Cool weather finally showed up on our doorstep and no one was as delighted to greet it as I was. Trading shorts and salads for sweaters and soup pots is the best part of the year, in my book.
Cold weather always makes me hungry. I don’t know why, exactly, but I blame soup. Soup does more than fuel my body; it warms my bones. Once I start slurping, I almost can’t stop. It’s a matter of cold weather survival around here.
Chunky sweaters are part of the deal of Midwestern life, of course, but if I had to pick between hearty soups or trendy fall fashion? Soup would win every time. Cozying up with a bowl of it while dressed in leggings and an oversized sweatshirt does the trick too.
If I had to choose a favorite soup (and thank God I do not have to do so), Hamburger Soup might be my pick. It tastes like home to me. My mom made it all the time when I was young. She still does, I think. Don’t most moms have a version they serve on the regular? Gluten free, allergy life didn’t throw a kink in this familiar recipe, and I’m so thankful for that because it’s a dinner that connects our family table to the one I sat at when I was a child. We didn’t have food restrictions in our house when I was growing up, and yet I can’t recall a day when my mom’s version of this was served with a swirl of cream before serving. Simplicity makes this soup a star. Ground beef, onions, carrots and celery, and potatoes are almost all you need.
Well ok, you need beef broth too. And tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce too, but this soup forgives you if you’ve got to leave them out. It’s flexible and fast and filling. If you’re cold and hungry and soup sounds ideal? Cook up buns for biscuits and stir up a pot of Hamburger soup. It’s not fancy, and that’s why I love it. I can cozy up with a bowl of it in under 40 minutes.
Warm fall days are fading into cooler ones that whisper winter is coming soon. Even the sun tucked a gray blanket around its neck again, bracing against the sharp winter wind I am still getting used to.
It is hard to have hope when I am chilled to the bone. The promise of ever being warm again is a tall tale my heart won’t receive while my body smarts against the sting of the pain that is now. When yesterday’s disappointments turn into today’s discouragement, hope slips through my fingers until I remember redemption always follows ruin.
I learned the lesson again this week when I stared down a pile of dry, brittle turkey bones. They were leftover from Thanksgiving, of course, and I dutifully salvaged every last morsel of roasted meat for all sorts of post-thanksgiving dinners that keep the gift of that bird going. I got out my stock pot and got ready to plunk the bones into it until that imposing pile of bones gave me pause. I stared in horror at the enormity of the mess, realizing I couldn’t move on. I couldn’t make broth because my stock pot was far too small to fit the carcass inside of it. I was stuck.
I have felt that way a lot this year: caught by surprising circumstances that make me wonder “Why?” The problems loom larger than the hope for redemption. Paralysis sets in when I don’t know what to do, and I’m tempted to give up. To get numb. To hide. To count it as a loss and toss it all away instead of pausing to ask “What’s next?”
A pile of bones looks like garbage. It is evidence of death, and the promise that anything good could come out of it is hard to swallow when the pain, frustration and the inconvenience is bigger than I feel equipped to handle. But I know better. I know healing comes after hurting. I know hope shines brightest in the middle of dark circumstances. I know death is not the end.
I looked at the carcass and realized I couldn’t change the magnitude of the mess, but I could break it up into more manageable morsels.
So I grabbed a cleaver and set to work, breaking down the bones further so I could move toward the promise of what was to come. I settled them deep into the base of the stock pot, like a casket, and I remembered the way God asked Ezekiel if dry bones can come back to life (Ezekiel 37:2).
I find I wonder the same thing about my own circumstances too.
But as I lay carrots and celery and onions alongside them, and fill the pot with cool, clean water, hope begins to stir in my heart, and I remind my soul of the promise God made all those years ago:
“Ezekiel, the people of Israel are like dead bones. They complain that they are dried up and that they have no hope for the future. So tell them, ‘I, the Lord God, promise to open your graves and set you free. I will bring you back to Israel, and when that happens, you will realize that I am the Lord. My Spirit will give you breath, and you will live again. I will bring you home, and you will know that I have kept my promise. I, the Lord, have spoken” (Ezekiel 37:11-14 CEV).
Making broth from bones moves me every time I make it–which is often, because I can’t not make it. The rich golden stock that emerges from of the sad remains of yesterday cheers my heart and heals my body. I rely on it. It soothes my system and reduces inflammation; it gives my body the nutrients it needs to knit itself back together; and it helps my own bones stay strong.
When the weather turns cold–when things die, when my soul feels dry, when all hope seems lost, I do what I know to warm myself up again. I salvage the sad remains of yesterday and take them to the source of redemption who never wastes a thing. God radically brings life from death. He’s famous for it. Making soup from bones is the most delicious metaphor for this transformative truth I know.
After all the dirty work was over, the pot sat steaming on the stovetop. The lid clicked as it simmered something good, like a clock counting down the minutes until dinner. The Goobies shuffled in, starving, asking What’s that delicious smell? with anticipation in their eyes.
