Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Soup Means

On an early spring day, this year, we gathered at the home of our friend, bringing lunch on a blustery day. Our friend, newly married, was past the blushing bride stage; she’s a woman in full, strong, determined, so deeply in love I wondered if the honeymoon stage lasts forever if you marry in your sixties. One can hope. A grandmom to two smallish children, soon there will be another as her children build their families.

Here was the cause for concern: She has been dealing with a new diagnosis of cancer, although she’s had cancer previously, and underwent a lumpectomy the day before. Hence, the staying in for lunch. She doesn’t know yet, her course of treatment, probably radiation, maybe chemo. Her tests show that the cancer was limited to a very small tumor; her lymph nodes were clean. So, my non-medical mind is splurging on hope and an abundance of tulips. I brought clam chowder, a lower fat variety, because these women are nurses, great ones, and they don’t eat much fat.

The mood is serious, there are big questions yet to be answered, but we are not devastated nor reduced to stupor. We are seeing what she needs, what’s next, and we know that most cancers are now much more manageable diseases because of the quality of the meds and the knowledge of the doctors and nurses. We talk.

This is what will probably happen: two major courses of treatment: radiation and chemo. Neither is easy, and a lifetime of three-month check-ups. Hope, but hard-won hope. My soon-to-be contribution: cookies, a source of sweet comfort; great with late afternoon tea, hot or cold. We tease her husband a bit; about their new family holding the world’s speed record for the most medical emergencies. They’ve had some dandies.

So, we gather around the table and eat clam chowder with a few crackers, on a cold day where the wind blows occasionally, and it rains, so the temps hover in the forties. This is what soup means: nourishment at all kinds of levels: companionship in the dark times and a thing that tastes good.

Here’s how you make it.
Take ½ of an onion and four stalks of celery, diced. Sauté’ them in a tablespoon of butter. (Sorry about the butter, but it just doesn’t taste right without it.) When the veggies are soft, add four mid-sized diced Yukon Gold potatoes. You don’t have to peel them, the skin is so tender. Add the clam nectar (liquid) from four cans of chopped clams. Clam nectar is so delicious and add a substantial layer of clam flavor and some salt. So don’t salt the soup. Add enough water, to barely cover the veggies.

You can make the soup richer, if you wish, by frying up 4 strips of bacon. When they are done, but not yet crisp, take them off the heat and out of the bacon grease, and let them drain. Cut them into bite sized pieces and hang onto them for a minute.

When the potatoes are done, add ½ cup 2% milk or a little more if you wish to the soup, (you can substitute half-and-half if you want a richer soup) and a slurry made of 2 heaping tablespoons of corn starch, dissolved in ¼ cup of water. Just pour in the slurry and let it thicken the soup as it comes to a simmer. At the last, add 2 big heaping tablespoons of dried parsley and the clam meat and the bacon if you are using it. Add pepper. Serve with saltines if you like, we like the little ones. You barely let the clams heat through, because any kind of cooking or heat turns the clams into leather. You want them soft. Just like your heart, at this point