Because Life with Kids is Sticky...Very Sticky

Lucy Mercer

Lucy Mercer
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
December 31
I cook, I write, I carpool. You may also find my words at A Cook and Her Books. Email acookandherbooks@gmail.com. Thanks for visiting!


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JULY 25, 2010 9:36AM

How I spent my summer vacation...

Rate: 17 Flag
And fell in love with chilled soups.
almond soup with grapes
Because my girls, ages 4 and 11, drive me crazy while we’re packing for a vacation, my husband and I have learned to pack on the sly and not reveal any plans until we are in the car. We tried this first a couple years ago for a trip to Disney World. We had crossed the Georgia-Florida line before they figured out where we were headed. I got away with the deceit again this year, with the girls having no idea we were leaving until the Saturday morning in June when we woke them up at 5 a.m., told them to get dressed and grab their loveys and blankies and pillows. We pointed the loaded-up minivan east on I-20 and evaded all questions regarding “where are we going?” and “when are we going to be there?”

When the signs outside of Columbia, South Carolina, started mentioning Charleston, my older daughter, Laura, dialed a clue. “Charleston, yay! I want to go to the beach!” My husband and I exchanged glances, but didn’t reveal the true vacation plans. Once in Charleston, we parked the minivan and ate at our favorite hometown restaurant, Jestine’s, home of some dandy fried chicken for me and crab cakes for my husband.
Back in the car, we eased onto East Bay Street and Laura started looking for the hotel, which if you know Charleston, is kind of funny, because there are charming little inns on East Bay, but not the big kind of kid-friendly hotel with a beach Laura was thinking about. Down on East Bay, you can see the Carnival Fantasy cruise ship as it prepares for weekly Caribbean runs - I think it’s high time that Charleston is a cruise ship port - we all need another reason to visit and eat in this charming city.

We pointed out the ship to the girls and they noticed the show-off  red and blue whale-tail /smokestack and the waterslide on the upper deck. “Doesn’t that look like fun,” we asked. “But where’s the hotel?” Laura replied. “Where’s the beach? C’mon, guys, where are we going?” It wasn’t until we pulled into the “Cruise Traffic” lane that Laura finally understood “We’re going on the boat!”
There are only a few subjects more tiresome than listening to a post-mortem on someone else’s vacation (childbirth stories and the play-by-play for little Janey’s soccer match spring to mind.), so I’ll mention just a few impressions from boarding the boat. First, the passengers: because they cannot smoke on land, everyone lit up once they boarded the boat. Passengers were lighting up in the elevators (!). Second: upon entering our middle-aisle cabin with the bunk beds and super-magneto, stay-open doors, I could not get the phrase “entombed in her watery grave” out of my head. Third: poolside. Oh, the humanity. Oh, the obese, tattooed, smoking, humanity. After a day at sea, I would add “crimson, third-degree burned” to that description.

Maybe my blood sugar was low - the sweet tea boost from Jestine’s had worn off by late afternoon. My mood dramatically improved once I was fed. I’m easy - just give me starched linens, fresh-faced waiters and a menu without chicken fingers and hot dogs, and I’m content. With the ship pointed south towards the Caribbean, the menu included warm-weather selections such as cold soups. Gazpacho the first night was low-calorie, tart and satisfying. Laura chose the Orange Sory, which I’ve come to believe is just melted orange sherbet garnished with tapioca pearls. Naturally, it’s one of the best things she’s ever eaten. The next night, she chose strawberry bisque, which was like a grown-up smoothie - sweet and pink and creamy. The service for the chilled soup is part of the magic - a soup plate with a garnish in the center placed in front of the diner, then the waiter reaches over with a small pitcher of soup and pours into the plate, from 10 o’clock to 10 o’clock.

Since our return home, we've experimented with cold soups - I made chilled cherry soup, thickened with a cornstarch slurry. I have plans for a cantaloupe soup once the melons become stinky-ripe, just crying out for a blitz with lime and honey and a dash of chile pepper.
almond soup grapes

The sweet soups are nice as a dessert course or a special treat for the girls, but for a starter, I like a savory chilled soup along the lines of almond soup. Sometimes called ajo blanco or white gazpacho, it’s simple and tasty, and no less kid-pleasing - Laura gobbled this serving down as soon as the picture was made. The traditional almond soup uses garlic, but I prefer the refreshing bite of shallots instead. This is light, unusual, vegan, satisfying.

Chilled Almond Soup

I use homemade vegetable broth, a snap to make and useful to have on hand.

Serves 2 soup bowls or 4 demitasse cups (very civilized)

¾ cup almonds, blanched preferred, but whole with skins ok

1 shallot

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh bread crumbs

2 cups cold vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Sliced almonds or green grapes for garnish

1. Toast the almonds in a skillet for a few minutes, remove from heat and let cool.

2. In a food processor, puree shallot, then add toasted almonds. Blitz until finely ground. Add olive oil and bread crumbs and process until combined. With the motor running, slowly pour in vegetable broth through the feed tube. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish with sherry vinegar.

3. Strain and serve in rimmed soup plates or demitasse cups.

I’ll end with a kid-pleasing cruise ship gimmick - towels folded into animal shapes. Each night, we returned to the cabin to find out what the cabin steward Igusti would create next: There were lobsters, manatees, crabs, swans, pigs and this. Dog or rabbit, you decide.
towel dog
Text and images © 2010, Lucy Mercer.


