Our family loves to gather around a table. Cooking beautiful food and sitting down to enjoy a leisurely meal is one of our favorite ways to spend time together and mark special occasions. We recently hosted a seafood feast, served outdoors in our backyard, in honor of Grandma (my fabulous break-every-mold mother-in-law) who just moved here to Virginia all the way from California. The meal featured grilled shrimp and calamari, homemade aioli, clams with fennel and pomegranate, seasonal salads, a whole grouper baked in rock salt, and of course, some great wines. I wish I could take credit for the cooking, but it was master-minded by two dear friends who are so much like family that they can take over my kitchen as if it were their own! Uncle Rick was another special guest, really the hero of the day, who had driven Grandma (his sister) across the entire country with all her stuff in a Penske moving van, delivering her safely to her new home. There was a lot to celebrate. Having Grandma here to share in our lives is a wonderful new era for our family. Loved ones gathered around a festive table on a beautiful crisp Fall day makes for one great party.
While my husband comes up with gourmet dinners several nights throughout the week, almost every weekend we roast a simple meal of organic chicken with potatoes and vegetables for our family supper. I decided to make soup with the remains of Sunday’s carved bird. On Monday afternoon I simmered the chicken with onions, celery, fennel, carrots and ginger for three hours to make a rich stock.
By Monday night the stock was strained and put away in the fridge to await its full expression. On Tuesday I soaked some dried cannellini beans all afternoon and overnight. On Wednesday I built the soup in my favorite pot: caramelized onions, carrots, celery, white beans, the homemade stock, and handfuls of that bumpy blue-green Tuscan kale. The vitamins are almost jumping off of that stuff! I finished the soup with winter herbs from my garden: purple and green variegated sage, thyme, and rosemary. We added some fresh Italian chicken sausage with fennel to complete the meal.
My approach to making the soup led me to contemplate my approach to the creative process in art and in life: Start with an idea that inspires you– warm soup on a winter’s day. Utilize what you already have– Don’t waste that leftover chicken and all the flavor it is waiting to impart! Strive for a balance of the things that nourish you– lots of vegetables, a little protein, a lot of flavor. Make it colorful– orange carrots, green kale, purple sage, red pot.
Maintain some discipline– remember to soak the beans ahead of time, and give the onions enough time to slowly caramelize. Try combining the things you truly love in your own way– you don’t always need a recipe. Be flexible and responsive to the unexpected– those beans took about two hours longer to cook than I had planned! Share with others– Husband enjoyed his whole bowl.
Respect different points of view– Our boy does not like beans or kale, but chicken sausage is pretty good. Improvise– tomorrow I think I will warm up some soup for lunch and add grated pecorino… Think towards the future while valuing what is learned and experienced in each necessary step along the way.