It gives me a lot of joy and contentment to find pleasure in something simple.
Just before sitting down to write, I decided to spend a few moments sitting in a chair in the back yard in utter silence just listening to the world around me, soaking up the milder rays of the warming sun (and some much needed vitamin D).
And just from those few, precious moments that I gave myself for refreshment, my spirit feels calmed and quieted; it feels lifted up.
I feel at peace, and full of gratitude and awareness for the gift of a simple pleasure, and what it can do for me.
Autumn awakens my sentimental side; it seems far more melancholy (the good kind) than summer ever would be, and I guess I kinda like that about it.
It coaxes me into daydreams, and sets my imagination ablaze with images of how I'd like to spend my quiet moments, whether curled up on my couch in the evening in my robe with my Kindle, reading; or in the kitchen preparing some fall-inspired fare for the people in my life that I love and cherish.
For me, there's a simple pleasure in the reddish-golden sunset of the fall, and in the plethora of orange and yellow butterflies that I see touch the petals of the fall flowers.
There's a simple pleasure in the way that the water in a small pond reflects the light, making it look like little particles of stars that have fallen to earth; or in nature, this complex magnificence that surrounds us that God has provided us with, where we can search out our Creator's hidden qualities as to better understand and experience Him.
Simple pleasures are found in the very food that this season provides us with in the golden-orange, green and red offerings that it births.
The flavors are familiar and perfect for what a soul in the autumn longs for.
Each bite of a hearty Italian chicken and autumn veggie soup contains little bursts of fall; it contains little tastes of the very best elements that it produces.
And the simple pleasure found in a bowl of this earthy soup feeds not only the physical part of us, but the inner, quieter part that longs for a connection to that which is greater than we are—to the One who's hands gave shape to what we ingest and use as sustenance.
A few moments of peace and quiet in the autumn afternoon sun can do wonders for one's spirit, just as a bowl of colorful and savory autumn soup can.
And there's nothing complicated about these things; they're just a pair of simple pleasures that make everyday living that much more delicious.
And for those simple little things, I hope to remain forever hungry, and forever in gratitude.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Hearty Italian Chicken and Autumn Veggie Soup with Roasted Garlic and Tomato Broth over Gnocchi
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves about 4 as a hearty entree, or about 6 smaller bowls
• 2 skin-on and bone-in split chicken breasts
• Canola oil
• Black pepper
• 3 heads garlic
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 onion, finely diced
• 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
• 2 parsnips, peeled and finely diced
• 2 ribs celery, finely diced
• 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced into small, bite-size cubes
• 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
• Pinch red pepper flakes
• 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
• 4 – 4 ½ cups hot chicken stock
• Small piece of parmesan rind, optional (*see note below)
• 2 cups Tuscan kale, chopped into small pieces
• ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
• 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
• Gnocchi, cooked according to package instructions, and held warm with a bit of oil drizzled in
• Grated fresh parmesan, for garnish
• Warm rustic bread, on the side
(*The parmesan rind gives the soup some extra flavor as it simmers; however, if you don't have a piece of rind, you can omit it without a problem.)
-Preheat oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet with foil.
-Place the split chicken breasts on the baking sheet, and drizzle them with a little oil, and a couple of good pinches of salt and pepper.
-Cut the tops off of the heads of garlic, drizzle each head with a little oil, plus a pinch of salt and pepper, and wrap each head in a small piece of foil; place on the baking sheet next to the chicken.
-Roast the chicken, along with the garlic, for 45 minutes; then allow both to cool until they can be handled.
-Once they are cooled, shred the chicken, and set it aside; then, squeeze the roasted garlic from the papers, and using your knife or a fork, make the cloves into a paste; set the paste aside for a moment.
-Place a medium-large pot over medium to medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of the oil, plus add in the tablespoon of butter; once melted together, add in the onion and allow it sweat for about 3-4 minutes, until translucent and softened.
-To the onion add the roasted garlic “paste”, and stir it in to combine.
-Next, add in the diced carrots, parsnips, celery and butternut squash and stir to combine; add in the Italian seasoning, plus a pinch or two of salt and black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to incorporate.
-Add in the tomato paste and stir, and allow it to cook with the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes, or until the “raw” flavor of it is cooked out of it.
-Next, add in the chicken stock and stir, followed by the piece of parmesan rind, if using; cover with a lid and simmer very gently on low for about 20-22 minutes, stirring occasionally (especially if you add the parmesan rind so that it doesn't stick to the bottom), or until the veggies are tender.
-Turn off the heat, and remove the parmesan rind, if using; add in the kale and stir to incorporate it, and allow it wilt into the soup for a few minutes; then, finish the soup by adding in the shredded chicken, the basil and the parsley (also, check your seasoning at this point to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed).
-To serve, add about ¼ cup or so of cooked gnocchi to your bowl, and ladle some of the stew over top; garnish with some grated parmesan, if desired, and serve with warm bread.