The Story of a Soup

 The Story of a Soup by Robynn

It was years ago God gave us the Wilson family!

John and Kamala Wilson ran a guest house in the small mountain town of Coonoor in South India. We first checked in to the guest house when our Bronwynn was only 2 months old. We had come, our bedraggled family of five, for rest. We left two weeks later with so much more than that. We had found new friends, a new family! “Uncle Wilson” and “Auntie Kamala”, as our kids came to affectionately call them, invited us into their hearts and lives. They loved us generously and deeply. And it was ever so easy to love them back.

Kamala had been raised by two British missionary women. These two women adopted several girls and raised them as their own. Kamala learned from one to cook and bake and create delightful delicacies in the kitchen. From the other she learned to play the piano and to play games. She became good at both! John grew up in an Anglo-Indian home, thus his very English name. The two of them met at Bible school and married soon afterwards. They had three lovely children, Timothy, Gauis and Sharon.

The guest house, under Wilson and Kamala’s special care, ministered to the bodies as well as to the souls of those who passed through.  Afternoon tea was staged out on the lawn, surrounded by the green tea plantation fields, if the weather allowed.  Kamala always baked up special treats for tea. There was always fresh bread and homemade jam or lemon curd. There was cake or biscuits (of the British variety), a salty snack and of course the tea! In the evening after dinner, there was more tea and a Bible reading and prayers in the sitting room.

Auntie Kamala loved to bake and cook. She collected recipes from various cookbooks but also from international guests that haled from all over! Family recipes for shortbread or lamington or lemon squares, pavlova or trifle were shared with Kamala. She tried out recipes for casseroles, soups and pasta dishes. Each recipe was written down in a little note book or kept in a scrapbook. Each recipe was tested in her little kitchen.

It was there at Coonoor that we first tried Curried Pumpkin and Bacon Soup. We were the only guests and Uncle Wilson had given the staff the day off. Auntie Kamala made us supper that evening. Fresh bread and this amazingly thick consoling bowl of soup! Although it had “curry” in the name, it really wasn’t an Indian recipe. My memory may fail, but it seems to me that Kamala had found that particular recipe in an Australian cookbook that a former guest and friend had gifted her. Here we were South Indians, Americans, Canadians basking in bowls of thick stew-soup who’s recipe had likely been developed with the nostalgia of British “curry” deep down under!  It was amazing.

It was the type of soup that sticks to your ribs and glues friendships together.

Later after we had left India and I reflected on our departure I wrote this about our last visit to Wilson and Kamala (who had since moved on from the guest house):

After packing up and leaving our home for all those years the girls and I flew south to some dear friends where we stayed for one week. I was still physically recovering from staph infection, severe amoebic dysentery and 18 days of antibiotics, let alone the heat, packing, good-bye parties, 1000 last-minute errands and details. Spiritually I was battered and beaten down. Emotionally I was ruined.

Wilson and Kamala were the perfect people to collapse with. They took such gentle care of the girls and I. Auntie Kamala played games, held tea parties, provided crafts and crayons. I took long naps. Wilson fixed hundreds of cups of tea. I sat in a chair in the middle of their sitting room and pathetically cried through nine complete Gaither Homecoming DVDs. In the past I’ve made fun of that music, the hairspray, the makeup, the dramatic, the crescendo—now it was the balm that soothed. Kamala fixed delicious meals to tempt my appetite again.  Their adult children Sharon and Gauis came to visit. There was lots of laughter, lots of love, lots of space to begin to heal.  (Expectations and Burnout 2010, p213)

It is with joy and memory that I can commend this soup to you on this chilly autumn day! It’s best enjoyed with friends and fresh bread.

Curried Pumpkin & Bacon Soup

  • 500 gr pumpkin
  • 3 potatoes
  • 3 strips bacon
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½-1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups water, milk or cream

Cook pumpkin and potatoes. Brown bacon. Add onion and garlic and butter and spices. Cook until the onion is clear. Add vegetables and liquid. Roughly mash with a potato masher. Add more milk or water if desired. Garnish with bacon.

