Monday, December 24, 2007


Christmas Eve 2007

On Christmas eve, I make soup in my mother’s tidy kitchen.

It’s a chowder, really, with lots of milk. It takes time to make it the right way, since it needs to be balanced. Milk is a delicate thing; it can be overwhelmed by spice or grease or heat, and it must be surrounded with things in moderation. Into the chowder goes simple food: Potatoes, and ham, corn, bacon, onion, carrots, and perhaps some fish.

The first thing to do is to brown the bacon on the bottom of the soup pot—not too much bacon, or the grease will be too much; it needs to be just enough to prepare the way for all that will come after. While the bacon is cooking, I haul out the potatoes, and peel them over the old steel sink, then cut them up into cubes with the onions and carrots. Teetering on the edge of the cutting block might be a glass of wine, and I have to be careful not to unsettle it as I chop.

When the bacon is done, I pour in a bit of the wine, to mix with the grease, let it dance a little, and then throw in the onions and wait until I can smell it, the scent of something common and wonderful. It all goes in slowly: Some more wine, and the vegetables, the corn, and finally the milk. It is then that it all comes together, when I can see the swirling white, and feel a little fear that it is too hot or too full or too thin, and then, always right them, I feel it.

The thing that I feel is the urgency of the travelers who must be fed, the ones awaited. These travelers—they are tired, worried, hungry; and they might not have a bed to sleep in tonight, because it is crowded with other travelers. It’s not a thought, it’s an emotion, and it’s overwhelming. I start to act differently.

It’s time to chop the ham which will go in last, and I reach for the good knife and I cut it thick, big chunks that will fill up a soup spoon with just a little bit of corn hanging on the edge like the last men in a lifeboat. Time is short now, I can’t let the milk boil, but this soup has to be rich and I grab the really great wine and make sure no one can see, and I dump some in, and pile in even more of the ham in a feverish rush. If there is fish, I cut away all but the best parts which are firm and free of bones, and slide them in gently from my palm, and then I call to the others. The travelers come to eat.

It’s hard not to cry, because I know it isn’t good enough. I’m not worthy to feed them, and though they are grateful, I am sad that it can’t be more, that in this season of love I have only carrots, onions, potatoes, milk, bacon, and ham. Could it ever be enough?

Now I want some soup!
Osler I worry about you. Here you are traveling around, teaching law, harassing the Supreme Court, writing books, starring in movies, and yet to take the time out to make soup, not crappy soup but probably REALLLY good soup, and you worry that its not good enough. Its like when you worried that you did not do enough to prevent 9/11... its like worrying about things like continental drift or something.

The people in your life love you no matter what. I can tell that they do and always will. and they are going to like your soup even if it sucks, which I am sure it does not.

Now, if I had made the soup....

In the morning, spend some "ME TIME" - jump in the car and go take pictures of some graffiti, just as a "pick me up". It will make you feel better.
About a year & a half ago, I was at a seminar in New Orleans - one that was designed for H & W to attend, with activities for the non-seminar going spouse. Mine could not attend, but I skipped an entire morning session to attend the spousal activity - which was a morning cooking lesson at the New Orleans School of Cooking. I learned to make REAL N'awlins Gumbo. I would be happy to share the skills I learned at cooking school that were acquired at the expense of some law topic. This gumbo is DANG good, and oft-requested.

Not that there's anything wrong with the soup you are describing - you might just need some southern dish to add to your repetoire.
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