Soup Series: Shrimp Bisque and a Holiday Flashback
'Tis the season. Whatever that means. I know what it meant once upon a time, but along the way something happened. People changed. Life got busy. Work demanded more of us. Stretched us thin. There was less appreciation. More stress. Less hope, love and holiday spirit. The kind that isn't bought, sold or packaged in a box with a bow on top and handed out on December twenty fifth. And never will be.
Back when I was really young I was blessed to have a woman in my life full of hope, love and joy. My grandmother was made for the holidays, for the family gatherings and reunions that happened once or twice a year. Scratch that. The holidays were made for my grandmother. She taught me a lot back then, but mostly the spirit of the holidays and the real meaning behind them.
When I swung through her old front door I would head straight for the kitchen where a small treasure chest was stocked with goodies for her grandchildren. I loved that chest. But during the holidays, there was something that grabbed my attention more than that. It called to me every year. The small closet/room inside a spare room in the house. For a few short weeks every year it was decorated for the season and held a small chair to make a prayer. One annual holiday prayer. One time, better make it count.
If I was particularly young I would ask for a toy. But as I got older I would pray to be like her one day. And for her to live forever. And after I left the room she reminded me not to tell her or anyone else. To hold it inside and wish for it with all my might so it would come true. And that's what I did. I listened.
Every afternoon she played old Christmas records and late at night we'd sit and talk. First about anything on my mind and then, after I finished, we'd move on to hers. She told me about her dreams. Small dreams to most people, but to her they could change the world. She told me her family was more important than any one thing and she'd rather have them visit than drop a gift off. She reminded me that the holidays were about one other, traditions, family, food and thanks. One thing she always had an abundance of and appreciation for.
I visited that tiny, wood panelled room every year growing up. It was plastered with things befitting the season and instantly reminded of you of the potential in this world. The older I got the smaller the room felt. And every year she reminded me to pray for others, be thankful for all that I have and cherish my family. And as those years fell off she told me that it isn't about the gifts but the people that give them to you. Things I take with me to this day. But things I sadly took for granted.
Those days are long gone now. My grandmother passed on years ago, forever in my memory but no longer present at the holiday table. The room died with her, but holds a special place in my heart even now. As things get crazier each and every year I think back to that small house and prayer room during my Christmas vacation. And I wish she was still here to remind me not to give up and stop believing.
The madness of Christmas is worse than ever before. Ads run sooner, longer, more often. Families tear themselves apart instead of holding on tighter than even before. People give up on each other and move on. And, once a year, everybody thinks a gift will make up for a year of absence or neglect. It doesn't. It won't.
As I see people fill the malls, checkout lines and load up on the must have presents of the season I wonder what my grandmother would say. If these people only knew that the key to happiness lies within and if they spent more time with loved ones they wouldn't have to make it up come Christmas. If they did, it would just be an extension, a special one off.
I have a lot to learn. I make mistakes, and I hope I will always learn. I try to share significant moments with the people I love. Set aside time to talk, share some food and let them know how bloody thankful I am for their presence in my life. Often I tell them with food. A meal, an afternoon soup and sandwich or just a drink and a hug.
Once upon a time the holidays seemed better. Felt better and more significant and rooted in something real and meaningful. The season was a special time because of the people we shared it with and the gifts that meant something to them on a real personal level. When everything else is stretching us thin and work is keeping us later, it's my wife and family that matter. And this is the season to remind us all of that.
This is really a simple soup to make. I made it as a reminder to share the moments with my loved one. Set everything else aside and share some time, space and love. So that's what we do. During the holidays and all year long.
My wife and I decided a couple years ago not to buy gifts for one another. We're old enough now to see the trap. Sure, we probably give in and get something small but the real present is spending time with one another. Doing something with one another. So that's what we do instead. And, years after the fact, I'll never forget those shared memories.
Don't give up. Don't give in. I know it's hard, stressful and it pulls you apart. Just try a little harder. Love a little deeper. Show the people that matter just how much they do. And don't wait for the holidays. Slow it down, even if for a moment. Breathe. It all starts with one person. Before long it can be just like it was. Like it was all those years ago.
From my kitchen to yours,
- 1 pound large shrimp, peel and devein, reserve shells
- 2 oranges, juiced plus 2 tbsp. zested, keep aside
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 2 leeks, halved, rinsed and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 6 thyme sprigs, tied together
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 1/4 cup flour
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups single cream (18%)
- sea salt & pepper to taste
- 8 shrimps, sauteed (for garnish)
- 4 thyme sprigs (for garnish)
- Heat olive oil & butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once butter is melted and oil is hot add in the shrimp shells, leeks, carrots, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, tomato paste, cayenne and orange zest. Cook for about ten minutes or until vegetables have softened and shells are red.
- Add in the sherry and cook for a further three minutes. Add in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes longer, stirring with the wooden spoon. Top with the water and orange juice and deglaze the pan, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan. Add in the single cream and bring just to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for twenty minutes. Add in the shrimp and cook for a few minutes until cooked through.
- Remove from heat and remove shells. Working in batches, run the soup through a processor then pour through a fine sieve and return to a clean pot.
- Meanwhile, saute the 8 shrimp for garnish and set aside.
- Add the pot back over medium-low heat and season. Ladle into four bowls and top with 2 shrimp and a sprig of thyme.
- Serves 4.