Soup from the Cellar

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As an avid vegetable gardener I have often kept a root cellar, or something similar, for storing harvested produce. In one house it was literally a hand dug portion of the basements exposed to tree roots and in another a field-stone basement. Putting food by just seems like a natural progression for those of us who celebrate life with soil between our hands.

At one time I lived in an old farm house on a double lot. My vegetable patch wasn’t very big, although it sure felt like twenty acres come harvest time. Many of my homegrown root vegetables—potatoes, carrots, parsnips, garlic and onions—would be set for storage in a cool dark corner of the basement.

In this farm house, I’d head down the back kitchen stairs into the Michigan basement—hand dug, dirt floor, fieldstone walls—and from inside the cellar, unlock the bulk-head doors over the cement steps that lead outside. I could then carry into the basement directly from the gardens bins and bags of barely cleaned root vegetables for storage.

A lot of these old fieldstone basements were formed with a ledge about four feet up. I’m not sure why, but thank the Good Lord for a perfect place to set the produce. The overhead beams were old and as hard as the stones, so twine was threaded between them and the up-stairs floor-boards to hang the garlic and onions; the herbs went into the attic. Once everything was hauled into place, the mouse traps would be set. Michigan basements are known for harboring the neighborhood mouse population.

There was also a fair amount of tomato canning that took place. That is until I got the upright freezer and stopped the boiling-pots-in-August insanity. I never made sauces with the tomatoes after that, preferring to freezer-pack them fresh and often unpeeled. When they thawed out, the skins just slipped off and the added flavor from them was worth the mess.

Feeling a bit out of sorts as the dark days of winter wore on, I would often look through cookbooks and old magazines for meal options. The publications from the Christmas season always showed fancy foods and fabulous families, neither of which were part of my world. The days were dark, and I was feeling much like the produce in the basement waiting for purposefulness.

I needed to do something, I needed to share. I had no idea who would be the recipient of the food I was fixing to cook, but I knew the Holy Spirit would make a suggestion.

I had a fair amount of pot roast left from the previous night’s dinner. To this day, I still haven’t figured out how to make a small roast! I decided that this would be the protein I needed in a soup. I grabbed a stock pot from under the sink and headed to the basement with my old black lab slowly following me down the steep stairs.

Loaded with the produce I would need, back up to the kitchen I went. The pot was so heavy that I plopped it down every other step until I got to the linoleum. Up and onto the counter it went, and out the veggies came into the sink that I now started to fill with cold water.

I had a sweet potato in the fridge; one of the magazine recipes had used sweet potatoes instead of white ones in a stew. It sounded like a nice note to add, so I pulled that out along with the meat, celery and seasonings.

With the wooden handled veggie brush, a Fuller Brush housewarming gift from long ago, I scrubbed the skins of the potatoes and carrots. Peeling the parsnips and store bought rutabaga; I set them all together on the over-sized walnut cutting board next to the cabbage.

Having already rinsed the kettle and set it on the stove to dry, I dumped in the stock and lit the burner and donning my apron, albeit a little late, I set about combining the soup. This recipe has fewer servings than the first over-excited-to-share version.

Winter Roots Beef Soup

6 cups beef broth (avoid cubes of bouillon, they give the root veggies an odd saltiness though bouillon paste works fine)

½ to 1 lb. leftover beef roast, diced

1 large potato diced, peeled if the skin is tough

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

½ rutabaga, peeled and diced

2 parsnips, peeled and diced

¼ head red cabbage (or green) shredded

14-16 oz. diced tomatoes, frozen or canned

2 stalks celery, diced

2 large cloves garlic, minced

¼ -½ sweet onion, finely sliced and then cut slices in half

¼ tsp. celery seed

¼ tsp. thyme

1 tbl. parsley flakes, or ¼ c. fresh parsley, diced

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Literally, dump all of it together into a stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until potatoes are tender. Serve.

This is a hearty soup with a rich beefy flavor. You can use leftover turkey breast (only!) or chicken by switch the broth to 3 c. vegetable and 3 c. beef. Realize that using chicken or turkey stock changes the taste significantly, and not for the better in my opinion. Leftover pork does not work well at all.

I often freeze leftover roasts in anticipation of making this soup knowing that I can easily double or triple the ingredients. But be mindful of the herbs and seasoning if tripling. Double them first, and then after simmering a while, taste to see if want to add more.

Acts 14:17 …yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.

Image by Susbany from Pixabay

(2016)

Slogging Towards the Light

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The furnace barely kept up. It ran almost constantly the other day as winter winds blew and made the awnings shudder and groan.

The kettle of chicken-vegetable soup simmered. Rice, carrots, and celery gently rolled to the top as I stood beside the stove and contemplatively watched the gentle bubbling. The steam incensed the kitchen—and all the house—with its aroma.

I delight in making soups. All that was unfavorable and leftover can be brought together into a vital whole. For a single woman, a kettle of soup will nourish for weeks once frozen. More often than not, it is shared.

