Recently, my friend Will James told me he's a soup guy. He said he likes soup so much that he eats a can of it every day.
Will keeps somewhere around 20 cans of soup in his pantry at all times--split pea, tomato, cream of mushroom, beef with barley, chicken with rice, chicken noodle, chicken with stars, chicken with every other noodle shape you can think of.
When he told me this, I was thinking, "Yuk. How could anyone like soup that much?" Even though that's what I was thinking, I didn't say it. I didn't want to tell someone who is so passionate about soup that it reminds me of vomit with chunks in it.
I tend to daydream, so as Will went into some narrative about some potato and ham soup he had at some mom-and-pop shop during a hiking trip in Montana, my mind began to wander.
Why is it that I've restricted eating soup to periods of illness and seven-course, Italian holiday means?
At first I concluded it's the texture I don't like. The whole concept of floating vegetables in a watery liquid doesn't excite me. If I want to eat a vegetable, I'll eat a vegetable. If I want to drink water, I'll drink water. Confusing the two processes really does make me think of regurgitation, which, in turn, makes me feel pukish.
When I was sick as a little girl, my mother used to make me eat soup because of some myth that associates eating soup with getting better. It never made me feel better. If anything, it just made me hot. When I had a 101-degree temperature, the last thing I wanted to eat was a scalding-hot bowl of soup. I wanted a Popsicle. But she'd sit at the foot of my bed all night, rubbing my stomach and, when I woke up, she'd be right there with a hot bowl of soup. It usually had roasted chicken floating in it. I think watching me eat it made her feel better.
My Dad's side of the family is Italian. Before my grandfather passed away, every Christmas we used to sit down to what I referred to as The Longest Dinner in History. The first course was antipasto, the second was salad and the third was always soup. Homemade minestrone to be exact. And because soup is really hot (again, the temperature issue) it takes a long time to eat. So we'd sit there during Course Three for what seemed like eternity, knowing full well there were still four more courses to go. All my brother and I wanted to do was open presents. Instead, we'd sit there while 20 of our closest relatives slurped up every last drop of their soup. Some of them even had seconds.
I didn't like the soup or, at the time, the time commitment. But I'll never forget the look on my grandfather's face when he set his homemade soup in front of me. He'd smile and say, "My relatives in Sicily used to eat this same recipe 50 years ago." Then he'd say a few words in Italian, or at least we thought it was Italian. He had a knack for making up "Italian" words that meant nothing, but sounded good.
I came up with this creative way of feeding Buckles the Cocker Spaniel spoonfuls of my soup under the table. Meanwhile, Grandpa drank his soup from his bowl. He said it tasted better that way.
In between each sip, Grandpa sang a few lines from Frank Sinatra's version of "I'll Be Home For Christmas," which was the music of choice for these marathon meals. "I'll be home for Christmas/You can plan on me/Please have snow and mistletoe ... Sinatra had the best diction of any vocalist of the past 100 years," he'd say. "And you know my theory on good diction: If you can't be understood, you haven't said anything." It was one of Grandpa's favorite things to say. He said it every time he hummed along to Sinatra and the family was there to listen.
I think if we had those seven-course meals today, I'd like them. I might even eat the soup.
Note: Based on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and the family dog.