I have lived seven Novembers without him and somehow survived them in different ways.
We knew that November 2005 could be the last with our son, Alex. He was about to deploy to a raging battleground in Iraq for the second time. Our hearts were heavy and so he asked that we celebrate Thanksgiving twice, once on the Thursday and again on Friday. So we did. We went around the table articulating our thanks for special things in our lives. When it came to Alex, he looked at us and thanked us for having been his parents and loving him as we did. Then he left, and we would never again be blessed with seeing this child, this man, whom we loved so much. We would never see him grow old, become a father, raise children and teach us things only our children can teach us. Our lives would change dramatically.
Last year I began to practice a remembrance of Alex through the Día de los Muertos tradition, finding comfort in the connection to this prehispanic ritual. I made pan de muertos and set up an altar with ofrendas arranged with things Alex might have liked. In fact, I have begun doing this with the children I teach. They also set up altares to their loved ones in my classroom, gaining a hands-on understanding of the spirituality of this day and the mystery of life.
This year I’ve made the usual things in remembrance: empanadas, hojarascas, capirotada, and pan de muertos. The empanadas, especially, are for my mother, who comforted me in this loss through her profound understanding of my sorrow. But today I’ll post something that can’t be put in an ofrenda: a soup I began to make for Alex after he started eating solid food as a baby.
Last night I ate this soup, savoring slowly the taste and texture of the alphabet-shaped pasta, the flavors of the vegetables, and I was transported back to those days that went by much too quickly.
- 8 cups of chicken broth, either homemade (preferably) or commercial
- 3-4 carrots, minced
- 1 stick celery, minced
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¾ cup alphabet pasta
- 1 onion minced as finely as possible
- Cilantro or parsley for flavoring at the end
- 2 leaves of any greens like kale or escarole (chopped very finely)
- olive oil to coat the pasta and brown it in a pan (about 2 tablespoons)
- olive oil to soften the onion, carrot, celery, and green leaves, (about 2 tablespoons)
- Salt to taste
- Pepper grindings to taste
- Optional: one lime and a few crumbled totopos (corn tortilla that you fry yourself, don’t bother buying any)
- Brown the pasta with the oil in a thick pan at a low heat, about one minute, it will brown quickly.
- Brown the peeled garlic, onion, celery, carrots, and green leaves separately in the other 2 tablespoons of oil with a low flame for about 5 minutes. Add a little oil if you need to.
- Combine the pasta and the vegetables in a large pot with the broth already boiling and boil together for about 15 minutes.
- Check for salt, add pepper grindings if you like, and garnish with cilantro or parsley.
- Serve in a bowl for your child and add fried, crunchy corn tortilla, and a few drops of lime juice squeezed into the soup at the last minute.