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I vote rabbit - I had a large one, big ears, and it being Florida, he stretched out like this all-a-time-a - so yes, rabbit. Menu without a kids section = adult heaven. Hope you have a sunburn to take home, otherwise no one will believe you were in the Caribe. (congrats on the stealth ops)
That almond soup sounds great! Your story reminds me of Anthony Bourdain's story in Kitchen Confidential about the life-changing vichyssoise he sampled on a cruise during his childhood.

And I'm with Gabby--that towel critter is definitely a rabbit!
I love ajo blanco, Lucy - a good choice! I saw unbaked croissants in the folded napkin, but if the choices are among what's given, I'd go with a rabbit or a dog sitting by my knees. ~R
delightful. i must try the chilled fruit soups. my daughter would freak with the stress of packing etc., but she totally divorced me when we surprised her with a trip. never again.
Your girls are the luckiest chicks on the planet! Your cooking...and a cruise!!? My surprise vacation was being dropped off at Bible Camp for a week so my parents could head to Biloxi. (And...rabbit.)
I haven't had it in years, but some Norwegian friends introduced us to kirsebær suppe when I was a kid. Chilled cherry soup. Mmmmmm.
Lucy, I loved this post. Especially the snarky? side of you that I don't think you have shared before in your observations of your cruiseship friends. My goodness! I like your trick of not informing kids of where they're going. The glow from that surprise must last for a while! And, I have not had ajo blanco, and will need to add your recipe to my repertoire. Bonne chance! PS Excellent napkin skills, too. That's a dog.
Thanks, everyone, for reading! And rabbit, it is. The forepaws crossed threw me in favor of dog.

Gabby: I found 100 sunblock - can you believe it? I'm now a healthier tint of pasty white.

Felicia: Love Bourdain, but haven't read all the way through that book (I know, I know.) I'll look for that essay tomorrow.

Fusun: I want to look at clouds with you.

Diana: this is the last time for the stealth ops (thanks Gabby!). The stress of packing just the right stuff without the girls finding out was too much for me. Next year, they're doing their own packing.

Lulu & Phoebe: thanks for reading, sorry the critter is a rabbit - maybe you can play chase.

Bell: this was a once-in-a-childhood event we reminded the girls. Back to borrowed Gulf Coast condos next year.

Matt: I'm crazy about chilled soups now, especially since my girls will eat them!
I vote rabbit. :) Loved your stories of Charleston and the cruise ships. We haven't made the jump to cruising with children yet...we've reserved that for the rare trip we get to take alone. I do remember the delicious fruit soups and the fun animal towels though. We got a monkey one night, complete with the sunglasses I had left lying on the dresser. Too fun! The soup looks delicious...I'll have to give it a try.
Having worked in the cruise industry for a number of years, your (hilarious and spot on) observations bring back some dreadful, but amusing memories....
"crimson, third-degree burned" - hah, never had any yen for a cruise , but have been on a couple land-tours. Last one and this one featured people who turned bright red and complained about the sun. I , under the near-umbrella thing I wear on my pasty-white head, suggested the wearing of a hat. "Oh, I never wear a hat," was the response. ?????

The chilled soups sound great...but I don't cook (is that like never wearing a hat?), or even chill things.
Rabbit, of course! I'm still not sold on cold soup but I loved the story here and can relate to not being able to get “entombed in her watery grave” out of your head..._r
I will try this soup. Sounds great. Thanks. I have the same china too.
:::dreamy sigh:::
You're writing is as refreshing as your culinary content. Strawberry bisque, olive oil and almonds... oh my! You make me want chilled soup so badly I'm going to put my campbells in the fridge for an hour.
*knocks softly on the author's door....

I just came back to correct my typo. *your

Thanks again, Lucy.
This is wonderful, Lucy! I need a push beyond cold cucumber soup. I will try on the weekend. ~ And I vote: "rabbit".
thank you -- I enjoy cold soup and I love almonds.
I think it's a rabbit, too. Because it's not like any manatee I've ever seen. =o)

I've gotta try some of that cold almond gazpacho!
Thanks, Lucy.
Lisa: This was our first cruise as a family (one previous in the early years of marriage) and it’s a great family vacation. I’ll have to request a towel monkey on the next.

Cartouche: I would love to hear your stories of the cruise years. The cruise staff was unfailingly pleasant and I kept thinking “I hope these kids are taking notes, because they will have stories to tell.”

Myriad: Go figure! I had my 100 sunblock on and wore a huge hat for most of the trip. I coated my kids, too, but they resisted hats. If you ever decide to cook, cold soups are a great place to start. Think of it as assembling, not cooking.

Joan: Thanks for appreciating my paranoia.

Sheba: Sturdy and reliable dinnerware. Thanks for dropping in!

Amanda: You are as sweet as the tea from my favorite barbecue joint. My Alabama grandmother kept her Campbell’s beef consomme in the fridge so she could make some kind of gelatin mold.

Catherine: I’d be happy with cold cucumber soup. The almond is unusual and the shallot makes it crave-worthy, so I hope you like it.

Geezerchick: thanks for stopping by!

Shiral: the manatee was so cute!

Thanks, everyone for reading and commenting. We’re going to mark the critter as rabbit in the family scrapbook.