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Sharon Randall: Kitchens smell like happiness

By Sharon Randall

This is not something I say often. Or ever, really. But I wish you could smell my kitchen.
An hour ago, I came home with a carload of groceries. I hauled in two bags at a time, as much as I could carry, back and forth, back and forth, thinking, as I always do, surely there’s a better way to do this.
Wrong. There is no better way. If you know of one, I’d love to hear about it. While I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time cooking, I could almost swear I’ve spent half my life hauling groceries home and putting them away.
When my children were growing up — especially when they were teenagers — we went through groceries so fast I used to joke about making them eat in the car straight from the bags.
It wasn’t much of a joke.
The kids are grown now, cooking for themselves, leaving my husband and me on our own, usually. But I still spend a lot of time in grocery stores.
Maybe we eat more than we used to? Whatever. The point is, groceries are a big part of my life. But let me be clear.
I am not complaining. I love shopping for groceries. I love the infinite variety, seeing what’s fresh, what’s in season, what’s in other people’s carts.
I don’t even really mind hauling it home and putting it away. If that’s a problem, it’s a good problem to have.
My mother had a much bigger problem with groceries: paying for them. It was often a struggle. To compensate, she’d spend hours every summer gardening and canning and freezing fruits and vegetables for the winter.
It’s not bad on occasion to have too little. It teaches you to count your blessings and never take for granted being lucky enough to have too much.
One of my favorite meals growing up was something my mother called “soup mixture” — a blend of tomatoes, onions, corn and okra that she canned in quart-sized Mason jars and lined up like trophies on a shelf.
Come winter, when the wind howled through cracks in the cinderblock walls, she would pop open one of those jars, heat it up on the stove, bake a big pan of cornbread and we’d eat.
It was good.
Just coming home to the smell of it simmering on the stove was enough to make me happy.
Which brings me to where I started, the smell in my kitchen.
After putting away all those groceries, I turned on the oven.
Yes, I know how.
Then I filled a roasting pan (lined with parchment paper for easier clean-up) with a dozen fresh tomatoes (cut in half), four onions (quartered) and a fistful of garlic (whole cloves, peeled.) Salt and pepper to taste.
I put that pan in the oven to roast at 350 for two hours. Then I filled another pan (also with parchment) with an eggplant (cut in bite-sized chunks), a bunch of Brussels sprouts (halved) and a butternut squash (peeled and cubed.)
Salt and pepper again. That pan went in the oven, too, top rack above the tomatoes. It’s been in there about an hour.
I wish you could smell it.
I’ll take it out soon. The squash will go in soup tomorrow. The sprouts will be a side dish tonight.
I’ll boil and drain a pot of pasta. In about an hour, after the tomatoes collapse and turn a gorgeous reddish brown, I’ll take them out and scrape them into a pan along with the roasted eggplant and onions and garlic, plus a cup of white wine or some pasta cooking water.
I’ll let that simmer for a bit.
When my husband comes home from work, the smell of it will make him happy.
I’ll pour it over the pasta, serve it up and we will count our blessings. It will be good, yes, almost as good as my mother’s soup mixture. And the best thing about it? I got the recipe from my oldest child.

Contact Sharon Randall at www.sharonrandall.com.

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