Since it's been so cold, soup sounded like a fabulous supper, so I bought a 15-bean soup kit. It came with beans, a list of ingredients I'd have to add myself, and a tiny packet of Ham Flavor. That was absolutely the only type on the little label, and of course I accidentally dropped the thing into the boiling water.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First off, I needed a ham hock. I sincerely don't know what that is. I asked a woman near me at Publix and she said she thought they'd be with the smoked meats. Oh. I was standing in pork (as it were). Right. So I moved over to the smoked meats department and there was a worker. I asked him about ham hocks and, busy and frazzled though he was, he pointed to the right place. Alas, I couldn't imagine cooking such things and then ... eating them. Whatever they are – pig ankles? – they looked like rolled-down socks of fat. With skin.
Well, the soup kit said I could used smoked sausage, too, so I opted for that, for turkey sausage, in fact, because I still feel separate from birds, although I can already imagine the end of that.
A childhood fantasy was to marry a farmer and collect eggs each morning, because being a farmer was no more an option than not marrying at all. I'd be wearing a bonnet with ruffled edges and the eggs would be gathered in a wicker basket with a big curved handle. Despite this, and despite the fact that I think chickens, especially dark ones like Rhode Island Reds,* are the most gorgeous birds on earth, I'm terrified of chickens and, in fact, of all birds. I don't know if I saw Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds at precisely the wrong moment in my developing adolescent psyche or if I had a horrid experience with birds so traumatic that I've blocked it out, but I think birds are scary.
About fifteen years ago, though, I went to the Arbor Arts Festival at Boyd Hill Nature Park, and there was a petting zoo. There were a couple show chickens and some show ducks. You heard me: show chickens, show ducks. I wanted to hold a chicken, but I was afraid to. A sensitive teenage boy, the curator of this zoo, soothed and cooed me into accepting a huge hen into my arms – and possibly my heart. I discovered an amazing thing: chickens are warm like us, like us mammals. I always thought they'd be cold, like snakes. Even though I've owned snakes and have felt great affection for them, it must be said: snakes are cold, cold like aliens.
Still, as far as food is concerned, I can feel bad about eating pigs (even as I love their meat), so I think and fear the time is coming when I'll quit eating them altogether (much to the joy of Nonie's moms). But so far, even with that Arbor Arts experience, fowl remain guilt-free eating for me. Hence, the turkey sausage.
I went home with the soup kit, the sausage, the onion, and the canned tomatoes. I measured out the water and put it on the stove. I almost dumped the beans in when I realized that I didn't quite trust the label. Fifteen-bean soup. Really? Fifteen different varieties of bean? That sounds suspect, doesn't it? That's probably not fair, since I myself can only name a toddler's handful of beans: kidney, white kidney, navy, lentil, split pea, garbanzo. Well, maybe I wasn't so much suspicious as curious. In any case, I poked around in the pile of beans, separating the unique ones and, indeed, I found fifteen. When I read the label, I saw that the manufacturer listed seventeen varieties and said that "at least" fifteen of them were used. Huh.
The soup was and remains delicious, although next time I'll skip the packet of Ham Flavor. It doesn't make sense to mix all these healthy, authentic foods, and then to sprinkle them with ... "flavor."
This weather calls for baking, too, and so I baked some pumpkin-curry scones recently, with crystallized ginger. And then some banana-pecan muffins with a nice, crunchy cinnamon topping. Today I baked chocolate chip cookies but, though I eat them by a lumberjack's handful, I don't really like them. I never have. I'll give them to Mike if any are left by the time he shows up two hours from now.
I think baking is a way to feel productive without actually doing anything. It's also a way to recall my mother, who died in 1998, and whom I miss so much. And it's a fabulous way to sabotage my New Year's Weight-Loss Plan.
*This is absolutely the only breed of chicken I know.