Friday, August 15, 2008

Unforeseen Crisis, Unexpected Feast

Last night, a major problem emerged here at the Our Family household.

I was on the phone with birth-mother Anne, whom I am planning to visit this weekend, hammering out the details of our stay together, when my mother's urgent voice came from the garage.

"BB!" she said. "Get off the phone, I need your help."

Sensing the seriousness, the near panic in her tone, and thinking at first that she'd been hurt, I hastily told Anne that I'd call her back and raced through the door to where my mother stood before our second refrigerator.

"Mom, what's wrong?" I asked.

"The freezer went out," was her response. "We've got to get all of this inside."

She gestured at the fully-stocked shelves laden with meats, microwaveable chicken nuggets, frozen vegetables, and diet dinners. I knew that we'd have to hurry, so I simply extended my arms outward and allowed her to pile the items of food in them, wondering all the while where we could possibly put so much.

She cursed lightly and muttered, "This meat is thawed."

"Will we have to throw it all away?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said, prodding some chicken breasts with her fingers to feel their texture.

I ran inside and placed the perishables on the countertop as I'd been instructed, then hurried back out to grab more.

My mother had her hand on her chin and was staring contemplatively at what remained in the unfunctioning freezer.

"We're going to have to cook it," she announced as I walked in.

I stared at her.

"All of it?" I asked incredulously.

"Yeah," she said. "Otherwise we'll have to throw it away."

Before us were multiple steaks, sausages, a moderate amount of ground beef, six chicken breasts, and, on top of that, a full bird, all of which had to be prepared immediately.

Steaks Being Prepared

She raced about frantically trying to get everything ready and told me to call my father and inform him of the situation. Thankfully, he was only fifteen minutes away when I reached him, and said he'd be home as soon as possible.

When he arrived shortly thereafter, my mother had the oven and stove on and was looking for Powell so he could go start the grill out back. Naturally, my father took two minutes to fix the refrigerator that had left us so flummoxed, but by that point all of the food was out and unsafe to put back anyway.

Mom Preparing Vegetables

We had to eat, or at least make, all of it.

"I put the chicken in the oven, I have the ground beef on the stove, Powell's making the steak, and I'm gonna put a pot of soup on," my mother briefed my father.

At her last statement I stared.

My mother's chicken noodle soup is a favorite throughout our family, an entirely homemade recipe she inherited from her mother and that has kept our kitchen warm on countless winter nights. It's delicious and adored, the one thing, we tell her, that she can make better than our grandmother Normal Family (my father's mother; our mother's mother passed away four years ago). However, it's also very seasonal; the first batch of it usually doesn't show up until a particularly cold day in September or October.

During our childhood, this followed the rhythm of other weather-related patterns: in September or so my father would stock up on enough firewood to last us through the winter; in October it really became cold; in November, which is typically around when first snow came, we'd start using the fireplace on a limited basis.

These things were all back in Dirty Town, and comprise some of my few fond memories of that place.

The Soup has always been Fall and winter fare. Eating it during the warm months has never seemed right, and in fact I can't remember one time during the entire ten months we lived in Deep South State when my mother made her well-acclaimed dish.

So, when she proposed, in the middle of August, to whip up a pot, I was a bit surprised. Fall is coming, though (I hope; in the South you never quite know), and the first pot would have come within the next month or so anyway.

"A bit early," I would remark to my father several hours later as I sipped some broth out of a spoon. "But I don't mind."

Before long six chicken breasts were in the pot, topped by stewed tomatoes (from a can, yes, but the only ingredient to be so obtained) and sliced celery.

Chicken and Vegetables Awaiting Broth

We realized at this point that we lacked both noodles and enough stewed tomatoes, so I hastily ran out to the store to buy both while my parents and brother kept the fire burning at home. Once I'd gotten back with the crucial items, the soup was simmering in delicious broth, to which my father hastily added what I'd procured from the grocery.

Mom's Soup Cooking

I actually convinced my father to take a picture of me and then pose himself for some noodle-related photography.

Me Helping to Cook


My family no longer questions why I ask them to turn away and cover their faces whenever I take my camera out. Powell is by this point aware that I have a blog, though he hasn't read it, and to the others I've offered the vague excuse of, "You never know who's looking at your pictures on the Internet."

Of course, coming clean would likely clear up some confusion, like shedding light on why I take pictures of food seemingly at random.

"BB," my exasperated mother asked me the other day. "Why are you taking pictures of your dinner plate?"

"I'm documenting this," I answered.

Yesterday when I stood over her shoulder, sneaking photographs of the soup in its pot, she remarked without a trace of laughter, "You're a dork," as if simply to inform me of it and lament her eldest son's fate.

She believes that a picture of her soup cooking is completely superfluous, yet, oddly enough, one day after posting the photo I received a request that it be added to the Ultimate Soup Group on Flickr.

If you're a big soup fan, check it out.

After the steaks had finished, Powell left the grill to cool off while Pie played basketball just near it.

Pie Playing as Steaks Cook

My father, ever resourceful, had turned our surplus of ground beef into Hamburger Helper, upon which I ravenously dined. The feast had begun. Powell devoured his steaks, I dove into my father's confection, and we all awaited eagerly the soup's completion.

Powell Eating Steak

Hamburger Helper

When that happy moment came several hours later, I ladled myself a good helping of it.

Inaugural Bowl

"I really shouldn't be eating this," I told my father through gulping bites, noting that my diet and exercise plan had been shamefully compromised for the day. "But it's the first soup of the season. I couldn't miss an Inaugural Bowl."

My parents are good at what they do, though, and the temptation had been too much for me to resist. As I'd told my father earlier while chowing down on his Hambuger Helper: "You two can cook. I'll give you that. You can cook."

The First Soup of the Season

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