Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Alphabet Soup

I’ve never actually made Alphabet Soup but it sounded more writerly. And no canned soup for me. I am all about the good homemade stuff. Hearty. The real deal. Soup snobbery. Bring on the crusty bread!

I’ve always loved to bake but sometimes cooking felt like an unavoidable task. Trying to please three children did not exactly inspire creativity. Now that they're adults, I really enjoy cooking. Especially during soup season--a kettle of soup on Sunday and great leftovers for a few more nights. Learning how to make good soup was actually on my list of life goals. Ahh, the research involved. Eat, savor, analyze. Back to the kitchen for trial and error. What worked? What combination of meats, beans, vegetables, herbs will combine for a tasty result?

I watched cooking shows and nosed through cookbooks until I got it. Now I can make a fairly good soup without a recipe. I know what goes together and what additions will enhance their flavors. Don't you agree that with success, a task loses its drugery. When you see other people enjoy it, all the better!

So how do I make soup? I get an idea, take inventory of what I have on hand and what I may need to get. What genre, I mean what kind of soup will it be? Creamy? Stock based? What region or ethnicity? Light or hearty? An old standard like vegetable beef or something contemporary like cream of roasted cauliflower with a delicate hint of nutmeg?

And then I give it a name.

This is so similar to writing, it’s scaring me. I was hoping this soup subject would be a metaphor for life, not writing. But maybe it is. We learn by experience, good and bad, and find enjoyment in the everyday tasks. With determination, we can move forward knowing we’ve prepared for success.

Writers learn to know what works. We see our setting, we know our characters, and with experience, we pull together a concoction of plot and conflict and energy until we think Mmm Mmm Good and want to share it with others.

Here’s a few of my suggestions: Learn the value of bay leaves. Cook your pasta or noodles separately (in broth helps too) and don’t combine them with the soup until ready to serve (I keep them separate--al dente--right up until they meet in the bowl. Especially true if you’ve planned for leftovers. I really don’t like soggy super-sized noodles the next day). Sauté your vegetables, meats and spices in a pan before you add the stock.

As I write this, I’m boiling up black-eyed peas and thawing kielbasa. In a book this would be an ‘opposites attract’ scenario. To add suspense to the plot I’m adding a little herbs de Provence. I’ll let you know if there’s a happily ever after.

Herbes de Provence
Please leave a foodie comment. Do you have a soup success story or will you share your worst experiment, soup or other kitchen fiascos? Remember to leave your email address safely (put parentheses and spaces or the word AT in your email) so we can include you in our drawings. Today’s giveaway is Barbour Publishing’s 199 Promises of God and, cue the trumpet fanfare, the Inktropolis Cookbook. Can these writing chicks cook? Who knows? And your name will go into the big hat for our Grand Opening drawing at the end of October.


  1. Well, I wish I had a foodie comment. LOL But I'm a horrible cook, hard as I try. I've never attempted soup, though I've thought of it.
    This is kind of cool to read how real soup is done. Thanks for sharing Debra!
    Oh, and I LOVE the analogy!!!

  2. The soup was great. No, I'm not just saying that. The herbs de Provence is a great seasoning mix with beans.

    Have ya'll checked out our Inkwell of wisdom on the sidebar? We went foodie there too.

    Have a great day. May you eat at least one thing today that really makes you smile. I'm sure God put all those taste receptors on our tongues for that reason.

    Speaking of . . . I hear that cats do not have taste buds for sweet. No wonder they seem so cranky at times.

  3. Hey Jessica! You don't have to cook it to be able to enjoy it, right? Thanks for stopping in. Soup's fun to experiment with once you get behind the mystery. Good stock for one, preferably low salt.

    Besides, you're in a warm climate but as a northerner, I think I associate soup and stew with cooler weather and we have plenty of that!

    Jessica has a great blog Booking It, so stop over there on your way out. Lots of good writer chat.

  4. Soup is just about my favorite thing to cook, and to eat! And you're right Deb, in our area there is plenty of soup weather to keep you craving the warmth. Even in the summer however, I enjoy a good bowl of gazpacho or cool and creamy yogurt and cucumber soup. (I have made it myself, but the best it from Alladins in Pittsford). I have yet to make this years season opener soup, but I have been mulling my options for a few days. Last year, I stumbled across a fantastic asian recipe for a soup called Jook- a mushy rice mixture with veggies and ginger, and it sounded so good! Until I made it, and suddenly I couldnt even be in the same room with it let alone put a spoon of it in my mouth. Even thinking about the Jook would make me gag. I couldnt figure out what the problem was...turns out Eliot didnt like the jook I guess. That was one year ago this weekend. I dont plan on celebrating with Jook. I am still not over it.

