It’s not cold here in the Northeast, the way it should be on December 1; no, it’s warm-ish, nearly 60 degrees, and disappointingly unseasonal. But it’s blustery and rainy and stormy outside, so it’s still a good day for a post about soup.
Soup is one of those things that I think most people either love or hate; there are firmly pro-soup people, and then there are those who just haven’t met a soup they like enough to bother with. I’m a pro-soup kind of girl, myself, and since having kids I’ve become even more attached to soups as a method of feeding my family. They’re usually easy; often affordable; generally filling; and they freeze well. They can also be a wonderful way to get some extra nutrition into small children, if you can figure out how to make your kids into pro-soup people.
Mine are not, I should say, generally pro-soup. P. seems mostly mystified by soup — he splashes around in it, finger paints with it, uses his spoon to dot the table with tiny puddles of it, and only rarely licks it with a sort of experimental indifference that does nothing for my heart or his nutrition. L., on the other hand, used to be firmly pro-soup, in his toddler years, but has waxed and waned with his enthusiasm since then. After observing him, I’ve decided that soup is a) more difficult to eat neatly than other foods, which for L. is a deal-breaker; and b) often laden with a bunch of different textures and flavors, as in the case of something like minestrone — and that’s not often popular with any toddler or preschooler, much less one who has some sensory problems.
How to get around these challenges? Make more pureed soups.
Honestly, pureed soups may not seem like the most appealing parade of options — just typing the words conjures up images of “liquid nourishment” in the proverbial Home — but there are some (like the ever-popular “Cowboy Soup”) that are delicious, filling, and satisfying. They also have the ancillary benefit of being drinkable, so I can serve them to the boys with a straw, neatly avoiding L.’s issues of having to deal with balancing liquid on a spoon without dribbling (and thus saving me from hearing “Oh no Mommy…I dripped on my sock/shirt/pants…I need new clothes!” twelve times a meal).
One of my requirements for soup is that — outside of the occasional French onion, which must be given a pass on account of its cheesy goodness; or the very rare heart attack bowl of really good clam chowder — it must be nutritionally super-valuable. I essentially want to be able to view soup as a bowl of drinkable produce, and to be assured that if the boys don’t actually get much of it down, the couple of tablespoons they did ingest were equivalent to a good serving of the right stuff. My mind, therefore, always wanders straight to the dark greens and bright oranges of the vegetable world.
While I’ve made one or two pretty good green soups — I’ll share them with you sometime — I have yet to make one that’s seasonally appropriate at this time of year. The oranges, though, are a different story. And the latest hit on this list was Monday night’s Sweet Potato Bisque, a coup not only in flavor and nutrition, but also in financial terms. We ate like kings on Monday night for very little money: bowls of the bisque, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, sliced fruit, and some green salad graced our table, and my mental tally says that the whole spread easily cost less than $2 per person.
Good stuff. Even better: that meal, and many others I’ve made lately, have been nearly waste-free. We ate every drop of the soup, between dinner and lunches, and the oranges that were sliced and on the table Monday evening first gave up some zest for the bisque. The handful of leftover spinach from the salad was the kind of quantity I once would have thrown down the drain with a sigh and a shrug; today, I’m wise enough to eyeball it as a preschool portion, and every leaf was tucked into L.’s lunchbox today alongside a tiny container of good olive oil for drizzling. A couple of rogue carrots that needed using went into the bisque (a good addition), and some extra onion was dropped into the slow cooker for Tuesday night’s chili, which also benefited from the addition of a weird portion of canned pumpkin that I couldn’t bring myself to waste, but hadn’t gotten around to using in any of the usual leftover-pumpkin applications.
It’s the use of all the odds and ends that is starting to make a real difference in the way we cook and eat. I’m noticing that doing more with less is getting easier and easier, as I start to view things like the tops of carrots and the leafy inner stalks of the celery heart as stock fodder; the ends of bread as crumb potential (or, in the best of circumstances, bread pudding); the last lonely potato as a thickening agent for a stew. I’m relearning what my great-grandmothers probably knew: that no pot of food ever suffered for the addition of a little grated carrot, and that a few vegetables might serve as a decent side dish for a night or two, but a little ingenuity can stretch those same items into a full meal for everyone. With a little bit leftover, even, for the trip to school in a Spiderman thermos — with a straw on the side.