The Transforming Experience of Soup

by Kim Long

Soup has been embedded in my memory for decades. How can I make such a statement? Come with me and I’ll take you to Oak Street and one of my favorite childhood memories of being with my great grandmother, “Nannie”, on cold afternoons. We were greeted with the sing song voice some older women have, “come in the house!” We were ushered in so the door could keep the cold wind at bay and in the next instant we realized the smell of something good with a single word; the smell was that of soup, more specifically “wagon train” soup – her euphemism for vegetable soup. Sometimes there was meat, but mostly vegetables, always delicious, and served in thick white bowls with cornbread and, of course, love. Another family mainstay was potato soup and this was the domain of my grandmother. It seemed magical that she could make it from potatoes, red or white, as well as instant flakes and it always tasted good and nourishing, not thin and gruel-like, but really rib-sticking.

In our fast food world soup can seem like a bit of bother… we must shop, purchase, come home and make a space on the counter, haul out the chopping board and big soup pot and begin the peeling, chopping, and slicing (perhaps even humming as you go), until there are no longer individual ingredients standing on their own. We have a delicious pot of soup, sustenance to carry us through the weekend or the week. It takes time and when we give ourselves permission to slow down and really get into the cooking of a pot of soup we are a little different too. Perhaps our tone is softer. We lovingly reach for the bowls and spoons, check the clock and see that stirring up a pan of cornbread won’t take any time at all. We, like the ingredients, have had our own little transformation.

While it is true we are in the big middle of carnival season and Mardi Gras parades, dinners, parties, cook outs and balls, we are also in a transition within the Church year. Carnival isn’t an official season in our liturgical calendar, although some think it should be. Not growing up Catholic Mardi Gras and Carnival weren’t within my purview. A classmate with a cousin who had been to “the Mardi Gras” brought beads to our elementary class once. That was as close as I came to touching this amazing time. Amazing because I do believe that carnival is an invitation to a specific type of transformation.

Gertrud Mueller Nelson says in her book, To Dance with God, that Carnival is a time to explore our shadow self. Not an easy task but it seems safer, less threatening when done wearing the mask of Carnival. This is certainly visible when everyone around you at a Mardi Gras parade screams with unbridled enthusiasm “Throw me something Mister,” along with arms outstretched begging and cajoling for the treats of the season. We come away full of beads, laughter and smiles. We come away somehow changed by the revelry. We go home and put the masks away and ready ourselves for our Lenten journey. We have been fortified, we have allowed our shadow to dwell with us and we carry a little more of that self  knowledge with us into the desert.

I offer this unusual recipe for Mushroom Bisque because mushrooms grow in the dark and yet when they are harvested and brought into the light we can make wonderful dishes with them. So this year catch some beads, eat some king cake and embrace the side of you “under the mask!”

Mushroom Bisque

Ingredients:
• 6 tablespoons butter
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 2 cups chopped celery
• 2 cups finely chopped spinach
• 4 cups sliced mushrooms
• 5 cups milk
• 4 tablespoons unbleached white flour
• 1 cup water
• 1/2 teaspoons salt
• dash of black pepper

Directions:
In a three quart  soup pot melt two tablespoons of butter and saute the onions and celery over medium heat. When the onions begin to brown (about 10 minutes), add spinach and mushrooms and saute until tender (approximately three to five minutes more). Add four cups of milk (don’t skimp, use whole milk) and simmer on low flame, uncovered. Meanwhile, melt the remaining four tablespoons butter in a small pan. Add flour and stir until smooth. Add remaining one cup of milk, stirring with a whisk, then add to soup along with water. Add salt and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes and serve.

Horn of the Moon Cookbook by Ginny Callan published by Harper and Row

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