Linda's Pumpkin Soup

Linda is my little sister.I guess since I am now 52, I shouldn't call her my "little" sister anymore. Regardless, that is what she is to me and by the time Linda was born, Mom and Dad already had four other children aged 5, 8, 9 and 10 and lots of family photos had been taken.  Mom and Dad were busy with their five children so I guess they weren't pulling out the camera very often after 1966.  It has been the source of endless jokes in our family.  My brothers teased Linda with a vengeance, as brothers can do, about the lack of photos with all five of us.  She was adopted.  We found her on the porch.  She really belongs to Mrs. McGilicudy (the made-up-name for our scary old lady neighbor). It couldn't have been easy to be the youngest of five rambunctious children.

Obviously, there were SOME photos of her and she knew that they were teasing her.  But, boys will be boys and little girls can be unsure about life and so it was a fun game they liked to play until she cried, which continued well into her adult life (the game, not the crying).  I can't help but smile and point out that when I compiled images for my initial posts in My Story, someone was noticeably missing from my photos.

 I feel it necessary to confirm that Linda, also known in years gone by as Boo, is indeed one of my siblings, she was born into our family, and we all love her dearly.

The Flick Five - about 1970

But I can't confirm that I was always thrilled to be photographed with her.

Linda and Me - about 1969

Who am I kidding?  I really just wanted to document my amazing and diverse fashion sense.  I wish I had that plaid jumper and flowered skirt today.  Things have not changed much in some areas.  I could still dress like  Austin Powers one day and Frida Kahlo the next.

As mentioned in My Story...Part 3, we did not grow up cooking. Linda sailed through high school, college and young adult life focusing on all kinds of wonderful pursuits, none of which was cooking.  Then in her 30's, she decided it was time.  She showed up to Thanksgiving and declared she had made something to share.  We were afraid...oh so afraid. This was my little sister who thought opening a can of soup was cooking.  Knowing what our minds were thinking, she said, "No really.  My friend Michael gave me this great recipe for Pumpkin Soup and it is really easy and really good." Being the supportive sister that I try but don't always manage to be, I fake smiled and agreed to serve it to everyone as a starter.

Lo, and behold.  It was delicious. I have made this soup dozens of times and been asked for the recipe equally as many times.  It IS easy, It IS good, and Linda's Pumpkin Soup is a Fall family favorite.

Thank you Boo.

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"A sister smiles when one tells one's stories - for she knows where the decoration has been added." -Chris Montaigne

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Linda's Pumpkin Soup

1/4 cup butter 1 cup chopped yellow onion 1 garlic clove, crushed 1 tsp (or more) curry powder 1/2 tsp salt 1/8 to 1/4 tsp ground coriander 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper 3 cups chicken broth 1-3/4 cups pumpkin (14 oz.) 1 cup 1/2 & 1/2 creme fraiche (or sour cream) and chives for garnish

In a large saucepan, melt butter and saute onion and garlic over med/low heat until soft (about 3-5 minutes).  Take care not to burn the garlic! Add curry, salt, coriander and red pepper flakes.  Cook 1 minute. Add chicken broth and boil gently uncovered 15-20 minutes. Stir in pumpkin, add 1/2 & 1/2 and cook 5 minutes. Pour into blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot to heat through. Serve sprinkled with chopped chives and a dollop of creme fraiche.

Note:  A super-fun treat, especially for kids, is to serve this in a pumpkin.  Scrape clean a pumpkin and fill it with the warm soup.  Put the pumpkin on a baking sheet in the oven and heat at 325 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

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Home Is Where My Story Begins - Part 4 - Eggplant Parmesan and Filling The Hole

To read Home Is Where My Story Begins - Part 3 -click here

Restaurants were not a big part of my life growing up.  With five children, two of them hungry boys, restaurants were quite an extravagance for our family.  A big treat was going to Marie Calendar's for dinner, where we probably went a couple times a year and I always had the ham stack, a sandwich filled with about two inches of shredded ham on toasted bread and I can’t believe my skinny little body could consume a whole one. I’m guessing Dad or my brothers must have helped me.  Brother Bill worked for a time at Marie Calendar's and he was allowed to bring home the leftover pie at closing;  what a spectacular time that was for our family!  But I don’t remember that lasting for very long.

There was also a restaurant near our house which was a “fancy” place with tablecloths.  It wasn’t a chain and there was a huge fish tank at the entry; the restaurant is no longer there.  I must have gone about five or six times and I’m sure I never had anything but the Shrimp Louie.  So, with such limited restaurant experience by the time I was an adult, there were still many foods I had never tried simply because they were not in Mom’s repertoire of family-friendly meals.

Visiting restaurants during college, I was willing to try new foods and what wonderful things I found!  Fish and vegetables were my favorite new delights, eggplant landing at the top of the list.  I first tasted eggplant at a restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara called Chase Bar & Grill.  It still exists today, although I believe it is in a different location than it was all those years ago.  Hubby-to-be took me there on a date when we were college students in the 1980’s and I ordered eggplant parmesan.  I was an instant fan.

