Double Choked Shrimp Brie Soup

Choked Shrimp Brie Soup: a brief history

On a whim, I picked up some sunchokes at the market even though I had no clue what they were. At home, I looked them up —texture similar to potato, flavor similar to artichoke, can be eaten raw or cooked, with or without the peel, great for creamy soups/dishes— then tossed them in the vegetable bin.

A few nights later, my honey and I had dinner at a restaurant where the special soup du jour was shrimp brie artichoke soup. We melted into love for the soup, and I decided to try to recreate it. I remembered my sunchoke discovery and decided to include them.

After culling for ideas online, I made this. If you love shrimp and cheese, you won’t be sorry I took the time to note the process.

Choked Shrimp Brie Soup: The recipe (or something like a recipe)

Ingredientschoked shrimp brie soup

  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil (or part olive oil, part butter)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
  • 1 cup sliced celery (2 stalks)
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup (or more) peeled and chopped (bite-size pieces) sunchokes
  • 1 quart shrimp stock (you can make these with the shrimp heads/peels. See below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • salt to taste (I didn’t use any)
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups (or more) of peeled and deveined gulf shrimp
  • 1 4 1/2-ounce round Brie cheese (I used more like 6 ounces), rind removed and cut up

Optional

  • 1/2 cup (or more) of artichoke hearts cut into bite-size pieces (fresh is what I used, but thawed frozen could work)
  • Croutons and/or chives (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and sunchokes. Cook and stir till tender. Add shrimp stock, white pepper (and salt). Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
  2. Add cream and use hand-held blender or masher to cream the mixture (I didn’t completely cream, just a little)
  3. Stir in shrimp, artichoke hearts (if you’re using them), and Brie. Cook and stir over medium-low heat about 5 minutes more or till shrimp are pink, soup is heated through, and cheese is melted. (Stir often to make sure soup doesn’t scorch on bottom of saucepan.) Serve topped with croutons and/or chives, if you like.

Makes 8 side-dish or 4 main-dish servings.

SHRIMP STOCK

To make shrimp stock,

  • Place shrimp heads and peels in about 2 quarts of water.
  • Add quartered onion, 3-5 cloves of garlic, quartered lemon, bay leaf, peppercorns to taste, and thyme (or any mixture of herbs).
  • Boil for 10-15 minutes (reduce to 1 quart).
  • Strain.
©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Being the Change

The Hidden Brain podcast about being the change you want to see moved me.

The host Shankar Vedantam asks what would happen if we truly stood by our principles. He also points out how exhausting people who stick to their principles can be.

The podcast showcases the journey of one couple and their effort to raise their daughter free from gender stereotypes. This story is not only moving, but also enlightening. To shield their child from gender stereotypes these parents struggled against words, clothing, and colors. They struggled with family and friends. But they held true to their path and trusted their truth. And, importantly, they were patient.

Changes take time. Being the change takes patience.

This couple takes being the change to a fiercely high level. I feel privileged to know a few young souls who are as strong and brave as that couple. The bravery of people who fearlessly stand by their principles gives me hope. They also inspire me to be better and being the change.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Hobbies and Derelicts

Today, I realized hobbies and derelicts are connected.

The Venue

Every six months, I load my beach wagon with boxes of pepper jellies, drag the wagon of jellies through the arboretum, and set up a booth to sell my wares. I think of vendor venues like the Plant Fest! as enabling events. When you make things, if you can’t hang them on the wall, display them on a shelf, wear them more than once a year, or eat them before they expire, you’d best have friends who clamber for them or a place to sell them. Hobbies and Jelly addicts

Peppers and pepper products are one of my many hobbies. Even when I sell several hundred dollars worth, I don’t really make money. I make just enough to enable my addiction hobby. That’s what I meant. Hobby. It’s also a chance to pop my work bubble, spend a few hours outdoors, and mingle with friends, vendors, and clients.

