This is Ashley trying to feed cabbage to Marcel. Marcel was having none of it. Stupid Marcel. (JK Marcel luh you boo (yes, he can read).)
Ashley is the kind of person you meet and realize she will very quickly know all of your secrets and you'll feel better because of it. You can go from zero to thick-as-thieves in 60 seconds, and it feels like the most natural of things. Ashley listen, talk, offer advice, or interpretive dance with you to Bright Eyes all night. She'll also use her deck of spirit animal cards to tell you you're apparently a BOAR (pig). Uhhhhgeethanks, buddy.
Ashley made this wonderful dinner for me (which you should definitely make), and then wrote the most beautiful post about it. Do yourself a favor and read on - you've never seen a post like this on this silly blog. Earnest and heartfelt and still funny - she'll have you wanting to make this soup and make some positive changes. Basically, somebody get this babe a book deal because we all need her to self-help the heck out of us.
Without further ado, a story of love, loss, life and soup from the delightful Ms. Ashley Stimpson:
When Corrie asked me to write a guest blog about soup, she must have known I was going to produce an over-long, overly personal treatise on love, loss, and letting go. I mean, we’ve hung out a few times. Wordy and uncomfortably intimate are kind of my trademarks. But! If you hang real tight, there is some seriously delicious and simple soup at the end! I promise!
‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood—
It only feels like another lifetime. This story (I mean soup?) actually begins about a decade ago in Columbia, South Carolina, a place that shaped my life in so many strange ways. It was in this lush Southern city that I went to college, honed a violent liberalism (naturally), met my husband, and learned a ton about food. As a USC alumna, I often joke that I majored in shrimp and grits with a minor in biscuits and gravy (I really double-majored in scowling and listening to Radiohead, duh), but my culinary education actually began with my in-laws.
I got married at the too-young (seriously, kids, slow down) age of 23, but I met my betrothed when I was 21. His family lived an hour away, and right off the rip it seemed that every other week meant some arbitrary reason to get together and eat A LOT of food (but not drink any beer. Never any beer. Baptists, amiright?). I’m sure at the time I was a Mega Brat about another family event (ah, hindsight), but now I look back fondly on those moments, and especially on those meals.
It was under the tutelage of this family that I first tasted brown rice casserole, asparagus casserole, and squash casserole. Barbecue was a frequent treat, so I learned a lot about that other kind of hash. Fried okra played its role, of course. Chocolate butter is a (very cool) thing. Potted meat not so much. I found out that some people put hard-boiled eggs in sautéed spinach and sardines on saltines. And—all joking aside—I did figure out how to make phenomenal grits.
Fast-forward a few years. I am no longer married (it’s okay). I am no longer living in the south (it’s way more than okay). And recently, it seems my life has been a study in the Buddhist concept of impermanence. And thus, I’ve been practicing the art letting things—and people—go, even though my natural inclination is to cling. You know the way a baby sloth clings onto its mother? With those impossibly tiny but fierce hands? That was me. Just a clingy baby sloth who was scared that anything would change or anyone would leave or anything bad would happen. But now I’m more of an easy-come, easy-do-you-really-have-to-PLEASE-DON’T-are-you-SURE-okay-you-can-go kinda gal. So laid back, y’all.
|You've never had paper towel-toaster-High Life soup?|
Seriously though, letting go of things is good. Especially the past. I’ve learned that you really do have to let that go if you’re going to make a respectable attempt at happiness. And so—to get to the point—I’ve been avoiding this soup. Thinking about it, dreaming about it, talking about it, but not making it. Sure that it must go the way of pictures and jewelry and music that reminds me of days long gone. See, this soup is special. First of all, it’s so good. Second, it was one of the only dishes my mother-in-law taught me to make step by step, standing next to me in my old Kansas kitchen (you might imagine, she being a graceful southern lady and me being, well, me, we had very little in common. But this dish was our touchstone). And for years, it was my ex’s and my go-to: for guests, football games, the first chilly nights of autumn, and basically any time either of us felt half of a sad feeling.
Obviously, I knew that if I made this soup, I would certainly have some pathetic thirty-something emotional breakdown. Mascara-stained tissues, camel lights in the living room, the whole tired routine.
But then I spent a bunch of money on vacation and needed a cheap, hardy meal to get me through a week of work lunches in a stupidly-cold warehouse. Breakdown be damned.
Allow me to recount the conversation I had with myself in the produce section.
(I contain multitudes.)
“Listen, you’re broke. You need to toughen up and stop letting everything make you cry. Buy the potatoes, do the damn thing.”
I was being so stern with myself that I kind of wanted to cry. Don’t worry, I didn’t.
I made my purchases and nervously drove home and started chopping potatoes and caramelizing onions and grating cheese. I kept patting my face to check for tears, kept inspecting my heart for any twinge of painful nostalgia. The dog and cat hovered nearby, watching me, holding their adorable breaths.
And then the funniest thing happened. Or didn’t happen, rather.
I didn’t get sad. I actually felt…fine. The smell, the taste, the very act of making a dish that was so associated with my twenties and all its weird twists and turns made me feel glad, happy even. Made me feel like even though those times are gone and those relationships over, that holding onto pieces of my past isn’t weak at all. I realized that all these endings don’t—and shouldn’t—nullify the very real and very rich and very sweet experiences I’ve been lucky enough to collect. Letting go IS good, but avoiding every memory—or recipe!—would deny the importance and the poignancy of having those experiences in the first place (sorry, Buddha).
After all and after everything, I am the girl in those memories, the girl laboring over that soup again and again. Those memories are mine, and I can do whatever the hell I want to with them. I can even celebrate them. The good, the terrible, and the delicious.
Either I’m getting tougher, or this soup is just that amazing. Pretty sure it’s both.
Life-Changing* Cheesy Potato Soup
What you need:
4-5 big ol’ russet potatoes
1 giant yellow onion or two medium-sized ones
1 8oz block of sharp cheddar, grated
A little less than a half-gallon of (at least) 2% milk
As much butter as you’re comfortable with
One head of cabbage (optional but not really)
2 tbsp. sugar
What you’ll do:
Peel and chop the potatoes into uniform pieces. Bring to a boil in heavily salted water.
Meanwhile, dice the onions. Put a bunch of butter in a sauté pan. Caramelize those babies. Get them nice and golden.
Drain potatoes. Put them back in the soup pot. Pour in onions AND all that glorious butter. Do not neglect the butter. IMPORTANT: do not put your onion pan in the dishwasher yet. You’re going to use all that oniony goodness to flavor your cabbage.
Pour a decent amount of milk into the potato and onion mixture. Keep adding milk as you use an immersion blender (or just a regular blender) to bring the soup to the consistency you desire.
Dump in the shredded cheese and put the soup on simmer to let everything come together. Salt and pepper liberally. Add milk if it’s too thick.
Put more butter in your onion pan. As it melts, scrape up any of that nice onion char from the bottom of the pan. Core the cabbage and chop into 1-inch shreds. Place the cabbage into the pan and use your hand or tongs to try to coat as much of it as possible with the butter.
Sprinkle in 2 tbsps. of sugar (or more), a lot of salt (or more), a lot of pepper (or more), and about half of a drinking glass of water. Place lid on pan and steam the cabbage at high heat. Stirring occasionally until your cabbage has the bite (or lack thereof) that you prefer.
Serve potato soup with cabbage on the top of it!
Think about your life and have some pretty profound realizations as you enjoy the best soup ever.
*Results may vary.
Thanks, Ashley, for a memorable night full of comfort food and comfort in general! As is our tradition, we ended the evening in the best way possible: with one of the