PLANTATION- Between 7 and 8 o’clock on the night of January 27, 2015, a local teenager was spotted eating large quantities of fresh vegetables.
A number of witnesses said that many of the veggies seemed to come from the food category said teenager has adamantly rejected her whole life.
“It’s like I don’t even know her,” her stunned younger brother announced.
The parents of the teen were also flabbergasted.
“It was astonishing, and a little bit frightening,” the mother, Alona Martinez, said. “A lifetime of begging her to eat vegetables with no luck and now, in one sitting, she enjoys them all!”
The teen’s father was not in Plantation at the time of the event as he was busy traveling around Asia for work, but he managed to send in a message on WhatsApp upon hearing the news.
“I’m so proud of my little girl. I knew she had it in her!”
Food experts suggest such voracious and uncharacteristic enthusiasm towards cabbage, zucchini, carrots and green beans can only be attributed to the irresistible format in which they were prepared: a heavenly rendition of minestrone soup.
Close monitoring suggests that children apprehensive to eating plain vegetables may reconsider their stance when such food items are simmered in a hearty beef broth and sprinkled with fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The ditalini pasta doesn’t hurt, either, experts concur.
“I’m a chef and a mom,” a local Plantation resident who prefers to remain anonymous (because she may or may not be the teen’s mother) stated, “and I’ve never seen such an impressive turnaround in attitude towards vegetables. That’s one miracle minestrone!”
The teenager doesn’t see her newfound love of veggies as anything newsworthy. She took a few seconds out of her busy texting schedule to share her succinct assessment of the situation:
“Finally, Mom made vegetables taste good.”
When asked if she had anything else to say, she smiled and returned her attention to her buzzing phone, but first, she added:
There’s no better way to celebrate the start of summer than with a fish soup.
Especially summer in South Florida, where we’re all macho about the high heat index and humidity level. Hot broth to match hot temperatures? We can handle it in the Sunshine State.
Be tough, now.
Be a purist.
This is not the time to skimp or cut corners.
This is the time to make Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud proud and do the thing from scratch.
Anyhow, you’re not in a seafood-obsessed culinary culture, so, chances are you’d be hard-pressed to find seafood stock on aisle 7.
Roll up your sleeves and make it yourself.
You can do it if I did.
The lazy cook, remember?
I’m lucky though. Living in the South Florida suburbs does have its perks.
Even though my husband fantasizes about picking up and moving the family to a small town in the middle of the Rocky Mountains somewhere.
To him it sounds cheaper, romantic and grand.
Except I hate high altitude baking challenges, the cold, and when I can’t hear four languages being spoken by four different couples in one grocery aisle. That’s a South Florida perk, and having grown up as a Third Culture Kid, that feels like home.
Two minutes from my house, in said strip mall, I can find an Indian shop, an Italian supermarket and a Chinese market. For this dish, I head straight to the Chinese.
My daughter enjoys going with me, not only for exotic snacks of dried shrimp flakes, but to empathize with the panicked turtles and frogs waiting to be bought for stew. She realizes there are some hazards to accompanying me, like trying to avoid savvy crayfish that have escaped their Styrofoam jail cell and are attempting to casually crawl out the front door. Her pinkie toe almost became collateral damage for the last escapee but I shoved her into a box of Chinese bitter melon and she was safe. After that, I believe she stopped wearing sandals there.
I love it because of the fish.
Loads of it.
All sizes, all types.
I can’t tell you what they all are, I’d have to be an expert fishmonger or read Mandarin.
But I’ve never let anything become a barrier when food is involved and find that an over-enthusiastic smile and generous finger pointing serve me just fine.
I get several fish heads for my fish soup.
And lots of fish.
There are clams to be bought and mussels to scrub.
The fishmonger hacks away graciously, giving me several plastic bundles crammed with shells and fresh seafood treasures swimming in ocean and blood.
This is what gets me going, in case you’re wondering.
Back home I pull out my two biggest pots.
One is crowded with the heads, onions, leeks, carrots, celery and dried laurel leaves. If I have some forgotten white wine, I throw it in there too.
Plenty of water, of course, and time. The more, the tastier.
The house fills with the aroma of fish.
If you are pregnant, maybe you should go to the mall or something.
When your pot has simmered long enough, if you are a true purist, you will let it cool, sit overnight in the refrigerator, heat it up again the next day and run it through a sieve and proclaim the stock ready to use in your soup.
But I am not that pure a purist, no.
Plus I want this soup now!
So, I skip the overnight step and jump to the sieve.
