The last time I had a blog, it was a Tumblr—the year was 2012, and I was not writing much about food. It is 2018, the Tumblr is long gone, and, following a year of post-media-job burnout, I'm making some space to write again. Also: I want a place to put recipes. One of my intentions this year is to write down recipes as I think of them, instead of making something, having a vague thought about recording the recipe somewhere, and then letting it float off into the ether.
I always find the first few days of the year optimistic but lonely. There's so much newness. Here in New York it's bitter cold—the streets are all salt-bleached and so bright white—and people are still finding their ways back to work after the holidays, and I always feel, the first weeks of January, like I just want everyone back where they're supposed to be. L flew to California for New Year's and won't be home for another week, so it's just me and our cat, tormenting each other.
I've been making and eating a lot of soup these solo weeks. When we were in school, A and I would cook in big batches and pack up our respective freezers; then we'd survey our stashes proudly and A would talk about how much she loved the practice, how secure and cared for it made her feel, how she felt like a pioneer. Last week I made two beany stews, a harira that I liked but want to improve on (I have this harira fixation from a time I went to Housing Works years ago and bought a cheap and incredible bowl of tomatoey, cinnamony harira. I am trying to recreate it.. This one, from Epicurious, was good but was missing richness or smokiness or something. And I think I want a lentil-only version.) and a vegan hoppin' John (for new-year luck, of course). Since bean soups become completely exhausting to me after two or three helpings, I froze big portions of both. It does feel very responsible, very pioneer-like.
The first recipe I remember feeling like I totally came up with is tomato soup. I didn't grow up eating soup, canned or otherwise, since I didn't like the feeling of drinking a meal—so I've never had Campbell's, but someone told me this tastes a little like it. Luckily my feelings toward soup in general have changed, but I still don't think I'd ever had tomato soup before this one, and was struck with this alien and urgent Need for it. It's totally cozy and unfussy, the way tomato soup should be, and it doesn't taste like tomato sauce, which tomato soup never should. I also love this recipe because I almost always have the ingredients in the pantry.
Sometimes I swap the onion for a couple of shallots. I'm sure you could substitute the milk for a nondairy one with no problem—coconut milk would be really good, I bet, especially if you sautéed a little turmeric and cumin seed and coriander with the onion. Or sauté fennel seeds with the onion. Or add, in addition to the onion, half a bulb of chopped fennel, then garnish with the snipped fronds.
Here's a photo I took of the recipe as I wrote it out by hand (2013!). I'm translating my handwriting below, too.
Creamy Tomato Soup
2 servings with half-grilled cheeses, 3 servings with whole grilled cheeses
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large onion (or 2 shallots), chopped small
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Freshly ground black pepper
Cream or plain yogurt to serve
Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, stir, and cook until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the flour and cook about a minute, stirring constantly. Add the milk, broth, and tomato paste. Stir to combine completely, then whisk in the baking soda—the soup will foam for a few seconds, and then you'll be done. Grind some black pepper in and taste for seasoning.
Serve with cream or yogurt swirled into it.