Yesterday, I was working at Starbucks (Freelancers Central) when a lady standing by the doors tipped over into a drug-induced trance.
The baristas immediately called 9-1-1, but the woman sitting next to me, the one who’d seen the whole incident go down because she’d been standing outside making a phone call when it happened, just shook her head and informed me that the lady was ‘as high as a kite.’
Now that’s a feeling I can relate to. That world-weariness. After all, I had gone to school in the most psychedelic college town in the country (Berkeley), and lived in what is probably the most homeless-friendly big city in the WORLD (San Francisco). I’ve seen it all—so what if I’m only 26?—all the different variations of drug-induced catatonia and rants and everything in between.
This old man with white hair, he’s a regular who just hangs out in the cafe all day chatting with other regulars (except me, because I avoid eye contact with strangers, much in the style of Amelie Poulain), leapt up from his seat and raced outside, wanting to take charge of the situation. He reminded me of one of those alert guard dogs, the kind that’s been bred to inspect signs of disorder, and cleared aside the small crowd that had gathered around the woman to get a closer look.
He re-entered the cafe a few minutes later. “She’s on drugs,” he said disgustedly.
A few minutes later, the lady dizzily pushed herself up and teetered away. “She’s only on drugs,” Mr. Regular repeated, shaking his head.
This was when the firemen rushed onto the scene. They pulled up in their shiny truck with their sirens blaring, and parked gracefully into the empty space in front of the building that just happened to be big enough for one regular-sized fire truck.
“Did they need to bring so many men?” the woman beside me asked. Sure enough, five firemen stepped out, clad in their heavy protective gear. Men who meant business. Men who looked like they were ready to put out a fire.
“She doesn’t need firemen,” said Regular Man. “She needs to be slapped in the face and drenched with tomato soup!”
Tomato soup, now that’s an idea.
Did he mean what he said sadistically? Was he implying that the lady should be burned with a hot, acidic liquid as a sort of punishment? Or maybe he thought it would revivify her, the equivalent of pushing her into a molten pool. Or maybe he just wanted tomato soup for dinner and had made a Freudian slip.
Whatever the case, guessing does not change the fact: these are the kinds of moments that can inspire meals. I’m very easily persuaded, and I happen to really like tomato soup.
This recipe is one I’ve been making since my student days, so you can be sure that it’s low-maintenance. And it came in handy during my time in San Francisco, a city whose 365-days-per-year fog and gloom is enough to drive a person mad. You see, you need a soup as heartening as this to keep your spirits up, lest you succumb to drastic measures. Like quitting your job and chasing summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Well, that latter part was unintentional.
I don’t remember how I came upon this recipe anymore. I copied it long ago into a little pocket notebook that I have on me at all times—we all have one of these, I suspect—and have been faithfully following the same set of directions for a long time. I’m sure its source is not as obscure as I make it seem, but I prefer to keep it a mystery, for the sake of having a “family recipe” that I can pass down for generations. Or not. I don’t think that far ahead. (But it would be cool nonetheless.)
1 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & ground pepper to taste
2 stalks celery, diced
2 small carrots, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup cream or milk, optional
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Strain tomatoes, reserving the juices, and spread onto baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with about 1 Tbsp olive oil. Roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
In a saucepan, heat the rest of the oil on medium-low heat. Add celery, carrots, onion, and garlic. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, reserved juices, chicken broth, and bay leaves. Simmer until vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add basil and cream if using. Puree with an immersion blender.