Adding the rest of my fish, clams, mussels, oh and shrimp! How could I forget the shrimp?
I bought the ones with the head.
I have a theory that boiling shrimp brains makes for a tastier broth.
Studies will show I am correct.
So, if you find shrimp with heads, get them. If you live in the mountains in a small town, I guess use the frozen headless kind.
All this simmers and bubbles and I jump around giddy and joyous, perhaps clasping a chilled glass of Vinho Verde, Portugal’s trinity of cheap, delicious and summer and pull out a crusty loaf of bread, (which I would have skipped over to the Italian market and bought.) Add some tomatoes and tomato sauce to the stock. Maybe a bit more white wine.
It’s now time to add parsley.
Green makes food pop and gives it an extra peppery bite.
Call the pregnant one and tell her to come back from the mall.
The meal is almost ready.
Spoon it into bowls and add all the goodies floating within.
Some folks drizzle olive oil on top or squeeze half a lemon.
My husband kills those people.
He slurps it straight up.
For my own personal safety, I will not reveal my preference.
Seafood soup and summer promise fun and family and dizzying deliciousness.
18-24 Cherrystone clams (Amount depends on how many people you’ll have to fight off for them)
A pinch of very expensive saffron threads, the kind you buy in tiny, fancy clear jars and wonder when the heck you’ll ever use
1 ½ pounds of white fish (snapper, bass, cod, heck, I guess, if you must, tilapia will do. If you have a friendly Chinese fishmonger, he’ll misunderstand your sign language for “just filet it but give me the heads and bones” and just chop the fish in four crude chunks, which works even better)
1 pound raw shrimp (I go for heads on and intact, it makes for a tastier broth, just know you’ll heavily fondle your food and must be okay with it)
Melt butter in a soup pot. Add carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms and cook over low heat until soft, 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add all the other ingredients. Your fish heads should be submerged, so, if you need to add more water, go for it.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Let cool and strain. By let cool, you should really let cool, refrigerate, heat again the next day, let cool again and strain. But if you are always in a hurry, like me, just let it cool and strain and move on.
Makes 4 cups of stock
Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add leeks and onion and cook until tender, about ten minutes. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, thyme, parsley, bay leaves wine, fish stock and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.
In a little bowl, mush the butter with the flour. It’s fun. Make a sculpture if you are so inspired.
Whisk said sculpture into soup. See how it gets thick. This never gets old.
Add mussels and clams and fish.
Add pinch of saffron. (I really could have written this in the last line but the stuff is so darn expensive I thought it worthy of its own instruction.)
Simmer another 5 minutes.
Throw fish in there. Simmer until just cooked- another five.
See how fast?
Ladle into soup plates. Serve with crusty bread and a nice green salad. You’ll have the best intentions, you will, but you won’t get around to the green salad, although you’ll see how readily you get to the bread. It’s great for dunking.
Many years ago, when my children sported diapers and an unhealthy obsession with Nickelodeon cartoons, I decided to just make it work and bought “A Rugrats Passover” Seder Haggadah. It came with a VHS of that same episode, aired in 1995.
Don’t judge me.
The food wasn’t going to prepare itself, and, you mothers out there know we all climbed off our self-righteous I-will-not-plop-my-child-in-front-of-the-television soapbox the minute that annoying whining TV character [insert any one of them here] tuned in, shut your screaming toddler up and, even better, kept him or her still for more than two minutes.
If you’d don’t know, the Haggadah is the book read during Passover recounting the story of the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt. Usually, it’s a fancy hardback number with gold embroidering that your great-grandpa brought over from Poland or something along those lines, and when read, prayed, and sang properly, will run you about 2 to 3 hours.
The HaggadahI bought was a 15-page paperback glorified cartoon with Tommy and the gang parting the Red Sea and living out all the other Passover adventures, baby style.
It was, at best, unconventional.
My husband and I added some of our own touches to really bring the story to life: plastic frogs were thrown at guests reliving the ten plagues, red paint was used to mark the front door so God would know to pass over our home, and a shredded shower curtain tacked over the entrance of our home was mandatory issue when parting the Red Sea. After all, why should Charlton Heston have all the fun?
I remember my own childhood Passover celebrations vividly, and, although endless rounds of Manischewitz wine was pretty darn awesome, being trapped in interminable prayers while smelling my mother’s incomparable matzo ball soup was not. I vowed to make Passover different for my kids.
And it was! It was fun! Loads of fun!
So much so that we did “A Rugrats Seder” the next year. And the next. And the next.
