The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Linus, limits and a liberal sprinkling of Parmesan

Rachael Conlin Levy

I feel guilty about the cat.

But not guilty enough.

Every morning he scratches at the door separating the kitchen from the garage. I sigh, open it a crack and a cartoon bubble with the word meow floats in as the cat makes a dash for his bed in the living room.

He curls up there and I ignore him until the afternoon, when the squeaks and squawks from clarinet practice drive him back to the door. A second meow rises from his throat, more insistent than the first, and drifts to the stove where I’m making chicken minestrone soup. I crack the door, he slips through and I kick it closed.

Ivan and Chaja making music.

Every night, just after the last child is tucked into bed, there’s a scratching at the window. Now that the house is quiet and peaceful again, the cat wants back in. He sits at my feet, looking up, anticipating an invitation, a hand, but I ignore him and the third meow that hovers above my head.

Of the many things I say no to regularly — the washing of dinner dishes (after all, I made the meal), the diaper change before my morning coffee (no explanation needed), the request to referee a knockdown kid fight that I hadn’t witnessed — it’s the cat that gets shortchanged. Always.

I say it’s because he makes me sneeze, and that’s true. In fact, most of the family won’t touch him because of allergies, which begs the question why we own a cat. The answer: He adopted us. One night, during one pregnancy, a skinny, scruffy Tom tabby scratched at the door and wouldn’t leave.

He’s a house cat who hasn’t lost his street smarts, managing to live for another day with a torn ear, abscessed scratches and bloody tail. We clean him up the best we can, then turn him loose again. It’s all I’m capable of doing: I can care for my children, my husband, my friends, myself. But I cannot care for the cat.

What are your limits? Learn to say no 20 different ways.

chicken minestrone soup
Caring through a cold …

In the bowl:

Chicken Minestrone Soup

On the side:

An orange and an enthusiastic sprinkler of Parmesan

Chicken Minestrone Soup
adapted from Chinaberry‘s now defunct newsletter and its customer Tara Pieron

10 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 cup fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons
1 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 pound fresh spinach, cut into strips
15-ounce can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans, with their liquid
3 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped, or 2 15-ounce cans
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups chicken, cooked and cubed
6 ounces bow-tie noodles, cooked
Parmesan cheese

In your soup pot, saute onion, garlic, rosemary, oregano in olive oil until soft. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and cook a little longer. Add chicken broth and squash. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, spinach and simmer for 10 more minutes. Finally, add the basil (which I almost never have, so never do) and chicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving add cooked pasta. (If you plan to freeze the soup, add the pasta to individual bowls rather than the pot.) Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan.

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