Sometimes it’s crystal clear when things are done and there is no need to ask the Magic 8 Ball for its opinion. Things can be burnt, they can be dry, the timer in a turkey can pop up or he could have given someone else an engagement ring-- take your pick, they’re all excellent indicators. I like to think I don’t need to read tea leaves to figure out what the universe is trying to tell me by BANGING ME OVER THE HEAD. I like to think I can just use those god-given magical five senses to determine whether or not something is cooked.
I was hanging out in Gray Gardens, also known as my couch when it is strewn with potato chip bags, coffee cups and a sleeping cat between my knees, when I got a call from the Bossy Blonde in her “thinking chair” from the west village. I desperately need a thinking chair, by the way, and the conversation went a little something like this:
“So [Chef Kenobi] and I were having drinks last night and he asked me if you were obsessed with soup. He said, ‘what’s her deal? Is she going to make soup every Sunday for the rest of her life?’ And I wondered about that, too. I mean it’s not like you gave yourself a year deadline to cook through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about it, thank God, since it’s already been done and Amy Adams was so annoying in it.”
Despite my response that I want Zooey Deschanel to play me in the made for TV movie of my life even though she looks and acts nothing like me, I had just wondered, myself, after cleaning up an insanely messy kitchen and then inputting my soup receipts into Quickbooks, is there an end to my madness? Will I cook soup every week for the rest of life? Is the only thing I’m married to a soup party because it’s not as messy as actually dating? Who in the hell approved the crazy photoshop job on the “Sex and the City 2: As Dry as the Desert” poster and why do I care?
I’m not so sure I’ve come to any great conclusions, but here’s a little of what I think thus far in our little soupapolooza! experiment.
I’ve been doing this for 29 weeks though I was traveling for a few of those Sundays. But I have at least eaten soup every Sunday since October and that’s more of a commitment on my end than I ever made with the last two guys I dated prior to the Duck Man.
I have been known to only date men that live on the opposite side of the country (Hot Jewish Real Estate Forever-Bachelor) or in Budapest (Affected Faux Gentleman Former DJ Dude) because I lack a fundamental amount of common sense and a measure of patience (or maybe it’s “stick-to-it-ness, I’m not sure). I have preferred this set up for good reasons: I need a lot of personal space, I am deathly afraid of the normal conflicts that arise in a day to day relationship, I always like the “idea” of a relationship more than I like the “actuality” of it, and I like vacation sex in boutique hotels.
Well here on the shy side of 40 I’m thinking that I may not have set myself up in the pole position with these little idiosyncratic behaviors. Looking around my loft I have vivid reminders of the sheer luckiness and bounty that is my life, and I certainly cannot blame my lack of someone to share it with on anyone but myself. I made decision after decision to care about things like books, work and reality TV that would allow me to project a vision of a life (check out my badass loft and interesting career!) that really has nothing to do with having a life with friends and lovers.
And at the risk of sounding like someone who is borrowing heavily from another blogger, the soup has changed all this. The soup has saved me.
Because on Sundays I have committed myself to a life that requires effort, planning and nurturing. And in committing myself to learn to cook I have, sometimes begrudgingly, most times happily, attracted a revolving door of amazing co-conspirators that have opened up a world of possibility out of one that seemed very specifically sterile and in my head. This soup world is real. This world leaves lots of dirty dishes in the sink, but it’s also a weekly affirmation that I’m alive and I have no choice but to breathe and to stay on the quest for the perfect partner to entertain with. So far, I think the Bossy Blonde may just be that partner indefinitely, but she’s got big plans of her own so we’ll see.
So when does it end?
When will I consider myself a cook?
When is soupapolooza! done-zo?
I’m hoping that I’ll just know. That I’ll see it, smell it, hear it, feel it and taste it. That there will be no need to shake the Magic 8-Ball on my iPhone until it says “Yes! Definitely!” or “Stop asking about [the Duck Man]!”.
In the meantime, I’ll always have soup, like Paris, and this week the soup destination was mulligatawny.
From Saveur Issue #32
Originally called milagutannir, or pepper-water, in Tamil, this rich, flavorful soup evolved in Britain's Anglo-Indian community; our version comes from Madhur Jaffrey, Indian food expert and a longtime SAVEUR contributor. To grind almonds into powder, use a coffee grinder or spice mill.
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1" cubes
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 1⁄2 tsp. finely grated, peeled ginger
1 1⁄2 tbsp. blanched slivered almonds, toasted and ground into a fine powder
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp. ground turmeric
1⁄2 tsp. cayenne
1 1⁄2 tsp. curry powder
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken or lamb stock
1⁄4 cup chickpea flour
Coarse chili powder (optional)
2 limes, quartered
Finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups cooked rice
Heat oil in a large, nonstick pan over high heat. Add lamb, 8–10 pieces at a time, browning on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer cooked lamb with slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium-high, and add onions to oil in the same pan. Sauté onions until their edges turn golden, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, stir for about 1 minute, then add almonds, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, curry powder, and season to taste with pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, then add 2 cups stock.
Transfer hot stock with spices into the jar of an electric blender. Add chickpea flour and blend until smooth. Pour puréed stock back into the same pan. Add reserved meat and accumulated juices. Stir in remaining 4 cups of stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer very gently until meat is tender, about 1 hour. Season to taste with salt.
To serve, pour soup into soup bowls, sprinkling each with a little chili powder, if using, and squeezing the juice of 2 lime quarters (quarters release their juice more easily than halves) into each bowl. Garnish bowls with cilantro. Pass rice at the table and add to soup according to taste.
So the soup was very tasty, but I will forever be scarred by the visit to the butcher. When I ordered lamb shoulder at the counter he asked me if I could wait a couple of minutes for him to “break the lamb down”. I said, sure, no problemo, while non-verbally asking exactly what that meant. Kids, learn from my ignorance. Breaking down the lamb meant that I got to see an entire lamb, in all its discernible form go from would-be barnyard pet to pieces of my stew in about 30 seconds. It did not do much for my desire of mutton and I probably won’t cook it again until they stop screaming and calling me Clarice in my dreams.
But the soup itself, deliciously spicy and a real crowd pleaser.
And the champagne with artisanal bitters and orange rind? You HAD to be here. Maybe you’ll join us next week... Be sure to consult your 8-Ball.