My default setting is “solo”, romantically, socially and professionally speaking. I haven’t always been this way, and I’m sure it would be great fodder for the psychiatry I imagine I desperately need, but I’m comfortable in safely saying that I’m pretty much a lone wolf.
I do almost everything by myself and I am used to the solitude in an almost upsetting way. Like I’ve gotten to the point where it almost never occurs to me to invite people along on any of my many adventures and the ushers at the Arclight movie theatre in Hollywood know me as That Creepy Chick That Sees Matinées by Herself Every Other Wednesday at 11am. I bet they instinctively know that I’m also a Krazy Kat Lady (tm). They do. I look like the kind of gal that might have a Kolony (tm) on her Katio (tm)*. The Kollection (tm) of strays even has outstanding names: Miss Peaches, Lady Saffron, Herman, Pip, Genghis Kat and That Other One.
But here’s the thing-- I LOVE people even more that cats. I really, truly and deeply do. I am constantly amazed at the inspirational qualities that live inside of everyone. And I mean everyone, even in evil freaks like Hitler, Jennifer Love Hewitt or the “
But I started doing soupapolooza! for purely selfish reasons, not out of any sense of community or goodness inside myself.
I was 37, which is actually a great age because there’s still the buffer of three years before the Panic Button of 40 (or the Pothole of 39, in may case) gets pressed. There’s still the time and the hope of making those stupid self-imposed goals that many unmarried ladies of a certain generation place upon themselves-- husbands, babies, a fat 401-K (though I’d be cool with a skinny 401-K or even a savings account). By the way, I still don’t have a single one of those things on the other side of 40. Not a one, and I strangely feel OK about it now. But there I was, back then, with enough distance from a black cloud-like, looming deadline to still be somewhat optimistic that fate would intervene and my life could be totally different.
Even though upon reflection it was pretty good just as it was, without any kind of divine intervention or twist of fate. I was living an incredibly lucky, full life-- traveling, loving, being loved, eating, creating, collaborating, all without anything or anyone forcing a compromise of my own desires. And yet, I was kind of sad. No, more than kind of sad, I was wistfully nostalgic for a present I had never committed to.
And I looked around the kitchen in my loft, the one I had spent hours meticulously painting and ordering and at the beautiful gas stove I had bought and scrubbed and coveted, and it seemed completely vacant, not a real space at all (though, I will say it was, and is, pretty pretty thanks to a paint color called “Garden Spigot” and some cheap, semi-disposable IKEA shelves). And it hit me. I had no idea how to take care of myself...and I had exactly zero decent appliances. It was like a pretty body of a kitchen without any heart or brain inside of it to make it interesting or real in the least. I had the fake-boob-Barbie-doll of kitchens.
Southern girls get their kitchens when they get married. I don’t know if it’s equally important in other geographic regions (though
But why had I been wasting all this time, waiting for a reason outside of myself to even consider my own nourishment? If I couldn’t or hadn’t learned how to take care of myself in the most basic of ways, I certainly couldn’t expect to be cared for by someone else. I mean, unless I had a really good rack, which I don’t.
So I made the first real commitment of my life: to pick up a new ingredient each week at the farmer’s market on Sunday and make something different out of it each time. It seemed to me that starting from zero on the cooking experience scale would create many unique challenges, so I tried to isolate the variables as much as I could, without really even knowing the innumerable questions I would soon be asking once I was cooking. I settled on making one thing, soup, for a few reasons:
- I LOVED/ still LOVE when my mom made soup for me as a kid. It was love in a bowl, even if it was made in a microwave with condensed milk.
- All types of cuisines offer soups and there could be endless themes and choices of recipes.
- Soup is filling.
- Soup is hard to really screw up/ it’s forgiving and adaptable.
- I could freeze the leftovers.
- I would be repeating the same skills I would have to learn from week to week and that would give me a vocabulary for when I would move on to more challenging cooking.
And I decided to blog about it for a few reasons, too: I need artificial constraints to ensure that I complete tasks (you should see the rewards and punishments I place on myself just to get out of my bed in the morning) and I have secretly always wanted to be a writer, though never had the ladyballs to even try.
