Sometimes a recipe captures the essence of a particular time, occasion or loving hands. Years after first having a dish, as you stand in your kitchen assembling the ingredients, or perhaps when you sit at the table and have that first taste, you feel a jolt of recognition as memories are unleashed, vivid images of a time that might otherwise have grown dim. Sometimes they summon the sudden sense of presence of the original cook. Serving my mother’s green beans always brings her into my kitchen.
Food is powerful that way.
This silky corn soup will always be rich in meaning for me. There’s a lot in that bowl … the freedom of a solo adventure, geography that stirred emotion deep within my being, the double-sided coin of sadness and poignant gratitude, and a deep yearning to live more freely and fully within this world.
I fulfilled a dream recently, travelling to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. I now know why so many people from the humid flatlands of Ontario move there in their retirement. The hills, the sky, the water, that air … I could stay there just for the pleasure of breathing deeply. Is there anything that makes you feel more alive than that moment when you notice that what you’re breathing is sweet, clean, refreshing?
Although it’s getting better, I’m beset by a mild traveler’s anxiety in the days leading up to a trip (does anyone else agonize over what to pack or feel the need to leave the house cleaner than its normal state?). But the moment I get into the taxi to head to the airport, everything changes. The journey has begun, and knowing there are adventures and possibilities waiting to unveil themselves to me fills me with openness and anticipation.
I’m not a nervous flyer, although it’s taken me some time to reach that point. I’m also not a religious person, but I am Catholic by birth and later by choice, lapsed as I am now. I used to be anxious about takeoffs, and would recite the Hail Mary to myself until the plane was wondrously aloft. But now I have a different ritual. As the plane is gathering its forces along the runway for takeoff, I picture each of my children and each of my grandchildren — one by one, the beautiful, shining faces of the dearest people in the world to me. And thus I begin my journey suffused with love and gratitude. Could there be any better way?
Somehow I grew up with the idea that travel simply for pleasure is an indulgence for others, not me — apparently some of my deserve levels need adjusting. So, it seems I need a reason beyond simply wanting to experience a new part of the world to justify buying a ticket and taking off for places unknown. As a result, almost all of the travel I’ve done has been in association with conferences, and this trip was no exception. My golden ticket to the British Columbia interior was the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop. I had never attended a writers’ workshop before, and it was a remarkably worthwhile experience. And so, this journey was a time of learning and growth.
The trip was also an opportunity to visit with good friends in Kelowna, replete with sightseeing, girlfriend time and generous hospitality. I also had the chance to meet up with someone I had only known through the blog, who happens to be related to my son-in-law, and she kindly took me touring around Peachland and West Kelowna. And so, this journey was a time of friendship and connection.
But the experience that was most significant for me was two days of touring on my own. I could have stayed with friends or invited someone along, but I wanted to experience the freedom of travelling alone. So I rented a car and headed south, having made reservations to stay in Osoyoos. Heading along Highway 97, with Lake Okanagan on my left and rocky outcrops on my right that I might have labelled mountains had I not been schooled by my friends, I couldn’t help but reflect that in the past this would have been a journey shared. I wondered if I would travel in loving companionship again. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I can’t let my single state keep me from anything I want to experience, even if loneliness makes itself known as my silent companion from time to time. And so, this journey was a time of choosing freedom and independence.
But life doesn’t always give us choices, a lesson that became bitterly clear when I stopped in Penticton for coffee.
When I pulled into the Tim Horton’s parking lot, I took a moment to check my email before going in, and learned that one of my cousins in Belgium had died. Too young, too soon, too loved, but life doesn’t consider those things. Life just is and does as it will. Amidst my tears, there was also self-recrimination. Why hadn’t I just gotten on a plane and gone to visit when I learned of his illness? I had to face the unpleasant reality that I’ve spent the last year and a half so wrapped up in my own problems that I missed the opportunity for a richer, kinder, more meaningful choice. All those reasons to not go, and the false hope that there would be more time, were now exposed as hollow excuses.
All I could hope is that I would learn …
As I left that restaurant, heavy of heart, I resolved that the only way to honour my cousin was to appreciate fully that which is most precious and was taken from him. To squander the opportunity I had to experience such a beautiful part of the world seemed an affront to his memory. So I decided I would spend my last two days in British Columbia living fully in this beautiful place, not holding back as I so often do.
I decided to go ahead with my plan to visit the renowned restaurant at Tinhorn Creek Winery for a splendid lunch, even though the budget was groaning by that point and I might otherwise have talked myself out of it. I sat at my table — singularly solitary in a roomful of couples and more, who no doubt were marvelling at my confidence, supposing they noticed me at all — taking in a breathtaking view and savouring a soup that opened my eyes to corn in new ways.
In Osoyoos I walked along the lake and watched the cars on the other side zigzagging up the switchbacks and disappearing into the pass. I decided to act on a recommendation I had received, and returned north by way of the Similkameen Valley, where there were moments when I rounded bends in the highway and felt my soul stir at the vistas before me. And then I took the time to drive along the Naramata Bench, and just sit by the water, simply being there, taking it in, reflecting.
All along the way, I was thinking of my cousin and filled with a new appreciation for all that I have. And so, this journey was a time of tribute and thankfulness.
I realized that I wasn’t travelling alone. I took Wim with me, and left memories of him in every beautiful place I saw. I spoke his name to the mountains and the wind, the valleys and the lake, the vineyards ready for harvest. I like to think he enjoyed the journey with me and lingers there still.
Silky Corn Soup
The Chef’s Daily Soup the day I visited Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek Winery couldn’t have been a better choice for me; I adore corn and this corn puree with the tang of pickled peaches, the richness of pancetta and the warmth of padron peppers left me marvelling at every spoonful. I haven’t set out to replicate it, but rather to create a soup inspired by the original. Not only has it been very well received by my family, but each time I have it I’m transported back to the Okanagan.
This is a soup to make in season, so you can slice the kernels from the cobs and then scrape out the milky goodness. Out of season, I’ll try it with frozen corn and expect it will be very nearly as good. As a make ahead note, I have frozen this soup; it reheated beautifully and was just as silky and delicious.
- 5 cobs of corn (or, 6 cups corn kernels)
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 jalepeno pepper, minced
- 1 red chile pepper, minced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped
- optional: 1 to 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- optional: thyme sprigs for garnish
Setting each corn corn on its stem end in a large, wide bowl, carefully slice the kernels off, as close to the cob as you can get. Then scrape each cob thoroughly with the back of the knife to remove as much of the milky goodness as possible. Set aside.
Heat the grapeseed oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the onion and peppers; turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Stir in the corn kernels, along with the salt, pepper and cumin, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring from time to time. Pour in the vegetable stock.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, stir in the thyme leaves and cook for 30 minutes. If you prefer some texture in your soup, remove about a half cup of the corn and other vegetables using a slotted spoon and set aside. Puree the soup, either in batches in as powerful a blender as you can get your hands on, or using an immersion blender, until the texture is smooth and silky. Pour back into the pot if necessary and add the reserved corn mixture. Stir well and taste for seasoning.
If you feel the soup needs a little zing, add the apple cider vinegar gradually, stirring well and tasting after each addition until you reach the desired hint of tanginess (I suggest being subtle about it).
For presentation purposes, you could garnish each bowl with a sprig of thyme.