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A good start


Here's what's going on. I'm sick. It is a straightforward cold, complete with the cloudy weight of congestion, which makes me fairly certain of what it would be like to walk around with my head in a full fishbowl, and rather uncertain as to whether I put detergent in with the wash. 

I am, at present, crazy for masala chai and comfy woollen socks that are a little too big. It's kind of boring. 

I did make myself some soup yesterday. Do you ever get that way when you're under the weather? Confident that a specific ingredient is the only thing to restore you to ruddy-cheeked health? Well, yesterday, that ingredient for me was cabbage and the conveyance of the brassica clearly needed to be soup. I was absolutely positive that would be the poultice for what ailed me.

It was the ugliest soup on record. 

In my fishbowl-brain it all made sense. While I often crave the slicing heat of chili when sick, yesterday I yearned for soothing. I was all about an onion soup at first — I remember reading in a cookbook that at Les Halles, porters at the famed Paris market used to keep off the bitter cold of winter mornings with mugs of soup à l'oignon. I felt in need of such protection.

Somehow my French notion studied abroad for a year, as an Italianate influence worked its way into our pot. A thought of Italian cabbage and bread soups tempted, and I got stuck on the promise of skinny slices of savoy, stewy and supple, slurpable like vegetable noodles — without being noodle-y.* 

There was my plan: equal parts onion and cabbage, with the onion cooked until almost caramelized first (only blonde, as I didn't want the assertive personality of truly-bronzed onions), then in would go the savoy and a bit of flour for weight, and then some chicken stock.  And oh, a rind of Parmesan could be tucked in too, to melt and mingle in with everything else.

That's pretty much what I did.

The soup burbled genially for a good half hour; the vegetables lolled about in their warm bath and became pliant. I was left with a wan tangle of stuff, not all that exciting to the eye, and I began to worry. 

Right at the finish, I rubbed a miserly nub of garlic against some toasted bread and floated it upon a ladled mugful of the soup, then grated a mix of Gruyère and Parmesan atop, and introduced the lot of them to the broiler. After their brief meeting, the soup emerged a bit more golden for the appointment but still kind of boring. Much like my cold. 

I tried to take a photo, even attempting a sidelong approach, hoping if you caught the soup out of the corner of your eye, it would somehow give the illusion of being more beautiful than it was.

You'll note there's only a picture of cabbage here today. That should tell you how those attempts went.

I'm still telling you about the soup though, as I think it was a good start. It was blessedly warming, and its paleness belied the fact it was unexpectedly rich, and the bread sogged into the broth in a way that sounds unappealing but gave appreciated substance. And then there's that bolstering feeling of virtue that always seems to come along when we remember to eat our greens. It might not have beauty, but it had character. And it made me feel better, which was the whole point. It's a good beginning. 

A beginning is something. We can work on looks. Talk again soon.

*With that astute commentary and use of "noodle-y" I've reached the pinnacle of my literary career. Thanks y'all for putting up with my nattering.


Reader Comments (25)

there's nothing quite like soup on a less-than-perfect day. and i totally understand the yearning for something cabbage-y. bread and melted cheese and more than a few cracks of peppercorn. restoration in a bowl, i think. purty, or no.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentererin

Feel better soon! I bet the soup will help you along the way to recovery :)

I always seem to come down with a horrible cold right at the start of spring. It's as if my immune system just gives up after the long winter, having made it within inches of the finish line. I hope you recover quickly!

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterla domestique

try some warm milk, with a pinch of turmeric and pepper + bit of sugar. will make u feel better. grand mom's secret. Take care, get well soon =)

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersreebindu

it's impressive that you were able to make yourself soup when you were sick. photographing it probably was expecting a bit too much. end-of-winter detoxifying and all of that. cabbage does sound perfect. instead of making soup i'm going to take my cold for a nap. feel better!

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterelisa

So sorry to hear you are sick, Tara! I am, too, unfortunately. With all that headcold, runny nose, cough business. I crave your soup!

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKasey

Capturing a pretty photo of cooked cabbage is not easily accomplished! I applaud your attempt. Of course, raw cabbage can be quite beautiful, especially because it's available in so many colors! And I'm sure your cold would prefer an ugly bowl of tasty cabbage soup to a beautiful bowl of bitter, barely-palatable cabbage soup (which I have had the misfortune of experiencing!).