(*This recipe is incredibly versatile. I’ve used sweet potatoes, Indian Kohora, carrots or a combination of the three with pumpkin or in place of pumpkin. I’ve used fresh pumpkin or a tin of pureed pumpkin. I often just use bacon bits instead of cooking up strips of bacon….or I’ve omitted the bacon altogether for vegetarian or Muslim friends. However you cook it –this soup is good for the soul!)


Gratitude – Number 245 & Muffin Monday

In my worn journal I look back until I find it — Number 245. I’m frantic to find it, it seems crucial to the day.

It’s written in slightly messy, black cursive, as if the writer was in a hurry. The journal is 39 pages of thanks — my first foray into giving thanks in a concrete way, a way where I can look back.

Number 245 is squeezed between ‘Les Miserables – stories of grace’, and ‘rental cars’, as if an afterthought. But it’s there as I knew it would be.

The words are ‘Monday Mornings’ and then in brackets beside the words ‘knowing I can’t do it on my own’. And it’s true. I can’t. What is true every day, that I can’t do this alone, comes with a force on Monday.

It’s as though God is whispering to me, urging me to remember. Urging me to remember that it is He who redeems Mondays, who takes me from Sunday’s rest through Monday’s unknown, who reminds me I can’t do this on my own. The words of author Ann Voskamp, challenged to speak words of gratitude through her pen, through keeping a journal that resulted in the book One Thousand Gifts, resonate:

“That which I refuse to give thanks for, I refuse to believe Christ can redeem”

So I thank God for number 245 in my list of One Thousand Gifts: Monday Mornings (knowing I can’t do it on my own).

“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.” Aslan to Jill in The Silver Chair


Pumpkin Pie MuffinsI love the muffin cookbook I am getting through connecting with Stacy and today’s recipe is a perfect fall Muffin: Pumpkin Pie Muffins. They’re called ‘Pumpkin Pie Muffins’ because they are made with canned pumpkin and the same spices as pumpkin pie. Stacy promises that the whole house will smell like you’ve been baking pie. Either click on the above link or the picture to get to the recipe.

An Uncommon Birthday Cake

As I have read about blogging I have found out two (oops, three!) things:

  1. Successful bloggers seem to all be cooks
  2. Successful bloggers seem to all be photographers
  3. Successful bloggers call their husbands names like Marlboro Man or other clever titles

This is depressing information. I cook but I will never be on the food network. I make what I like to think of as wholesome and friendly meals. We never have boiled vegetables and I believe that, except for rare occasions, it should not take you longer to fix the meal then it takes your family to eat the meal. To that end I have become adept at chopping and sautéing onions and garlic quickly and using things like rice cookers and Trader Joe’s.

As for photography –  if I am the only one in my entire family around to take a picture of any of them, they will turn to a total stranger rather than have me ruin the photo. There’s something about framing the shot, keeping my hands still….I don’t know what it is. I can’t do it.

There is something I do extremely well. I make an uncommonly good carrot cake at least once a year for my husband’s birthday. When he was little, and his mom had her hands full with 4 little boys by the time she was 21, she told all of them to “Pick your cake and stick with it”. From then on, each of them knew that every year that favorite cake would be made on their birthday. My husband picked carrot cake. There is no other cake that even comes close.

My husband’s birthday was on Tuesday and after rushing home from work, sure that I had all the ingredients that would go into this 9″ by 11″ pan of goodness, I began the process. By 5pm the house smelled like a mixture of cinnamon and sweetness as it baked in the oven.

So here goes – all you’ll ever get from me are just a few recipes from Pakistan, the Middle East and Carrot Cake. But I promise, this one is worth every minute and muscle you spend in making it!

Coconut, Pineapple, Carrot Cake 

  • 1/2 bag of those little carrots
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Right at the beginning slice the little carrots into pieces. Put in saucepan and add a bit of water. Cook until semi soft. Put in food processor or equivalent and add some of the pineapple juice. Blend and set aside. Beat up those eggs! When they are whipped to a frenzy add in the light brown sugar. Beat that up until it is smooth and perfect looking. Then add the white sugar and do the same thing. Add the oil and beat until blended. Add in cinnamon, vanilla, baking powder and soda. Add 2 cups of flour and blend till smooth. Then add mashed carrots, coconut, pineapple and walnuts. Mixture will be dense. Put into greased 9″ by 11″ pan and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and then frost with your favorite cream cheese icing (not store-bought) I mix cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla and it’s great.

