Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Rustic Bean Soup and a Visit to the Apocalypse

When the decision was made to bring students back to campus this semester, despite the fact that classes would still be remote, the Campus Life group developed a program that would bring staff in for occasional "rounds" to encourage student adherence to the social contract guidelines (facial coverings, social distancing, not moving furniture, limited in person gatherings, etc.). Initially, I declined to sign up for the opt-in responsibilities, thinking that I'd see students on my own terms, when I was ready, and not visit what was likely to be a petri dish of COVID. Over time, though, I started to feel like maybe I should show up. After all, it had been months since I'd really been on campus for more than a minute or two. And at some point, I thought, I'd have to go back. Better to mentally prepare myself for that moment in small doses.

My first shift the other day was scheduled close on the heels of another meeting, so I figured I'd go to campus early, take my meeting in the office, and then show up for my shift afterwards. On paper, it looked easy.

What I didn't anticipate was just how hard it would feel to walk into that office, remember where the light switches were, and sit in a chair that wasn't mine (because mine was at home, where I brought it early in the pandemic), looking at a huge double monitor setup. It felt weirdly foreign, like a space I'd never inhabited before.

But there were also weird reminders of time that stopped in its tracks. Files from students that had graduated last year. Half-completed paperwork that ended up completed online. Ghosts of the year gone by. And perhaps most bizarre, my planner, open to the date last year when we all left campus, thinking we'd be gone for two weeks. It was like returning home after the apocalypse, digging through the debris alone, lights turned off, no one else in sight.

I left that day, after my meeting, realizing that it would take a long time to feel like this space was normal again.

Rustic Tuscan Bean Soup
This was a recipe I shared with some friends early in the pandemic when the "I'm out of meals, send your recipe to ten friends" chain letter was going around. I never forward those things, but I always respond to the sender. Sort of like a voice from the future, speaking into the past.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 yellow summer squash, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 quart vegetable (or chicken) broth
2 (14 ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14 ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes with juices
3 cups chopped kale, ribs removed
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, and squash. Saute for 4 minutes.

Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme and rosemary. Cook 30 seconds.

Stir in the broth, beans, and tomatoes. Bring the contents to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and add the chopped kale. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to partially puree the soup, leaving some chunks of beans vegetables for texture.

Add the salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve topped with Parmesan or Dubliner cheese and a side of crusty bread.


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  1. Yes! I've been to my office a couple times, just quickly to grab a book. The first time I found an empty water cup. I was on leave when things shut down so had already left with the intent not to be back for a while. It's always eerie, though.

    1. I feel like this is a common scene in books ... the meal left uneaten, the fireplace left untended ... so weird to look back into the past that way, even if you were on leave when you first left it there!

  2. This reminds me of returning to work after a couple of months off when my daughter was stillborn... my agenda book wasn't on the last day where I'd left it but it wasn't on the right date either. It was an extremely strange experience to flip back to the day I'd left for the dr's appointment I'd written down, the appointment I never returned from... and to see all the other unfulfilled appointments for the next while written down, only to trail off into nothingness and blank pages.

    I'm also reminded of 9/11... my company's NYC office was at at Liberty Plaza, close to the World Trade Centre, and they were evacuated that morning before the towers came down. Didn't return for months & months later (and meanwhile the place was completely renovated). A few people did get access and took photos that I saw -- broken windows, papers strewn everywhere, half-eaten muffins and half-drunk cups of coffee on desks. Very eerie.

    1. loribeth, thank you for sharing these memories. Yes, the awfulness of cancelling those doctors appointments after our pregnancy losses, too ... it was like looking into an unfulfilled future from a moment when time stopped. The post-it notes referring to things that you no longer needed to do.

      I can only imagine what it would have been like to return to an office in lower Manhattan after 9/11, too. Even renovated, it must have been unsettling returning to something you could never get back, without a sense of how it unfolded while you were away.


  3. Very evocative, Justine. Makes me think of Pompei, for some reason. Eerie and sad, and yet also revealing and telling.

    1. Yes, a little like Pompeii IN the office, at least. I keep thinking about what we will have to do to make it feel like home again.

  4. Wow, that really must have been odd. It's a little like friends whose office building was condemned after an earthquake. They got 30 minutes to go back and collect things - one wing of the building was destroyed, but the rest was just as they left it.

    Also, mmmmm soup. It's autumn here, so perfect timing with the recipe!


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