Chuckling to myself I typed these words into my phone, “Left home 4am. Arrived SFO 8am. BlogHer Food starts tomorrow. Had coffee. Now what?” And then, “Poof!”, out into cyberspace went my note.
I looked up, almost to see if anyone had noticed what I had just done. I glanced over at the man playing the violin on the bench next to me. At the Daddies doting over their tiny baby. At the front door to Miette, “Open yet?” No one seemed to be aware of my ramblings. In this day and age of the uncharted territory of social media, this is often how I learn. By just pressing buttons, sending things out and seeing what comes back. And so, to all 43 of the thoughtful people who happened to “follow me” on Twitter, those are the words I tossed out.
Bare minutes had passed before a note appeared right back to me. “Come hang out with @goodlifeeats and I. ” I was giddy. This was almost like finding a message in a bottle washed up on the sand.
I haven’t been the new kid on the block for a long time. My sweetie and I have managed to stay put for 8 years now. Growing up, however, I was always the new kid. Due in part to my father’s military career, to ever-changing school boundaries and to my dear parents’ incessant need to change houses at least every 3 years. (18 moves and counting…for them.) Once again though, I was the new kid. Thanks to the generosity of Gina Rau over at Feed Our Families, I had a ticket to the sold-out BlogHer Food Conference in San Francisco and knew not a soul. That is, except for the extraordinarily thoughtful, Kristen Doyle from Dine and Dish. She and I had spent the past year admiring each other’s photographs on Flickr but it was one of those “on-line” friendships. We had never met in person and yet, it was she who replied to my Twitter message.
Somehow I managed to hail down a cab in this quiet Hayes Street neighborhood I had chosen to enjoy my coffee in and hightailed it back to my hotel. My room was ready. Thrilled to have access this early (11 am), I turned around to head for the elevator only to find Kristin, waiting in line, right behind me. From that moment on, she brought me into the fold. I am eternally grateful.
The days and evenings that followed were a whirlwind. Sipping Beringer wine and chatting with the Deen Brothers. (Boy, they love their Mama!) Hearing Dorie Greenspan speak of her years working with Julia Child. Tasting the exquisitely creamy, almost velvety, tomato soup as prepared by Portland’s own Chef Lisa, of Mother’s Bistro, during the breaks. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Midnight Muni rides. A scavenger hunt at The Ferry Building. Trying to be a good sport by agreeing to wear the pig nose in the photo booth. Dining on crispy bacon dipped in chocolate. And the people I met. Oh, the people….
The atmosphere was truly, a frenzied love fest. A connection amongst people who have a strong commitment to food. However, underneath it all, I believe that it is a deep concern that motivates us to reach out to one another. To want each one of us to succeed. Whether we operate in a small corner of the world like me or we reach a huge audience like The Pioneer Woman. This almost franticness to help each other comes from, what I believe is, a profound knowledge that we are sick. We, as a society, are sick. We have lost our way with food. We can no longer find our way around a kitchen. We no longer bring people into our homes to share food. The amount of inspirational speaking I heard that weekend was extraordinary but probably no more so than the closing remarks by Michel Ruhlman. At the end, the emotion of what he had to say was so great, he had to stand up. “Cooking is what made us human. Cooking made us more social. We had to cooperate and divide labor. We had to come together. I think you write about this because in your heart you know, cooking is fundamental to our humanity.”
Humanity, as defined by Webster’s, “All human beings collectively. The quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence.”
Sunday morning was a bit like the end of summer camp. Ready to go home but sad to leave my budding new friendships. I hopped into a cab bound for SFO with Ahmed and his son who had been in town visiting family. We exchanged pleasantries. Without a shred of an accent, Ahmed shared that he was raised in Egypt, “the birthplace of civilization.” He then went on to tell me that French was his first language. “Perfect,” I thought. “Beware thee that choose to entitle their website with a French phrase. Thou shalt be quizzed by native French speakers.” And quiz me he did. I suppose I “passed” when he said to me, in French, that from now on when people ask me if I speak French, not to say (in French), “I can speak French, but it isn’t pretty.” but to say, “I do speak French but with a petite American accent.” (Kindness prevailed in him not to call it a “grand” accent.)
However, truth be told, it’s the final English words he spoke that resonate so strongly with me. I can’t get them out of my mind. Before departing the cab, he turned to me and said, with great earnestness, “Language is our culture. Food is our humanity.” And then, holding up his hand as if to wordlessly cut-off any argument, he paid for my cab fare as well as his and then he and his son were gone. And, in the suddenly quiet car, I was left to ponder…language and food. Kindness and humanity.
Creamy Tomato Soup
So I’m not even going to try and pass this off as Chef Lisa’s tomato soup. To enjoy her exquisite concoction you’ll have to visit her restaurant, Mother’s Bistro or buy her new cookbook, Mother’s Best. But this is what I happen to serve my family when I don’t have a lot of time but want something “homemade.” I serve it with toasted cheese sandwiches and sliced up apples on the side but if you were really short on time you could bag the toasted cheese sandwiches and just put out some bread, a hunk of cheese and a knife and tell everyone to go at it. I always double the recipe as it’s perfect in a thermos for lunch the next day. You can also freeze it, if you are a freezing food kind of person.
1 large onion diced (a cup or so)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes
2 c chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 c sour cream
grated sharp cheddar cheese
In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat your olive oil. Add your diced onions and sauté for 6-8 minutes or until onions are softened and translucent.
Add in your tomatoes (plus their juices), chicken broth, salt, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and then, reduce heat and let simmer about 20 minutes.
At this point I usually pull out my 18-year old hand-held immersion blender, and “pureé” my soup a bit. If I’m running short on time, I don’t do this and just leave it fairly “rustic.” It’s up to you. Although, if you don’t have an immersion blender, you must go and get yourself one. They are the best. Especially if you’re like me and have a phobia about cleaning food processors except in extreme situations.
Once that is done (or not), whisk in your sour cream until…well, creamy.
Spoon into bowls and top with the grated cheese. Enjoy!
Yield: A big pot full.
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010