notes on the {soup +} salad days

My cousins Kate and Sara, on opposite sides of my family and at opposite ends of the country, got engaged in the same week! In my excitement I decided to write them a letter.

salad days - heirloom mothering
Me (right) with my cousins Jeannie & Kate (one of the two betrothed)

How can I tell you about my marriage without sounding like I expect you to follow my advice? I don’t. So let’s begin there. I am not going to tell you how to run your marriage because the only way to do it is the one you carve out. If we can agree on that, then we’ve just about covered what I wanted to divulge.

I married young. I didn’t know that then, and Nate probably knew less about it than I did. How else can you explain a twenty-two year old man trading in his beloved gold Honda for an engagement ring? He may not be a smart man, but he knows what love is. Is that how it goes?

Thing is, Nate is a smart man. I’d like to tell you his intelligence was why I picked him, but in truth, it was his red sideburns. He was different; my kind of different, whatever that was. He sang bits of boy band tunes out loud in a room filled with testosterone. He wore brightly colored shorts. When he laughed, his face turned the hue of the brightest shorts, as though he were both delighted and embarrassed at his own amusement.

notes on early marriage - heirloom mothering
Feast your eyes on the redness of the sideburns.

We celebrate ten years of marriage next month. A decade in (well, thirteen if you count the pre-marital years), he’s still the same guy. We’ve both grown up a lot. He is more kind and I’m more patient, or maybe I’m more kind and he’s more patient. In any case, it works. I think it works mostly because during the occasional flash flood of contempt, we bridge the gap with compassion, acceptance, conversation…and, if I’m being honest and a little crass (close your ears, Grandma), sex. Finding time for sex was probably our biggest post-baby accomplishment. So there you go. Sorry Grandma.

notes on early marriage - heirloom motheirng

I’m not sure I’d alter much about our early marriage. We experimented, and for the most part our experiments produced heady results. Some of our best risk-taking has been with food. We both love to eat, which could explain why our first dates were so good. Put a plate of food in front of me, and I’m going to eat it; odds are I’ll like it too. Nate is the same, only even more so. Your thing doesn’t have to be food, but find something you can share and get to work tinkering.

At the beginning of our marriage, my dad gave us a gift card to Olive Garden with a large sum on it. I can’t remember the exact amount, but I recall it paid for at least ten trips to the restaurant. Given we were a broke grad student and a broke university administrator at the time, we appreciated this gift and our ability to skip an entry into our little blue accounting book. When we needed a pick-me-up, particularly in the bone-cold Wisconsin winter, we’d head over for soup-salad-breadsticks and stuff our faces full.

Our tastes have matured some since the {Olive Garden} salad days, but I treasure that period of our lives. I try to capture my gratitude and hold onto it, even now that we can splurge more. What is that platitude, If you’re not grateful for what you have, what makes you think you’ll be happy with more? It’s something like that. [Speaking of platitudes, have you seen this website where they turn fake platitudes into posters?]

The late summer farmer’s markets in Boston overflow with fresh shelling beans (cranberry beans) and kale, so I decided to try a new recipe as an homage to early marriage. I settled on pasta fagioli, and I’m glad I did. The dish highlights the texture of the fresh beans, and each bite takes me back to the early days. I am grateful for those memories and this husband. Here’s to many more years!

[Notes on the recipe: I tweaked this recipe and am happy with the results. I might add more spice and more meat next time, maybe hot Italian sausage? But this simple version gets the job done. You can easily remove the bacon and substitute water for chicken stock if you’d prefer a vegetarian version. I can’t vouch for what would happen if you remove the cheese and go vegan, though. I froze a big batch for the dead of winter, when we’ll replicate those old frigid Wisconsin days with plenty of frigid Massachusetts days to come.]

pasta fagioli with shelling beans

makes about 2 quarts


4 pieces of bacon, diced
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
5 whole tomatoes from a can, crushed by hand
salt and pepper to taste (I like to substitute TJ’s 21 seasoning salute for pepper)
2 c. fresh shelling/cranberry beans (3 lb in shell) or 1 c. dried beans, soaked overnight (cannellini can be substituted)
2 bay leaves
2-3 QT. chicken stock
parmesan rind (you can get this cheap at some cheese counters if you don’t have a frozen one on hand), plus 1/2 c. grated
2 c. small pasta (I used cavatelli shells)
1 bunch kale, stems removed & discarded, chopped (Tuscan is very pretty in soup)
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
olive oil


1. Saute bacon in Dutch oven over medium heat until the fat has been rendered. Add onion and cook 2 minutes until softened. Add pepper flakes, rosemary, and garlic, and saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes; cook 2 more minutes. Add beans, salt and pepper, 2 qt. chicken stock, bay leaves, and parmesan rind. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours until the beans are tender.

2. Uncover and remove bay leaves and what’s left of the rind. Bring soup to a boil and add pasta; add more stock as needed. Cook 3 minutes, then add kale and cook 5-6 minutes longer, until the pasta is al dente. Add the remaining stock and/or water if it’s too thick and season to taste.

3. To each bowl of soup, add fresh chopped parsley, grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil. A squeeze of lemon juice is also nice.