Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spoon Up and Tune In

My friend Terri loves soup, so I often make it when she visits. Most recently that meant a Tuscan-style bean and cabbage soup garnished with crispy bacon and toasted garlic bread crumbs, just the thing for lunch on a blustery afternoon. Last week, despite being March it was so warm I sat in the single sunny spot in my garden and read for an hour. So it was an Asian inspired chicken soup with bok choy for dinner that night, light and flavorful. Then, this being Toronto spring officially ended. Again. Forget sitting in the garden uploading vitamin D, it was heading for -10. That inspired my first attempt at mulligatawny, the southern Indian classic, a warming combination of chicken, coconut, onions, garlic and stock garnished with yogurt and fresh coriander.

Soup kitchens are synonymous with poverty, but one shouldn’t assume that the soup was always Oliver Twist-type horrible. At a lecture earlier this month at York University mystery writer Maureen Jennings described her research process which included following a recipe for soup that would have been served in 19th Century workhouses. While relying on flour and barley to stretch it to many bowls, Jennings pronounced it delicious.

Alexis Soyer, the Gordon Ramsay of his day, worked tirelessly not just to create soups that could be prepared quickly to attempt to feed the victims of the Irish Potato Famine, but to design portable kitchens and serving systems to reach the greatest possible number of the poor. You can get one of his soup recipes and the details of his dizzyingly complex life in his biography Relish by Ruth Cowen.

Tuning you on

I love my iPod, from my first nano, sleek as a tube of Chanel lipstick and slimmer than a Parisian model to my current 30GB workhorse. I seldom set forth without rings on my fingers and buds in my ears. But what I started out to tell you about is some terrific podcasts about books:

· Book Review – N.Y. Times.com – a weekly summary of what will appear in the NYT book review, interviews with authors, bestseller and publishing industry news.

· Books and Authors – BBC Radio 4 – author interviews, as well as discussions on reading related topics such as trends in translation, and resuming reading after bereavement.

· Books on Guardian Unlimited and The Guardian Book Club – This is a two for one. The first is wide ranging look at books, the state of publishing, poetry and The Hay Festival, which The Guardian sponsors. The Book Club focuses on a single author and work.

I’ll have three more podcasts for you next time. I wanted to leave room to mention Michael Dibdin’s A Rich Full Death.

Dibdin is best known for his Aurelio Zen series. I have been making way through his other works, because alas there will be no more. Dibdin was a master of the epistolary novel and has a Browning-like gift for letting his narrators reveal themselves warts and all while retaining, if not our sympathies, our fascination.

Reading The Last Sherlock Holmes Story and particularly Dirty Tricks, I often wanted to ask Dibdin if he was Browning fan. Now I know. The poet looms large in this book set among the ex-pat community in Florence. A murderer is apparently visiting the torments Dante devised for his Inferno on those he deems to be sinners. Some online reviewers were frustrated by the twists and turns, but I enjoyed – as I always do with Dibdin – his erudition, his blatant love for all things Italian, and his gift for rendering characters that lets you see the muscles moving beneath the skin and into the heart with all its fears and contradictions.

I wanted to end this post with a reverse play on Dante’s “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” but I confess I’m stumped. Instead I’ll say, “May it always be gazpacho weather with you.”


  1. I do not believe that Dickensian workhouse soup is delicious. This is most definitely a case of one absolutely having to get the proof in the pudding (or soup, in this case).

    BTW, my wife makes an amazing tortilla soup both completely from scratch and a quick version using salsa. The salsa version is excellent and a lot less work, we just don't tell guests the short cut.

  2. Thank you for this blog, Sandra; and specifically, thank you for the recommendation to read Dibdin. I've always loved Robert Browning and the magical way he reveals his speakers; if Dibdin can do that with a novel, I'm in! BTW, have you ever read any of Edwin Arlington Robinson's poetry (beyond "Richard Cory", that is)? Character again, but in a way very different from Browning.

    As for cooking, if you use a Mac, may I suggest MacGourmet Deluxe as a great way to import and store recipes. And now, there's even an app for the iPhone or iPod Touch that links seamlessly with the desktop version.

    Robin Carson

  3. Please Mum,
    Can I have some more !