Tomorrow is the 179th anniversary of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s birthday, and I can already hear your comments. “Who’s this Dodgson character and why would I care if tomorrow is his birthdate?”
Well, even after I explain, you still may not care unless you’re acquainted with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, or the White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, Dormouse, smiling Cheshire Cat, and especially with a girl named Alice.
If all of those characters are in your memory banks, as they and others are in mine, then you have probably guessed that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is better known, throughout the world, as Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice in Wonderland,” as well as many other much-loved tales.
I spent many, many hours of my childhood in Carroll’s fantasy worlds, in the company of strange, wacky characters who somehow seemed quite believable to me at the time.
A hookah-smoking caterpillar? Why not? A grinning, talking cat that appeared and disappeared at odd times? No problem; my cat could probably do that if he bothered to try. A queen who threatened to decapitate everyone who offended her, but never did, and who used a pack of cards as croquet wickets? As Alice said, “curiouser and curiouser,” but once you entered that world, it all seemed quite plausible if you were a child.
Carroll (aka Dodgson) was a brilliant man; a mathematician, philosopher, deacon of his Anglican church, and author of several much more serious works than his children’s tales. He also had a lifelong stammer, which historians say caused him to be somewhat less than sociable throughout his life. He found it much easier to talk to children, especially the daughter of his close friends, Alice Liddell. It was young Alice who asked him please to write down the stories he often made up for her, so she could read them again whenever she liked. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In spite of my urgings and gift books, I don’t think any of my grandchildren have read the two Alice books, nor the delightful “Hunting of the Snark,” and I doubt that more than a handful of today’s youngsters are acquainted with any of Carroll’s wonderful oddballs, much to their loss. In fact, anyone under the age of 30 or so who may be reading this column probably won’t pick up on the connection between National Soup Month (January) and Lewis Carroll’s birthday.
I admit it may be a bit obscure, but if you recall and love, as I do, the funny “Soup, soup of the evening, beautiful soup” song, you’ll understand, and I hope you’re smiling. It’s a lovely scene; I wish I could personally thank Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, on the anniversary of his birthday, for so many wonderful, mystical adventures.
As I noted above, January is National Soup Month.
I have no idea who decides such things, but January, heart of winter, is the perfect time for soup of any kind. It may take a bit of time to create a big pot of healthy, filling, delicious soup, but once made, you could have three or more meals ready at a moment’s notice. With a side salad and bit of bread, soup’s on!
Don’t turn up your nose at this first soup; it is health food. It’s considered a restorative in France and Spain, a cure for hangover in Mexico, comfort food if you’re suffering from a cold or flu, and in the past few years we’ve been told frequently about the health benefits of eating garlic. There are a number of variations, but I’m very fond of this one, with the eggs stirred in rather than poached on top. And you can enjoy this without egg at all, if preferred.
6 cups beef broth or chicken broth (low sodium is good; if you’re in a bind for the broth, use water)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped or put through a garlic press (I’ve been known to use more), plus one extra for rubbing the bread
Salt, to taste
1 bay leaf
¼ to ½ t. dried thyme, or a few sprigs of fresh, if available
¼ to ½ t. ground cumin
A fresh sage leaf, if available (optional)
French bread or Italian baguette, sliced ½-inch thick
2 eggs, beaten
2 t. olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 T. chopped Italian parsley or cilantro (your preference)
Freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese, to sprinkle on top
In a 4 qt. soup pot or saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Add the garlic, salt, bay leaf, thyme, cumin and sage if using. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 min. Taste and adjust salt and add more garlic, if desired.
Toast the bread and as soon as it’s golden, rub both sides with the extra garlic clove (cut it in half); set aside.
Beat eggs together with the olive oil. Spoon a ladleful of the soup into the eggs and stir to temper the eggs. Turn off the heat under the soup, remove bay leaf and sage leaf, and stir in the egg mixture. It should cloud the soup but if the soup isn’t boiling, the eggs shouldn’t scramble. Stir in the pepper and parsley.
Put a bread slice (crouton) in the bottom of each bowl (this makes about 4 bowls), ladle in the soup and sprinkle cheese over the top and serve.
Variations: Add some broccoli florets, or green beans or sugar snap peas, thawed frozen peas, at the end of step 1. Simmer 5-10 min., or until added vegetables are tender but still bright. Or, add about ½ lb. of potatoes such as Yukon Gold or fingerlings, scrubbed and sliced about ¼-inch thick at the beginning of step 1. By the end of the 15 min. they should be tender. Then proceed with the recipe. You can also add small pasta such as small shells or elbow macaroni at the end of step 1.
I’ve talked a bit in past columns about reviving your slow cooker (i.e. crockpot) and what a work saver it can be for busy cooks; it’s a perfect utensil for soup making. If you’re having friends over for the Super Bowl, for example, you can have a pot of delicious, filling, easy soup on your buffet table with little effort.
NAVY BEAN SAUSAGE SOUP
8 cups chicken broth (or vegetable, if preferred)
1 lb. navy beans, rinsed
2 ham hocks
3-5 cloves garlic (to taste), minced
2 onions, diced
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes (don’t drain)
2 T. tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 t. dried thyme
1 beef smoked sausage (1 lb. size), cut into ½-inch rounds
Place broth in a saucepan; heat over med.-high heat until it begins to boil. Cover, reduce heat to low.
Place beans in the slow cooker (6 qt., not one of the small ones). Add remaining ingredients except the sausage and broth. Carefully pour in the hot broth, cover and cook on high 8-9 hrs., or until beans are tender.
Remove bay leaf. Remove ham hocks and let stand until cool enough to handle. Remove meat from hocks, chop and return it to the cooker. Add sausage, stirring to blend ingredients. Cover and cook an additional 20-30 min. or until sausage is heated through. Serves 8.
So many wonderful soups, so little space. Here’s a healthy, creamy, vegetable soup packed with vitamins and flavor.
ROASTED SQUASH & SWEET POTATO SOUP
1 sweet potato (about a
12. oz. one)
1 acorn squash
2 T. olive oil
5-6 garlic cloves (no need to peel them; you’re going to roast them)
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable, if preferred)
½ t. ground cumin
¼ t. ground turmeric
½ cup light cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Snipped chives to garnish, or minced parsley
Cut the sweet potato, squash and shallots in half lengthwise through the stem end. Scoop seeds out of the squash. Brush cut sides of all with olive oil. Put the vegetables, cut side down, in a shallow roasting pan; add the garlic cloves. Roast in a preheated 375-degree oven about 40 min., or until tender and light brown. When cooled, scoop the flesh from the potato and squash halves and put in a saucepan with the shallots. Remove the garlic peel and add the soft cloves to the other vegetables.
Add the stock and a pinch of salt; stir in the cumin and turmeric. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for about ½ hr, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender.
Allow soup to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth, working in batches as necessary. Return the soup to the saucepan (rinse it out first), stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 5-10 min. until heated through. Ladle into warmed bowls, garnish with additional fresh ground black pepper (if desired) and chives or parsley. This is also excellent served with a small dollop of plain Greek yogurt on top.