Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Memory Soup

I am planning to make a slow cooker soup recipe today that a friend told me about. It takes just three ingredients, and she says it tastes amazingly good. That is probably because the star ingredient is my favourite pasta sauce, al Dente. This pasta sauce isn't necessarily easy to locate, but if you can find some where you live I highly recommend it. It deserves a post of its own, so I will just say it is a Hammond family staple, and after using my last can over the Christmas holidays I was relieved to have a new case come into my possession last week.

Here is where this story takes a turn. I went to my pantry to find some lentils, which happen to be ingredient number two. It took a bit of searching to locate them. Alexandra is allergic to lentils, so I don't cook with them very often, and couldn't remember exactly where I had put them. I pulled the bag out from the very back corner of the pantry and promptly burst into tears. You see, I had forgotten.

One of the crops my dad grew on our farm was lentils. After he retired he continued to supply me with locally grown lentils. It had become a more difficult task once my parents moved off the farm, but he knew how much I loved having them so he went to great lengths to find them for me. I was holding in my hands the last bag of lentils my dad had bought for me. The last bag he would ever buy for me.

To make matters worse, there were only enough lentils left for this soup. I stood in my kitchen thinking two things. The first was, I can't throw the bag away. I simply can't. The second was, I can't save an empty plastic bag. I simply can't. Even for sentimental me that would be carrying things a bit too far. And that's when it hit me. I could take pictures and blog about it.

I am finding, almost a year and a half after my dad died, that this is how grief, tempered by time, operates. It is still there, but remains hidden for large chunks of time. Like one of those jack-in-the-box toys children play with, when I am least expecting it, it jumps out at me, taking me totally by surprise. I remember walking down a street in Kamloops last year and catching a faint whiff of pipe smoke in the air. And in that moment the memory of my grandpa was so profound, so vivid, I could almost feel his presence. If the smell of pipe smoke could, after more than thirty years, bring tears to my eyes I guess it should come as no surprise to me that after just a year and a half a bag of lentils could do the same.

Not that a recipe is the point of this post, but I won't leave you hanging about ingredient number three. It is chicken stock. The instructions are as simple as the ingredients. Put equal amounts of pasta sauce and chicken stick in the slow cooker. I am going to use about four cups of each. Thoroughly wash whatever amount of lentils you decide to use. It looks to me like I have about a cup and a half left in the bag, so that's what I am going with. Throw those in, stir, and cook on low for about six hours.

I had originally titled this post Sad Soup, but decided that wasn't quite right. I have renamed it Memory Soup, and every time I make it I am going to think about my dad, and how love can be shown in something as simple as the gift of a bag of lentils.


  1. what an utterly beautiful and moving meditation on grief -- and I know just how very true it is, the way it operates just as you say. i keep thinking of more to say in this comment but none of it is nearly as good as what you wrote, so i just tell you that this moved me immensely, i'm so glad you wrote it, and i send you a long hug.

  2. What a lovely post. I know what you mean about memories being triggered after the sting of loss has worn down some. My dad's been gone 30 years now, yet there are still things that bring a memory back so vividly that tears are the only response I can manage.

  3. You know that I am about to go down the road you are talking about concerning your father with my Dad. Even now it feels like he is "gone" because he has shut himself off in his mind and doesn't acknowledge any of his family while he prepares himself for death.

    I love your post and I think you did the right thing by renaming the soup. I will never make it however because I am not a fan of lentils.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. I totally understand that feeling of having your grief suddenly reappear at unexpected times, and its just as upsetting as ever, 5 years on. Your soup sounds delicious, and I'm sure your Dad would have liked it too!

  5. My Dad died seven years go. One night recently I was sleeping over at my Mum's house and while searching for something I dropped found his slippers under the bed. It was like being kicked in the stomach. But at the same time I felt near him. It wasn't till later I wondered how we didn't miss his slippers never mind that they had lain there for so long.

    You have great memories of your Dad and the soup sounds great.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. sweet 86 yo dad is still around. He makes many varieties of wonderful bread in his bread machine for everyone. This is a retirement hobby as trust me he never cooked when I was a girl. This post just makes me appreciate my dad all the more.
    Linda McG.

  7. Memory Soup, I like that. And I know that surprise grief feeling all too well. In fact I just had a moment of it the other day, remembering my sister's husband, who we lost not too long after you lost your dad. Your analogy of the jack-in-the-box is exactly what it's like: You're going along with your day, doing whatever, and then suddenly something triggers the memory and you feel the grief all over again. I'm finding that I'm getting better at shutting that feeling down quickly to protect myself from the pain. But in a way that seems like I'm forcing myself not to think about him, and I don't want that either. I love your solution of writing about it like this as another way to honor his memory. ~Kim

  8. So poignant. Thank you, Kristie.

  9. That's a great name for your soup and it was so lovely to share your story with us. My Dad died in May 2011 and I may occasionally will see someone who looks like him in the street, it is strange how something can bring everything back.
    Sarah x

  10. It would be okay if you'd kept the bag. I have an old key ring full of keys to nothing. It was my dad's...I think it must have been his first key ring, it's pretty old. But pictures are a great alternative. Memory Soup is a wonderdul name for this. A memory may not be formost in our thoughts at any given time, but that doesn't mean we've forgotten or would want to if given a choice. Enjoy the soup.

  11. Thats a very moving story and poignant too!
    I have keep lots of things which have reminded me of much loved people who have died and quite a lot of it was fairly rubbishy things which were just filling up my cupboards and collecting dust. I was telling a friend who very sweetly said "just because you throw it away it doesn't mean that you love them any less" which was extremely true and very comforting.
    The soup sounds lovely and I hope it bought back some lovely memories of your father as you ate it!

  12. Hello Kristie- I keep a quote near the computer that was in Anna Zilboorg's Magnificent Mittens book. Dr. Illingworth:
    "Where love is concerned small things become important. For real love is too infinite ever to be adequately expressed in its greatness; and so we reverse the attempt and symbolize it by infinitesimal actions and attentions- things that prove love because they are too slight for anything but love to think worth doing, as for anthing but love to see when done."
    Lentils, soup, mittens, love.
    Marilyn in Minnesota

  13. Such a beautiful post in memory of your Dad. The lentils may disappear but something else that will spark the memory and the pain of losing your dad will replace it. My grandmother died 17 years ago and this still happens to me. I suppose it is a good shows just how much they were loved.

  14. These are beautiful memories, in your soup :D

  15. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story!