Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
After several rounds of telephone tag, Trish and Fiona set a Tuesday evening date — Luc’s pool night. She arrives waving a large bottle of diet ginger ale, in lieu of her customary vino, and Fiona feels immediate dismay.
— I’ve decided to keep the baby, announces Trish.
Why!? Fiona wants to shout. A lump of bile rises into her mouth Are you crazy? she thinks. But this is Trish’s decision, so she swallows her objections, says the expected.
— Congratulations, Trish. I hope you’ll be really happy.
She gives her a hug, but Trish isn’t fooled.
— I wish you were more enthusiastic, she says. I’ll be counting on you.
— And you know I’ll help out as much as I can, says Fiona, but I can’t help being worried, Trish. I mean you and Craig…. It’s all so new.
— He was super happy when I told him I’d decided to keep the baby.
— Was he?
— Well, he was scared too. But that’s a good sign, it means he’s taking it seriously.
— Yeah, he knows it’s a giant step. Isn’t he concerned about the fact that you’ve only been together a few months?
— He loves me. He says we’ll work it out.
— And what if you don’t? How do you feel about being a single parent, Trish?
— Fee! Give us a chance at least. We haven’t even had the baby yet and you’ve got us separating. One day at a time, as Uncle Renny would say.
— That’s ‘cus he’s in AA.
— Well, whatever. It applies to life. Anything can happen. You could lose your job. Or get hit by a bus.
Trish begins to cry.
— I need your support, she says.
Fee puts her hand on Trish’s arm.
— Trish, honey, it’s your decision. I just want you to really consider all sides of this. Please.
— I have, Fee. Really. Craig’s solid. It’s going to be okay.
Fiona can see there’s no point protesting; the decision has been made. She takes her hand off Trish’s arm.
— And will you stay in your apartment, she asks.
— For now. For a while. Craig doesn’t think it’s the right time to move. Says we can’t really afford to and he doesn’t think the disruption will be good for me.
— And you?
— I’d like a bigger place. I mean I’ll turn my office into a room for the baby, but I still need my own space. We’ll have to talk about it.
— The students will be leaving town soon, you could always find something inexpensive.
— Will you help me?
Fiona hates it when Trish imposes on her like this, demanding her time. It’s always something: help with buying a laptop or organizing her kitchen. But in this case, she sees she has no choice. This is for the baby.
— Sure. Let’s keep our eyes on the ads. What’s your rent? $950?
— Yeah. Plus hydro. We want to live downtown though.
— We can look. You never know what will come up.
Despite her initial hesitation, Fiona’s mind is already racing: friends who own buildings, sites where apartment rentals are posted. She embraces challenges.
— I had to tell Mom, says Trish. I was at her house last week and I started getting morning sickness and had to lie down. And I was all emotional and weepy…and well.
When aren’t you emotional and weepy? thinks Fiona, then chastises herself for being uncharitable.
— And what did she say?
— Well, you know her. She starts crying and hugging me and saying she’s always wanted to be a grandmother. She’s going to buy us the crib. And a bunch of clothes too. A layette, she called it. She’s being really sweet.
— I’m so glad, says Fiona. She’ll be a big help. If she doesn’t drive you nuts.
— Don’t I know it! says Trish. Hey, have you got anything to eat? I seem to be starving all the time.
— I’ve got some Portuguese stone soup* left from last night. It’s more like a stew. I’ll heat it up. And I have some multigrain bread from that new bakery.
— Sounds great!
Fiona pulls a pot from the fridge and puts it on the stove on low heat.
— So, what happens in the interim? asks Fiona. Are you staying in school?
Fiona can’t help having one more go at Trish’s decision.
— You have, what, one more year to go? You do realize how difficult this will make it for you to finish your degree?
— There’s daycare at school.
— And you’ll stick the baby in next January, when he or she is six months old?
— You’re being so negative, Fee. It’s all going to work. I’ll probably take a year off.
— But you’ll go back?
— Of course.
Fiona suspects she won’t.
— Sorry, Trish. I’m not trying to be a naysayer, I’m just concerned for you. Having a baby makes all your other goals and plans so much more difficult. It took me years to get back on track. You’ll have to quit your job at the bookstore too.
— I’m okay for now. It’s only about twenty hours a week and I sit behind the cash most of the day, studying. Besides, we need the money right now. But Craig’s business is starting to grow. He got some orders in from Toronto and Vancouver. And he’s got lots of outlets in Montreal now.
— Chocolate, right?
— Fair trade chocolate. He buys in bulk and repackages. He’s doing really well.
— I’m glad. I really hope things go well for you, Trish. And I’m happy about the baby. It will be lovely to have a little one in all our lives.
Trish starts to cry.
— Oh, I’m so glad you feel that way. I was worried that you wouldn’t approve.
— Approve? Why would you need my approval, Trish? You’re twenty-seven, you’re old enough to make these decisions yourself.
— I know, but I’ve always looked up to you, sort of a mentor, a point of gravitas. You are fifteen years older than me.
— Don’t remind me! Here dry those tears, have some soup and then let’s go for a walk. It’s good for you and the baby, and we can go take a peek in that new baby store.
— Oh, baby clothes! says Trish, flashing her beguiling smile.
*Portuguese stone soup
Makes 12 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, coarsely chopped
3 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced (white only)
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 cups cabbage, thinly sliced
7 cups chicken broth (homemade or from cubes)
1 bay leaf
8 ounce piece of smoked ham
4 ounce piece of chorizo or other spicy sausage
1 can (19 ounces/540 mL) tomatoes, not drained
1 can (19 ounces/540 mL) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup elbow macaroni
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onions and leeks for 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Add potatoes, carrots, garlic and cabbage. Stir.
- Add broth, bay leaf, ham and chorizo. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Remove ham and chorizo; dice and return to pot.
- Add tomatoes and kidney beans, breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add macaroni and simmer until al dente (about 10 minutes).
Discard bay leaf. Stir in parsley and add salt and pepper to taste.