Cliff got there early, ready to start his Master’s degree in Fine Arts at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1975. His freshman year was at Kent State in 1970. He was on campus when the massacre occurred. He was issued a low draft number, so instead of waiting for his number to come up, he enlisted in the Army so he could pick what assignment he received. He chose the EOD, Explosive Ordnance Division. During his army stint, he was assigned George McGovern’s detail when he was running for president. Once his enlistment ended, he briefly sold encyclopedias door-to-door in San Francisco. Young Dad soon realized he hated being a salesman, and went back to his home state of Ohio. He enrolled at Ohio University, entered the theatre department, and there met the teacher from whom he learned the most, Rex McGraw. After Dad’s graduation year, Rex was bound for Lincoln, Nebraska to head the theatre department and initiate the first ever Fine Arts of Theatre Master’s Program at UNL. He asked some of his best students to accompany him to be a part of the burgeoning program.
So Dad went.
A few months later, there he sat, in his first ‘Advanced Acting’ class. And, then, eventually, in breezed Judy. Late.
She was in her junior year at UNL, and already a staple of the theatre program. Mom was (and remains) the epitome of honest beauty. Long, effortless black hair, beautiful hazel eyes, a smile and laugh that most likely made Cliff’s heart thump in his chest.
He tapped the shoulder of the guy next to him.
“I’m going to marry that girl.”
My dad loved to tell this story while my mom would downplay the unbelievable romanticism of it all.
“Gosh, I probably looked crazy” – or something similar, is her usual response.
Dad missed his chance to have Mom as his acting partner for the semester. Jack Honor got to her first. But luckily, Dad’s patented patience, respect, and persistence, and maybe even that poem of his that started “Smokey bars have left me dry…” led to his initial proclamation becoming fulfilled September 12th, 1977.
Rex McGraw, the guy who led Dad to Lincoln and, a guy I should probably really thank (thanks, Rex!), created the program that gave both of my parents Masters degrees. During their time in Lincoln they did a million shows, filled memory books with newspaper clippings and show pictures and reviews that their pigeon-toed daughter would devour years later, and forged lasting and meaningful relationships on stages and at dining rooms tables and in the halls of the University I would attend a few decades later.
Rex believed in them. He believed in their talent. He shared in their lives. He built a legacy. One that my parents and many of their friends are a part of. And, when Dad passed away, he planted a tree in his honor.
This zucchini soup is Rex McGraw’s. When I eat it, I think of what that time and those people must have been like. I think about the insular identities we create in the halls of our youth. I think of the way Mom mentions Rex; a look in her eyes that holds so much more memory than she’s ever be able to share.
And I like that. I like that there are parts of Mom I’ll never know. I like that she has a history that doesn’t always include me. This recipe holds a special nostalgia for her, different than the nostalgia it holds for me. Many of the recipes I’ve shared do. But, in either case, they live on.
Rex McGraw’s Zucchini Soup
The menu of my parent’s early years.
Their beginnings. My beginnings.
The other night I made this soup with Mom for the first time. We talked through her youth. We did math and recollected dates. I corrected the order of the time before they knew one another in my memory.
Mom and I hadn’t spent time with each other for a year before tonight because of the pandemic. But we were able to safely get together for about ten days. And sitting across the table from her, talking about Dad and Rex and Susie and Carl and George and Pam and Donovan and Stephanie and Steve and Loreda….talking about a time in her life before me, while she holds my daughter and we chop onions, is everything my heart has needed during this isolation. It’s why I cook. It’s why I share food. It’s why I’m sharing these recipes.
So that somebody remembers.
“Always & Forever”
Love you, Momma.
Broth vs. Stock
What’s the difference? Really? Saturation of flavor.
According to Kate Heddings, an executive food editor at Food & Wine magazine, “Broth is something you sip. Stock is something you cook with.”
Ever since I read this I’ve adopted it as my explanation as well. Now, I know, how many people are sipping chicken broth? Probably not many. And there’s a lot of recipes that call for broth. But, I’ll be honest with you, I always, always buy stock. It fills out the base of soups, stews, and skillet meals better. It doesn’t change the makeup of the dish. It’s comparable, if not cheaper, in price.
Also: Don’t fall for those ‘bone broths’ for 16.99 an ounce.
Just get or make your own stock. Trust me.
- About 2 lbs. zucchini, partially peeled and chopped into smallish pieces
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp curry
- Salt & Pepper
- 4 C chicken stock (*sub veggie stock for a meatless option)
- 1/2 C milk (*sub your fav milk alternative for a vegan option)
- 1 C heavy cream (*sub your fav cream alternative for a vegan option)
- Cutting board
- Chef’s knife
- Various measuring cups and spoons
- Soup pot of your choice
- Stirrin’ spoon
- Chop your zucchini, onion, and garlic. Toss in the soup pot and then add your curry, and season with salt and pepper. Toss or stir to coat.
- Pour your chicken broth/stock into the pot and set over high heat, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 45 minutes.
- Let the soup cool a bit, then puree in a blender – really get it smooth.
- Pour it back in the pot and add the cream and milk. Mix well.
This soup can be served warm or chilled. If you’re serving it chilled, garnish with some rough chopped chives if you’ve got ’em, maybe a pretty swirl of creme fraiche or sour cream. Do your thing.