"Mother Bear, Mother Bear, where are you?" calls Little Bear. "Oh dear, Mother Bear is not here, and today is my birthday. I think my friends will come, but I do not see a birthday cake. My goodness--no birthday cake. What can I do?
"The pot is by the fire. The water in the pot is hot. If I put something in the water, I can make Birthday Soup. All my friends like soup.
"Let me see what we have. We have carrots and potatoes, peas and tomatoes; I can make soup with carrots, potatoes, peas and tomatoes."
So Little Bear begins to make soup in the big black pot.
First, Hen comes in.
"Happy Birthday, Little Bear," she says.
"Thank you, Hen," says Little Bear.
Hen says, "My! Something smells good here. Is it in the big black pot?"
"Yes," says Little Bear, "I am making Birthday Soup. Will you stay and have some?"
"Oh, yes, thank you," says Hen. And she sits down to wait.
"Birthday Soup," from Little Bear, by Else Homelund Minarik
A year ago yesterday, a meeting I was supposed to attend in Boston was cancelled due to a big snowstorm. So I stayed home that weekend instead, and started A Finger in Every Pie. Yes indeed, January 22nd was AFIEP's first birthday -- or anniversary -- or maybe blogaversary. My blog is an Aquarian baby, just like myself and my sibling. Even though I was conscious all day yesterday that baby blog had completed its first year, I didn't manage to write a new post until today. We had a bit of a whirlwind weekend -- up to Vermont and back in slightly over 24 hours, a marathon tutoring session with a student, planning and preparing for the week ahead. Hopefully blogs are not as temperamental or demanding as people, and I will be forgiven for the belatedness of this celebratory post. I did, however, manage to make a batch of birthday soup -- but more on that later.
A Finger in Every Pie has given me many gifts over the past year. First, and most important, it's renewed my desire to write on an on-going basis. Writing, and making time for writing have taken on much greater importance in my life -- which was an outcome I very much hoped for. Over the past year I've gone on writing retreats where I've concentrated on fiction and memoir as well as professional writing, and I'm about to have an education-related piece published in a professional journal.
I've also had a renaissance of renewed contact with numerous family members, friends and colleagues who've become regular readers of this blog. Creating and maintaining strands of connection and community around food and other topics continues to be both enjoyable and deeply fulfilling. Other delightful benefits have included books and food parcels, in exchanges, as prizes and as gifts, from individuals or from publishers. My little radio spot was great fun too.
And of course, I've encountered new people. Some bloggers I've met, spent time with, and talk to regularly; they've become fixtures in my life, fast friends. Other bloggers pass through town, look me up, and we have a lovely food-date of some kind or another -- and feel a special sense of connection when we're once again commenting long-distance on each others' blogs. Still others I know only virtually at this point, but look forward to meeting in the future -- or not. I've discovered the rewards of online friendships as well. So although I may at times be frustrated with myself for not posting as often as I'd like, or feel as if I'm bored with blogging or tired of food as a major topic, so far I've really enjoyed having my own little corner of the blogosphere. Perhaps it will morph into something slightly different; I don't yet know. I did have big dreams of re-vamping the site and giving it a birthday makeover, but that will have to wait, as I'm coming into yet another of the year's crunch times.
In the meantime, there's no better way to celebrate than birthday soup. Despite the eponymous "pie", soup is probably what I've made and will continue to make more often than anything else. I do have quite a bit of baking coming up, since I'm slated to make baked goods for a work retreat this week -- and my darling brother has a birthday which will require cake rather than soup. But in the meantime, what's more rewarding at the end of a hectic weekend than a bowl of glorious soup? This one is very much a tonic, as far as I'm concerned. It's chock full of wonderful anti-oxidant vegetables, fiber- and protein-rich beans, a bit of rib-sticking pasta -- and other than its last-minute garnish of freshly grated Parmesan, it's basically fat-free. Eat a big enough bowlful -- hell, have seconds -- and you've done your five servings of veg for the day. Both virtuous and delicious, it's an excellent way of toasting the blog's -- and everyone else's -- health during the coming year.
Blog Birthday Soup
(approximately 16 servings)
My mother was first served this soup by a cousin of ours some years ago. When she asked for the recipe, none of us could believe its simplicity. It does require a fair amount of cleaning and chopping, but makes a huge quantity of soup (you may want to halve the recipe first time out) for what amounts to an hour or so of effort. I've tried adding different ingredients several times, but the variations are never as good as the original. I've added peppers, potatoes, herbs -- strangely enough, they don't enhance the flavor or texture, and they mess with the soup's own mysterious alchemy. I have at times cooked dried little white beans rather than using tinned ones, which is quite good -- but when you're in a hurry, the canned ones are just fine. I like to make the entire vat of soup, because then I have enough for healthy lunches during the week, some for the freezer, another dinner perhaps, and some to give to neighbors or family or friends.
14 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 - 4 large leeks, well-cleaned and sliced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
6 - 8 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 28-oz tin crushed tomatoes with their juice, or 1 26-oz box of Pomi chopped tomatoes
Combine all these ingredients in a large pot and cook for 30 minutes. Then add:
1/3 large head of cabbage, finely sliced or shredded
Cook for 10 minutes. Add:
1/4 pound of orzo or other small pasta, or broken linguine or spaghetti
Cook for 5 minutes. Add:
2 cans small white beans, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups dried white beans, cooked until tender
4 medium zucchini, sliced
Cook just until pasta is toothsome and zucchini has become barely translucent. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and plenty of pepper. Serve with lots of
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.