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Verses from my Kitchen: Soup Series: Shrimp Bisque and a Holiday Flashback

December 18, 2011

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,

Happy Holidays.

Shrimp Bisque

  • 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)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Meanwhile, saute the 8 shrimp for garnish and set aside. 
  5. Add the pot back over medium-low heat and season. Ladle into four bowls and top with 2 shrimp and a sprig of thyme.
  6. Serves 4.


At December 18, 2011 at 9:57 PM , Anonymous Marla said...

"So bloody thankful" Deep. Poetic. True.
This post is amazing Mike. The thought of your grandmother and that prayer room...how it changed in size and function as you grew. I bet you miss it today. Perhaps you need to make one some day. To remind you of her, wishes, dreams and gratitude.
Each day I get older I get "it" more. It is all about the experiences, love and memories. It is awesome to read these words by someone who really gets what this life is all about.
Beautiful soup and blessings to you and your sweetie my friend.

At December 18, 2011 at 10:46 PM , Blogger Sarah (Snippets of Thyme) said...

This is absolutely beautiful. It sure does pull on memories for me. I have such strong memories of one grandmother but my parents divorced when I was 10 and I was never allowed to see that grandmother again. What a waste. I understand your words and what wonderful, simple, sweet lessons your grandmother gifted to you.

At December 18, 2011 at 10:47 PM , Blogger shauna said...

Beautiful, MIke. I agree, deeply. People have fallen into the trap of buying gifts and hanging more lights on their houses every year. But not all of us have. We're just quieter about it. Tonight, Danny and Lucy and I sat on the couch, cuddled in, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. Lu was transfixed. Danny and I were both a little teary. That's what I'll remember from this Christmas.

Also, I would like some of that soup, please.

At December 19, 2011 at 9:09 AM , Blogger Nicole Franzen {La Buena Vida} said...

yum! love shrimp and lobster bisques, though I rarely make them at home. This looks lovely

At December 19, 2011 at 11:28 AM , Blogger A Thought For Food said...

I have some shrimp stock in my freezer that needs to be used. I think I know the recipe I'm going to make!

At December 19, 2011 at 12:12 PM , Anonymous Rebecca Rhine said...

The bisque looks great...but the story brings it all home. Thank you for sharing - my grandmother was a huge part of my life growing up, and I miss her so very much - your reminiscence brought tears to my cheeks and a smile to my heart. Have a very wonderful Christmas...

At December 19, 2011 at 2:12 PM , Anonymous Liren said...

Poignant reminders, Mike, and your memories and stories of your grandmother so beautifully told. The soup looks so inviting and comforting, as I'm sure your grandmother was :)

At December 19, 2011 at 3:17 PM , Anonymous Isabelle @ Crumb said...

Hear hear! I'm with you, Mike... it seems like the holidays get more and more out of hand each year.
A few years ago, I made a deliberate decision to hand-craft most of my gifts (the few things I can't make, I buy from local, independently-owned businesses). With life being as busy as it is, the best gift we can give anyone is time... whether it's the time it took to make something with my own two hands, or just the time to sit down over a cup of coffee and reconnect. The rest is just disposable, replaceable stuff.
Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful lady. I'm sure she'd have been pleased as punch to read this post, and to hear your memories of her special room.
Happy holidays to you and yours!

At December 19, 2011 at 4:07 PM , Blogger Colorful Heart said...

thank you for sharing sanity and quiet, precious memories in the midst of a busy season. What wonderful gifts your Grandma gave you!

At December 19, 2011 at 4:12 PM , Anonymous jenna said...

i look forward to your posts every week! This bisque sounds wonderful. I hope you and your family have a memorable christmas! cheers.

At December 19, 2011 at 4:33 PM , Blogger Cookin' Canuck said...

What a poignant post, Mike. It's so true that we get caught up in the "must do"s of Christmas and forget to take time to slow and really enjoy each other's company. This post is a wonderful reminder. The lighting you used in these photos is stunning - dark, but comforting at the same time.

At December 19, 2011 at 6:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there an actual recipe? (It's a great story and the soup looks wonderful!)

At December 19, 2011 at 9:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

man i read all that and there is no recipe? C'mon man!

At December 19, 2011 at 11:04 PM , Anonymous Kimberly said...

Wonderfully written. The world changed each time we turned a blind eye and silently showed we wouldn't stand in the way of the changing times. We opened the door, turned our backs, and allowed the theft of beautiful traditions and caring souls to leave our realities - and now we visit them only in our memories. Merry Christmas to You, and God Bless You each day. - Kimberly

At December 19, 2011 at 11:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the recipe?!?

At December 19, 2011 at 11:44 PM , Anonymous MikeVFMK said...

I'll post the recipe tomorrow. Thanks for all the wonderful comments!

At December 20, 2011 at 9:16 AM , Blogger onesilentwinter said...


At December 20, 2011 at 5:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You brought tears to my eyes, as you brought back memories of my own Mamaw. When there was simplicity in our lives, and we cherished the our loved ones and the little things, were enough. Jesus is the reason for the season after all. God Bless and Merry Christmas.

At December 20, 2011 at 7:16 PM , Blogger Kristen - Dine & Dish said...

I love and adore every single word and photo in this post. Thank you for the reminder, Mike.

At December 20, 2011 at 9:18 PM , Blogger Barbara said...

You were so lucky to have a woman with such insight in your life. Everyone should have a grandmother like yours.I hope one day I can be that grandmother for my sons' children.

At December 21, 2011 at 9:47 AM , Anonymous Marlene said...

Just discovered your post, Mike. Very nice, looks yummy.

At December 21, 2011 at 3:36 PM , Blogger Rosemary said...

How I got into this post. I can see you now heading for the spare room into the Christmas closet...remember mom saying just get in there and sit and think.. we thought it kind of dumb, but not now... love your words and your receipe!

At December 22, 2011 at 5:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time I've been to your blog. Beautiful words. I can picture your grandmother and her home. Sounds like a wise woman that made a lasting imprint on her grandson. I hope someday I'm that kind of grandmother.

At December 23, 2011 at 1:15 PM , Anonymous Charlene said...

that was a very moving post. I want to make a "prayer" room. I had so many feelings as I read this...and now that I have grandchildren, I want to be the Meme...they will love and remember forever. I have tears in my eyes over this post...breathtaking and stirring the way you shared this story. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

At December 24, 2011 at 5:25 PM , Anonymous Martha in KS said...

Mike, I just found your blog thru Tasty Kitchen. You're a soulful person with a big heart. I'll be spending Christmas alone but I too have fond memories of Christmas pasts, and those who loved me, but are now gone.

I hope your Christmas is all you want it to be.
Martha in Kansas

At December 30, 2011 at 10:41 AM , Blogger Cassie/Bake Your Day said...

Your posts are always so heartfelt, Mike. Thanks for pouring your heart out. I was thinkign about my grandmother while reading it, I miss her. I love reading your writing...and your soup recipes never fail. This one sounds amazing!

At December 30, 2011 at 2:22 PM , Blogger A Southern Bee DIary said...

Beautifully styled soup ! Looks so delicious ! Thanks for sharing the recipe. i love your recipes because you share where they come from!

A Southern Bee Diary

At December 31, 2011 at 2:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your site & this recipe . . . amazing story that reflects many of my childhood memories & lessons learned. Wishing you the absolute best this holiday season & into the New Year!! Peace, hope & love!


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