Chicken Tortilla Offering Soup

I stood in front of a panel of professors, self-chosen, but intimidating none the less. Before me lay a spread of home baked bread, bean dip, chocolates, fizzy water in dark green bottles, coffee, and tea, all of which I had earlier placed on the table like an offering. I began to worry, will they think I spent too much time baking and not enough time preparing my thesis defense? While carrying in the food, I had been ensnared by a memory……

I was seven years old, and small for my age. My legs had years to grow before they would grace the wrapper-littered bus floor. My mother sent me to school in headbands, which pressed hard against the side of my head and made my temples ache. I leaned my head, which was thinly padded by a soft, wispy layer of young hair, against the window. The glass felt cool. It was a perfect moment for gulping in the blissful moments of time before the embarrassment of elementary school classroom learning began.
Suddenly the students all around me began to shuffle. A horrible, brutish voice permeated my meditation. “All right kiddies, listen up! This is my bus and you do what I say!!” I looked up into the face of a ninth grade bully. She had chestnut brown hair that was pulled into a ponytail which stuck out in the back like a straw broom. She had a prominent jaw, which was held together by neon rubber bands, and metal encrusted teeth. Every day, she picked on a different underclassman. She hardly took notice of me, but still I shuddered and averted my eyes as she walked by.
From my lunch bag, I noticed the round golden end of a Twinkie poking out. The inside wrapper was greasy with a moist dew, the kind that promised an eternity of freshness. Twinkies were useful at home for whenever I wanted to safely trespass into my older brother Jim’s room. He had us convinced that there was a monster in his closet that wouldn’t hurt you as long as you appeased him with Twinkies. Because there is no more fun place for a child to play than the forbidden room of one’s older brother, we younger siblings would dutifully serve Jim’s closet with a steady supply of processed sugar throughout the day.
I took the Twinkie out of my bag, and slipped out of my bus seat, and pulled up my tights (which were constantly bunching in all the wrong places). I followed the bully down the aisle, and tugged on the back of her shirt. When she turned around, I gave her my most pathetic puppy dog eyes and held up the Twinkie. She hesitated for a minute and then said, “thanks kid, your really sweet”. From that day on, the bully was my ally.

As I walked into the corner classroom, carrying my bean dip, I marveled at the miraculous power of food. Food is a peace offering, a gift of love. Even when it is intended as a tool of manipulation, the message received from the food itself is “here, I hope that you live well for another day”.

Chicken tortilla soup
The chicken
roast a 4 lb chicken (rinse the bird, remove the neck, pat dry, rub with butter, salt, rosemary, thyme, and stuff with onions. Bake at 425 for about 75 min.
The stock
Remove the skin from the chicken, remove the chicken from the bones. Place the bones (carcass) in a pot and cover with cold water. Add 3 small yellow onions, 1/2 bunch celery and 6 carrots (peeled and chopped). Add 2 bay leaves, some cumin, and some chili powder and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 hours.
The soup
In a soup pot, saute 2 yellow onions, and the remaining celery. Add some diced green chilies (fresh or canned..if you use fresh coat your hands with olive oil before cutting..mine are burning right now!) and some salt. Add about 2 cups of chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), and the chicken which was removed from the carcass (cut up). Add 2 cups of corn or hominy. Add the chicken stock. Heat through, seasoning with chili pepper, paprika, a little brown sugar, salt, pepper, cumin. Before serving garnish with tortilla strips, avocado, monterey jack cheese, cilantro and green onions.
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Bird Watcher Soup

I shuffled my feet against the brown, hotel-style carpeting on the sixth floor of our apartment building, dragging along a gym bag which was hooked over my shoulder and swinging around wildly like a Jack Russel terrier. Pool soaked, un-groomed hair dripped slowly against the back of my winter jacket, causing the puffy dull black nylon to brighten into a patent leather shine. Not bothering to blow dry my hair is one of the many reasons that I continue to be mistaken for a teenager, even though I am now 30. I vowed to start dressing more presentably recently. I even bought several pairs of dress pants and high heeled boots, but most days I still pull on my jeans and snow boots, and melt into the University student crowd as though I were camouflaged. I expected to come home and find Christina sitting at her desk as usual, working in front of her various computer monitors, with a blinking headset hanging from her right ear. When sitting at her desk Christina looks like a person who is maintaining ground support for a space shuttle. On this particular day, however, she was lounging on our living room couch, the three cats snuggled around her breathing and twitching to the rhythm of their kitty dreams. She was paging through a giant coffee table book entitled “BIRDS”.

