Wednesday, March 18, 2015

26. BEEF BARLEY SOUP (MY FRIEND MUSH)

My friend Mush stood beside me at the kitchen counter, her hands working the sharp paring knife, cutting carrots into uniform pieces.  I grabbed the half gallon of olive oil from my cupboard and swirled some into my large stewing pot, turned on the flame, then turned toward the kitchen sink where thick beef short ribs were warming to room temperature.  We chatted as we worked, the kind of comfortable talking where if there were two minutes of just working and no words, it would not have bothered either of us.
Marsha Bradbury
Mush, short for Marsha, is a connoisseur of deliciousness, and our tastes are similar, though not exactly the same. She is a mighty fine cooker, and she is a master gardener, which makes for some fabulous ingredients in her cooking. 
She and her husband Robert have an amazing back yard, filled with grow boxes and a greenhouse that Robert built himself, and a chicken coop with real peckers roaming their yard. They never buy eggs. They have fruit trees, and walking paths, and they can tell you where the sun will be on any given hour of any given day. Her pantry and cold storage are bulging with the fruits of their labors. Literally.  Robert makes a to-die-for mango salsa. (I will have to ask for the recipe, and if I get it I promise to post it.)  Mush and I have shared a lot.  She was a divine gift of a friend to me when I was forced to spend months recovering from Guillain Barre Syndrome. 
And it was at my kitchen table where we were making head wreaths for her daughter’s flower girls when I looked up at her and noticed her eyes had a yellow tint to them.  I looked closer, and realized that her skin had that yellow tint as well.  She is an outdoorsy, athletic gal, so it could have been mistaken for a sun tan, but on second look it was really more yellow. So like a friend who is a friend would do, I said something diplomatic like: "Hey, your eyes are yellow."
We both shuffled into the bathroom to look in the mirror with better light, and decided then and there we needed to see a doctor.  So I took her to my doc, and he took action, and long story short we went from wedding preparations to processing the reality of pancreatic cancer.  Yeah, that’s what I said, Pancreatic Cancer.  People don’t survive that one.  She knew that.  And so did I.  So there were tears, and there was hope, and there were more tears, and more hope.  One doctor said she should just get her affairs in order.  And so did another.  But then one said, with the cocky confidence you are kind of grateful for in a surgeon, “I will do surgery on you and I will save your life.”  And lo and behold, that’s what he did!  After a thirteen hour surgery he nodded his head and told her, with a matter-of-fact tone of satisfaction, “I just saved your life. You’re welcome.” 
Marsha and Robert
That was over ten years ago.  Last week Mush met us for lunch for my birthday.  Something happens deep under my heart every time I see her.  Some divine little angel whispers that she is a gift - her life is a gift, and she is a gift of a friend.  Many weeks or even months may pass between our reunions, but it does not alter the strength of the sisterhood. We share much, most importantly history. And love.  And recipes… an awful lot of what we have shared has been in the preparation of nourishment and comfort.

This kitchen of mine has been blessed with all sorts of aromas and splattering’s of flavor.  But mostly it has been blessed with the company of beautiful friends.
This is what Marsha does with part of her bounty.
Beef Barley Soup is a comfort food that loves fresh vegetables.  The barley thickens the broth, and it has a sticky resistance to the tooth, meaning it should not be mushy but also not crunchy.  Have extra broth or tomato sauce on hand because the barley absorbs the liquid especially in the last ten minutes of cooking.

Beef Barley Soup

2 lb beef short ribs  - with or without bone

¼ c olive oil or vegetable oil

1 c barley (not instant barley, or even quick barley.  Get the good old fashioned kind that takes a long time to cook)

1 onion

6-10 carrots

celery – a handful of the inner bitter part, chopped with leaves.

crushed tomatoes (1 large can, or peeled crushed fresh tomatoes [crush in blender]) or tomato sauce

beef soup bones or 4 cans canned beef broth Boil bones in water and 2 T salt for at least an hour to get broth)

beef bouillon

salt and pepper

Heat oil in large heavy pot. Salt and pepper raw beef, lightly coat with flour, and brown full pieces in hot oil.  You want nice dark brown drippings for flavor, so be sure the oil is hot enough to really sizzle.  Meanwhile, boil soup bones or canned broth in a separate pot. When meat is brown all over pour hot broth over them and simmer for an hour, or until meat is tender.  Be sure meat is fully covered.  Add water if necessary. Add onion, cut into 1/8ths, and a handful of chopped celery, with celery leaves included.  That inner bitter portion of a bunch of celery is best for soups.

When meat is tender remove meat from broth and cut into small pieces.  Rinse 1 c. barley in cool water, then add to boiling broth.  Boil gently for 30 minutes. Taste the broth and see if it has enough flavor, add bouillon and salt and pepper to taste.  Do not be afraid to add plenty (I use Wyler’s bouillon crystals).

Add clean sliced carrots to soup and simmer for another 15 minutes, till carrots and barley are tender.

Add crushed tomatoes, or if tomato chunks bug you, use tomato sauce.

Your best tool is your taste.  If there is not enough flavor, add salt and pepper and bouillon.     

2 comments:

  1. Yay! I love all your writings, and especially when it is about my sweet mother. Thank you for writing this. See you soon!

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  2. Actually my dear friend Cori, it was YOU that saved my life....and I will forever be in your debt. Thank you so much for this sweet, sweet blog, I had missed a few days and was just now catching up. I am so,so lucky to know you and to call you friend.

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