Every bowl of soup has a story. This particular soup began life as a network of tributaries: one from the Cafe' Matisse in Rutherford, New Jersey, whose recipe provided the inspiration; one from the fecund, troubled tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida; and one from a friendship of young men forged in the cold spring waters of Jenny's Hole at Carpenter's Creek in Pensacola, Florida.
The tributaries all came together on a recent Tuesday evening. They flowed into a stock pot at the Longleaf Bar & Grill. The bringer of the soup was Roy. He and his wife, Bette, can stop traffic with their long, lean good looks and the flashing eyes and teeth of friendly wild animals.
It's been about ten days now since Roy and Bette drove their motor home 600-plus miles from their home on Pine Island, (near Ft. Myers, Fl) to his cousin's place on Innerarity Island, (near Pensacola). They came for the Pensacola High School Class of '54 Reunion out on Pensacola Beach, and to visit with us and other friends and relatives.
Bill, another classmate and F.O.B. (Friend of Buck) since the cradle, lives right here in town. By day, he is an accountant, and has been keeping the IRS from putting people under the jailhouse for decades. By night and weekend, he is a passionate collector of vintage Thunderbird cars (think baby blue hardtop or white convertible). Bill is also an amateur archeologist. He has traveled to remote South Seas islands, Peru and other sites to help dust pottery shards. He is an eager light traveler, whose motto is: "Sign me up."
Note: The photo of Bill is his "Official Photo" as Treasurer of the Panhandle Cruisers.
Buck was a such a smart little dickens that he started grammar school a year early, so while he actually graduated in the Pensacola High School Class of 1955, he was younger than everybody in his own class. That makes him just about two years younger than Roy or Bill. (Sorry, guys. Buck wanted me to put that part in.) However, since Buck's own class hasn't had the inclination to hold reunions every five years like the 1954 bunch, Buck got himself adopted into that group. Truth is, he just loves Bill and Roy, and wanted some excuse to hang out with them more often.
I got to know Roy and Bette during the last reunion. It was held was in 2004, just a few months before Hurricane Ivan smacked us. Roy and Bette were staying in the RV park out on the beach that was destroyed in the storm. Turns out neither Bette nor I were eager to meet each other, each figuring the other would be a dud one of us would be saddled with entertaining. Ha! No worries. Bette is a high-powered partner in her own realty firm, a tall, gorgeous brunette go-getter who is fun as all get-out. She skin dives, saltwater fishes, bicycles, loves her man and her dog, has a wide mischievous grin so contagious you would have to be dead not to catch it, and the heart of a lioness, too. I'm shorter and shyer, but she expressed relief after we met that I had not lived up to her low expectations. In other words, we hit it off and didn't have to tolerate each other just for the sake of being good sports while the guys relived fast times at Pensacola High.
That's Bette, hamming it up with "Elvis," who dropped by the class reunion Luau at the Pensacola Beach Hilton Garden Inn on May 15.
What does this all have to do with that bowl of soup? This brings us to Roy Boy. He is a conossieur of many things: sports cars, boats, wine, women (uh, make that woman), art, photography, and good food. He's one of those rare breeds: a perfectionist with a generous heart. Roy loves to cook for his friends.
Roy had promised to make his signature Roasted Tomato Soup with Herbs and Garlic.
First things first, though. We all jumped in the pool, except for Bill, who had rushed over straight from his office. He sat by the pool and regaled us with stories of the latest car show while we splashed around and wondered what teenagers do for fun.
After awhile, we moved from pool to kitchen, and munched on some Pensacola bay shrimp in a caper, dill, garlic, dijon and lemon marinade, as Roy worked his magic with the soup. Part of the chef's kit he arrived with was a large ziploc bag of the distilled essence of roasted summer tomatoes from Immokalee. Roy told us that last summer, he and Bette drove about 30 miles from their home to Immokalee to buy tomatoes, squash, okra, watermelons, cantaloupes, ten types of peppers, cucumbers, pineapple, avocados and "the best Mexican lunch from the worst looking place I have ever eaten."
Note: Immokalee's winter tomatoes have become a flashpoint in a national discussion on treatment and payment of farm workers. I'll be writing about this aspect of the tomatoes on our plates in a subsequent post. Roy and Bette "did it right" from the standpoint that they bought local food in season. In fact, they bought six boxes (at 25 pounds each) of tomatoes, ate what they could, gave away a bunch, and then roasted and froze the rest for soup.
When the soup was ready, Bette and I ladled it into wide, shallow bowls, and we all moved to the conference table on the snow porch. (It will never snow outside this snow porch, but it resembles the one we had when we lived in the North Carolina mountains which was our favorite place to watch snow fall.) The soup was beautiful in the bowl, fragrant with herbs, and had the unmistakable deep flavor of summertime, vine-ripened tomatoes.
Roy's Roasted Tomao Soup with Herbs & Garlic
3 pounds vine-ripened local tomatoes
8 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic
handful of minced fresh rosemary & thyme (oregano goes well, too)
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (or more)
6 cups chicken stock
6 tablespoons fresh basil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the tomatoes, cut-side up, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle with some olive oil. Roast about an hour. They will be tender. Cool slightly . Transfer the tomatoes and their juice to a processor. Don't over process — keep them slightly chunky. At this point, you can proceed with the recipe, or cool and freeze.
Next, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the herbs and red pepper. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until the soup thickens slightly. Remove from heat.
Stir in basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with baguettes and herb-infused olive oil for dipping.
After that great starter, we moved on to the wild grouper pesto I've blogged about before, and then moved into the bar for coffee and egg custard pie. Maggie and Maggie Moo lounged nearby, tacitly begging for bites of pie.
Looking around the table, I thought about some of the common threads in these lives: curious life-long learners all, filled with an unusual zest for life, a thorough-going positive attitude, and a gentle sort of tolerant goodness. They are all smart as a whole orchard of trees full of owls, too.
It was beginning to get late, but no one was ready for the evening to end, and so, dogs and all, we changed venue once again, trooping upstairs to sit outside on the second story deck. The air was softly punctuated by the hooty owls deep in the woods, and night-singing passerines.
Our friends had long drives before they could sleep: Bill across the bridge to his home on Mulat Bayou in neighboring Pace; Roy and Bette back to Innerarity Island on Perdido Bay. And so, reluctantly, with hugs and smiles, we waved them off into the darkness.
Buck and I were still talking about this memorable evening as we put Maggie to bed, brushed our teeth and turned back the covers.
For reasons known only to the ghost of Sigmund Freud, I do not have any friendships maintained since childhood. I would be envious of this beautiful relationship, except for the fact that Bette and I both have been subsumed within the umbrella of its sweetness, our molecular parts rearranged to become a piece of their whole. For this, I am profoundly grateful.
When one reaches a certain age — is it 20, 30, 40, 50 or beyond? — "old friends" either exist or they will never be. Old friends are those who have known you long enough to know your dreams, your potential, your reality, your reinventions of self over time, your disappointments, triumphs, tragedies and loves. Old friends need no explanations.
When an old friend loves you, it must be because you are worth loving. Is it not so?