Bootleg Pony: In The Soup

In the recent spirit of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Pony Liberation Front (ASPLF, it's not just a stifled sneeze anymore, it's a movement) we bring you: Bootleg Pony. An unscheduled moment of pony-ness for your delectation. It also marks your author's maiden diary, so later on you can just shrug your shoulders and say, "well, we knew he was a putz — just check out that first thing he wrote." Read on if you will, and know you'll come out of this story better than I did.

I love to cook.

As openings go, it's not "call me Ishmael," but it does say something true and, for me, important. I do love to cook. I also love the bubbling rush of food blogging that has started around here, too. It speaks to something in our souls as well as our tummies, and to part of the core of ourselves: a better relationship with both earth and us through one of the most fundamental parts of our lives, how and what we eat. I'd like to write some stuff that's a part of that.

This ain't it.

That said, the kitchen offers me home, canvas, and refuge alike. I value it all. The three squares, snack foods, all the different shapes and styles and flavors of food, baking (I'm a pretty fair baker), playing short-order cook to the under-sixes (two of them), holidays, what foods and the ways we make them have meant to different people and cultures, the whole deal. It's a rhythm, a medidation, a craft, a solid kind of work, a source of some real satisfaction in my battered though improving life. I'm not a foodie, nor a snob about ingredients though I like them local (either for me or the recipe) whenever possible. No fancy magazine subscriptions though I read cookbooks for fun; no wierd but lovely gear from the lust-addled pages of Willams-Sonoma. Just a regular kitchen of a pretty poor family where I get some solace and share a little goodness with my wife and kids.

Mostly. Sometimes, though, it can go terribly wrong. Let's move along then ….

So there's this soup … actually, there's several. Great stuff for a large family without much spending cash, they keep, keep you warm in these wet Oregon winters, you can make them out of all sorts of stuff, and with three kids who all have their personal tastes, you can get more folks in on the same dish with more ingredients in it. Besides which, four out of the five of us (our middle daughter is still a shop steward with the Pale Foods Eaters local) purely like the hearty old northern European stuff like soups, cabbage, pork, etc. Even our littlest Visigoth, the two-year-old, though she didn't and so was spared when this sorry little tale took place.

One of our few concessions to expense on groceries or foodie-ness is ordering some very nice, decently priced soup mixes from a company out of the Midwest. Our eldest loves the spicy sausage-and-chickpea one. Nice recipe. It's a little bit of ancient Rome (spiced sausage, chicken off the bone, chickpeas, parsley) crossed with the Southwest (tomatoes and chiles.) So does my wife, who does hard, meaningful work helping children who are victims of abuse and finishing her MSW and commuting a couple of hours a day to Portland in the bargain. Let's say this soup comes with … expectations. A zesty haven in an unpredictable world. A little thing to count on. For our littlest girls some funny looking water with stuff floating in it, but they had three-cheese scrambled eggs and pasta on the side to look forward to. Me, I know the recipe cold. It's a proven favorite, simple to prepare if you can take the time and work the stages where the meat grills and the chickpeas soften and then it boils and adds and boils again. I cook it, my family eats, we are happy in each other's company. The day we'd planned it for comes around. I check the fridge: no sausage. Crud. Well, that's easy enough to solve. And while I solve it, hey, why not add a little twist, focus the flavors a bit ? It's a soup, soups forgive a cook with ideas. Not really a big change anyway. I set about it with a little lift in my step.

Pride goeth before destruction.

On a winter morning (of course it was wet, you don't need to say it was "wet" in the Willamette Valley anymore than someone from Alabama needs reminding that "tea" is iced and sweet) my littlest and I set out, her jogger stroller girded for rain, to hit the little grocery store about ten blocks from our house. You have to drive to the bigger supermarkets but here in The Shire you can reach the local, wholesale discount chain with a walk. Good selection too, really nice staff, apolitical but genuine commnunity ethic (the local crew are a nest of peaceniks, and while there's no "Power to the People" there's no "Only Rapture-Ready Need Apply" to the chain's social conscience either.) They had organic sausages, leftovers from some big chain, on sale, gourmet stuff with fancy bits in and still a week shy of the sell-by. I picked the chicken sausage with sun-dried tomatoes — it went best with the rest of the recipe. Grabbed some odds and ends while we were there, went up to the checkout where my toddler is the daughter of the regiment, paid, had her fussed over, made brief but real conversation with other folks who know what it's like to try and survive Bush's America, headed home. Cooked without a care. Waited for supper.

My wife came home to the tumult of children, as always. Even our teenager claimed her hug and talked about her day. My wife's a bright, smiling force of a woman, about five-foot-six but six-one on sheer charisma; red hair, bright, buxom, vivid, and generous, the image of a Scottish chieftess, the one who would win a bar fight after I got the crap beat out of me in the first round. She loves this soup, like our eldest who's been waiting with rising impatience while she knocks out Naruto fanfic on one computer and edits her friends' on the other (follows in dad's trade with the editing, God love her.) We sit down to eat. I juggle the kids' meals, the dash of salad my wife wanted on the side. Then sit down with her. "What do you think ?"

