Now when I return home from work at dusk, my neighborhood smells of woodsmoke. This scenario never fails to invoke Grandma Annie, who kept a "burn barrel" in her backyard, as did many of her neighbors in those pre-recycling days. I never got too close to the barrels, but I am imaging they were filled with old newspapers and egg cartons and other materials that we recycle today.
The burn barrels may have been dangerous and harmful to our air quality, but they filled the neighborhood with a pungent aroma that I liked as a child. Today wood-burning stoves and fireplaces fill my neighborhood with the same pleasant, smoky aroma that never fails to bring me back 40 years or so.
Back then, when Grandma Annie had to step out to her neighborhood store before suppertime, she would return with that aroma clinging to her coat and hair, until the smells of the evening meal began to permeate the house in Frenchtown. A particular night when Annie donned her black coat and slipped across the way to the Sobieski's store has stayed with me all these years.
She went there to buy chicken, as I recall. Annie always used matches to rid the chicken of any remained fuzz that clung to its pinky skin. Soon the odor of sulfur filled the kitchen. It was quickly replaced by the aroma of roasting chicken.
When I roast a chicken, I am usually thinking ahead to the soup I will make from the chicken carcass. I knew Tuesday that my Wednesday night meal would be a soup of roasted vegetables.
And so it was. Wednesday night, Into the stock pot went the carcass, along with remaining shallots, garlic and thyme and about five cups of water.
While the stock was simmering, I cleaned and trimmed one large potato, four medium carrots, one parsnip and three shallots. I coated these in olive oil and roasted theme in a pre-heated, 425-degree oven until they began to turn golden.
I removed them from the oven and transferred them to a large saucepan containing melted butter and about two cups of apple cider. I brought the pan to a mild boil, and then lowered the heat until the apple cider was reduced and absorbed by the vegetables.
Then I added the broth, straining it first. Next came chicken, salt, pepper and chopped thyme. I added some freshly roasted garlic - about four cloves - to balance the sweet taste. This I allowed to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Some buttered rolls, a hunk of Gouda and a mild white table wine were all I needed to complete the meal.
My soup was savory, sweet and herby.