Mama loves soup. I mean, she LOVES soup. And not just in winter; she eats it even when it’s 90 degrees out. She makes it weekly with her caregiver and freezes single servings in yogurt containers topped with foil because yogurt producers stopped putting reusable lids on them—a manufacturing travesty. (I put some perfect containers with lids in her Christmas stocking a year ago. She doesn’t like them. She threw one of the lids away—accidentally, she says—because she didn’t recognize it.) Carrot (with or without ginger), spinach, pea, broccoli, squash, and celery; preferably using the same written recipes, complaining about the caregiver when she doesn’t find the right one. (But she likes to verbally modify the recipe, and then says the caregiver can’t cook or follow a recipe when it “doesn’t taste as good as last time.”)
Oh, and clean-out-the-fridge vegetable, made one serving at a time, (trust me, you do not want to know what ends up in it) with Campbell’s chicken broth (she refuses to use my free-range organic that contains no unpronounceable additives), bullion, or plain water base. She also eats canned soup in a pinch: Amy’s minestrone (probably introduced by my sister and shockingly admitted to be better than Campbell’s; but then, she was younger), Progresso tomato basil (my introduction a few years ago, also replacing Campbell’s), Campbell’s consume (which made me gag as a child and I still can’t bear the smell). Both freezers are full of soup—a whole shelf devoted in the basement freezer—and still she makes more. If Armageddon comes, she will be prepared. As long as the power doesn’t go out. Me and soup? Not so much. Maybe it’s my childhood rebellion that is with me still: if Mama thinks it’s the food of the gods, I turn up my nose. I do kind of like to make soup, though. It’s a Mama-approved meal-in-a-bowl. Add some bread and Mama could not be happier with dinner. So when I finally got around to assigning an entrée category to each day of the week—which, by the way, has made meal planning so much easier—I included Soup Saturday.
And then there is peanut butter. Mama likes the healthy kind with no added salt, and with the oil floating at the top. She has a special gadget to mix the oil in when it’s newly opened, but when she gets to the bottom of the jar there is no oil so it is thick and dry. (It’s now available pre-mixed, but she has nixed that.) And she keeps it in the refrigerator, so it can’t be spread without tearing the bread. But that’s okay, because she only eats it with crackers. And she does not like it as an ingredient in anything. She doesn’t like peanut butter cookies (and the only thing she likes almost as much as soup is cookies), and she doesn’t like my favorite chocolate chippers that contain peanut butter; me having made the mistake of telling her peanut butter was an ingredient, before I knew better.
So on Soup Saturday last week, when I had left-over chicken and made chicken soup with peanut butter (I will add red chili flakes next time) in it, I didn’t tell her. She thanked me exactly nine times during and after dinner and the next morning for the delicious soup. She asked me twice what was in it. And twice I didn’t tell her it had peanut butter in it. She knew there was an unidentifiable flavor that wasn’t explained by the list I gave her, but I held firm to my therapeutic lie. (I also didn’t tell her a few weeks ago that the Thai soup she loved had coconut milk in it. She thinks she is allergic to coconut.) You are probably thinking if I told her, she would decide it was surprisingly okay. And she might. Or she might refuse to eat it again—to like it would be to admit she was wrong. Or when she became constipated, or her nose itched, or her legs hurt, or she didn’t sleep well or slept too much, it was because of the peanut butter or coconut milk in the soup.
And my peanut butter preference? Maybe it’s because Mama likes the healthy kind, but I like Simply Jif, with its salt, sugar, unpronounceable additives, and a long shelf life. I brought my own peanut butter up from my apartment for the soup. And then couldn’t find it five minutes later. Not on the counter. Not left downstairs. I used Mama’s, making sure she didn’t see it out of the fridge. The next morning, when I was making breakfast, I found mine. In the freezer. Where apparently I had put it. Scary. Very, very scary.