She smiles. My intestines wilt. I know that smile. That's the smile she smiles when, catlike, she plays with food that is not soup. There are layers in it; it holds multitudes. Between her smile, the dimple to its left, the edges of her temples where the red hair goes a little golden, the corners of her eyes, the very edge of her left eyebrow there's amusement, pity, suprise, unease, affection, disappointment, and the dominance of knowing what the joke is before the victime does all at the same time. Oy; women. "I think it's wonderful that you have hot food ready for us when I get home. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that, every day."

Damn. We shall reach new depths here. "Um. Thank you. How's the soup."

She repeats herself, with a grin that takes a force in it to prevent laughter that would hold down stars. Six more fathoms.

My eldest, thankfully, would rather be direct. "What is that ?"

"It's sausage."

"No it's not." She's half-Romanian. She knows from sausage. "It's sausage."

"No, it's some kind of wierd something that looks like sausage."

"It's sausage."

"What have you done with the sausage ?" she says with mock horror at a conspiracy blown. That's me: the Sausage Illuminati.

With a little more dialogue and that exquisite sense of knowing the joke first, my wife agrees.

"It's sausage." I say again. "It's chicken sausage. Even has sun-dried tomatoes in it. Now," to my eldest, "I know you're not into tomatoes …"

Those ships have sailed, coaled off the Red Sea, and reached Australia by now. My oldest daughter and my wife are having one of those conversations about a man who happens to be there — me — that fails to involve his physical presence in any way that women learn how to have, by my observation, around the second month in preschool. I accept this. The conversation seems, to me, completely natural, especially surrounded as I am by women and daily by Oscar Wilde's admonishment that one should be careful what one wishes for because one may get it but good. But it's frickin' sausage.

"It's chicken sausage." Now I'll go over my eldest's head — kind of — back to my wife.

"I know we usually do it with the regular kind, but I thought we might try something different."

Now the laughter comes, as if a mountain spring were perched over a dorm room door and dumped on your head. "I know, honey. I know. And I love so much that you cook for us every night. And I love what you cook, but …"

Back to the peanut gallery, my eldest, in the wings I say, "It's chicken sausage . People make sausage out of all kinds of stuff, you know that …"

And my wife delivers the punch line. "Yes, dear…"

She has a way with "dear." "Dear" is a special and specific word in our marriage. It belongs to her. It is, in one syllable, every once of her ability to love me to distraction while laughing her ass off at the fact that I just, epically, screwed up.

"… and I'm sure there are people who eat horse penises, too. But I am not one."

Now we're both laughing. Horse penises. Think we touched bottom there. I'll keep an eye out, though, just in case.

Thus was Horse Schlong Soup born. And yes, she named it. Not me (did I mentions she's also bawdy ? Good trait.) It had a short career, did Horse Schlong Soup. Only one service. But it made a lasting impression.

So why write this at all ? Well, I do love food. And I love to cook. And before I do anything else with this whole diary-writin' thing an exercise in humility is probably healthy. Also some reflection on wierd foods: what kind of batshit (no, don't share) cuisine has passed your way, by travel, perverse interest, or (like me) foolish accident ? Reflection too on a Southern truism I grew up with, Buddhist in its scope: in a small town, or any place you really belong, you won't be remembered for the best thing you ever did. You may, however, be remembered for the dumbest. I should be so lucky as to clock in with this story. Feel free to stop by the Bootleg Pony then; don't order the soup, though.

PS: And pf, for the love of "The Full Monty" and, really, anything that is decent and holy, don't call me Horse. 😉  

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    • yes on February 1, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Pony up if you wish.

    • nocatz on February 1, 2008 at 12:23 am

    same thing in both PPs

    • pfiore8 on February 1, 2008 at 12:43 am

    i thought you were going to bootleg my pony slot tomorrow (Friday) at 6pm…  

    hmmm… so i guess i have come up with something…

    • pfiore8 on February 1, 2008 at 12:45 am

    that should read

    …so i guess i have TO come up with something…

    god. that’s happening more and more, leaving out words in my sentences…

  1. yes! I have to read the essay later, because:

    1) my dog just got in a fight with a neighbor’s psycho dog and I have to pick her up from the vet;

    2) homework is not done for tonight’s class;

    3) have to post a diary at the orangina before 6!

    Eeeek! Gotta go!!    

  2. …matter of fact, as of 01/01/08, my youngest doesnt eat land animals at all…still does the eggs/cheese/fish/seafood thing though…

    this pp is VERY appropriate, as today is the last day of national soup month…thanks for sharing…

  3. Anyone have any good suggestions for how to make soup entirely from scratch?  Never done it before, but I figure a big ol’ pot should feed me for a few days with proper refrigeration, and it should cut down on food expenses.  (Plus, no additives or preservatives, and I can season to taste rather than eating Campbells salt soup.)

    • nocatz on February 1, 2008 at 3:37 am

    if jeffinalabama sees this he’ll get cranked I bet….

    • kj on February 1, 2008 at 4:41 am
  4. yes! Wonderful story and your family sounds like an excellent collection of characters. You lost me at “I love to cook,” though. (Not a criticism, just a personal thing.)

    You might be interested in a book that my friend MJ gave me last year when she was staying here (she’s the one who lives on Mt. Hood) — it’s “Simply the Best,” a cookbook by Julie Andersen, who stages food parties or something like that at some bookstore in Portland. Or maybe you already know it, supposed to be pretty popular in the area. Anyway, you done good! Carry on!!  

  5. Yes – Keep writing!

  6. Somewhere between medication and meditation.

    Just right for me.

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