Kale Soup and the Sea

The winds have turned cold, and I’ve been itching to get out in them, so I walked down to the greenhouse last week where I found a surprise among the wreckage (summer storms tore the tarps from the frames, leaving the house half-naked and pooled with rainwater): A beautiful bouquet of kale grew right where I’d planted it way back in March, with hopes of making kale soup. But then June and July scorched the earth, and I let the leaves go yellow. (Plants are always more resilient– more alive– than I give them credit for.)

I gathered the kale leaves in my hand and snapped the stalks, washed and dried them in the kitchen sink, then went off to scroll Pinterest for a soup recipe— preferably one with sausage, ham bone, potatoes, beans, and carrots, like what Papa Larry always whips together on cold days.

But then I had a better, slower idea.

I emailed Papa, who scanned and sent his own Portuguese Kale Soup recipe card (along with a warning that cabbage grows this time of year, and so was I sure it was kale I’d found? I was sure, because I remembered planting it).

Hoping for a story, I asked if he and Nanny ate kale soup on Cape Cod.

His email that night told of daytrip adventures to lighthouses on the coast, then into Provincetown, where he and Nanny shopped for souvenirs (all those colored glass bottles that fill their windows) before eating a progressive dinner of salad and kale soup on a pier called the “Old Reliable.” They could see seawater through the floorboards, and the windows stayed open to let in the salt air. In the café kitchen, yesterday’s leftovers were added to a kale broth, then served up on the pier. (Later on, they had the soup again at a fishermen’s café on Maine’s upper coast, where I imagined the bowls kept their hands warm.)

Ironically enough, the “Old Reliable” collapsed one winter, so Papa and Nanny had to learn to make the soup themselves. I don’t think Papa pays attention to the recipe anymore; he just throws whatever meats and vegetables are in the fridge into a simmering pot.

I thanked him for the recipe, but he thanked me for the chance to tell a story and travel to Provincetown by the sea on a damp, October evening.

And the soup?

Papa boasted it was rich and that the only thing missing was the salty Cape air, but I would argue that his story supplied even that (like no stranger’s, storyless Pinterest recipe could).


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