The Neighbor

One of the neighboring vendors asked about my jellies and peppers. My muscle memorized explanation:

I grow my own peppers and forage the fruits I can’t grow.
“Oh really! Where do you grow them?”
Right here. In my backyard. I live behind the arboretum. 
“I live in this neighborhood too!”
I’m on Corby.

I could tell by the tone of his “Oh no, I don’t live there” that he wasn’t fond of my street. After he explained where he lived, he went on:

“What has happened to Corby? It’s become derelict.”
Derelict? How so?
“Oh, the houses are so run down.”
Hmmm. You’re probably talking about my house! 

My house needs gutter repair (not easy on a two-story home), a pressure wash, and paint on the front door. I guess the guy thought I was joking, because he kept going.

“You know the house with the DeLorean?”
That’s my house!

Domestic To-Dos vs. Hobbies

I tried to keep my tone true. Amused, because I found this amusing, not insulting.

I mostly live within my financial means. No yard guy, no maid, and I don’t hire that guy who knocks on my door and offers to pressure wash my house. I have a mower, a mop, and a pressure washer. I’ll do all that myself.

But I do NOT live within my temporal means. My time is fully spent: frenzied freelancing hours and more hobbies than I can count on both hands.

When hobbies and domestic trifles land on the same to-do list, pressure-washing the house is more likely to fall off than tilling the garden. I’m more likely to can peppers than dust. Vacuuming versus writing? I’ll choose writing every time.

I don’t judge those who spic the span and have picture-perfect homes. I’m just not there.

The Derelict

My vendor neighbor seemed uncomfortable, so I didn’t insist on explaining My street is fine, and several houses have been recently painted, windowed, or flipped. Mine is not one of them. So me. That’s me in the derelict house. I let him shift the topic to the car (what’s up with the DeLorean?) and cars, and all the cars that he has parked in his garage.

I don’t know why he thought my street was derelict, so I can only guess and assume.

My street has become more diverse over the years. This is something that thrills me. If he associates run-down and derelict with color (and I don’t know that he does), I am even more amused since the only three houses (all in a row) that need more TLC on my street belong to a middle-aged white woman, a white family who rent to their son and two other white twenty-somethings, and another white family whose parents are of the brilliant computer-geek types.

If long-in-the-blade yards are bothersome, I’m with the computer-geeks two houses down: I do my own and get to it when I can. The twenty-somethings next door? Since when do college-age guys keep a tidy lawn?

The Hobby

I’m going to own “derelict.” Since I’m sort of my own boss, maybe this can become part of a title: Derelict Product Developer? Freelance Derelict? Derelict Novelist? Jelly Dereliction? Derelictious Gardener?

I’ll also own that I have taken on more than time allows. I could take a loan and just get some of the domestic things done, but I prefer the pay-as-I-go plan. And honestly, I’d much rather finish a novel and a screenplay (writing is my loftiest hobby) than fret over a well-kept yard or an appointed house. I take comfort in one of J.K. Rowling’s replies when she was asked how she raised a baby and wrote a book.

I didn’t do housework for four years! I’m not Superwoman, and living in squalor that was the answer.

Here’s to more years ahead of hobbies and dereliction! And owning the creative squalor.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Giving: Did I Do the Right Thing? A Revisit and a Scrutiny

“I don’t want your money, but . . . “  That’s how our brief encounter began. I wrote about it (and giving) two and a half years ago.

When is giving good?

A few months ago, a friend posted about the same woman. She had seen her at several stores, hustling for groceries. It was a scam, a hustle for pricey items that she probably resold. Don’t give to her!

I had already given. Chicken, potatoes, bananas . . . What I gave was the opposite of high-ticket, but after my friend’s post I spent the next few months tumbling questions:

  • Did I make a mistake?
  • Was giving to her a bright spot in my human interaction or was it a bad (foolish!) decision?
  • Knowing what I know now, would I have still do the same?
No. Not sure. And absolutely yes.

Here’s the thing. She wanted chicken. The cheaper potatoes. Bananas. Bread. And (maybe I’m imagining this) validation.

