Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Soup for the Sick

Free soup is very acceptable

I am currently in Nashville, nursing round two of a nasty chest cold. Christmas was a fun whirlwind of travel, friends and family, but now I'm left in the chilly aftermath: an empty house, the tired bus-ride to work and a awful, hacking cough. Happily, I am heading back to Pittsburgh on Friday to celebrate the New Year with some old friends and squeeze in a few more days of delicious pizza and sleeping in spare beds. That means I need to recover ASAP! Thus, soup.

I made a big batch of vegetable soup, just the thing to warm the belly and kick-start a productive cough. I'd share a picture but my camera is in the clutches of my husband. But please imagine a steamy bowlful of cloudy golden broth, cubed carrots and potatoes and little winks of submerged chickpeas. Sound good? Here's the recipe:

Soup for the Sick

olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 large stalk of celery, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, chopped into rounds
1 can chickpeas, drained
a splash of water, broth or white wine
4 cups of veggie broth (try making your own!)
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 tsp soy sauce
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions and celery until transparent. Add the garlic and heat a minute or two more. Add the potato, carrots and chickpeas and sauté two minutes more. Deglaze* the pan with a splash of water, broth or wine - I like to use dry vermouth. Add the broth along with the herbs and soy sauce. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat, simmering for 15-20 minutes until everything is soft. Get out your salt and pepper and correct the seasoning. I know that sometimes a strong flu requires a slightly more salty broth. Season as you will!

This recipe makes about 3 big bowls full (or two days worth, if you are home on the couch surrounded by balled-up tissues.) The resulting soup is the essence of comfort food for me, and never fails to make me feel better.

Up with Soups! Down with Colds!

* A note on deglazing: if you are not familiar with this term, don't panic! Deglazing is basically when you add a few tablespoons of liquid to a pan of sautéed meat and/or veggies. It loosens up all the little caramelized bits stuck on the bottom of the pan and adds a rich flavor to the soup. Easy peasy and you get to feel sophisticated as plumes of steam rise from the sizzling pan.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


These past few weeks have been a blur. This is not to say they went quickly; rather the days and weeks lost their names and melted into one another. The temperature dropped in steps: 70's to 60's, 60's to 50's until we were shivering through freezing nights and the last lingering pansies froze solid one morning and spent the afternoon thawing into limp mounds.

shelby park structure

There is a reason no one gushes about the beauty of autumn in Tennessee. There is no glorious week of flaming oranges and reds in the hazy afternoon light. Instead stingy Southern trees clutch their green leaves like a family secret. As they weeks pass they surrender one by one, their leaves withering and dropping alone as the trees around them sway green and full or shiver their naked branches. It is only now, in mid-December, that the trees stand uniformly bare and chastened.

It is dark when I wake up and it is dark when I leave my office. I've grown accustomed to a long, nocturnal bus ride home. I learned new set of landmarks in my neighborhood - the stained glass windows of the Baptist Church, the particular pouring of street-lights at a crossroad. I pull the cord and walk the four lonely blocks to my house.

Nashville alleyway

Autumn can be hard on the Southern psyche. This city normally hums with a happy-go-lucky energy bred by warmth and long days of sunshine and the trailing glitter of country stardom. But these dark days and bitter winds call for a toughening of the marrow. I face these days with my banged puritan mettle and feel at peace. Around me natives shiver in ball caps and hooded sweatshirts.

broken horse

Lately I have not been doing what I should. Bookmarks linger between chapters, half-finished drawings lay anemically on my desk, letters linger unfinished and unsent. Instead I have been knitting, an ornate variation on pacing, as I listen to well-trod albums and other auditory pablum. I'll half-watch the local news while working the thumb of a mitten or turning a row, a cable needle held between my teeth. As Christmas approaches I find myself spiraling into comfort: laying on the couch with a blanket, listening to the favorite record of my 20th year.


I am content to let the last few weeks of 2010 pass as quietly as they wish. This has been a restorative year for me, a year where so many fractures finally knit together. I face the coming year with a feeling of possibility and a core that is rested, strengthened and ready to be pressed into service.

A mentor once told me that the years will pass regardless of what I choose to do with them. Fall reminds us of this again, as we watch the world around us disappear and feel the closeness of the frozen ground.

starlings 2