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The BEST Potato Soup in the World!!



Posted by on Dec 28, 2011 | 5 comments

Sauteeing diced potatoes, celery & onionsMy failing as a food blogger may be my forgetfulness to photographically document the process, but s w e e t mercy, when I do share a recipe?  It's money.  Tried and true with plenty of proof in the puddin' (or cake or pie or veggie or mac and chesse or …!), I'll stack my favorite recipes against Paula Deen, Martha Stewart, Pioneer Woman, Southern Living or Rachael Ray any day of the week.

My friend Isabel hosted a soup dinner before Christmas; and I'm not too proud to admit I wanted to lick the bowl after trying her version of Potato Soup.  Out goes my old recipe, in with hers.  And the secret ingredient?  A method that was new to me but probably familiar to many. 

Isabel's Best Potato Soup in the World


  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced*
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup butter (mmmm, an entire stick!!)
  • 5 cups milk**
  • 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Dash of cayenne pepper


  • Combine potatoes, onion, celery and butter in large saucepan.Cook over low heat 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  
  • Do not brown.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients; bring to boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Remove bay leaf; put 1/2 of the mixture in a blender and purée.  (Ah ha!  The secret method!!  This is the best way to thicken a soup, using ingredients instead of cornstarch or flour!  Her soup:  creamy, velvety delicousness!)
  • Combine blended mixture with remaining soup. 
  • Serve with shredded cheddar, chopped scallions and bacon.
  • Enjoy ~  Mug of potato soup with bacon & cheese



* I used six potatoes; next time I'll use eight.  I like chunky soups :).

** Isabel used 2 cups of skim and 3 cups of fat free half and half; I used 2% and it was still delicious.

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Top ten reasons you should see “We Bought a Zoo”



Posted by on Dec 26, 2011 | 9 comments

Alone on Christmas day this year, our family decided to catch an afternoon movie; I might've been the only one moved to tears
5 times
don't judge me
but everyone walked away praising this movie that exceeded already-high expectation.

Here's why:


10.  It's truly family friendly. 

For those with a need to know, I recall two occurrences of "adult" words; one, an honest portrayal of father-son conflict and woundedness (appropriate to the scene), the other an almost shocking utterance by seven-year-old Rosie, said by her in ignorance to make a point, when a few other choices would have worked just as well.  (ADDED:  A commentor shared one of her friend's opinions who had said "the cursing was out of control."  While I don't agree with that harsh of a characterization (and I have older children), language IS one of the reasons the film earned a PG rating; please consult Bob Hoose's review for a word-by-word count of "Crude/Profane Language.")

9.  Rosie Mee. 

It's the first time I've been introduced to Maggie Elizabeth Jones, and we can only hope she has the foundation and family support to remain sane; it would be a crying shame if she morphs into a Lindsay Lohan or Miley Cyrus.  Maggie's a stinkin' adorable, little finger-wrapping, scene-stealing charmer.  Her sparkle and shine could illumine Manhattan.  She's perfection as Rosie.

8.  Well told story.

The first time I saw the trailer for We Bought a Zoo, I thought it was comedy; it's not.  A family needs to heal.  A father needs to learn how to hear his son and build their relationship.  A boy meets girl.  Zookeepers love their job and want to keep it.  Teamwork.  Camaraderie.  Conflict.  Bad guys.  Good guys.  Director Cameron Crowe invited me into a story I cared about.

7.  Great cast.

All the characters mattered to me.  I liked 'em.  They played their roles well without resorting to cliche (mostly).  Scarlett Johannson toned down the heat for her role as Chief Zookeeper, and I loved Angus Macfadyen (a spirits drinking, large-living Scottish zookeeper), J.B. Smoove (an endearing realtor), Colin Ford, (a broken-hearted, artistic and misunderstood teen), Kym Whitley (a Home Depot cashier with a timely word of encouragement).  Even brother Thomas Haden Church evolved believably from dissenter to supporter. 

6.  Matt Damon.

How can anyone not be a fan?  From his award-winning debut writing and acting in Good Will Hunting, to Saving Private Ryan, the Oceans trilogy, the Bourne series and the disturbing The Talented Mr. Ripley, he's money at the box office.  But his success isn't rooted in a pretty face, he has the ability to become The Father (or The Spy or The Soldier), not an actor playing the role.  In Zoo, I feel Benjamin Mee's pain, I understand his challenges and I believe his tears are real. 