She’s a human being making her way through a life. It doesn’t match mine and probably not any else who is reading my post, but she’s doing what she can with the circumstances she was given.

Who am I to judge?

I don’t and wouldn’t judge you for walking past her or blatantly turning her down. I get it. I often don’t feel comfortable giving. But I won’t judge her for asking for the chicken and sides.

If we’re all subjects in a massive human experiment, a test to deteremine what “humanity” is, I’d rather err on the side of a little foolish and warm-hearted than cold and clinging to my dollar bills.

I stand by my initial decision and expenditure. But mostly I stand by my initial biological feedback. It felt good.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

My Garden Control

The hunter’s full moon is shining down on my garden tonight. I don’t have much in the garden, but the soil is freshly tilled and a dozen seedlings are reaching for the sky. My garden, honestly, is about everything but the vegetables. Sometimes it’s about control.

I can’t say I control my garden well. And the garden certainly doesn’t control me.

If the bean counters showed up, my garden would be condemned. It’s a bad business model. More money for the lesser vegetables, or, often, no vegetable at all. Add to that, the garden takes up precious time, space, and effort.

If the bean counters, however, would factor in more than harvest, my garden would receive a “best deal” sticker. My garden is for unplugging, for meditation and movement, for physical and mental therapy, for emotional grounding.

Tonight as I studied the hunter moonshadows on my crooked rows, I felt a surge of comfort.

Just as everything was spinning completely out of control, I took time last weekend to weed and till my garden. The weeds in some spots were chin-high. It took two days and many I’m-going-to-pass-out moments.

Control becomes an emotion. I felt it immediately. Sure, I was panting and wiping the sweat from my face. But I had restored something. Taken control.

I started this week with more direction and strength. And tonight, as that out-of-control feeling was creeping back in, I went outside to see the full moon. I knew she’d be there. That helped.

I looked at the shadows she cast. My garden rows and seedlings beamed up at me in the moonlight. They restored me.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Choked

I haven’t written much since the 2017 election. I don’t have writer’s block, really. I just feel choked.

I miss writing, because writing is where I figure things out. Writing is introspection, meditation, screaming therapy, and prayer in one painful and joyful process. My self-inflicted October one-blog-a day challenge is my effort to loosen the strangle hold from my pen. The late nights are exhausting. Loosening the restraints is a struggle. Yet I’m grateful to be writing again.

From Choked to Conversation

So, what’s choking you?

If you’re guessing political climate, you’re getting warm.

Why is that choking you?

If you’re guessing I’m a chicken for not raising my voice or a snowflake because I’m an aghast liberal, you’re getting colder now.

This obstruction in my esophagus has nothing to do with chickens and snowflakes. This stricture is about my anxiousness to find the path to conversation and common ground, in spite of and because of the political climate.

After nearly a year of searching for it, I realize that if I’m not writing, I’ll never find that path.

This is me, coming unchoked, looking for the path to conversation and common ground.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Uncertain Journey

A couple of months ago, I made a decision. I didn’t have time to do what was involved, but part of the decision was to make the time. I made the time to begin an uncertain journey.

Monthly One-Week Visits

Once a month, for one week, I go to the “farm,” my folks’ place. They live a mere ninety miles away, but due to my long hours and endless projects, months can slip away between visits.

Earlier this year, mom was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s. Months between visits suddenly seemed unacceptable, so I decided to make a change.

Once a month, I throw a bag of clothes and my computer in the car, and the dogs and I head to the farm. I set up a docking station in the house we rent from my parents and spend a week in our little country home in the water hollow, just down the field from my parents’ home.

I’m not sharing this as a brag. I don’t have a clue what I am doing. In fact, I felt a little selfish at first. Even though I’m working, the visits are a nice break. I don’t have the worries and distractions that pressure me when I’m at home (in the city). I don’t have to feed or coddle anyone. In fact, I get coddled! Mom shows up with clementines and cashews. Dinnertime? I just show up. It’s already prepared.

