Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Comfort of Simmering

"And when I cannot write a poem, I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The past few months have been very stressful for me.  It seems there is always more to be done than hours in the day, and I am constantly tired and far behind on my "to-do" list.  I find my level of patience has diminished as my stress level has risen.  One morning last week my desk was piled with unfinished business, my grandchildren were not at their best, and I had several important phone calls and online transactions to be made.  Unfortunately, as soon as I sat at the desk things began to go wrong.  Trying to access my insurance website was more complicated than necessary, looking through my files for a specific record took more time than I had anticipated, and one of my phone calls was unpleasant.  As the children were calling for me to pour their juice, the phone was ringing again, and I still had not had a chance to look at the piles of work waiting on my desk.

So, what did I do?  I came downstairs, poured the juice and got my grandchildren settled, and headed into my kitchen.  I went to the refrigerator, took out a package of ground beef, and proceeded to make meatballs and sauce.  To me, cooking is therapy for my soul.  My kitchen is a refuge from the world of work and its constant demands.  As I mixed the meat, eggs, bread crumbs and garlic, and formed small balls, I could feel the tension drift away a bit.   While the meatballs were baking in the oven, their delicious aroma surrounded me.  I sauteed onions in olive oil, added garlic, crushed dried thyme and parsley into the mixture, and poured two cans of pureed tomatoes into the pan.  As the house filled with notes of spaghetti sauce, I took pleasure in the anticipation of a delicious lunch for my family.

I have always enjoyed cooking -- when I was younger, my supper table usually included not only my own family, but an extra child or two.  Everyone was welcome at our table.  Most importantly now, though, in these tense times, I find an emotional release in cooking, especially comfort foods.  In the past month I have made a huge pot of soup every weekend.  As winter wanes, and we look forward to lighter summer fare, I will take advantage of the cold weather to simmer these soups I love so much.  Soup is a comfort from beginning to end.  I love the "process" of soup making -- the chopping of onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, as well as the sizzle of sauteeing these vegetables.  I dry my own herbs, and I love to crush the dried leaves gently between my fingers and drop them into the soup, stirring their pungency into the mix.  Soup also needs watching -- as I go about a day of chores, I lift the lid of my old soup pot every half hour or so to stir the soup and breathe in its aroma.  Finally, at the end of the day, after throwing in some barley or pasta and cooking for a final few minutes, it is time to get out the soup bowls and some warm bread, and feast on the comfort of homemade soup.

There are several soup recipes which are favorites of my family.  Perhaps my personal favorite is beef vegetable.  Below is a recipe for this sturdy, mouth-watering concoction.  The wonderful thing about soup is that you can add or remove ingredients at will -- soup is a work in progress.  Before spring is finally here, get out a large pot and treat yourself to this soup -- it will bring peace to your soul as it works its magic.

Beef Vegetable Soup

Brown 2 lbs of blade steak or stew beef, cut into bite-sized pieces 

In separate pot, in olive oil, add a combination of chopped vegetables, one by one, sauteeing each as you are chopping the next:  two yellow onions, two carrots, three stalks of celery, two small yellow squash, one package fresh mushrooms, a handful of green beans, and three or four potatoes.  Add diced fresh tomatoes in season, or one can of diced tomatoes.  Add crushed dried thyme and parsley; sprinkle in some celery salt.  Add ground sea salt and ground pepper.  Stir the mixture together.  Add the browned beef to the pot.  Add two or three large cans of beef broth, and enough water to almost fill the pot.  

Cover the pot and simmer gently all day, stirring every half hour or so.  About an hour before serving, taste the broth and add more seasonings if necessary; add one cup of barley, and boil gently until tender.  Turn the soup off and let it rest for a half hour or so before serving.


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