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Dining: What Brown Did for Me

A kitchen from the past inspires a recipe.


After my parents divorced in the mid-1970s my mother decided to become a vegetarian. She bought a copy of the only vegetarian cookbook she was familiar with, Frances Moore Lappe's "Diet for a Small Planet," and my food nightmare began. While I am sure that there were and still are wonderful recipes in Lappe's book, I wanted to eat what my friends ate — canned ravioli and SpaghettiO's — not lentils and tofu, lots of lentils and tofu.

Sometimes she threw a few garbanzo beans or tempeh into the mix for novelty. My mother also experimented with tabbouleh and baba ghanouj, which were only light tan in color. Occasionally she livened things up with golden-bronze whole wheat 'possum-shaped biscuits. I still don't know where she found a 'possum cookie cutter, but we had one.

Granted, we didn't eat "brown" all the time. We did have a backyard garden that yielded pounds and pounds of zucchini, which my mother would use to make her vegetable spaghetti, adding carrots and broccoli. I, of course, didn't like it. While I usually ate these vegetables without complaint, I just couldn't tolerate large chunks of them simmered in a tomato sauce until they became unidentifiable. I still can't eat her spaghetti.

I'll take full credit for the brief Dr. Seuss-inspired green food binge. My mother indulged my post-"Green Eggs and Ham" desire for anything tinted with green food coloring. Naturally green food just didn't seem to satisfy my cravings, so for about a week we ate green eggs and green grits, without the green ham of course.

At some point in the early 1980s, someone loaned my mother Anna Thomas' "The Vegetarian Epicure Book 2," and Thomas' Dutch Cheese Potato Soup became part of her repertoire. While technically still brown, bland does not describe this soup. The smoked Gouda and Worcestershire sauce gave it a deep hearty flavor, which blends well with the fresh taste of dill. The soup thickened and grew richer overnight, so leftovers posed no problems. I discovered that it was possible to lead a meat-free existence and still eat great food. This meant that even with my Chef Boyardee deprivation, I was able to emerge into adulthood without being scarred for life. Except for my first two years of college, I have actually stuck with a primarily veggie diet.

During our recent conversation, my mother admitted more than just her guilt over feeding me one-colored meals. She also revealed that she could have made our dinners better had she been able to afford the spices called for in Lappe's original recipes. This led to her final confession — economics brought on our dietary change, not health concerns as she had always explained. That fact ought not to have escaped me, based on yet another dietary staple at our house — lovely brown chocolate. After all, this was the same woman who taught me that refrigerated chocolate-chip cookie dough was intended to be eaten straight from the tube.

Even with her tasteless lentils, tofu and tempeh, I consider my mother to be an excellent cook. I guess the memory of the Dutch Cheese Potato Soup overshadowed much of her earlier attempts. Following is my simplified version of the recipe. HS

Dutch Cheese Potato Soup

5-6 russet potatoes, cubed

5 T butter

2 large yellow onions, chopped

2 bay leaves

1-2 T dill weed

2 T flour

1«-2 "rounds" smoked Gouda cheese, grated

2 cups milk

1-2 T Worcestershire sauce

1 T paprika

black pepper and salt

1. Boil potatoes, in just enough water to cover, until tender. Save cooking water.

2. In 3 tablespoons of butter, sauté onions until golden.

3. Add onions, dill weed and bay leaves to the potatoes.

4. Make a light roux with the remaining butter and the flour. Gradually stir in milk. Stir until thick and add to soup.

5. Slowly add cheese, stirring constantly.

6. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer for about 15 more minutes, and serve.

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