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Garden inspires Mom to teach

Get this: My mom is giving cooking lessons.

I just about double over with laughter whenever I think about it. After all, this is the woman whose freezer is stocked with more ready-made meals than Trader Joe's.

Sure, Mom knows how to cook, but you'd never know it. Now that my brothers and I are out of the house, she sees no need.

She and Dad pretty much live on pre-made meals. When they're not eating out, that is. Seems every time I call, they're either about to go out to dinner or have just returned. Tough life.

The cooking lessons came about when Mom started giving folks vegetables from her extensive garden. She was shocked when her friends told her they didn't know how to prepare chard, or beets, or whatever it was she had lovingly picked for them.

"She raised two boys," she muttered about one friend. "And they ate vegetables from cans. Can you imagine?"

Mom took it upon herself to educate these ladies. Every few weeks, she invites a crowd of women over to learn how to prepare a different dish using a seasonal vegetable.

This week's recipe for butternut squash soup with chipotle chilies and garlic is one of those dishes. Mom got it from one of her favorite cookbooks, "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen," by Jack Bishop (Houghton Mifflin, $35).

This book looks pretty good to me, and I'm a committed carnivore. The recipes are easy and the ingredients are simple. Best of all, nothing takes too long to prepare.

Take this soup. I found all the ingredients in my regular grocery store, except sweet paprika. I'd never heard of sweet paprika until I tried this recipe. Evidently, it is extra red and, according to some food writers, never bitter. I used regular paprika instead.

Prep was a breeze. A bit of advice: Don't take the rind off the squash with a vegetable peeler as the recipe suggests. You'll be there all day. Use a large, extra-sharp knife to hack off the thick skin.

More advice: When you make the croutons, throw in some extra bread. Better yet, double the recipe. If you're anything like me, you'll eat one batch by yourself, in the kitchen, while you're waiting for the squash to cook.

Unfortunately, the croutons are the best part of the recipe. The soup is so sweet it is almost cloying. Although I liked the flavor at first, I couldn't finish my bowl.

While the soup has heat, I didn't find it overly spicy, as some of our testers did. I don't have unusual tolerance for hot foods, or at least I don't think I do. I'm wondering if I made a mistake measuring the chilies or the adobo sauce.

Sorry I didn't like it, Mom. I'm sure you have a ton of other great vegetable dishes up your sleeve. Maybe you can fix one for me someday.

That is, if you're not going out to dinner.

To comment, go to the link with this story at Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at