In the last few hours of his life, surrounded by his entire family -- wife, children, grandchildren, sister -- he talked about how grateful he was for his family, for his wife of 62 years, and for all the great meals my grandmother has made for our family. He smiled as he rattled off a list of his favorites: Grandma's chicken fricassee, her Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing, matzoh ball soup. Everyone reminded him that he also makes a darn good bean & barley soup.
Grandpa Mickey prioritized bringing the family together, and in doing so we enjoyed many, many good times together. These times were punctuated by and often revolved around food -- really good food, and the appreciation of being and eating together. You'd think a family get-together of over 20 people might be tedious... but never with this family! It's amazing and beautiful how everyone gets along and genuinely enjoys each others' company.
Even last week during this difficult time, my grandmother and other family members engineered an incredible sit-down dinner. My grandmother made her famous roasted chicken, my aunts made an incredible green salad, rice & beans and fruit cobbler. My cousin's new fiance made fried plantains, a specialty from her family. Others played piano in the living room. As I looked around at my family I felt a deep grieving, yet at the same time a profound sense of joy in the togetherness of celebrating Mickey's extraordinary life and the family he and my grandmother created and nurtured.
Back at home a week later, I'm still thinking a lot about my family, about Mickey, and about the lessons each person gifts us -- lessons that sink in over time. I decided to make a Bean & Barley Soup in his honor. Caren talked about how he would put the soup on the stove and take his four children out to the park for the morning so my grandmother could have some time to herself. They'd come back and have the soup for lunch with day-old rolls.
It's a cold, blustery day here -- perfect for a warming soup and reflection.
I don't have a recipe for Mickey's Bean & Barley Soup, so I made this one up, in his memory.
Bean& Barley Soup (for 6 - 8 servings)
already mixed), soaked overnight and rinsed.
1 - 2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 ribs celery, sliced into small rounds
2 carrots, sliced into small rounds
1 bay leaf
2 or 3 pieces of kombu (optional)
1/2 ounce dried mushrooms, reconstituted with 1 cup boiling water (I had Shiitake, but other kinds would work)
1 quart veggie or chicken broth
2-inch sprig rosemary
1/2 teaspoon each: oregano, thyme
3/4 cup barley, rinsed
a couple handfuls of chopped greens (I used kale, but spinach, Swiss chard or a mix would also be good)
Salt and pepper to taste (your broth will effect the saltiness, so be sure to taste -- I used 2 teaspoons, and my broth was low-sodium)
Make sure to soak the beans overnight. I luckily had a lot of great beans in my cupboard: Goat's Eye, Vaquero and Santa Maria Pinquito heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, navy beans and split peas. I used just over 1/3 of a cup of each. Other good choices include black beans, pintos, baby Lima beans, red lentils, great northern beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, yellow split peas and lentils.
Saute the onion and celery in the olive oil in a soup pot for 4 - 5 minutes. Add carrot and cook for another minute. Add beans, stir to mix and heat. Add water to cover. Add kombu (if using) and bay leaf. There are different opinions about soaking and salting beans -- here's a good article about it from Chow.com.
Reconstitute the mushrooms. Let them sit at least 30 minutes. Drain all but the bits at the bottom of the bowl into the soup and toss in the mushrooms.
Cook beans for 1.5 hours or so, adding more water as needed. At this point, add the rosemary, oregano and thyme, barley and broth. Cook another hour. Test beans for done-ness. If need-be, cook a little longer (maybe even another 1/2 hour, depending on your beans). When beans are tender, add the greens, cook for a minute and turn off heat. Remove rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy, with gratitude, in good company. And with day-old rolls.