I used to love it. The steam from the bowl as it rose up to my nostrils; the creamy warmth just a spoonful away; the green, floating slices of subtle crunchiness – Campbell’s Cream of Celery Soup, my favorite lunch after coming home from the morning session of Kindergarten at Macy Elementary School. If I was really lucky, Mom would also include a grilled cheese sandwich, but for the most part, just the soup was enough to make me one happy 5 year old. It was served in my very own Mary Alice Hadley bowl.
|Mary Alice Hadley was an artist from Louisville, Kentucky and |
one of my aunt's best friends. My aunt was one of the first retailers to sell
Mary Alice's wares in her shop in St. Matthews, Kentucky.
It had my name on the outside and ALL GONE on the bottom. Mom made it a game to get to the “All DONE”, making lunch not only filling but fun. I loved this soup; it was my favorite lunch, until…
…I spent a weekend with the babysitter from hell. Her name was Mrs. Marris. My parents were going away for a long overdue weekend away alone, and Mrs. Marris was to mind us. And mind us, she would. She minded me, especially.
My mother had selected Mrs. Marris from a child care registry which noted she was a church going woman, had raised a large family herself and was experienced in caring for infants – my sister was less than a year old at time. I was used to having neighborhood high school girls babysit. They would listen to The Beatles on my parents’ Hi-Fi, tell me all about their boyfriends - “You know the really cute guy who drives that cool Chevy?” - and would put my hair up in pink sponge rollers before I went to bed so my extra-straight locks would be somewhat curly the next morning. Mrs. Marris was a different kind of babysitter. Everything with her was all peachy as my parents, waving and blowing kisses, drove out of the driveway, down the street and on to their weekend alone.
The first hint of “a different kind of babysitter” came when a boy, a few years older and much taller than me, was dropped off at our house. It was one of Mrs. Marris’ grandsons and she had told his parents that she would watch him since she was already watching someone else’s kids. Once out of eye and ear shot of his grandmother, who was doting endlessly on my little sister, he called me names and teased me mercilessly, trying to illicit a dramatic response on my part that would no doubt cause his grandmother to leave the reverie of caring for the baby and get mad at me. I ignored him, which only made him all the angrier. Bullies are like that, aren’t they?
As a last resort for my attention, Grandson from Hell grabbed a small chair, a special gift from a visit to Los Angeles’ Olvera Street and threatened to break my chair, my chair, my chair!
|A similar, more modern version|
of my beloved chair
Mrs. Marris was not pleased, not at all. But it was not her devil spawn who felt her wrath. No matter how I tried to explain that it was he who sat in and broke my chair, the blame was all on me. Nope, no way, no how, would her grandson do such a thing. I was told to stay in my room, indefinitely. I hated Mrs. Marris.
The next day, Grandson from Hell was gone and Mrs. Marris was in a far more conciliatory mood. Perhaps the little blighter confessed, but I’m sure it had more to do with Mrs. Marris wanting to receive a glowing review of her services from the eldest, and only articulate, Reilly child. I was served Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup for lunch that day. “Your mother said it is your favorite”, she said with a tone of voice bordering on fawning.
I did not see Mrs. Marris again after that long, long, very long weekend. Elsie Smith, our beloved housekeeper, became our babysitter when my parents needed time away. Consequently, I have not had Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup since the early 1960’s. Try as she might, my mother could not get me to eat it ever again, even knowing it had once been my favorite.
Celery, for most of the population, is a benign sort of vegetable. Great for dips, a part of the classic mirepoix. It isn’t usually a vegetable that stands out on its own.
Canadian Actor and Comedian Mike Myers has something to say about celery:
Canada is the essence of not being. Not English, not American, it is the mathematic of not being. And a subtle flavour - we're more like celery as a flavour.”
In my humble opinion, Canada and celery both have some bragging rights. Olympic Ice Hockey Gold for Canada and adding crunch and tang to your average chicken salad. Though I cannot control the wins, loses, ties and skirmishes that make hockey so popular, I can provide a crispy way to enjoy celery. Mrs. Marris may or not approve, but I am so over her!
So, how have I found my celery love?
At Camp Blogaway in May 2103, Duda Farm Fresh provided a prom dress showing of pink and green stalks. If these do not change your opinion of celery, I don’t know what will!
One of my favorite salads is Chicken Salad Veronique from the Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa At Home cookbook.
Whether you roast your own chicken breasts or go for the time-saver method, this salad is a winner. And it works year round. Celery, with its year-round availability, makes this salad as tasty in August as it is in February.
Chicken Salad Veronique
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa by Margie MacKenzie, Nutmeg Kitchens
Serves 6-8, easily increased to serve any amount
4 whole chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
2 cups Red Flame Grapes, halved
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon, more for garnish
½-1 cup apple cider vinegar, depending on taste
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts – optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Generously salt and pepper the chicken breasts and rub olive oil over them. Roast for 25-35 minutes, until the skin is golden and the flesh hits 160 degrees with an instant read thermometer. Allow chicken to cool. Chicken can be prepared one day in advance.
Once chicken is cooled, remove the skin and shred the meat off the bones. Dice the meat and set aside.
To assemble to salad:
Halve the grapes. Chop the celery – include some of the leaves for extra flavor.
For the dressing - place the mayonnaise, cider vinegar and salt and pepper in a small bowl; whisk together and add more salt and pepper to taste (sometimes I even add a splash or two of hot sauce).
Place the cubed chicken, grapes and celery in a bowl; toss with the dressing. Refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days. Allow the salad to come room temperature before serving. Garnish with chopped tarragon optional nuts. Serve in a large serving bowl or on a platter on top of a bed of red leaf lettuce.