Soup’s On: Odds of Scoring the Good Stuff, Not So Good
December 1, 2008
It’s that time of year again: soup time. The living dead (among us) have survived another Black Friday free-for-all, and the all-you-can-eat turkey noodle soup lovefest is suddenly upon us.
Soup spoon in hand, wiping broth from our chins, it’s “game on” for soup connoisseurs ” those with discerning palates, those with whetted appetites, those salivating for a bowl of perfection: tomato basil.
My grandmother, bless her heart, never attempted tomato basil … too many ingredients. Tomato soup nights at her house were cruel and unusual. She drained a can of Campbell’s into a pan, poured in a cup of water and heated. That, and a handful of emergency Saltines, was dinner.
The problem with water-based tomato soup is the film that forms on top ” like the upper mantle of cheap gravy. If CBS ever runs a domestic “Survivor” series, water-based tomato soup is a no-brainer for disgusting-food challenge week. Me? I’d rather swallow tapeworms.
But enough about my Campbell’s-infested childhood. A decade and change later, fate dealt me a college roommate who made tomato soup with milk, not water. One day, probably under the influence of a full moon, I feigned a smile and touched my lips to his concoction.
“Well shave my eyebrows and paint me a 24-hour surprise,” I said. “Not bad. Not bad at all. I can’t believe I’m not hurling. Hmmm. That’s a development.”
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“Uh, thanks. I guess,” he said.
He majored in psychology, graduated with more medals and tassels than a 5-star general and made a name for himself as a top-notch shrink … without ever finding a book or theory that satisfactorily explained my behavior.
It wasn’t until my 30s that I exposed my taste buds to tomato basil. It hit my tongue like a long, slow kiss ” triggering things in my brain that usually only happen after drinking a long island tea or downing a slice of Sicilian tiramisu. I devoured it and basked in the afterglow. Smitten, I flagged down the chef.
“No. The secret ingredient isn’t crack,” he said.
And yet, from that exact moment in time, tomato basil is ever on my brain. Just thinking about it invites trouble, pangs, Pavlovian drooling, a culinary trance.
For one solid year, almost every day, I telephoned local restaurants, masked the desperation in my voice and asked, “What your soup today?” I even did drive-bys of restaurants that posted the soup of the day on outdoor menus. Bottom line: I did my due diligence.
And what did the fruits of my labor yield? Tomato basil only twice in a calendar year … even after offering chefs bribes for their soup-of-the-day schedule. Sadly, Soup Nazis are apparently too ethical to accept bribes.
So why don’t I just make it myself? I toyed with the idea until a local chef slipped me the recipe: 4 pages of blood, sweat, tears, tomatoes and hard time in the kitchen. I’d have better luck sneaking into Mensa than making a bowl of the good stuff.
Now, I’m in the throes of the final stage of my tomato basil soup quest: acceptance. The older I get, the more I buy into fate. And, though it pains me to admit it, odds are my next bowl of ecstasy isn’t on the menu today.
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