Soup is a Feeling, Not a Starter
Originally published in the First We Eat: A Catalyst Arts Cookbook - Exhibition Publication April 2020.
An Essay on Soup Appreciation
Dribbling, sloshing and nourishing; a wide rimmed white ceramic bowl sits on the dark marked wood of the kitchen table, and a thick flowing ribbon of soft steam lingers in the frosty atmosphere. The surface is tense with a slick matte skin, little bits of green from the herbs and speckles of black pepper break the blood red finish, enriching the aroma that sets off saliva, tingling in the slippery gutter of a mouth.
To suggest a recipe for soup, means adding to the already thousands and almost double the amount of variations, that can be made. I’m sure you have your own, or one that you like most, not the thing that you long for in that cool, hipster cafe you frequent because everyone likes sharing it on their Instagram. The soup your mum, dad, aunty, uncle, grandparent, foster parents, refugee cousin or local homeless aid workers made...the type you crave when your heating gets shut off or that emptying homesickness cripples your insides and leaves you feeling lethargic without the excuse of a flu.
Soup is a strong staple for diets of stomachs that survive and endure damp climates, Ireland being a prime example; an easy lunchtime go-to for most lifestyles, that’s filling and warm and leaves it’s weight in you for a while. It shows up on the crisp, handwritten menus of Michelin star restaurants as well as the yellowed, laminate ones that are stuck to the tables of greasy spoons. There’s no escape, it spills into life everywhere, served anywhere, regardless of socio-poitical-geographical factors, and it wouldn’t be out of place.
Soup is soup - a hiss that carries across two hollow, blended vowels, slapping into the cushioning consonant, an onomatopoeia of stirring in the pot, pouring into a bowl, being slurped between lips.
Soup arrived in a new analogous form. Everything came to a roiling boil, and it rose to the surface from a hot pot of unemployment, lack of motivation, a slow growing resentment for my choice in becoming or wanting to be an artist, repetitive damaging actions shadowed by equally damaging words, constant constant doubt ... all facilitating an unbearable struggle that I filled myself up with and masochistically drowned myself in. Soup happened when I tried to label it all with a single word, an adequate metaphor.
Just another morning, sweating under my duvet and measuring out all the reasons why I shouldn’t get up, eventually taking myself out of the oven and into the cold air,
deflating like a failed souffle, my limbs limp and rubbery, my mood not worth mentioning.
This was a staple in my routine, wobbling my jelly legs into a standing position and wading through a thick, heavy, tacky presence, that dragged my feet and pressed against my chest, making it impossible to lift my arms or straighten my back.
The air around me, the world outside, my internal organs and interior self, had simmered and reduced down into what only could be described as soup; enveloping me into an immovable, lumpy object, suspended in a dense viscosity, soaking and crumbling into tiny pieces until I didn’t resemble anything anymore. Where things that held meaning for me before, slid across me and left no mark, a momentary ripple returning to stillness.
Food is a primary element of survival, where when there is none, suddenly everything else becomes directed towards finding it again.
I think the monotony, floating and disintegrating, popped and sizzled, scaring me a little, when I was reminded by some boring internet article, that a new decade was starting in a few days. I was aware of the new year approaching, the split second where our common experience of time is shared in a brief, booze up of fresh bullshit. But I noticed my head cleared a little. I let my tea go cold, sitting and considering the prospect of leaving my last ten years behind, archiving it in a freezer drawer and walking away. I felt myself gently bob up to the surface, still surrounded by a lot of things I couldn’t control, understand or have any effect on, but at least I could see them. I learned to swim again, kicking out my shrivelled feet, pumping fresh, liquid blood back into withered, dry vessels and flailing my arms like soft spaghetti, just about managing to budge, but budging all the same.
The frequency of slipping back under, eventually reduced down to only a few forgettable instances, where social anxiety and self doubt still had a lingering bad aftertaste, but I learned to gargle and spit it out again, watch it melt away into the abyss of the plughole.
I got my appetite back, moving freely and shovelling away years of shit that had coagulated around the rim like a stodgy piece of bad cheese, thickening the entire mixture into an unrecognisable mush stew. I felt myself wanting to go full Villanelle in Killing Eve, when she pounds a mouthful of expensive pasta into her mouth, letting the sauce coated trails fall and wiggle between her chews, practically spewing from her face. I just wanted to consume it all, pile it up and slather it in mayonnaise, not taking breaths between bites and forcing it down with the lubrication of fizzing, carbonated drinks and warm, red wine.
I pulled myself out, leaving a desire line in my wake like the slice of a knife.
I got my appetite back, I remember remembering the smell of bread toasting, butter melting, the prickly scent of fried onions and salted earthiness of chicken stock. That satisfying crunch of garlic in the crusher, slapping minced beef into patties, the puffing texture of whipped cream and the magical process of turning a drippy egg into a soft poached pillow.
And ugh I can’t believe I’m talking about soup and being an artist, like what a shit fucking Andy Warhol fucking reference, eww gross!
But anyway, thanks soup.
Thank you for being the thing that helped me verbalise, visualise, materialise my depression into something that I could easily put into a tupperware, seal in a can, close the lid on, put up onto a shelf and say to myself “At least I’ll know better what to do next time.” I couldn’t be bothered following recipes, monthly subscriptions or dietary advice that guarantee perfect and positive mental health. For a world that’s feeding me constantly with awareness campaigns in the form of advertising, instagram posts and cheap cotton t-shirts, I still ended up starving.
The first thing I learned to cook in home economics in secondary school, with my frazzled teacher telling us that this is what we’ll be living on when we all move away to go to university (and she was dead right), was vegetable soup, and upon making it I felt empowered to actually take care of myself, because plain shop bought veg suddenly turned into warming, delicious food that kept my insides full and my mind calm.
So add or take away what you will, just feed yourself.
Two large floury potatoes (peeled and thickly sliced), one carrot (peeled and thickly sliced), two sticks of celery (thickly sliced), one onion (chopped fine), two cloves of garlic (grated or verrry thinly sliced).
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a big pot over a medium heat, fry off the garlic and onions until brown, then chuck in the rest of the veg.
While they’re sweating (give them a wee stir if they’re sticking to each other), boil the kettle and make up a litre of chicken stock, stirring the stock cube constantly or else it will go all scummy.
Once the vegetables are nice and soft, add the stock and leave to simmer until the potatoes fall apart and everything is a bit on the too soft side.
Take off the heat and blend the shit out of it, be careful of scalding splatters and unplug your liquidiser before you wash it.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and maybe a bit of chilli if your feeling zingy.
Serve up in a warm bowl with heaps of buttered toast and black tea.