Roaster Vegetable Soup
ROASTED VEGETABLE SOUP The headline on the front page of my daily Long Island newspaper, Newsday, screams, “Hurricane Season is Here!” There’s nothing like consuming purposely provoked alarm with my breakfast. Seems the meteorologists are predicting the “possibility” of several violent storms before we get safely to November, when hurricane season ends. I know we have plenty of bottled water, batteries, candles, flashlights, lanterns, and necessary food provisions. However, yesterday, my husband and I finished the last serving of roasted vegetable soup from a batch I made and froze in the lingering coolness of last spring. This soup is our comfort food, especially when we’re under siege by a storm that takes down the power. We can heat this succulent soup during a blackout by lighting the top burner of our gas stove with a match. July has been hot, here on the North Fork, with endless bugs, and lackadaisical bay breezes. Last night, a cool front blew in, and this morning is comfortable and dry. The invigorating air is perfect for whipping up another batch of soup, but I need to start now, for it takes hours and the kitchen gets steamy. My refrigerator reveals a pound each of carrots and celery – the cupboard contains three sweet potatoes and two large onions. Perfect. However, I’m low on extra virgin olive oil. The chopped vegetables become sweeter if they are generously coated in EVOO before roasting in the oven for an hour. Then, I carefully spoon the golden mixture into a big pot of hot chicken stock, add salt, lots of black pepper, and let everything bubble on the stove for another hour. The smell is divine and the soup makes a superb meal served with crusty whole grain bread. I need more olive oil. Fortunately, the King Kullen Supermarket on the Main Road in Cutchogue is a short drive from my house. When I arrive, the store is bustling, long lines snaking around the front, blocking the passage of other shoppers. One of the few things I dislike about living on the North Fork is the population swell in the summer. My plan is to get done quickly and purposely don’t take a cart, knowing my susceptibility to impulse. But the scent of cantaloupes, displayed by the entrance, grabs me. I pick one up and sniff it. Weakening, I get a cart and take two. My husband needs ice cream and we’re low on milk. By the time I put the olive oil in my cart, I’ve added two jars of peanut butter and a whole grain boule. “That’s it,” I mumble, heading to the front where the checkout aisles await. I spy a few of my neighbors, and we smile at each other, sharing an unspoken wish for the return of our peaceful supermarket. Of course, some of us were tourists or tenants once, but our long years of full-time residence have created a smug sense of ownership. Standing on the back of a long line, I wonder if this is an unwarranted surge of panic caused by this morning’s headline. The North Fork is exposed to the positive and negative moods of nature. Many people live near the miles of beach-front or under the towering, old trees that suffer in drenching rain and high wind. We often lose power, and there is always flooding. “Hurricanes and tourists – neither wanted,” I think, remembering other storms from years ago. The July I turned seven, my parents moved from our second-story apartment in the Bronx to Long Beach, a small, old city on a barrier island off the south shore of Long Island. Our new home was a bungalow, located a mile from the Atlantic Ocean and three blocks from the bay. Within the month, a hurricane roared down upon our tiny house. My father, a New York City firefighter, was on emergency duty at his firehouse, leaving my Mother, brother and me to face this storm, and many to come, without him. My mother grew up in Rockaway, a seaside community in Queens, and had experienced numerous hurricanes. She was familiar with the effects of driving wind and an angry sea, and her experience kept her calm during this violent storm. That night, torrential rain hammered the windows, huge tree branches crashed to the ground, but inside, all was fine. A tradition was created; hunker down and play games- Gin Rummy, Solitaire, Crazy Eights, Monopoly, and endless Scrabble, my mother’s favorite. We played by candlelight, munching on oatmeal cookies and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on squishy Wonder bread for dinner. Hurricanes attacked during all the years I lived in Long Beach, killing the power, but not the telephone, which my mother said was a life-saver. Our streets flooded but we remained dry, and I fell asleep feeling unrealistically safe, lulled by the sound of my mother’s voice as she talked or played games with my brother. Two years after we moved to Long Beach, we were visited by a violent series of hurricanes. On August 31, Carol, a category 3 storm, smashed into the North East coast, followed by Edna, a storm so similar in its path and strength they were nicknamed, “the sister storms.” Then Hurricane Hazel, a category 4 storm, developed in the Caribbean Sea, pummeling the coasts of the Carolina, finally veering inland, and losing some of her strength as she headed north, away from the water. On Long Island, we felt the fury of her outer-rim winds and rain, but her impact had weakened. My mother, stressed by the third major storm in weeks, decided it was time for an adventure. “Let’s walk to the beach,” she said, “I want you to see the Ocean.” I was thrilled. My older brother decided we were crazy, and refused to come with us. “Put on long pants,” Mom instructed, “and high rubber boots, a sweatshirt and a rain coat with a hood,” which she tied tight under my chin. Outside, the wind slammed us, the warm rain drenched our faces, and we walked, with our heads down, holding hands. Water surged around our boots, collecting debris as it scoured the streets; leaves, branches, plastic trash cans, and their contents flowed past. No one was out walking. An occasional car rolled slowly by, creating a small wake in the flooded street, the occupants staring at us as if we were crazy. Maybe we were, but the air was charged with power. As we got closer, I could hear the roar of the Atlantic, and when we reached the boardwalk, I saw the water, foaming and swirling underneath, rushing out into the streets. We walked backwards up one of the ramps, turning at the top to face the ocean. Spray and rain slashed my face, and severe gusts of wind pushed me back, but my mother kept her arm tight around my shoulders. The sky was a dark, greenish grey, its color seeping down into the furious sea. Huge, white-crested waves rose and crashed down on the wide expanse of beach that was completely covered by water. I was enthralled. This was something I would never forget. Despite our rain gear, we were soaked. As we headed home, the wind at our backs hurrying us along, I saw a police car slowly approaching. It stopped in front of us, the window rolled down by an officer who had a look of disbelief on his face. “What are you ladies doing out here?” “Taking a walk,” my mother said. “A walk?” “I wanted my daughter to see the ocean.” “Why don’t you get in the car, and I’ll give you a ride home?” My mother and I looked at each other. “No thanks. We’ll be fine.” “Promise me you’ll go straight home?” “I promise,” my mother replied. We arrived at our door drenched but happy, and peeled off our soaked layers of clothing in the mud room. I start the soup as soon as I get home from the supermarket. Hurricanes are still on my mind as I chop the vegetables. Having lived near the Atlantic Ocean for most of my life, I’ve withstood a long list of howling storms. My mother’s brave attitude and decades of living through these tempests without harm have created a dangerous and false sense of security. I always stay and ride them out, looking back afterwards, amazed at my audacity. I put the heavily oiled, seasoned vegetables into the pre-heated oven and clean up. I don’t feel any more alarmed at the arrival of this hurricane season than any previous. Of course, I hope my luck continues but it feels good to know that I will be facing whatever is coming with a freezer full of roasted vegetable soup.