Columns

Soup’s On

Trying to count my blessings during our current Snowpocalypse has been, well, trying. I got my white Christmas, but now I am so over snow.

The one good thing about Snowmageddon is that it’s perfect soup and stew weather.

There’s nothing more soothing on a snowy day than slicing and dicing an array of vegetables or meat, concocting a savory broth, and then letting it bubble on the back of the stove or in the depths of the crockpot.

Delicious aromas fill the house and serving the hungry hoards is simple. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, and a side of crusty sourdough, flaky biscuits or tasty cornbread.

At least I thought this was a good thing, but the other night, Sam, 17, asked what we were having for dinner.

“Steak soup,” I replied.

“You sure have been making a lot of soup, lately,” he said, sighing.

In my defense, January is national soup month. Also, I’ve been working hard on two book projects, so planning five-course menus is a bit of a stretch.

And honestly, the only time soup doesn’t sound good to me is on a 90-degree summer day when we’re dining on the Delightful Deck, and even then a chilled cucumber soup tastes yummy.

The other night as white chicken chili simmered on the stove, I thought of our son Alex who lives in Ohio.

I texted him, “Guess what’s for dinner?”

“Oh, man!” he replied. “I LOVE your white chicken chili. I miss it so much.”

Which I interpreted as, “Oh, Mom! I love you and I miss you so much!”

My heart was as warm as my tummy during dinner that night.

In fact, Alex enjoys that soup so much, it was what he always asked me to make for his birthday dinner. His birthday is in April, and my chicken chili and from-scratch apple pie isn’t exactly seasonal, but it’s his favorite meal. Cooking my kid’s favorite meals makes this mom happy, so it’s a win-win.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I asked my firstborn what he wanted for his birthday dinner on Sunday, and he replied, “Potato soup!”

“You want soup for your birthday?” I asked. “Not steak or ribs?”

“Nope,” he replied. “I want your homemade potato soup and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.”

So, that’s what he got, plus a container of soup to take home with him. Single guys need all the homemade food they can get.

Though Sam professes to be weary of soup, he’ll always clean up a pot of my beef chili. While technically not a soup, it’s still a one-pot, slow-simmer meal. A bowl of it topped with corn chips, olives, cheddar and chopped onions can satisfy even an always-hungry teen.

Zachary looks forward to Thanksgiving, not so much for the turkey and trimmings but for the huge vat of turkey noodle soup I make the next day.

Soup can be served in celebration, but it’s also appropriate when solace is needed.

After I miscarried our first child I couldn’t eat. Nothing would go past the lump of grief in my throat. Then my mother brought over a container of homemade soup. Suddenly, my appetite returned. I slowly spooned a mouthful, its taste a bit saltier for my tears, and I knew my mom had probably shed a few of her own as she chopped, sliced and simmered. I ate an entire bowl and understood the true meaning of comfort food.

In fact I often think when there’s a death in a family, instead of the flood of fried chicken and casseroles people tend to bring – a big pot of soup might be more palatable.

As I write, the ingredients for tonight’s hamburger soup are ready on the kitchen counter. Sometime between now and deadline, I’ll assemble the soup, and while I finish today’s assignments it will slowly simmer on the back of the stove.

That’s another wonderful thing about soup; it may be labor intensive on the front end, but once it’s cooking you can sit back and let the flavors mingle and evolve on their own, until it’s time to sit down and enjoy the results.

Just like raising children.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns, War Bonds

Let Me Entertain You

In today’s Spokesman Review column, I write about the simple joy of breaking bread with friends. I hope entertaining isn’t a lost art. Do you enjoy having people over?

You can call it “company,” “having people over,” or even the loftier “entertaining,” but I just call it fun.

I grew up in a hospitable family. Our dining table had leaves to extend it and those leaves were frequently in use – especially on Sundays. Mom and Dad often brought someone home after church for Sunday supper, and Sunday game nights were a staple of my childhood.

In fact, I honed the waitress skills I used in college playing “restaurant” when my parents hosted a game night. I’d make the rounds with my “magic coffee pot” and offer refills to my parents’ obliging guests. I even earned tips, until I outgrew plastic dishes and was pressed into dishwashing. That wasn’t nearly as fun.

I married an extrovert who loves a houseful of people. Soon, we had a slew of friends who were also young parents and we’d all take turns hosting game nights. These weren’t fancy parties. Everybody brought a snack to share and we’d play Pit, Taboo or Charades for hours. It was worth every penny spent on baby sitters.

 Even when the kids were small, messy and ever-present, I made time to host book clubs, Bible studies or small dinner parties in our home.

“Company’s coming!” was a battle cry, and I enlisted even the littlest ones in a game of clean up and hide stuff.

The whole clean house thing can be off-putting for some. Recently, a friend confessed the reason she dreaded having guests was the time it took to clean out all her closets.

Astonished, I asked. “You clean your CLOSETS before people come over? Why?”

She launched into an extremely far-fetched scenario about what if someone went upstairs looking for a bathroom and accidentally opened a closet door, and discovered that her towels weren’t organized by color and size.

Stunned by the fact that color coding bath towels is apparently a thing, I shook my head and admitted, “Honestly, I just clean my kitchen, living room and bathroom and call it good.”

Seriously, if someone sneaks a peek into a closet and is hit on the head by falling junk while judging my bath towel organization skills, well, that’s their own fault – not mine. And there’s a reason the bedroom door is shut. That’s where I stash everything when I’m cleaning. Open at your own risk.

Another friend hated to entertain because she felt she lacked culinary skills.

“I can’t cook,” she said. “Really, I’m terrible at it, so I can never ask anyone over for dinner.”

Apparently, she believed that only the Rachael Rays or Paula Deens of the world host dinner parties.

I quickly disabused her of that notion.

“You don’t have to be a good cook to entertain,” I said. “Go to Costco. Buy pre-made lasagna, a bag of salad, some garlic bread and a dessert. No cooking needed!”

She was skeptical, but a few weeks later I was thrilled when she invited us over and served the meal I’d suggested. We had a fabulous time and so did our hostess. She’d even upped the ante and used paper plates. No cleanup and nobody minded a bit.

But as our kids grew I was dismayed that dinner parties, game nights and barbecues became few and far between. For one thing, many of us who were at-home moms returned to work once our kids were in school. It was a struggle just to keep up with work and care for our families, let alone plan parties. And sporting events and band concerts gobbled up any elusive spare time.

For several years, entertaining consisted of planning snack schedules for soccer practice and huddling under shared quilts at football games.

But change is in the wind again. Slowly our nests are emptying. The kids still at home can drive or have plans of their own – plans that rarely include their parents.

So, I’m shaking out the tablecloths and dusting off the serving platters. This summer they’ve seen plenty of use.

At a recent gathering, more than a dozen guests filled our backyard. From my vantage point on the Delightful Deck, I paused and watched the smiling faces (some smeared with barbecue sauce) and listened to the happy buzz of laughter and conversation.

That sound reminded me why I love entertaining.

The food doesn’t have to be fancy. The gathering doesn’t have to be large. Paper plates are more practical than china, and plastic cups can hold expensive wine or cheap soda. Those are just the trimmings. All that matters is that people feel welcome and relaxed enough to sit down and stay awhile.

The real feast is in the friendship.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.13615339_1111644075540885_6352834767034135152_n[1]