Ladle up, gang! It's soup kitchen time 

Food to warm your soul and not the planet

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Soup's UP Warm up your home as you wait for spring with a soup kitchen party.
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  • Soup's UP Warm up your home as you wait for spring with a soup kitchen party.

OK, polar vortex. With the sixth big snowstorm of February just passed and temperatures still well below average, we are so done with your breakdown dragging all sorts of Arctic air south that doesn't belong here on our beautiful "Wet" Coast just weeks away from spring.

Yep, the snow and cold is great for skiers and boarders, but tiresome or even downright dangerous when it's not in its place (up on the mountains) or happening at the right time, as it is now. Coming so late after a warm, early winter means that flowers and trees already in bloom, along with insects, fish and all the other critters accustomed to certain temperatures and moisture cycles can't flee, bundle up, or otherwise cope.

Winter dragging its feet is also a real drag for all us "low lifes" hanging out in the valleys and lowlands, moaning how we are so ready for spring.

So what can I do to cheer you up? Offer you the all-time classic comfort food—a big bowl of hearty soup made with lots of veggies and things good for you and the planet.

It's taken me a while to become a homemade soup queen. When I left home at age 19 and started fending for myself, I couldn't imagine how to make soup. I didn't yet have a single cookbook, or the smarts to ask mom for her recipes.

After a couple of flops I don't recommend—like frying onions and ground beef (a Canadian staple of the '70s) then adding tomato juice and little else—my soup of choice became Campbell's scotch broth, another Canuck staple. I may not have had a domestic bone in my body but the prairie girl in me at least had the good sense to love barley.

Decades on, I'm now the proud owner of scads of recipes for outrageously good homemade soup—soups that have formed the backbone of many a great party.

"Soup kitchen" parties are a big hit. You simply whip up a couple of big pots of your soup-er bests, then leave them on the stove with ladles nearby. Slice some good bread. Lay out assorted bowls and mugs and spoons, then let everybody have at it. People love the warmth of such a relaxed scene with all that comfort food on offer. No table settings or fancy-pants stuff needed, so you have as much fun as your guests. Bonus: there's hardly any clean-up.

So here are two favourite soups to get you going, ones any 19-year-old can make. The first is from the inimitable James Barber (not to be confused with James Beard).

Mr. Barber was a professional engineer but soon found his true calling: food. He was an influential Wet Coaster for decades, writing dozens of books about food and hosting CBC Vancouver's popular Urban Peasant show, where he made everyone feel like a confident cook. His whole schtick was getting people to realize you could do things for yourself. He also wrote for The Georgia Straight, where this recipe came from in the '90s and still sits in its yellowing-newsprint glory in my old recipe box.

Besides our shared appreciation of keeping things simple—delicious, but simple—another aspect about James Barber I always admired was how he died in 2007 at the age of 84 on his Cowichan Valley farm—reading a cookbook while simmering a pot of chicken soup on the stove.

James Barber's zuppa di poveri

Heat 2 tbsp. of good olive oil in a big saucepan on medium heat. Chop and add 1 medium onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Cook 2 minutes. Add 6 ripe, whole, unpeeled tomatoes (or, as James said, a tin of tomatoes if you're in the Arctic). Put a lid on and cook for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups water, or chicken stock, and 2 thick slices of good bread. (This is the key "impoverished Italian" touch.) Cook 15 minutes more with the lid on. Add salt and pepper to taste, and Bob's your uncle or at least a guest for dinner.

If you're doing a soup kitchen, make sure your soups use a variety of bases. You don't want them all based on tomatoes, say, or chicken stock. To that end, here's an old family favourite my dad loved as long as mom used lots of bacon. Bacon is so "in" now you'll be right on trend. Sorry about the tins. It's another prairie thing—cheap, hearty food but, yeah, tins. At least you can recycle them and you put the liquid to good use, plus you don't use tons of heat like you would reducing chicken stock for hours.

Mom's double corn chowder

In a large saucepan, cook 5 slices of diced bacon. Remove the bacon and reserve the drippings in the saucepan. Drain a 12-oz. can of whole kernel corn (about 1 1/2 cups). Reserve the liquid. Add water to the corn liquid to make 1/2 cup then add it to the drippings. Add 1 medium onion, thinly sliced; 1 cup of diced, raw (Pemberton) potatoes; and 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Add 1 tin of cream of celery soup (low-salt if you can), 1 3/4 cups milk and 1 16-oz. tin of creamed corn (2 cups). Heat gently and garnish with the crumbled bacon, or just dump it all in at the end. Yum.

As for that polar vortex breaking down, keep doing as much as you can to kick carbon out of your lifestyle.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist with homemade minestrone in her fridge right now.

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