Up until a few weeks ago, I never made a good chicken soup. I am generally a really good soup maker. It’s always been my best thing. But all of my attempts at chicken soup could best be described as LAME. BLAH. HO HUM. This winter I’ve had a seemingly endless craving for the stuff and I’ve been buying some pretty good chicken soup from the “soup ladies” downstairs in my office building. I say “pretty good” simply because the broth is delicious, but it’s low on veg and high on macaroni, and macaroni and my waistline do not get along. So I decided to just get down to it and learn how to make a proper chicken soup of my own.
All it took was for me to think of the basic tenet to good broth: roast the ingredients first. So once week I’ve been doing this:
And I’ll be darned, at 53 years old I can finally make really delicious, nutritious and soul warming chicken soup. It’s a little labour intensive, preparing a roast chicken, then picking off the meat and adding the bones to the stock pot to make the stock, and then cutting up the veg and meat to make the soup. But for the simple pleasure of creating this…
…it’s time well spent on a cold weekend afternoon.
Two days in and I already figured out why Vancouverites are happy to live here in all this rain and dampness. It's not the clean mountain air. It's not the breathtaking vistas.
It's Beer Soup.
… make soup.
I mean, what else would one do when one has a little case of "I got nothin'?"
Why not find a rainy night in which to go to the grocery store and fill up almost more bags than you can carry while balancing an umbrella over your head walking home. Why not make soup?
And not just one kind, make two! Hell, you've got a stove and a slow cooker – don't be a slouch! Embrace the avoiding!
When you have a little case of creative block it's easy to justify any avoiding tactic. Because making three weeks' worth of work lunches ahead only frees up writing time in future, right? And cleaning the kitchen real good afterward calms the mind. And throwing in a load of laundry is just your way of avoiding a stint of standing-blankly-in-front-of-open-closet tomorrow morning. And checking facebook and finding out that others like soup - well the making of the soup has become a higher calling – it's one's responsibility to share the recipes with one's friends, isn't it?
Just two days ago I stood at the front of a classroom and gently told a writer to "make your office hours" and "just show up" and "set that appointment with yourself to write."
But I truly believe this too: sometimes it's also okay to just let the well refill itself. Sometimes your creative being is regenerated when you do another sort of creating thing. Sometimes this other kind of creative thing looks unremarkable and even kind of ordinary. That might be called resting a little. Letting the vessel fill itself for a little while.
So you might as well fil it with soup.
I love soup. I love to make soup almost as much as I love to eat it. There is something so satisfying about putting a bunch of things in a pot for an hour or two and having it all turn into hot delicious goodness. In the colder months I make soup pretty much every week. When my kids were growing up and the budget was tight, homemade soup was economical and most of the food groups were there in one pot. Soup is an easy take along lunch and a quick heat up dinner. Soup is one of those things you don’t mind eating for a few days in a row because it’s always better a day or two later.
With a crusty bread and salad it’s a complete meal. It’s a healthy snack to hold you over. It's something thin and unobtrusive to put in an upset tummy. It’s a substantive breakfast – my Aunt Martha used to love to have the broccoli soup at a favourite diner at the Windsor Market on Saturday mornings.
Soup makes your house smell good. There are thousands of recipes for it from all over the world – if you were so inclined you could make a different soup every single day of the year. Soup can be hearty, light, vegetarian, meaty, calorie-sensible and decadent. One of the favourites in our family is a quick minestrone, of which my daughters make a meatless and every bit as satisfying version.
This Labour Day weekend was cool, blustery and drizzly; it was like the calendar flipped over and shouted “AUTUMN AUTUMN AUTUMN” in giant LED. Today I thought I would embrace that by going down to the Harbourfront and having some One Love Corn Soup.
The One Love Corn guy is a Toronto institution. He has a stall at the Harbourfront during the summer months where you can get grilled, seasoned corn on the cob and the famous One Love Soup. It’s said the soup has healing properties for the psyche. If you’re feeling blue, many people say, One Love Soup can make you feel better.
Don’t go to the One Love Corn guy if you’re in a hurry. There’s reggae music playing in his domain, and while the soup is made and sits hot in a big pot – the corn is grilled right, not fast, even when the line for it trails long all the way to Queens Quay. When he finally determines your cob is ready he’ll saunter with it over to a table where he rubs it with lemon, brushes it with butter and sprinkles seasoning on it. Any part of that process is probably going to be interrupted when he feels the need to dance a little. Just watching your corn get to you takes your blood pressure down a couple of notches. Waiting for the ten people in front of you to get their corn before you get your soup is worth it.
The weather people say summer’s coming back tomorrow, but I’m thinking soup is back in my life now. Next week… roasted veg?
One Love Corn Soup
Recipe courtesy of Ras Iville Wright and Ikeila Wright, Leaf of Life Catering
• 24 cup spring water
• 2 cup yellow split peas
• 1/2 cup coconut milk
• 3 vegetable bouillon, cubes
• 6 Yukon Gold or red medium potato, washed, peeled, and, quartered
• 2 cup Jamaican pumpkin or 2 cup butternut squash
• 2 cup frozen vegetable mix
• 3 cobs fresh corn
• 3 carrot, peeled, and, diced
• 1 scotch bonnet pepper, whole
• 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, preferably Jamaican Bird Pepper
• 1 clove fresh garlic, finely, minced
• seasoning salt, (Mrs. Dash), to taste
• 1 sprig fresh Jamaican thyme
In a large pot bring the water to a rolling boil. Add split peas and cook until soft. Add coconut milk and vegetable bouillon cubes. Allow liquid to boil again. Peel and cut pumpkin into large cubes. Put potatoes, pumpkin and frozen mixed vegetables in the pot. Cut up 2 cobs of corn into wheels and shave the kernels off of the remaining cob. Add the corn and diced carrots to the pot. Simmer soup on medium heat for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add Scotch bonnet pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, seasoning salt and thyme. Stir until seasoning is mixed through. Simmer for 5 more minutes to allow the flavour of the seasoning to be released into the soup.
My Mom’s Minute Minestrone
2 tbsp butter (I use olive oil)
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 package Italian sausage, chopped into small pieces (hot or sweet – I buy a package of each, using half of each and freeze the other halves for next time)
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups shredded cabbage (I like to keep little bags of shredded cabbage frozen in the freezer just for soup. Just buy a cabbage, shred it, throw it in bags and freeze them.)
1 large can kidney beans drained (I prefer navy beans)
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 carrot cut in small sticks
1 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp sugar (optional – I only add a tsp or so)
1/2 tsp dried basil (I prefer oregano)
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cups COOKED macaroni or other small pasta (I use orzo)
Approx 14 oz water to make desired broth
In a large saucepan, heat oil and sauté onion, garlic and sausage until sausage is lightly browned. Add herbs and sauté for a minute. Add all other ingredients, except pasta, and cook until vegetables are tender. 10-20 minutes. Add pasta. Serve with grated parmesan sprinkled on top.