I made my very first soup last night as my official fuck you to the first day of winter.
Truthfully, I’m actually starting to recover from my winter blues, which is ironic since winter hadn’t even started when I sank into my funk. But now I’m feeling less and less inclined to end every day on the sofa, sulking in front of the fire, and more in the mood to venture out for some hot yoga or a sweaty jog with fresh, crisp air piercing my lungs (that last part looks less appealing on paper than it did when I imagined it in my mind, so maybe just hot yoga then). See? I’m not always a grouch.
Part of this transformation, definitely, was finally finding some worthwhile winter vegetables and enjoying the stick-to-my-bones goodness I can make with them, like soup. I’ve always really appreciated the concept of soup for just that reason—it’s so warm and filling and mmmm—but I’ve never been able to embrace it fully because I can’t see everything that’s in it, i.e., vegetables, i.e., onions. The only soup I’ve ever met that didn’t include something I wouldn’t eat was Campbell’s chicken noodle, and so my whole life the only soup I ever ate was…Campbell’s chicken noodle. And gross.
I was pretty excited about butternut squash week because yellow squash week had been so successful that I figured butternut squash would probably go equally well. Plus, since the one thing I know everyone makes with butternut squash is soup, I was going to get make my first soup ever. Easy vegetable plus fun meal equals easy, fun win.
But goddamn onions. Why do onions always have to spoil all my fun? And why is every soup in the history of the world (including probably Campbell’s chicken noodle) made with onions? Why?
My easy win quickly turned into a lot of grunting and bitching and moaning and reconfiguring and reimagining. The first recipe I found, which was perfect for my level of culinary know-how, read like a nursery rhyme for toddlers: gimme some butter, gimme some onion, gimme some stock, gimme some squash; put em together and what’ve you got? Soup! Pretty easy. Except for the onion. When I rejected that and reassessed, butter, stock and squash seemed a bit paltry for a soup that was supposed to kick my winter into high gear.
Next I turned to some of my favorite cookbooks—Christa’s Simply in Season and my Clean Food—and began combining recipes and making things up, still determined to make the best soup ever without onions. I’d done it with squash casserole, I’d kind of done it with kohlrabi fritters, and by god I was going to do it with butternut squash soup.
As I poked around the kitchen looking for things to put in my soup, I asked David his opinion on the onion.
“Do you think I can use garlic instead of onion?”
“But I mean, since garlic and onion are in the same family, wouldn’t it have kind of similar effect if just I used a bunch of garlic instead of onion?”
“But listen, don’t you think I could just…”
“How many different ways are you going to ask me this question?”
I glared at him. Then I went to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “Christa!” I’ve mentioned already how much I like having Christa around, haven’t I? She came out and I asked again whether I could substitute garlic for onion. She said, without really answering the question but knowing there was no way I was going to be convinced to put onion in the soup, “Garlic is always good.” Done.
During prep, I cut up my squash and chatted with David and Christa in the kitchen. When I got to the stringy, seedy part I looked around for instructions on what to do next. Christa said, “You need to get in there with a spoon and dig it out, like with a pumpkin.”
“I’ve never done that with a pumpkin.”
“You’ve never carved a pumpkin before? OK, like with a melon.”
“I don’t eat melon.”
David said, “Like with a cantaloupe, Julie.”
“I don’t eat cantaloupe, and I’ve never done this before!”
We all stood there a little shocked with each other: them with me because I’ve never eaten melon and cantaloupe, me with them for not automatically assuming this about me.
After I finally figured out how to carve my squash (a skill I promise to transfer to melon and cantaloupe should I ever make that leap), I began to build my soup, which now consisted of butter, garlic, stock, squash and… apples. Yay! I don’t know why squash and apple sounded like such a brilliant combination to me, but I was really stoked about it and added…a lot. So I combined everything in a pretty pot, turned it down to simmer, and sat around and waited for it to get soupy and delicious.
After an indeterminate length of time (a little bit, a while, not very long), I checked on the consistency of the squash and apples. They seemed to be softening up, so I started to move them to the blender. This is where good recipe instructions separate themselves from great recipe instructions. One told me to remove the chunks with a slotted spoon and put them in the blender (but then didn’t really give many clues as to what happens after that). The other said to put the whole mixture in the blender, stock and all. At first I started with the slotted spoon because that seemed pretty specific.
Chunks in blender. Blender on. Remarkable lack of blending. Weird smoke smell.
I really wanted to avoid a repeat of Brussels sprouts night, so before I cranked the blender up to high, I asked David his opinion about the blender, hoping he would take one look at it and diagnose the problem immediately. He didn’t. He just turned it on and tried again, as if I had not just done that exact thing 30 seconds ago. More smoke smell.
Then I abandoned the specific slotted spoon recipe and switched to the whole mixture recipe and dumped everything in the blender, stock and all, and turned the blender on. Blending happened. No smoke smell. Lesson learned.
And what I got for my efforts was a beautiful, creamy butternut squash soup! It was so pretty! My first soup! I scooped myself a bowl, took some pictures and slurped my first spoonful.
I mean, it wasn’t terrible. It was fine actually, and I ate most of it, but I wasn’t sure if what was happening in my bowl was great, if it would be my go-to soup to warm my innards and soothe my soul this winter. What was it missing? What did it need more of, what did it need less of, what did it need? When Christa came back into the kitchen I said, “Please taste this and tell me if it tastes like butternut squash soup.”
“Of course it does, it’s butternut squash soup.”
Yes, it was. Thank you, Christa. I did it. I made my first soup. And right as I was about to close the chapter on my squash soup, won, a job well-done, she said,
“So what did you learn?”
Sigh. I may have had this very brief, fleeting thought that maybe I can sort of understand the concept of onions enhancing flavor, and maybe next time I make this soup, which will be around the time hell freezes over and pigs fly, I might try it with the onion. Maybe.