And slowly but surely, the kids grew and grew and grew while the Rugrats remained the same tiny toddlers and babies kvetching about Pharaoh and how lame slavery was.
Passover is here again this Monday night and, aside from a new face or two at our table, our guest list is comprised of the die-hard folks who began sharing this story with us and the Rugrats when the kids were small and we all knew what a VHS was. At this point, it almost makes no sense to celebrate Passover any other way.
We still throw plastic frogs at each other.
We still cover our front door in red finger paint.
We still march through the shredded shower curtain to part the Red Sea like Moses did.
And while the smell of my simmering matzo ball soup will never quite live up to the memory of my mother’s, it’s pretty close, so we do all this in 30 minutes flat.
My daughter is now fifteen, which, if you’ve been living with your head in the sand or have been spared having a teen in your home, is code for I know everything and you are an idiot.
(I’d keep my head buried deep if I were you.)
She has become quite active in her Jewish Youth Group and so religion is a subject bedazzled in her teenage expertise. By default, I am reminded on a daily basis of how I have to get my Jewishness on.
“Gosh, Mom, you’re totally lame. We haven’t lit the Shabbat candles in, like, forever.”
“Really, dude, community outreach is, like, KEY to Judaism. I think THIS FAMILY needs to work on that a bit- we should go to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or something to help out, like NOW!”
Don’t get me wrong. I love that she is like this, really, I do. She’s actually speaking to me, albeit in between fervent texting, Instagramming, and comparing selfies with her BFF, but still, beggars can’t be choosers, and so I’m not.
Plus, her connection with her Jewish roots is inspiring and would make both my grandfather, who played a critical role in founding the state of Israel, and my husband’s father, a converted Jew who sent his sons to study in Israel, extremely proud. It even makes me, the one who is totally lame, very, very appreciative and will most likely land me in a soup kitchen and lighting the candles on Friday night.
But I love that there are still some moments you don’t mess with, where family traditions, as zany and outgrown as they may be, trumps all.
When I mentioned perhaps retiring Rugrats for a more age-appropriate version of the Haggadah, that tough grown-up demeanor my daughter works so hard to carry dissolved instantly into the panicked four-year old child who couldn’t find her blanky hidden under the bed.
“What? You’re kidding, right?”
And, of course, I was.
After all, how could I pass on flinging frogs, parting shower curtains shreds and making a mess out of my front door with my kids while Angelica, the horrible Pharaoh, is fast on our heels? No matter how old they get, the same rules apply: make it work, have fun along the way, and always eat good food.
“People are doing some wacky, cool stuff in this frigid weather,” the radio announcer said as I drove the kids to school.
One lady boiled water, opened her back door, and tossed that stuff out, straight into the sky.
It turned into a cloud.
Which drifted back to her living room when a gust of wind took it over.
She had done this while her kids, who were, for weather purposes, home from school, sat on the couch watching reruns of Phineas and Ferb, or something along those lines, when that cloud drifted in over their heads. They stopped, dropped their jaws and were so mesmerized that the geometric, candy-colored cartoon characters could not get their attention back.
Seems negative zero record-breaking temperatures brings out creative genius.
That mom is a superhero now. Those kids are telling their friends who are telling their friends. Stuff goes viral. Even ended up in a radio show in South Florida, where our chill was only in the fifties.
Another lady cracked an egg on her back porch floor and waited.
The thing froze solid. Okay, she admits, it was a teensy bit squishy in the middle, but, solid everywhere else. She invited her kids to check it out.
Stop playing Minecraft!
You’re too young to binge on Netflix!
Xbox One comes with a pause button, doesn’t it?!
You know she shouts this stuff often.
You know it goes unnoticed usually.
But the words egg and frozen made an alluring match and the children arose from their technological hypnosis to see what Mom had done.
They ran outside, even, laughed, amazed, and, then, wondrously, began playing Frisbee with the thing!
Can you imagine tossing a frozen egg amongst yourselves?
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
What do you talk about? How cool is Mom?!
Another superhero born!
The radio commentator left the best for last.
“Then there’s a dad, “ he began.
They’ve always gotta top everyone, you know?
This one stole the show with a banana.
A banana, right? So simple!
Usually bananas are just sitting there in the fruit bowl, pretty as a picture- first they’re bright yellow and then you forget them in the day’s rush and before you know it, there are some spots on them, and in what feels like a blink of an eye, the whole damn thing is black as coal and you throw it away. Time just gets away from you like that.
A Mom will look at these bananas and want to plan ahead.
