soup last night, and it's not 100% Vegetarian.
But it's close enough for me.

Last night I had part of a steamed sweet potato, leftover rice, and a bowl of soup.

The soup has a story.

(Don't nearly all of my blog posts have one? I can't tell you how often I say, "Well, now, there's a story behind that." in the course of talking to folks. Comes from living in a conventional society while trying to be true to my unruly slightly Bohus ways.)

ANYWAY, back to the soup.

Back when I first started living on my own I didn't have much money. Most of what I had went to fixed expenses like rent and utilities. And like most folks just starting out, my bills were often higher than my income.

So I did what I could to reduce utilities, and mostly got them to below the level of the base rate. I opened and closed the curtains to control the temperature, piled on or took off clothes to adjust my own, kept the thermostat at barely alive temps to keep things from freezing, and used shade and a hand fan to cool off. I never used all the water I was allowed under the base, and same with electricity.

For a long time I didn't have a phone. Couldn't afford one. They wanted $60 just to come hook it up and the  base rate for that was another $35 I didn't have. So I said no. If someone wanted to talk to me they could just come by.

A car? HAHA Forgetaboutit. Had none. Couldn't have afforded the gas & oil to run one even if I had a car, much less maintenance. Nope. Shanks mare. These foots know how to walk. Miles? No problem. Second hand shoes are cheap.

The soup, the soup. I know. I get distracted.

After doing all I could to reduce the needful expenses, I still needed to eat. And feed a baby, too. I couldn't get her to breastfeed, and she was allergic to regular formula so she had to have the expensive stuff. So that came first off the grocery money.

After that came toilet paper, and dish soap, because, well...

Some weeks that meant $20 left for the week.

Milk was my main protein, because it was cheap. Just under a dollar a gallon back then.
Eggs were cheap, and so was block cheese. Flour, spaghetti, tomatoes, celery, onions, potatoes... they were the least expensive foods available, and I just about lived on them.

I'd hunt the produce aisles to find the best price on what was in season, and if that happened to be something I didn't know how to cook I'd ask the produce guy and he'd give me lots of ideas.

I remember discovering rutabagas for the first time one very tight winter and eating them and beans and rice for 30 days straight!

Meat of any kind was a splurge, and only bought once or twice a month. I could stretch a pound of ground beef like you wouldn't believe! And a whole chicken? Never stood a chance. That thing would feed me six ways to sunday for an entire month!

But back to the soup.

Even as careful as I was, there were days when there wasn't anything left but a bit of stale dry vegetable leftovers in the fridge or freezer, and nothing at all in the cupboards. I didn't know about food banks, and was too proud to go to the welfare office, at least not yet. That did come later, but not for a long long while.


One of the ways I learned to stretch past those lean days was to not waste a single solitary thing!

I kept a plastic bowl in the freezer.
In there went the last bit of potato in the pan, the bite of broccoli or carrot that wasn't eaten. I threw in the bits of scrambled egg that stuck to the pan and the drops of butter that edged the pans' rim.

Vegetable peelings went in. Even egg shells.

I'd throw in at least one bite of nearly everything I cooked. Nothing sweet, but everything plain or savory.

On the rare times I had meat, into the bowl would go the fat and gristle trimmings and the not too well chewed bones.

Chicken months were the best because into the bowl would go the giblets and skin and so many lovely bones, with their knobby knuckles!

I'd even scrape the leftover fat and drippings from the pans after each meal, adding a bit of water to scrape up every last bit of flavor.

And if I roasted that chicken? Every glutinous drop left in the pan went into that bowl!

And when the food was gone and the month wasn't, I'd take that bowl out of the freezer and put it in a large pan of water and thaw it out. I'd boil it for hours, adding in anything from the fridge that was borderline, wilted carrots or celery, dried cabbage leaves or broccoli flowers that had fallen to the bottom of the crisper drawer. I'd add the last 1/8 cup of rice, the 1/4 cup of dried beans, a handful of old fashioned oats.

After it had cooked until I couldn't stand it anymore, I'd taste it and add salt, pepper, ketchup for flavor, and skim out the bones. The gristle and skin would have mostly melted away by then. The bones had given up all they had and the vegetables were pretty much not recognizable by then.

A handful of cheap saltines in the bottom of a soup bowl, a ladle of the concoction and a topping of grated cheese and it was enough to keep body and soul on speaking terms.

It was never the same twice. It changed as the meals and leftovers changed; changed with the seasons and finances.

In the summer when produce was cheap, it was thick with fresh vegetables and a bit more meat. If it was winter and the baby needed a new pair of boots, well, the soup got to be a bit thin on bones.

I called it Mystery Soup, because I never knew how it would turn out, but I'd eat it anyway. It was that or nothing.

Later, when I had a family and more pleasing leftovers, we kept in the habit of having it in the fall and wintertimes. And the name changed to Whatchamacallit Soup.

Yesterday the wind was out of the north with a bit of bite to the air. So I got my bowl out of the freezer, the same one that had been given a bit of this and that and pan scrapings and leftovers for the past two-three months, and put it on the stove with some water.

Habits don't always change, but I don't have to worry about my grocery bill anymore.

So I put in the bit of zucchini that was threatening to wilt, and a rib of celery from the stalk I keep growing in a jar of water on the windowsill, a half onion, a handful of this or that frozen vegetable from the freezer, a container of pan drippings from a roast of beef I had in September, and the trimmings of gristle and fat from the same roast.

And it simmered while I went out and did yard work, and simmered when I came in to do desk work, and burbled on low when I went out to the dentist, and came back to a wonderful aroma.

I microwave-steamed a sweet potato.

I scooped the bones out of the broth, and put a handful of leftover rice in a bowl.

I tasted and added a bit of salt and pepper to the brew.

I ladled the boiling stuff over the cold rice and brought it and half of the potato to the table.

And waited for it to cool enough to eat.

I sat staring at it, thinking about having to stay awake because of the time change, and thinking about this blog and the grateful challenge I'd dropped.

No posts for the past week, I thought.
Some grateful I am, I thought.

And looked at that dinner of Mystery Soup, leftovers and seasonal vegetables.

I thought about how eating this way was a choice.

And not a need.

I thought about all those times I went through, and how grateful I am that times aren't that rough anymore.

And here it gets a bit weird, because, I thought about how grateful I was to have gone through those times.

How it taught me so much.
How I learned to appreciate so many little things.
How many wonderful people I met along that road who helped even when they didn't know they were helping.

I realized I didn't need to do grateful blog posts.

I lived it.


And that was enough.


  1. WOW! I had never heard this story before. Thank you for posting it. I can't do the 30 Grateful either because there is so much. That is why I am just doing what I find in each, present day to be grateful for. Sometimes it is a reach. "-) Love you.

  2. You are and were such a creative lady even in the lean times. I can see why Judy loves you! It's funny how we look at the way things were compared to now, and yes so much to be grateful for including the lessons learned along the way. I can think back to when my daughter was little; the rent was 75.00 - I asked the homeowner if I could pay half the first and second half the 15th. I was grateful they allowed me to do that, and we made out just fine. :)