Bowls of comfort

Posted on September 26, 2010
Filed under Columns & essays | 12 Comments | Email This Post

To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” — Laurie Colwin

As my closest friends will tell you, I’m your go-to gal if you need a good soup recipe. Come fall, there’s usually something simmering in my slow cooker or on the stove — thick-as-a-brick pea soup, creamy potato porridge, or maybe a savory minestrone.

It’s methodical but soothing, the whole process of making soup.

I begin with fresh produce from the market, then I gather the right combo of herbs and spices from the garden or the pantry. From the moment I start chopping onions and garlic, every muscle and nerve in my body begins to loosen or unwind. Sauteing the vegetables on the stove, I think about the people who’ll receive the first helping when my soup is finished and the flavor has mellowed.

Soup can be a meal by itself — especially if it’s a hearty recipe with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. I’ll often order soup as my main course in restaurants, and have been known to serve it as an entree at casual company meals. Even the pickiest kid who doesn’t eat veggies will make an exception for vegetable soup laced with alphabet pasta.

The way I see it, soup is a remedy for nearly everything.  It’s guaranteed to speed the recovery of a neighbor who’s nursing a broken heart or the common cold. It fortifies the dear friend who’s just returned from her second hip-replacement surgery. Homemade soup has a language all its own, and it’s one of the kindest ways to express sympathy to grieving families who’ve lost loved ones. And sometimes, when words fail, it also works to convey love and appreciation.

Cooking for my mother, for instance, has become a form of communication — especially now that her dementia is complicated by a serious hearing loss. Even with her hearing aids in place, she struggles to hold a conversation. Living by herself in a condo, she doesn’t nurture herself the way she nurtured her own family many years ago. So I try to bring her a pot of homemade soup at least once a week.  Nourishing the woman who used to nourish me helps to fill a hollow ache inside me, too. I can’t change Mom’s diagnosis, or slow the sad progression of her disease, but I can make soup.

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The way I see it, soup is a remedy for nearly everything.

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Of course, the soup I make for myself never tastes as delicious as the soup from someone else’s kitchen.

So when I’m feeling cranky or blue or sorry for myself, it’s time to head over to Niki’s, my favorite local diner here in Royal Oak. At Niki’s, the soup is always homemade — the perfect prelude to my favorite Greek salad.  I’ve known Donna, the owner and cook, for so many years that I’ve lost count of all the gloomy winter afternoons I spent hunkered down in her back-corner booth with my notebook and a pending column deadline. Those afternoons were totally redeemed by Donna’s chicken noodle, spinach-tortellini, or cabbage soups.

I like to remind Donna that she makes the best soup in town, and that I’ll always be her biggest fan. (Gotta keep that soup on the burner at Niki’s, especially with the long winter ahead!) But what I really want to tell Donna is something I couldn’t put into words until I started writing about soup this morning. When we’re in need of a little mothering — but our own moms are no longer able to provide it — we need at least one Donna in our lives. We all need someone who will ladle something warm, delicious, and comforting into our bowls.

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My favorite slow-cooker pea soup recipe:

16-oz package of Spartan (brand) green split peas

6 cups of water

1 large onion, chopped

5 or 6 small potatoes, peeled and sliced

4 cloves fresh crushed garlic

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup sliced carrots

1 cup chopped celery

Use a large slow cooker; set it on high. Add the six cups of water. Rinse the split peas, then add to the water. Chop the onion and saute in olive oil with dried oregano and crushed garlic until onions are translucent and slightly brown.  Add the cooked onions/garlic to the slow cooker and stir; add the remaining ingredients. Cook on high for five or six hours until the potatoes are soft and the soup is thick. (If you’re pressed for time, you can add a can of sliced/cooked potatoes to the batch during the last hour, instead of the fresh potatoes.) Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

I love making this all-day vegetarian soup in the slow cooker; I can leave it alone and let the flavors meld for hours. It tastes even better the next day, and there’s plenty to share. — CL

Comments

12 Responses to “Bowls of comfort”

  1. Sharon on September 26th, 2010 5:52 pm

    This recipe sounds wonderful, Cindy. I make bean soup often in the winter, with a dry bean mix of about a dozen different beans, but I didn’t have a good recipe for pea soup. Now I do!

    I plan to make bean soup this week and am so glad you reminded me about how soothing soup can be. A friend is having surgery this week and I was wondering what meal I could share. I think an offering of soup might be just the thing.

  2. Cindy La Ferle on September 26th, 2010 6:36 pm

    Sharon, your friend will love the soup. While you’re making it, I promise that you’ll feel good too!
    I’m wishing your friend a quick recovery, too…

  3. Joanne on September 26th, 2010 8:20 pm

    I love pea soup, but haven’t actually had any for years. I think I’m about due for a big pot. Thanks for the recipe. Soups are part of the beauty of fall and winter, don’t you think?

  4. Bridgette on September 26th, 2010 9:13 pm

    Your words are every bit as warming as your soup:)

  5. Cheryl Wright on September 27th, 2010 6:18 pm

    Thanks to you Cindy, I have a new appreciation for soup, not to mention a slow cooker recipe to bout.

  6. Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs on September 27th, 2010 10:38 pm

    You’re so right, Cindy. Soup is simple and satisfying — true comfort food. The pea soup sounds heavenly. Thank you for sharing the recipe. (And I agree: Soup is ALWAYS better the second day!)

  7. joanna jenkins on September 27th, 2010 10:45 pm

    You made me smile with this one, Cindy. My dad used to make “thick-as-a-brick pea soup” and it was perfect on a cold winter’s night.

    I’ve always though soup was the ultimate comfort food. It’s wonderful that you make fresh,healthy soups for your mom. Although she might have difficulty putting it into words, I’m sure it warms her heart.

    Thanks for the recipe. I’ll add it to my soup file and make it on a cool day.

    Cheers, jj

  8. Only the Half of It on September 30th, 2010 10:30 am

    Yum. I love a really good lentil soup, too.
    Every time I visit your blog I realize my need to get writing — with so much going on in my life lately I have felt I don’t have time. I need to make time.
    So thanks for the unintended encouragement. :-)

  9. Cindy's Coffeehouse on September 30th, 2010 10:52 am

    Cindy, I will save your recipe. I love using my crockpot, and this will be a perfect recipe for some homemade soup.

    By the way, I agree that sharing some warm food with people is a great way to mother them. Right after my mom died, and before the funeral, a good friend brought us a complete warm meal, including dessert. It was just what I needed then, and I told her I really appreciated her mothering me at that difficult time.

  10. deb @ talk at the table on September 30th, 2010 8:29 pm

    Cindy,
    I read this but got bumped off before I could comment.
    It does not surprise me that you are a soup maker and giver… it suits your nurturing creative and warm soul.

    I like the option to make pea soup without ham . I’ll try this version. ( I makes soup a . lot. )

    and thank you for reading and leaving such a sincere and touching comment on my post about death. I was nervous, you know, to share something so “raw” ,and am touched and moved beyond words at the response. We never know , do we.

    love to you.

  11. starrlife on October 1st, 2010 6:12 am

    Homemade pea soup was my daughter’s first solid and she LOVED it- basically ate it for the first 5 years of her life daily (well- after she started eating solids anyway). We’d make it in huge batches and freeze it in ice cube trays for her lunches. We still make it once in awhile- your post definitely brings me back!

  12. Anne Engel on December 21st, 2010 12:59 pm

    Cindy –

    Thanks for sharing this. I love split pea soup – and even better that it is a slow cooker recipe!

    Anne

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