COMFORTING POTATO SOUP

Remember life before smartphones?

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Like the folks in these vintage photos that I found on ebay, I spent the better part of the last couple of weeks laying around.  We had plans to go out for my husband’s birthday in the middle of April, but earlier in the day I experienced sudden, severe abdominal pain, that lasted for the next few days, and had me confined to my bed.  It let up for a few days, but after a week, it seemed to only be getting worse, and so on my birthday (which is a week after my husband’s), I spent the day in urgent care, where I discovered I had diverticulitis with complications.  I was sent to the hospital via ambulance, where I spent 6 miserable days.  Worst birthday ever.

I am surprised at how long it has taken me to get back to my old self.  The first week back at home I barely moved off the sofa.  Apart from the fact that I was still recovering, I had no energy.  The antibiotics — for which I am grateful — wreaked their own special kind of havoc.

For about 3 weeks, I either had no appetite, or was so overwhelmed by nausea that I couldn’t eat.  Even the smell of food made me sick.  When I did start feeling well enough to eat, I craved bland, comfort foods — things like macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes with butter, pasta with butter, anything with butter.  I’m back to eating normally, but I might have to have just one more bowl of pasta with butter (don’t judge).

On one of my son’s visits to me in the hospital, he hugged me as he was leaving and whispered in my ear, “I need you to come home, Mom.”  So touching.  “Why?” I asked.  He whispered, “I need you to go to the grocery store and to cook.”  Oh well, at least he missed me — have to count your blessings where you find them.

Inspired by the photos of the couch potatoes, when I finally felt sort of well enough to venture back into the kitchen, I made a big pot of potato soup, which my son requested and which sounded pretty good to me.  Making the soup in my debilitated state, however, about killed me.  My mise en place was more like mise en plotz.  I fried up the chopped bacon, then had to go sit down for 10 minutes.  Chopped the carrots and celery, and had to lay down for 15 minutes.  Peeling and dicing the potatoes was almost a deal-breaker, but a cold soda and a half-hour of laying on the couch and watching TV recharged me.  Eventually I was able to finish the soup.  It was comforting and delicious, and marked the beginning of a return to normalcy, for which I am very thankful.

You should find the soup considerably easier to make.  Have everything chopped in advance, and it will come together in no time.  It’s slightly adapted from the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Perfect Potato Soup.  My whole family loves it, and I have no doubt yours will too.

COMFORTING POTATO SOUP
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Ingredients
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into ½" pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk (low-fat is OK)
  • ½ cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated cheddar, optional topping
  • Chopped chives or green onions, optional topping
Instructions
  1. Place bacon in a large stockpot over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel, and reserve for sprinkling on top of soup. Pour off all but approximately 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.
  2. Add the carrots and the celery to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, then add the potatoes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are very tender, approximately 15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together milk and flour, and add to soup. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then add onion powder and garlic powder, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Puree the soup using an immersion (stick) blender (preferred) or blender. (If using a blender, puree soup in batches, filling blender no more than half full, to avoid having hot soup explode out of the blender.)
  4. Return pureed soup to pot. Stir in half and half. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot garnished with bacon pieces, grated cheddar, and chives or green onions, as desired.

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Potato soup — it’s good for what ails you

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I <3 potatoes

GOODBYE TO LILO

Last week we said goodbye to Lilo, our sweet shar pei:

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Lilo was just shy of 11 years old, and lived longer than any of our other three shar peis, which was incredible given all of her health problems.  You may have heard that shar peis are prone to a host of health issues, and Lilo had, I believe, all of them, including chronic ear infections, swollen hock syndrome, and entropion.

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Lilo joined our family when she was 10 months old.  We had owned two shar peis — Dexter and Har Gow — who were best friends.  When Har Gow died unexpectedly, we needed a new companion for Dexter on an urgent basis.  We contacted Har Gow’s breeder, and the only dog she had available was Lilo.  She told us that Lilo had been with two other families, but it didn’t work out (including a vague story about an elderly owner that couldn’t care for her).  The breeder assured us that Lilo was a great dog without any problems.  She sent us these photos:

In hindsight, nothing the breeder told us really added up.  As soon as Lilo arrived, we knew she was not as the breeder represented.  She was, for lack of a better word, dull. We subsequently learned that her mother had died during childbirth, which the breeder neglected to mention, which explained a lot.  She had a cherry eye, which the breeder also neglected to mention.  She also forgot to mention that she had tacked Lilo’s eyelids twice, but that it had failed to correct the drooping eyelids (we never really did see Lilo’s eyes).  Lilo was timid, and cowered every time my husband came near her (for at least six or seven years), which led us to believe that she had been abused at some point, although the breeder denied it.  She wasn’t cuddly or playful, and fought with Dexter.  After a few months we contacted the breeder about sending her back.  But then, as if Lilo understood our conversations, she suddenly quit fighting with Dexter and settled in, as though she realized staying with us was maybe not so terrible.

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Dexter and Lilo

So if Lilo wasn’t smart or cuddly or playful, what was she?

She was ours.

We all grew on each other, and Lilo became an integral part of our family.  She was a fierce watchdog, with a menacing bark.  She stayed close to us, and was always right there begging for table scraps.  She slept in our room and snored loudly — we used to joke that it was our white noise, kind of like falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.  If you put your face up to her muzzle, she would reward you with wet sloppy kisses.  She loved to lay in the driveway and soak up the sunshine.  She hated thunderstorms and loved marrow bones.  No matter where she was in the house, and no matter how swollen and painful her hocks were, if she heard the treat drawer open, she came running.  She was our Lilo.

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My Facebook followers knew Lilo as “stalker dog,” and I loved to photograph her poking around corners:

Dexter died in 2010, and we now have two duck tolling retrievers — Jasper and Maisy — wiith whom Lilo got along just fine.

We noticed a few weeks ago that Lilo had suddenly lost a lot of weight and was becoming disoriented, and we knew that our time with her was drawing to a close.  We agreed that as long as she didn’t appear to be in pain, we wouldn’t put her down.  And so we provided Lilo with the best hospice care we were capable of, and hoped that she wouldn’t suffer.  I don’t know if that was the right decision, but it was our decision.  It was hard watching her go.  It was like watching a shopkeeper close up for the night — first he hangs the closed sign, then he sweeps up, empties the cash register, closes the lights, and finally, he locks the door.  A few days before she died, Lilo hung up the closed sign and stopped eating and drinking.  Then she became bedridden.  She was not really alert in the day or two prior to her death.  And then, finally, she closed the lights and locked the door.  My employers, who are decent people, were understanding, and I was able to be with Lilo in those final few days, staying by her, comforting her.

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Jasper kept the vigil too, watching over her.

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In a final act of love and compassion, after Lilo passed away my husband cleaned her up before we took her body to the vet for cremation, bathing and blow-drying her.  He swaddled her in a fluffy clean blanket, and cradled her as we sat in the vet’s lobby waiting for assistance.

She was ours.

Rest in peace, sweet Lilo.  We love you.

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