Where dreams live - FamilyEducation

Where dreams live

November 24,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

The much-anticipated neighborhood soap box derby race we were supposed to have on the 15th was rained out and rescheduled for the weekend of December 6th. This Saturday the neighbors organizing the race held a "trial run" for all the eager kids who just can't--absolutely can't--wait another two weeks to race their cars. For a child (and for some parents who labored extensively over the car while battling the stomach flu), a two-week delay is just torture. So on Saturday we loaded up our derby car and headed over to the appointed spot. It was cold and windy, and L. insisted on not wearing socks, but we had a fabulous time. Our jaunty purple flag broke off before we could even get the car up the hill for the first run, and we lost a wheel about half an hour into it, but nothing happened that couldn't be fixed with some extra hands and lots of good will.

We love our neighborhood. It's a wooded place, with large, spread-out lots. But there are so many neighbors who have put down roots here, including several who grew up in the very same neighborhood and have moved back here, years later, to raise their own families. While we watched the kids racing, and stood with our hands cradling steaming styrofoam cups of hot chocolate, a car pulled up and two men jumped out. One was just floored by the event. He was raised in the neighborhood and was one of the first families to move in back in 1968 (our house dates to 1965). In all the years he's lived here, past and present, there has never been a neighborhood derby race, and he just couldn't believe what he was seeing.

There is a tendency to lament the "old days" as the good days when neighborhoods were close-knit and people put down roots instead of treating property like investment opportunities and not like homes. We know people who are proud of the fact that they live in a house only the requisite 3-5 years before packing up and moving on to bigger and better things, with scarcely a backward glance. One thing I do hope these current tough economic times teach us is a much-needed lesson about the value of things, whether they be cars or material goods. But I hope we learn especially about the value of homes, these cherished places that hold so much inside their walls. Sometimes your dream home is right where you are, in the place where your most real dreams live--not shaped and contained by mere material things, or by how much square footage you think you  need, or whether your counters are made of granite, but by the flesh-and-blood people around you.

When we headed home after the trial run, we were frozen to the core, but warmed inside by the morning spent with neighbors. We lit a fire, had leftover vegetarian stew for lunch, and I made snickerdoodles for the kids while they watched the orange and gold flames flicker and jump in the hearth.

*************

This is the stew I wanted to make in the crock pot, but as it turned out I think it was better tossed into a pot instead. It took only about 45 minutes to an hour to cook, and the house smelled heavenly while it simmered away. You could probably easily make it in the crock pot, but I have no idea how long it would need to cook. I was planning on keeping it in there for four hours on low (the original recipe called for beef, so you needed to cook for a whopping eight hours). I got the recipe from a friend ages ago, but I tweaked it so much when I made it this weekend that I think I can safely take ownership of this amazing stew.

Cold Day Stew

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 medium-sized carrots, cut into slices (I used three carrots--I love carrots in a stew)

3-4 small potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, and chopped up in reasonable cubes

1 small package baby bella mushrooms (any chopped mushroom would work but these were on sale and they gave a good "meatiness" and flavor to the stew)

2-3 leaves fresh thyme or sage. I used sage because I found a package in the refrigerator and I have no idea what I originally bought it for.

1 can stewed tomatoes

1/2 cup red wine

1-2 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

1 heaping tablespoon flour

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until tender (just a few minutes). Add the carrots and potatoes and mushrooms and some more oil. Cook everything a little, just until the flavors are released. Next, add the broth and wine, worcestershire sauce (I had to get up twice to look at how that's spelled on the bottle in my fridge), tomatoes, and a few leaves of sage. Give it all a good stir, and cover. Cook on medium-low for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the potatoes and carrots are cooked through. Keep an eye on the liquid! I added a little more broth towards the end because it looked like it was drying up too much. Just before serving add a tablespoon of flour and stir to mix completely. Season with fresh pepper and salt.

I served this with brown rice the first day, and then over spaghetti squash the next. The simplest way to cook spaghetti squash is to halve the squash, pierce the skin with a knife, and cook it face-down on a plate in the microwave for about 7-10 minutes. Then you can pull a fork through the flesh until it comes out in strands, and serve it with butter and fresh pepper. The stew went perfectly with the squash, and was better the next day.

This is definitely a stew worth waiting for!