Friday, March 8, 2013

On the Village: Parsnip Collard Soup

Today we had a delayed opening for my son's school.  One of the mothers from down the street called me to ask if she could drop her son off here, because she had to get to work.  And I reassured her that yes, of course, that was fine, any time she needed to do so ... because I remember those days, those days of complete panic because neither parent could afford to be late for work, which was never closed.  She thanked me profusely, and mentioned to me that she's collecting a bag of clothes for N., hand me downs from her four year old daughter.  We've been trading hand-me-downs; I gave her a bag for herself the other day, things from my closet that I knew would look better on her.  I'm loving this give and take.  It feels like we're realigning the balance of the universe.

In a sane moment while the kids were all playing with Magformers in the living room, where I could see and hear them, I shoveled our walkway and sidewalk, so that no one would slip and damage themselves on their way to the bus stop later.  I ran into our neighbor, who was leaving her house, looking worried, promising me that her boyfriend would get to the shoveling later, that she couldn't do it because she'd pulled some muscles and possibly cracked a rib the other day.  I told her not to worry, that I could easily clear her sidewalk and path to the house when I had a few more minutes, once the boys were on the bus and I had only N. to watch.  She looked doubtful, but I did it anyway.  Because it was the right thing to do.  And now there will be one less property for the kids to slip in on their walk home from the bus.  I suspect that some day, she will take in my garbage cans, or pick up the recycling that the wind blew all over my back yard.

Yesterday I dropped a huge box and two bags of books off at the library.  I've talked before about my love affair with books, and how hard it is for me to part with them, but the truth is that, looking at my bookshelves, I decided I just didn't need them.  Some of them were from my first graduate school career, some were from the early days when I thought I could learn parenting from a book.  Some were novels I knew I'd never read again.  And it was good to give them away.  Someone else could use them.  And I've picked up my share of discards.

I did the same thing with my closet, clearing out two bags of clothes, and even my jewelry box, giving away things that I didn't need to two friends from church.  And told them that I wouldn't be offended if they needed to pass things along, or bring them to the next clothing swap.

The other day I brought a meal to a family; the mother had been sledding with her children and fell, suffering a severe concussion that has left her with some memory loss, vision issues, and headaches.  She wrote a very sweet note to me, thankful for the meal, and hoping that some day she could return the favor.  I wrote back that it was my pleasure, and that the real return would be her getting better.  I think back to all of the meals that people brought me when N. was born, and I know what a gift that was.

I'm not a do-gooder, nor am I looking for congratulations or compliments.  I'm not even a very nice person all of the time.  I yell at my kids.  I say mean things about the neighbor who leaves 20 bags of trash for the garbage truck week after week because he's too cheap to get a dumpster for his remodeling project.  And on the flip side, I've been on the receiving end of generosity plenty of times, too.  But I've been thinking that I really wish the world were more this way, more like a neighborhood where people didn't take more than they needed, where they gave things to neighbors who could use them, where they watched each other's children at a moment's notice not because they had a prearranged co-op (which, don't get me wrong, is great too) but because sometimes it's hard to do everything.  Where we were willing to understand each other, and look out for each other, even if we didn't feel like being nice all of the time.

I like this soup because it's a little bit of everything: smoky, sweet, spicy, smooth, chunky.  Sort of like I wish we were, too.

How have you experienced the give and take of the village?

Parsnip Collard Soup
Adapted from Jan's Sushi Bar

2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2/3 c. onion, diced
1/2 c. celery, diced
1/2 c. red bell pepper, diced
1/2 t. ground coriander
3/4 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1 t. chili powder
3/4 lb. parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 c. water, divided
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. pepper
4 c. collards or kale, coarsely chopped
1 ham hock (optional; if you prefer a vegan soup, add 1 can of beans and an extra 1/2 t. smoked paprika)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium soup pot. Saute the onions, celery and red bell pepper for about 3 minutes, until the onions begin to become translucent.  Add spices and saute for a minute or two, until fragrant.  Add 2 c. of water and the parsnips and ham hock; cover and reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the parsnips fall apart when you poke them, about 10 minutes.
Remove the soup from heat and blend in a food processor or with an immersion blender until you've reached the desired consistence.  Add the greens and the remaining water (and beans if you're doing the vegan version) and return the mixture to the pot; cover and simmer until the greens are tender.  Season to taste and serve.
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  1. The soup looks like a party of flavours!
    I have been helping a 83-year-old neighbour to clean the cellar and the stairway...just thought that's a right thing to do and it didn't really take me much time.

  2. Here is where I have to admit that I have NEVER done any of the things you are talking about here. I've never been a part of a community like that, where my neighbors even spoke to each other let alone helped each other out. I would like to say that it's because I've never been a member of a community like that but I have to admit that I've never tried to make community into anything like that. It's as much my own fault as anyone else's.

    I do have friends and family that I help out from time to time and god knows we are almost dependent on our parents for the help they provide us. I know we'll make it up to them when they are older and need help themselves. For right now we are so thankful.

  3. I used to live in a neighborhood where we all did things for each other. We even had neighborhood barbecues and Christmas parties. When we moved they gave us a framed collage of pictures of everyone on our street, including us. This post reminds me that we really have to invite them over for a potluck here. I miss all of them.

  4. I am blessed to have two villages, one in my neighborhood and one at my church and I lean on them heavily. I like to think that I allow them to lean back just as heavily, but that could be wishful thinking on my part.

    We all need those villages. We're not meant to be alone in our little nuclear family boxes. I don't mean that we can't be. I know some people pull it off, but life is better with a village.

  5. I am not do gooder either - but I do try to think of others like you and I have been on the receiving end of kindness and know what it means. I totally wish the world were more like what you have described. It takes so little to do a nice act!

  6. As always, a lovely set of writing along with a great recipe. I couldn't agree with you more. I wish we all lived in neighborhoods of generosity and thoughtfulness. Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to make this delicious and beautiful soup.

  7. I'm with Esperanza, that this sounds so foreign and idyllic to me, like nothing I've ever experienced in my childhood or adulthood. I had dreams of a community like this, but its never materialized on our block, and I'm starting to think its ME not making any effort to create it. Just reading about this made me so happy for you, and created a yearning for myself.

  8. You and I have the exact same theory on life. I help people because I like to help - and it has never been a bad decision to stop and help someone.

  9. "I'm loving this give and take. It feels like we're realigning the balance of the universe."

    Yes! I am right there with you!

    Both with the do-gooding (which you are) and the receiving (which is an incredible place to be) and that not being anywhere near a perfect mom, I yell and say mean things too sometimes.

    I feel blessed and lucky (our Time Warp theme this month) to live in a community like the one you do/describe. It isn't a perfect neighborhood either, but it is awesome to be part of a village (in our city) that tries to help each other, when we can and pay it forward! Thank you for sharing!

    Something occurred to me while reading this post, do you have a local newspaper or something that would welcome (and maybe even pay) you as a columnist?! You could follow the same format you do here, with your half baked thoughts/observations on life and cooking. Heck, I think a big city paper would be lucky to have you! Broken record time again, but you are a truly gifted writer and every time get myself over here to read you, my soul is filled up with your words. You have such a way with the words that you choose to get your point across that is so enjoyable and thought-provoking to read. Just something to chew on...

  10. Lee and I always seem to find this no matter where we move and we are forever grateful for that!! And know how lucky we are. Love your posts, Justine.


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