On long car trips, I'll do nearly anything to "de-bud" the kids' ears of their iPods. So we play the "license plate game," checking off the various state license plates we spot on drives to Charleston, the beach or camp. Sound a bit young for kids the age of mine? It is. But we're crazy competitive about a couple of things. Being right is one of those things. The license plate game is another.
Since Charlotte's only a few miles from the state border, South Carolina plates are common. Florida, Georgia and inexplicably, Ohio and New Jersey, are next. South Dakota, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Oregon are nearly impossible. And based on our unscientific research, North Dakota has quietly seceded from the Union.
Oddly, we've noticed an influx of out-of-staters since the New Year. I suspect it has something to do with the economy. At our neighborhood grocery store today, I spied plates from Vermont, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. Imagine those drivers' confusion earlier this week, when our fair city nearly shut down for a mere four inches of snow! Laugh -- but in this case, the powers that be were right. None of us should have been out on the road. And with our city's limited road-clearing resources, even those drivers from I-95 (way) north were better off at home spending quality time with Matt and Meredith, Oprah and Phil.
When those first fat flakes floated down Sunday night, my daughter, who knows full well how fleeting Charlotte snow can be, rushed outside, where she stayed for over two hours, clad in her cold weather gear -- hat, gloves and a nylon windbreaker. As it turned out, the snow lingered long enough the next morning to get in some sledding -- followed shorter thereafter by some frozen mudding.
Even so, there was an absolute magic to it. We hunkered down, made potato soup, and enjoyed the frozen finale to our winter. The forecast for this Saturday, no kidding, is 70 degrees. And even better for me, the kids were back in school today.
Potato Soup Plus
1 onion, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 14-oz. cans of chicken broth
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
1 slice ham hock
1 cup light cream
salt and pepper to taste
chopped ham (optional)
steamed broccoli florets
steamed sliced carrots
sour cream (for garnish)
minced chives (for garnish)
Very slowly, brown onion in butter over very low heat. (May take 15 minutes -- or longer -- but worth it for the rich taste.) When nicely browned, stir in chicken broth, potatoes, bay leaves and ham hock. Bring to a boil, turn to low and simmer about an hour, adding water if needed to keep soup from getting too thick or sticky. When potatoes are very tender, and broth very flavorful, use potato masher to break potatoes into small pieces. Gently stir in light cream. Heat carefully and season well with salt and pepper.
Put a handful of steamed vegetables and ham in bottom of each individual bowl, ladling soup on top. Garnish with sour cream and chives.