“What are you doing?” I asked, as though it weren’t obvious. What I really meant to say was, ‘why are you doing something that I wasn’t expecting you to be doing’

“I felt compelled by the idea of birds today, so I went to the bookstore and bought a book about them” she answered.
We paged through the book together, and although I was only half interested at first, I soon felt enchanted by the beautiful pictures of feathered multicolored wingspans and plumage.

Over the following weeks, we began researching breeds, looking at interesting cages, and fantasizing about having a bird as a pet. We decided on a Senegal parrot, a bird similar to the kind my grandparents had when I was growing up. I really wanted to be able to get the bird for Christina for her birthday, which is coming up, so I suggested we swing by a pet store today on our way back from her art installation.

I called around, but found that most pet stores stopped stocking parrots due to what the store managers described as a “down economy for parrots”. I was so resigned to the idea of the great parrot recession, that when calling a business listed as ‘Avalon Parrots’ I found myself asking the store manager if they actually carried parrots.

“um..yes..” she said “that IS what we carry” and I experienced a wave of awkward embarrassment.

“we are a parrot rescue organization, you can adopt a parrot from us, but we ask that you come and visit them and get to know them before we allow you to take them home.” She said that they currently had 2 Senegal’s, so we told her that we would be right over.

When we walked into the store, we were greeted by a beautiful red and blue parrot, who was bizarrely half plucked. The plucking looked almost intentional, stylish even, as though he were emulating a poodle. He had a pink pimply neck, but his head was poofy with brilliant ruby red feathers, and he wore a coat of blue wings. He looked, to me, like a unique sort of a bird, a lovable rebel, and I assumed his ensemble to be intentional..that is, until the store manager described him as a “self plucker”. I wondered if birds suffered with self esteem issues which lead to self deprecation. I pictured the bird fighting with his owners, and then locking himself in his cage and plucking, the way a human teenage self mutilator would.

“You never listen to me” the bird would say, and then he would take out his emotional pain on himself, picking out each feather in a misdirected act of revenge. Perhaps, he was tired of being admired for his looks, and to prove that there was something more behind those beautiful feathers, he decided to shave a la Sinead O’Connor. Or maybe he felt like a freak on the inside, and in a desperate act to make his insides and his outsides match, he decided to pull out his feathers. The latter being an act akin to a teenager dying ones hair purple with a jar of manic panic.

“Maybe we should get..” I began whispering to Christina, my eyes locked on the exotic rebel. Just then the half plucked bird squawked so loudly that I knew we would never be able to stand him in our apartment.

“The Senegal’s are over here” The woman said, leading us through a labyrinth of birds to a little black iron cage with two Senegal’s in it.

“Sammy is a floor walker” she said, and one of the little birds, as though he were being cued, hopped down from his cage and waddled confidently toward us.

“Cooper is shy, she sticks mostly to her cage”. I leaned in a bit, to get a closer look at her. She had a helmet of green feathers, with a few yellow ones marked in like strokes on an impressionist painting. She shuffled along the side of her cage and bowed her head in front of me. I stood awkwardly.

“I think she wants you to scratch her neck” the manager said. “oh, um right” I said, and I reached in to scratch her. We stayed in the store for hours, getting to know the birds. Sammy ignored us, for the most part. He rocked his rope swing in a circular motion like a rambunctious child improperly using a swing set, as though to say “pick me and I will run you into exhaustion”. An Amazon named Monty climbed onto my shoulder and repeated telephone conversations into my ear. He laughed at all of my jokes, which really made me feel like we had a connection. Cooper looked longingly at us while Monty was perched on my shoulder, as though to say

“if only I were more brave, it would be me on your shoulder. Take me home, and give me a chance. I belong with you.” When we got in the car to leave, Christina said she felt this connection to Cooper too, as though he were our estranged pet separated from us in another life. When we got home, I began to assemble a soup, slowly, patiently, carefully. I worked as though I were still carefully approaching that shy little bird.

