Journal Entry: When February 29th Comes Calling

I always think of my maternal grandmother, Alberta Sullivan Joslin, affectionately known as ‘Bobbie’ to her family and friends, on February 29th, which was her birthday. To me, though, she was simply ‘Bob Mama.’ I don’t have many photos of her; she was only 19 in that one, which is a photo I made of a blurry copy of the photo my mama made for me some time ago.

I knew my beloved Bob Mama for the first four years of my life in Knoxville, and then the next year when our family moved to Memphis after my dad finished his degree, Bob Mama routinely sent letters to me from Knoxville, cleverly crafted to teach me how to read. She carefully printed gigantic block letters to form words in a sentence, broken up here and there by images she’d cut out of a magazine or catalog and glue onto the paper in place of other words; these missives were always many pages long. I was crazy excited when an envelope from Bob Mama arrived in our mailbox; my mama would pull me onto her lap and point to each word for me to read aloud, prompting me with sounds when I stumbled.

I always felt bad that Bob Mama’s birthday came in earnest only once every four years, although, as my mama reassured me, she still got to have presents and cake and ice cream, but on February 28th instead, when it was not a leap year. I loved Bob Mama so much, but we lost her that first year we were in Memphis, when she died a few days after suffering a massive coronary. Her premature death always served as a cautionary tale for me about the hazards of an unhealthy lifestyle—she was a heavy smoker and a workaholic, an ambitious woman who spent many of my own mom’s 18 years growing up trying to hold down the fort as a single parent. Lately my lifestyle has been healthy just about beyond reproach, which is to say, pretty dang healthy.

This morning after I came home from yoga I made soup from a recipe I chose in part for its healthfulness, but also because I wanted to use up some pork tenderloin that had been hanging around in the freezer. And while this soup has a chicken stock base and includes meat as a mainstay, if you wanted to make it vegetarian or vegan, you could easily use vegetable stock instead, and substitute any of a number of yummy vegan ‘meats’ or tofu for the pork.

Be advised: This soup has tons of kale in it. And refreshingly, it calls for mature kale, and not the fancy baby stuff that comes in the little plastic box. I don’t mind that kind of kale, but once in a while it’s nice to go for the chewier, grown-up version. Anyway, kale gets a bad rap, or at least lots of eye rolling; I find it yummy.

I leaned on The Chef for advice on removing the veins; I really just needed a demonstration, but he offered to finish de-veining the entire bunch and made fast work of it.

Here’s one of the nifty new produce bags Santa left in The Chef’s stocking this past Christmas:

We bring ’em to the store with us and use them in lieu of plastic produce bags. You can also wash the produce right in the bag and let it drain in the sink, which is a neato feature. Up in these parts plastic grocery bags are being banished, but not the plastic produce bags; still, we’re trying to reduce how much plastic we consume. And lately I’ve starting toting my breakfast sandwich to work wrapped in wax paper or parchment instead of a plastic zipper bag.

This soup recipe also called for canned white beans, but since my ex-sister-in-law-but-still-my-sister gave us so many beans from this fabulous company for Christmas, that seemed completely senseless. After inventorying our collection, The Chef suggested these as a stand-in:

So Friday night we soaked ’em, Saturday we cooked them, and today they were ready to go into the soup.

This soup also calls for onion and four cloves of garlic; that is a lot of garlic, but can one ever really have too much garlic? I think not.

It also calls for plum tomatoes, which is a good thing since it is hellish Vermontish winter right now, and there’s not a good tomato to be had anywhere, except these Kumato tomatoes, which are a new discovery for me; I’m rawther obsessed with them at the moment.

Whenever any kind of meat hits a hot pan in our kitchen, a certain canine I know is bound to show up and offer his assistance; he is so helpful that way.

I made a couple of other adjustments to this recipe in the name of healthfulness, including using olive oil spray in a nonstick wok instead of olive oil in a stock pot. I also left the salt out of the soup completely, and I dumped in about twice as much crushed red pepper as the recipe calls for, because we like spicy in this house.

While the soup was going, I shot a few images of some of the flowers around the house right now. Even though they’re fading, the daffodils are so cheerful and remind me of Knoxville; we’ll probably have a few clumps poking through the soil up this way before too much longer, but then something stupid will happen, like the temperature will take a nose dive and we’ll have sleet that will ruin everything that was brave enough to start blooming.

The soup’s all apportioned out into containers; I’ll take it to work and have it for lunch all week long.

My soundtrack for soup making today was the Beatles’ White Album, the 2019 remastering of it by Giles Martin, son of the Beatles’ late producer, Sir George Martin. I gave it to my dad—a consummate Beatles fan—as a Christmas gift year before last, and when we were down in Chattanooga last summer, he handed the entire package back to me to take home to Vermont and enjoy; I pretty much cut my teeth on The Beatles and Tchaikovsky in equal parts. But this morning I woke up with a “Revolution 1” earworm, and the best way to cure that condition is to listen to the song. It’s kind of a gritty song and feels especially relevant right now. And anyway, I’m in a gritty mood, as I am every late February or early March, at the prospect of Still Winter. I leave you with this video, which is not clean or remastered at all, but completely authentic Beatles. Betcha anything Paul likes kale.

P.S. Last weekend instead of blogging I published a thing over on LinkedIn about writing digital content; go and have a look-see if you are so inclined.

2 thoughts on “Journal Entry: When February 29th Comes Calling

  1. I am not a kale fan when it is raw but put it in a soup and I love it! I had a recipe that called for cavolo nero and I had no idea what it was. A little search and now I make that soup all the time substituting regular kale instead of the fancy stuff! Genetically we can be predisposed to physical ailments but in most instances proper diet and exercise can turn the tables and grant us a long and healthy existence…

    • I had to look up ‘cavolo nero’ and it is so pretty! I’m sure we have nothing that fancy or exotic in these parts, but perhaps right down the road in Pittsfield, MA. I’m a big believer in the ethos, ‘your body is a temple’ and preach it to anybody who will listen. One time a sports therapist at a gym I joined was doing a “welcome” evaluation on me that somehow calculated my projected lifespan based on family history. When she added my Bob Mama’s early death, the algorithm spat out a projected lifespan of 72 for me, to which I stridently objected based on the dramatic difference in lifestyle choices. Fell on deaf ears, but time will tell, I suppose: I’m still a long ways off from 72. 🙂 Thanks for stoppin’ by. ~Deb

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