Who Is Anastasia?

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New Castle, Indiana Zone 5, United States
When I was 55, I decided to embrace the things I love and hold precious and dear, regardless of anyone else's thoughts and opinion. I am a visual folk artist who loves flowers - my own flowers, grown and/or painted by me. I love good, hearty, exotic foods, and I love to prepare them myself. I love the secret garden situated in my backyard, regardless of how overgrown and wild it gets. No longer able to afford a vacation, this will have to be it for the time being. In the winter months, I still enjoy it. Anyway, here I am sharing my art, favorite recipes, cocktails, gardening tips, and just my usual vents and bantering. After all, I'm old enough to say whatever the heck I want to now ...


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Stacey Torres ART Prints

Stacey Torres ART Prints
A very limited selection of reproductions from my paintings can be found here

February 6, 2010

Nana's Soups

My grandparents emigrated from the island of Barbados to Toronto, Canada around 1920. Nana recalled the night of her first snow fall in Canada. Her downstairs neighbor ran upstairs excitedly and announced, “Nez, Nez, it’s snowing! Look, it’s snowing!” Thinking it was just a joke; Nana was reluctant to leave her sewing machine, muttering to herself, “How can it be snowing? I don’t hear anything?”

That first winter in Canada was brutally cold, particularly to my grandparents and their small daughter. They had never experienced anything so fierce and bitter. Nothing anyone had told them could prepare them for the frosty reality of their future in North America.

Nana quickly took charge, determined to beat this beast at its game, and she began to listen and learn, speaking with new friends and neighbors all of the tricks, tips and recipes they used to survive the cold winters and help their young families to thrive.

As much as I love stews, my family is not really big on stewed and simmered meat dishes. However, soup was an economical way to create delicious aromatic meals that were stretched from meal to meal. No one could beat my grandmother at the pleasant, mouth-watering soups she lovingly created throughout the frigid season. She raised her family on these hearty soups, and by the time I came along, she nurtured me with the same magical soups throughout the long winter months during my early childhood.

The walk home from P.S. 140 in Jamaica, Queens, was a long one back then. At least it was when you were hungry and cold, as the bitter winds, sleet and snow whipped our legs and faces with a fury. By my friends and I rounded the corner at the head of our block we literally raced to our houses without even saying goodbye. I was always assured of what awaited me. I could smell it two – even three houses away.

The wholesome, spicy smell warmed me before I even touched our gate and ran into the house only to be welcomed with swirls of fragrant steam swirling around my head. A big bowl of Nana’s soup, with some Crown Pilot Crackers was a good hot lunch that stuck with me until I returned home at the end of my school day. But more often than not, it was the supper that secured warmth and security in my little belly well into my slumber.

Nana had two special soups that have really stuck with me. Both of these were usually made after one holiday or another, because the stock was often created from leftovers. My favorite (I make it to this day) was a simple, rustic chicken soup that had consisted of a large whole stewing hen, herbs de Province tied in a little satchel, celery, and big chunks of fresh carrots, peas and potatoes. These root vegetables (she called them “ground food”) were big, thick and flavorful. You don’t see carrots as big as a baby’s arm today. The entire chicken was cooked, and it was done when the meat fell from the bones, which were left in the broth to continue to flavor and nourish the pungent soup.

The other soup was a thick, rich split pea soup simmered for hours and hours with a large ham bone, a variety of spices, and the same ground food as the chicken soup. We had no dog at the time, but I know the neighbor’s dog had many a great feast himself days later when the bone was finally presented to him as a gift.

The memories of Nana’s kitchen in Queens and her kitchen in Toronto, which I’d never been in – I just know somehow – have carried over into my own now. My family has found soothing comfort and peace slurping – yes, slurping – my chicken soup; secretly sucking the bones when I’m not looking. It has eased many a stomach ache, taken the chill off of countless frost bitten fingers, while held in a large mug; and cured dozens of flu episodes and dreary days.

There is nothing like homemade soup. Forget the canned varieties now and then. Soup is nothing to make; it’s just water, meat, vegetables and seasoning. Make it however you wish, with whatever you have on the next bitter cold winter night. You’ll find peace and comfort just from making it before you taste the hot, velvety potage.

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I would love to hear from you regarding this post. Please feel free to leave your comments. All the best, Anastasia a/k/a Stacey

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot
A simple garden meal in the shade. No, it's not my backyard, but it looks identical to the one I grew up with at our home in Queens. Looking for an original pic of it to post soon!

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