Cabbage soup is so hard to take a picture of. I know because I just posted an ugly one. I was sick last week, and cabbage soup really does help.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna

The soup may have been ugly but your story had me hanging on every word. I had the exact same problem yesterday when I thought roasting parsnips and eggplant to top a simple salad was a good idea. Everything went wrong with it but I was happy to gobble up my vegetables.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

hi Tara, I just discovered your site and am enjoying working my way back through your gorgeous posts. If the cabbage soup doesn't quite do the trick for the yucky cold, I recommend my husband's patented remedy for such matters, which is to eat the hottest curry you can manage, drink a glass of OJ and go to bed in your warmest PJs with your thickest duvet. It sounds crazy, but it really does work! Feel better...

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

definitely been there. i have the flu right now and i can't quite get up the strength to wander to the farmer's market and find something to make me feel better. sometimes the most healing dishes aren't particularly attractive - but the cabbage photo looks great :)

feel better!

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermeg jones wall

Sometimes a photo is unnecessary (this coming from me!) - Your words are perfectly descriptive enough.

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason Hudson Dot Com

you poor dear. here's to a quick send-off to those sniffles.


March 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermolly

I was sick all of last month with walking pneumonia so I know what sick cravings are like. When I'm sick, I always crave things that I never eat now! I think it has to do with what my mom would feed me as a child when I was sick. She would always make me homemade ramen. I'm gluten free now and have yet to find a gluten free ramen that I love as much as mom's original.

Wishing you a speedy recovery Tara!

PS: I like the term "noodle-y" ;)

March 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJade Sheldon

You guys are super keen. I love all the stories of home remedies - I'll be trying them all!

xox to you.

March 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertara

I've always thought that the uglier the food, the better it tasted. That's what I remembered most about learning to cook for myself armed only with the Moosewood cookbook. Everything tasted amazing but looked awful. Oh well, I'm now yearning for this soup too. With the bread and the cheese and the noodley veg. Buck up, lady, I sense you're well on the road to recovery.

March 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkickpleat

Sorry about the sickness, friend. I have a bubbling pot of vegetable broth working on the stove as the tingle of a sickness just starts the invasion on my already tired self. That broth is a jump ahead for the pot of soup that will be tomorrow. Hoping just the smell of a healthy pot of broth will scare the sickness away. Be well.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Aw sorry you are feeling under the sun (or cold infact). Have you tried turmeric milk? I have a recipe on my blog its my go to Indian remedy. Totally works. Or not that masala chai isn't soothing.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKulsum@journeykitchen

The beginning read as very good to me. Feeling better is more important than looks.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDenise | Chez Danisse

I just did a cabbage soup tonight from Bon Appetit last year - cabbage, leeks and potato in stock with garlic and parmesan rind. I thought it was lovelys served with Heidi's yogurt biscuits from Super Natural Every Day.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

You're awesome. Hope you feel better soon - we've all been battling the mother of all flus here too.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I love this post for so many reasons, mainly because my family always gives me a hard time, asking why I never write about the heinously ugly food I may eat at home or the real kitchen disasters? Because there are many (of both) and I never know how exactly to answer. I just don't. And I love that you talked about a very basic and ugly soup as a means to talk about new beginnings. Hope you're feeling much better by this point in time. Look forward to seeing something pretty -- or ugly-- back here soon!

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan Gordon

At the end of the day, character matters a lot more than looks for sure. :) The soup sounds delicious and nourishing. Hope you feel better soon!

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristie {Pepper Lynn}

Awesome usual. I love the way you tell the story and the way the food will taste!

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJuicer

What an entertaining and enlightening post--thanks for sharing it! In my experience, sometimes the ugliest foods make for the best comfort foods (Exhibit A: My dad's "tuna surprise" recipe). But I do understand your dilemma; it's difficult to get homemade soup to turn out just right. Next time, you might try a pinch of a more flavorful spice (perhaps cayenne pepper) to create some more interest for your taste buds. Good luck!

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRuth H.

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