The happiness of cooking was short lived when exhaustion weighed in after I had prepped vegetables and pulled chicken from the bone. I sat hard on the sofa and leaned heavily into the pillows. The arthritic ache if my spine drained me physically and mentally. I’m not good at holding up well in adversity and whispered “Lord, have mercy.”

A laser treatment on my spine a few days ago broke down restricting tissue to allow for more flexibility. The procedure was uncomfortable, but tolerated knowing better movement would result. The days that followed were filled with an unrelenting achiness, similar to overexerted muscles from gardening, but flexibility was definitely improved.

It is the “daily” of it all that tries my patience. Things like having to make several trips up and down two flights of stairs because I can no longer carry a full basket of laundry. Then the feeling of guilt for lacking gratitude in that I have clothes enough for a full basket, laundry equipment to clean them, and legs strong enough to climb multiple flights of stairs.

The same guilt rises when I grumble doing household chores in my tiny flat. There are only four warm and cheery rooms. Still I mutter under my breath about changing bedding, dusting furniture, and cleaning up pet hair. Sometimes I think God must see me as a fussy three year old needing a nap.

I had been doing my best to adjust to a new normal. Grateful for the laser treatment and being a bit more limber, I offered up the discomfort as I worked my way through chores. But by Sunday I was spent.

There is a fine line between acceptance and resignation—or hopelessness—and I was about to cross it. That line is drawn with trust that God is near and in control, especially in the struggle.

On Monday morning I had an appointment and was slow to get out of bed. The delay meant there was not time enough to ease into my day with coffee and prayers. It was below zero that morning and the car engine was rough to start, and I thought “yeah, me too.”

The heavy clouds and naked trees did nothing to improve my mood. Slumping towards the steering wheel, hands at 10 and 2, I looked and felt like I was 90 as I drove off into town. Leafless black-limbed trees whizzed past in a blur.

Cresting a small hill I saw the fullness of a red and coral sunrise that had been hidden behind the woodlands. I saw in the distance a sunbeam on a small patch of dormant trees. Maybe only a dozen or so that was a vivid crimson in the band of light.

The light on their dark limbs sparked in me a desiring. I hoped as I drove down the road that the light remained long enough that I would enter into its rays. There was a restlessness in me to move toward the Kindly Light, and I saw a need to maintain that restlessness when I felt distance from the comforting love of God.

Image by Lars_Nissen from Pixabay

(2014)

Flowers of the Nativity

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Plant symbolism in our Catholic tradition follows centuries of assigned meanings as a way to reflect God in visual ways through his creation. Parables, metaphors, doctrine of signatures, and thousands of folktales have guided the faithful through pre-literary times.

Studying the appellation of plants, and associated legends, has been a delight for nearly two decades.

A fun book that I came across years ago,  from the late 1800s, Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics, is part of the fee eBook assemblage from Project Gutenberg. Here is a page from that book (footnote below) about a few of the plants of the Nativity.

Ornithogalum umbellatum, Star of Bethlehem

We have seen that at the birth of Christ, the infant Jesus was laid on a manger containing Galium verum, at Bethlehem, a place commemorated by the Ornithogalum umbellatum, or Star of Bethlehem, the flowers of which resemble the pictures of the star that indicated the birth of Jesus.

Onobrychis viciifolia, Sainfoin or Holy Hay

Whilst lying in the manger, a spray of the rose-coloured Sainfoin, says a French legend, was found among the dried grass and herbs which served for His bed. Suddenly the Sainfoin began to expand its delicate blossoms, and to the astonishment of Mary, formed a wreath around the head of the holy babe.

In commemoration of the infant Saviour having laid on a manger, it is customary, in some parts of Italy, to deck mangers at Christmas time with Moss, Sow-Thistle, Cypress, and prickly Holly: boughs of Juniper are also used for Christmas decorations, because tradition affirms that the Virgin and Child found safety amongst its branches when pursued by Herod’s mercenaries. The Juniper is also believed to have furnished the wood of the Cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Selaginella lepidophylla, Rose of Jericho

At Christmas, according to an ancient pious tradition, all the plants rejoice.In commemoration of the birth of our Saviour, in countries nearer His birthplace than England, the Apple, Cherry, Carnation, Balm, Rose of Jericho, and Rose of Mariastem (in Alsatia), burst forth into blossom at Christmas, whilst in our own land the day is celebrated by the blossoming of the Glastonbury Thorn, sprung from St. Joseph’s staff, and the flowering of the Christmas Rose, or Christ’s Herb, known in France as la Rose de Noel, and in Germany as Christwurzel.

Helleborus niger, Christmas Rose

Folkard, Richard.  Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics: Embracing the Myths, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-lore of the Plant Kingdom. (London: Sampson Low, 1884) 44-45.

If you are interested in the symbolism of Christmas evergreens, there is a slide show up at Aleteia English.

Let us continue to pray for one another, and that we can strive for a blessed and holy Christmas season through these difficult times. I’ll return after the Feast of  the Baptism of the Lord.

The Damask Rose and Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Of all the Catholic prayer gardens created in the home landscape, a Marian garden is the most popular. A garden dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe would include the Damask rose (culture information and link for these roses is at the bottom of this post).

