I’m not a good cook. My mother was an outstanding culinary creator, my older sister following closely on Mom’s Beef Wellington tracks. Not me. I veered off the path and out of the kitchen to do something--almost anything--else.
When I was married I fed my family, but I have to admit that probably my major cooking achievement was meat loaf. You know, the kind with the goopy raw egg that you squeeze through the meat with your fingers: the loaf that you form and finish off with that strip of bacon on the top.
My family didn’t starve but neither did their eyes widen over my delicate soufflés or my perfectly browned, crispy-skinned, Thanksgiving turkeys. We went out with friends to a local club for our Thanksgiving feast. I confess to never having cooked a turkey in my life.
Then, as the gods would have it, there came a time in my mid-forties when - because my second divorce was pending - I found myself living alone for the first time in 23 years in a rented 200 year-old farm house in a town where I knew no one. So stressed was I that all I could manage to eat was soup and Campbell’s quite quickly lost its appeal.
I bought The Joy Of Cooking — which lets you know how long ago this was - and began to fool around with soup making. I discovered that if I sautéed a sliced onion, threw in some herbs — maybe a sprinkle of curry powder - and a vegetable, broccoli, for example, then added enough chicken stock to cover and simmered it all together until the broccoli was soft, I could dump the whole lot into a blender. I could add a bit of cream — or maybe more stock — and pushing that puree button, the machine would whirr like mad and behold! Soup!
At some point it occurred to me that a splash of dry sherry wouldn’t hurt.
There was no way I could make a small amount of soup. Besides, I didn’t want to. Having soup in the fridge was reassuring. So by sheer happenstance I found that second-day soup was better tasting than first-day soup and it became clear that soup needs time to get itself together: to meld the flavors, if you will. I totally got this, knowing full well that, having screwed up my life, the only way I was ever going to get myself together was, also, over time: more time than any soup would ever require, but time, nonetheless.
Have you noticed this: The time factor? That the ingredients of our lives demand time to assimilate, to form a comprehensible and satisfying whole? Time itself is as essential to healing as it is to any good homemade soup and they go together nicely.
Having never measured any of the above myself and found the essential process works fine with almost any winter vegetable—butternut squash, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini---I have no precise recipe to offer. Trust yourself. You can do this easily!
But in order to share with you a favorite soup for which I do use a recipe, here is one that’s easy to throw together, a winter meal in itself and always a hit.
Adapted from Sharing Our Best, created by Congregation Beth El Sisterhood, Fairfield, CT.
1 lb. soup meat
Several beef bones (preferably with some meat on them)
1 teapoon salt
1 onion, sliced
1 large can tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 medium head cabbage, sliced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Place the meat bones, water and salt in a large deep pot and bring to a boil. Skim surface with a large spoon to remove residue. Turn heat low and add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for two hours. Taste and add additional lemon juice or sugar as needed to obtain your desired balance of sweet and sour.
Not a meat eater? Skip the meat, load up on the cabbage and add another potato, maybe some more onion and you’ll be more than fine. The thing I love about making soup is not getting all uptight about it!
Cecily Stoddard Stranahan is a grandmother and interfaith minister, who has fallen on her face and gotten up more than once. Her reflections on life have been published regularly in The Fairfield Citizen News. Cecily currently writes at lifeopeningup.blogspot.com.