Fall is really making an entrance now, in mid-October in the shiny Ozarks surrounding Bull Shoals Lake. Unlike so many past autumns, this one's slowly easing in, instead of dropping the temperature by a dozen degrees every few days until boom -- all of a sudden it's cold and you have to dig out the mittens. It feels like summer is waving good-bye, turning around to see what she's leaving as she shuffles south and outta here. There's that sultry veil of haze following her, leaving the sky a true blue turquoise and air smelling like clean water. Now that summer's oppressive weight is lifting, all kinds of delicious possibilities are blowing around. Like, "It's finally cool enough to have the oven on; go ahead: Bake Something." A chill in the morning makes soup for supper sound like a reasonable idea.
I like a hearty beef vegetable soup (Recipe: Lazy Cook's Beef Veggie Soup on User Friendly page) soon as the weather warrants soup-y dishes. Pile on the carrots, celery, potatoes and onions to build the stock structure. They are dependable, basic, affordable and loaded with the nutrients of Earth. I like to use a well-marbled chuck roast if the price is good, and cut it up and brown it on every edge to add to the meaty flavor of the stock. The butcher at the grocery where I do most of my shopping said the stew meat is a good option -- she said it's shavings from sirloins and ribeyes, as well as cheaper cuts. If the price is comparable, why not? It's that much easier in the process.
But a robust soup needs not just flesh but a backbone to hold it up -- I take some saved beef bones from ribs or steaks from the freezer or buy a few new ones (have to share with the dog, of course). Steep the bones for hours in a stock with the onions and celery tops, five or six crumbled bay leaves and a peeled whole carrot. Cooking the bones for 24 hours releases the digestible calcium and converts any marrow in the bones into flavorful fat. Strain the bones and slimy (by then!) veggies, chop fresh ones and dump in a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of low-sodium V-8 juice, oregano, marjoram (if you have it), celery seed, thyme, parsley, rosemary. Let these simmer a while together; then cover the pot, turn off the burner and go for a walk for an hour or two. You could rake a while, maybe.
When you get back, your kitchen will smell like bread baking and your glasses will fog up, and you turn the heat back on, add a can or 1/2 frozen package of each of these: whole corn, green beans, and peas. Heat to steeping and just before serving -- preferably with a plate of buttered saltine crackers and cold glass of real milk -- take the biggest cinnamon stick you can find and swish it around in the pot for a few minutes (no more than five.) Fish it out, and any pieces of the bay leaves you can find, and fortify, revive and empower yourself with its beefy greatness.
Sometimes you may get a late start in preparing this soup, but don't let that stop you. If it is not ready to eat until after you've put the kids to bed, it will be fine to let them wake up to its heady scent after the late news. They can have a little cup or two in the kitchen with you. It will warm and soothe them and they will go back to bed thinking how nice it will be to come home from school tomorrow and have just such a cup with some buttered crackers.
It might be late but you should probably all have a little mug of hot chocolate before sending them off to bed.
Use the real milk.