Annette was in town, this weekend.
If sentences could be synonyms, this one would be synonymous with "Squeeeee!!!!"
We dreamed big, did little, which is probably what we always do. The peanut butter restaurant, which I always vow to visit when guests are in town, remains unpatronized. Roller skating? Didn't happen. The Conservatory? Uh huh. The kouign aman and pain au chocolat and winter walks? Nope.
I love winter, and I love cold, but I'm no fool. When the mercury reads -10 (and mind, the mercury doesn't read wind chill), I love winter best when framed by six panes, preferably viewed from beside a blaze-orange fire.
So we watched movies, and worked puzzles, and played games, old and new. We dove into the gifts Annette is known for, building stuff, braiding hair, making a mess. Some of us sampled some of the edibles. Then wrote out warning labels, post haste.
(I lost a crown to the Dr. Pepper licorice. Zoe, brave soul, tried the Tabasco Jelly Bellies and the (sic) Pickel Gum Ball's. Then scrawled a sign to caution fellow bold souls to stay far, far away. The boys, for their part, stuck with the chocolate. I am thinking they perhaps had a point.)
We had friends for brunch. Another synonym sentence, that. I'm pretty sure any weekend which includes "friends for brunch" qualifies, automatically, as great. Especially when Twister's involved. Double especially when the guests bring the main dish.
Extra especially when said main is one glorious, still-warm, just-baked quiche.
I arranged for a little snow, 8" or so. We shoveled. Repeatedly. And drank tea by the gallon. At one point, I opened the dishwasher and realized we might've OD'd, seeing as the mug cupboard was bare, and the dirties spilling over into the lower drawer.
In the end, we ran the thing twice, that day. Hot drinks in cold weather rank right up there with oxygen.
Meanwhile, *some* of us are so over winter, we're planting avocado pits and bulbs and mango seeds and wee tomato starts, found buried deep within well-traveled winter tomatoes. Pretty much anything that might flash green, and give off hope of the sun returning.
I am not among this "some". Spring still comes too soon, for my tastes. Besides, I do love my outdoor freezer. It cools a triple-batch of granola in no time. But I love, too, the resourceful chutzpah of the child that finds ways to bend the world to his will, toward green and growth and giddy-up-and-go. A good trick, that.
(Totally unrelated: My fourteen year old's proposed after-school snack, which he pitched as a balanced diet, "complete withfour food groups!": chocolate chips, Nutella, Jeni's Askinosie Extra-Dark, and a pound of Hershey's kisses. Oh, and that lone hazelnut, far left. He's studying nutrition at school, right now. Obviously.)
So mostly, we showed Annette a good time within the small four walls of our home, with two exceptions. First, we went to see "Mary Poppins", Saturday night, as performed by the local High School. Which as you might expect, had somewhat amateur sets. And as you, or at least I, didn't expect, had singing and acting of extraordinary excellence. I had no idea high schoolers had it in them. The next four years should be interesting.
And second, we took her out on the town. Specifically, to the local hardware and grocery stores. We hit up the first for ice melt and a snow rake, a 16-foot thing I never knew was a thing, until I learned we were at risk for an ice dam, once again. We hit up the second on a fruit and drug run (strawberries, grapefruit, Dayquil, Nyquil). I tell you, if you travel to Columbus, we will treat you well.
Anyway, we returned home from our grand outing with something like an hour to spare, between snow rake arrival and Mary Poppins' departure. An hour in which we needed to eat supper. And make supper. Ahem.
I mentioned, long ago, that I don't cook when I have company in town. Like, at all. Things haven't changed much, in five years.
However, we'd ordered Chinese the night prior. And I had little desire for an encore of pizza. (As it was, we saved that for Sunday. Good thing we didn't play that card early.)
So I did what I tend to do in these instances: grabbed the dutch oven, splashed in some olive oil, set the heat to high, and rummaged the fridge. Out came some bulk sweet Italian sausage, plus leeks, plus all the veg I could manage. Soup! Speedy, impromptu, ad hoc soup. And, as it turns out, lovely.
While the sausage sizzled and rendered its fat, we tossed in leeks and onions as we broke them down. As these melted and slumped, in the way of good alliums everywhere, Annette and I macheted carrots, kale, and sweet potatoes into submission. In went a tin of chopped tomatoes, another of chickpeas, and finally, a huge slosh of broth. (Water, in this case, amended with this. We can't roast enough chickens, this winter, to keep ahead of our head colds. It's all good.) Within half an hour, we were sitting down to a heady, hot supper of soup, BOOM!
Pretty much as soon as Annette left Monday, and just before the doctor diagnosed "bronchitis" Wednesday, I made a second pot, so much did I love the first. By myself, the prep took a full 37 minutes—longer, but still, not at all long. I tend to favor long-simmering soups, with vegetables caramelizing, lentils softening, dried peas slowly melting into a slurry. This is not that soup.
This is "I need it now, don't make me wait, serve me seconds, and then some" soup. This is meaty and loaded with veg, rich and light and robust and such soup. This leverages the serious power of sausage, it's highly seasoned oomph and yum, and spreads the wealth over a dozen-plus bowls. This maximizes my favorite add-as-you-go methodology, prepping and cooking, simultaneously. This utilizes what you've got—add peas, or corn, or double the kale, or sub all sweet potatoes for carrots, or whatevs. This yields up a hot, hearty one-bowl supper, in around 30 minutes, start to slurp. On my own, it took a full 37 minutes. Rope in a friend, and you can hit the half-hour mark.
One warning: when first cooked, this soup is bright and vivid, the broth clear, each carrot distinct. On subsequent days, the vegetables and beans settle and swoon, relaxing into the broth, absorbing its heady scent, and thickening the whole, ever so slightly and gloriously. It is wonderful on day one, as soup, and on day three, as it lurches toward stew. I like it best of all, both ways. And it beats pickle gumballs, any day.
37-minute*, Loaded Chickpea, Kale + Sausage Soup
I used bulk sausage, here, as it tends to have more fat (a plus), but you can also use links. Just do take the time to strip them of their casing, as the irregular crumble (vs. tidy slices) seems to be integral to this soup's appeal. If using links, add an extra splash of olive oil, to make up for missing fat.
*Prep times may vary, based on personal chopping speed, and number of Annettes on hand.
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, sweet or hot, crumbled
4 leeks, sliced (or 1 large onion, diced)
6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken broth
1 15-oz can chickpeas
1 large bunch kale, stripped and thinly sliced
1 tsp. salt + more to taste
optional: additional fennel seeds and/or chili flakes
to top: freshly grated parmesan
In a medium dutch oven (or large stock pot), warm olive oil over medium-high heat, until shimmering. Add crumbled sausage, and cook, until cooked through and browning, bashing up clumps, and stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. While sausage is cooking, wash and slice leeks (or onions), adding them as you go. If you'd like more fennel and/or chili heat, add them now, to your liking.
While sausage and leeks are cooking, continue with your vegetable prep, peeling and chopping carrots and sweet potatoes. Once sausage is browned and leeks limp and translucent, add carrots, sweet potatoes, canned tomatoes, chickpeas, kale and salt, then add the broth. Scrape up the browned bits, and bring the whole pot to a vigorous simmer, then turn down heat to maintain a strong burble, clamp on a lid (if you have one), and simmer until all veg are tender, 15-20 minutes.
Test for seasoning, adjusting salt and pepper, to taste. Heap into bowls, top with freshly plenty of freshly grated parmesan, and dig in.