The following is mostly a true story about the genesis of my latest project. If you are here for the recipe, bear with men while I figure out how to add that “skip to recipe button.”
I sat in my recliner, with the Christmas tree lights, the only light in the room, listening to the silence. In front of me, an obscenely sized television that I turn on once a week. To the right of me, is a window that looks out into my backyard, cold and dark with the leafless limbs whipping back and forth. To my immediate left, is George, my constant canine companion of almost seven years. Rarely is he quiet, but for this moment, his boredom equates to blissful silence. On my lap is my laptop, recently closed from my last work call of the year. I start humming Auld Lang Syne and realized that this year has absolutely been a whir, beginning and ending with this laptop that is never far out of reach. I take a spoonful of warm turkey chili, spiced with cumin, cinnamon, leeks, and garlic olive oil. I breathed deeply the smell of the dish, this damn chili that I make over and over and over, and realized some things need to change.
My name is Kate and I work too much. This is a well-documented fact and over the last few years, I’ve lost touch with the concept of work/life balance. 98% work, 2% life is not a blend I’m content with any longer. This past year was both personally and professionally challenging and to be honest, I hide behind my work to avoid the sheer wasteland that is my personal life. There, I said it.
A little bit about me. I’m hurtling towards my forty-fifth year on this planet. I share my home with one dramatic basset-lab combination named George, Jorge if he is being sassy. I live in a seventy-year-old mid-century modern house in North Texas. Arlington to be specific is a city that is smack in between Dallas and Fort Worth. We are the middle child between our bold, sassy sister Dallas and our hat-wearing, gun-toting brother Ft. Worth. As I type these words, I realize that I’m in the middle of just about everything- middle-aged, middle metroplex, and frankly living in the middle of my story.
I’ve always been a hard worker, a trait instilled by my parents at a young age, “if you aren’t busy, you aren’t doing good work. Idle hands are the work of the devil. If you are bored, I’ll give you some work to do.” You get the idea. For most of my career, unsatisfied by a simple forty-hour workweek, I’ve picked up projects/part-time jobs/freelance work to fill my hours.
Until, that is, this year. When life gets really insane, I truly believe that we are forced to slow down, whether we want to or not. In July of 2021, I broke my leg, shattered my ankle, and was forced to spend 11 weeks at home, off my broken leg. Homebound. Stuck. Might as well, just work. As I type these words, I realize how crazy I was, taking minimal days off after my surgery, working through the pain of the unfixed broken leg and really only waving the white flag when the pain, 4 weeks post-surgery was too much to bear. I think it was mid-August when I first started to suspect that I needed to make some changes.
Fast forward through to the end of the year. Work again consumed my days, but there was a niggling thought in my brain that kept thinking “there has to be more, different, better ways to spend my days.”
Like many others, this year’s holiday season was different for me, in part due to the recent spike of the Omicron Variant, as we head into year 3 of the Covid-19 Global Pandemic. (I type this as if this is new information, but perhaps, 50 years from now, as my great godchildren read through Crazy Aunt Cakes (that’s me) diaries, they will wonder what the hell Covid-19 was.) I stayed home more than I went out, and half-heartedly poured myself into the holiday spirit and my primary goal was to just make it through each day. Recovery from the summer surgery was drawn out, and at times, I felt like I was never going to be back to normal, but somewhere, along the end of December, I realized that I was actually getting stronger, walking better, and able to stand for long periods of time. This was key to hitting one of my biggest goals for the year.
I love to cook. I mean, I LOVE to cook. I’ve been baking since I could remember, side by side with my mom in the kitchen. I stood next to my grandmother’s pressure cooker at an early age, learning about searing meat and making sauce. I minored in Food Science in college and by the time I was in my early twenties, I was baking professionally in pastry kitchens. Cooking was life. Cooking was love. Cooking was a joy. When I’m in love, I cook. When I’m sad, I bake. When I’m bored, I can whatever I can snatch up at the Farmers Market. As I grew older and found myself more focused on the job that pays the bills*I found myself cooking/creating/making less and less. I was eating easy foods, lazy foods, the type of foods that could be easily microwaved or cooked on the stovetop in less than 10 minutes. Gone were the days of pouring over recipes, planning, and executing, instead, the primary goal was to find whatever I could dump into a bowl and eat at my desk.
So, back to my goal. Somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I made a pot of turkey chili and decided that I needed to tackle my cooking problem, much like I tackle work problems- with a plan and a goal. My goal? Get back in the kitchen every week. Why? To make delicious healthy food that can sustain my quest to quickly grab food in a bowl and go. When? Every week. What? Hell, I don’t know. What goes in a bowl and can be microwaved? SOUP! That’s it- 52 weeks of different soups. I’m going to leverage my 200+ cookbook collection and a vast internet filled with soups and make something local, seasonal, and different each week, for fifty-two weeks. If I had to guess, some are going to be delicious, some are going to be less than stellar. Let the cooking begin.
Week 1/52: Julia Child’s Potato/Leek Soup
If you are going to start a food quest, how do you not start with the epitome of recipes, the base of so many soups? Julia Childs brilliant POTAGE PARMENTIER soup is simple, requires a handful of ingredients, doesn’t require much skill, and also, is Low FODMAP, which for this middle-aged, GERD/Reflux sufferer, is key to making foods not hurt.
1lb potato, peeled and diced- take 3 minutes and peel the potatoes, it won’t kill you.
3 cups leeks, thinly sliced (tender green parts only- to make this Low Fodmap). YOU MUST WASH THE LIVING HECK OUT OF LEEKS- they are dirty, dirty, dirty.
2 quarts water (aka, 8 cups- you should know this, but math is hard)
1 tablespoon salt (ok, I probably used more, and I gave it a healthy grind of pepper towards the end.)
4 -6 tablespoons whipping cream or 2 -3 tablespoons softened butter (You could use both, but don’t- just pick one)
2 -3 tablespoons minced parsley or 2 -3 tablespoons chives (I chose parsley and regretted it. Chives all the way)
In a large pot, put potatoes, leeks, and water – bring to a high simmer and let cook for 45 minutes. Once potatoes are soft take the pot off the heat, give it a swirl with the spoon, and taste for seasonings. Grab your immersion blender and quickly mix up potatoes and leeks. Season until your hearts are filled with spice and sodium. Just before serving, put 4-6 TBL of Heavy Whipping Cream in the pot and swirl with your spoon. It’s ok to feel fancy. We all do. Serve in a bowl and top with either parsley or chives. Make sure to mince the bejesus out of the parsley otherwise, it will overpower the delicate flavor of the soup.