So this is my uncommon birthday cake and my consciously, subconscious attempt at competing with the big guys in the blogosphere!

A Recipe to Keep – Masoor Dal

masoor dal

Pakistani food – mouth-watering & delicious! Here is the first of what I hope will be many recipes! If you make these, let me know how they turn out through the comments!

This recipe came to me by way of Carol Brown, Polly Brown & Sheila Williams (now adapted by me). For those unfamiliar – dal is the Pakistani word for lentils. Lentils come in all colors but my bias is the reddish-orange kind.

2 Cups dal (red/orange)

1 medium size onion (chopped)

3 cloves garlic (minced)

4 red peppers (whole) or 1 1/2 tsp ground red pepper or to taste

1 tsp fresh minced ginger root

½ tsp white cumin seed (zeera)

4 tomatoes (chopped)

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Heat oil until it sizzles. Add zeera & red pepper. Saute a bit then add garlic and onions. When they look glazed add minced ginger,  chopped tomatoes and a pinch of haldi (turmeric). Add washed dal. Put in twice the amount of water and cook 20 to 40  minutes with fire on low(I know that’s vague but I’m a sun-dial!) – check and see if you need to cook a bit longer. Texture should be soft. Add fresh washed coriander to taste. You can add vegetables and cook a few more minutes. Garnish with chopped tomatoes and fresh coriander and serve with raita & basmati rice or chapatis.  It’s a simple, economical and delicious dish.

Meanderings Through My Cookbook  – a great site for some good recipes had this picture to share of Masoor Dal – It is a perfect picture and does the dish justice. Take a look at her site for some inspiration!

A Cheater’s Curry – the Pakistani Pillsbury

One of the challenges of adjustment from international to domestic living lies in the kitchen. How do I create the tastes that my palate has become accustomed to in this new land? Going from red pepper, garam masala, white cumin and turmeric to simply salt is distressing. A kitchen full of fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and ginger is doable, but all the smells, sounds, and sights connected with the process  seem too difficult to duplicate.

And then you meet someone  who has lived in the United States for a while and assists you on the way, helping you realize that shortcuts are our friends.  Not only did she convince me of the time factor, she convinced me of the taste. The someone was Sonja Williams. Sonja is one of the best cooks I know. She learned well from her mother-in-law, Sheila Williams. Sheila is ethnically Indian but lived in Pakistan, the Emirates, and now lives in Toronto,Canada. Sonja, originally from the United Kingdom, lived in Jamaica, Pakistan, the United States, and she too now lives in Canada. Between the two of them they know every trick of creating delicious Pakistani meals with what’s available in the western market. Without the luxury of time and kitchen help that they had in India and Pakistan, they have figured out how to make cooking work in their busy schedules .

So here’s one tip: When you make Chicken Tikka Masala, sauté the chicken, onions, garlic and spices. Then just before serving mix tomato/basil soup with sour cream – add to chicken and heat up. Amazing! If you don’t have tomato soup, try vodka spaghetti sauce mixed with sour cream. Delicious.

And here’s my second tip: Use a packet like the one pictured below from Parampara. They are delicious, quick and easy. They come in chicken masala, lamb curry, chicken makhni (butter chicken), chicken tikka and the list goes on.  Saute onions and chicken pieces (either with or without bone), add the mix as per the instructions, cook and serve with raita & naan or rice. These mixes work well with a slow cooker, ensuring you’ll come home to a house that smells like your past life.

For a long while I was embarrassed of my “cheater’s curry” thinking I was an impostor and had let myself and others down. The more time I spent with Sonja, the less of an impostor I became. She did this well and without apology. How many people use Betty Crocker or Pillsbury without apology? Parampara is the Pakistani Pillsbury only so much better than anything a dough boy can offer.