When I think about children’s books that I love, they tend to fall into two categories: those that I read and loved as a child, and those that I have discovered by reading them to my own children. The books of Cynthia Rylant are at the top of my list for that second category. I first discovered her writing through the Cobble Street Cousin series, short chapter books which I read to my daughter when she was about 5 and she now reads on her own. These books about 3 cousins who live with their aunt on Cobble Street are sweet, gentle, and full of kindness, qualities that can be hard to find in children’s books these days. I find the qualities of warmth and kindness are a thread that runs through all of Rylant’s books, whether they are picture books like Let’s Go Home, or her many early reading series such as the Poppleton books. But I have a special fondness for the Mr. Putter and Tabby series about an elderly man, his cat, and their special neighbors.
I find it refreshing when children’s books feature older characters, instead of the usual children and animals, and Mr. Putter and his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry are especially fun and adventurous. They take a cooking class, go on a train trip, help each other out, and give kids a beautiful example of friendship. I like that these books show adults who are still learning and growing, and even disagree sometimes, but are always kind to each other. Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup is one of the best books in this series and is enjoyable for both my 4 year old and 8 year old. When Mr. Putter’s stove breaks, Mrs. Teaberry agrees to let him make his special soup on her stove, as long as he watches her dog Zeke. Zeke turns out to be more mischievous than expected, and kids love seeing the hilarious situations he gets into.
I didn’t have to look far to find a recipe idea to go with this book, it obviously had to be soup and this illustration at the beginning of the book gave me a good idea for the type of soup I would make. Minestrone uses most of the ingredients pictured here and is a wonderfully nourishing, filling soup for winter. Beans, broth, tomatoes, vegetables, and kale are all full of good nutrients to help stave off winter colds. As with most soups, this recipe is very adaptable to the tastes and needs of your own family. You can add or subtract vegetables, leave out the onions, or put in extra garlic – whatever you want really! This recipe is more of a guide than a dictate, so please experiment freely! Soups are great to make with kids as there is usually a lot of peeling, chopping, and stirring involved. This soup is made with dried beans, which leaves the extra job of bean sorting and rinsing, great for the younger kitchen helpers!
Kale Minestrone Soup
Time: about 2 hours (depending on how long your beans take to cook)
Makes: 6 servings
1/2 cup dry red beans
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup small dried pasta
3 large kale leaves, rinsed, ribs removed and torn into small pieces
finely shredded parmesan, for serving (optional)
- Pick through the dry beans, removing any that are broken or any small stones. Rinse beans thoroughly then place in a bowl or saucepan and cover with water; soak overnight.
- When ready to make the soup, drain the beans in a mesh sieve and rinse. Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and carrots and sauté until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, spices and salt then add the bay leaves, broth and water. Bring the liquid to a boil, then stir in the drained beans. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until beans are just tender.
- Once beans are tender, add the pasta to the soup, along with some extra water or broth, if the soup is too thick. Simmer for another 9 to 10 minutes, depending on the type of pasta you are using. You want to cook the pasta for a few minutes less than the package recommends. Add the kale during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
- Serve hot, topped with shredded parmesan, if desired. Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry eat their soup with cheesy toasts and fudge, and you might want to do the same!