I talk to Mr. Faraway a few days later, on the phone, and spend a lot of the time crying, although the conversation isn’t really unpleasant; nothing happened that he didn’t expect, and he’s not one for saying unkind things, no matter the circumstances. A few days later, I receive a birthday gift in the mail, the one he’d bought to give me at the now-canceled dinner; it arrives complete with a typed note on formal letterhead, and finally, one of us gets mad, and it’s me.
Really? Letterhead? I text him. I didn’t know we were at that point.
He calls me a bit later, and protests, but it’s my personal letterhead, because you’re a friend.
Lawyer, I tell him. You’re such a lawyer.
We feel strangely normal again, and I feel less lonely after we chat for a while and hang up.
I try to be careful – stressful times are always when I gain weight, and I’m at the point where I desperately need to lose it, rather than gain more. It’s not that I care what the scale says, but the last pair of pants I own that fit are telling me it’s time to do something, so I resolve to manage my stress with dog-walking rather than eating, and to try to eat healthily.
Eating healthy and comfort food don’t have to be mutually exclusive, I decide, and check out several cookbooks from the library in an attempt to prove the point.
When I get home, I realize I’ve checked out three baking books.
One of the books is from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery, which I’ve never been to but whose breads I can buy at the local upscale supermarket; mercifully, the Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook has a chapter of lunch items, one of which sounds perfect: Tuscan Tomato & Fennel Soup with White Beans. I don’t actually care much for tomato soup, or tomatoes in general, but somehow I managed to produce quite a few Roma tomatoes in my garden this year, and grilled cheese with a bowl of soup sounds like the perfect way to use them.
For some reason, I got the idea that this would be a very tomato-y soup, thick and red. There aren’t any pictures in the book to guide me, and the recipe calls for 10 Roma tomatoes, but I have a sneaking feeling that I didn’t use the correct amount of tomatoes – my garden tomatoes are smaller than the ones I typically see at the supermarket. The soup was a mellow broth full of vegetables and filling beans, savory and flavorful. I wouldn’t change a thing, except maybe to measure and write down the volume of tomatoes I actually used (my best guess: about half).
If the end result is delicious and satisfying, then it hardly matters if the recipe was exactly followed – I loved it and so did The Child, who helped herself to seconds and pronounced it The Best Soup You Ever Made.
- 1 cup dried white beans
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 medium fennel bulbs, diced
- 1 tbsp ground fennel seed
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)
- 10 Roma tomatoes
- 6 to 8 cups vegetable stock
- Soak beans in water overnight.
- Drain beans and place in a medium saucepan with two bay leaves. Cover with water and cook over medium heat until slightly tender, about 20 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain beans and set aside.
- Boil water in a large pot. Core tomatoes and score bottoms with an x. Plunge tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, then remove tomatoes and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Peel skins from tomatoes, then seed them and cut into pieces.
- Combine olive oil, onion, and fennel in a large pot. Cover pot and cook for about 15 minutes over medium heat to sweat the vegetables, stirring occasionally. When the onions are translucent, add garlic, fennel seed, and thyme. Cook one more minute, until garlic is fragrant.
- Add tomatoes and cook 20-30 minutes over medium heat, until tomatoes are falling apart. Add reserved bean liquid and 6 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer another 20 minutes over medium heat to bring the flavors together. Add more stock as needed.
- Add the beans, heat through, and season to taste with salt and pepper.