It was a mildly wild evening with eight kids scampering upstairs and down around my house, playing the piano, building with Legos, occasionally squealing, being happy and good. They weren’t my grandchildren, but most of two young families from church who blessed me by coming to eat my soup.
Recently I had received cabbage and beets in my farm box, it being the season for such vegetables. Ah, borscht! Then I ate the red beets beforehand, and my borscht was made with golden beets, so it was not so exciting visually. But it was beefy and really yummy.
There was more of it than I could eat, and the obvious solution to that problem is dinner guests. I invited one family of seven to start with, but the afternoon of The Event, my goddaughter Mary’s siblings (we’ll call them Family B) were being cared for at Family of Seven’s house (call them Family W), and Mother B and Mary got held up and couldn’t retrieve them when planned; I drove 20 minutes and brought them to my house (Mom W’s car couldn’t fit any more bodies) so that they could eat with us and we could proceed as planned.
The dads B and A were nearby, too, one having arrived by train in the neighborhood – and somehow all three vehicles and two dads arrived at my house at 5:00, and we soon gathered around two tables for our soup and bread. I’ve been wanting to get to know Family W better, and it worked so well for their children to have B children around for their first visit to my house.
It occurred to me a little late, when I was halfway up the highway to do my part in the ferrying, that I could have just taken my soup to their house, and it would have been much easier for everyone. But not as much fun for me. In many ways, soup is useful and satisfying.
I thought I might be able to do a little something for someone special, and it turned into a surprisingly big something. What surprised me was the chain of events that resulted from a simple idea that would have been too stressful even to even consider just a month ago.
The baptismal name of one of my goddaughters is Sophia, and the day that we commemorate Saint Sophia was this month, just a few days after The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. On Sunday I suggested that she come over after Vespers on Wednesday, the evening/beginning of the name day, for a light meal to celebrate; Wednesday is a fasting day so it would pretty much need to be a vegan meal. I hoped there might be three or four of us eating it together, but wouldn’t have been surprised or unhappy if Sophia and I were the only ones celebrating.
<< (Favorite pewter water pitcher that my in-laws bought while traveling in Denmark)
This was not a very well thought out party I was giving, but was more the kind of thing that is "thrown together," though that phrase does not adequately describe the flowing way the guest list and the menu developed over the next two days, culminating in a dinner party for twelve! It seemed to me in the end that God had used this desire I had to bless my friend to steer me in the right direction, down the path at the end of which I discovered that I am adjusting to not having a husband to cook for, and that my grief is less consuming and disabling than before.
On Monday I shopped, after the festal liturgy, and put extra leaves in the table. Tuesday I made the soup and the cake. Wednesday afternoon I made the bread and cleaned house and set the table. I didn’t have twelve matching of anything, but I had six of the same placemats, spoons, napkins, etc., so I alternated around the table.
The soup is one I created thirty years ago out of necessity, when we lived in such a small town that I had to drive a distance to do my major grocery shopping. One day the cupboard was somewhat bare and I didn’t want to make that trip, so I concocted this stew using what I had on hand, that has the colors of the Italian flag in its ingredients, plus some Italian flavors, hence the name. It’s probably the only recipe I’ve created that has any kind of interesting name to go with it.
I haven’t actually tried using fresh basil, which is very odd since in the last decades it’s been so available in my garden and would seem to be preferable. Having pulled up my spent basil plants only the week previous, I didn’t have it available this time, either. I thought about buying a bunch, but decided to just go with the original recipe for this party and be safe.
Italian Flag Soup
½ cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
5 cups large white dried beans
2 tablespoons salt
1/3 cup dried basil (or equivalent in the fresh herb)
4 bay leaves
10-12 red potatoes in chunks
2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped
In a 16-qt pot or larger sauté the onions, and garlic if using, in olive oil. Add the beans and water to cover 2 inches. Simmer for about an hour.
Add the salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Simmer another hour, adding water as needed to keep it soupy.
Add the red potatoes, basil, and parsley. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, adding water as needed. Adjust seasonings and serve. Nice to make the day before so the flavors can mellow together longer.
It seemed to me that the soup and cake were the backbone of the culinary aspect, so I had to decide on those elements of the dinner at the outset. The cake I discovered on this website after browsing a while online. I wanted it to be vegan and also not chocolate, because these days I’m afraid of losing sleep over evening chocolate. The only change I made was to cut the sugar in the recipe from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup, and it was just right.
I did make the Caramel Sauce, which I think is optional. I wouldn’t make it again, because 1) Caramel is much better with butter or cream, 2) Making caramel is a bother, and I’m not sure I didn’t scorch it a little (though it did taste nice with the cake), and 3) Everyone said it was completely unnecessary because the cake is perfect the way it is.
I appreciated the lack of cinnamon in this cake, because I think it gets overused in baked goods, and the spices that were present were not so heavy that they overwhelmed the subtlety of the pears. I have transcribed the recipe after making my adjustment.
Gingerbread Pear Bundt Cake
For the cake:
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 medium pears, peeled and diced 1/2-inch (about 3 cups diced)
1/4 cup powdered sugar for dusting the top, if desired
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bundt pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, water, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Use a whisk to mix the batter together just until combined. Fold in the pears.
