I had been forewarned about the hairpin turns but what I hadn’t been prepared for was the splendor of the canyon ablaze in reds and golds. The tiniest of the three of us had somehow managed to wedge herself in the “back” as we headed south in the cherry red sports car. The beauty of the Smith River Canyon in deep fall zipping past our windows. Each one of us was feeling a bit homesick as the holidays approached. So, our driver was taking us home. One of those “college weekends at home.” To her home. Dolly and Kenny quietly crooning in the background…her Christmas album that always has top bidding as the first one to play each year. The three of us talking about this and that. Nothing much. Heading deeper and deeper into the dense forest.
Funny how our memories work. Only the keenest among us remembering everything. Most of us only remembering fleeting moments within moments. But sometimes those brief but remembered bits of time passed leave an indelible mark on us. We carry those bits around with us throughout our lives. Over time, we jostle those memories around in our heads. And they evolve. Take on different shapes. The sharpest details tend to fall by the wayside. Details no longer of importance. And the edges begin to soften. But one thing never changes….when. We can never change when those memories actually occurred and what they taught us about ourselves or others who surrounded us at that time in our lives.
Seeing as my college “mode-of-transportation” was a bike, I was quite thrilled to have spent the past 5 hours riding shotgun in the cherry red sports car and only felt a tinge of guilt as our tiny friend unravelled herself from the back of the two-seater car after pulling into the driveway. Here we were. At the childhood home of our dear friend. Our first time visiting. We entered her gracious home and for the rest of the weekend, we were treated to glimpses into her childhood. Into bits and pieces that made her who she is. Her bedroom with the canopy bed. The bathroom she shared with her sisters. The white carpeting in the living room. The restored Victorian where they spent numerous special occasions. Her family’s place of business. The bay. The barn in her backyard. Her mother. Her father.
Sometimes I wonder if you can truly know a person without knowing her family. Her hometown. All the places and people that touched her during those most impressionable years of childhood.
We sat around that large wooden table in her family room. Talking. Petting her dog (or was it dogs?) that reminded me of my family dog. Her mother, who had been just out of our vision in the kitchen, was now setting down bowls of minestrone in front of us. The warm and comforting smell causing my stomach to growl. And looking down into the bowl, I had to smile. Dancing around in my soup were black olives. The same black olives, back at my home, we would have put on our fingers like puppets. The same black olives my grandmother would have set out with sweet pickles and celery topped with cream cheese and paprika at Thanksgiving. And suddenly, surrounded by my dear friend’s family, in her childhood home, eating a simple meal of minestrone soup, I didn’t feel so homesick anymore. And no matter how many details fall off the edge of the memories from that weekend, I’ll never forget the warmth. And it’s those same feelings of warmth and family that define my dear friend to me. A friend whom I’m still fortunate enough to have in my life.
by Linda Macdonald
I make this soup every fall. Sometimes a couple times during fall. So easy. So delicious. And, my favorite part are those simple black olives. I am not sure what the “baked” in the title of the recipe is meant to imply, but I am not one to argue with the creator of such a scrumptious dish. Now, Linda’s instructions have you precooking your pasta before putting it in. I’m guessing that is to help prevent it from getting too soggy. I am always too lazy to do this step since it means washing another pot so I just throw my pasta in to cook in the broth about 15 minutes before I want to serve it. I also use 2 32-oz boxes of beef broth and omit the water since I don’t want to waste the leftover broth. I will then add in some water if the stew has simmered down quite a bit and more liquid is needed. But however you do it, I hope you’ll make a batch this stew and experience your own feelings of warmth and family as we approach the holidays.
2 lbs stew meat, cubed
1 c onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (I used Herbes de Provence because it’s what I had on hand.)
OR 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp basil and 1/2 tsp pepper
1 15-oz can kidney beans, plus juice
1 15-oz can medium, black olives, plus juice
1 c shell noodle, pre-cooked
parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
Generously salt and pepper your stew meat. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium to medium-high heat. Brown your meat – possibly in two batches to prevent it from “stewing”.
Add in your onions, garlic and Italian seasonings and cook another 3-4 minutes until the onions are starting to soften.
Add in your broth, water, tomatoes, zucchini and carrots. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
Add your kidney beans, black olives (and pasta, if you did not pre-cook it) and cook at a high simmer for another 15 minutes. If you pre-cooked your pasta, add it to the mixture right before serving.
Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Ladle into shallow soup bowls. Top with parmesan cheese. Serve with some crusty bread and Caesar salad on the side. Enjoy….
Yield: One big pot full
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010