We’re cleaning out the garden. Stripping out the last of the tomatoes before the frost arrives and I’m thinking up ways I can use up some of the many onions in the large net sack on the bottom shelf. It’s soup weather and already I made chicken soup with the bones of a roaster last week.
Maybe it is time for onion soup. Remarkably easy to make, all you need are lots of onions, broth, butter and a little flour. A very sharp knife to chop all those onions—Vidalia onions are best. Or you can cheat and use the sharp blade of a food processor if you cut your onions into quarters if you cooking for a crowd. Caution, keep the action of the food processor brief. The best onion soup has a variety of onion pieces in different sizes. Dust the onion in flour and sautee in butter until soft and simmer in broth. (I use vegetable broth, but beef or chicken work as well.) One cup of broth for each onion. For a hearty meal, toast French bread and place a slice of gruyere cheese on top and then pour the soup on top of that. Yes, I know the “professionals” put the soup with the bread and cheese under the broiler—but this is so much easier.
We use five senses to experience the world: taste, touch, smell, sight, sound. If you don’t like onions, find them disagreeable, you won’t want to read about onion soup. But writing about onions, their many layers and they way they can make you cry if their juice squirts into you eyes while slicing, provides rich material for describing a character or a scene. This must be why so many writers love to write about food.
Already with food, we’ve got the smell and the taste to draw on. Plus presentation (sight), in other words how does that food look on a plate? How does it feel on your tongue? (Touch) Small children judge what they want to eat based on the tactile sensation, an interesting topic to explore.
As a child I disliked avocados because I found them unpredictably slimy. The ones available in the market on the east coast were a little too ripe. Now I feel differently and I describe an avocado as soft but yielding, as a prepare to mash it into guacamole. The final sense is sound. The sound of the crust crunching as you break apart a baguette. Or the sound of a chip once it is loaded with guacamole, breaking apart as someone eats it.
Always important is point of view. What one character in a scene thinks about food might be entirely different from another. The bowl of spaghetti with meat balls, that tastes so good to one person may taste too salty or spicy to you. Perhaps the meatballs contain raisins, and you find them too sweet, even if the raisins are first soaked in red wine.
Recipe break. A simple meatball or meatloaf recipe calls for walnut pieces, raisins soaked in red wine, bread crumbs, and ground meat –beef, pork, veal, turkey or a combination. You could even try plant based alternative “meat”. Mix in a beaten egg plus oregano, basil, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Depending on how many people you are cooking for, the ground meat should be proportionally 5/8’s of the total mixture.
Suffering from writer’s block? Jotting down your memories of food is a great place to start scribbling.
If you are inspired to cook up some homemade soup as a result of reading this blog, remember the most crucial element is time, lots of time. Good soup is simmered slowly, sometimes for one or two days. As with a piece of fine writing, the ingredients cannot be quickly thrown together and boiled. The flavor must gradually be released. But when it’s ready, a cozy feeling of satisfaction will settle into your belly as you take that first sample and you’ll know it’s finished.
Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Read a flash piece I wrote about Basil, published in Miniskirt Magazine here.