Pour batter into the bundt pan and bake until the cake begins to pull away from the edges slightly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out nearly dry, 45 to 60 minutes.
Let cool for 5 minutes then use a knife to carefully loosen any stuck sides. Invert cake over a wire rack and lift off the pan. Let cake cool completely. Carefully transfer cooled cake to platter or cake plate and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.
While the cake cools, make the caramel sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, vanilla and salt. Set aside. Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir just to combine, but do not stir after that! Allow mixture to come to a boil and watch it carefully. After about 6 minutes, the mixture will start to turn golden, then light brown, and it will smell like caramel. As soon as it has turned brown, slowly pour in the coconut milk mixture. The caramel will bubble enthusiastically at first. If the sugar hardens around the whisk, don’t worry, this is normal – just keep stirring and it will dissolve. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the caramel sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes.
Slice cake and put on plates. Drizzle individual servings with the caramel sauce. Serve.
The caramel sauce may be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated in an airtight container. It keeps well for up to 5 days. Allow the sauce to come to room temperature to thin out a bit before serving. You can also warm it in the microwave for a few seconds to speed up the process.
It was a special evening in that two of my guests were named Sophia, and our priest was able to come, and “my” Sophia’s godfather as well. We had a lively group with more food contributions to the table coming in the form of salads, and much good and edifying conversation coming from everyone. The soup was popular and not much was left over.
We ate grapes, too, giant seedless Perfect Grapes, the consensus was. I made Himbasha bread, and it was the only part of the dinner that I wasn’t truly happy with. I overbaked it trying to make sure it would be chewy enough, and it ended up awfully crusty, but my friends thought it was wonderful because they like the crust. It was fresh, at least! I’ll have to keep working on that recipe, which I’ve told about before.
A couple of the women did most of the clean-up, so that part was easy, too. My feet were sore, but Sophia was radiant and blessed, which made me very happy.
Some tortures are physical
And some are mental,
But the one that is both
Off and on since October I’ve been the frequent recipient of the benefits of modern dentistry, at which I am amazed and for which I am greatly thankful. Still, more than once while waiting “for things to settle down” I’ve had the proverbial aching tooth that is so distracting and mentally consuming. Just to prevent pain and promote recovery I was on two different occasions instructed to eat “nothing harder than spaghetti” for three days. That means no crunchy vegetables, which are one of my favorite munchies. It’s a good thing I have many soup recipes, and it’s also good that I had made a giant batch of this one before the torture began.
I made it with kale this time, and Mr. Glad thought that version was not half as good as the original spinach, but I could still slurp it by the quart. It’s the anise seed that makes it special. The recipe is pretty straightforward; I usually multiply it x8 so that I can have it in the freezer and at-the-ready. It loses nothing by waiting in the freezer and is a great accompaniment to any Italian main dish. I like it just as well without the cheese and lemon.
FLORENTINE SPINACH SOUP
1 T. olive oil
½ c. each thinly sliced celery and green onion
2 tsp. anise seed
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach (other leafy greens may be substituted)
3 c. regular-strength chicken broth
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
Pour oil into a 3-4 qt. Pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add celery, onion, and anise seed to pan; stir occasionally until vegetables just begin to brown, 8-10 minutes. Add spinach, broth, and pepper; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
Pour soup, a portion at a time, into a blender or food processor (or use immersion blender?), and whirl until smoothly puréed. Reheat if necessary, pour into bowls, and offer lemon wedges and cheese to add to taste. Makes four servings (unless you are serving someone like me, who would want to eat this whole pot.)
As I was enjoying my quiet and contemplative day, it was in the back of my mind that at some point I would have to get practical and find something with which to make dinner. The sort of solitude I had been enjoying precluded any kind of shopping.
I was surprised to end up with lavender soup.
This is how I did it:
Back in Butter Week, I made some yummy pasta with beans and cheese and greens, but it was too large a batch to use up before Lent, so I froze a quart of it. During Lent a purple cabbage came in my CSA box, and I have been trying to figure out what to do with it. Today I thought of making cabbage soup with sausage, but that would require me going to the store, so I looked in the freezer and discovered the pasta e fagoli, as I might call it if I were Italian. On the container I had written the suggestion “Make soup,” so I followed that plan and added some cheese sauce that I whipped up.
As the concoction was simmering, I looked out at the rain falling into the swimming pool, and took a picture through the door of the miniature roses that look especially good from a distance, because you can’t see the black spot.
I didn’t anticipate that the rain would hold on and keep dripping all through dinner, meaning that soup was the perfect food to have. And lavender is very much one of those Easter egg colors so we had a Springtime experience as well. Our friend Cat ate some with Mr. Glad and me.
After we all had emptied our bowls of second helpings of the very comforting and tasty soup, Cat and I sort of visited through the glass door with a neighborhood cat who stopped by and stared at us. He had found a dry spot under my gardening bench. He doesn’t have too much to do with the rest of this post, but his eyes are also a pretty Easter egg color.