For someone who was all “Harrumph! Cacio e Pepe Does Not Contain Cheddar Cheese.” a few weeks ago, I have some nerve telling you what I’m going to next, which is that I’m pretty smitten with an unapologetically “100% Inauthentic!”-boasting cookbook, the celebration of American-Asian cuisine that is 101 Easy Asian Recipes from the editors of Lucky Peach magazine. There are recipes for “Mall Chicken,” for Rotisserie Ramen, Dollar Dumplings, Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot), and then, the recipe in the dessert section that’s going to make you shut the book and never look back again, that for sliced oranges. You know, like the kind they put out at Chinatown restaurants at the end of a meal.
For reasons I cannot — for once, I mean, good riddance — articulate, I spent half the summer, the half I was gestating this tiny moppet, with a nonstop craving for broccoli cheddar soup, something I’d never actually eaten before. I think a comment got it started and even though I can no longer find it, I’ll never forgive it. Sure, I had heard of the soup, but it always seemed to be in that category of foods it was better not to investigate. I mean, just consider all of the ways our lives have been ruined by finding how ridiculous brown butter and sea salt flakes are in crispy treats, or what happens when you make saltine crack into an ice cream sandwich, or butter in tomato sauce. I didn’t want to know why a cheddar cheese soup base was an obsession of so many people.
I blame Katz’s for this. Two months ago, when we spent a day out playing tourist — i.e. breakfast bagels, Madeleine at the New York Historical Society followed by The Dinosaur Museum of Natural History (what my son calls it, please never correct him) — we decided to finish off our shivering afternoon with a visit to Katz’s Deli, a place I hadn’t been to in probably 10 years despite living fewer than 15 blocks from it, and the kid, never, shame on us. Alex ordered the chicken noodle soup and this hot mess arrived and it was peculiarly perfect: overloaded with noodles, colossal chunks of carrot and chicken and I… was jealous. My homemade chicken noodle soup never looked like this.
This soup is the very best thing I ate in December, which is saying a lot for a month that involved the purchase of at least 4 pounds of butter. And it didn’t involve any of them. I know, I know — that’s crazy talk.
I have spent a spectacular amount of time over the last seven years lying to you, pretending to care about soup when I, in fact, did not. I had good intentions, I mean, I get it: Soup is Healthy and Wholesome and Good For You and Warming and Comforting and all sorts of other Hallmark card-like sentiments that I’m not immune to the charms of, but the fact is, I wasn’t a soup person (so many spoonfuls exactly like the one before until I died of boredom may have been a description I’d have used, if I was being honest) and most of the soup recipes I shared here stemmed from attempts at changing this, with varying degrees of success. Most were only temporary.
Every year around this time — well into the winter season, but long after we found it charmingly brisk, as it is when you do googly-eyed things like ice skating around a sparkling tree at the holidays — we get some sort of brittle cold snap in the weather that catches me by surprise. Even though we live in New York, a place where a cold snap or two a January is as predictable as being hosed by some unspeakably awful puddle of street juice slush by a car spinning through an intersection; even though I’ve lived in this exact climate for every one of my thirty-I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it years; and even though I have the audacity to look forward to winter every sticky concrete-steaming summer, when I walk outside on that first 20-degree day and the wind gusts into my face and renders it hard to exhale, the very first thing I do is audibly holler in rage and disbelief, “WHAT THE WHAT?” I am nothing — as we joke when my sweet little son tries to clomp down the hallway in his dad’s massive boots and immediately falls on his tush — if not Harvard Material.