The stock (Vegetarian)

In a soup pot, add 2 sliced yellow onions, 2 cloves smashed garlic, 2 cups water and some salt. Add 4 cups chopped mushrooms, 1/2 bunch diced celery, salt, and 4 cups cold water. Heat until simmering and add 4 peeled sliced carrots, 2 peeled sliced parsnips, some dried mushrooms (shitake if you like it sweet), 1 bay leaf, some pink peppercorns and water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour, uncovered. Sprinkle in some salt and thyme and basil along the way, as though leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the birds.

The beans

soak and cook separately 1 cup Great Northern Beans, 1 Cup black beans, 1 cup kidney beans. When they are done cooking, heat some olive oil and saute onion and garlic, then add the bean mix. Season with salt, mirin, thyme, soy sauce.

The Soup

In a soup pot, heat some olive oil or ghee. Add a little salt. Add 3 peeled diced Scarlett turnips, 3 peeled, diced, rutabaga, 2 peeled, diced parsnips, 1 peeled diced onion and 1/2 bunch diced celery. Cook, stirring.When the vegetables are almost soft add the beans. Then drain in the stock. Mix a little dark miso with some of the hot stock until it forms a paste and add to the soup. If the flavor is too light and the stock is too liquids, cook it down uncovered for 20 min. Optional~drop in 1 Ume plum (a very salty Japanese pickled plum).

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Sedaris’s Side-splitting Pea Soup

It’s hard to laugh and run at the same time. I mean real laughter, not of the contrived polite type. Much like sneezing real laughter is a complete loss of control, and so I try to avoid it, especially at times where my laughter might be construed as inappropriate or out of place. I realize that I sound like someone who is really uptight. I’m not. At least I think I am not. I enjoy laughing while doing it, and have warm feelings toward anyone who can bring me to tearfully convulsing bouts of it. I suppose it’s just that I have a hard time letting go. Were I to ever go skydiving I would probably be the last one left on the plane, hanging onto the exit door, nauseous with fear. And I would probably be the first one back in line to re-board the plane to do it again. Once it came time to jump I would again balk, digging my fingers into the doorway and peering into the blue and white, windy abyss.

Yesterday I went running with a new running partner, David Sedaris (or rather, the voice of David Sedaris). I had downloaded a copy of “When you are engulfed in flames”, and decided to listen to it on my run to help get me through what I knew would be an exceptionally long time out. Having recently recovered from a stress fracture, I’m not as speedy as I once was and I realized that a 12 mile run was now likely to take close to 2 hours. I tucked my ear buds into the new balaclava that Christina got me, the kind that covers your whole head and neck leaving only your eyes exposed. The mirror reflected an all black figure with white running shoes, and over sized gloves. I looked like a cross between a ninja and a Mr. Potato head.

‘At least I can protect my identity with this mask on’ I thought, and I headed toward the elevator. Outside, the weather was deceivingly warm. Despite the snow and ice littering the ground, people were walking about without big heavy winter coats on. I ran for about a mile listening to Sedaris’ squeaky voice before I had to pull my balaclava up and run with it hanging awkwardly on my head like a hat.

“You look like a Dr. Suess character when you do that” I recalled Christina saying. Then she begged me to wear the thing as my permanent winter hat, laughing as she suggested it. Christina has no problem with free and easy laughter. My mother is the same way, she has a wonderful laugh and has never been afraid to express it. I envy them.

I rounded the street corner and headed to the river road, which was covered with a thin layer of crusty snow, and caused me to shorten my stride so that I looked like a person running on hot coals. That is when it started. I don’t remember the details of the book now, but something the screechy voice said in my ear was so ridiculously funny that I began to giggle uncontrollably. My knees gave out and my stomach dropped, which caused me to slide around on the icy path like a dancing corpse, or a ghost in a puppet show. The book poured into me like a shot of vodka, causing me to sway, smiling and giggling along the path. The expressions of the passing runners were somewhere between fear and amusement. It’s hard to laugh and run at the same time.