 Over the years, we ate at Chase’s a number of times and I almost always ordered the eggplant.  On one of those date nights, Hubby-to-be brought some very special wines to dinner.  He worked at Brinks Vintage Shop and was frequently guided to memorable wines by Mr. Brinks, a lovely man who opened the first wine and gourmet food shop in Santa Barbara.  On this occasion he chose a 1969 Sterling Merlot and 1970 Sterling Merlot, which I held carefully upright during the drive there so they wouldn’t get jostled.  I was just learning about wine myself but I already had determined that I didn’t care much for Cabernets; at least not the Cabernets available to us on a regular basis.  Mr. Brinks had on occasion shared some of his treasured old French Bordeaux wines and those I liked.  But for the most part, Hubby-to-be knew I favored Red Burgundy, Zinfandel and my favorite, Merlot.

Alas, no more 1970 in the cellar.
Alas, no more 1970 in the cellar.

Parked at the restaurant, I stepped out of the car and before I could blink an eye, one of the bottles slipped from my grasp and fell to the ground, shattering it to pieces.  Hubby-to-be stood with his mouth agape, watching the liquid drain across the asphalt parking lot.  His only words were, “I hope that was the ‘69 and not the ‘70.”  I slowly and carefully handed him the other wine, still wrapped in its’ paper bag and he pulled it out.  He smiled, hugged me and said, “Well, if you had to drop one, that was the one to drop.”  You can understand why I married him just a short time later.

Hubby and me, 1983.
Hubby and me, 1983.

It wasn’t long after the parking lot disaster that we were engaged.  I graduated from college, moved to Texas where my parents were then living, and settled in with them for the few months prior to my New Year’s Eve wedding.  Recalling all the years Mom had cooked for me, I decided to cook my parents dinner.  Hubby-to-be was also there; we would all be living in the same town while he attended graduate school.  He bought some wine and I spent much of the day preparing my favorite meal, eggplant parmesan, with a recipe from Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure, a cookbook gifted to me by my college roommates.

I served up my eggplant with flourish, adding a green salad to complement and waited for the accolades about what a great cook I had become. Dad finished eating in five minutes flat.  I asked him how he liked it and I’m sure he said he did because Dad was a kind and loving man.  But the part of his answer that I remember is, “It all just fills the hole.”  My spirits sank.  Food and food preparation was becoming very important to me and at that moment, I was embarrassed in front of my fiancé that this was my heritage.

I recalled that night many, many times over the years when people asked what my life was like growing up.  Hubby and I were serious about our food and wine; most of our friends were in the business or were dedicated food hobbyists.  Since I wasn’t one to reflect, and didn’t want to admit my lack of cooking skill, I just stuck to the basic answer that my childhood was very happy, never pontificating about my lack of culinary training or food sophistication.

It took decades for me to sort out why I viewed my childhood with contentment when I never received the basic training I deemed important as an adult.  And finally, after repeatedly hearing my kids explaining to their teenage friends that they would meet them later because they didn’t want to miss dinner with the family, it dawned on me.  It wasn’t the food that was important in my childhood; it was the gathering.  Sharing a meal with family is the soul of a happy life.  My parents gave me something that no recipe can match and of which I am so very, very, lucky to have received.  They gave me their time.

Mom and Dad leaving their wedding - 1955.
Mom and Dad leaving their wedding - 1955.

While I was eating six o’clock dinner every night at the kitchen table as a child, I learned what I needed to know about food; you eat it together, at a table, while you talk about your lives and stay connected to each other.  I can only hope that I have taught my children as well as my parents taught me.

“It isn't so much what's on the table that matters, as what's on the chairs.” -W. S. Gilbert

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Eggplant Parmigiana, from The Vegetarian Epicure

1 medium Eggplant, Sliced ThickFlour1 egg, beaten with some milkdried breadcrumbs, wheat germ or cracker mealolive oil1/2 lb. Swiss cheese or Mozzarella, sliced6 oz. tomato pastewhite or red wine as neededpinch of oreganoclove of garlicsalt and pepper1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Wash your eggplant and, without peeling it, slice it about 3/4-inch thick.  Dip these slices first in flour, then into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs so they are well coated.  Saute them in a little olive oil, a few at a time until they are nicely browned on both sides; tend them carefully and add oil if it is needed.  When they are crisp and brown, arrange them in a baking dish and put a slice or two of Swiss cheese or Mozzarella on each one.  Make a thick tomato sauce by diluting the tomato paste with wine.  Mix the tomato sauce with the oregano, salt, pepper, and crushed garlic clove, and spread 2 to 3 tablespoons on each slice.  Finally, sprinkle the grated Parmesan on top of it all.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes and serve steaming hot.

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Home Is Where My Story Begins - Part 3 - Family Meals

To read Home Is Where My Story Begins - Part 2 -click here

Mom did the cooking in our household and she also packed me a lunch almost every day until I could drive. My typical lunch was an American cheese sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, a piece of fruit and a treat.  I had lunch-boxes when I was quite young, but for most of my packed-lunch years, mom would line up the brown bags on the counter in the morning and start making sandwiches.  I can still taste the cheese sandwich and it is a taste I love, although it remains only in my memory.

