I love playing with matches. It’s a magic trick of striking a little wooden stick and making a flame appear where there was no flame. As a little girl, seeing images of fire-eaters in the circus and acrobats tumbling through flaming hoops, I was mesmerized. It looked so easy, but these acts were laced with great risk. Some performers tamed wild tigers, but these special artists tamed fire. In my eyes they were brave.
Let me back up a bit. My grandmother, Ora K. Stubbs, was born in a little white house in rural southwest Arkansas. It’s a significant house because when she married my grandpa, Robert Raden Adams, he moved into that same house, and my dad was even born there. Miss Ora, as the town of DeQueen, Arkansas called her, was well loved, but stubborn. And bossy. And independent. I’ll be honest, we didn’t have the greatest relationship, but I’m grateful I inherited her aplomb and strong will. I also inherited her love of being in the kitchen.
Miss Ora lived for 81 years never getting sick and never going to the doctor or hospital. My grandmother was very clear that she never wanted to be put into an assisted living or nursing home. She proudly crowed, “I was born in this house, and I’ll die in this house.” And on May 3, 1990, that little white house caught on fire and she was locked inside of it. The volunteer fire department did not make it down the country roads in time to save her or her home. She was born in that house and she died in that house.
To this day, one of my favorite sounds is the wail of a fire truck. That siren lets me know that help is on the way to save someone. It makes me stop and give thanks for my own safety and send a blessing to the brave firefighters on their way to tame a fire. Every single time I hear or see a fire truck, it makes me think of my grandmother.
My sister and I had adverse reactions to this great event in our lives. Jules became fire scared while I embraced my fire bravery. Living out in the country, we had barrels where we burned our trash. It was an actual chore we were given to carry the trash to the barrels and set them on fire. I could stand out there for hours burning one sheet of newspaper at a time, watching the blue flames heat themselves to a red-hot blaze. Long after the sun had gone down, I would be out there seeing how hot my face could get it before I had to step back from the barrels.
Burning leaves in the fall, lighting candles, building fires in our wood-burning stove; anytime I got the chance to strike a match I felt empowered. It was an opportunity to create something much bigger than me. Something that started with a spark and could roar into something all consuming within seconds. OK, so I was a sick little kid…I also carried pocketknives and whittled things down to toothpicks. It was a different time.
10 years ago, my NYC apartment caught fire. Having survived that, the childhood thrill of actual fire play has definitely worn away. But as an adult I play with allegorical matchsticks all the time. If the tiniest spark of conflict arises, be sure I will find a way to ignite it into a full-blown blaze. I choose tasks that have very small windows of opportunity for completion. I procrastinate and put pressure on myself at the last minute to finish things on time. I am drawn to people who are unavailable and the challenge of building a relationship feels like something I can overcome. I’m not proud of these behaviors and they definitely don’t serve me, but since I never joined the circus, they are little chances to tame fire and be brave.
I was at lunch with a dear friend this week and I was telling him about a situation I was in where I wasn’t making good choices. I felt like I was playing with matches and had created a thrilling little glow. My wise friend said, “Here’s the thing about matchsticks: They can only burn so long.” The life of a match is a short one. Yes, if struck, lit, and the flame protected, a single match can go on to create something great. But you have to exercise control or the little flame will extinguish itself before it can perform its task.
The English word ignite comes from the Sanskrit word Agni, meaning fire. Despite being a water sign, I guess you could say I’m fiery. That’s a good thing. That means I have a lot of light to give. I’m passionate, resolute, spirited, a lot like Ora K. Stubbs.
With all the fire talk I had planned on grilling something or roasting a vegetable over an open flame. And then I looked in my cabinet and found these heirloom beans called Tongues of Fire - perfect! Next to the beans was a jar of tomatoes gifted to me at Christmas from the Magnotta family. Their family harvests and 'works up’ jars of tomatoes for sauce and soup throughout the year. I’d been saving this jar for something special. My grandmother’s life work was tending her garden, canning, and jarring the produce to feed her family throughout the year. I dedicate this soup to Miss Ora. And all my fellow fire starters out there - may we not get burned!
Heirloom Bean Soup with Tomatoes and Cream
inspired by a recipe from Bon Appetit
- 2 cups dried heirloom beans
- 2 quarts vegetable broth
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 8 ounce can of diced tomatoes
- salt, pepper, cracked red pepper
- 1 cup cream
- fresh oregano leaves
- olive oil for drizzling
Add beans, broth, onion, garlic, and tomatoes to a *slow cooker. Season generously with salt, pepper, and cracked red pepper. Cook on low for 6 hours. Turn the slow cooker off, add the cream, stirring. Let soup sit in the pot for 15 minutes, ladle into bowls and garnish with oregano leaves and drizzle with olive oil. (The cream doesn't make it too rich, it really just enhances the broth and gives it a little body.)
*I am currently borrowing a slow cooker and using it for everything I can think of before I have to return it to its owner. I'm still not convinced my kitchen needs another appliance. If you don't have one, as I did not, soak the beans overnight, drain, and bring them to a simmer with the broth, onion, garlic and tomatoes. Season generously. Depending on the dried beans you used, simmer for 1 1/2- 2 hours or until the beans are creamy in the middle but still hold their shape. Remove from heat, add the cream, stirring. Let soup sit in the pot for 15 minutes, ladle into bowls and garnish with oregano leaves and drizzle with olive oil.