Savory Saturdays: Tomato-Cheese Tortellini Soup

This was a full 2 lb loaf before dinner.

In my feeble attempt this week to derail my carb cravings (and I mean feeble) I made a wonderful soup Tuesday night for dinner. The soup was fantastic and healthy. However, I’m not sure the two glasses of wine and loaf of fresh Everything Bread from Great Harvest Bread Company helped support my detox.

I know how hard it is to make quick meals for a family that are both economical and healthy. My plan is to start adding a recipe a week that will hopefully encompass both of these goals. I am not a baker, but I really do love to cook, time permitting. My house also has two of the pickiest eaters, so I am not going to lie, not everything I cook is well received by these young critics. So, I have stopped cooking for them, hung up my short-order cook’s apron and just gone back to cooking the way that I think we should eat. Both girls used to eat everything that I put in front of them, but the last few years have been a series of food wars. I’ve heard lots of advice on how to get picky eaters to eat. (Most of them don’t work, by the way, but thanks anyway.) Two bits of information have stuck with me the most:

1. Don’t offer anything else – they’ll eat when they are hungry.

2. Always have at least one thing at the table each child will eat.

The first rule of thumb never worked for us. I do see how it could be effective, but The Hare is quite content to skip any meal that doesn’t suit her. We tried this wisdom and found that she would skip dinner almost every night, and for a growing little girl who is also a team gymnasts, that was just unacceptable.

The second nugget has worked like a charm. It may mean that we have a bread or pasta (whole wheat) at every meal but so what? Everyone eats something. Our general family rule is that you can not have seconds of the item you like the most unless you have finished the other things on your plate. We also require them to taste everything served. It used to be three bites of everything…I have since caved a little and just expect one bite. If you wanted to be really mean, you could still put three bites on their plates, which means to get another piece of bread they would still have to consume three full bites. Sneaky, right? We still have food fights – crying, complaining, dry-heaves…but much less than when we required them to participate in the clean plate club.

Tomato-Cheese Tortellini Soup
total time: 13 minutes

1 (14 1/2 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
3 cups frozen cheese tortellini (about 12 ounces)
1 small zucchini, sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Healthy and Hearty

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Add tortellini, zucchini, and pepper; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 7 to 8 minutes or until pasta and zucchini are tender.

Yield: 4 (1 1/4-cup) servings
* The original recipe suggested frozen ravioli but I prefer the size of the tortellini for little mouths.

Stranger Danger

I am a friendly person. Strangers do not scare me, in fact, it is not uncommon for me to engage in conversations with random people at the park or waiting in line. Usually I can read people’s body language pretty well too, which helps me discern a little, I think , about whether or not I even want to encourage a connection with a complete stranger. It is on rare occasion that I am taken completely off-guard by one of these encounters.

Yesterday, I received an unexpected phone call from a friend asking me to meet them for lunch during their break. Perfect timing, I thought, since I was famished and currently on my way out the door to buy groceries. (As we moms all know, grocery shopping on an empty stomach is NEVER a good idea.) She had one quick errand to finish so I offered to head over to the restaurant and get us a table.

Yesterday was beautiful – sunny and 60 degrees. I love the sun. It just makes the most ordinary day extraordinary. Happy.

An elderly gentlemen with a cane was approaching the front door at the same time that I was, so I decided to hold the door open for him. He smiled and thanked me accordingly. Since we both stepped inside about the same time, the hostess just assumed we were together and asked, “table for two?”. I was in no hurry so was quite content to let this gentlemen get seated ahead of me, but he spoke up first.

“No, this young lady was here first. She was just opening the door for me.”

I smiled and thanked him, following the hostess to a booth near the back. A few minutes passed and then the same gentlemen was standing next to my table.

“I guess it was fate that brought us together, ” he said, “because now they are seating me right behind you.”

I did find a gentleness in his humor and decided to make a quip back.

“Looks like it! I guess you should just eat lunch with me then, ” I joked.

The gentlemen thought for a moment then replied, “Are you waiting for a male or a female?”

That puzzled me – what difference did that make, but whatever. Small talk is small talk.

“My friend is a female.”

“Well, in that case, ” he smiled, “I would LOVE to eat lunch with you.” And he preceded to sit in the seat opposite me, put down his cane, and start perusing the menu.

I was stunned. We chatted for a few minutes. Perhaps he is just joking, I thought, but then when our waitress came back he proudly announced, “This young lady just invited me to eat lunch with her and her friend.”

Yeah, no. This was not a joke.

“So, ” I started, “Do you have any children or family?”

