Sorry about the slow week, people. The past seven days have been nuts. Every night has been so full of fun that it felt like Friday; but every morning has been a reminder of the harsh reality that that feeling was a lie. The ol’ Seinfeld morning Heather and night Heather have been in a fight that everyone inherently loses. Now I’m in the middle of a Thursday-Saturday run of twelve hour workdays due to a great academic conference I help with every year. I have a lot to write about, including camping food from a trip last weekend, my roommate’s Fantastic Mr. Birthday dinner, and several posts about how to throw a baby shower that isn’t lame…but for now I’ll leave you with an old friend nostalgia fest to get you through the weekend.
Early this October a good friend of mine from high school worked as the director of photography for an independent film being made in my town. (That’s him in that picture up there). He’s been in LA for the past ten years, but living as a movie-makin’ partial nomad since college, so that’s all normal-regular for him. Living in Waco, Texas however, I’m not used to having friends come into town “on a job” for a handful of weeks. Chunk, or for those of you who did not grow up with him: Patrick, was suuuuper busy the whole time he was here, but we did get to hang out a couple times. I even got to watch the magic happen for one scene of movie-making, which was pretty cool. One, because I’ve never seen a realife (that should be one word) movie being made; but mainly because I got to see my friend do the thing he has wanted to do since we were fifteen and he was constantly making poor quality skate videos we all watched one million times. I know that he’s been successful for years, but watching him work—seeing him know what he’s doing and be good at it—made me appreciate his success. I was impressed, proud, happy for him, and felt so OLD. I mean, shouldn’t we still grilling out (excuse me, barbequing—as it’s called in Chicago) after school at Chunk’s old family house? Staying up really late for no reason and getting yelled at by my Dad for being too loud? Guess not.
What we did do was even better though. Maria (a best friend from high school AND college/roommate for like ten years/official family member) came in town from Austin over the weekend because her husband Dave was helping with the film. We got to hang out and do what we do best while Dave and Chunk slaved away on a cold movie set: spend all day thinking about dinner, going to the grocery store, and functioning as one food-creating-being in the kitchen. It felt so good to revisit a past life or two, with Maria and Chunk in my kitchen. Maria and I milled around making a delicious sweet potato sausage soup and drinking wine while Dave and Chunk thawed out with some scotch and regaled us with movie-making stories involving a cold muddy pond they had just been in for hours.
Chunk was working 15-20 hour days for over two weeks (little-to-no-exaggeration), so I was pretty ecstatic that his one real break occurred when Maria and I could make him dinner before he had to go back out into the cold-dark-night and shoot the last scene of the day around 10:00pm. We talked about high school (which was probably a real snore for Dave), our families, dating/relationships, jobs, etc. It felt great to connect in one of our real contexts—the apartment where I live my life now, rather than my childhood home over the holidays. It made me realize that despite all of our extreme familiarity, we don’t know very much about each others’ day to day lives. Chunk said that I’d never even cooked him dinner before—which seems crazy but makes perfect sense if we only see each other in Chicagoland, where my mom does the cooking.
After we saw Chunk off, Maria and Dave helped me clean up then drove all the way back to Austin in the dark. I was left with a warm belly full of soup on the first cold week of the year, thinking about how much has changed. It’s strange to tap into a time when we could all say “see you tomorrow” every night, then feel the immediate rush of years and miles crash back between us. It would be a pretty lonely, ancient world if we weren’t “kept with fonder a care” than we can keep each other. Thank God we are.
Aaaanyway, the soup was made as the most comforting soups are—without recipe. So I thought I’d provide you with a rough, adaptable potato soup guideline rather than an actual recipe. Here are the elements of putting together a great potato soup with whatever you have around. Easy, easy.
- Vegetables: I think of these in terms of primary, secondary, and accents. The primary vegetable is obviously potato or sweet potato. Secondary would be other stuff that needs a lot of cook-time: onions, carrots, celery, etc. Accents are greens you add later: spinach, kale, chard, etc.
- Herbs and Spices: I group these by regular or curry-y, which is probably not a normal thing to do. By regular I mean herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, etc. Curry-y includes ginger (fresh and/or ground), cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper, etc. I prefer the latter with sweet potatoes. You don’t have to keep all of these things separate and both should include garlic (and salt and pepper, obviously).
- Meat: I like Italian sausage or bacon, but use whatever sounds good to you in the combination you’re putting together.
- Cook the meat in your soup pot first, then remove it, reserving an appropriate amount of grease in which to cook the vegetables.
- Cook sliced secondary vegetables over medium heat until they’re getting soft.
- Add spices, stir up, and continue cooking for a couple minutes.
- Add potatoes, roughly cut into pieces, and fill the pot with broth or water until the potatoes are just covered.
- Increase heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft (stab them every once in awhile to see if the knife comes out easy).
- Smash the potatoes in the pot, leaving some bigger pieces.
- Stir in any greens you’re interested in and serve.
Sometimes this process results in a beautiful, rustic-looking soup; sometimes it results in a sad, baby-food-looking soup that still tastes awesome. We went for a curry-y sweet potato soup with Italian sausage which was spicily delicious and looked gross. Luckily, old friends can handle that aesthetic disconnect.