Am I doing this for me or am I doing it for my parents? Can I make a difference given my ridiculous work hours?through the field

I’ll answer the second question first.

Yes. Absolutely yes.

While I spend most of the eighteen hours I’m awake sitting in front of my computer, I can take a five-minute walk and I’m in mom’s kitchen. I walk up the field three to four times a day, sometimes to join my parents for a meal, sometimes to help mom do something, and sometimes just to visit. But can I make a difference? Just as doubt was setting in, I realized that the insight I gain during the visits and meals are helping me identify ways to help. This is a new journey for us, and although it’s not one I’m thrilled about, I’m blessed and joyful that I am able to be on board for it.

Regarding the first question: “Am I doing this for me or am I doing it for my parents?”

Both. Why shouldn’t it be both?

For me: The visits are self-indulgent. They take me out of my work bubble. I may not work less while I’m there, but I move more, look up more, breathe better air. I have a break from the regular pressures of home, and I get a little spoiled.

For my parents: This is an uncertain journey. The uncertainty is unsettling. I may not know how to help, but I know it helps to talk, share ideas we’ve found, and be present for each other.why I look up

The Magic of Making Time

Remember I said I didn’t have time to do this, but decided to make time? It’s true.

My garden had gone to weeds, the walls in one room need to be torn out and replaced, all of the windows in my house need to be replaced, the shed needs to come down, two ponds need to be dug up and moved . . . The grass and weeds keep growing, the dust and webs keep collecting, the dogs keep shedding, and I can’t keep up because I work ten to fifteen hours a day. I didn’t have time.

What happened when I made time? The list of to-dos didn’t magically diminish, but, magically, I have more energy and vision for tackling that list. I’ll continue to make the time for this uncertain journey, for myself and for my parents.

Enjoy the photos I took on my walks between the water hollow and the main house (it’s not why I go but it’s why I look up when I do).

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Circles Are Better

Circles are better than echo chambers.

Yet we increasingly isolate ourselves in chambers where everyone nods at the words we utter. We nod at their ideas in return. Same. Yes. Same.

We poke our heads out just long enough to point an accusing finger across the increasingly deep and wide divide, screaming shame and blame at the other side. The other side shouts back, and we declare ourselves informed.

The algorithms of social media compound the isolationism. Our beliefs and ideas bounce around without scrutiny, and we dance around the chamber drinking our favorite flavor of Kool-Aid.

Circles are better.

More bridges. More conversations. Bigger circles.

At my church, the poem “Outwitted,” by Edward Markham, is often recited in services.

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!Circles art better

Why should we draw a circle to take in those who would shut us out, the ones who dance in the echo chamber on the other side?

The reasons are many, but dragging others into our own echo chamber is not one of them. The circle is for inclusion, not isolation. For conversation, not accusation. For listening, not pedantry.

The circle is not a ring for idealogical arm-wrestling, where the winner takes the converts. We don’t have to convert each other. The center of the circle is about empathy, not agreement.

Listening is hard, but worthy work. Empathy may take practice, but it is the path, the bridge.

Let’s sit in more circles. Let’s be better listeners.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017

Thirty Days

Today begins the fourth month of my “commitment” calendar (thirty days more or less), during which I commit to doing something each day. This month, lucky world!, it’s a blog post each day!

I was first intrigued about making a monthly commitment when I heard Matt Cutts on the Ted Radio hour. This sounded doable. Safe. Fruitful.

For my birthday, I created a calendar with beach photos I took during a women’s retreat. That first month, I committed to moving for at least five minutes a day. Yup. Working from home requires unspeakable things. I would go, not only days, but weeks!! with minimal movement. Chained to my computer getting the job done. I was only able to cross out 19 of the 31 days of July, but hey! That was better than any of the previous 6 months! I walked, gardened, mowed, and . . . other things? I can’t figure out what some letters I jotted on my calendar mean (CJ? Jacks? P?), but they all mean I moved at least five minutes. Most often 30 plus minutes.