  5. Soup. Yes, it's the perfect weather to enjoy some. My husband loves leeks and planted a ton of them in the garden this year. Until recently I didn't think they were any different than cooking with onions. Then I made Leek-Potatoe Soup this past Sunday! Now I understand why people rave about them. If anyone who reads this doesn't have time to make soup, Casey at ZuZu's makes the best in the area. Worth making the trip to Seneca Falls on these beautiful fall days just for the soup!

  6. What I love most about soup is smelling it simmering on the stove on a cold day. Unfortunately, my best soup is made by dumping 6 cans of stuff together--but I'm hoping to try a pumpkin and black bean soup recipe I've found. We'll see if it turns out!

    I never thought about writing being like soup making. I like that!

  7. I love homemade potato soup (Grandma's recipe of course) but to make it really wicked I put my own twist on it which means garnishing it like a baked potato. Crumbled bacon, cheese, sour cream. So it's not exactly healthy. It is incredible comfort food.

  8. Also now that my three kids are "adults", my husband and I have discovered "soups' We are having fun with it. My sis gave me a good vegetable base recipe and I usually build on it.
    Lisa, I will have to fix potato soup for you all when we see you in Dec...
    mrstgr at msn dot com

  9. Hello soup fans!

    Brandi, I think I'll try your corn and crab and forget the Jook!

    Hi Leigh- great to see you here and I'm glad you tried Leeks. We have a recipe for a similar soup. cock-a-leekie. I think it's a UK thing, maybe Welsh, Scots or such. Leeks are some sort of symbol to we Welshmen, and they do have a mild, warmer taste than onions but with the same 'accent'.

    Thanks for stopping in. I appreciate it! And though I planned this post a couple weeks ago, today is the perfect soup day!

  10. D'Ann, there's a great soup recipe called five bean I think, and yes it's all from cans but you are building on that after all! And it's great. (My recipe for it has the herbs de Provence in it and that's how I learned their special qualities.)

    Lisa, I'm right there with you on building the better potato soup. I dream of potatoes, I like them so much, but for soup?? Yes they really need a kick of salt and fat. Oh Yeah!

    Theresa, sounds like you and I are in the same boat, or should I say bowl! Three kids out of the house and enjoying new dishes. (I swear for awhile I thought I'd never be able to look at boxed mac and cheese again. Still can't eat it)

  11. I love soup but I have to admit making soups from scratch is a bit intimidating. (I'm much better at baking.) My worst soup attempt was when I tried to make a Mexican soup that called for lime juice. First, I used the bottled stuff. Then, I didn't measure it properly. Can you say tangy? It was nearly tart. Luckily it was only for me anyway, not the family.

  12. The ONLY time I eat M/C now is with grandkids! So Debra you will have a little respite until grandkids start coming. HA

  13. Theresa, my daughter is too fussy to let my granddaughter eat packaged food. :)
    All the standards of childhood food favorites are at risk. We'll see what happens, right?

    Hi Patricia. I do make a soup like that but I haven't hit that extent TANGY yet. Oh well, like I said trial and error. Hmmm. I'm getting hungry again.

  14. Hi Debbie, loved your blog about soup! Makes me hungry. . . humm.

  15. Mmm, I want some of Lisa's baked potato soup.

    I love soup, and tend to crave the creamy variety, but my family likes broth based. I have an easy yet tasty recipe for chicken noodle soup, and the secret ingredient is a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. You can't taste it, but the soup somehow tastes richer.

  16. Mmmm.... soup. There are times when I crave soup, but alas, I have never made my own. You have inspired me to try, though, Deb. Not saying the inspiration will turn into action, but at least I'm thinking about it :+}

  17. I love to cook but hubby and I honestly are not big soup people. I have made mushroom soup before and loved it but have not experimented much. My favorite thing to do is baking. I find it relaxing. My big cooking fiasco was when I was a young girl making spagetti from scratch the first time. I put a little too much oregano and black pepper and made it a little too spicy. My mom was still proud of my effort and praised me. Ever since I have loved cooking.


  18. Hey Deb! I love soup but I've never made it. Like Lisa, I love baked potato soup. Yum.

    Since I love all things French, especially all things Provencial, tell me, what specific herbs de Provence do you use?

  19. Hi Cherie, the more I think of it I remember some problem with some fancy french cookies and I think I messed up the amount of baking soda. Basically that was all they tasted like. Not Good.

    Suzie, I buy them pre mixed. Our local grocery chain, WEGMANS has some in a jar ready to go. I don't know if there is a special trick to drying the lavender. And I wouldn't want to mix it myself and mess that up.

    Anyway, that mix is just great with what I call white soups, or those that don't have tomato base. Especially bean soups. I've never tried it with anything but soups myself


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