Polar fleece and Gore-Tex can only do so much. With Minnesota fully launched into cold weather, the only way to survive is from the inside out. In other words, the only way you're going to make it until April is if you get a pot of soup started on the stove, pronto.
The soup will not only warm you, but it well might nourish parts of you that haven't thawed out since that trip to the cabin last August. Soup is ultimate soul food, and I recommend daily ingestion when the weather gets this cold. Do I eat soup for breakfast? Only if I want to summon the fortitude to shovel the front walk, so yes.
I do have one problem with soup. I am, by nature, an overcooker. By that I don't mean that I cook food for too long. I just make too much of it. There must have been a long-ago Irish relative who worked in the kitchen at a residence the size of Downton Abbey, because I make enough batches of every recipe to feed most of the neighbors on my southwest Minneapolis block, plus any hardy souls who are trotting along the parkway, too. After a certain point, even the tastiest Cranberry Bean and Red Wine Soup With 20 Cloves of Garlic starts to seem a little, well, repetitious.
And that's where the swapping comes in. To make this happen, you will have to put aside your native Minnesotan apprehension of entertaining your friends for any reason other than your kids' high school graduation. Face it, that's essentially a money-raising racket; this is a friendship enhancement project. And stop worrying about the size or state of your living quarters. No one cares if there's cat hair on the couch or if there's a pothole in your kitchen linoleum. They're cold, they're lonely and they're hungry, so call up some friends and ask them to come over with six containers of their favorite soup, frozen, labeled and ready to be stored in each other's freezers like Minnesota's version of buried treasure.
I started hosting soup swaps eight years ago, and I've held them every fall and spring since. Hosting soup swaps has given me the opportunity to experience the masterpieces that everyday people can create, when they're given a reason and an invitation. I've marveled at the friendships and bonds that are formed when we share the stories of our precious creations with each other.
Like the friend who told us that she was the only grandkid who ever cooked with Grandma, and how now all her siblings want to come over to her house for bowls of Grandma's Famous Vegetable Soup. Or the newlywed who swapped Artichoke Bisque, the soup she'd prepared the night her boyfriend (finally!) proposed. Or the friend who told of her restful and energizing vacation at a Colorado dude ranch, and how she'd persuaded the chef to share the recipe for Roasted Poblano and Squash Soup to help her remember that magical time.
I love swapping soup because it's a practical way to stay connected with people whose company I enjoy, and whom I don't connect with nearly often enough. Usually, our crazy-busy lives keep us from doing more than "liking" each other's kids' recital pictures on Facebook. But life is too short not to get together with your friends and share face-to-face stories and laughs. And life is too short not to eat lots of great, homemade soup.
I invite you to carve out a soup-bowl size moment from your overscheduled life and make some space for a soup swap. Invite friends, neighbors and co-workers to share soup and stories with you. It doesn't matter how cold it is outside. You'll generate enough warmth with your stories and your soup. With any luck, it will be the start of a new tradition in your corner of the world, and you'll be building community with every bowlful.
Five easy steps for a soup swap:
1. Invite at least seven swappers and no more than about 20.
2. Ask them to make, freeze and label six (one-quart) containers of soup (gallon-size bags frozen flat work great).
3. Assign numbers randomly after everyone arrives, then go around the room and have guests tell the story of their soup in the order of the number they chose. This is the time for stories, cajoling and funny tales of recipes gone awry. Notice how nice it is to sit in a circle and listen to one friend at a time talk about something, even if it is just soup.
4. Take turns swapping, following your assigned numbers.
5. Leave with six containers of frozen soup, and enough stories and friendship to get them through the rest of the winter.
Easy Winter Tomato Soup
Note: From Julie Kendrick, who serves this thicker-style soup over rice, making it somewhat like a stew. The soup could be thinned down with vegetable or chicken stock, if preferred.
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, chopped
• 2 (28-oz.) cans whole tomatoes
• 1 tbsp. brown sugar
• 3 slices whole wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn in pieces
• 1 tbsp. brandy, optional
• Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in soup pot; add onion and garlic and sauté about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes with juices and mash with back of spoon. Stir in brown sugar and pieces of bread.
Bring to boil, reduce to medium heat and simmer until bread begins to break up, about 5 minutes. Purée with immersion blender or transfer to a countertop blender to do so. Stir in brandy, and salt and pepper to taste.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories125Fat6 gSodium360 mg
Carbohydrates18 gSaturated fat1 gCalcium113 mg
Protein4 gCholesterol0 mgDietary fiber6 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 vegetable, ½ other carb, 1 fat.
Chickpea Soup With Chorizo and Garlic
Note: From "300 Sensational Soups," by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds.
• 1/4 c. olive oil
• 1 chopped onion
• 1 chopped carrot
• 1 rib celery, chopped
• 1 zucchini, chopped
• 1 lb. fresh chorizo sausage (bulk or with casings removed)
• 3 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• 6 c. chicken or vegetable stock
• 2 tbsp. tomato paste
• 1 tsp. paprika
• 2 (14- to 19-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tbsp. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
In a large pot, warm oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and zucchini; sauté until softened, about 6 minutes. Add chorizo, garlic and thyme; sauté, breaking chorizo up with the back of a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Add stock, tomato paste and paprika; bring to a simmer. Add chickpeas and simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle into heated bowls and garnish with parsley.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories615Fat42 gSodium1,510 mg
Carbohydrates31 gSaturated fat13 gCalcium86 mg
Protein30 gCholesterol67 mgDietary fiber7 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 bread/starch, 3 ½ high-fat meat, 3 fat.
Julie Kendrick is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer who covers food, health and science. She blogs at kendrickworks.blogspot.com.