This time last year: Kale and Swiss Chard with Caramelized Onions and Chicken Penne with Greens and Raspberries
When do we become confident soup makers? When do we become confident cooks for that matter, counting on regular success in the kitchen and perhaps even believing that cooking is something we should do for a living? For something so basic to our survival, it is astonishing how much practice it takes to become a really good cook. Take soup. I know that if I start with some chopped onions, some garlic, and a few basic ingredients that I can make something delicious. But it wasn't always that way.
I had already mastered a few basics when I left home: macaroni and cheese, pancakes, stirfry. But far away on the other side of the country, I missed my mother's chicken soup. And she couldn't really tell me how to make it, because she Just Made It. Also, I was vegetarian at the time, so I couldn't admit it.
I was working at my first real cooking job, at a bowling alley on Saltspring Island, British Columbia. I didn't have a phone, or a house for that matter, but I had a job. I'd wake up each morning in my tent, shower at the marina down the road, and head in. If I was late, my boss would call the woman who owned the land I was camping on, and she would holler at me from her house up the hill. Kings Lane Recreation was a combination bowling alley/pool hall/arcade/restaurant beloved by Ganges locals. The food was great. Turkeys were continuously roasted, halibut filleted by hand for fish and chips, dough for butter tarts rolled out and filled. And big pots of soup were made from scratch.
After working for the owner, Ruth, for a while, I progressed from counter girl to gravy maker to full time cook. Following recipes that had been used for years, I slowly gained confidence in soup-making and most other kitchen duties. I also learned a great deal about being a boss and business owner. Ruth was generous, kind, crazy, and bursting with love for her family and community. She could flirt like nobody's business and always kept tubes of lipstick by the sink for applying when the rush of hardworking men would come in for lunch. I think of her whenever I choose the heel of the bread for my sandwich at work (it'd go to waste otherwise) or hire someone with no experience just because I like them. That's how Ruth would do it.
When I moved back home to NS, Ruth and I kept in touch. She was the last person I regularly corresponded with by mail and I looked forward to her letters filled with news about her amazing children, travels with her husband, and Saltspring gossip. Now it's only every few years that we check up on each other, but I'll always remember her taking a chance on me and giving me a start in the right direction.
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Choose a lovely bunch of local broccoli for this soup. That's the secret to its success!
1 large bunch Broccoli
3 C. Water or Stock
1 1/2 t. Salt
3 T. Butter
1 medium Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 C. Flour
2 C. Milk (I use 1 or 2%)
Optional: 1/2 to 1 C. grated Cheddar
Cut the broccoli from the main stem and peel the stem. Cut all the broccoli into 1/4" pieces. Put them in a pot along with the water or stock and the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from the heat and set aside for now. Heat the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat and add the onions. Stir and cook for about ten minutes, until the onions are tender and golden, then add the garlic and the flour. Let cook for a minute, then whisk in the milk. Stir or whisk continuously as it thickens and begins to bubble. Add the broccoli and its cooking water and stir to combine. Let the soup simmer for at least a few minutes, adding the optional cheese and lots of black pepper. Enjoy in the company of good people.