Uppity Woman had “poverty recipes” up today, and it made me think about what I did once upon a time when life caved in all around me and I left corporateville for good. I was a chef. Briefly.
You never know the depths of resilience you have until that gets tested. I took this mini job three days a week in a mansion for this very screwed up wealthy guy whose father had been a big wig in Hollywood. My job was to go to the market “carte blanche” and fix a soup or a salad, and an entire dinner — minus dessert. I had just left the corporate world where I had been a star — so, how does a person retain their self esteem in a situation like that?
For a mansion, that was the most miserable kitchen I had ever been in. The servants had no idea of beauty whatsoever. I decided that an infusion of style was in order starting with new sponges and other charming things — which I promptly bought. Every week! And flowers.
Can you imagine a person who has never made so much as a sandwich in their lifetime?
Imagine it. I decided to leave that place filled with fabulousness on the three days I was there.
Mostly for the servants, because they got to have all the leftovers.
So, he’d venture out while I was cooking up a storm and the classical music would be going and I’d be burning some fantastic lime-scented incense, and arranging the flowers, and we’d talk about Nijinsky and Art.
The upside of all of this was that I had bazillions of cookbooks at home but not a lot of time to make anything in my old stressed out corporate life — so — this was that moment.
Actually, this job was probably the greatest test of my feminist sensibility, ever, but I managed. I only did it for about 5 months. That massive marble corridor of a kitchen was a good place to hide in a rough transitional period of life. His mother had died, and it was her house, and he hadn’t really coped with all of it yet. No one ever went out onto the grounds of the estate but I did. There was an abandoned orchard and I used to pick pears and figs and wildflowers and bring them in. I loved that.
Even in the worst of circumstances, there is always a way to create some beauty.
So, Uppity made me remember, this morning…and I was thinking about soup. Once you have made soup from scratch, there is no going back. You don’t have to do the stock unless you are trying to be Escoffier — you can get that in a box!
Let’s say the whole bottom has just fallen out of your life and you’ve been laid off. You have no idea how to start, and you are broke. Some little old ladies I was working with once taught me a great lesson about that. I saw how they turned to each other in order to survive — but that is a story for tomorrow…
This is a fab base for Mediterranean tomato soup with vegetables. You can alter this into a zillion variations by adding your fave things.
“Uppity Feminist Recession Survivor’s Soup”
Get a soup pot!
Use butter or olive oil — several tablespoons worth.
Chop up a couple of onions, and a clove or two or more of garlic and saute until the onion turns translucent and semi-golden over medium heat. Take out the center of a stalk of celery where all the leaves are and chop up that and throw it in as well. (You could add carrots, too, if you like them at this point). — that is your “base” —
Add in one big fat can of tomatoes — pureed, and a little tiny can of tomato paste.
Pour in one box of stock! (if you are going vegetarian use vegetable — if not, chicken)
Now for the fun part! What flavor? (If you are totally broke, get your spices from ethnic markets rather than going the upscale route. They are just as fab, and usually only 59 cents).
A few bay leaves, basil, oregano… be generous…
Crushed red chilies “heat it up”
Italian parsley or cilantro (fresh) lend a direction…
Turn up the music and start dancing around. Jazz is good.
For a Minestrone-style you can add a can of white northern beans, and some zucchini — maybe three green ones sliced into circles, a few yellows? Hmmm…
Have a friend bring over some shrimps! And wine…
Clean the shrimps and throw them in — pour in about a glass of red wine… and salt and pepper…
Put the whole thing on simmer for about 20 minutes…
Bread is good. Hopefully you have some. If not?
Popovers! People love them.
To serve this — wash one bunch of fresh spinach and then “wilt” it — either by steaming it for a few seconds or by frying it in a little olive oil until it goes limp. Put some of that in the bottom of the bowl and ladle the soup over it. Grate a little parmesan over the top.
It will be good. Chances are when you had that job you never had time to cook anything, anyway. Look at it this way, you will survive. It’s a matter of keeping your spirits up through the worst of times…
Always use decent vegetables that are totally fresh. Get off the grid when it comes to the markets you go to. You will be amazed at what you will find.
I’m going to make a soup myself today — something I have never tried that involves risotto and butternut squash and bleu cheese.
Tomorrow we’ll do something with leeks and potatoes, perhaps. No reason you can’t have Vichyssoise with the best of them…
This friend of mine taught me a great recipe for garlic bread for a crowd. Split a loaf of French or Italian bread lengthwise and run under the broiler to toast. Cut slices three quarters of the way through all along both halves. Melt a stick of butter with a few pressed cloves of garlic and use up some of that chopped parsley (from the soup above) — on a big piece of foil lay the halves and pour that butter on — then sprinkle with some paprika, the parsley and or parmesan. Wrap up tight and keep warm in the oven until the soup is ready. Voila!
Those little old ladies that were in my art group were so fab. They were all totally poor and yet they were the most generous bunch I’ve ever seen. They shared with each other. The cook among them made the soup. All of them brought over the ingredients they had and she put it together for the crowd. It was a beautiful thing to meet them, once upon a time.
I made progress, yesterday. On this house. It looks fab out in the kitchen now.
Ready to cook up a storm this winter. Life can be exceedingly simple, sometimes.
Soup is always a beautiful thing.
The point is, don’t ever give up on style — no matter what.