This is a winter recipe I learned how to make years ago from a woman who entered the convent as a young girl, took the name of Soeur Marie-Ghislaine Charlotte. She explained to me she had never stopped loving God, but she began to love this man and their love grew like a beautiful tree. He was widowed and looked after the gardens surrounding the convent. If she told me his name, I have forgotten it. She tried to explain it wasn't a physical love and yet it was, disappearing momentarily for a photograph in her room. The image caught them laughing, her looking towards him with such tenderness and he, wistful for a man with such a rugged face. The afternoon sunlight was gilding the couple who were standing near an iron gate. At summer's end, behind them were rows of cabbage and parsnips, bolted broccoli and leeks, pumpkins and squash on dying vines. They were caught one night, meeting in the moonlight of the garden, (here, she made a mischievous face and shrugged her shoulders.) One kiss. "For one kiss and some letters we wrote back and forth, I had to choose between God and him. I chose him. We were happy in a large way (her arms opening wide like wings) but for a little time. Un peu de temps." So she left France, and came to America.
She was perhaps in her early sixties when I met her and she showed me how to make this soup. She had beautiful hands and dazzling eyes, a delightful accent and measured nothing. She would stop every few minutes and touch my hand, saying it meant so much to her to share this recipe. I was a vegetarian at the time which she predicted was a waste of being alive.
First, roast a chicken. Get a large pot, fill with water and use the carcass, bones and skin to make a broth. Don't skimp on the salt. Simmer for an hour or more, adding water as needed. Let cool and skim off the fatty layer on top. Then remove bones, cartilage, and skin with both hands; throw out.
Add 2 cups of uncooked barley.
Wash 3 leeks. Cut dark green tops into 2 inch pieces and add to broth. The remaining stalks should be cut in half lengthwise, then in half again. Braise in 1 T. butter and 3 T. olive oil. Add to broth.
Peel and thinly slice 4-6 common onions, resulting in circular slices. Brown these in butter and olive oil until almost burnt. Add to broth.
Let simmer one hour. Cool, then refrigerate. Heat up and enjoy with chunks of gouda and crackers.
Additional cooked chicken pieces may be added if desired. I threw in leftover cooked corn for color and green beans because I had them. I wouldn't advise adding green beans.
This soup freezes well and actually seems to taste better as time goes by. As for the French nun and her story, while the soup simmered and we cleaned up together, she explained matter-of-factly that he was prone to pneumonia and refused to go to the doctor. "He died and is buried in his wife's family plot. I came to America, but soon I must return to him." She eyed my pregnant belly, then looked away. "What different paths have brought us together," she mused.