Happy Summer, All!
Today I spent several hours making a mess: purging, and [semi]organizing, piles of various types of documents, personal correspondence, ephemera, and junk. I’m glad I didn’t just chunk every dang thing, because I unearthed some homemade gifts and pictures made for me by my niece and nephews, handwritten notes from family and friends who have since joined the ancestors, and proof that I did actually register my phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry once upon a time – among other things.
I found an invitation to a Soup Party that brought back wonderful memories.
LaVern is an artist, mother, and grandmother who I met in the workplace. She was always bright, warm, wise, and dignified, while also radiating creativity and a love of beautiful things. She and her partner, Kevin, threw a Soup Party and I had never been to one before. Reading the invitation – which included a bit of soup history, as well as a personal note – made me pause to reflect on that evening in her home. I recall that it was candlelit and charming, furnished with people who weren’t stingy with smiles, storytelling, compliments, or laughter. Nearly every surface in the kitchen held a variety in pots of soups, crackers, breads, bowls and spoons, as well as salads. Wine and beers were flowing, and of course there was good music.
I had forgotten LaVern’s request that I share words, but since this Soup Party took place between 15 and 20 years ago, I have a strong suspicion that I may have brought a piece I wrote called “Comfort in a Bowl.” In 1999 it was published in the “Taste This!” column of a free Detroit weekly paper called City View. I dug around and found it so I can share it again – 20 years later! (I guess that’s about how long I’ve been writing about food, yall! LOL)
“COMFORT IN A BOWL”
Every now and and again, events in life will get your tears gurgling, flowing, dripping and splashing; leaving skid marks all down your face. You’re too big and too old to curl up in your mother’s lap and get your cry on (weren’t those the days?). You can’t afford a psychiatrist. You’re too ornery to consult clergy.
Nobody wants ya, nobody loves ya. What to do? Get yourself some of that curative magic concocted in a stewpot – comfort food. Known the world over as Mother Nature’s lovin’ spoonful: soups, stews, chowders, and porridges are the cure for what ails you. call it zuppa (Italian), mafé (West African), pho (Vietnamese), or puchero (Latin American). Call it “Jewish penicillin,” call it chicken noodle soup – it’s all good medicine.
Broths blended with layers of carbohydrates, proteins, and sprinklings of beautiful spices will make the body’s natural feel-good juice – seratonin – flow from the top of your foggy brain right down to your toes.
For early morning blues, you need porridge. That’s right: grits, Cream of Wheat, oatmeal. My friend Keith likes to add walnuts and raisins to his morning oatmeal feast. You may want to try almonds or bananas in yours; don’t forget a dash of cinnamon and sugar, or a generous swirl of honey. Try a Jamaican-inspired porridge of cornmeal and coconut milk sweetened with vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar.
If it’s later in the day, try a chicken-based broth seasoned with thyme, bay leaf, parsley, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper. Classic “soup greens” consist of carrots, celery, onion, and leeks, but you don’t have to stop there. If you’re real serious about your feel-good requirement, remember to try fresh spinach, okra, cabbage, and homegrown tomatoes, or pearl onions; plain or exotic mushrooms, and plenty of garlic! You know as well as I do that noodles, rice, and dumplings are always in order. Experiment with different kinds of cooking oils for your soup. Sesame, peanut, and olive oils produce delicate, drool-worthy flavors and aromas that soothe the soul. One strength-building chicken soup recipe calls for hot peppers, spicy clam sauce, cloves, ginger, lemon juice, vinegar, and vodka. If that doesn’t kick the blues in the butt, I don’t know what will!
Take your medicine with the proper utensils and accessories: brightly-colored, super-sized round bowls and curvaceous spoons are essential. Bottles of hot sauces and wedges of lemon or lime should be on standby. Keep a terrycloth towel handy for when the sweat gets to poppin’.
I had a wonderful time eating pho for the first time at a Vietnamese restaurant in Houston. The bowl was so large and the ginger-anise-cinnamon-stick-and-onion broth was so hot, my face and neck had a sauna experience. Armed with a spoon in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other, I was shown how to dump sprigs of fresh mint, basil and coriander into my bowl and dip out the beef strips and twirl them with liquid chili sauce. I doused my tongue with about 40 miles worth of magically melting noodles. I had knees wagging and elbows flapping, and I was slinging broth so tough I nearly washed my eyeballs right out of my head! Talk about a mood-enhancer.
When life gets you down, get yourself a warm and savory bowl of soup, let the steam kiss your face, and indulge in rich feelings of delicious well-being. SssshlluuurrrppP!
(The editor noted at the end of the piece that “Leslie Reese needs to wipe her face off. You can write to her care of this paper or email to…”) 😂
Did you read this other “Taste This!”? installment: “Aromas of Family Folklore”? Check it out here.