“Turkey broth,” I say, “And I’m going to use it for turkey soup, and turkey pot pie, and–”
“Turkey pot pie?!” they squeal, and their cheeks swell ten sizes bigger with smiles that brighten the room. They dance while they wait, expectant.
And it reminds me all over again: the miracle of joy is waiting on the other side of today’s loss. Dubious and distant though it may seem, it is there. This cold, dry, dismal season isn’t the end. New life will emerge from this loss, and we will be stronger for it.
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” – Philippians 3:13
After weeks on end of so much gray, color finally started to come back. The snow has melted; temperatures are cold but not freezing, and flashes of green wink at me from in between the brown blades of old grass, like Addie flashing me a smile and calling me to come out to play for awhile.
Today I joined her: we rode bikes and drew with sidewalk chalk and drank in the sun even as a cold breeze reminded us it isn’t quite springtime yet. For a moment I was a little girl again, wind tickling my cheeks while I plucked a handful of sour grass and pretended to be Anne Shirley making a flower crown for Princess Cordelia, her imaginary persona that embodied everything Anne wished she herself was: beautiful, important, and loved.
Anne Shirley didn’t have the luxury of parents to invest in her tender heart. Addie does, but I catch myself wondering if she doubts she is the remarkable girl we know her to be. She asks us all the time: am I beautiful? Important? Loved? She asks it in her own way, of course, and we do our best to answer her in a way she understands. Still, I wonder how much of it is sinking in.
I keep trying to come up with something to say, something whimsical and deep about how moved I am by the sound of raindrops outside our window and how it makes me want to make a big pot of soup, just like my mom used to do.
The words just aren’t coming today. I am met with silence instead. And so, instead of forcing words to bend to my will, I will bend to theirs and go lay down for a few minutes.
I will not worry about a dinner yet uncooked (and, ahem, unplanned). I will not let mental list-making hijack the quiet. I will not feel guilty about leaving the laundry alone for a few minutes, and I won’t beat myself up about the Goobie girls spending a little time on their Kindles. I won’t pester you while you watch football or The Martian or whatever it is you currently have on the TV, and I will not feel like a bad mother for not having a pot of soup simmering on the stove on a rainy, gray day like today.
Instead, I will rest. We will all be in our separate corners for a little while, recharging our batteries in our own little ways, and we’ll all be a little better for it.
Though nothing soothes like homemade soup, a little peace and quiet can be powerful in its own way–maybe even just as healing.
My Mom’s Taco Soup, Reimagined (GF/DF/NF)
This is one of the tastiest, easiest, I-don’t-miss-the-dairy-one-bit recipes I’ve got in my arsenal. I based the recipe on my mom’s recipe for Taco Soup, one of my all time favorite meals — when served with gooey cheese, sour cream and corn chips, of course. My mom’s original recipe relied on condensed tomato soup and cream of mushroom soup (both allergy offenders in our house), a big can of Ranch Style Beans, and a packet of taco seasoning. The perils of pre-packaged, overly processed foods weren’t nearly as wide known when I was a child, but gosh did those ingredients make this soup an easy one to throw together (which is why I imagine this recipe calls for them–it was a quick-to-throw-together crowd pleaser). I craved the soup a few months ago, so I set out to recreate my mom’s recipe on a rainy Sunday afternoon much like this one, using ingredients my whole family could eat. The recipe that follows is dairy and gluten free as written, but of course shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream takes it from delicious to YUM. Throw in some corn chips if a little junk food doesn’t bug you–that’s the way we ate it when I was growing up, and my oh my, how I loved it.
Grape seed oil (or refined coconut oil or canola oil)
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 green bell pepper, diced
2 pounds ground turkey (or ground beef. Either works.)
1/2 cup homemade taco seasoning (like this one from Heavenly Homemakers)
6 cups beef broth
2 cup unsweetened, unflavored rice milk (or dairy milk works too)
2-13.5 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 cans black beans, drained (or pinto beans, or great northern beans– whatever you have)
1 cup frozen corn
Over medium high heat, gently warm up a couple tablespoons of oil or so in a big soup pot or large dutch oven. Add the diced onions and bell pepper and cook until softened but not carmelized, about 5 minutes. Add the ground turkey (or beef) to the pot, right on top of the veggies, and then toss in the taco seasoning. Stir the veggies, meat and spices together, cooking as you go. When the meat is no longer pink, add the broth, rice milk, and tomato sauce, along with the red wine vinegar, salt and sugar. Stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer about 30 minutes or so to let the flavors mingle. When just about ready to serve, add the beans and corn and simmer for five more minutes until they warm through. Top with cheese and sour cream if you like. (Emery particularly enjoys his with shredded Daiya cheddar style shredded vegan cheese.)