Monday, July 14, 2008

The Many Virtues of Soup

I have been lamenting to my friends and loved ones that I am not what is commonly known as a Fun Girl.

In my mind, a Fun Girl is a girl who wants to go out more than she wants to stay home. She wants to go dancing and to Navy Pier. She hits the bars frequently. She'll drink you under the table. To the Fun Girl, work is a necessary evil, a way to pay for all that Fun. Money is good because money can buy lots of Fun things and Fun experiences. Guys want to date a Fun Girl because good times are had by all when she is around.

I am not a Fun Girl. But you know what? I don’t care!

I revealed this newly discovered self-fact to my friend Anne. She immediately exclaimed, “I’m not a Fun Girl, either!”

Hurray! Anne and I can be Not-Fun Girls together.

I don’t have anything against Fun Girls. I just have to accept that I just don’t quite fit that mold. But with Anne by my side, I’m in good company.

Anne has been part of my life for—can it be?—nine plus years now. I remember our first meeting: we were at our college orientation, and I remember thinking, “Goodness, I hope everyone is as nice as Anne!” Lucky for me, Anne and I found each other again shortly after moving into our dorms: we lived on the same floor and continued to bump into each other or eat lunch together, marveling at the enormous world that was opening up to us as college freshmen.

But in all honesty, I feel like my friendship with Anne didn’t really start to bloom until our final year in college and in the years that have followed. As seniors, we lived in a beautiful new apartment complex on campus (along with Nicole and a fourth roommate), and it was during that year that I started to feel a shift, a sense that this friendship of ours might outlast our college years. Perhaps it was the shared excitement in knowing we would be bridesmaids together in Nicole’s wedding. Perhaps it was the bonding that happens when you live and play together: having a sympathetic ear to get you through the rough patches, or eating “Spont Cake” (a ridiculously easy concoction of cake mix, butter, and canned cherries that is so rich and so delicious that you simply MUST have a spontaneous party with your neighbors so that everyone can eat Spont Cake together).

Or maybe it’s that Anne is a person with whom friendship only grows better with time. She is one of the kindest and smartest people I know. Gentle in nature, fiercely organized, and generous to the core, Anne is my role model. I think of her when I want to accomplish things, like getting those darn dishes washed and dried. (They’re dirty again?!) I procrastinate, and then I use Anne’s example to get my butt into action. Anne is a person who will change the world, one day at a time. And she’s powerful enough to inspire us all to do the same thing. Lead the way, friend!

But what strikes me most about Anne after all these years is that she is simply the best of company. As our lives grow increasingly more complicated with age, I have found that Anne is a good antidote to the chaos and stress that is everyday life. We find ourselves on parallel paths of self-discovery as we learn how to survive in our grown-up worlds: managing our work loads, studying for graduate school classes, balancing household budgets, making time for ourselves, finding sanity. Because we’re so busy most of the time, when we do see each other, we don’t do anything more exciting than talk, eat a meal, or perhaps take a stroll in her backyard to tour the vegetable gardens. Visiting with Anne and her husband is wonderfully relaxing, and after every visit, I return home feeling loved and refreshed. All has been made right in my world.

Delightfully, Anne provides us with today’s food for thought plus a bowl of soup at the end. She is (and I hope you will agree) a wonderful and insightful writer as well as a great cook. Anne, my dear, thank you for sharing a friendship with me for all these years. I can hardly think of a place I like better than your presence.

* * *

Anne writes:

While strolling down the sidewalk with Husband, returning from our bi-weekly trip to the Dairy King, I discovered an unexpected side benefit to having dead front teeth: I can painlessly bite off the top of an ice-cream cone! This essay, however, isn’t about ice cream, nor is it really about dead front teeth (although they do come into the story): it’s about soup.

Soup possesses an enviable list of esteemed virtues, the first being versatility. Soup can be served hot or cold, meaty or meatless, with fruit or vegetables, accompanying any meal. This versatility also allows promotes thrift. Any number of leftovers can be stirred into a soup pot. No wonder soup, along with its cousin stew, is such a historical dish. From ancient Roman menus to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiographical tales, soup shows up across the table of human history. Half my enjoyment in making soup comes from this historical heft. When I stand over the stove, stirring a fragrant pot, I am in culinary kinship with women across the ages.

Furthermore, soup is extremely portable. Soup is easily carried in a thermos, a Crock-Pot, or a small kettle. One kind woman delivered tomato-basil soup to me in a juice jar. That particular soup came to me during a period of healing following a bicycle accident. Besides killing off my front teeth, I fractured my jaw in two places, requiring it to be wired shut. This experience impressed two other qualities of soup upon me. Soup is highly nourishing—I know, because I lived solely upon it for three weeks! The healing properties of soup are imbedded in our national consciousness. What do we say to a sick friend? “Go home and eat some chicken noodle soup.” Indeed, friends play a critical role in the world of soup. Soup’s crowning glory is the sense of community it imparts.

