Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tomato Soup


I don’t usually cook for myself in the middle of the day, but today it was warranted. The weather sucks, and has sucked for a pretty long period now. It has been day after day of clouds, gloom, and rain, all draped by temperatures that have pulled the warmth all the way from the marrow of my bones. Today, though, is slightly different. It is colder, and wetter. I needed some soup. I needed warmth from the inside, something for the body that was good for the soul. I went to my pantry and opened the doors.

I had recently re-fluffed my pantry. In doing so I had thrown away bottles and cans of this and that bearing dates to be consumed by, that were decades past, but hadn’t been. It was all prompted by our little dog who, recently, made me aware that there were visitors living in the pantry. After learning of their residency, we then soon trapped two Micky and Minnie’s who had found themselves a nice little smorgasbord in the cracker and snack area which I had not seen much of in months. The shelves of the pantry are deep and things have tended to be pushed to the back and not seen, and forgotten. My visitors had found a culinary heaven in the back of this one shelf and left a mess which required, after their removal, taking the entire contents out and assessing just how old the stuff really was, disinfecting, and restocking. So as I stood at my newly stocked pantry, I looked at ingredients and their potential to solve my need for warmth for my core.

Cans of pumpkin enticed me, but it was the box of chopped tomatoes that caught me. Tomato soup was calling me. I chopped a nice long leek up that I had sitting in the fridge, and put it in my soup pot with some EVO, and turned on the heat. I put some celery leaves in there as well for that flavor that only celery can bring, some chopped garlic and stirred as the heat began to make a soothing sizzling noise. After the leeks had wilted, and before they browned, I poured in a box of chopped tomatoes and added some chicken broth. For some heat I added a bit of red pepper and for some smoke I added a couple of shakes of smoked paprika. Then I added some freshly ground black pepper on top and stirred again. I tasted and mulled over what else.

I went to the fridge and grabbed the roasted red peppers I had sitting waiting for use and poured them into the bubbling mix. My indoor areo-garden had finally produced me enough basil that it was time to prune some of the leaves so I clipped a few and tossed them in as well. I tasted again. It was time for the mix to meet the blender. The blender whirled and pureed the mix into a beautiful creamy red goodness. I ladled some of it into my waiting bowl and topped it with shredded parmesan and asiago cheeses and snipped a few more basil leaves onto that. Then I sat to eat and enjoy.

I don’t know where the first bowl went but the warmth spread, my shoulders dropped and my mood brightened as I tasted the promise of summer tomatoes in each delicious mouth full. Like eating pure sunshine, this quick little soup in the middle of the day had nourished me in more ways than one, and just like that, this soup had done its magic. I was warmed, through and through.

The rain outside continues and according to the radar, will continue for a while. The northern part of the state is predicted to get snow, and possibly quite a lot, for here anyway. I do wish that we would see some but this time is not likely. There is a strong jet stream ushering the storm system and it is holding the line just north of our town, as it usually does. On occasion, it has slipped south and has allowed a storm to bring snow to us, instead of the numbing rain, so hope stays alive for a dusting at least.

In recent months I have been spending a lot of time cleaning out closets, drawers, the before mentioned pantry among them, and have been sorting things into that which needs to be thrown far away, those things and clothes that will be given to more needy (or perhaps to those who might fit my clothes which have mysteriously shrunken), from those things which I will keep. It all began with the closing down of my parents’ house after my mother passed, and in preparation for an estate sale of their belongings. For months I sorted through the drawers, closets, and attic deciding what was to be kept and what was to be sold.

The hardest of all the decisions I have had to make are over the photographs, and not the ones on the wall. It is the thousands of snap shots, some in albums, but mostly, loose prints in a paper bag, or a box that are really the time keepers of the lives that have come before me and whose images are now my responsibility. I have looked into the eyes of relatives I have no names for. I have sorted through countless black and white photos of babies in christening gowns, felt the stern gazes of the pioneer relatives, the older ones, the ones just off the boats from Germany and Scotland, and onto the more recent ones of my grandmother in the full bloom of her youth and beauty.  I have culled and culled but there is a corner upstairs, still, with many boxes of photos I have become the default caretaker for. They will all probably go into yet another box, to be put into the attic, to wait on the next caretaker to decide which to keep and which not to perpetuate. It will be their decision, though, not mine.

But the feeling of loosening up, of freeing up my space and my feeling of carrying too much baggage, had carried over to my own house after I finished at mom’s house. I now have a huge pile of plastic bags by the front door which will go to charity and hopefully be used in a second life. There is also a huge red box outside by the big oak tree that has a whole bunch of stuff that was cluttering our house and had no use, and so will be taken to the dump when I have filled it to the brim. I began with my file cabinet yesterday, the khaki one upstairs that I have used to keep up with my horse breeding business for thirty years, and also the one for the kids, and all of their school progress reports etc. Of course there is an enormous pile of photos to be sorted through and decided on whether to keep or not, of horses, of our kids as they have grown up, our farms, and our lives. It is a slow process. It takes time to reload the memories.

Ironically, as we have been keeping our fingers crossed in hope of bit of white fluffy stuff gracing us now, I came across a group of photos taken when it did actually snow here. The shots are glossy prints complete with the dates on the back telling me they were taken in December of 1993. The shots are taken at our old farm. Our kids were young, preteens, and were wearing the coats that they wore when my dad took us all on ski trips. In one shot, our youngest has a huge snow ball made, holding it in her arms and I rather imagine that it got thrown immediately after the shot at her older sister. My German Shepherd walks with our older daughter in one, and looks to be glad that the weather finally turned civilized. Kudzu and Kowaliga, two of my first Dutch horses that I had breed are standing in quiet contemplation with melting snow dripping off their coats.

None of these shots made it to an album, or got put in a frame but its’ nice looking back at them. They evoke sweet memories and take me back to that moment in time where it did actually snow. In that moment, our world stopped, and it was all white, magic, and beautiful.

With a quick glance at the still gray and darkening close of another wet and miserable weather day, I am losing hope that we will see the fluffy stuff, maybe next time. I am thinking a reheat of tomato soup for supper, or maybe the leftover chili, anything as long as it’s warm and comforting to chase the chill away.