Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Inspiration in a Bowl of Soup

Sharon Wildwind

Inspiration comes from the strangest places; this week it came from a bowl of soup.

The Cornell University Food and Brand Lab invited test subjects for a free bowl of soup. The summary I read didn’t mention many details about what the participants were told, but it was probably something innocuous, like the lab was testing new soup recipes or wanted to observe people’s table manners as they at soup.

The real research involved a difference in soup bowls. The control group could have as much soup as they wanted, but they had to get refills in the usual ways like asking a staff member for more or serving themselves from a steam table.

In the other group—the real experimental group—sixty-two people ate from bottomless soup bowls that secretly refilled from under the table as they ate.

According to Dr Brian Wansink, the Lab director, those with refillable bowls ate over 70% more soup than the control group, but they didn’t report feeling any more full or satisfied than the group that had to ask for, “More, please.”

When questioned after lunch, the reason most people who had eaten from the refillable bowls gave for why they kept eating was, “How could I feel full when I still had half a bowl of soup left?”

Strangely enough only 2 out of the 62 people with the magic bowls realized that the bowl was being refilled.

Allow me one more soup example before I tell you where all of this is leading. It's a folk tale called “Stone Soup.” You may be familiar with Marcia Brown’s award-winning children’s book of the same name or a more recent telling of the story by Jon J. Muth, but the tale has been around for centuries.

Stone Soup

A man came to a small village. In all the other villages he had visited, he exchanged a day’s work for food in the evening, but in this village no one was willing to feed a stranger, even if he was a good worker. At each house where he stopped, he was sent on his way with, “We have only enough food for ourselves. If we gave you some, we would not have enough left.”

Finally tired, and very hungry, the man built a fire in the middle of the village and set a pot of water to boil. Then he went around the village picking up stones, examining them and setting them down again. People became curious and began to follow him. They asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m looking for the perfect stone so I can make stone soup?”

Well, the people in the village though this was very strange because they all knew that you could not make soup from stones.

At last the man found a stone to his liking. He washed it carefully in the creek and took it to his campfire, where he lowered it into his pot of boiling water. Then he sat down to wait.

“Is is ready yet?” a woman asked, peering into the pot.

“Not yet,” the man replied. “It would cook much faster if I only had carrots, but since I don’t, I’ll just make do with what I have.”

“I have some carrots,” the woman said, and hurried away to get them.

A few minutes later the conversation was repeated, only this time the traveller insisted that potatoes would be the perfect thing. A man hurried away to get a few potatoes he had at home.

Over time, the man collected many good things, which all went into the soup pot. When the pot was full to the brim, he tasted it and said, “It’s wonderful soup. Everyone get a bowl and you shall all have some.”

Everyone went home and brought back a bowl and they all sat down and shared a very good meal.

Where all of this led me—in addition to the kitchen, where I created bok choy and spinach soup—was to realize how incredibly generous writers and readers are to one other. Okay, yes, there are occasionally less-than-perfect individuals on both sides of the writer/reader line, but those people are in the minority. The rest of us are out there locating obscure verb forms for one another and contributing esoteric knowledge to the common soup pot. It was frightening to find out how much many of my writing buddies know about poisonings. Hmm, maybe that was a bad example.

I’m not convinced that an automatically-refilling soup bowl is a healthy idea, but an automatically-refilling support system sure is. To paraphrase what those research subjects said, "How could I feel empty when I have so many great people filling up my life?"

In case all this talk about soup has given you a hankering for a nice, hot (non-automatically-refillable) bowl, here’s the recipe I concocted while writing this blog.

Bok Choy and Spinach Soup
Boil a pot of water (stones are optional) :-)

Remove the core area from either 1 large or 2 small tomatoes. Dunk the tomatoes in the boiling water long enough to loosen their skins. Run the hot tomatoes under cold water and remove the skins. Chop the tomatoes into hunks and set aside.

Wash a few bok choy leaves. Cut apart bok choy stems and leaves. Chop the leaves into small pieces and set aside. Cut the stems into small pieces, too, along with a celery stalk and some green onions.

Sauté the bok choy stems, celery, and onions in a little olive oil. When tender and transparent, add the chopped tomato, and stir. Add a little water or broth, if needed. Season with oregano, parsley, and a bay leaf.

Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 of a package of frozen spinach, cut into chunks and the bok choy leaves you set aside earlier. Simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the frozen spinach is heated. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Tell everyone in the house to get a bowl and they shall all have some.

This soup freezes really well.
Quote for the week:
A meal, however simple, is a moment of intersection.
~Elise Boulding, peace activist


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sharon, I love the way you told the story, and I agree with the point you are making. We don't even have to pretend it's the stones providing the support--all we have to do is ask our fellow mystery lovers.

Anonymous said...

Aren't they a wonderful group? I love my fellow mystery sisters and brothers to pieces.