5.  The Animals

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  From my earliest Wonderful World of Walt Disney movies on TV Sunday nights when I was a child, I loved features with animals.  The wilder, the better.  Here, each one will tell their own story…and I could almost smell that bear's bad breath and feel his nasty spit!

4.  No sex or nudity.

I guess this goes along with family friendly, but can I just state for the record how thankful I am no one got naked, no one even implied naked, and no kisses reached the tonsils. 

3.  Kids were KIDS

In keeping with the above, I am SO glad director Cameron Crowe went with a hug when most directors would have gone with First Kiss when this scene rolled around.  That was refreshingly unexpected but greatly appreciated. 

2.  Great quotes

"I like the animals…but I love the humans.
~ Duncan Mee

"You don't want me. I'm filled with Scotch, bitterness and impure thoughts!"
~ Peter MacCready in confronting a lip-smacking lion

"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."
~ Benjamine Mee (I bet this sentiment becomes one many will come to live by :).)

1.  The last scene.

I can't recall the last two words of a movie being more perfect.  I can't remember a scene demonstrating love and family healing better than this.  Poignant, heart-stirring, redemptive and satisfying, it was a wonderful conclusion to this engaging story. 

Your turn:  Have you seen the movie?  Share your thoughts!  I'd love to hear any movie recommendations you have to offer.


Buy the book that inspired the movie!


Linked at Oh Amanda's Top Ten Tuesday, too.


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The Panhandler’s Breath



Posted by on Dec 24, 2011 | 1 comment



He slipped in sideways between the closing elevator doors, as if he were late to a meeting; he pressed the “5” without looking. Instead of suit and tie, though, baggy pants and faded navy hung on his tall, slim frame.

His stealth entry stiffened the hairs on the back of my neck.

I had noticed him a few seconds earlier, just after we had parted a sea of clamorous teens. He was smiling, grandfatherly, standing maybe 30 feet away where the downtown electric shuttle picks up.

I had no idea he had been watching us, studying us, predator patiently awaiting his next prey.

The four of us were sealed in a four-by-six-foot metal tomb. Tomb–that thought really muscled its way into my mind. I wondered if he had a knife in his pocket. I wanted to protect my son.

Fight or flight pumped adrenaline but there was no where to run.

Extreme and ridiculous, these thoughts and more flashed through my mind. The Stranger began speaking.

“Yessir, I see you’re a family man with your wife and your son here…” and he nodded in my and my son’s direction.

“…you see I’m homeless and all I’ve got…” and on queue, he reached into his left pocket and pulled out two old pennies blackened with age. Two cents to his name?! It was all so contrived, too practiced, and I didn’t believe a word he was saying.

It was then I smelled it, though ~ the small space lent itself to that ~ and I doubted my doubt.

His breath.

It wasn’t the scent of alcohol. His eyes weren’t red, his voice didn’t waver; his wizened face matched his graying hair.

His breath was morning’s.  Zoo breath–the pet name I’d given to the scent inhaled when kissing my children awake when they were little.  But it was nighttime.

He needed to brush his teeth. I wondered how long it had been since he brushed his teeth.

The elevator door opened and I gave him our leftover pizza as my son and I brushed past him. My husband handed him a bill and the Stranger thanked and God blessed him.

The elevator door closed behind us. I was relieved but conflicted.

We got in the car and emptied our thoughts–

“I didn’t believe a word he said.”

“That made me nervous.”

“I wonder if he’ll really eat the pizza.”

In the quiet and the dark, we were left to our own thoughts.  I wondered what my son had taken away from the exchange.

Was this man hungry, on his way to sleeping in a box, on the ground, behind parked cars?  Was it just a con?  Regardless of the truth, for an old man to resort to begging he has to be desperate. The money my husband gave him will never be missed. It made me realize we’ve been entrusted with much and given much. Materially, yes, but more so spiritually. Loved, chosen, forgiven, redeemed, graced, lavished–every spiritual blessing. E v e r y.

There’s a part of me that wishes I would have been brave enough to ask the man his story, made sure he knew he was loved…and bought him a tooth brush.

Later, it occurred to me he could have been an angel.  Regardless, isn’t it always right to extend generosity, kindness, grace and hospitality? Then it’s not about you or the stranger or the circumstance, it’s about a simple, God-glorifying response.

Had we entertained an angel unaware? We’ll never know.

But it wouldn’t be the first time the Breath of Heaven smelled like a zoo.

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