Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 Has Arrived

Can you believe Christmas 2011 has come and gone?  It was a wonderful Christmas here in my Healdsburg home with three of my children – Heidi, Rodmond, Neal and Heidi’s friend/fiancé? Bill.

For Christmas Eve dinner we had fresh lobster which was a gift from my son Rodmond. So decadent! The traditional Curry Shrimp Leek soup became our Christmas day late lunch.

I absolutely have to mention the beautiful Christmas tree - a Noble Fir which was given to me by my friends Josie and Kim.  It was the perfect tree.

Christmas 2011, like all the others before, takes me back to the year 1975.  As I mentioned in my last post Marcus, my husband and Father of our seven children, began 1975 at Yale University Hospital to have surgery for a cancerous tumor on the thymus gland.  As it turned out, the tumor was not operatable. The surgeon informed me that if he tried to remove the tumor the chance that Marc would survive was less than 10%.  The cancer would metastasize very quickly.  For the next six weeks chemo therapy was the norm.  The first 2 weeks Marc had to stay in the hospital.  After that we drove 3 times a week to Yale Hospital for chemo.  He insisted on driving himself; I decided I had to go with him because I was terrified he might get into an accident after having chemo.  This was a sore spot with Marc.  After 3 months Marc was able to go back to work, he was in remission, hurray!!

The children kept asking, “Will Dad be well again?”  I was tempted to lie and say yes but could not do that to them, Marc or myself.  The Dr.'s had said Marc had only about 3 months to live.  Guess what?  He lived for 18 more months out of sheer willpower and faith.  To answer my children I said, “Do not give up.  Have faith, pray and keep hoping that Dad will beat the cancer.”  I never skirted the issue.  Life went on, school, homework which Marc oversaw when he was able.

One day I was called to the school, the teachers wanted to know what I was doing because the children were so well adjusted in spite of what was happening at home.  My answer was, “I never lied to them about their father's illness or tried to cover it up.”  Some families do not let their children know about the illness of a parent and it is not an advantage for the children.

In the summer of 1975 Marc took the older boys camping.  Our oldest son Walter had issues with his father and Marc hoped this camping trip would help to overcome them.  I do not know if it helped.  Heidi, the youngest, was not happy to be excluded with her youngest brother Kurt but Marc thought they were too young for him to handle since he was not quite himself.  Years later in the 80’s, I learned that Heidi thought her father did not love her or he would have taken her on that camping trip.  The year was up and down. Marc did keep the faith and encouraged us to do the same.

This was also the year my career in the Food Industry spiraled.  I had catering projects in New York City as well in Connecticut, TV appearances and work with Glamour Magazine.  It was difficult commuting to New York City so I started to concentrate more on Connecticut.  The opportunity came with Annie’s Firehouse Soup Kitchen, a new Restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut to be opened that spring.  I was asked to do what Annie called a rafter preopening party at the unfinished Annie’s Fire House which followed me becoming the the Chef.  My Lamb Pot received a standing ovation and so the Soup Restaurant was launched.

I accepted the challenge and the Restaurant became a phenomenal success.  I created about 80 soups, I used old European recipes and updated them and recreated most. The meal in a pot was born. Yes. I lay claim to the popularity that is happening now, 40 some years later, ha, ha.  I had to go to work at 4:30 a.m. 4 days a week to cook gallons of soup.  Every day we offered two different soups and chili.  I recall an NFL football team from Texas having their spring practice sessions in New Haven.   Often they came to eat at Annie’s. One day a strapping big guy came into the kitchen and wanted to know who cooked the chili.  All hands pointed at me, and I thought, “What now?” He started to talk to me and found out that I was German. He broke out saying, “No German woman can cook such great Chili.”  Ha, ha.  It took some time to convince him that I indeed cooked the chili. Boy was I proud and so was Annie. Talk about good PR.

The restaurant was in an old Firehouse, the ceilings were exposed with pipes and beams. Annie and Sharon the Architect hung plants from the rafters. The tables were old sewing machine stands with new wooden table tops made to look old and every chair was different. The two most outstanding features were Persian rugs on the concrete floor and a Broadway theater booth which became a condiment bar standing in the middle of the restaurant to be reached from both sides. Besides offering soup we also offered salads. We had a wonderful baker by the name Duncan who baked fresh breads of various kinds every day. Duncan became as popular with his bread as I did with my soups and meal in a pot.

Talking about popular - we had lines standing a half a block down the street (and not just the first month), Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., no dinner. Once a month I started a wine maker dinner. Yes, in the seventies, most wines were from Europe, California wines were not as popular as they are now. No, it was not just soups at those dinners.  I showed my guests that I really knew how to prepare wonderful entrees. These dinners became popular and, since we could only seat 40 people at one time we had to create a waiting list. During those months Marc would get up with me at 4:00 a.m. and make coffee and he made sure that I ate breakfast. He also drove me to work - we only had one car and besides, I had yet to get my Connecticut drivers license which of course I got right away.

That summer Marc traveled to Anita Iowa to visit his father and brother Russell who both were farmers and lived across the road from each other. When he returned he had to go for a check up. As it turned out, he had to get chemo again for 4 weeks. Marc was so heroic about his cancer. He stayed in remission until April 1976. We celebrated a quite Christmas and New Year with our children in 1975.

Of course it is a must now to add at least one recipe. Here is my Curry Shrimp Leek soup recipe which, by the way, was published in Sonoma County’s The Press Democrat in 2002.

Photo from the Press Democrat
Shrimp Leek Soup with Curry

2 pounds medium sized shrimp
4 stalks leeks
2 quarts water
    salt to taste
1 tablespoon of very good curry powder (or to taste up to 4 tbsp)
2 to 3 quarts chicken stock (bouillon may be used)
½ cup of half and half (milk may be used)
4 tablespoons butter (vegetable oil may be substituted)
6 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh)

If shrimp are frozen defrost and clean. Cut leeks into 1 inch pieces. Do not use the tough outside leaves and not the very ends of the stalk. In a large bowl of cold water, or the kitchen sink soak the leeks for at least 10 minutes. Since leeks are in general very sandy this will settle the dirt in the bottom of the water. Remove leeks carefully into a colander and rinse again. Bring the 2 quarts of water to a boil add a little salt and add leeks. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a 5 quart pot heat the butter and add the curry and the flour stirring continuously to make a roux. (Roux is the flour and butter mixture). Add the chicken stock and whisk vigorously until incorporated. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cream slowly keep stirring, turn heat down and simmer for 10 more minutes. (Can be made ahead up to this point). When ready to serve add cleaned shrimp and leeks. Heat through, about 6 minutes, add lemon juice.

NOTE: Remember once you add the cream the soup can easily burn if
             burner is too high.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Additional note: If you like the base thicker use 8 tbsp. of flour. To make it creamier use heavy cream

No comments: