Shotgun Soup

In Canada growing up poor is shotgun soup.   Anyone who is living paycheck to paycheck or grew up in a household that lived paycheck to paycheck might have an idea to what I am referring.  In their home it might be called “casserole surprise!” or “mishmash hash” but whatever you call it there is no mistaking the ungodly union of yesterday’s leftovers with the leftovers from last week.  My Mom liked to add water to the mix and because we weren’t quite sure what was in it, it was christened “shotgun soup” because it truly was a shotgun blast of unidentifiable food leftovers.   There is nothing like eating a twice cooked piece of pasta while pondering if the orange mush clinging to it is sweet potato or carrots.

When you are a kid running home from school, hungry to devour whatever tasty snacks are to be found in the fridge, disappointment doesn’t come much harsher than shotgun soup.  As soon as you saw the chilled vat sitting in the fridge you knew payday was two days away and there wasn’t a fresh piece of fruit to be found.  Forget cereal: the milk was all gone and you had tried Corn Flakes with water before and it sucked.  Toast?  Ha, in your dreams.  The peanut butter and jam were gone too.  The next day of school you were getting crackers stuck together with margarine and some carrot sticks that had lost their crunch 5 days ago.  You just needed to survive to Friday when Mom got paid.  Until then, you decided it was a better idea to play over at your friend’s house where they had an ample supply of Cheez Whiz.

I wish shotgun soup was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten but poverty has end members of feast and famine.   We never starved but I contemplated not eating for a few days so I could avoid tofu pie.  This was the era before YouTube and the Food Network so even though today tofu pie might exist somewhere out there on the website of a vegan hipster promoting local organic food with gourmet twists on once unpalatable food, my Mom took a stab at this sometime in the early 90s.  It did not go well.  There were two things left in the kitchen that week, besides the flour and lard which never went anywhere: tofu and jars of mincemeat.  I wish I could say the mincemeat was bought at a farmer’s market or a trendy boutique food store but sadly it was the clearance jars of mincemeat found in bins at the grocery store after Christmas.  For some reason my Mom had decided to stockpile several jars – I can only assume she knew this day was coming.  Except on that day there was tofu in the fridge and my Mom, wanting to be sure we didn’t sugar crash on mincemeat pie, added the tofu to satisfy our protein requirements for the remainder of the week.  Tofu mincemeat pie is a sickly grey color.  There is nothing that can prepare you for the first bites of this horrendous combination and I was hungry for several days before I attempted it again.  Hunger can render anything palatable.  By the end of the week, we were onto pie #3 and by then my mind and taste buds had decided tofu mincemeat pie was just fine.

Three days ago, I decided it would be a great idea to throw some leftovers into the remaining  vegetable soup.  There was steamed kale and carrots, bits of steak and the zingy background of canned soup.  I toasted slices of multigrain bread, spread ample butter to melt on top of it, and then we dipped it into the newly conceptualized melange.  It was good.  Really good.  Though my family is blessed to have a surplus of food, shotgun soup leaves a mark.  Wasting food is not an option but creative reinvention is definitely on the menu.

 

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FRANCE

We got back from France on June 17.  We was myself, my eight year old son and my three year old daughter.  Dad stayed home to tend to the economic fires.  My sister and her family live in Perth, Australia so I thought it would be a great idea to meet them in Marseille, France where her husband’s family resides.  And it was great.  Great for culture, history, family and the stunning beauty of France.  And it was also hard spending three straight weeks with your kids, everyday, every hour, every minute, every second.  I woke up on day 16 to the delightful laughter and screaming of children beckoning me to feed them, feed them, feed them and to find the IPad and Princess Elsa and were we eating chocolate croissants because they love chocolate croissants.  This was into minute two of day sixteen and I lost my mind.  Somewhere in Canada my husband was sleeping deeply, spreading his carefree body across my side of the bed and drinking in the solitude through every pore of his body.  I was burning brioche in the oven and embellishing my exhausted rage with the reckless use of “Fuck.”  My sister, her husband, my nephew and my kids made a hasty retreat to the other room while I embraced the madness of burnt breakfast and unmade coffee.  It was an epic parent fail.

Let’s step back in time.  I am a lover of the unknown.  I have wholeheartedly jumped into adventures to Guatemala, Ecuador, Egypt, Belize and Mexico with nary a concern for research about political unrest, tourist kidnappings or terrorist threats.  I like to arrive wide eyed and blundering so as to catch the locals with their worried stares or offer up predatory hopes to the the knic knack vendors and con men.   After I returned from Guatemala during a university led trip (this was shortly after the end of the civil war but guerrilla groups were still kidnapping tourists), I finally phoned up my parents to tell them where I had been.  It was an afterthought because I was independent and I had paid for the trip myself.   That Christmas, my father, a man not prone to much emotional sharing, gave me a book titled, “World’s  Most Dangerous Places” with Guatemala lovingly earmarked.

Several years have passed since I’ve been on a trip that has surprised my senses or tested my character.   I’ve managed to keep our family away from resorts or Disney cruises but Hawaii or California hardly test one’s mettle.  Don’t get me wrong, a resort would be really relaxing but once you’ve crossed the line into watered down cocktails and Kid’s Club babysitting you’ve entered into easy and easy is scary.  Easy is processed food dinners with high carbohydrate and sugar content, credit cards and binge watching on Netflix.  Easy doesn’t feed the soul,  it builds debt that will eventually need to be repaid.  It doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to suffer through life – I’ve avoided crack and prostitution and still feel surprisingly whole.   I’m just saying France with two children in tow was hard and hard is good.   I found a well of patience hidden in my depths especially after the 9th hour on the plane when my three year old still hadn’t slept and was careening off into irrational fits of squawking and contortions of unrest in her seat.  She fell asleep on landing.

The two best surprises from our trip to France:  my daughter stopping to gaze intently at the same Picasso painting that had captured my attention.  Unlike most of the Picasso artwork at the exhibition which was layered with curvatures and obliques of color, this large painting was centered on a person of singular blue.  It was striking and surreal and shockingly beautiful.  The second best surprise was my eight year old son, sitting across the aisle from me on the plane, striking up a lengthy conversation with two young bearded men from Oman.  I nodded to the men so they knew I was his mother but gave my son space to engage freely with his row companions.  He showed them how to play the onboard video games and they answered his polite questions about their country and themselves.  After landing back in Canada, my son told me they were geologists on their way to the AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) conference in Calgary.   He had told them I was a geologist and I had traveled to Egypt for work and spoke a little Arabic.  The eight year old boy who arrived back in Canada was not the same boy who left for France.  In fact, none of us were.