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November 17, 2011 / Cate

Thankful, with Spinach and Arugula

It’s getting harder and harder (okay, nearly impossible) to stay below $100 a week. The girls’ appetites keep growing; prices at the grocery store keep increasing; my self-discipline keeps shrinking. And of course, the unexpected happens. (Not unlike our October snowstorm, pictured here.)

Yesterday, E’s school called and said she was in the nurse’s office, crying, with a sore throat. So I left work early, picked her up, collected Q from her school, too, and headed home. We were there by 3:30, and the furnace had just kicked on. The dog welcomed us in the door, and soon the kids were cuddled on the couch with their blankets and books.

I went to the pantry for tea and honey – we were abominably low on both. Maybe there was enough for two cups of tea, but certainly not enough for a few days’ worth of cold-fighting. Then I opened the fridge: barely a dribble in the milk carton.  Finally, I scoured the medicine cabinet for children’s ibuprofen … and frowned at the half-inch of syrup at the bottom of the bottle.

So I called Dave. Two hours later, he was home with everything we needed, plus a container of ice cream.

Oh ice cream, most wonderful of sore-throat-and-sad-little-girl remedies …

But as we were eating that ice cream and enjoying milky tea with honey, I realized that I hadn’t thought once about the expense of our impromptu shopping. I hadn’t needed to. We have enough money for whatever E and Q need, whenever they need it. And if we want to include ice cream in the ‘need’ category once in a while, well, it’s not a problem.

I also don’t have to worry about not being able to pay the electric bill or car insurance just because my kid got sick and needed medicine.  More importantly, I have sick time: I can leave work early and not lose pay.

I have more than a few students this semester who have to worry about these things. They’re single moms trying to make better lives for their children; they’re 18 year old boys supporting their out-of-work parents; they’re teenagers taking care of nieces and nephews because no one else in the family can. And all of them work low-wage, hourly jobs just to scrape by.

Some days, when I’m in front of the class, and I see how tired they are, the distance between us grows to more than the length of the classroom. In their faces are the lives they lead when they leave the desks, computers, and fluorescent lights. Because ours is a writing class, I know a lot about those lives – the drugs, the abuse, unspeakable tragedy, unplanned pregnancies, depression, the struggle to leave bad neighborhoods and poisonous circles of friends.

Some days, I want nothing more than to set aside the essay writing and the sentence grammar. I want to bring in warm bowls of soup, loaves of bread, and piles of apples and cheddar. I want to say, Eat. For fifteen minutes, here, in this moment, there is plenty. And someone will, for a change, take care of you.

Of course, if I brought in a few pizzas, their happiness in the moment would probably be more complete  J

Regardless, as turkey day approaches, thanks especially to this semester’s EGL 092 students for reminding me daily how very lucky I am.


I’m also thankful for cold weather greens (if you couldn’t tell! This is the third post about them J). They’re cheap, ridiculously healthy, and go well with my very favorite things: pasta and potatoes.  Here, three recipes to help you stay on budget, warm in the belly, and close to humble roots.

I’m just posting links to the recipes tonight rather than rewriting them … as much as I adore my students, I also have twelve inches of their essays to grade before the holiday arrives. Ever onward!


Warm Potato Salad with Arugula. Every time I make this dish from Food and Wine, the girls clamor for more – especially the crispy potatoes. They never notice the Dijon dressing, which turns simple roasted potatoes into divine fare. Of course, the fanciness of arugula dresses things up, too, so this is a great side dish for company. There’s not much to like, and the times I’ve served it to large groups, there hasn’t been a potato (or arugula leaf) left in the pot.


Pasta with Arugula, White Beans, and Walnuts. From Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, this has been a favorite of ours for well over a year. The textures are terrific, and the ingredients are soooo reasonable … just a can of cannellini beans, a box of pasta, a bag of arugula, and a handful of walnuts. Of course, Parmesan cheese adds a great kick, but you don’t need much of it since the pasta has a surprising amount of flavor thanks to the walnuts and spicy arugula.


Ultimately Easy Tortellini Soup. I posted a tortellini soup recipe awhile back, and it featured red beans, zucchini, plum tomatoes, red onion , Worcestershire sauce… I adore it, but my picky darlings picked out most of the healthy features and slurped just the tortellini and the broth. THIS tortellini soup from Annie’s Eats, on the other hand, might just trick your kids into eating spinach. As an added bonus, the soup’s super-fast and very economical … it’s basically a can of diced tomatoes, lots of spinach, chicken or veggie stock, and a little onion, garlic, and oregano. Then toss in your tortellini, and voila, the tasty soup comes together and is on the table in less than 30 minutes.


Leave a Comment
  1. Annie / Nov 17 2011 11:48 pm

    This post nearly made me cry. It reminds me that I too, am blessed. I think a crockpot (or two!) of soup with bread is a wonderful idea for your students. I hope and pray that you have an opportunity to care for them in that way soon. They are very fortunate to have an instructor who cares enough to even consider cooking for them.

    Now go grade those papers! 😉 Grading and staff meetings are the two things I don’t miss.

    • Cate / Nov 19 2011 7:34 am

      Aw shucks, Annie – thanks. Sending Thanksgiving happiness your way!

  2. Michelle / Nov 18 2011 8:42 am

    Another great blog! I am definitely making those dishes, they sound divine!

    • Cate / Nov 19 2011 7:34 am

      Hi Michelle – Happy cooking! Let me know if you how they turn out.

  3. margaret / Nov 18 2011 8:54 am

    I am making that tortellini soup after I get spinach from the farmers’ market Saturday–looks so easy and delicious!

    • Cate / Nov 19 2011 7:35 am

      Hi Margaret – the soup IS really yummy. Have a fun time at the market!

  4. andilit / Nov 20 2011 8:52 am

    As odd as this sounds, Cate, this post is the first time I have really missed teaching English 92, and it’s not because of the teaching – it’s because of the people you describe, the ones who so need to be cared for. Thank you for carrying on in that important work.

    • Cate / Nov 20 2011 10:23 am

      Hi Andi – The people are exactly why I love teaching 092 … they’re so funny, generous, and forgiving despite their cirucumstances. Just wish their lives made learning a little easier.

  5. Jennifer / Nov 20 2011 9:19 am

    This is beautiful Cate. And tragic. And sadly familiar.

    • Cate / Nov 20 2011 10:20 am

      Thanks, Jen. And I’m glad to have you as a partner in all of it.

  6. Hannah / Nov 21 2011 12:49 pm

    Your students are fortunate to have you, Cate – what a blessing to have a warm, caring teacher. There is so much to be grateful for and a bowl of hot soup is certainly one of them (and the greens recipes you share here). I hope everyone is healthy in your family again. Happy Thanksgiving!

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