It's sometimes strange being the mother to one daughter and three sons. I have likened it to having an Angora cat and three mongrel puppies.
An Angora cat, fluffy and blue-eyed, will walk where she intends to walk, eat what it pleases her to eat, and obtain such attention and affection as she feels she needs.
The puppies, conversely, will move together in a loud pack, exclaiming over everything and alerting you to their misdeeds by their rare and guilty silences.
But in my experience, nowhere is the divide between male and female offspring deeper than when it pertains to food.
My daughter believes in vegetables. Even as a college student, she insists on eating several varieties of vegetables every day. Her brothers' tastes are more limited and pedestrian. They prefer canned vegetables to fresh ones, root vegetables to the green variety, and would not knowingly eat onions.
When they were growing up, that made mealtimes interesting, because no matter what I served, there would be a small pile of rejected foods hidden under the rim of each plate.
When my husband objected to the pile of food-filled napkins left at the table at the end of a meal, I reminded him of the joke about Lyndon Baines Johnson, the former president, who took guests around his ranch and continually pointed out mounds of manure – and asked them not to step in it.
At the end of the day, one of the guests turned to his wife and said, "Aren't you going to ask your husband to please stop mentioning manure?"
Lady Bird sighed and said, "Do you know how long it took me to get him to say 'manure'? "
I looked at the stack of sodden vegetables mummified in paper and asked my husband, "Do you know how long it took me to get them to use a napkin?"
But the truth was, I was discouraged. I took each discarded green thing as a personal rejection. There had to be a way not just to get the boys to eat vegetables, but to get them to enjoy vegetables – and even to ask for them. It became a goal.
The breakthrough came the day I watched a PBS special on getting families to eat more nutritious meals. The hostess of the show urged cooks to purée any vegetable that they thought their families should eat but which they wouldn't want to know they were eating.
The second helpful advice she gave was that tomato sauce obscures much.
But her third suggestion was revolutionary: She said that there is nothing wrong with serving children vegetables they enjoy. Even if it's the same one every day, it's nutritious, and the child is happy.
That was just the paradigm shift that I needed.
Instead of urging my children to eat the soup I made, I thought about what soup should not have, in their opinions. It could not contain cream, celery, tomato seeds, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, squash, or turnips. It had to be something we could share with vegan friends. It had to have color, texture, and flavor. It couldn't have rice or noodles that would become mushy. This had to be a soup that was nearly a solid, manly and filling.
I started with onion and garlic sautéed in oil because this is how I start any soup recipe. Next, I added carrots, but because my husband objects to carrots making their presence known, I diced them.
While those cooked, I cut potatoes into larger chunks than normal, so they would form a solid mouthful rather than dissolve into the broth.
I added water, and, when all that was done, I added a can of green beans, drained; a can of vegetarian baked beans, broth and all; a can of whole corn, drained; and a big can of my favorite cheap tomato sauce. At the last minute, I added salt, oregano, and a tiny amount of curry to give it kick.
It was wonderful. But it needed a name.
Let's face it: Part of the reason many boys and men don't eat vegetable soup is because we call it "vegetable soup." When you call it "Italian wedding soup" and put meatballs in it, they scarf it down. Bean and pasta soup vanishes when you call it "Tuscan."
But my target group wasn't just male, it was also young. I had to give my soup a name that made it somehow manly – something that men would eat with men around a campfire or before a football game.
And then it came to me: "guy soup," a soup that guys eat with guys. Oh, you can share it with girls. But mainly, it's the manly way to end a day of roughhousing and problem solving.
It became a staple in our diet, and visiting boys would ask me to give their mothers the recipe.
But the ultimate compliment came after my oldest son left home. He was telling me about the soup that he and his fraternity brothers made together one week. "Mom, it was so good," he said, searching for words to describe it.
Finally, he said, "It was almost as good as guy soup."
Sometimes all we have to do is make small changes to turn a situation around.
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oil
2 carrots, diced
4 to 6 potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 quarts cold water
1 can (28 ounces) vegetarian baked beans
1 can (14 to 16 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (14 to 16 ounces) green beans, drained
1 can (26 to 28 ounces) tomato sauce
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
In a 6-quart stockpot, sauté onion and garlic in oil. Add carrots and potatoes. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer mixture until potatoes are done, about 15 minutes. Add baked beans, drained corn, drained green beans, and tomato sauce. Let simmer 15 minutes (or more, if desired).
Add oregano and curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer 5 minutes more.
Serve with crusty bread. Serves 4 to 8.