In August I committed to a cup of green tea every day. After the stress of moving for at least five whole minutes daily, I deserved to relax and have tea. 29 out of the 31 days of August! On 12 of those days I continued to move at least five minutes (mowing and walking).

For September, I set the bar higher: clear the kitchen table. Working from home also requires special talents.  One of those is the ability to turn a blind eye to housework. After twenty plus years as a freelancer, I’m an expert, so even clearing the table was a special challenge.

What’s heartening to me is that the challenges from the previous two months kept chiming in. Not 100%, but often enough to know that the challenges had made a difference. I moved at least 5 minutes (often over 30 minutes) for 23 days, and drank green tea 21 of those days.

The calendar challenge doesn’t and will not perfect me. But it makes me a more mindful and balanced person.

October is for Blogging

This month the commitment is to a blog post a day. This feels less “doable” and less “safe,” but here I go! I promise these won’t be introspective posts about how I manage to write a blog post. I have much more to explore: feeling choked, living in echo chambers, murderers, stories, friends, and a smidgin of politics.

So let’s dive into October. I won’t be perfect. It’s after midnight and I’m already late dammit. But I’ll be more balanced. More mindful.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

A Funeral, a Birthday, and a Drop-Dead Party

What do a funeral, a birthday, and a drop-dead party have in common? Everything and nothing. We all have a birthday. We’ll all drop dead. Some of use will get a funeral.

Last night I went to a former neighbor’s funeral who died too young. 53. Today is my birthday. 58th. And tomorrow I’ll have a drop-dead party (explained below). All three “events” are happening on consecutive days during a palindrome week (dates are the same front- and backwards: 71317, 71417, and 71517).

I could dive down a numerology rabbit hole to chase the seven (a number I’ve adored since childhood) or the palindromes, but today is not about numbers. I’m still sorting out what it’s about. The sevens? The palindromes? The shocking news about a man who had been a neighborhood hero during four (yes 4!) hurricanes? The birthday plus drop-dead party?

I’m choked up because until a few days ago (another palindrome date) I thought my former neighbor was fine, living his life with his wife in his new house about 20 miles away. I was wrong. This last eleven months, he endured a flood, cancer, surgeries, chemo, and so much pain. He wasn’t “just fine.”

Don’t assume anyone’s fine.

drop-deadMy throat has been dry for several weeks (months even). I haven’t been able to write, not so much due to writer’s block (I don’t feel blocked), but rather some sort of paralysis: a complicated mix of politics, work, and family. Attending the visitation unchoked my voice just a bit. This week’s string of events floated at least one of my nostrils above the mire that’s kept me under, and I want to share something important.

You’re going to drop dead.

Well, perhaps you won’t drop but on some date (maybe not a palindrome date), you’ll be dead.

Some of us will see it coming, like so many friends of mine, and my recently deceased neighbor.

Some of us won’t.

But it’s coming. Winter (the end of the cycle) is coming.

Be kind about dropping dead.

We’re having a drop-dead party to organize our check out papers.

My friend’s mom gets the credit for this inspiration. One of the sweetest things she did before she checked out was keep a notebook filled with drop-dead information. She inspired me to start my own folder. I have started organizing information about my things, my accounts, and what to do with my body when I drop dead.

The point of the drop-dead party is to talk about checking out, share ideas about what to include in our notebooks/folders, how to make the transition for those who survive us easier, and exercise a little control over a situation in which we’ll have none.

My dad has asked, “Don’t you find that macabre?” My response was no. It’s more morbid to hole up in a corner somewhere and try to figure out what you should do to be kind to your survivors when you check out. Or worse, make no plans at all leaving your survivors to figure it out on their own. Talking about it with friends, writing information and messages, and making plans feels less macabre. It feels like adding a little kindness to an unhappy occasion and taking a bit of control over what we can’t.

I would emphasize that control isn’t the point. The point is making it easier for our survivors: information about our accounts, our ideas for a memorial, memories that are important to us, and what to do with that bag of bones!

Throw a drop-dead party with your dearest friends. It’s not macabre. It’s kind.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.