I believe I channel Erma when I cook.
I refer to Erma Bombeck, the American humorist whose columns include “Substitutions, A Piece of Cake”.
Erma started out her career writing for Dayton Journal Herald. Very quickly her articles were nationally syndicated and loved by readers all over the world.
I believe Erma and I are kindred spirits, especially when we tie on the aprons and pull out the pots and pans. I grew up in the Midwest not far from Dayton, Ohio, where she was raised.
In the article, she substitutes ingredients with reckless abandon. Her hilarious results did not remotely resemble the finished product described in the original recipe. When your kitchen is a 30 minute drive from the local Kroger store, you have to improvise.
I made “White Bean and Chard Soup” for dinner. Thrown together in about 30 minutes it’s one of those “Go To” recipes found in my plastic green recipe box.
The avocado shade of green gives it away; it is an old box. The top hinges are broken. I have to keep sliding them back into the grooves on the bottom half of the box.
This recipe box was a Betty Crocker promotional give away. I loved it because it was bigger than my Mom’s little white enamel box. Decorated with red fleur-de-lis it was rusted at the edges, from years of use in steamy Midwest kitchens.
In my “Earth Mama” stage, I cooked from scratch with whole food ingredients. I tossed all of Betty’s recipes that used canned soup or boxed cake mix. The alphabetized place holders came in handy. The extra blank cards were put to use with copies of wholesome tried and true family favorites.
Prepping for the evening meal, I was in trouble. I looked in the pantry. No cans of white beans! No time to soak and cook the dried ones. Going out to the store was not the least bit appealing on a drizzly, Seattle winter day. At 4:00 pm it was already dark.
Lucky me! I found 2 cans of Black Turtle on another shelf. The rest of my ingredients were pretty close to the original recipe. And who would notice if I substituted Kale for the Swiss chard?
My strategy was to first suggest a different entree; Hearty Pumpkin soup. My husband likes his pumpkin in the form of pie. He was happy to hear the 2nd choice would be the White Bean and Chard recipe.
Our middle son happens to be totally blind. He certainly would not notice the substitution. Black turtles are about the same shape and size as White Cannellini beans. If you cut the black ones in half, guess what? They are white inside!
This soup is so full of veggies that it makes a great entree. I love it topped with a poached egg. Add a slice crusty whole wheat bread to dip into the egg yolk and sop up the broth. There is no need for more than a glass of wine and maybe some dessert.
My husband entered the kitchen and lifted the lid of the pot. He loudly announced the obvious; “There are black beans in this soup!” I confirmed “yes, indeed these are Black Turtle Beans.”
My husband stirred suspiciously through the liquid mixture simmering on the gas burner. “Is that KAAALE?” His exaggerated pronunciation of the word gives anyone within earshot a clear idea on his lack of affection for the darker variety. Shoot, when greens are cooked they pretty much all look the same.
My son, now alerted to the switch on the beans and greens, was asking all sorts of questions about the soup and dinner in general. I diverted him with a reminder that Flour-less Chocolate Torte topped with Caramelized Pears was for dessert.
Erma would be proud! Thanks to the chronicles of her adventurous culinary spirit, I certainly have little inhibition when the need to improvise arises.
My recipe substitutions rarely result in “Erma Bombeck” recipe disasters. None are tossed onto the compost heap or fed to the garbage disposal.
I write down those “amended” versions on one of the blank cards and file it in my big green recipe box.