The column that almost wasn’t

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk, West Knoxville

I have started and discarded today’s column approximately six times. Not to bore you with “how the sausage is made,” but let’s just say that is not my usual pace of writing.

I began in earnest yesterday, deciding to write about something from my “future file.” Most columnists I know have a future file. It’s a collection of not yet fully formed ideas that, with more thought and/or research, can blossom into something to amaze, entertain or delight you.

I pulled forth two, and put them back. Nothing felt right for Nov. 4, the day after elections. This morning, I took a stab at putting my thoughts about this whole political process to paper. It was an unmitigated disaster, too personal and, really, why would you care? I have no special insight, no past stories to relate to this year and, certainly, no answers. It has been a very difficult political season for many of us.

One of the problems with today’s column is that I am writing it yesterday. I have no crystal ball to forecast what today will look like. Is it be significantly different, the same or still unknown? Last night, I am/was clueless.

The desire to call my editor and say, “It just isn’t going to happen this week” was strong.

Finally, however, I decided to you what I gave myself Tuesday night: Comfort food. The only thing that felt right yesterday was to make my Easy, Cheesy Slow Cooker Potato Soup.

My mom believed in the power of food. It was cathartic for both the cook and the recipient. If you could sit together in quiet conversation and enjoy it, the circle was complete. I never heard her use the words “comfort food,” but the dishes she made when I was sure my preteen/teenage/college life was “over, forever!” were hearty, familiar and filling. A bowl of soup, her classic meatloaf, a dish of beef stroganoff coupled with her encouraging yet pragmatic words put my life back on track many times.

Here’s my recipe. My only advice for today, whatever it has brought, is this: Be kind to each other.

Easy, Cheesy Slow Cooker Potato Soup

1 large bag (32 ounces) frozen diced hash brown potatoes, thawed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

4 cups chicken broth (I like Rachel Ray)

1 cup water

Spray large slow cooker with cooking spray. Mix above ingredients and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup half-and-half

At hour 6, whisk together flour and half-and-half in a bowl and add it to the slow cooker. Turn cooker to High. Cover again and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until mixture thickens.

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

12 slices bacon, cooked crispy

After 20/30 minutes, add cheese and stir until melted. Stir in half of the bacon crumbles.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with more bacon crumbles and chives, if you like chives.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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