Potato Leek Soup, With Gratitude
As a child, I always enjoyed the way that autumn and early winter seasons are spangled with holidays that brighten the darkening days and lengthening nights. However, as I’ve been reading historical accounts and memoirs lately to balance the dailiness of the news, I’m struck by how little revelry there really was between the ancient Saturnalia kinds of festivities and the excesses of the Victorian/Dickensian era. It sounds like those ancient revels were more about drinking, story telling, and singing in the dark, cold night than about feasting, especially when harvests were scanty. If the Elizabethan holiday “groaning board” celebrated excess for the favored few, the vast majority of humanity had little to spare on frivolous festivities. Eventually the slow rise of the middle class brought relative prosperity to more people, but inequity has always made holidays very different affairs for the haves and have nots, as we certainly see today.
This year, between the pandemic shut downs, layoffs, business closures and the evaporation of stimulus and relief programs, millions, even billions of people are seeking new ways to hold holidays. My observant Jewish friends are quick to point out the practical ways they’ve found to celebrate holy and happy holidays despite increasing restrictions on gathering. Millions of people observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September, taking two days for reflection and repentance, and Sukkot, the harvest thanksgiving, in October, using all sorts of platforms to share time, thoughts, music, games and activities while physically distanced. Hopefully that clear example leads more of us to try new ways to come together in spirit if not physically.
Thanksgiving And Thoughtfulness
As the holiday season arrives, I’m thinking hard about what really counts as celebration. Since we can’t come together in person, does the value lie in listening to beloved voices, seeing dear faces, hearing stories, catching up? For a lot of people, Thanksgiving is all about food; Mom’s stuffing, Dad’s gravy, Grandma’s pie. I get that, but personally, I’m far more in the mood for a national day of atonement and repentance than for a day of indulgent over-eating (maybe because less-than-optimal eating is clearly becoming the new normal for those who can afford it). Last Thursday, as I entered my 70th year, Johns Hopkins University announced 185,759 new infection cases in the United States, our all-time daily high and a low point in my lifetime. If we as a nation will take time for thoughtful reflection THIS Thursday, perhaps we have a chance of changing direction. Perhaps. Small wonder so many of us are feeling vulnerable and so deeply sad.
That said, I’m still finding glimmers of hope every day, largely because I’m making a point of looking for and recording them. Laughing kids zipping by on skateboards. Gorgeous morning clouds tinted miracle-pink. Little birds hopping in the garden. My daily walk yields golden fans from a Gingko, round, smudgy purple leaves from Cotinus x Grace, and spiky-fingered, flame colored sweetgum foliage. On my desk, a small vase holds a sprig of beautyberry, its clustered purple berries firm and bright. There’s also a rosy camellia that usually blooms in April, and a few unseasonal primroses as well as coral-pink River Lilies (Hesperantha-formerly Schizostylis coccinea Oregon Sunset). In my garden, a young Angels’ Fishing Rod (Dierama pulcherrimum) is also budding and blooming out of time, its pale flowers glimmering in the soft grey fog. Across the narrow street, I can smell the sultry sweetness of climbing sweetpeas planted in my neighbor’s deep window boxes, still bravely blooming despite frosty nights and chilly days.
We gardeners are fortunate indeed to have an endless source of hope and happiness, but many friends are also using this pandemic down-time to create music and poetry, stories and plays, capturing this unprecedented period of history for the future. Others are making and mending, knitting and sewing, spinning and weaving, sculpting and building. Back in March, Washington State was the epicenter of the virus in America. When the pandemic was first announced, my friend Windy began recording daily events and thoughts on squares of batik fabric, sewing them into strips, then joining them into a quilt top. Recently she shifted from daily squares to weekly ones, as the quilt was getting way too large.
Looking at her quilt, I see dark days and joyful ones, sad days and glad ones, broken days and whole ones. If I can’t truly know the story that’s sewn and drawn and embroidered into this quilt-book, I can still read it, even from here. It’s a story about dealing with what is, about trauma and transformation, about love and loss, about making and mending. I can see that adorable Olive feels right at home in the middle of this story that her human keeps chronicling, and that Olive is definitely one of the bright spots. A dear friend recently told me that the family dog keeps them all sane. Around here, our cats anchor us. Maybe your lifeline is writing, or dreaming, or singing, or cooking. Whether we are grounded by plants or pets or poetry, it’s good practice to honor that role with gratitude.
Thankful Alphabet Soup
When my grandkids spent the night (remember those far-off days?) after a bedtime story and a song, we’d snuggle up by candlelight and play the Alphabet Gratitude game. There are lots of ways to do it; picking topics like people or birds, songs or books, flowers or food and listing our favorites letter by letter; seeing who can come up with the most favorites per letter; taking turns with each letter; starting with A, starting with Z…. I practice this game at bedtime myself quite often, starting anywhere and letting the gratitudes stream out, one leading to another and another and another.
A Lovely Potato Leek Soup
While tidying up in the little back garden, I turned up a hill of overlooked potatoes. I picked a handful of kale, several leeks, and some garlic greens and made this simple, satisfying soup, just right for a blustery, drizzly day like this one. Making a self-broth of water keeps this soup very light and fresh tasting, while broth makes it richer. If you like, add a splash of fresh lemon juice and a few chopped walnuts for extra zip.
Vegan Potato Leek Soup
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 leeks, sliced (white and palest green parts only)
1/2-+ teaspoon basil salt or sea salt
few grinds pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons stemmed rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon stemmed thyme
2 cups shredded kale
4 medium golden potatoes, sliced
1 quart broth or water
1/4 cup chopped garlic greens
In a soup pot, combine oil, garlic, leeks, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme over medium heat and cook to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add kale and potatoes and stir to coat. Add water or broth to cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer until very tender. Puree with an immersion blender, adjust seasoning and serve, garnished with garlic greens. Serves 2-3.
Some lovely ideas for getting through hard times. I had just recently been thinking about that quilt idea, as a patchworker friend made one a few years ago.
Thanks, Deirdre, I decided to make a pillow-sized quilt myself, using leftover mask materials to remind myself of this wild period of world history.
I enjoy your posts in the Bainbridge Islander. Question for you: I have a relatively new hoophouse and it works great in the summer, but i struggle to get much to grow during the winter months. A few things that i planted in the summer, like kale, sorrel continue to do well, but my broccoli and brussel sprouts fizzled. I have attempted to get “cool weather seeds” like spinach and kale to grow but do not germinate. I have tried starting them indoors and moving out to the hoophouse, but they die immediately.
I appreciate any suggestions.
Crystal Springs, BI
Hi Steve, I’m wondering about your soil mix; having seedlings die so fast may mean that the soil mix is too coarse for small seedlings, and you might do better to grow them inside until they’re the size of regular starts, which should handle coarser soil better. Both broccoli and Brussels sprouts are cool weather lovers so it’s odd that they aren’t happier. Could the soil be exhausted by summer crops? Did you replenish the soil, add compost, etc. after harvesting? Also, fall starts are usually sown in late July or early August and late sowings may sulk in cooler years. I’d suggest some soil building, starting with several inches of mature compost, and adding some looser mulch over that as well, perhaps bedding straw or medium to fine bark mixed with compost. Hoe that helps!