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Guests will be descending into our neighborhood this weekend because, once again, it’s time for the Historic Heritage Hills Home & Garden Tour.  This annual treat offers an inside peak of six private historic residences and the Overholser Mansion with one ticket — the cost is $12 in advance — $15 at the door of any property on the tour.  While Saturday promises to be clear and sunny and Sunday its dreary rainy opposite; the tour will be fabulous no matter what.

Three years ago, when my husband seemed to be taking up residence in Asia, my daughter Kara and I ventured out into a cold rainy Sunday to experience our first Heritage Hills tour.  The rain kept most visitors away that day; but being right next door so to speak, the two of us bundled ourselves up to brave the elements.  Just like an undeterred mailman carrying out his unofficial oath, the weather was not going to keep either of us from our appointed rounds.  But unlike the mailman, we did choose to drive a car rather than travel the short distances by foot.

A few wet hours later, we arrived home in awe, with visions of what historic living could become in its best state.  Truth be told, I also came home a little intimidated.  At that point, I had a month or so to get  my own historic house ready to receive guests as part of Mesta Park’s Holiday Home Tour.  And having just moved in a few months earlier, my house was a mass of painting projects in progress.  Yet the tour did its work in inspiring me toward completion; and in Kara, it sowed a feed seeds that two years later, had her and her new husband living in a historic home of their own.

In awe, we also came home to thaw.  Wet, cold and hungry, I began rummaging through my freezer and cupboards for something quick and nourishing to eat.  My eye lighted on a small bag of frozen chopped broccoli and the staple of storage bags full of  frozen chopped onions and celery, a time-saving tip passed along years ago by my Aunt Jo.  Encourages, I opened the refrigerator to find I had Velveeta Cheese, whipping cream and butter; and my cupboard also proved to have plenty of chicken broth.  It was a mental check, check, check.  Turing around to Kara, I said, “It looks like we have all the ingredients on hand to make a quick Broccoli-Cheese soup.”

This soup has been a family favorite for years, ever since we first tasted the signature soup of Apple’s Way, a little tea room in Lake Jackson, Texas.  My version of the soup is adapted from a recipe of another tea room of my life that once held court in Eureka Springs.  I’m grateful to have their collection of recipes –Victorian Sampler Tea Room Cookbook — that while no longer in print, may be available in a secondary market.

Sitting at the counter that cold October Sunday, Kara watched me like I once watched Mom whip up a miracle meal out of nothing so many times before.  From freezer to table in thirty minutes, we were soon eating our simple but hearty supper with a few saltine crackers.  Whether rain, or sleet or gloom of night, you’ll find this soup just right.  From my life to yours.

Broccoli-Cheese Soup

Original Recipe:

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup flour
One quart of chicken broth (2 15 oz cans will probably suffice)
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
2 cups chopped broccoli, parboiled, then pulsed fine in a food processor (don’t over-process)
20 0z Velveeta Cheese, diced  (1 and 1/4 lb)
1/2 cup whipping cream (can substitute Half & Half)
Cracked Pepper

Prepare broccoli, then set aside.  In a bowl covered with plastic wrap, pre-cook celery and onion in the microwave – 40 seconds on high or until tender.  In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Stir in flour to make a roux, then immediately add broth and all vegetables.  Simmer for twenty minutes.  Reduce heat to low, melt cheese, then add cream and crack pepper until just mixed.  Do not salt.  Serve with crackers.

Reduced-Fat Recipe

Reduce butter, flour and Velveeta Cheese by half.  Eliminate whipping cream.  I prefer this variation — the result is more like soup than a sauce.

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