He arranged his utensils to the side, placed a napkin in his lap. “No – I have really bad social skills. No one has ever been able to stand me for too long.”

He wasn’t smiling either when he said this. I assume it was also not meant as a joke. Any minute I was expecting Peter Funt to pop out of the kitchen and say, “You’re on Candid Camera.” (Because let’s face it, Ashton Kutcher is just never going to punk me no matter how hard a wish it to be true.)

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my friend searching for me. Of course she was looking for one woman waiting patiently, alone, not a crazy woman eating with an elderly stranger. I quickly excused myself and ran to greet her and explain the predicament. Thankfully she didn’t turn tail and run but joined me and my new table mate.

We had a relatively polite conversation, me carrying most of it unfortunately, until my friend excused herself to go back to work. A few minutes later I finished my lunch as well and thanked Him for his company. I called my girlfriend as soon as I got in the car. Her response?

“Only you…only you.”

Intervention Needed

Hello, my name is Emily and I am a carboholic.

The shakes start early in the morning after sleeping off a carb coma from the day before. Bagels beckon, preferably Everything or Onion. I crave salt and savory, not sweet. By lunchtime I am in need of a second hit – thick slices of sandwich bread. Sometimes I can get by with just a quick tortilla wrap or pita pocket. I also know all the places that offer my favorite chips on the side. Thick and crispy Salt and Vinegar. Sometimes Salt and Black pepper will do in an emergency. And of course, what southern raised cook would serve dinner without some sort of bread or pasta? I easily have three good-sized portions of carbs a day. Carbs comfort in times of stress. Carbs create opportunities to commune with friends. Of course, my favorite form of carbohydrates come in liquid. They go down smooth at the end of a long day. A glass of wine. A swig of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

As if the addiction wasn’t bad enough, it turns out I am allergic to carbohydrates. They make me break out all over in fat. I tried going cold-turkey once. DW and I went on the South Beach Diet but after a couple of days I was seeing spots and experiencing fainting spells. Handfuls of rubbery string-cheese just does not fill the void.

Oh so good.
But last night I hit rock bottom. It was 10pm and I found myself in bed watching television. An ice-cold one in one hand, a bag of Salt and Vinegar in the other. Originally I had planned on watching an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, but the guilt and feelings of conviction were just too overwhelming. I settled for Parenthood. I had an old kitchen towel draped over my chest to catch crumbs, and since DW was sleeping the sound was way too low to hear over the crunching of chips; I had to quickly snarf a few between commercial breaks. Pathetic, I know. This morning my fingers are stiff sausages, bloated nubs.

I think I need an intervention, but it will have to wait until next week. This is PMS week, a.k.a. as Pardon My Shit week. Probably not the best time to initiate a detox – I doubt my children or DW would be prepared for the onslaught of irrational emotional outbursts over the placement of shoes in the mud-room. Perhaps I could start small – elliminate carbs from one meal of the day – skip the 2pm pantry call.

Tomorrow. I’ll start tomorrow.

Seriously, you did NOT just say that!

Overheard conversation number one while having breakfast at IHOP, three young moms having some girl time:

Mom #1: “I just can’t believe how much weight I’ve gained this pregnancy. 50 lbs already! It’s hard to believe that one baby could add so much.”

Mom#2: “I know what you mean – I gained 65 with my second.”

Mom#3: “What’s worse is trying to lose it all – OMG! Nine months on, nine months off isn’t accurate either. It feels like it is going to take nine years to get back to pre-baby weight!”

Silence while they eat some breakfast. Then the conversation shifts.

Mom#1: “OMG – you won’t believe how I’ve been eating lately! Last night I watched T.V. while snarfing almost an entire box of Vanilla Wafers with a can of whipped-cream for dinner.”

Mom #2: “Seriously? That’s nothing, when I was pregnant I couldn’t get enough doughnuts – I ate them morning, noon, and night!”

Mom#3: “I know, right? Eating for two is crazy!”

Overheard conversation number two while waiting in a doctor’s office. It became known that one of the moms had adopted a family member’s child.

Mom #1: “Yeah, he’s adopted.”

Mom#2: “Good for you. We’ve adopted 3 children ourselves, all with special needs.”

Mom #1: “It was the best option for our family. Plus then we get money from the state that way.”

Mom #2: “Well, sure. We get more money for special needs children than regular children. But it sure doesn’t pay as well as we thought it would.”

Actual conversation I had at the grocery store while buying Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Cashier: “Can I see your i.d. please?”

Me: “Of course!”