I have fond memories of shared soup. The college cafeteria chefs brightened many a cold day by setting out a “Soup and Bread Bar” for lunch. The dining room would be packed, the lines long. We pulled our trays past a row of steaming vats, hemming and hawing over the choices, and then piled fresh loaves of bread on the edges. Back at the tables, everyone would “de-tray” in order to maximize the space; we would trade bread and sample soups and chat away an hour or two. After college, my husband’s family taught me how to fish for peppercorns in a bowl of Mom’s chicken noodle soup. The good-natured competition usually ended with Husband stealing my peppercorns (not a new habit for him, believe me!).

Soup became a vehicle for love and kindness during my post-accident recuperation. I received get-well cards, flowers, phone calls . . . and soup. My sixth-grade students pooled their money to purchase a giant case of Costco soup boxes. Ladies from church brought over homemade soups, including the aforementioned tomato-basil concoction. Neighbors sent boxes of Trader Joe bisques. Husband made valiant efforts to blend his dinner foods into broth (note: do NOT attempt to liquefy a beef taco!).

I’m fully healed now, thanks primarily to the grace of God and secondarily to an excellent dentist, and I can even chew lightly on my rootless front teeth. But I still savor my soup! Whether chunky or strained, soup remains an edible reminder of the power of human community.

Incidentally, ice cream is also a powerful community food (just look outside the Dairy King), but that’s an essay for another day . . .

Kiki’s Mint Pea Soup
Yield: About 8 cups, or 6 first-course servings

Kiki, one of the lovely ladies at my church, brought me this soup during my jaw recovery. It was absolutely the best of the many pureed soups I ate during that time. The recipe comes from “Your Good House” magazine, March 2007, p. 46.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped leeks, both white and light green parts (about 2 leeks)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups chicken stock
5 cups freshly shelled peas (about 4 pounds peas in the pod) or 2 (10-oz.) packages frozen peas
2/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt (if using canned chicken broth, reduce to 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crème fraiche
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

Croutons for garnish and crunch (optional)

1) In large saucepan, heat butter over medium-low heat. Add leeks and onion, and cook about 10 minutes or until onion is tender. Add chicken stock; increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add peas and cook 3-5 minutes, until peas are tender. (Frozen peas will take only 3 minutes.) Remove saucepan from heat; add mint, salt, and pepper.

2) Puree soup in batches: Place 1 cup soup in blender, place lid on top, and puree on low speed. With blender still running, open vent hole in lid and slowly add more soup until blender is three-quarters full. Pour soup into large bowl; repeat until all soup is pureed. Whisk in crème fraiche and chives, and taste for seasoning. Serve soup hot topped with croutons.

Prep: About 20 minutes
Cook: About 20 minutes


Rosiecat said...

For the health-minded cook, here are the nutritional stats on Kiki's Mint Pea Soup:

Nutrition facts per serving:
215 calories
11g protein
26g carbs
8g total fat (5g saturated)
8g fiber
18 mg cholesterol
715 mg sodium

Hurray for soup!

JD said...

As the aforementioned Husband in this posting, I can attest that this is REALLY good pea soup. I can also attest to the fact that you should NEVER, under ANY circumstances blend a beef taco with beef broth. Trust me on that one.

Asmodeus said...

Good heavens. Simultaneously one of the most seductive soup recipes I've seen AND the best opening sentence to a recipe ever. Bravo, Anne!

Rosiecat said...

The Husband makes an appearance! Thanks for your soup testimonial, JD. I've got this one on my list of things to make ASAP! As for that beef taco...I just don't know what to say! You two figured this out the hard way, so we should all be grateful for the advice :-)

Anne, I think you've got a new admirer in Asmodeus...

Anonymous said...

Asmodeus, thanks for your kind words. I hope you enjoy the soup with teeth intact!


Rosiecat said...

Hey all! I'm just reporting back on the soup. First, it's delicious and decadent. It might be rich, but it's also very filling and packed full of vegetables, including three(!) different kinds of onions. Hubba hubba! Second, if you can't find creme fraiche, which Matt and I could not when we wanted to make this soup, feel free to substitute regular cream (also known as heavy whipping cream). Cream is a perfectly tasty alternative here. I think creme fraiche might be a bit hard to find in the grocery store; I'm 0 for 2 now after looking for it in Whole Foods this week. But that's not a good excuse not to make this soup!

Any ideas on which stores are more likely to carry creme fraiche?

Finally, be sure to season it generously with salt and pepper, which I think really make the complex flavors shine. Taste and adjust the seasonings as you like.

Happy cooking, everyone!

Mavis said...

Thanks for writing this.

Rosiecat said...

Thanks, Mavis! I give Anne all the credit. She is my inspiration.