Greens, white bean and potato soup & more Eliza

Greens and white bean soup

If you cast your memory back to last weekend, you may recall that we’re going to share a story in these virtual pages in serial format. It’s time for our second installment of Eliza and Hyssop! Someday it will have a real title! This is a good season for soups – we’re having grey and chilly weather. And soups go nicely with Eliza’s story, because she finds comfort in a warm bowl of soup after wandering, cold and weary, through dark streets. Just as all self-respecting characters in stories do! We get a nice spicy fall mix of greens from our CSA. It’s a combination of little sharp lettuces and leaves…too bitter for a salad, but lovely in soups and savory tarts. I combined them with white beans and red potatoes for a simple, satisfying and delicious meal. If you don’t get bags of spicy lettuces from some random source, feel free to use any greens you have…spinach, arugula, kale…anything would work here! I was really taken with this soup – I had two big bowls, and we ate them with sharp cheddar melted on whole wheat toast, for the most perfect warm and comforting meal.

Here’s Howlin Wolf with Built for Comfort. I feel as though the connection between my songs and my rambling preambles (my prerambles?) is becoming more abstruse!

More Eliza after the JUMP!

ELIZA & HYSSOP, part 2

Then, in a furry flash, the owlet leaped from Eliza’s lap, brandished its little wings, hopped forward on the bed and SHRIEKED!! Eliza almost laughed, because she was so anxious and he was so comical. Then she felt a huge surge of gratitude, that this little creature would risk his life to defend her. And the person who had entered the room? A husky voice cried out, the person stumbled backwards in surprise and fear, and then stood and backed quickly into the greenhouse room.
Eliza scooped up the owl (still screaming) and stomped out after her intruder.
“What do you think you’re doing, coming into my house without knocking? How dare you…” she started, in an extremely loud voice. But once she’d actually seen her intruder, she didn’t have the heart to carry on. It was a boy of about her age. He had fallen over a shovel on his way out the door, and lay in a crumpled pile on the floor. He had red hair, a ruddy face, a blunt nose, a wide mouth, big blue eyes, and a terrified expression on his face.
“What is that thing?” he asked, in a low hoarse voice “Keep it away from me!”
“Don’t be silly,” Eliza replied scornfully. “It’s only a baby. It’s an owl. It’s my owl.”
“A baby owl? You have an owl for protection. That is just odd.”
“It’s not at all odd,” snapped Eliza, only vaguely aware that a few hours earlier she would have found it odd, too.
“How is he yours?”
“I don’t know,” said Eliza, very surprised by the question. “He’s my…he’s my, well, my pet, I suppose.” The owl swiveled his head around sharply and frowned at Eliza. “I mean, of course, I mean that he’s my friend.” The owlet fluffed out his feathers and directed his glare at the boy.
“So what’s his name, then?”
Eliza glanced about the room, hoping something would strike her eye that might make a good name for her new friend.
“Hyssop.”
“Hyssop?”
“Certainly. But why am I even talking to you about all of this? Who are you, and why on earth did you break into my home? What do you want?”
Instead of answering, the boy held out his hand. “Help me up.”
Eliza took his hand, which was rough and warm, and pulled him to his feet. Still, he didn’t answer her, but walked around the room, examining the plants and tools, and carefully stepping over obstacles in the path.
“Interesting sort of place you have here. Smells nice, but strange place to live.”
“Nonsense!”
“Well, where’s all the normal furniture that normal houses have? Where do you eat? Where do you sit and read? Where do you sleep?”
“We have a kitchen!” Eliza replied (which wasn’t strictly true — they had a small space in the back with a stove and a cool cupboard for storing food.)
“Ah, a kitchen! Then you have food, I suppose…”
“Of co…. Wait, why are you asking?’
“I’m very hungry. I’ve been traveling a long time to find you. I am your guest, you know. I think you should offer me a meal. Don’t you?”
“Infuriating! How dare you! And we don’t have any food. We ate it all, Hyssop and I. Every bit.”
“I think you might have saved me some.”
“That is enough!” Shouted Eliza, nearly shaking with rage. “Who are you, and what do you want? Why are you in my home? Tell me immediately or I will call for help and have you turned out into the street!”
The boy met her burning anger with infuriating coolness. “Who would you call? There’s really nobody that would hear you, is there?”
Eliza was so upset that she wanted to fly at the boy and pummel him with her fists. Luckily, she had an owlet in her hand, which prevented her from this rash action, so she took a step backwards and tried to collect herself, and to consider the best way to make this boy leave her house. If only her grandfather was here! He had such a quiet, commanding way about him that nobody dared to speak in this rude way. Where could he be?
Eliza’s thoughts became so consumed with all of her worries that she almost forgot about the boy before her, and her anger abated. The boy seemed to sense it, and his whole contentious attitude changed suddenly so that he seemed almost friendly. His face, which had been closed and guarded, broke into a smile as beaming and open as any Eliza had ever seen. She had to remind herself that she was still exceedingly angry, or she wouldn’t have been able to stop herself from smiling in response. Even his bright, crooked teeth seemed sweet and funny to her. She tried to make herself scowl, but had to turn away and concentrate on the small wounds the owl’s beak had etched into her hands.
“Well, you’re right, of course,” said the boy. “I owe you an explanation. If you can show me to some comfortable place to sit, I will tell you why I have searched so long for you.”
