I left work early the other day, which is something I never do. But after several colleagues came up to me and said, “Why are you so flushed?” and then, a few minutes later, “Why are you so pale?” I realized something wasn’t right. Not to mention, I was wearing my wooly hat with earflaps in the office. My boss said, “Why are you wearing your hat?” I didn’t have a good answer—it just felt cozy on my cold head. So I decided that the magazine could live without me (a tough and rare choice for me to make).
On the way home, I stopped into Whole Foods to pick up some soup. Growing up, my two favorite “I don’t feel well” soups were the canned variety: Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and Campbell’s Tomato, both best served with so many saltines crunched in the bowl that it turned into a sort of cracker-and-soup paste. Whole Foods doesn’t sell Campbell’s, and I don’t know if I’d eat the stuff anyway—too much MSG and other weird ingredients. So while perusing the soups, I realized that I craved a creamy, tomato bisque, loaded with garlic. This was not on offer, so I decided I’d have to make it myself.
Now you may be saying, “She’s sick, why would she make herself soup?” And to this I reply, because when I have an idea in my head of what I want, I know that nothing will stop me from getting it, not even a burgeoning illness. I remembered I already had all the ingredients for the soup I imagined, so I grabbed a loaf of sourdough bread and walked the short block home.
I’ve only had the flu twice in my life, both times were years I didn’t get a flu shot. My first instance was two days before Thanksgiving, 1994. I lived in Austin, and I could barely move I ached so badly. But I had to be relatively mobile because liquids were moving fast and furiously throughout my body. A friend offered to drive me back to Houston so I could spend Thanksgiving at home. I was reluctant—it was a three-hour drive and I didn’t think I’d make it. But something told me I needed to go, and so after stopping in every small town between Austin and Houston to appease my bodily demons, I made the trip.
I’m glad I went to Houston. It turned out to be the last Thanksgiving I’d have with my immediate family in my childhood home. I left Texas for New York in the following months, and my parents divorced shortly thereafter, with my dad moving to Oregon and my mom moving across town. I felt like death warmed over, but I’m glad I have a memory of that final Thanksgiving—I wouldn’t have missed it for the world (though most of it was spent in bed reading Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, a get-well-soon gift from my dad).
A couple of years ago, I again had a nasty bout of the flu. Looking back, I know now it was the beginning of the end of my own long-term relationship. The break-up with my boyfriend didn’t happen for another year, but while I was sick in bed, I had a lot of time to think. And through the haze I had moments of clarity that revealed our relationship was not meant to be.
For me, these two instances of illness have occurred at times of transition and change. And I don’t know if it’s my body reacting to the unhappiness swirling around me or if I’ve just caught a nasty old bug. But I find it poignant that I was so severly sick at these pivotal moments in my life.
In any case, I don’t have the flu. I feel much, much better (otherwise, would I be writing this many words?), and I chalk most of that to this garlic-heavy and vitamin C-rich soup I concocted. And while I didn’t get a flu shot this year (I opted to go to Italy when my company was providing the service), I don’t foretell any upsets on the horizon—my life is good. So this soup may not be Campbell’s, but it cured what ailed me and that suits me just fine.
1 head garlic, roasted
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1/4 medium-yellow onion, diced
One celery stalk, diced
One carrot, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 cups cream or half-and-half
3 tablespoons hard cheese such as Parmigiana, Romano, or Asiago
Separate head of garlic into separate cloves, don’t peel but rub off papery bits. Place cloves on piece of foil, drizzle olive oil over them, wrap and place in oven at 250° F for one hour.
In a medium saucepan, cook onions, celery, and carrot in butter on low for 10 minutes or until softened. Add tomatoes, sugar and basil and bacon to pot.
Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for half an hour.
Take roasted garlic out of oven, peel, then add to tomato mixture as many cloves as you like. (I used 10, but I not only love garlic but wanted its healing power to make me feel better.) Stir in cheese.
Simmer, covered for another half hour. Turn off heat and let cool for 15 minutes. Puree tomato mixture until smooth. Stir in cream. (Can use more than two cups for a thinner soup.) Serve with crusty bread (and if you don’t feel well, you can spread more roasted garlic on the bread).
Yield: 4 to 6 servings