Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My children LOVE Ikea. They actually sing-chant "let's go to I-KEY-A, let's go to I-KEY-A, let's go to I-KEY-A..." as we drive towards the sprawling megalith that is Ikea Portland.

When I ask the girls if they would like to go out for a nice dinner they say yeah! ...and then they choose IKEA. (Generally they get overruled - but not always.) The appeal largely seems to be in form...not so much in culinary mastery. The format of a line - cafeteria style - where you have a tray and multitudes of food choices laid out before you. There is a sense of ownership in choosing what you will eat from a vast number of offerings that a child - at least my children - do not get at home. "I declare this piece of Triple Chocolate Overload Cake to be mine!" Ikea marketers are not dummies - dessert is displayed first and while you are still busy getting the trays and silverware the kids reach out and put that chocolate mountain smack in the middle of their tray. The ingenious Z formation of the line behind you makes it nearly impossible to tell your child to "put that back" because everyone behind you has seen your child touch it already. Still if you choose to battle with them the conversation and parenting style you choose to engage in to loosen the cake from their grip is presented for critique by your Z formation audience. At least it gives them all something to do while they stand there waiting for their meatballs.

After a nice dinner watching the planes land at the Portland international airport from the floor to ceiling windows in the dining area at IKEA we head over to the toy area. This is the one place in all of Portland besides the Irvington COOP Preschool resale event that every mother needs to stay as far away from as humanly possible. Here we find mountainous bins of - not even sure I can type the words - ugh, give me strength - stuffed animals. I am too weak to even type more on this taboo topic. Enough said.

I have more of a love hate relationship with the place. I love that it occupies and feeds my children for hours on a rainy day however I always seem to find a wonderful something for my home that I just cannot leave behind because - and this is the hate part - it might not be there the next time you go. The Swedes do not get enough credit for their ingenious marketing strategies - you have to buy it and buy it today because it may not be here tomorrow. This fact is exponentially true if you really really like it and could use it someday in the future but it is not really essential for you to have today. Take the set of 6 extra teaspoons in the pattern that nearly matches my regular silverware. It would come in so handy when we have guests. Who knows when that will be. The set costs only $10 but I just got the quarterly water bill and now is just not a good time to be spending any extra. BUT I guarantee they will pull that silverware from the stock as soon as I walk out the door and later this summer when untold masses of people arrive for fun in the Pacific NW I will be demonstrating that Portland is not really that green as I serve my Baja Chicken Tortilla soup with plastic spoons because I chose to walk out of IKEA one day without an impulse purchase.

If your
Kids are happy
Eating meatballs
At Ikea - they will love this recipe...

Swedish Meatballs my Auntie Maryellen Used to Make
(Really there were no measurements with this recipe when it was given to me. I have given some of my estimates but they depend a bit on how many meatballs you plan to make - take the chance, it is worth it!)
Mix & Form Meatballs with:
1lb Ground Beef
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
Onion chopped fine or grated, (about half of small to medium yellow onions)
1 Egg
1/2 cup Milk
Nutmeg (about 1/4 teas.)

Brown meatballs on all sides in high sided skillet, add 2-3 cups beef broth and about 1 cup red wine and simmer until meatballs are cooked and sauce has reduced and thickened a bit. Remove meatballs before serving and add a whole container of sour cream to pan sauce. Whisk until incorporated and rewarmed and then pour over meatballs and serve with wide egg noodles.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I awarded myself the title "soup-er mom" because I am a mom & I make soup. (I do think I am a good mom - at times - but that is not what this blog is about - at least not yet.)

I make soup once a week for family and friends. I am not super duper - I don't give it all away for free - I wish I could afford to - for now my friends give me money towards ingredients and time - about $10.00 per jar that feeds 4 people each a nice sized serving. Soup on Wednesdays began with minestrone back in the beginning of December. As the winter has progressed we have slurped our way through ginger-pumpkin, chicken noodle, chili, cream of broccoli, and lentil. I am anticipating more great steaming bowls to round out & bid farewell to the cold season of winter...tomato, white bean, onion, etc. I am making 6-8 64oz containers of the liquid happiness every week plus some for our family too. The interesting part of the soup project for me is why I do it?

Why do soup?
I really don't know. I work outside the home 5 days/week. I have two children who are still entirely dependent at the ages of 5 and 8 on me for cooking, cleaning, entertainment, driving, refereeing, homework help - you name it. I have two six month old puppies. Did you read that line?!? Right there - that is insanity! As adorable as our little rescue pups are - of course they are adorable why else would we have said "make it a double!" - they entail uber amounts of work. They must be walked, fed, socialized and exercised not to mention cleaning all the mud, fur, and oops - accidents! I am a wife and a daughter. Both relationships with their own unique challenges and rewards depending on the day...so why? - I ask myself, take on another seemingly herculean and quite unnecessary project at this time.