Day 1: Gotta use it in kiddos cereal.
Day 4: Hmmm, banana pancakes would be a treat.
Day 8: Perfect for banana bread!
Day 9: Ick! Fruit flies! Trash! Now!
But a dad?
A dad will grab that banana like his Grandpop did in the great blizzard of ’78, the one that dumped 31” of snow on New York, and toss it up to the heavens, promising his children, who are already watching, (he’s smart, you see, he’s gathered his audience and prepped them for his show) that when it comes back down, it will be frozen solid, yes it will.
And that thing will fly back down, a boomerang rejected by Zeus, and, yes! It will be solid! It won’t even matter if it is canary yellow or spotted like the Andy Warhol album cover of The Velvet Underground or that limp, forgotten fruit the shade of charcoal (that Mother would have most certainly thrown out.) That banana will land in Dad’s hands and it will be frozen solid!
“Ooooh, Ahhh,” children in many layers of clothing will chime.
Just this one action has made them life-long fans of this man.
And then, you know what Dad does with this?
Dad does what Grandpop did years ago!
He uses the thing as a hammer! An actual hammer!
Thirty years have passed and with it Smartphones and tablets and fancy game devices have flooded children’s attention and yet, I promise you, these children will opt to watch Dad in sub-zero weather hammer a nail into a piece of wood using nothing but a frozen banana.
They’ll want try too.
“Give me! Let me! I wanna do it! Me!” They’ll shout over the hum of their electric gadgets impatiently set on pause.
“Whaddaya think about that?” The radio commentator shouts gleefully, snapping me out of Dad’s backyard and back into my car.
I think, what he thinks: Dad is the coolest polar vortex superhero!
Of course, if there is a Mom around, at this point she may be a bit concerned.
You don’t want the young ones out there too long.
Not even for a frozen banana show.
“Time to come in,” she may mumble weakly.
Should she, really?
They are all out there having a grand time!
Best stir the soup a bit instead.
They’ll be in soon enough.
And they’ll be freezing and hungry.
Moms plan ahead, remember.
So while they were out there, Mom finished up the soup. A quick soup. A tasty, nourishing mix of corn, golden potatoes, cream, celery and onions loaded with shrimp and red peppers.
She’ll serve this creamy elixir in her elegant bowls, the deep ivory porcelain ones with the lion heads, alongside a loaf of crusty bread.
For Dad and for herself, she may sprinkle some paprika. Make it fancy like that.
She knows they will come through that door any minute now.
The radio commentator has moved on to the traffic report. I should really listen, but, I don’t. I’m stuck on this family, this Mom and this Dad.
All the children have hammered with the banana and the excitement has been replaced by aching fingertips, drippy noses, and, ultimately, a need for Mom, because even they know, mothers always plan, so Mom must have a plan for what’s next.
They traipse in the house, hungry, cold and elated, leaving puddles of melted snow in their wake.
The soup is served.
Steaming bowls of goodness invite them to the table.
They plop down and dig in, recounting their adventure between slurps.
“Dad did the coolest thing ever,” they say, reliving what will become The Frozen Banana Story.
Mom looks over at Dad.
His nose is red, lips are chapped, and he’s left the biggest puddle of them all. Maybe he hasn’t even bothered to properly hang his jacket, the thing has fallen onto the wet, dirty floor. He slurps his soup loudly.
She’ll overlook all of that, though, and even stare dreamily at him.
Like the radio commentator first pointed out: people are doing some wacky, cool stuff in this frigid weather.
Sometimes there are wet, grey days in South Florida.
Nothing like the weather making the news headlines today: Colorado, covered in its first major snow of the season or the ice storm threatening Texas.
This weather is subtle; the type that would piss the rest of the country off, folk would curse, “those guys are softies” under their breath and keep shoveling a path to the driveway. But for us South Floridians, spoiled with an excessive amount of sunshine and warmth, these are the days that make us sigh and complain, wondering, for a second, if we are living elsewhere, London or Seattle; somewhere a constant drizzle is expected.
Today is not one of those days. Today is glorious and crisp and sunny, a day I’d be best served not to complain about and rather embrace and feel thankful I live where I do. But what about those gray days? And what if such a day falls on a Saturday? What is one supposed to do with a day filled with vague, light rain in South Florida?
Okay, yes, there’s that one thing. Yes.
But what if your significant other is away, on business, again?
Mine is absent more and more these days, sucked to distant hemispheres by pressing business deals that must be closed or absent-minded manufacturing mistakes that must be corrected; all sacrifices one makes when running one’s own international, multi-global business, he’d tell me in His Professional Voice.
