I have been sick last couple of days. It’s one of those sneaky, insidious colds that first appear as a mere tingle in your throat, tricking you into believing that you can ride it out with all the flair of Richard Gere as Sir Lancelot in the movie “The First Knight”, only to have you wake up in the morning feeling like you cannot separate from the bed, your limbs painfully attached to the mattress, your throat ablaze like the center of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, and your head throbbing in the rhythm of the wildest Scandinavian death metal band*.
I valiantly attacked my daily chores trying to ignore the beast and hoping that I can deter it with sheer determination and optimism. I do this every time I get these colds, and every time I hope that I can get a different result with the same strategy – a technique so opposed to using your intelligence. As I grow older, Richard Gere as Sir Lancelot appears less and less, replaced by the images of tired and moribund regents, still regal, but surrendering to the inevitable forces of time and circumstances.
This morning I woke up coughing so violently that tears ran down my cheeks. My throat felt raw and I could barely utter a word. I kicked the pride to the side and proclaimed the stage closed for the day, pulling the covers tightly around me, and letting the girls fend to themselves. I certainly did not look like the Queen Guinevere of Camelot, but fancied myself rather like Tolkien’s Golum, with blood-shot eyes filled with feverish desire and a few wisps of greasy hair stapled to his head.
I really wanted Mother’s chicken soup with egg drops or farina dumplings, but I could not even imagine going to all the necessary steps to achieve the flavor that would make me rise from the dead. For once, my freezer did not offer not even one measly container of chicken stock, even though there were numerous plastic bins holding vegetable, seafood, and beef stocks. For a moment I contemplated the possibility of a worldwide conspiracy, but even though my mind was somewhat addled by the thoughts of self-pity, I still regained some of my senses.
I can trust the girls to abandon for a moment their silly, but oh so important games of MASH that place them into imaginary lives with their beloveds, and whisk eggs or stir an already prepared meal. But they are not ready to face an extra sharp knife and a shiny onion or a slippery carrot. Even if I managed to ignore the inevitable giggling. So I knew that I was on my own if I wanted something warm and comforting to touch my lips.
I dragged my aching body out of the bed, straightened the sheets, opened the windows, and shed the pajamas. A hot shower brought me closer to life as it should be, and I almost felt a new surge of energy penetrate my ennui. I thank Lydia of The Perfect Pantry for perpetuating my pantry hoarding habits that enabled me to assemble all the ingredients I needed to make my Mother’s summer tomato soup on the whim.
Even though my sinuses suffered for a few days, I still caught the elusive whiffs of onion, carrot, and celery as they luxuriated in the tomato broth burbling on the stove. And in an instant, I was whisked away to my childhood, when all my worries, alms, and concerns were assuaged by comforting words and familiar smells enveloping me as I stepped into the kitchen, my teen angst at its peak. Mother was always there, tending to the pots and pans and eagerly awaiting another emotional report fresh from my day at school.
I felt as vulnerable and hurt as I stood by my stove in California, straining the vegetables and stirring the dough for the egg drops. But with every aromatic that hit my nose from that pot I felt better, as if Mother were caressing my cheeks and willing me to feel better with her tender, healing touch.
Towards the end of the summer, Mother would make huge batches of her tomato preserves with heavy, juicy, dark red tomatoes, sweet carrots, and white onions swirled in a blender with garlic and parsley, and encapsulated in 2 liter Coca Cola bottles that were snuggled neatly in the big box freezer in the garage. At any given time there would be a defrosted bottle of the tomato goodness in the fridge, just awaiting someone to wish for a hint of the summer tomato soup.
I don’t preserve my tomatoes, but I know that I can squeeze every bit of flavor from the ingredients I find in my pantry and fridge. I yearn for juicy sweet summer tomatoes, but in the meantime I am perfectly satisfied with a can of good quality whole tomatoes picked at the height of the season, preserving their essence, sweet and acidic at the same time.
This soup exemplifies the simplicity of pure peasant cooking at its best, glorifying the best ingredients you can find and the ease of preparation. I did not sweat at the stove chopping and stirring. The whole preparation thing was done in minutes and the soup was ready in half an hour. And looking at the glorious red with specks of barely visible egg drops, I felt I could climb right onto that wild black stallion and ride with Richard Gere as Sir Lancelot, my hands encircling his slender waist, my head resting on his wide shoulder, as we rode into the sunset towards some enchanted Camelot.
SUMMER TOMATO SOUP
â€¢ 1 Tbsp sunflower oil (you can substitute vegetable, corn, or canola oil)
â€¢ 1 tsp sweet paprika
â€¢ 1 cup water
â€¢ 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes (I use whole tomatoes which I process in a blender to allow for some chunks)
â€¢ 1 small yellow onion (or ½ a big one), peeled and cut in quarters
â€¢ 2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into big chunks
â€¢ 2 stalks of celery, leaves on, cleaned and cut into big chunks
â€¢ 1 tsp coarse salt
â€¢ ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
â€¢ 1 egg, beaten
â€¢ about ½ cup all purpose flour (depending on the size of your egg you might have to add a bit more)
Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot on medium-low heat. Stir in paprika only until dissolved, making sure it does not burn. Immediately pour in water and stir to incorporate. Add the tomatoes, vegetables, and seasonings. Turn the heat to high and heat until the soup start to boil, and turn it back down to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked and soft.
In the meantime, make the egg drops. In a small bowl stir in the flour into the beaten egg little by little, until the strands of dough fall slowly off the fork in thin ribbons. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
Strain the soup through a wire mash and return to boil. Slowly pour the egg drops over the tines of a fork, controlling the size and shape of the ribbons. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, cover the pot, and simmer for another 5 minutes to cook the egg drops.
Dice the cooked carrots and return to soup and discard the onions and celery.
Serve immediately with some crusty bread.
*I love my Swiss friend Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums, and I know that this metaphor will bring a smile on her face and at least a second of a raised eyebrow, as she finds comfort in most metal music, just like my eldest daughter:)