SPRING VEGETABLE SOUP
A little bit of everything in here – a culinary grand slam.
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large red potato, peeled
and diced 6 cups of water
3 tbsp. vegetable boullion
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed* and each stalk cut in half
1/2 cup acini de pepe pasta beads, or orzo
1 14.5 oz. can white beans, slightly strained of juices
juice of 1/2 lemon
if available: fresh white corn, freshly trimmed from on whole ear of corn optional: schmaltz**
In a soup pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil. Throw in garlic and sweat for 1-2 minutes, don’t let it burn.
Add diced potatoes, mix around in the olive oil and garlic until coated.
Add water and boullion, mix well.
Add thyme, tomatoes, asparagus and pasta. Bring to a boil.
Boil or aggressively simmer until pasta beads are al dente.
Add beans to soup. It’s done when the pasta tastes like you want it – al dente, or more cooked, about 3 more minutes from adding the beans.
Squeeze in lemon juice. Remove thyme sprigs before serving.
* to get the ends off asparagus, snap the stalk, and where it breaks, that’s the length of the spear you want to eat – discard the bottom end, no matter where it breaks.
** schmaltz: rendered chicken fat. I make my schmaltz by roasting a chicken with butter under the skin and olive oil all over the top with a cut lemon inserted inside it’s bum, then straining the pan juices from the pan and freezing the liquid into a freezer baggie or ice cube trays. I then add this super-delicious flavor-packed secret ingredient into all of my soups, stews, sauces, and braises.
Last week, standing on a stretch of grass with my father on a late spring evening, we named as many birds as we could find at our nearby little league fields. He started me on this silly activity called bird-watching when I was a young girl, not much older than my daughter Zoë, who was playing to our left on the t-ball field. To the right, my son Alex played on the Minors field. My father has already taken him hawk-watching, trout and bass fishing, but most importantly – at least in my family – to baseball games.”Baseball lessons are life lessons,” said my dad that night as we waited for each kid to come up to the plate before rooting loudly.”Oh yeah? How do you mean?” I asked, anxious to hear his metaphors instead of my own.A funny thing about my Dad; when he speaks to you, he watches your reactions as your internal dialogue begins, like he’s planted a seed inside your head for you. I have never been able to beat the tag.
“What I mean is this; Baseball Lesson number one, wait for your pitch.
Number two, don’t chase the ball down.
Number three, be mad for about ten seconds when you make an error and then move on. And
Baseball Lesson number four, no trash talking or pointing fingers.”
Quick look, there’s a robin. I contemplated what my Dad said and let his metaphors sink in with nature chirping all around. My Dad stood way taller than me, like he has all of my life, with his hands in his pockets and cautiously added, “This is good stuff, Sam.” Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show? I swear that’s who you remind me of right now, Dad. “And you need to tell Alex these things. Zoë is still in t-ball, she’s young still, but Alex needs to know that baseball lessons are life lessons, and he’ll be better for it.” Yes, oh wise owl/father.
Earlier that evening, my son had committed an error – not coming up with a grounder hit to him at shortstop – and had gotten down on himself. He also pointed out the range of his field position to his Coach (my husband, his Dad) and blamed someone else for this error. That frame of mind stayed with him into his next at-bat. My father and my husband jumped on this opportunity to teach my son about sportsmanship, but my father practiced his “Baseball Lessons are Life Lessons” speech on me first. I knew right then I’d remember that speech always.
Birds in the background, baseball all around me, I understood many different things at once, and it was soul-filling. Up there behind left field, is that a Cooper’s or a Red-Tailed hawk? After watching Alex ground out and Zoë fly up the first base line and keep going – enthusiasm indicative of t-ball – and with a respectable birds-sighted list for one perfect evening, my Dad and I continued talking about Baseball Lessons. “Make sure he remembers this stuff,” Dad said to me, hands still in his pockets, patriarch-type grin on his sixty-something face. It’s a Cooper’s hawk, note the striped tail. “I’ll do better than that, Dad. I’ll write about it and you can drive home these baseball lessons next time you take Alex bird-watching,” I responded. “Deal?” I asked. Check swing. “Deal,” he said. So I’m writing about it.
Baseball Lesson #1: Ten Second Anger Rule. Who was it that said you should count to ten when you are angry before reacting? Anger aimed at oneself can be fit into this philosophy. What good does it do, dwelling on committed errors? Rather, aren’t mistakes the best way to improve your game? At least for me – and apparently to my offspring – it’s the difference between a mental win and emotional loss.
Baseball Lesson #2: Don’t chase down the ball. If it comes your way, you do what every moment in your life preluded to this one has prepared you for; go after it with every cell in your body in concert with your pre-destined actions. But if the ball is hit somewhere else, if someone gets to it before you, or if it quickly gets out of play, what can you do? You keep playing, senses fully aware for the next opportunity. Which leads us to Baseball Lesson #3…
Baseball #3: Wait for your pitch. Pitch. It’s a word writers often hear. I love the strategy of pitching. It’s a psychological duel between the person on the mound and the person at the plate. Example: If there are men on base, and the count is 3-0 or 3-1, you’re going to get something to hit. Work the count in your favor. Don’t let someone else in your head; don’t get too far into your own. Know your strengths, feel the environment until you get a physical – almost automatic – reaction and swing. Letting your pitch pass you by is a painful, I-can’t-ever-go-back feeling, like striking out looking. Tricky stuff, but achievable.
Baseball Lesson #4: Grace. You can’t calculate poise, foresight or self-possession like you can a batting average, but EVERYONE knows when you’re lacking. One thing I have learned even though I never played baseball; you don’t better yourself with blame (or judgment). Look, there’s a bluebird, never seen one here before. Must be a sign of something. Baseball Lessons are Life Lessons, like generational recycling of wisdom and making tradition of recreational activities. Taking every opportunity to learn something, observe everything, and use it to your advantage, which will ultimately benefit those around you – family, team, or species, which, of course, are all the same thing anyway.