Things You Can Say About Soup


Yesterday was my two-week follow-up to learn the pathology results from my day surgery lumpectomy.  What can I say?  I’m just a mysteriously lumpy person.  Yet another young doctor poked and prodded my neck and jaw and performed my third ever exploratory scope up the nose and down the throat.  This one without any freezing.  I’d like to say I’m getting used to this procedure and that it hardly bothers me, but that would be a big fat lie.  My eyes tear and my nose runs for the rest of the day afterwards.  This handsome young doctor (yes, I’m not so ancient that I don’t notice and appreciate such things) wanted to give me a clean bill of health because this more thorough lymph node biopsy showed the same thing as the needle biopsy did.  Nothing more than inflammation.  From an infection.  But of what, and from where?  The ENT surgeon is still curious to figure it out and wants more pathology tests done.  He also wants me to take Prednisone for five days. And come back to see him in a month.

The wait in the office was over an hour, during which time we watched, on an overhead waiting room TV,  the latest updates on the situation in Ottawa from Wednesday.  Social media and news coverage seems to be centered on information about fallen soldier Nathan Cirillo and the heroic actions of Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers, with very little about the perpetrator of this cowardly crime.  And that is as it should be.

I am happy to be alive and to once again be declared cancer free.  I never know how stressed I really am about something until it’s over and I suddenly feel lighter and able to breathe great refreshing deep breaths again.  A lone gunman in the nation’s capital will forever be associated with this little moment in my life.

After my appointment, W decided to look up a former co-worker from back in his government days who now works at the University Hospital doing bookings.  I met her once at a long ago Christmas party which I barely remember being dragged to, so she and I didn’t have a lot to talk about.  I mostly listened to her and W catch up on what happened to every person they ever knew.  She decided to give us a little tour of the Edmonton Oilers Ambulatory Clinic at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.  At the U of A hospital everything is connected to everything else.  I just wanted to go home and make soup.

Because this is exactly the kind of brilliant and exciting anti-social personality I have been nurturing these days.  I just want to stay at home, read books and blogs, watch movies and sneak Halloween candy from the cupboard.  All of this activity gives me so many topics to blog about (stop – you can’t see the computer screen when your eyes are rolling like that) I just can’t seem to make myself focus on any one thing.  Until – SOUP.  And the things that can be said about it.  In list form.  Why not.

1.  The process involved in making home-made soup is very therapeutic.  At the dinner table a much-loved uncle used to say, with the passing of every dish – “here, have some of this, it’s good for what ails you”.  Well the making of soup can be curative and good for what ails you.  If you have no clue what I’m talking about, make some and find out for yourself.

2.  Butternut Squash will make soup orange.  I don’t like the taste of squash on its own, so I mixed in all of the following things – white onion, the last of the cabbage, a parsnip, one small white turnip, lots of celery, a zucchini, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, some red and green pepper, a can of chick peas.  All of this was added to vegetable broth, a couple of packages of chicken broth powder, vegetable seasoning, fresh ground pepper and sea salt.  So no ordinary salt and pepper in this house.  There could have been more things than this added, I can’t remember.  I put a yam back in the fridge because the pot was full.  Maybe I threw in a carrot.

3.  When everything is happily boiling away and you turn the heat down to simmer, the house fills with the best aroma ever.  Assuming you like the smell of stuff cooking.

4.  Creamed soups are more yummy than the ones in which you are able to pick out all the vegetables you don’t like.  I don’t like adding flour or cornstarch, so I don’t.  My little hand mixer turns this concoction into a smooth and creamy hot mess delight.  I throw in some butter, because the body absorbs vitamins from vegetables better when there’s fat involved.  Never mind how good it makes things taste.

5.  A piping hot bowl of orange soup on a windy fall day restores your faith in whatever you’ve lost conviction and confidence in.  It’s good for whatever needs rejuvenating.  It promises you that everything will once again be all right.  It’s damned near magical.

And now I’m hungry.

Remove the Bay Leaf or Die

Yesterday morning before work I threw one of those dry soup mix packages into the crock pot.  It consisted of a little plastic bag filled with layers of split peas and barley and lentils and other unidentifiable seedy/grainy things, plus a packet of spices and a bay leaf.  Just add water and cook the hell out of it.  My kind of meal preparation.  The directions also suggested adding fresh vegetables, so, although I really didn’t have time for all this, I chopped up some celery, a few carrots, some green onions and half a turnip, threw all that in there too, covered it with water, played around with the beeping buttons on the crock pot until it appeared to be saying 8 hours on high and left for work.

This is the kind of confidence I have in my culinary abilities, coupled with a blind faith that the house won’t burn down while I’m away.  I also leave the dryer running.  Life on the edge.  The directions actually did suggest six to eight hours in a slow cooker on high, and although that sounded a bit excessive to me I definitely wanted all those little pellet things to get soft and edible.  There’s nothing worse than a crunchy split pea.

When I got home I was greeted by a completely delightful vegetable soup aroma, a crock pot that is smart enough to switch itself to the “warm” setting after eight hours of bubbling away like a witches cauldron, and a concoction that actually appeared to be edible.  I was hungry, so it was delicious.  Would have been even better if I’d had left over meat of some kind, or the ambition to cook and chop up some sausage rounds or something, but a slice of rye bread and a piece of cheese were faster and just as filling.

Fast forward to much later where I’m in bed and drifting off to sleep when it suddenly hits me like a bolt of lightning.  REMOVE THE BAY LEAF.  I did NOT remove the bayleaf.  I did not even SEE the stupid bay leaf, so what happened to it?  Recipes are always reminding you to discard bay leaves, but since I’ve never had one kicking around to add to things it’s never been an issue.  And then suddenly it is.  Because one of those deadly things snuck into my soup and I forgot all about it.  Are they supposed to remain intact in a crock pot for hours and hours on high?  If they disintigrate, am I supposed to be responsible for picking out all the pieces?  If they’re ingested, will they kill me?  I really did not want to die in my sleep, but I couldn’t sleep anyway for fretting about it, so I got up to google “why must you remove the bay leaf?”  It was extremely comforting to see that I was not the first idiot to ask that question.

A leaf of the Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis.

A leaf of the Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turns out it’s not poisonous, although I’m pretty sure in a more conscious state I might have figured that out on my own, since putting poisonous ingredients in your soup is probably against the law or something.  The bay leaf is supposed to remain tough and inedible, with sharp edges, and the ability to make you choke if you try to swallow it. Thus removing it is the best course of action to take before serving your guests.  Unless you don’t like them much.  But still, I think there are less drastic ways to get them to go home.

I went back to bed making a mental note to search the leftover containers of soup for chunks of bay leaf.  And then I remembered that story about Stone Soup from way back in grade two.

The Stone Soup Story 

After they made the stone soup, did they remember to take out the stone before they ate it?  I sure hope so.  It’s not really mentioned, but they must have.  If one of them had choked on it, the story would have had a whole new meaning.  But the tramp offers to give his magic stone to the old woman and she gratefully accepts.  So it couldn’t have been lost somewhere at the bottom of the pot.  That stone could have been the original Bay Leaf.  Sorting out this kind of thing in my mind is no doubt what has given me grey hair and wrinkles and restless nights of sleep deprivation wishing things like bay leaves had never been invented.  Or maybe cooking itself.  Why can’t we just wash things off and eat them raw?  We’d all sleep better.