We often refer to my mother, Pam, as Mary. She’s earned this name because whenever we’re cooking and exclaim with horror, “Oh crap, we don’t have any ________!”, her arm disappears deep into the fridge, freezer, or pantry, and pulls out something that—if not exactly what we’re looking for—will work. Just like Marry Poppins. The name Mary (she of the immaculate conception) also suits because of her almost magical ability to make something inexplicably wonderful from nothing.

So it was no surprise that the most magical meal of the holiday season was probably the cheapest, made from leftovers, and ladled into a simple, white bowl.

This soup happened on a lazy day between Christmas and New Year’s. It was snowing lightly but with enough gusto to accumulate, and the floor-to-ceiling windows gave the effect of being nestled inside a snow globe. We read intensely all morning, bookended by a glowing tree on one side and a steady fire on the other, while morning blurred into afternoon, punctuated only by short naps and the dwindling fire begging for another log.

At some point, Mary got up and began shuffling around the kitchen, throwing together a lunchtime soup while prepping the dinner we’d all been anticipating for days—lamb stew with a blue cheese pastry crust.

It wasn’t long before the scent of not one but two meals reached the living room and suddenly we went from sated to starving. After an hour, Andy and I set the table while Mary ladled the soup into bowls. We inhaled deeply, took one bite, and were completely transfixed. I didn’t know that soup had the power to transfix me. But it did.

For several minutes we were either silent and savoring or closing our eyes and attempting to tease out the specific element that made this soup so good. Was it the saltiness of the ham, the way it infused the whole soup? Was it the sweetness of the lentils combined with the saltiness of the pork? Was it a texture thing? When we couldn’t name it, we agreed on three things.

It almost certainly had healing powers, capable of righting any wrong, physical or emotional.

If love had a taste it would be this humble ham and split pea soup.

It was the best thing we had eaten in weeks – hard to believe considering we’d been eating like kings for days.

That night, as we thoroughly enjoyed the much-anticipated lamb stew with a blue cheese pastry crust and two bottles of Cote du Rhone, my mind kept wandering back to the soup. That simple soup.

So this year, with holidays under my belt, I have a new goal that will help me cook more like my Mary: create more magic food. Food that heals, tastes like love, and is delicious in an inexplicable ways.