Our kids’ preschool program has a lovely secure members’ page online, where they not only have access to a webcam so you can check on your kids during the day (a very cool bonus, though I don’t often use it), but also keep archives of parent notices, class calendars, nurse’s notes, etc. for handy reference. Every once in a while, I actually remember to check it. I guess it gets major points for being eco-friendly — we don’t get lots of paper notices sent home — but the downside is that I’m not always as up to speed as I should be; even the most involved of parents can easily forget to sign on regularly and check for the latest news. (This, by the way, is not a criticism of the school or the system, both of which are fine; it’s a critique of us, the parents, who need to retrain our brains to stay in touch with the goings-on at our kids’ school.)
Anyway, thankfully, I did check it recently, and found a nice note in the monthly newsletters for the boys’ classrooms that asked parents to send in vegetables for a project. Each class was assigned a specific vegetable; today was drop-off day, and we marched in proudly with a bag of carrots and a box of small onions, both from Zephyr Farm, both bearing the marks of being truly locally grown and not at all homogenized, picked over, or prettied up for sale to the public (the carrots were in such interesting shapes that I actually wondered if some of the kids would recognize them as carrots). Apparently the vegetables are going to be used to make vegetable soup, using the “stone soup” premise of taking all that each classroom has to offer and putting it in the pot.
Naturally, I’m thrilled with this idea — I love the “Stone Soup” concept anyway, and in my mind, it’s one of those rites of passage in early childhood education to do one of these collaborative potluck projects. And I’m tickled pink that it’s a vegetable soup. Whether or not I actually think my kids will eat it — and they may or may not — the fact that they’ll be making food that doesn’t involve sugar, graham crackers, pretzels, candy, icing, sprinkles, Jell-O, doodads, whatnots, or any of the other edible nonsense that most preschools fall back on when doing “cooking” projects is a big home run in my book. As part of that new healthy snack initiative, this is definitely one of the highlights. Plus, I was psyched that J. and I actually remembered to bring in the carrots and onions on time. Too bad it came at the expense of us forgetting to pack our own lunches.
Anyway, the vegetable soup project does have me wondering whether or not L. and P. will have anything to do with tasting the final product. Good eaters or not, they’re mainly good eaters in the realm of things that Mommy makes for them, and I will admit that I have never, to my recollection, made a vegetable soup that resembles the one they’ll be concocting with their classmates. In some ways I have to think that P. will be the more likely candidate to eat some of it — he tends to be somewhat friendly towards vegetables, even if he doesn’t fully ingest them (last night at dinner, he chewed voraciously on stir-fried green beans, but I don’t know that any actual particles of bean ended up in his stomach; the remains of gnawed, slobbery green bean were all over the table and floor around his chair). L., on the other hand, has tended to historically be somewhat more cautious about whole pieces of vegetable; but now that he’s four, he does (with reservation) eat actual chunks of carrot…sometimes. And green beans…sometimes…more often if we let him have ketchup with them. And peas…sometimes. And corn…sometimes….
It’s not that L.’s vegetable-averse, it’s just that he’s more likely to eat them wholeheartedly, and enjoy them, if they’re prepared in purees, or shredded, or made into sauce, or baked into bread, or one of the other ways that we tend to make them in our house. I do very frequently offer just plain old steamed, roasted, grilled, or stir-fried pieces of vegetable, but those are always a harder sell for him. So naturally, I’ve never bothered to make something like a minestrone, with recognizable vegetables floating in the broth; my own desire to eat something of that ilk isn’t strong enough to make me want to sit there watching him poke disgustedly at his bowl throughout an entire dinner.
That realization made me think about vegetable soups in general, and whether or not there is ANY vegetable soup in the world that my kids do eat. The answer, of course, is yes. I tend not to think of these items as “vegetable soups” — I think of them in terms of their key ingredients — but in fact, L. and P. have each enjoyed a fair number of different vegetable soups in their lifetimes. And with the weather turning cooler by the day, and fall produce starting to creep in at the market (I bought local, organic sweet potatoes this weekend!), you can bet that those soups and stews will start to show up on our dinner menus.
The favorite, by far, seems to be a soup that my mother-in-law first made several years ago at Thanksgiving. Since our marriage, J. and I have always spent Thanksgiving with his family, who live nearby, and Christmas with my family, who are farther away. Some years ago, J.’s mother, G., got the idea that we should all have a soup and salad lunch together on Thanksgiving Day, to welcome the far-flung relatives driving in from other places, and to tide us all over until the big dinner. That year, she cut a recipe out of the local newspaper and asked if I’d help her make it for the first annual Soup-giving feast: Butternut Squash and Pear Soup.
I helped her make it, it was delicious, and I never wrote down the recipe because it seemed so darned simple. Frankly, having made it once, I was sure I could nail it. Now it’s become such a part of our repertoire that I have no idea how closely related my version is to the original recipe, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s still darned good. It’s one of the only soups in the world that I can pretty much count on L. eating to any real extent (dipping the corners of his grilled cheese into my homemade roasted tomato soup doesn’t count), and one of the only ways in which I’ve ever seen P. eat butternut squash (of course he’d have an aversion to his brother’s favorite vegetable. These children take no mercy on me). Now that the first butternuts are starting to show up on the farm stands, and the preschool project has given me vegetable soup on the brain, I’m starting to get the itch. I see by the calendar that it’s nearly time to write the meal plan for October. Guess what’s going to be on it?