By Lynley Jones
Recipe: Girl Scout Summer Harvest Soup
Some magic happened last weekend, and I got to be a part of it.
It would be easy to miss. Kind of like birdsong, or a sunset - or most of childhood. If you weren't paying attention, you might barely notice it in passing, just another activity in a busy back-to-school month.
We were at a local Girl Scout campsite called The Oval, built in the early 1920s. It has rustic cabins and a huge lawn for those inclined to pitch tents (our troop was not so inclined).
The cabins, sturdily built by previous generations, have plenty of space for dozens of girls to sleep on the floor (and a few lucky adults to sleep in cots). They're not heated or air conditioned, and the running water is cold. The strong walls keep out the wind but let in enough chill to whisper to newbie campers about the value of a heavy-duty sleeping bag.
Or, said another way:
Nearly 100 years ago, some people decided to spend their own time and treasure to make something special for generations of people they would never know, and who could never thank them.
And over the next century, through times of war, genocide, financial depression, natural disasters, social unrest, and untold local squabbles, disagreements and complaints, somehow, it has remained. Just a dozen miles from New York City, on a small piece of land now next to a highway obscured by trees, in the midst of high-priced real estate that could surely make someone very wealthy.
It remains. A little piece of nature and community smack dab in the middle of real life.
As she does roughly every fall, one especially hard-working mom and troop leader in our town, Kelly, organized this trip for all the local Girl Scout troops. I have no idea what she has to do to make this happen year after year, how many hours it takes, how many phone calls and emails and texts she has to send and await replies to, how many forms to fill out, how many times she is asked the same questions and answers them with a friendly smile. I know it must be quite a lot.
For many girls, this is the first time they will ever camp. For some, it's the first time they will spend the night away from home. For many adult volunteers, it's the first time they will spend an extended amount of time with kids who are not their own.
For most, it's the first time they will spend 24 hours with someone who may be different from them: different amount of money at home, different country of origin, different skin color, different levels of snoring, different eating habits.
The adults are loving. No one tells them what to do, or pays them for a job well done. They care for all these children, entrusted to them, with compassion. They worry when kids stray off, they remind them to be safe, they comfort them when they are homesick. Or just sick.
The kids are open and friendly. They play together, they eat together, they brush their teeth together, they discover things together. They share sleeping bags when they get cold. They make fairy houses. They share secrets. They sometimes argue. And then, they figure out how to get along anyway.
The theme of this particular week was cooking (yay!). I am not an experienced camper, but I was tasked with creating a soup recipe that all the girls could work together to make. We were able to cook it in a big turkey fryer over a propane burner, with a couple extra pots bubbling on a stove inside one of the cabins. (And thankfully, many adults took turns babysitting the pots.)
But the real magic happened elsewhere:
Meredith (a professionally trained chef) and her co-leader Jennifer taught their troop of high school girls how to safely use real chef's knives to dice onions, mince herbs, chop carrots and zucchini and more. Then, these high school girls taught every other girl at camp to do the same, so that all these chopped-up goodies could go into our soup.
One person shares with others, then those people share with still more others, and the chain of knowledge and skill is passed along. And lives are changed because girls know how to dice an onion and feed themselves real food. And they know they can actually do things that might at first seem a bit scary. That they can develop the skills to safely navigate the dangerous.
And they know that loving bigger people are looking out for them.
Meredith and Jennifer had worked closely with Kelly to design and organize an entire weekend of food and cooking activities: the kids made trail mix, then took it with them on a hike. They learned how to make box ovens and use upside down tin cans as a stovetop. They made chocolate-marshmallow banana boats over an open fire, and they decorated cupcakes with amazing creations of frosting and candy. And in each case, the scouts learned from older scouts, who had learned from adults.
On the final morning, as we were packing up to leave, we had one final food-related activity: making sack lunches for others who don't have enough to eat. Organized by another troop leader, Colleen, each girl donned gloves and made sandwiches. Then they carefully put the sandwiches into a baggie, which they tucked inside a paper bag, along with a snack bar and a little bag of grapes. While younger girls made sandwiches and put everything in the sacks, older girls showed them what to do and prepped all the supplies.
And some of us chatted about how nice it would be if, like magic, someone would hand you a bag lunch when you were very hungry.
And some girls wrote messages on the bags to the mysterious person who would eat the lunch they made.
Who they would never know. And who could never thank them.
All good magic looks like it just happens. To those of us on the outside, things just appear, and disappear, and seem to be what they seem to be.
Voila! This campsite is just here, these people just show up, food just appears and people eat it. Indoor toilets flush!
But, as any magician will tell you, magic is actually very hard work. Things have to happen in a certain way. A certain attitude must prevail. Contraptions must be built, and work properly. People have to coordinate, everyone doing their part in just the right way, or the trick doesn't work.
People make magic happen.
These days, there is a lot of sleight of hand to distract us us from the real trick of it. Threats large and small, nature-made and man-made, loom all around us. Leaders say the wrong things. Social media directs our attention to the insignificant. Or preoccupies us with worry. Or outrages us.
But even amidst all these things we don't know how to deal with, people are still being kind to each other. They volunteer. They step up to help. They show compassion and mercy. They rescue strangers. They feed each other. They have each other's backs.
People are making magic happen. Don't miss it.
Recipe: Girl Scout Summer Harvest Soup
When creating a recipe for 100+ people these days, we have a lot to keep in mind: someone is going to be vegetarian or vegan, someone can't eat gluten, or dairy, or pork, or soy....
Rather than making multiple dishes for people with special diets (or worse, people having to bring their own "special food"), I generally try to make food that everyone can eat. This was especially the case this weekend. Since the girls were working together to chop all the veggies, I wanted them each to know that they were helping to make their soup.
The soup also needed to be filling. This was no insignificant side dish. This soup (served in a bread bowl, with salad on the side) was their whole lunch.
But most of all, I wanted it to be really, really delicious. So yep, that's right: a stick-to-the-ribs, healthy, seasonal, vegetarian soup that is so irresistible, those girls would beg for seconds, and then go home and plead with their parents to get the recipe.
(I'm happy to report that's exactly what happened. Girls and adults in line for seconds and thirds. And multiple emails afterward requesting this recipe. BOOM!) Like magic.