I’m smiling thinking that for running into the grocery store without make-up, glasses and a baseball cap it’s still nice to be asked for my i.d. – even if secretly I know that all of the cashiers are required to ask for i.d.’s from people they suspect to be 50 and over.

Cashier: “Dude! Like what happened?”

Me: “What happened to what?”

Cashier: “What happened to you? You’re like, hot in this i.d. picture and so not in real life.”

Scrapbooking, Friendship and Mike’s Hard Lemonade

When I first moved here almost 9 years ago, the only person I knew was my husband and three-year old daughter. We had no family or friends. DW smartly bought a house soon after getting his first job, establishing credit and a future family. It was a perfect first house for us, in a cozy neighborhood. There were sidewalks begging to be chalked, neighboring yards to wander through and families to share a summer meal. Settling in during the summer was perfect. It gave me lots of opportunities to meet people since all of the moms were outside most of the day.

The first family I met lived directly behind our home. We shared a short fence-line, our children shared their sandbox. There were no pretenses with this mom. What you see is what you get – and I love that about her. My new friend was quick to let me know the scoop on the neighborhood, the schools, the community – but she was even more speedy with invitations to spend time together. She was my first Michigan friend.

Through her I met two more ladies from the neighborhood, and quickly fell into a pattern of weekend cook-outs, weekly phone calls and playdates for our kids. It felt as comfortable as if we had known each other our whole lives. What strikes me the most, is that these women do not gossip about each other or knit-pick. They do not treat work or motherhood as a competition. All of them share their strengths and lovingly encourage one another through their weaknesses. They vacation together, they counsel one another, they party together and sometimes co-parent together. And amazingly they included me in this friendship family unconditionally.

That summer was simple. Everyone was outside enjoying the sunshine. September and October lacked the warmth of sunshine, but still blanketed our families in time together apple picking, pumpkin patches and the change of seasons. Gradually less and less children were heard echoing over yards and sidewalks until November’s wind drove most of us inside for shelter. It didn’t seem so bad at first. I drank a lot of hot chocolate that fall and kept a very tidy house. And since I was pregnant, there was plenty of excitement and preparation for a spring baby. That lasted about two weeks. I was incredibly lonely and now instead of boating or lake invites, everyone just seemed to have evaporated. There was an ugly rumor that my three new BFF’s spent their time scrapbooking on the weekends up at the golf club near our neighborhood.

Impossible, I thought. These were smart women – they seemed pretty normal. It seemed unimaginable to me that they would find fun sitting around cutting paper and gluing stuff. I thought only introverted, nerdy types “crafted”. What kind of a woman gets excited about something called a tape-runner? The invitations came but I always had “something to do”. But a few weeks went by and I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to be around them. I missed them, so I headed up to JoAnn’s and grabbed everything and anything that looked “crafty” to me and headed to the golf club. There were about 20 ladies set up at tables, surrounded by various arrays of supplies “cropping”.

I will admit that I carried a tote of smugness that afternoon. I was not a “crafter”, and prided myself on being more of a creative spirit, but as I walked around that room my smugness turned to shame. These ladies had beautiful pages – they were filled with journaling and snippets of their family’s lives. Pages chronicling everything from the birth of a new baby to the loss of a loved one. This was not a room of nerdy introverts, this was an oasis of comfort and remembrance. On top of that, this was a room of support and friends enjoying time together. They gave advice, they listened, they cried and they laughed together. And for the last 8 1/2 years I have been hooked.

Life is good.
Our scrapbooking skills have increased over the years, and our scrapbooking buddies have slightly changed but the three incredible women I first became friends with are still my closest friends. In fact, my first Michigan friend is now a Close to My Heart consultant. Two years ago I moved about an hour north of them and see them much less now. We try our best to email and call when we can – but it is much harder to just “run on over” for a Mike’s Hard Lemonade and pizza on a friday night when you don’t live in someone’s back yard. Sometimes weeks, even months, will go by when I haven’t spoken or seen them and I start to worry that I have lost some of that intimacy.

Recent cruise trip to celebrate a 40th Birthday.
Foolishness. When hearts entwine the way ours have it is next to impossible to untangle them, and this weekend is a good reminder. This weekend is Stamp Camp – a weekend of scrapbooking, card making and craft projects. I was a little apprehensive about how long it might take to get into our groove, but the minute we saw each other Friday evening, one hug reminded me how deep our friendship ran. It was as if we saw each other every day again. Every celebration, every loss, every joy and every disappointment we have shared over the years wrapped me in contentment.

And many of my scrapbooking pages would say the same thing.