The lunch treats are what I remember most fondly. My favorites were Ho-Ho’s and Ding Dongs (which I recently discovered were called Ring Dings in the Northeast of the U.S.), which would never make it past the nutrition police of school lunches today, and in fact never made it into my own children’s lunches (although I did buy a box once or twice for nostalgia’s sake).  Mom would keep them in the freezer to add to the assembly line of lunches, if she could keep the boys from eating them.  I went with her to the grocery store sometimes and she taught me to quickly hide the treats in the back of the freezer behind the frozen vegetables when we got home so my brothers wouldn’t eat them all before the next lunch preparation.   I remember many occasions when one of my two older brothers would see us unpacking the groceries and start searching for something to eat, wanting to get in there before all the “good stuff” was all gone.   With seven people in a household, things like Oreos, Ice Cream Bars, Bear Claws and Ding Dongs rarely made it past the first day in the house.

Oh how I loved my ding dongs!
Oh how I loved my ding dongs!

 I didn’t realize until I was much older how special it was that my mother made me a bag lunch every day. Sometimes she would write me a little note on my napkin or just put a smiley face on it.  Those little notes, or opening the bag and seeing my shiny foil treat, always made my day better.  I particularly liked it when the Ho-Ho or Ding Dong was still slightly frozen and the creamy center was a bit hard.  I would slowly nibble all the chocolate off first and then eat the cake and cream, savoring the love of a treat from Mom.  I would never have told her that at the time, but that is how I remember feeling.

We need not question where I got my obsession with tiara's and crowns.
We need not question where I got my obsession with tiara's and crowns.

Dinner was a regular family affair.  My favorite dinner was boiled shrimp. We moved from 104 Sharon Court to 888 Asbury (an extremely lucky address in Chinese culture) and then 1640 Emory, just blocks away from the Race Street Fish Market which opened in 1947 and was still there the last time I looked.  Mom and I would stop by after school and pick up a package of large shrimp, some boiling spices and some freshly-baked bread.  Mom would dump the shrimp and spices in a pot of boiling water and quickly cook them.  Then she would drain them into a big bowl in the center of the table and the seven of us would dive in with our hands, shell them and eat them with bread and margarine.  Always margarine.  I didn’t actually know that margarine wasn’t butter until I was a teenager and started baking.  I had wondered why butter at some of my friend’s houses tasted so much better than my butter at home.

We also ate lots of bread and margarine with our spaghetti.  Spaghetti was my little sister’s favorite and Mom would boil up a big pot of noodles, cover it in Ragu sauce from the jar and serve us each a plate full.  We had a large container of dry “parmesan cheese” in a green shaker package and we covered our sauce with the cream-colored crumbles. I still love a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce; there is something very comforting about it’s simplicity, taking me back to the dinner table of my youth.  I vaguely remember meatloaf and stuffed bell peppers and liver with onions, all dishes I didn’t care for much.  Mom must have had a repertoire of many other meals that could feed a family of seven, but those I don’t remember, or I don’t care to remember.

I must have had an early liking for seafood because shrimp was my party-food favorite as well. When my parents had parties, which was not very often but often enough that I remember the shrimp, Mom would place an enormous chilled bowl on the dining room table filled full of pale pink sauce with small shrimp in it.  There were toothpicks on the side to dip in and snag one of the saucy shrimp.  I remember sneaking in before the guests arrived to eat as many of the delicious shrimp as possible, undoubtedly using the same toothpick for all.  My memory tells me that it tasted like Thousand Island salad dressing on shrimp.  I researched it and indeed, a popular party recipe of that era was thousand island sauce on shrimp.  Mom agreed--she would have made that--but the party dish she remembers making more often was tiny meatballs that you dipped into a “concoction made with grape jelly and cocktail sauce” she told me.  I obviously did not like the meatballs because I have erased those from my memory.

Family Party in the 1960's.
Family Party in the 1960's.

 Most of the food I ate in my childhood did not require recipes and many ingredients came from a package or can or jar. Our cupboards contained boxes of scalloped potatoes and jello and canned mandarin oranges and green beans.  I did not come home to wonderful smells in the kitchen or stand at my mother’s side learning to cook the favorite family meals.  I don’t even remember most of the meals we ate and I certainly don’t remember ever talking about the food or the recipes.  What I remember clearly is that dinner was at six o’clock every night and all seven of us were there.  Where else would we eat?

As I got older and became interested in food preparation and ingredients and recipes, I lamented that I was not from a food-focused family.  Friends that I met along the way taught me how to cook basic meals and bake desserts that they had learned from their mothers or grandmothers.  I felt like I had really missed out on something since my parents didn’t instill in me a love for food and cooking.  Maybe that is why I collected and treasured recipes over the years and had the confidence to forge my own versions...my family food heritage starts with me.  I was not burdened with past generations of tradition.

Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds.  The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe, aren't even aware of."  -Ellen Goodman

To read Home Is Where My Story Begins - part 4 -click here