Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tomato Corn Basil Soup

What can I say? WOW! The entire experience was spectacular. Early in the morning, spreading the produce out on the counter I gently washed each item in the sink examining the way the morning sun through the window made the droplets on my tomatoes glisten. There were other projects to take care of in the house, but I became engrossed in just this one. Like a good book I just couldn't pull myself away from the organic rhapsody on my counter.

This is a pretty quick recipe, so I knew that I couldn't start cooking before 4:30, but I couldn't resist the urge to prep every detail. The corn called to me and I gently pulled back the husk revealing the soft nubbly end of the corn that contains no kernels. I understood in that moment the significance that corn held for ancient fertility rites. It's golden masculinity rippling beneath my fingertips as I cleared away the corn silk and rinsed the pale asymmetrical imperfect kernels beneath my running faucet.
I remember growing up in Germany they didn't serve corn. In fact, you couldn't buy it in a German grocery. You had to get your corn at the commissary. My mother told me that they believe corn is pig food. Recently, someone told me that this might be slowly changing. To each his own, I say. More for me!

Unfamiliar as working with fresh food is I had a task before me: peel the tomatoes. Both my mother and husband gave me the same advice. Dip each tomato for 15 to 20 seconds in boiling water, let them cool and the skins will slide right off. I counted slowly to 20, so I am sure I left them in long enough. The skin slit and pulled away as if shrunken, but I wouldn't say they slid off. It wasn't difficult, but I did have to peel them away a piece at a time. They did not slide off like a nylon stocking does a leg as I had imagined. Maybe if I left them in longer.

Eight ears of corn lay in a shiny stainless steel bowl on my counter. The sun hitting the side of the bowl was nearly blinding, and the surgical look of the bowl clashed in sharp contrast to the glorious cobs. I kept thinking, "I'm sure there must be some autumn craft I could use those husks and cobs for..." and "I wish we had a composter for all this vegetable matter..." but crafts and composts aside, the spoils of cooking ended up with the trash man Monday morning.

Using a steak knife I cut the kernels from the cobb, careful not the cut too far back into the cob. I don't think I've ever eaten cobb, but my soup recipe certainly didn't call for any. I got terrible marks for following directions in elementary school. I try harder now. After I spent some significant amount of time surveying my handywork with a steakknife, I swept the kernels off the cutting board into another industrial aged stainless steel bowl. My Vignalta Sea Salt had arrived via mail order from
www.cooksshophere.com. I tossed a palm full into the kernels. I think it may have been some attempt at coming up with a justification for running the kernels through my fingers. I guess I may have some guilty associations with the tactile qualities of my food.

Completely uncharacteristic of my normally type A, anal retentive, obsessive compulsive self (my boss calls me Miss Monk), I didn't bother measuring the corn. The recipe called for 3 cups of corn, but recommended using frozen organic sweet corn. I couldn't bear the thought of making my first soup with frozen produce from box. I'm turning over a new leaf right? No more square food. (Well maybe brownies...)

It also called for canned organic tomatoes, but we already know I escaped that pitfall. I doubled the garlic requirement from the recipe and peeled and chopped the tiny fragrant cloves. I peeled the papery skin away from my onion and cut off the ends as I have watched my mother, and numerous roommates, and my husband do countless times. I expected the sharp smell that makes your eyes water. It never came. I know that there are different kinds of onions...maybe this was Johnson's Tearless? Everyone please feel free to post any education on onions. I am obviously in need of some schoolin'.

With everything but the basil prepped, and a flourless almond cake lemon glazed and sprinkled with powdered sugar ready and waiting on the counter, I poured some olive oil in the bottom of my pot and put it on the stove to heat. I'm a little spacey on the time involved. I know that I stared into the pot waiting for something to happen. I wasn't clear on sauteing so eventually I grew impatient and tossed in the onions. Is the oil supposed to do something before you put in the onions? I may never know...

The recipe said to wait until the onions began to brown to put in the garlic. A couple of tiny onion bits browned, but after 15 minutes of trying to leave the onions alone to brown I decided I didn't have enough experience with onions to know if they were changing color or not. I threw in the garlic.

The tomatoes were next in line. The recipe said to put them in the pot and leave them until they released their juices. This sounded fairly dramatic, so I trusted that I would know if when it happened. I mashed each tomato once with a fork before I put it in the pot. I tried to imagine that canned tomatoes, even nifty tasty organic canned tomatoes, would probably not be whole in the can. I've also never know canned goods to not have sodium, so another palm full or so of the Vignalta went in. I stirred and walked away. 10 minutes later and I wasn't disappointed. The tomatoes had released their juices creating something that already looked like it had made half the journey to being soup without me while I wasn't looking. Good thing this isn't a babysitting gig.

The recipe now called for 1 cup of filtered water. Easy. My fridge has a filter. (Cue ethereal music in honor of long awaited ice and water in the door.) Then put the corn in. No problem. It said to wait five minutes, add the basil and serve. The phone rang. Houston was running behind. No problem. I realized I had forgotten to get a loaf started in the bread maker and asked him to stop at Whole Foods on the way home to pick up a half dozen of their GF Creamy Biscuits to go with the soup. I had a feeling this soup was going to require sopping the end out of the bottom of the bowl. Bread product a must. After five minutes I put the soup on low on the back burner. Chopped up my beautiful sprigs of basil as best I could (we need a new set of knives desperately) setting them aside to go in right before serving and laid down for a nap on the couch. I woke to the phone again. Houston on his way. All total 2 hours late. I went to check on the soup. The smell was well on its way to Nirvana, but I worried that it wasn't seasoned enough. Luckily I stopped on my way to salting it yet again and took a little taste. A gutteral noise issued involuntarily from my throat as I nearly swooned. No more seasoning needed. As with arts and crafts and many other endeavors in life, sometimes the most important thing you need to know is when to stop.

Houston eventually made it home. I couldn't stay mad at him and eat my soup. He actually complimented it which makes is quite a coup for me. Each bite of the first bowl elicited the same primal noises, and the first bite of the leftovers I took to work on Monday did as well. The looks from my co-workers said that I might have just gone too far into the realm of self complimenting. I guess I should have brought some to share. Maybe next time. 'Til then I shall bask in the self satisifaction of knowing the best soup I have ever eaten in my life I made myself.

(Thank you,
Shauna, for encouraging me to get the Vignalta. I don't think the soup would haved held up as well without it. You encourage me daily with your Blog and I don't think that I would have made it this far into the Magical Realm of Kitchen without your romantic vision of food stuck in head every day.

Thanks to Dr. Weil for leading me along a journey to optimum health. I've been on his path for years now and drew a lot of strength to keep questioning bad diagnosis that didn't feel right from reading his work and encouragement towards a better road to healthy. The recipe for
Tomato Corn Basil Soup is from his website www.drweil.com any changes that I made to the recipe were in the spirit of all I have learned from his program.)

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