Soup season and uncertainty
No one knows what tomorrow will be like so you might as well make soup.
This week: jumping the gun on soup season, broccoli and asparagus cheese soup and coping with uncertainty.
Fall is my favorite season, but always an uncertain one. How do you dress for 65 degree weather? (No one will ever know!) When will the heat finally come on? (You’ll find out when the radiators start clanging at 3am.) When does soup season begin? (Who’s to say!)
Normally I’d say soup season begins somewhere around the first frost, but this year I was in a hurry. As soon as we had our first cold snap a couple weeks ago, my newly enhanced dread of winter solidified and I felt a sudden urge to make chili, as if I could will fall to come sooner by making fall food, which would then make winter arrive sooner and therefore be over quicker. Obviously this is an insane line of reasoning but this year is prime time for magical thinking.
The urge hit me while I was in the grocery store, so I grabbed some peppers and onions, and skipped the rest, vaguely recalling a couple cans of fire-roasted tomatoes and black beans that have been sitting in my pantry for months, leftover byproducts of unfocused quarantine hoarding.
Of course, by the time I had an opportunity to make the chili it’s 75 degrees outside again and I was sweating over a dutch oven in a sunny kitchen willing it to bubble faster so I could eat before an 8pm Zoom.
What I hadn't realized at the store is that my canned tomatoes were still in the pantry because on a stressful pandemic trip to Wegman’s I’d compromised before the denuded shelves and bought diced fire-roasted tomatoes instead of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes—an entirely different tomato experience. I managed to eat a bowl that night, but it wasn’t the same. And the leftovers sat in my fridge for a few days before I admitted to myself that I wouldn’t eat it. Even though the distance between diced and crushed tomatoes feels so small, it was too unpleasant to cross. Never compromise on your ingredients.
I dread this winter for the same reasons we all do. I tried to take advantage of the warm weather as best I could, meeting friends in the park and going for long walks, but with a thousand small crises at work and home this summer and my lingering fear of outdoor dining, I feel I didn’t do enough to hold me through a dark, lonely, plague winter cut off from friends.
I’ve been rushing through most of the year, willing the hours to tick by quickly until work is over and I can speed up time by scrolling twitter while watching House Hunters International re-runs until bedtime. Sometimes it feels like looking at enough screens at once might actually unravel time as a concept. I even rushed through summer this way, willing each work week over and then feeling too overwhelmed by heat and options to make the most of the weekends.
We spend a lot of our lives trying to get through things—days, weeks, jobs, social functions—telling ourselves that a better time lies ahead. This can’t be a good way to spend our lives, especially when the next good time feels at least 9 months away, with a reliable vaccine is expected no earlier than spring. How do we not spend an entire year of our lives hiding under the covers and wishing it was over, especially if that year is a critical one? (I’m looking at anyone over 30 here.)
How do you still savor a period of time in your one short, precious life when it will be undeniably bad for almost everyone? I’ll start with soup made with the right ingredients, even if they’re hard to find.
In the back of my pantry next to the the diced tomatoes is a carton of vegetable broth I never used. Like most vegetable broths it contains tomato puree, which adds unwanted sweetness to some soups, making it a bad substitute for chicken broth. It’s a backup broth I only buy when my first choice—Imagine brand vegetarian no chicken broth—is out of stock, and it was often missing from the shelves this spring. So last week I placed a bulk order on Amazon to get me through this winter and it may be the best decision I’ve made in a year full of uncertainty.
I used the first of twelve (12!) cartons to make broccoli and asparagus soup, an old standby of mine that I threw together for the first time in college and make at least once a year. But this time I tried to make it a little more special with homemade croutons to sprinkle on top instead of serving it with a perfunctory slice of bread. It was perfect.
Broccoli and Asparagus Cheese Soup with Croutons
10 oz. frozen broccoli, thawed (you could use fresh, but you might want to steam it until bright green before adding it to the soup)
1 large bundle of asparagus, chopped
1 cup whole milk
6 oz shredded sharp cheddar
5 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 small onion or ½ large onion, diced
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Cook the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot until onions begin to brown. Add broth and bring to a simmer, then add broccoli and cook until tender. Use an immersion blender to puree broccoli until mixture is thick and smooth. (You can also pour the soup into a regular blender and puree if you don’t have an immersion blender. It’s messy but it works.) Add milk and bring to a simmer again, then add asparagus. Once asparagus is partially cooked, begin adding cheese slowly, while stirring to incorporate. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste and simmer until asparagus is tender.
1/3 loaf of sliced bread, cut into squares
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried parsley
Optional: 1 tbsp grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and parsley in large bowl and add bread, stirring until even coated. Spread in single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until lightly toasted.
Serve together while watching reruns of childhood TV shows on a brisk night.
Photo from @70sdinnerparty, via my friend Susannah.
Coping with uncertainty
This has been a tough year for planners like myself. This Wired article about dealing with the anxiety of uncertainty claims that in order to tolerate the level of uncertainty we’re all facing, it’s important to first feel safe, and feeling safe can be more attainable than we may think. The article suggests watching familiar TV shows—nostalgic faves from your childhood are best—and eating familiar foods as easy ways to feel more safe. Once you feel safe, you can practice tolerating small uncertainties, like letting someone else choose a movie or a meal. This article from HeretoHelp, a group of Canadian mental health and substance abuse non-profits, also suggests becoming comfortable with things like going to the grocery store without a list to build this tolerance. (Is this what counts as uncertainty in Canada?)
Baby steps are all well and good, but we’re well past watching-a-movie-you haven’t-seen-a-trailer-for levels of uncertainty. So how do we build up a tolerance to high-stakes uncertainty? We’re already doing that. Right now, life is giving us plenty of opportunities to confront uncertainty every level and in every direction. It seems to me just making ourselves feel safe should be our one mission right now.
When I read through the list of activities the HeretoHelp article suggests as potential triggers, not of them seemed anxiety-inducing to me in the least. It may be that I’m a less anxious person than I thought I was or than I used to be. If it’s only now that uncertainty is getting the best of us, we must have been pretty good at tolerating uncertainty to begin with. And we will only get better at it from here. We can do this. Let’s just stay safe.
If you love dairy products and you can’t stop doomscrolling: this French butter stan account from the French Cheese Board.
If you liked that: this Food Insider video about artisan butter production in Brittany featuring the most charming Frenchman of all time. (Stick around ‘til the end to see some dainty little shaped butters.)
If you share this wild idea that in the middle of a pandemic, an economic crisis, the fall of democracy and the severing of in-person social ties, we shouldn’t have to keep working like normal: this article from Slate on why employers should just let everyone work less.
What are you cooking to calm yourself? (And is it working?) Email me.
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