Someone once said that the four seasons in Mississippi are: Almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas. Others named the four Mississippi seasons as: Dove season, deer season, duck season, and turkey season.
It’s true we catch a little flack from those outside the region about our weather. We usually have a couple of below freezing weekends in January or February and that’s our winter. What do you expect? We live in the deepest depths of the Deep South. Mississippi is mostly in Hardiness Zone 8, which is a very temperate zone. Though in my part of the world, we live just above Zone 9, which is a tropical zone where banana plants and ferns can survive year round.
That being said, Mississippi basically shut down this past weekend. The roads iced in the central and northern part of the state, and temperatures dropped below freezing. Our winter came and went in two days. It might freeze again once or twice before we reach March, but what we experienced this past weekend was basically our winter.
This recent weather event was a big deal. There are also small, seemingly inconsequential events in our lives that happen, sometimes spontaneously, that leave a lasting memory and a major impact on our collective conscience. They don’t seem like a big deal at the time— nothing more than a spur-of-the-moment occurrence— but lasting memories are made and they become part of that catalogue of reminisces that we file in the back of our minds and draw from throughout our later years.
Approximately 15 years ago, when my daughter was in pre-school, we had one of those rare, Hattiesburg snow days. It’s an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs in this part of the world about once every four years in which an inch or two of wet, white slush falls from the sky onto our streets causing massive school and business closings and a car wreck every quarter mile.
During a typical Hattiesburg snow event, the grocery store shelves are cleared of milk, bread, and beer in a matter of hours. Local Pine Belt citizens hunker down and get ready to endure the two inches of slush that will keep us holed up in our homes for 10-12 hours, armed with enough supplies to keep us alive for two to three months.
It was during one of those events 15 years ago that enough South Mississippi slush accumulated in our yard that I bundled my daughter up and took her outside to build a snowman, actually a snow woman. My daughter named her Ethyl.
When we came back inside we all wanted a lunch that would warm our bones. I threw together a vegetable beef soup using some steak scraps in my freezer and some leftover Zing Zang Bloody Mary mix in the pantry. It was excellent.
We are not big soup eaters in our house. We love gumbo and the occasional potato soup when it’s cold, but this vegetable beef soup won everyone over. We have made it many times since.
Weather determines diet. That is a fact. When it’s hot outside we want food items that will cool us down. In the winter— even in Mississippi’s weekend winters— we look for those stick-to-your-bones wholesome comfort foods that warm our stomachs and our souls.
Vegetable beef soup is the quintessential stand-alone dish. It’s hot, it’s hearty, and it’s relatively healthy. It’s a meal in a bowl. All that is needed is a couple of packs of crackers or some crusty bread and all is well in the belly and the soul.
With kids you never know which inconsequential, seemingly minute, activity is going to create one of those lasting memories. It can be as simple as making a snow woman on a day off, playing a silly board game, or going to the park. My childhood is filled with memories that probably seemed irrelevant at the time, but created experiences that made a lasting impact. My parenting career is filled with them, too. The one thing they all have in common is time spent within the parent-child relationship. Time is the key.
Today, my daughter is no longer a child. She is a young lady of 19 who is a lifetime away from that little girl who helped me build Ethyl the snow woman. Maybe some day in the distant future, we’ll have one of those South Mississippi slush events and she’ll invite me over to her house to make a snowman or woman with her kids. Maybe I’ll make some vegetable soup. Better still, maybe my daughter will remember that recipe we created together years earlier and make a pot for us all. That would create a lasting memory that truly would be good for the soul.
Snow Day Vegetable Beef Soup
3 Tbl Olive oil
1 1 /2 lbs Filet mignon scraps or ribeye steak trimmings (cut into 3/4-inch cubes) beef shoulder can be used
1 1 /2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1 cup Onion, small dice
1 cup Carrot, small dice
1 cup Celery, small dice
1 Tbl Garlic, minced
1 /2 tsp Dried Thyme
2 tsp Steak Seasoning
1 Bay leaf
15 oz can Tomato, diced
1 1 /2 quart Beef stock
1 cup Corn, fresh, scraped from the cob
1 cup Potato, peeled and diced to ¾” cubes
1 cup Zing-Zang Bloody Mary Mix
1 Tbl Kitchen Bouquet
1 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat in a large skillet. Season the
meat with half of the salt and pepper. Brown the meat in olive oil. Do
not overload the skillet. Over loading the skillet will cause the beef
to steam instead of brown. Brown meat in batches, add more oil when
necessary then place cooked meat in a large stockpot.
Add one tablespoon of oil to skillet and sauté the onions, carrots,
celery and garlic for five minutes over medium heat. Add thyme, steak
seasoning and bay leaf. Deglaze the pan by adding the canned tomatoes
(with the juice) using a wooden spoon to remove any stuck-on proteins.
Cook five minutes on high, and add to the meat in the stockpot. Place
beef broth in the stockpot and cook over low heat. The soup should
just barely simmer. After 1 hour, add Zing Zang, corn and potatoes.
Continue cooking another 45 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in
remaining salt, pepper, Worcestershire and Kitchen Bouquet.
Yield: approximately one gallon