There were many, many things I never considered.
I never considered that my shortcomings in the kitchen would so seamlessly and easily dovetail with my shortcomings in life in general. It kind of writes itself. And I also never considered how easy it would be for me to overshare about these shortcomings.
I never considered that by creating this selfish thing, that other people would not only come and join me, but that they would wholly embrace it and then build a community with each other.
I never considered that this would become a gathering of that community and that by nourishing myself and the larger community as a result of that self-interest, that I would attract the romantic partner I always wanted.
I never considered that the special romantic pairing I had wanted wouldn’t last but for an extremely brief moment and that I would miss it so deeply.
I never considered that getting what you want, even just for a second, is great in terms of personal mythology or as the end of a story, but it’s the middle that’s so much more interesting. In not getting what I wanted, one other person, I became part of a much larger whole. It’s actually a longer, more nuanced story than I ever considered having.
So this soup thing is pretty great. It’s a big effing pot of a lot of chopped up and cooked stuff.
Not to get mushy and silly on you, oh no.
Last Sunday I went back to the start, by just making a little soup for myself and then putting the leftovers in my freezer, instead of making five courses for forty people. And it was cheap and relaxed and indulgent because I was happy in my solitude.
Sometimes we have to be alone in order to rejoin that larger whole or to find our story, be it old and ongoing or completely new. And that’s OK.
Pasta e Fagioli
serves: 4 as a main course
2 cups dried cranberry beans (borlotti or shell beans), soaked in water overnight
1 large Spanish onion, quartered
1 celery stalk, cut into several pieces
2 medium carrots peeled and cut into several pieces
1 TBSP plus 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pasta
3 heads worth of garlic cloves, peeled (about 50 cloves)
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 dried arbol chile pods
½ cup stelline (stars) or other small, bite-sized dried pasta)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-3 TBSP champagne vinegar, to taste
fresh basil, torn into small pieces
Rinse and drain the beans and place them in a very large soup pot or dutch oven. Make a bouquet in some cheesecloth with the onion, celery, and carrot and tie it closed with kitchen twine. Add the bouquet to the pot with the beans and cover with enough water to cover the beans plus a few inches, about 4-quarts, and stir in 2 teaspoons of the salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer the beans until they are tender and creamy, adding more water to the pot if necessary, 2 to 3 hours. The beans shouldn’t be chalky or al dente, they should be fully cooked and soft.
While the beans are cooking, and in a medium saucepan, combine the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, chile pod, and remaining 1 tablespoon of salt over medium heat. When the oil begins to bubble, reduce heat to low and, careful not to brown them, cook the garlic cloves in the oil until they are squishy and tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove and discard the chile pods and rosemary stems (the rosemary needles will have fallen off during the cooking).
Fill a large pot with water and a few tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta, transfer it to a clean bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil and toss.
When the beans are done, remove and discard the bouquet of onion, celery and carrots. Add the garlic confit to the pot of beans and stir to incorporate the ingredients. Increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes to bring flavors together stirring frequently, to emulsify.
Remove from heat and process with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy (or process in a blender in small batches). Season with black pepper and then add vinegar and salt, to taste.
Depending on the desired consistency, add more water if the soup has thickened.
Ladle 1 cup of the soup into each bowl and pile the pasta in the center of each serving, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle each serving with the torn basil.
This is a particularly delicious and unusual pasta e fagioli, inspired by a famous Tuscan restaurant’s recipe, so I can’t take credit for 1/100th of its amazing flavor. Though, to be fair, it’s supposed to be made with cannellini beans, but I really like it with borlotti beans instead.
So, to tie up our little story in the neat little kitchen twine that it deserves, soupapolooza! has come full circle. It started with the commitment to myself, which then inadvertently brought about a community that made the being alone part a little less lonely.
Love your people, love yourself and...
*Thank you, Legal Eagle, for constantly giving me trademarkable “K” names for the natural outgrowth of my cat hoarding mental illness. Your Kommitment to helping me become the Kardashian of Kat Kollecting soup bloggers is truly inspirational.