Side splitting pea soup

1 large yellow onion

1 small bunch celery (a few stalks can be missing), diced small

1.7 lb smoked ham hock (meat attached)

1 small sweet potato

2 bay leaves

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp olive oil or ghee

1 lb split peas (green)

½ lb split peas (yellow)

5 medium carrots, peeled and diced small



Additional ham (if desired)

Heat oil (or ghee) in a soup pot and add onion, sweet potato, and celery (and a pinch of salt). Saute for a min and add ham hock, bay leaves, yellow split peas and ½ the green split peas. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add carrots, remaining split peas, and salt and simmer uncovered for another hour. Remove ham hocks. Use a hand blender to blend until smooth. Tear ham off hocks and cut into pieces. Add to the soup. Enjoy.

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Sweet and Salty Miso Beet Soup

We spent the morning sitting on the long, black, leather couch at Starbucks, bathed in a box of sunbeam, which gave all skin not bandaged with winter attire a golden glow. Amy, my coffee companion, was speaking fast and excitedly about her recent trip to Japan. Her stories were so vivid that I felt as though I were watching pictures in a slideshow.

“The toilets are heated in Japan”, she said “and they come with a built in bidet”

“the people wear surgical masks on the train” she recounted “to prevent them from catching a cold”

I listened, and tried to taste her experience. This is not characteristic of me, I usually view coffee dates as an opportunity to exhibit myself to all audiences whose attention I can grasp by talking too loudly (I am in this way, a typical leo). It is only since I started writing that I find myself working on becoming a better listener. As her story began to slow, I felt overcome by a serene exhaustion. It was the feeling I get when finishing a good book. I felt as though I had just gone to Japan myself, however the trip was completely flawless, without the usual frustrations and irritabilities I usually experience during travel.

“What are you doing this afternoon? “ She asked.

“I have a few hours free, why?” I replied.

“I want to take you to the Asian market and show you some of my favorite Japanese foods” she said.

That sounded fantastic. We loaded ourselves into her black Audi, chatting excitedly about Japanese cooking the whole way. As she told me about the shredded carrot and burdock dish she sometimes makes, she drove right past our exit making me realize that Amy is as passionate about Japanese culture as I am about food.

I remembered hearing about the store, United Noodle, from a Japanese friend in graduate school. It is a little treasure that can be found hidden behind some large warehouses in Northeast Minneapolis. The market is large, specializing in many different types of Asian cuisine. Due to its off-the-beaten path location, and the wealth of obscure exotic ingredients they stock, walking into United Noodle made me feel like I was being initiated into an exclusive club. Amy led me directly to the Japanese section, and started excitedly pulling items off the shelf and giving them to me. “The Japanese” she explains, as she places a dark green package of sesame-toasted seaweed into my basket “eat with their eyes, not with their stomachs.” She turned to reach for a jar of miso and I discretely slipped the package of dried fish she had given me back to the shelf.

This past weekend we had a surprise visit from a 4 year old little girl. Grace showed up in a little pink jacket ready to lead us to dinosaur museums, and to remind us how fun it can be to make pancakes, and to show us that Chip and Dale really are very funny chipmunks. This morning I stood at in the kitchen peeling beets while Grace tearfully pulled on her little pink outfit, and Christina convinced her that she would get to see her daddy and mommy soon so their was no need to fuss. Weekends with four year olds are a balancing act between the sweet and the salty.

“Oh Emily, I love you” she says when I give her a chocolate.

“I don’t love you and your not my friend” she pouts when I refuse her a second one.

This soup is sweet and salty (but mostly sweet), in honor of Grace.

Sweet and Salty Miso Beet Soup

2 pieces Kombu (optional, but will enhance flavor)

3 Large beets, peeled and sliced into short matchsticks

2 yellow onions, quartered and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger

1 Tbsp salt

5 dried shitakes, reconstituted in 1 cup hot water (save the water and discard the shitakes, unless you like their chewy texture)

2 parsnips, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 Tbsp miso (dark)

3 cups water, beef or vegetable stock

Soy sauce to taste

In a large soup pot add 5 cups of water and Kombu. Simmer while you prepare the beets and onions. Add beets, onions, garlic, ginger and salt to the pot. Simmer while you prepare carrots and parsnips. Add carrots and parsnips and simmer uncovered until tender (about 25 min). Add shitake liquid. If the soup is too thick, add 3 cups water, beef or vegetable stock. Scoop up a cup of the soup and mix in miso, then pour this liquid into the soup. Once you have added the miso do not allow the soup to boil, if you plan on reheating the soup only bring it to a simmer. Add soy sauce to taste.

