(And a Recipe for Italian Tortellini Soup)
Later this month, our family will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our move from North Carolina to Georgia. Do people normally celebrate anniversaries of big moves? They do if they’re the Stuckeys. Every year we tell our kids the story of how we came to be HERE. In honor of this remembrance, I’m sharing a chapter from Simmer that I wrote about this time in our lives. And PS, there’s a recipe for Spinach Tortellini Soup at the end!
On Waiting, Moving, and Obeying
The imperfect places are often the most difficult to leave. Our first apartment had industrial carpet, four feet of counter space and a grossly uncalibrated oven, but leaving it all nearly broke my heart.
The year that Lance and I became parents for the first time was also the year of the great job hunt. I returned to work and he became a stay at home Dad scouring the internet during nap time. After a lengthy search it appeared an unlikely job in an unlikely city would be our destination.
With three weeks until moving day, a sudden flurry of activity felt foreign after more than a year of living in limbo. While waiting on a job, we found ourselves waiting in other areas as well. From waiting to replace tired cell phones and purchase winter coats, the spirit of just in case felt strangely like standing still.
The tiny townhouse that we burst into as giddy, bronzed honeymooners would be a blank canvas for someone else in less than a month. Overwhelmed with details, we grabbed extra banana boxes from the grocery store and filled them with stacks of books. Cookbooks, Textbooks, Children’s Books, Bible Commentaries, and the complete Harry Potter collection. Because when two bibliophiles fall in love, you end up with hundreds of books, each and every one a member of the family. Packing them all seemed a proper beginning.
Halfway through our final few weeks, I came home from work to see boxes stacked up to the popcorn ceiling. The reality of leaving suddenly backhanded me and I burst into hot tears. My not at all surprised husband set down the packing tape, handed me back my purse, and drove to our favorite local Italian restaurant.
We sat under tiny white lights at La Foresta and drank deeply of remembrance. We feasted on familiarity and piping pizza with bowls of tortellini soup as the restaurant bathed in an early autumn glow. By the time the sun sunk lazily below the roofline we decided that our last few weeks would be one part packing frenzy and one part farewell tour of our favorite places.
Ceremoniously eating our way toward the moving truck, we did a sort of restaurant pub crawl through Wake Forest and Raleigh. We ate Sticky Hot Wings and Greek Salad at Over the Falls Deli like we did on our first date. Our teeth quivered as we held cups of Goodberry’s in the breeze of late October. Lucy swung her squeaky Mary-Jane’s and happily chattered as we fed her tiny spoonfuls of frozen custard. It was happy and sad and surreal. All our favorite spots burst with reminders of us, as happy accomplices in our love story.
This town was more than just the scene of our meet cute— it was the start of us— the Stuckeys. We savored it all, surprised that eighteen months with one foot off the starting block did not actually lessen the sting of leaving.
But hope does not disappoint. We knew that the God who held our next steps could be trusted. With butterflies in stomach and lumps in throat, we committed to getting to Georgia by Halloween.
The evening before moving day, we were still cramming rickety lamps and boxes of random kitchen tools into a Penske truck. The meticulous labeling and boxing like-items ship had passed. The mild-mannered couple who had begun this process were long gone. In their place, slumped two wild-eyed, un-showered, nearly homicidal people who rued the day they chose such monstrous bedroom furniture. Well past midnight, Lance drove our wobbly kitchen table to Goodwill. He left it outside with our compliments, simply because there was no room in the inn. We managed to cram everything we still remotely cared about into the back of the moving truck and then collapsed onto a wonky air-mattress.
I always pictured our last night somewhat differently. The idealist in me imagined Madeline Peyroux echoing off unclad walls as we danced with Lucy between us in a sparse kitchen. But the only musical sounds present were our collective wonderings as to how we came to have so much useless junk. At one point we decided (in vain) never to move again.
If you have ever moved than you know moving does strange things to normally sane people. Things that make them want to trash every item in the house, except a couple of cardigans and the LeCreuset. Things that cause one to question the need of an electric quesadilla maker. Moving makes us all want to move into one of those four hundred square foot tiny homes in Ikea with two books and a bud vase.
Shortly after sunrise the next morning, the back door of the truck rolled down with finality and that was that. A neighbor took a photo for us. Lance and me and Lucy in her footie pajamas between us– all smiling. Then we left for a city we knew nothing about except that we belonged there.
Some weeks later when the cold finally trickled down to Georgia, our hearts were caught between somewhat settled and terribly homesick. That is how this next soup was born. Italian Tortellini Soup was my attempt to bring home our beloved La Foresta Italian Restaurant. It is all that I remember about Mrs. Pam’s lovely soup but with my very own spin.
Even now, ten years later when Augusta is absolutely our home, making this soup still soothes me. It makes me feel better about having my heart perpetually in two places at once. Because now I know home is often found in that way, piece by piece and not all at once.
If you would like to read more of my collection of short essays & soup recipes, get your copy of Simmer here.
Italian Tortellini Soup
Marinara Sauce is the key flavor component and short cut to this Italian Tortellini Soup. If you have homemade sauce in the freezer— use that, otherwise choose a plain jarred marinara that you trust. The dried herbs and mostly pantry ingredients make this soup an excellent choice in mid-winter when certain produce is sparse.
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 Vidalia or sweet onion, diced
1 medium zucchini, shredded
2 medium carrots, diced
4 oz. Mushrooms, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. Dried basil
1/2 tsp. Dried oregano
1/4 tsp. Dried Thyme
1/2 tsp. Salt & black pepper to taste
1 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
32 ounces Chicken Stock (use only half the box at first.)
48 oz. Marinara Sauce
28 oz. Crushed Tomatoes
2 cups of packed fresh spinach
Frozen cheese Tortellini in the bag
1/4 cup of basil pesto plus more for garnish
1/4 cup of grated parmesan
The frozen tortellini are best added just before serving. That being said, if you plan to have quite a bit of soup left over, consider adding only half the tortellini and then add the other half when you heat the soup on the stove the next day.
In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil to medium-high. Sauté onions for 4 minutes alone, and then add zucchini, carrots, mushrooms and continuing cooking until crisp-tender. Add garlic and stir in for 1 minute. Add dried herbs and salt and stir consistently for 30 seconds. Add the splash of balsamic vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits.
Add Chicken stock, Marinara, and crushed tomatoes and stir. Allow soup to come to a boil and maintain for 5-7 minutes. Add the fresh spinach and then lower the heat and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Stir in the basil pesto and then taste for seasoning. Add more herbs or salt and pepper as needed, or even a bit more pesto. (At this point, determine if your soup needs more broth or is the consistency you like. Add more broth and then boil if needed.)
Once seasoned well, return your soup to a boil and then stir in the frozen cheese tortellini. Allow to boil slowly until tortellini is tender and hot throughout and then remove soup from heat. Ladle into bowls and serve with a small scoop of pesto and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.