I have spent long 'whiles' contemplating this question. While peeling carrots. While chopping onions. While shopping for ingredients. While de-boning chicken...etc. I have theories. To me these theories are like shopping for shoes in my innermost soul. They look really good in the window and so I go in the store. I think "This is the perfect shoe for me! It will go with everything even that skirt I never know what to wear with and besides that...they are soooo cute!" In the other part of my mind - the part that decidedly thinks I need to change everything about me to become what I long to be but am not - I look at the shoes and think - "These will make me look so hip and cool." Next then I try them on for size and fit. I walk around in them - are these "Me"? And of course there is the reality of my soul searching - the price - can I afford these shoes and still pay the mortgage? I come up with a yes these shoes are me or no way would I be caught dead in these. (Too often it is yes - who can't have another pair of perfect shoes - I am right!?!")

Midlife Shoes

Co-ink-idently - just before I started the soup 'business' I had my mile-stone 40th birthday. I, like many of my friends before me; allowed it to pass quietly - no big deal - right. I truly felt ok about forty for a few reasons:

1. I am the kid on the block. Recall the aforementioned fact many of my friends are already forty or older. I went to four or five parties for people in my life turning forty just this year. and for each of those who had gatherings - many more passed the milestone meekly.

2. I have a November birthday so I had a whole year to think "It's 2009, the year I turn 40". "It's 2009, the year I turn 40." "It's 2009, the year I turn 40." By the time it happened by - It was so yesterday.

3. I just don't look it. Not necessarily a good thing - I am short. I still get the occasional request for ID at the grocery or restaurants and I am quite sure it is due to my stature. Most people think I am much younger than I am and frankly - that DOES make it easier.

But I did turn forty and something is different about saying "I am 40" rather than 30-something. I have been more introspective for one thing - I keep looking inside to find out how has forty changed me? Do I need to change simply because I am embarking on my 4th decade? When I look at myself at 30 and today I have changed in so many ways. Do I feel the need to do something because I am now forty? Other people buy sports cars, cut off their hair, get tatoos...I'll make soup. Nah...that can't be enough. The mid-life shoe is not quite fitting right but it is still a maybe...maybe mid-life for me is making soup.

Career Shoes

I have a good job. It is a reliable, stable job and it is a bit boring. I am well educated, have a degree in Biochemistry and I get paid a good wage to do the work I do; however...I have been at it 14 years and could do it in my sleep. The job never really changes, there is no room in my work for creativity - standard operating procedure is the mantra here. At times I find the predictability of my work rewarding and satisfying and simply perfect for me and on other days...(manager, manager, manager)...I just want to run off and join the circus...or open a coffee shop, or be a hairdresser, or be a writer, or most often...a mom who stays home. I thought maybe I had put the soup on the front burner - literally to see if I want a new career? Do I want to just bust out and open my own place and be my own boss...business capital, health insurance, no time off, hiring employees, payroll, rent, marketing, etc. - that shoe is never going to fit - I am pretty sure.

Italian Shoes

I am half Irish and half Italian - Sicilian to be specific. This is quite a dichotomy when it comes to my inner food relationship. The Irish side of me is starving and the Italian side says "Mangi" and cooks up huge batches of food. It is true what they say about Italians cooking for everyone and force feeding crowds of people. I am not even that in touch with my heritage but when I step into the kitchen I want to feed people and I want them to love it and ask for seconds so I make a lot of food. I have gotten better at cooking the right amount for my family most of the time but when it comes to soup I always seem to end up with enough for a small army of people. There are left overs for days and we find ourselves not wanting to having soup again for a month because we are so sick of it. But... I love soup so much especially in the cold rainy northwest. Here is a food that is generally healthy and satisfying and it warms my heart and warms my body. When the first cold rain hits the windshield in November I just want to run home to a huge steaming bowl of soup. Why not then, make enough for us and give the rest away. It helps to keeps the soup allure going for me. I have it for dinner once a week and don't have to eat leftovers for 3 days. Bonus: I satisfy my need to feed. The Italian in me gets no greater pleasure than hearing that people are fighting over the last bowl of my soup! The Italian shoes are always the nicest ones aren't they!

In the end it doens't really matter why. I am busy doing - my hands are busy, my mind is busy and that seems to keep me happy...when it is not making me crazy. That is life. I would rather live it, than sit it out.
(Photo above)
(from "The Best Recipe Italian Classics")
The secret to this soup is adding the rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Parmesan of Parmesans.
2 small leeks, white and light parts, sliced thin crosswise
2 medium carrots, chopped small
2 small onions, chopped small
2 medium stalks celery, chopped small
1 medium baking potato, peeled and diced
1 medium zuchinni, chopped medium
3 cups stemmed spinach, cut into thin strips
1 (28oz) can whole tomato in juice, drained and chopped
8 cups water
1 parmesan cheese rind, about 3X5 inch
1 15oz can cannellini beans, drain and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh pesto, I make mine very garlicky
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Bring the vegtables, tomato, water and cheese rind to a boil in large stockpot or dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegtables are tender but still hold their shape - about 1 hour. Remove and discard the cheese rind. Add the beans and cook until just heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in the pesto. Adjust the seasonings and serve immediately.