adventures in modern, urban domesticity

Community Soup

Soups!

February: it’s officially mid winter.  The holidays are long behind us and after the austerity measures we take on in January have ended, we are looking for some gratification. We typically find it in hosting an elaborate dinner party, but somehow I just wasn’t feeling it this year. I wanted to be social, but we didn’t want to re-tox so hard with our usual Austrian feast.  There are so many people that we don’t get to see on a regular basis and I was thinking an open house was in order.  Something along the lines of our Summer Picnics, but indoors.

As it happened, I was scrolling through Facebook when I noticed that the sister of a good friend was hosting a soup party.  Everyone was to bring their best soup to her place for an informal afternoon of soup tasting that would double as a benefit for a local food shelter.  What a perfect idea for a mid-winter gathering—soup for everyone!

Normally, I am not a huge fan of potlucks.  Maybe it’s because I am a control freak, or maybe it’s because I don’t find the cacophony of unlike foods together on a plate appetizing. But a soup potluck had some appeal, keeping everything in the same food family.

I contacted City Harvest, a local food rescue organization that helps feed over 1 million New Yorkers each year, and found that they make it very easy to set up a food drive.  Their website is full of helpful information, and if we were to collect just 100 lbs. of food, they would come pick it up.

Since our apartment would max out at 14 people, we decided to hold the party in our building’s common room and just invite everyone we knew, as we did with the picnics. We asked everyone to bring a soup or soup-related food and some non-perishables. Soup was on.

I had a few objectives in setting up this event.  I wanted it to be informal and fun. I also wanted to see if we could pull off a large event on a limited budget and without using disposable tableware.  We decided to use every single cup and bowl we owned and arranged them as centerpieces that people could dismantle and use.  Instead of buying flowers, I made decorations by filling up glass cylinders with beans and grains and topping them with the airplants that hang around our apartment.  We also went out on a limb and asked people to bring their own bowls. Some did. Others thought that was weird.  To be safe, we bought a few compostable cups, plates and bowls for back up.

soup table setting

With the cups, bowls and plates taken care of, I just needed to come up with a solution for napkins, and I found the answer later that week when my friend, Olga, hosted our monthly stitch-n-bitch.  She was using these beautiful cloth napkins that came on a tear-away roll.  Made by a Spanish company called MyDrap, the cotton napkins come in a rainbow of colors and can be re-used five or six times before eventually being composted.

Napkins!

In keeping with our budget-conscious theme, we decided to make an array of soups using up the food we had on hand.  Our winter CSA had just delivered a large box of root vegetables for which we had no storage, so my husband made a series of pureéd soups that we served in glass jars:

Array of soups

From Left to Right:

  1. Chilled Cucumber-Avocado
  2. Celery Root Puree
  3. Creamy Dairy-Free Mushroom
  4. Black Bean
  5. Carrot
  6. Chilled Beet

We set up our room and set out our array of soups, enough to serve 20, maybe, and hoped for the best. After a slow start with only a couple friends showing up on the early side, a steady flow of people began to arrive bearing soups and various accoutrements. There was spicy butternut squash, Moroccan Harira (a chickpea soup), Thai Coconut, Red Lentil Stews, three kinds of Matzo Ball (each different, one vegetarian, and all delicious), Hungarian Mushroom,  Dal Makhani, and German Cabbage Stew, among many others.  (Re-heating the soups proved a challenge, requiring multiple trips nine floors up to our apartment since the catering kitchen in the multipurpose room didn’t have a stove. Eventually, we resorted to using the catering kitchen’s microwave.)

There was an uncanny balance between the folks who brought soup and those who brought bread.  I had made three loaves of No-Knead Bread (a bread so easy it is almost an insult to bakers), but that wasn’t really necessary.  People brought delicious breads of all kinds:  sourdough baguettes, German brötchen, Miche, slices of rye, rustic boules, cheesy breadsticks and even a tray full of delicious Bulgarian Banitsa, made with cheese and phyllo. We weren’t prepared for the array of croutons people brought, from homemade mushroom-herb and spicy Cajun numbers to Israeli mini croutons. And then there was dessert, delicious iced root beer cookies and Hungarian Kurtoskalacs, giant hollow cylinders made of pastry.

BREAD

Our first soup party was an unqualified success. The room was hopping with friends from all parts of our lives, and we seemed to be outnumbered by children who were racing in and out. We tried more than a dozen delicious soups. We collected almost 300 lbs. of non-perishable foods for City Harvest. And by the end of the evening, we had established a new mid-winter tradition we look forward to resuming next year.

city harvest bounty

 

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6 Comments on “Community Soup

  1. Erika
    February 24, 2013

    It was a great success! I’m in the middle of the last rise of the No Knead Bread recipe as I type.

    I’m sorry I missed some of those soups but I’m looking forward to the recipes.

  2. Helen Topcik
    February 24, 2013

    What a great way to reconnect with friends, provide a fun day for the kids and end up feeling virtuous for the benefits you brought to so many.

  3. Heather Jane
    February 24, 2013

    It was such a wonderful party! I will testify to the amazing flavor of Joel’s “cream” of mushroom. So good. I topped it with some frizzled leeks and chopped cilantro (I know, strange combo with mushrooms and leeks, but definitely tasty) that I had brought for my soup contribution. Joel, you are a mushroom soup genius.

    My soup was a dairy-free, vegetarian version of this wonderful recipe, which I have been making for years: http://www.cookingclub.com/Recipes/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/7929/categoryId/4025/Spiced-Butternut-Squash-Soup. I bump up the seasonings, especially the ginger. We love butternut squash soups, and this is a favorite. Deborah Madison also has a recipe that is the basis for another wonderful squash soup with pears: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Deborah-Madisons-Roasted-Squash-Pear-and-Ginger-Soup-355879. I make a very streamlined version of it. As written, her recipe is very “nose-to-tail,” vegetarian-style, for those who don’t like to waste anything. I don’t like waste either, but I had difficulty getting a good result with some of the roasting steps.

    Heather, thanks again for a memorable and fun party! To everyone else, thank you for the deliciousness. It was great to meet so many of you.

    • domaphile
      February 24, 2013

      Heather Jane – Thanks for posting your soup with commentary! It was delicious and I also like how you tricked out the mushroom soup! I will try to get Joel to write down the recipe so I can post it. Looking forward to Soup 2014!

  4. Sandra
    February 24, 2013

    This party was a fantastic idea and we really enjoyed the reunion aspect of it. We couldn’t transport soup from Queens, but we were very pleased to share our new finds (friendly carbs:) from LIC and Upper East Side – Hungarian funnel cakes and French bread from Maison Keyser. I tasted a few soups but got busy talking and missed more than a few. Thanks goodness Vera took a break from her chess game and sat down next to me with a hot bowl of matzo ball so I was on to that quickly. We had a great time for a great cause. Many thanks to the hosts!

  5. junkman
    March 1, 2013

    Purely Menschian!

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This entry was posted on February 24, 2013 by in COMMUNITY, KIDS + FAMILY, KITCHEN ALCHEMY and tagged , .

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