I’m not a religious person except when it comes to the healing power of chicken soup. At the first sniffle of a new cold, I’m usually plopping a raw chicken into a pot with root vegetables and parsley and dill; or, more recently, doctoring homemade chicken broth with ginger, soy sauce, and chile paste. Last Thursday, though, I felt a cold coming on and instead of turning to the feathered gods wearing yarmulkes in a jacuzzi, I turned to a new god, one whose soup mastery revealed itself on Craig’s birthday with celery root and pears. That god is Alfred Portale and I’m now an official acolyte, studying his under-appreciated cookbook, Simple Pleasures, the way Madonna studies Kabbalah. It’s powerful stuff.