I’m not sure what happened to the January thaw, though we may be getting it now. I will say that being under the weather when the weather involves single digits and windchill factors is no fun at all. I am on the mend now despite the fog horn cough and still feeling like standing up long enough to do the dishes is enough exercise for the day. It has given me time to ponder what constitutes comfort food for me. Given the dearth of groceries and the fact that everyone was sick over the course of the week and therefore grocery shopping wasn’t happening so much, what I was craving and what I was actually cooking and eating weren’t entirely in sync.
I have long established that when I am sick, I tend to want gruel. I know that sounds terribly Dickensian but it’s absolutely true. Though if by gruel you mean watery gray ick with chunks in, we are probably not talking about the same think. What I really want to eat might more appropriately be called porridge. For lunch this week I had polenta made with milk so it is kind of like corn pudding with a little butter and salt and later in the week steel cut oats made an appearance, also made with milk to the same effect but I added some cinnamon and a little raw sugar. I also really craved eggdrop soup which my faithful and dear husband supplied via China Dragon. The proprietress swears by hot and sour soup which Keifel said made him feel better but when it was my turn, not so much. I find it bitter rather than sour and it had something oddly textured in it which did not appeal. When you can’t actually taste anything, texture is pretty important.
The thing I really wanted was my mom’s potato soup, which has, of this I am certain, Herculean healing powers. It is a fairly simple milky broth with herbs and a little butter, onions and potato chunks cooked until the edges are soft and sloughing off to thicken the soup. Sometimes she adds some cheese to make it a little richer, but really the peasanty version is the real deal and what I would prefer when I am on the couch under three layers of blankets and shivering. When I was little (and sick all the damn time), I don’t really remember much about what Mom or Dad made. I do remember orange sherbet or lime if the store had it and lots of Gatorade, because that was before the days of Pedialyte and its ilk. I also remember chicken noodle soup, but I think it might have been Campbell’s. The potato soup doesn’t enter my memory bank until later. College maybe? When I had my wisdom teeth out. Another thing I am also certain of is that Mom’s potato soup also has the power to make even the deep ache of heartbreak lessen, if even for a brief moment or two. I think I may have lived on potato soup for a week or two during at least two of my most trying times. There really isn’t a recipe so much as a talk through:
Mom’s Potato Soup, as I recall:
1 pound floury potatoes
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced pole to pole or julienned
About a tablespoon of butter
1 quart of liquid, about half milk and half chicken stock or water
Fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of grated cheese, Parm or Gruyere being the better choices (optional, of course)
Peel and slice the potatoes about 1/4″ thick, cutting the bigger slices in half if necessary. Set aside in a bowl of cold water, while you do everything else. In a soup pot that will hold about 2 quarts, melt the butter over medium heat until foamy. When the foam subsides, add the sliced onions and saute until softened and translucent. You really want to cook them just about as done as you want them here as they won’t soften much after you add the liquid.
Once the onions are to your liking, add the liquid (milk and broth) and the drained potatoes, the thyme and about a teaspoon of salt. Cook until the potatoes are soft and the edges have started to round off. You can make a choice here to leave as is or take out about a third of the soup and puree in a blender to add back as a further thickening agent or you can hit it a couple times with a stick blender (which is safer and less messy–if you are using a blender remember to take the little cup out of the lid and loosely hold a towel over the hole while you puree the soup portion. This will keep you from scalding and painting yourself with exploding potato soup. Trust me.) When you are happy with the body of the soup, taste for seasoning and add more salt and the pepper as you desire. If you are going to add the cheese, take the soup off the heat and add a small amount at a time, stirring until it melts before adding more. If you add the cheese it is very important that you do not allow the soup to boil. Serve immediately.
I can almost guarantee that you will never be served this soup in a four star restaurant, but sometimes that just isn’t what I’m looking for.