Kale & Cauliflower Soup

The Story

Mama loved soup. By which I mean, she loved soup. She loved to make it and eat it and clean out the refrigerator into her Revere Ware pot, and she loved to preserve it. There were so many half-pint yogurt containers in the freezer developing freezer burn, I couldn’t keep up with it. When yogurt packagers stopped putting plastic lids on one-serving containers (a travesty), she covered them with plastic wrap and, foil, securing it with freezer tape or a rubber band. She went through a lot of freezer tape. She spent hours in the kitchen making soup when she couldn’t do much more.

I like soup . . . not so much. Fortunately I do like to make it, and there are stories in my memoir about making Mama soup, and of me learning to use the vegetables she bought at the farmer’s market that I would never have bought. And avoiding using the recipes she gave me from her worn out cookbooks, finding more interesting ones on the internet and not telling her. (The Therapeutic Lie in action. See Tips & Tools.) I rarely used her beloved VitaMix, especially after once being called to the kitchen to be scolded for pushing off buttons in the wrong order. Instead, I burned out the motor on the hand held immersion blender my sister gave Mama, which she never used.

Here is one we both liked.

The Recipe


1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
5 Tbs. (3 fl. oz./80 ml) olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large bunch curly kale, stems removed, leaves torn into
  1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
7 cups (56 fl. oz./1.75 l) chicken or vegetable broth
1/3 cup (1 3/4 oz./50 g) pine nuts, toasted


Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and the edges are browned and crisp, about 22 minutes. Reduce the oven to 300°F (150°C).

In a bowl, toss half of the kale with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and season with salt. Place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast, stirring once halfway through, until the kale is crispy, 26 to 28 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower and broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining kale, increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a VitaMix (or other) blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Top with the crispy kale and pine nuts and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Cookie Conundrum

Mama is on a mission to find the best chocolate chip cookie, and Michelle is her unwitting accomplice. Can she make them the same way—per Mama’s instructions—using the same ingredients, and have them come out different? No. Today was cookie day, and Mama isn’t happy with the outcome.

“What was wrong this time?” I ask when I come to the kitchen to start dinner and she launches into her complaints. I’m determined to let her get it out without getting involved, and without mentioning there are two bags of cookies in the freezer and why did she need more anyway.

“They were too sweet!” she exclaims, like I should have known.

“They are cookies,” I say lightly. She ignores my comment.

“I told Michelle to use a teaspoon less sugar, but she doesn’t listen to instructions.”

“A teaspoon isn’t enough to make a difference,” I say, filling two pots with water for two kinds of pasta and putting them on the stove to boil. “If the recipe calls for half a cup of white sugar and half a cup of brown sugar, leave out all the white.” So much for not getting involved.

“Maybe you should make me cookies,” she snips, the since you know so much implied in her tone.

“Not a chance,” I say. She isn’t going to rob me of cookie-baking joy by hovering over me and then complaining about the outcome.

“I want Tollhouse cookies,” she says, pulling the brand name recipe out of her memory bank where everything is better than real life.

“Then use the Tollhouse recipe!” I say a little louder than necessary. I’m getting testy. I should drop it. I get the angel hair pasta out of the drawer for her and the penne for me. Angel hair is the only pasta she will eat, except when she won’t, and I didn’t get pre-approval.

“Maybe it was the chocolate chips,” she muses. “I like other kinds better than Ghirardelli.”

I take a deep breath. “Then stop putting Ghirardelli on your grocery list.” I’m going to lose my mind. I open my mouth to tell her that taste is one of the first things to go when the brain gets old, then clamp my lips shut. She is no longer interested in information, at least from me. Nothing will move her off her conviction that someone has failed her; arguing truth or rationality is futile, as is suggesting that something, though different from her memory, might still be delightful.

“What are you cooking for dinner?” she asks, as I drop the pasta into the boiling water.

“Pasta with chicken and asparagus.”

“I don’t think I can eat pasta tonight. And asparagus is out of season; it’s probably not good.” Finally, I am silent.

Walking with My Mother at the Mall on Super Bowl Sunday

My mother never stopped being keen about walking, even when she could no longer walk in her beloved woods. The safest place for her to exercise is the Lewis County Mall, where she picks up a cart outside the Sears store and pushes it around and around the mall’s small interior.
On Super Bowl Sunday, I take her to walk. The mall is dark, the main doors locked. Let me explain the Lewis County Mall. There are only two stores: Sears and the scary “sporting goods” store, with dead animal heads on the walls and a pink t-shirt in the window sporting a knock-off of the Starbucks logo that says, “I love guns and coffee.” It was closed for the game. Other than that it’s all county services offices, also closed on Sunday. Hence the lockdown.
We enter through the Sears’ doors, past the clerks wearing Seahawks shirts, calling “Go Hawks!” to us.
“Who are the Seahawks playing against?” Mama asks me once we get a cart and begin our slow ramble.
“I have no idea,” I say.
She laughs. It’s a sound I rarely hear anymore.
“Does the winner go to the Rose Bowl?” she asks.
“I think so,” I say.


The Typewriter and the Blog

My mother’s Remington Rand manual typewriter sits on a cabinet near my desk. She made her living with a typewriter as a young woman, and then as she waited out WWII for her husband of six weeks to return from Europe. The old typewriter represents a connection to my mother that the electric one I learned on did not, and the laptop I use now can’t begin to. I picture her typing dictation at her desk on Air Force bases during World War II, waiting for the war to end and her new husband to return. She tried an electric typewriter in later years, and a word processor that my father learned to use, but the touch on both was too sensitive. And so she stuck with an enormous manual machine that replaced the small one (and is also still in the house). I still hear the clickity clacking as she typed her own letters to the newspaper editor and complaints of grammatical errors to Time magazine for my father. The Remington Rand is the header on my Facebook writer page and is the photo behind the blog link on this website’s home page. It grounds me. It brings her back to me.

I learned to type in a six-week summer course in high school—missing two weeks to go to a Girl Scout event. I typed college papers on an electric Smith Corona with an erase ribbon and, a few years later, my husband’s master’s thesis (twice) on a rented IBM Selectric. When it came time, in the early 1980s, to type his doctoral dissertation, I entered the first draft on a keyboard on campus where it went to a room-sized “computer” in another building. When my family finally got a home computer around 1986, I fell in love with typing for the first time.

The turning point in my writing life was the first writing class I took, in mid-life. It was a six-session adult learning course at a local college. Near the end of the course, the teacher casually mentioned blogging. It was 2010; I had never read anyone’s blog, nor considered that I might have something to say in one. But the comment changed my life. I didn’t have to have a tower room, write books, or aspire to finding a publisher to be a public writer. I almost immediately stopped keeping a hand-written private journal and switched to—hopefully—more inspired writing. When I moved “home,” across the country to care for my mother in my childhood home, I switched from writing about the garden to writing about being a family caregiver. When my mother died, I started another new blog about my adventures in the Pacific Northwest; and I turned my Daughter on Duty blog into a book, Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver, typed on a MacBook Air.

A casual mention of blogging. It changed everything.

You can read my very first blog post here.