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It’s a frosty 9 degrees outside my ice-covered window, with a forecasted high of  21 degrees.  Snow still lingers on the ground, with little occasion to thaw.

Thank goodness there are other ways to thaw, like with my mother’s hearty vegetable soup…if only I had the ingredients at hand in my freezer.

Alas, I’m starting from scratch with tonight’s dinner; I’m cooking a nice roast beef which will  allow me to make half a recipe of this simple soup for tomorrow night’s supper.

I fear I’m a broken record when I share that there is nothing better to serve (or easier to make) than a home-made soup on a cold winter’s day.  But then we are all broken in one way or another, n’est-ce pas?

This soup is a great way to use up leftovers and I hate to throw out food, even if it’s only half a cup of corn or green beans.  Instead, I pour the small amount into freezer bags — and when I have enough saved it’s time to make this soup.

Or course, one doesn’t have to use leftovers.  One can cook a roast beef  like I’m doing today and then make the soup out of the roast and  broth using fresh or frozen mixed vegetables.  But it’s great to get two meals for the price of one, so I always opt to serve a roast beef dinner first, saving soup for a future second meal.  Some days, it’s just good to have a pot of soup hiding in my freezer that can be pulled together in thirty minutes or less.

To prepare this meal, I literally clean out my freezer, which makes each batch just slightly different.  There’s little science to it — a little more of less of something is not going to hurt; this soup is very forgiving if I don’t get it “just right.”   In this way, the soup becomes a parable, pointing to the beauty of a forgiving spirit… when those we  love and work beside fail to get life  “‘right” according to our own recipes for living it.

My usual soup-making drill looks something like this:  I open up my freezer in search of an easy meal.  Out comes the frozen beef stock.  I empty it directly into my large saucepan where it simmers until completely defrosted.  Then out come all the small bags of uncooked and cooked vegetables and roast beef.

Bags of uncooked diced celery and onion are always waiting in the freezer for “such a time as this” — these frozen soup and sauce starters are the best time-saver —  a tip I learned from my Aunt Jo some time ago.   Once the stock is heated, everything but the pasta goes into the pot to simmer.  The cooked pasta goes in shortly before serving.

Like my mother before me, I serve the soup with cornbread — and the soup itself in bowls with slices of cold cheddar cheese covering the bottom.  The hot soup melts the cheese and even now, writing this memory sends me back to those cold winter days of my childhood.

Looking out the frosty window reminds me of those earlier days too, when I would artfully inscribe some little message in the ice with my finger.   If I were to indulge in this fancy today, my window would simply say this to you:   “From my life to yours”…

Beef Vegetable Soup

Serves 4 to 6    30 minutes to prepare

4 cups beef broth, (preferably home-made, fat removed)
1 14.5 oz petite diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
3 cups vegetables chopped (canned, frozen or fresh)
2 cups roasted beef (fat removed)  (at times, I’ve even substituted cooked crumbled ground beef)
1 – 2 tsp salt (depends on salt level of ingredients — start with 1 tsp and adjust to taste)
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup penne pasta, cooked al dente

Heat broth in a large sauce over medium-low heat.  Add all other ingredients but pasta.  Cook until vegetables are fork tender.  Remove from heat; set aside until ready to serve.  I often pull this soup together in the morning and allow it to rest, giving time for the ingredients to blend together.  Fifteen minutes before serving, I warm the soup over medium heat with the cooked pasta.

Serve warm in bowls over slices of  cheddar cheese with a piece of buttered cornbread by its side.