Soup 101

The rain hammered down. Ten minutes ago, the sun had upstaged it in the play of Portland weather, and was sure to repeat the performance in another ten.

Audrey cut celery and carrots into chunks, scrubbed the parsnips and rutabaga and chopped them, too. She peeled the onion but left it whole, cut three small x’s into the flesh and pushed a clove into each one. She tied sprigs of oregano, thyme and a bay leaf together with kitchen string. All of this went into the big cast iron pot. She rinsed the chicken, tore off the glob of fat just inside the cavity and set it on the vegetables. She filled the pot with water (about six quarts) to cover everything. She hoisted the pot (a heavy sonuvagun) to the stove, poured a teaspoon-sized mound of salt in her left hand and threw that in, and turned on the fire.

The water would heat slowly to a simmer. It was important that it happen slowly to draw out the flavors and gently coax the meat from the bones. A longer time, a richer infusion.

I’m missing something, Audrey thought… chicken, vegetables, herbs—parsley! Forgot the goddamn parsley. She checked the flame, waited a minute for the latest rain drama to end, and went outside.

Pam Wells/The Pullets

The midday sun soothed her back as she reached down for the parsley, one of the few bright spots in her edible garden. In fact the parsley would soon go to seed; she should pick as much as she could use in the next week or so to encourage new growth. Felder liked parsley…

Audrey was admiring the potted plants on Felder’s front porch when he opened the door.

“Audrey, hello, come in, don’t mind the mess.” He ushered her inside, which wasn’t a mess at all except for some cockeyed pictures of old movie stars—Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, and was that William Holden?

“Brought you a little bonus from the garden,” she said, handing him a bag of the green stuff.

“I didn’t know you grew marijuana,” he said.

“Felder, there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

“Would you like some tea?”

“Oh, I would, but I’ve got something on the stove.”

“You could yell over the hedge to Joe. Have him check it.”

“No—no, he’s—” Audrey couldn’t finish the sentence.

Felder saw the tears welling in her eyes. “Unavailable?”

Audrey nodded. “He took a wok to L.A.”

“Odd way to get there.”

“Oh, no, I mean—”

They went out onto the porch. The sky was fifty-fifty, clouds to clear blue, and the air was fresh. Audrey explained with a few pauses that Joe had hit the road early, that he had been invited by a friend in Los Angeles—or was it Burbank?—to housesit for a couple of months. There was also a girl named Heather who was missing her stir-fry pan. Joe was determined to make it as a screenwriter, and all he had to do was to take care of the plants and the dog and the pool, and find some sort of job where he could meet more people in Hollywood.

Felder’s eyes twinkled. “People like me.”

Audrey laughed. “Yes, just like you, Steve Spielberg.”

“Well, I was never a household name. More of a Sam Spiegel.” He let her chuckle a little more. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, too.”

Audrey gasped. “You’re serious! You’re a producer? You never said anything!”

“Gave it up after Sarah died. The movies weren’t much fun anymore.”

“I’m, I’m stunned. Maybe I will have that cup of tea. What time is it? We could make it a cup of something else, couldn’t we?”

Felder looked up at the sky. “This soup’s clearing up. Why don’t we take a walk first?”

“Not to L.A.”

“Oh, what about your cooking?”

Audrey shrugged. “It can wait.”

She ran home and turned down the flame. The soup would be even better tomorrow.

©2010 Pam Wells