Eliza brought him to a small nook built into one of the long windows. It was near the pot-bellied stove, and when the stove was lit, was as cozy a space as you could wish…with a low bench covered in soft cushions and thick woolen blankets you could pull about yourself in the coldest weather. Eliza had only lit the stove once or twice since her grandfather had disappeared, for fear of running out of wood, and it was not lit now. But the weak sun had been feebly baking the windows all day, and the small, nearly enclosed space felt almost warm. The boy registered his satisfaction as he sat and stretched his legs, heaving a long sigh. Perhaps he really had traveled for a long while, as he claimed. He sat for a moment, with his eyes closed, and seemed to be collecting his thoughts and his strength. Then he turned to Eliza, and examined her for a moment before he began. She sat next to him, but at as great a distance as she could muster. She had pulled her cloak around herself protectively, and she held Hyssop in her lap, from whence the owlet maintained a steady peevish glare at the boy next to them.
“Eliza,” he began.
“How do you…?”
“Shhhh…no questions, yet, please. It’s a complicated story, and I’m not sure I can get through it.” He frowned at the dirt in his fingernails. “My brother is a prince…”
“Humph!” Eliza very nearly snorted in disbelief.
The boy greeted her disdain with one of his rare glowing smiles. “I know. It’s hard to believe. Out of the realm of possibility. And yet, so it is. My brother…my older brother…is a prince. He’s also tall and handsome and quiet and polite.” He examined her closely for signs of disbelief, but she turned her head away and watched a bug crawling on the window. “Well. I can’t tell the story very clearly. But my brother is sick. He’s very very terribly sick. And your grandfather…” Eliza caught her breath and turned to look at the boy, her eyes wide, and her attention focused. “Yes, your grandfather. Well. He came to treat my brother. He was summoned – perhaps you knew that part? He was called upon as the only person in the world that might save my brother from his mysterious illness.”
He stopped, as if lost in thought, and gazed absently at Hyssop for a while.
“And…?”
“Well, your grandfather became sick as well. He’s very poorly.”
“Oh, no!”
“Oh, yes. I’m sorry to say it, but so it is. He’s dangerously ill. And nobody knew what to do. If the best healer in the land becomes so sick that he cannot help himself, where do you turn?” He seemed to search her face for the answer.
“Where? Where do you turn?”
“Well, your grandfather seems to think…he seems to think we turn to you.”
“To me?”
“Indeed. I do believe you are our only hope.”
Eliza nearly cried out. She nearly cried – she might have wept into Hyssop’s soft feathers, if this rough strange boy hadn’t been sitting so close, watching her. All of her worry over her grandfather, all of the questions she’d been asking over the last few weeks…questions she was sure would be answered when her grandfather returned safe and strong, to take care of her once again…she was almost undone by the answers she got now. She couldn’t save anybody; she wanted to be cared for, herself.
“No!” Eliza stood and backed away, holding the little owl so tightly that it peeped in surprise and discomfort. “I won’t believe it. It’s a terrible story, and there’s no reason I should believe it. You, the brother of a prince! Highly unlikely! My grandfather never allows himself to catch an ailment. It’s not true. I don’t know what you want from me, but I have nothing for you, and I wish that you would leave. Now. And never return.” Eliza turned and walked with shaky but determined steps back to her room. She shut the door, and she curled up on her bed, still holding the poor little owl in a tight grip. He twisted and wiggled his way out of her hands, and sat at a small distance, putting his feathers back in order. Eliza watched him, and tried to put her thoughts in order as well.
She had so many questions vying for attention in her mind. Why would her grandfather leave her without saying where he went? Why would he leave her alone and unprotected? Who was this odd boy, and why should she trust him? If he left, without her, what would she do next? How would she go about finding her grandfather on her own? If he was truly sick, shouldn’t she go to him without delay? And the question that kept returning and pushing all the others out…if he was sick, how could she be expected to heal him?
“Oh, Hyssop, I think I’ve made a terrible mistake! Whoever this boy is, as strange and rude as he may seem, I think that we have to trust him. I fear that we have no other choice.” She lifted the owlet again, gently this time, and felt her way through the dark to the door of her room. Just outside the door, a patch of white caught her eye, and she bent to find a small packet of paper. She opened it with cautious fingers, and caught a ring as it rolled from the paper.
“Grandfather’s ring!” She cried. The metal of the ring was heavy and cold in her hands. There could be no question that this was her grandfather’s ring. The ring was mounted with a large, flat smoky quartz on a thick silver base. If you pressed a tiny lever, the base sprung open to reveal a small compartment, in which her grandfather carried secret precious medicines. Eliza pressed it now, hoping for a clue that might explain her grandfather’s disappearance, but it was empty, containing only a faint lingering smell of his herbs and potions. “Oh, Hyssop, that stupid boy was with my grandfather, and now he’s gone. I’ve sent him away and I’ll never find him again. What can we do now? What can we do?” She hurried towards the stairs, without any clear plan in her head, except to find the boy.

dot…dot…dot…

THE RECIPE

2 T olive oil
1 shallot – minced
1 clove garlic – minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 t rosemary, chopped or crushed
1 large red potato, diced into 1/3 inch squares
1/3 cup white wine
1 t tamari
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups fresh greens (mustard, bok choy, arugula, turnip, lettuces, spinach…anything!)washed and roughly chopped
1 t each thyme and tarragon
knob butter
dash balsamic
salt and plenty of pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the shallot, cook for about a minute, add the garlic, pepper and rosemary, cook for about half a minute. Add the potatoes. Stir and fry until they start to brown, about five minutes. Add the white wine, and cook till it’s syrupy and reduced. Add the beans, tamari and the herbs. Cook for a minute or two. Add the greens, stir to coat. Cook for a minute or two until they start to wilt. Add about 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about fifteen minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Stir in the butter and balsamic, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

This was very nice with cheese toasts!

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