Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

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Smoky Corn Chowder with Okra

When you’re a little girl, no fairytale, no Disney movie, no Seventeen magazine article ever tells you this: You should always marry a man who will know what to do when a baby possum climbs into your dryer vent during the night–producing mysterious skittery noises that awaken you intermittently– and then, in the morning, finds his way into the guts of the dryer itself.

Every permutation of Prince Charming–even the more nuanced ones from the famously “enlightened” recent Disney films–and every boy-band dreamboat ever plastered across a magazine cover would have been utterly flummoxed.

My husband, on the other hand, on the first day of his summer vacation, simply suited up and headed into the laundry room dressed for battle. At the time, we assumed the noises were coming from an AWOL chipmunk who had wandered off from the rodent army in our neighborhood. (As our older son has pointed out, the chipmunks are handy to have because they keep all the owls and the hawks around here well-fed. So there’s that. But we trap and re-home them nevertheless.)

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Some time after my husband shut the door behind him–and with minimal screaming, even when the beast lumbered from the back of the dryer, far larger and more nocturnal looking than any chipmunk–he emerged with this strangely cute critter in a cage and all of his fingers intact:


The kids named him Possumy because they are terrible namers.


The kids were delighted, of course, probably because they were not the ones who then had to return to the scene to remove the residue that a terrified possum in the dryer vent/dryer inevitably leaves behind. Fortunately, that’s another quality I so sagely/accidentally put on my list of husband requirements: the willingness to do what has to be done. Even when it’s gross. Even when it requires the use of a mask and eye protection and a makeshift possum-poo swabber. Even when it’s meant to be the first day of a well-earned summer vacation.

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If you’re thinking he’s got the raw end of the deal here…Well, okay, that’s true. While he wrangled a stinky and possibly (though probably not) rabid marsupial in the laundry room, I wrangled not one, but three very cute, carefree children who, to be honest, wanted nothing except to zoom crazily around the backyard unimpeded. It was outrageously difficult work.

Here they are, on their final morning of third grade, first grade, and pre-K:

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Many men, at the end of such a day, a day on which they defended their very homes (their very laundry rooms, for Pete’s sake!) against the incursion of the wild, would want nothing less than a nice piece of grilled meat to celebrate their victory. But my husband, always quixotic, requested a bowl of soup. Summery soup. And so I gave him this:


soup in pot

No, those aren’t black beans. Guess again…

It’s the perfect meal for a day when it feels like it ought to be summer but the corn has barely begun to peek through the dirt in the fields and you can forget about tomatoes or okra that haven’t come from at least a thousand miles away. All of the summertime ingredients herein are frozen ones or canned ones, but you won’t be able to tell.

There are a fair number of moving parts here, but it’s worth dirtying two baking sheets and the blender, and it really doesn’t take too long. After all, when you’re creating a fraudulent summer in a pot, what are a few dirty pans?


2-3 dried ancho chiles

1 cup fire-roasted canned tomatoes

1 small onion, diced

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lb. frozen okra

1 lb. frozen sweet corn (the “fancy” frozen corn…the $2 bag)

1/4 cup half-and-half or heavy cream


fresh cilantro

  1. Tear the chiles into pieces with your hands and place them in a heat-proof bowl. Cover with 2 cups boiling water and allow to soak until softened. (About 30 minutes.)


    Ancho chiles soaking…Oddly beautiful, right?

  2. While the chiles are soaking, place the frozen corn and frozen okra on separate rimmed baking sheets. To each sheet, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and stir to coat. Salt generously. Then place the pans in a 500-degree oven until the veggies brown and begin to char in spots. This will take several minutes. You may need to stir once during the process.
  3. Once the chiles are softened and the vegetables are char-roasted, pull out your blender. Drain your chiles and add them to the blender along with the tomatoes, onion, and 1 cup of broth. Blend until fairly smooth.
  4. Melt the butter in a large soup pot and then add the chile-tomato mixture, stirring frequently, for about five minutes. It will reduce and darken slightly.
  5. Meanwhile, to your empty blender, add about 1/2 of the roasted corn and 1 cup of stock. Blend it until it looks like the creamed corn of yesteryear. Then add this mixture to the pot.


    The yin and the yang of ancho-tomato and corn purees in the moment before they mingle.

  6. Combine the two purees and the remaining stock, stirring well. Add salt to taste.
  7. Just before serving, add the roasted okra and remaining roasted corn to the pot along with 1/4 cup of half-and-half.

I served ours with some nice Mexican rice on top because I wanted to make it a little more substantial for the younger members of our household, but it’s also good unadulterated with a side of cornbreadfinished dish