“Comfort in a Bowl” – 20 Years Later

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…”) 😂

 

my only cookbook solely about soup

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Did you read this other “Taste This!”? installment: “Aromas of Family Folklore”? Check it out here.

 

21 Comments

  1. Whoever coined the expression: “Some Like it Hot,” was thinking of me, and probably many others when we sit ourselves down in front of a nice bowl of our favorite soup. I would eat soup everyday. I especially like tomato and lentil soup. It needs to be piping. It also needs a little cheese on top, like shredded parmesan, and feta. Yum!

    And yes, it’s got to be hot and fresh. No messin’ around with cans. It just doesn’t taste the same out of a can. So, I make it myself. Please no one ask me for a recipe, because like my beloved Mother, after tossing in the must-have’s, I just pitch a bit of this and that which suits my personal tastes buds in until the smell coming off of the soup tells me it’s almost ready to enjoy, and when company is present, share. Love me some soup!

  2. While going through a downsizing of years of house-accumulation items, I found a thick manila envelope of old photos, letters from family and friends, old unused postage stamps and some foreign coins I forgot to add to my orderly collection. These I will not get rid of. Occasionally I like to take a packet of Sapporo Ichiban noodles, set the seasoning packet aside, and just add olive oil, curry powder and leftover veggies to the drained noodles. Nice post, Leslie. Have a wonderful day.

  3. Your food writing makes me salivate, Leslie. Wow.

    Thank you for the pho eating directions. I’ve been intimidated by the foot-bath sized helpings and all the accompanying greenery but next time I’ll know exactly what to do.

    A couple of soup additions to your list. In southern China, breakfast is often “congee” which is a thin porridge made of rice and served with savoury toppings like egg, green onions and assorted pickled and spiced mushroom and vegetables. It is delicious.

    My favourite seafood restaurant is Fish Hook’s in Victoria, BC, Canada, where you can buy chowder in 8, 16 or 32 oz. bowls. It’s south Asian inspired, spicy, full of fresh veg and requires a jug of water and a lot of napkins to enjoy.

    1. “foot-bath sized helpings”😂 I hear ya!
      I would love to taste “congee,” it sounds right up my alley. I don’t foresee a trip to China anytime soon but maybe I can visit a Chinatown here in the states and enjoy some.

      The chowder you describe – especially the 32oz version(!) – sounds like something I’d have to experience with a table full of hearty eaters wearing bibs! Also: a side of buttery crunchy garlic toast, please!
      I appreciate your additions to this Soup Party, Susanne.

    1. Greetings, Mek! I feel greatly complemented by your use of the words “delightful, warm, lyrical read” to describe this post. Sometimes I trip over myself being all serious and earnest – so its nice to think I can write something that comes across as “delightful.”
      I’m glad you needed a towel to wipe the drool and steam off your face, like me😂😘!

      1. I’m guilty of taking myself too seriously sometimes. It is liberating to just have fun and write like no one is reading, which appears to be the case on my blog these days 😂

  4. I first read this post while on the bus and had to stop because I got so hungry. But when I got home, I was greeted by soup! Lol 😀

    That was on July 4, Thursday, which is weird because in my family (Jamaican family), we have soup for dinner either Friday or Saturday. If not on Friday, then on Saturday. I guess we switched it up since we decided to have a weird BBQ yesterday. Anyway, we had red peas soup. The soup water is so dark and murky that I would tease my niece when she was little that we’re eating mud (being a bad auntie, lol), and this time it was thick because of the potatoes in it. It also had turkey neck and pigs tail (the saltiness of which added to the soup’s flavor and made us not have to add salt) and dumplings and yam and was nicely seasoned. It was so yummy and tasty.

    Today, Saturday, we had porridge for breakfast, in addition to other things. It was cornmeal porridge. I hated that porridge when I lived in Jamaica but now that I’m in the states, I’ve grown to love it. It’s sweet, because of the condense milk and sugar, and had just the right consistency – not too thick but not thin – because of the milk. It was seasoned well with cinnamon and nutmeg and vanilla for added flavor. Oh man! It was so delicious. We cooked up a big pot, but it’s probably all gone by now.

    I waited until I’d eaten before revisiting your post, but now I’m hungry again.

    1. That thick stew you describe sounds rich and rather decadent. It tickles me that the timing of you reading the post dovetailed with your family soup jam! I’m cracking-up thinking about you getting all hungry while reading about food😂😋! Back in the 90s I remember reading Like Water for Chocolate and I was filled with desire the whole time – both for the recipes described and a passionate love story of my own! Nothing in my pantry, refrigerator, or world at that time could help me even approximate dishes like “quail with rose petals”! I was wreck!

  5. It is fascinating that at the moment so many take out places are featuring “bowls.” I think that they recognize that most of us are so unsettled that we need the comfort of a bowl, whether for breakfast or lunch or supper. I loved the post. Made me think of the tale “Stone Soup” where everyone brings an ingredient.

    1. I need a refresher on “Stone Soup” – there’s a little bitty ring of familiarity there but I don’t recall it. Interesting point you make about the bowl itself, the vessel being the source of comfort as much as what’s inside♥️.

  6. There is so much I love about this post! Firstly, the photo of your silver shoes! Wow, I want a pair just like them! Secondly, I love the idea of a soup party and the history and context you gave for it. Thirdly, I loved what you said about finding comfort as an adult in a pot of soup and how the layers of broth and vegetables and protein make it into something so delicious and comforting. Food as medicine is something I firmly believe in, whether it’s medicinal for the body or for the soul. Soup is obviously just that. Marvelous, marvelous post, as always. Happy you’re back and sharing your thoughts with us again. I hope you have a wonderful July 4th doing something that makes you happy.

    1. Vanessa: speaking of food as medicine, this takes me back to something I’d forgotten. One day many years ago I was feeling really bad, saggy and ill. Thinking maybe I was coming down with a flu, I went to the grocery store with plans to buy canned chicken noodle soup that I was going to “doctor-up” with cayenne pepper and garlic. I felt so glum with my tins of soup in my grocery cart all by themselves. An instinct detoured me over to the fresh produce section. Once I began to handle and smell fresh vegetables, my game plan changed and I wound up checking out with an assortment of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as some fresh fish. I started feeling better in the checkout line! Upon reflection, I realized that it had been a while since I had prepared and eaten a really quality home cooked meal – life was hectic and I was living on coffee and anything I could eat unconsciously and on the go.
      Okay….what is it about metallic shoes? And when I am out and about and see other women wearing metallic shoes, I’m like😍😍😍!!! I saw a woman wearing some metallic mint green shoes last week, and I almost hated to lose sight of them🤣! xoxo

  7. I am not so keen on soup but I agree with you about the deliciousness of porridge. The Jamaican cornmeal and coconut porridge sounds deliciously satisfying and comforting.

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