This is a reflection on our efforts to capture time, and our ultimate inability to do so.
Much chattiness, but a good quick shortcut to homemade tomato soup at the end!
I heard an interview on the radio with the administrator of a place in Denmark that cares for people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. In her establishment, instead of putting their clients in a quiet room, they believe in taking them out in the world to enjoy experiences - zoos, picnics, Disneyland! This concept is, of course, interesting in itself, but I was also interested in several of the interviewer's questions. He asked whether this level of stimulation and activity resulted in an improvement in the condition. Did it, at least, slow the progress of the disease? Not at all, was the answer. At least not noticeably. But that isn't the point. Another question was, why do this if they have no memory of the experience tomorrow? Again, but this isn't the point. The point is that the value of experience is the enjoyment of that moment, not the recollection of the moment.
Now, that's a true paradigm shift!
Have we lost an appreciation of the moment because we're so busy trying to capture and preserve it?
I think of how often today, we see people squeezing their perception of their holiday, or their adventure, or their day at the fair, through the lens of the camera on their phone? Olympians marching into the stadium, resplendent in the costumes of their nations, with their phones in front of their faces, trying to video capture this amazing experience! Has the memory become more important than the experience? Will they ever look at these photos or videos again? Perhaps not, because they are off trying to capture their next experience?
Which brings me to the reason I sometimes distrust recipes. I don't collect them with the determination of my mother. Few people do. And with Google so handy, I barely collect them at all. Oh, of course, I have some, mainly treasured because they are in the handwriting of people I love. They are remnants of days long faded from memory
What about cookbooks? I do have cookbooks - quite the understatement that. Not so much to be followed but to be read because they expand my horizons and light the fire of inspiration.
No, I do not distrust recipes entirely. What I question is the implication that, like those ubiquitous photos and videos, the miracle and majesty of every day can somehow be replicated.
I'm sure we all have had the disappointing experience of creating a dish from a recipe enjoyed on some special day back when. Grandmother's tomato soup made from tomatoes still warm from the garden, served outside on the picnic table in those blue and white bowls, the setting sun intensifying every color and flavour, while you laugh with and tease your favourite cousins. When, years later, you scrupulously follow the recipe, you mentally accuse your grandmother of 'forgetting' some essential ingredient, because somehow it is just not the same. Maybe the bowls....
A recipe, like a photograph, is an attempt to capture time in a bottle, or with a camera, or on a page. And that is not the point of home cooking, any more than the memory is the point of the Danish day trip. The point is to create sensory experiences for friends, and family, or just for yourself, but just for the moment. Food is ephemeral. Your grandmother had the trick of it, even if you didn't know it on that late summer day when she gave her offspring a break by looking after their offspring. The idea is to find the freshest and best ingredients and enhance them with some basic techniques. For those basic techniques, a recipe or a cookbook is handy. So also is Google video. Finding the freshest ingredients of the season and backing into a recipe for a bit of flash and dazzle will surely result in a moment that cannot be replicated.
And it doesn't have to be summer - that fleeting Canadian daydream. A steaming pot roast when a blizzard howls around the house, or blueberry pancakes on a thundery Sunday morning hoping that the power will hold. The trick of it is appreciating the uniqueness of every day. It's not the pot roast or the pancakes or the Kraft Dinner made as only your mother knows how. Home cooking brings us together and slows us down so we can look out the window, and look around the table and know that this day is a precious gift that we cannot keep.
Fresh Tomato Soup -
Ok. This is a cheat. If you want to go entirely from scratch, a Google will get you dozens of recipes. Lots of chopping and peeling and food processing and carrying on. If you are thinking I might as well just open a can of tomato soup - well, you haven't tried this!
In a pot on the stove simmer on low heat or in a crock pot:
1 jar of store bought bruschetta (This saves you chopping onions, peeling and slicing garlic, adding tomato paste, spices...). would salsa work? Sure.
An equal amount of water (cleans the jar for the recycle box, eh?)
I add just a 1/2 teaspoon or so of sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup - just to smooth out the acidic edge a bit.
Remove stems of 4 or 5 gorgeous fresh tomatoes, slice them in half and put into the pot. The skins will be easy to pluck out of the mixture later when the tomatoes soften.
Go putter in the garden for half an hour or so. When you get back, the tomatoes should be squishy. Remove the skins. I add hot pepper flakes, but then, I don't have kids. Smash up the tomatoes with the back of a fork, and there you are!
Some people like to add milk or cream. If you do so, bear in mind that the mixture is acidic, so you should add a bit of baking soda to neutralize it so the cream doesn't curdle. You can blend it with a food processor or blender or immersion blender if you have any of those things and are so inclined.
For me, a bowl of this, as is, with a good dollop of sour cream and a nice sprinkling of chopped basil, is divine! Grilled cheese sandwich anyone?
Takeaway: Home cooking doesn't always mean entirely from scratch!