Most of us know well the miracles associated with St. Juan Diego — a Chichimec peasant and convert — from Our Lady of Guadalupe. We know of her image imbedded on his tilma and the dark pink roses left growing on Tepeyac Hill for Juan after his vision.

The Holy Virgin sent him back to those who doubted with unquestionable proof that she had indeed made the request for a shrine to be built on that hillside: The roses that Juan carried, besides it being winter and the wrong time of year for them to be flowering, were not from that region at all, but from the bishop’s home town of Castille, Spain. That rose was the Castilian Rose or Damask Rose, Rosa damascena.

The Damask rose is known for its fine fragrance and their flowers are harvested for commercial use in oils and perfumes, and for cooking. The crusader Robert de Brie is often given credit for bringing this rose from Persia — the name refers to Damascus, Syria, a major city in the region — to Europe in the mid thirteenth century. Another story says the Romans brought the rose to England.

In an article by Jerry Haynes, History of Roses: Damask Rose,

For centuries, the Damascus rose (Rosa damascena) has been considered a symbol of beauty and love. The fragrance of the rose has been captured and preserved in the form of rose water by an ancient method that can be traced back to biblical times in the Middle East, and later to the Indian subcontinent. An Iranian doctor, Avicenna, is credited with the discovery of the process for extracting rose water from rose petals in the early 11th century. Damascus roses were introduced into England during the reign of Henry VIII and were frequently displayed and scattered at weddings and festivals.

Depending on what USDA Hardiness Zone you live in, the modern cultivars of this rose would make an excellent addition to a larger garden dedicated to Our lady of Guadalupe (for those in colder climates, consider hardier doubled dark pink roses with high petal counts and strong fragrance).

Rosa x damascena cultivars are hardy in USDA Zones 6-9 and are known for their size; 4-7’ tall, a sprawling large shrub rose.  Like most roses, they require a slightly acidic soil with good drainage, and full sun. In warmer Zones afternoon shade will help keep the blooms from fading. In areas with high humidity, be sure to allow for air movement to prevent fungal diseases. Watering is moderate, giving them a good deep drink once or twice a week depending on summer temperatures. Pruning is minimal and usually only to remove injured or diseased wood. Trying to train it to fit in to a small space is useless, being a shrub rose and all, so go with right-plant-right-place when adding it to your landscape.

On their web site, Heirloom Roses offer several cultivars.

Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay .

Rummaging for God

 

Image by Peter H from Pixabay.

It’s one of my procrastination techniques. Cleaning out drawers.

I needed to get some writing done before I got a project back from my editor that’ll need all my attention.

Instead, I’m rummaging.

It began innocently enough. The little cubbies of my desk were stuffed, layered with dust and tiny paper tabs from spiral notebooks.

I tossed the old notes and greeting cards, and cardstock bookmarks, but there was a good sized handful of quotes, written on scraps of paper, that I wanted to keep. Which took me to the files…too many files. And then I wanted to find the envelope with all the sweet sentiments written from friends.

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I sifted through boxes and drawer after drawer — picking at this, reading that, pulling starters for columns — and not coming up for air until three hours later. What was I thinking?

Indeed, what was I thinking?

When rummaging we look with an intent of finding something. Often going back to the same place a couple of times, certain that “it” is there, somewhere, we are sure of it.

It was a surprise to find multiple folders — in two drawers — tabbed as something spiritual. And to find within the folders hundreds of prayers, sayings, Bible quotes, insights, pages torn from Magnificat, tiny brochures, instructional booklets—some in triplicate in different locations—and handwritten 3×5 cards dated some thirty-five years ago. A Holy accumulation of impressive size!

I was searching, yes, and avoiding what I had to do, but why…for what?

A few days ago I had driven along farm lanes to the country church for morning Mass. There are only the four of us regulars. Walking in the nave was dark, altar candles unlit, and my three compatriots were absent. It wouldn’t be the first time that only Father and I shared communion. I waited and prayed as I watched the sunlight move across the stained glass of Jesus depicted kneeling against a rock —the Agony in the Garden.

As the tower bells rang out, and still no priest, I knew Mass would not be celebrated. I was caught off guard by my tears—no communion, no Jesus. I hungered for the Eucharist. It was too late to go into town and receive at another church. Reluctantly I stepped out of the pew and stood looking to the crucifix a few moments longer. Driving home I prayed the priest was okay…and felt sad.

Not so many years ago, before my reversion, it never occurred to me that people could hunger for Mass. This day I discovered that during those years of coming home I was rummaging for God.

In my seeking I gathered words and thoughts that guided. Incremental scraps tucked in a dozen different places, seeds of wisdom gleaned from saints and curious sinners. I stored them away for anticipated days of winter, those times of darkness when my soul would be adrift.

grouping 2My decades long rummaging was not a wide eyed scanning of places “it” could be found. But more like the hand in the drawer feeling about back in the corners, shoving things aside, a little frantic at the not-finding-the-sought. Knowing full well “it” had to be there!

I think I am still searching for a few lost Keys.

 

All images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

(2014)