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Broccoli in the Face of Winter Soup

Winter is chasing you. You cannot escape her. You are not quite sure if the cold that you feel is real, or if it is anticipation that gnaws at your skin like teeth. Outside your cheeks are slapped by the wind, bringing tears to your eyes causing you to feel cast out like some rejected lover. You hurry inside, where your body boils and sweats like a child in the throws of sobbing hot tears. Your wool socks itch and your sweater chokes you, and the dry hum of the heater causes your brain to swell. This is winter: pure, unabridged discomfort. Your only chance of survival is to pull on your strongest armor, stare her directly in the face, put on a hearty smile and roar “Alright winter! I don’t like you and you don’t like me, but you can’t break me that easily!!! I am not going anywhere! BRING IT ON!!!!”

Shake the dark circles from under your eyes. Toss aside the covers from your tomb. Elevate you mind above the sleepy haze that enchants you and casts your eyes down. Sip in the orange and pink light of morning sun, so that you can breath out the story of it’s beauty. This sunrise tale will cause perfectly framed hooded faces to awaken like sunflowers toward the light.

Christina and I shuffled over the banks of ice that line our Minnesota streets. These banks were once fluffy with new snow, but have since thawed and frozen over again. With gloved hands we opened the swinging glass door to Cecil’s Jewish deli. Inside I felt my body thaw as I was greeted with memories of my east coast upbringing. Minnesota has a large population of Germans, as well as people of Scandinavian descent. In the twin cities you are more likely to encounter lutefisk than challah. Attached to the deli, Cecil’s has an old-fashioned diner style restaurant, the likes of which was somehow passed over by the low-fat and low-carb diets entirely. I settle into my laminated menu, looking forward to a good old-fashioned water bagel with lox and cream cheese. At the table next to ours, an older couple eats a piece of lemon pie with 6 inches of meringue on top. The smell of rye and butter sizzles off of some far away griddle and permeates my taste buds. Our waiter, is not from Saint Paul, Christina and I recognize him immediately from some parties around town.

“It’s Matt, isn’t it?” I say.

“Yeah, that’s me” he says.

“We were wondering if you and your girlfriend Emily wanted to come over for soup on Sunday” Emily is a friend of ours from around.

“Yeah, we would like that!” Matt says.

“One more thing” I add “what is your favorite kind of soup?”

“Cream of broccoli” he answers.

The Stock

3 yellow onions, chopped (leave skins on)

3 cloves garlic chopped (leave skins on)

1 1/2 Tbsp salt

1 bunch celery, diced

1 bunch carrots, peeled and diced

1 parsnip, peeled and diced

¼ bunch Italian parsley, chopped

12 cups water

Heat 3 onions in 2 cups water. Add garlic and salt and simmer together while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Add remaining ingredients (omitting the parsley until the last 15 min) and simmer 1 hour uncovered. Strain.

The Roast

3 parsnips, peeled and chopped

2 yellow onions, peeled and sliced


2 Tbsp olive oil

6 cloves garlic (chop the tips off and leave in skins)

Mix ingredients together and roast at 400 degrees, covered for 25 min. Uncover and roast at 350 for an additional 15 min or until the garlic is caramelized.

The Soup

1 yellow onion, diced

½ bunch celery

2 bunches of broccoli


2 Tbsp ghee or unsalted butter

4-6 oz Gruyere cheese

In a soup pot, heat 2 Tbsp unsalted butter of ghee (if you use ghee there is less chance that you will burn the onions). Add yellow onion, celery and a pinch of salt. Cook a few min, then add roasted vegetables (make sure you remove the garlic skins). Add one bunch of broccoli, chopped and ¾ of the stock and simmer, covered, until the broccoli is cooked. Blend with a hand blender. Meanwhile, chop the second bunch of broccoli into bite sized pieces and simmer, covered, in a separate pot in remaining stock. Add the bite sized pieces of broccoli and stock to the soup blend so that your soup has larger pieces of broccoli in it. Add the cheese in slices.

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