Which is all good and fine on sunny weekend days. On those days I’ll walk along the beach, take the kids out for some soft ice cream, or catch some rays by my pool in the backyard.
But gray and gloomy weekends are another matter all together. Gray and gloomy Saturdays are for snuggling, catching-a-movie-on-Netflix, and spilling microwave popcorn on each other’s lap. They are days of leisure studded with long naps and oblivion.
I struggle on these bleak weekends when my side of the bed is the only one slept in and there are no size 11 shoes strewn about for me to trip over. The kids are snatched by their computer’s mesmerizing glare and silence reigns, thanks to those bright blue Beats headphones I thought would make such a perfect gift for them one noisy afternoon. Now they wear those things nonstop and it’s as if they’ve disappeared entirely, save for the occasional chuckle that escapes them or a random demand for a cheese stick or yogurt. I should rejoice and skip around the house like Maria did in West Side Story, feeling pretty, but instead, I turn grumpy and gloomy and sad, feeling isolated and alone, thinking of all the bonding I could be doing with my significant other, if only he were in the same time zone.
Luckily I have a well-stocked refrigerator.
This is the antidote to all forms of depression, if you’re wondering.
Restlessness or boredom or simple nostalgia are all tempered at the stovetop.
Mushroom soup is particularly restorative. It’s smooth and rich and sophisticated yet simple. You’ll feel like Cinderella the night of the Ball.
It all starts with onions. You know me well by now, it always starts with sautéing onions in olive oil. And then you are on your way. Chop the mushrooms up fine, after having wiped them clean with a damp cloth. No need to rinse, no need to douse them in unnecessary water.
Are you a garlic kind of a guy/gal? Then mince up a clove or two and add it to the mix. See how the day begins to brighten?
Really, if you are feeling unbearably down and out, you could just end the whole thing right here.
Maybe you’d squeeze a half a lime and grind some fresh pepper and coarse sea salt and lights out. Scoop the stuff up with toast, but first sprinkle on some fresh parsley for color and bite.
This, and a fresh copy of the latest People magazine, could turn any afternoon around.
But we are persevering and sticking to our soup goal. Oh, it will be worth it. You will do the mushroom toast thing some other time.
And you are almost there, anyhow, with the soup.
A sloppy splash of Sherry and a steady drizzle of heavy whipping cream follows and then let it all simmer for a bit. Salt and pepper it to your liking.
If you have one of those fancy blenders, the ones with the massive base that looks like it could launch a space shuttle, then go for it, put all that in there and whip away.
Man, that stuff comes out beautiful: velvety smooth.
But if you don’t have it, don’t fret. Use your regular blender. Or your immersion blender. Or you know what? Leave the pieces of everything in there.
It’s your call. It’s raining after all. The in-laws aren’t coming over.
Thick, crusty bread goes well with this soup and I happened to have baked some the other day, the kind that mocks diets and begs for a healthy slather of Irish or French butter. Butter, I tell you, butter. None of this laboratory hocus pocus that is dyed yellow and promises it is something it is not. No, butter.
I will ladle this mushroom soup into a bowl and sit down at a table set for one, sipping and reading my newspaper; noshing on a slice of chewy sourdough and listening to the drops of rain falling outside, wondering what exotic street food my beloved will be sampling on the other side of the planet.
The term soulmate sounds sticky and trite until it actually kicks into gear, like now, in this melancholic moment when I will get a call and it will be him, eager to tell me the outcome of the negotiation or the transformed product design, but not before he shares in detail the tenderness of the octopus he savored in Shenzhen or the fish ball noodle soup he slurped noisily in a cramped alley of Hong Kong.
There are too many illustrious plates of grilled shrimp and steamed flounder and calves heads he must convey under the prickly fuzz of a poor connection. These are meals he, too, appreciates in solitude, hastily devoured in between appointments with men who wear oversized suits and smoke too much and speak quickly in foreign tongues.
I, in turn, will tell him about that bread I baked, how even though it didn’t rise as I wished it would, it sort of spread outwards against the pan, it is still lovely when warmed and teased with butter or a drizzle of orange blossom honey. How it goes perfectly with the soup on this wet Saturday.
We’ll chuckle during this conversation, I know. He’ll ask me to save him some soup. We are separated by oceans and time zones and obligations that have him sitting alone at a table over there and me sitting alone at our table here.
I will save him a bowl, for later. It freezes well, you see.