We have all changed.
As we reemerge from a couple of pandemic years of relative isolation and sometimes obsessive care with necessary contacts, we look around and notice how we have changed and what is different.
Most tragically, so many of us have lost loved ones; we have missed family celebrations and milestone moments together; and a lot of people have made life decisions to move somewhere new, change careers or retire, ideas that were often in the works, but the impetus accelerated when facing how everything was so quickly upended by the pandemic.
Last year, The Berkshire Eagle reported on a new restaurant coming to Pittsfield where the former Elizabeth’s once stood. I know that Liz and Tom Ellis were thinking about selling Elizabeth’s before the pandemic, and I am happy for them that they were able to make this happen during such a crazy time for everyone. But Hank and I will miss that restaurant deeply.
There were some particular quirks that made Elizabeth’s unique. The unabashed declarations of liberal progressive principles right on the outside of the building revealed owners unafraid to voice their convictions.
Even in this day and age, with new electronic payment possibilities appearing practically daily, they would not accept any credit cards, but a personal check was fine, or even, honest to goodness, an IOU!
We loved the steep stairs to the second floor dining space as much as we loved sitting downstairs to kibbitz with Tom and Liz. And their staff members always stayed for years. In that industry, staff retention is a sign of an owner whose establishment you want to patronize.
Besides all these important features of the business, the food was always extraordinary, mixing tried-and-true familiar favorites, like the baked shells with spinach and gorgonzola, with Tom’s new creations. I’ve never been able to put together a salad anything like what you’d get at Elizabeth’s — a variety of greens combined with cheese and vegetables and fruits of the season, served in a large stainless steel bowl for the whole table. I would never take home leftovers of a dressed salad except for this one, and it was always still delicious the next day!
Tom often made an interesting meatloaf, and I am still swooning over one of the last ones I ate, which, if I remember correctly, was accompanied by mushrooms, and cranberry, and somehow I remember something about vodka.
One evening, I was lucky enough, as I spoke effusively about the tomato and corn soup, that Tom rattled off a rough outline of how he made it. Even without specific measurements or instructions, I devised a version, called Tommy’s Soup in our household, that comes close to the original. It’s super easy, vegetarian and can easily be vegan if you omit the cream. In our family, we will always enjoy it as a memory of all the wonderful meals and celebrations we had at Elizabeth’s, with deep gratitude to Liz and Tom, for everything they shared with Pittsfield for all those years.
Taking inspiration from her childhood, columnist Elizabeth Baer recently pulled together a grilled cheese and soup bar featuring a "fowl play soup" that you can customize to your liking.
Serves 6-8, but also reheats well and can be frozen, so don’t worry about the quantity.
Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano style
One 14-ounce can coconut milk, whisked to combine if separated
2 teaspoons curry powder or to taste
2 cups corn kernels, preferably cut from the cob, although store-bought frozen works, too
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional, omit for vegan
Purée the tomatoes with their juices in a food processor or a blender or even with an immersion blender until fully smooth. If you think you may have some stray chunks, strain and purée any remaining pieces. Pour the purée into a medium saucepan and begin to cook over medium heat. Add the coconut milk to the pot and continue to cook until it begins to simmer.
Add the corn and the curry powder, and continue to cook until hot, stirring frequently so it doesn’t boil. Add the cream, if using, and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding more curry powder if desired. (Different brands and different combinations of spices, especially curry powder, can have vastly different flavors and heat, so it is impossible to give an amount that will always work.)