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Smoked Meat Diaries #9: Terminal Pea Soup Viscosity

Posted by Will / May 19, 2009

20090519-soupspoon.jpgI'm a horrible cook. I can make about four different meals and only one of them doesn't include the word "Helper" in its title. La Belle Fille was actually impressed the first four times I cooked her dinner, but it became more challenging to hide my lack of diversity in the kitchen after that point. There are only so many different types of meats I could add to noodles and vegetables before she realized I was a Serial Stir-Fryer.

Safe to say, the circumstances must be exceptional to motivate me to cook. On one fateful occasion, it was music that inspired me. A few months ago La Belle Fille and I attended a Hawksley Workman concert at La Tulipe, where he opened his show with the obscure title track from his Christmas album "Almost a Full Moon." It's the only song I know of about making soup. After an amazing show, I kept thinking about that first song. So haunting, so poignant. It conjured up images of me and La Bille Fille, sitting by a fireplace sipping hot soup. Naturally, I became inspired to make soup. And what better choice than something authentically Quebecois - pea soup.

Given that we had some leftover ham and a new Crock Pot, this would be a great opportunity for me to try my hand at French-Canadian cuisine. So I bought the ingredients, took out the Crock Pot, and started to make my first ever pot of pea soup.

Really, it was a simple recipe. Peas, onions, carrots, ham, water, herbs and spices. Put in pot. Cook on low for 10 hours. Simple enough, right? Well, please refer to the above paragraph about my lack of cooking prowess. I could screw up Lean Cuisines (no joke: I always forget to pierce the cellophane). The first problem arose when the recipe called for 4 fresh sprigs of thyme (Pun Alert!). Just to be safe I purchased a large bag of the herb because I didn't want to run out of thyme (Bang!). I just didn't know what constituted a "sprig." You see, the thyme came in small bunches consisting of several branches sprouting off of one stem. Is one sprig each individual branch or is it one stem with multiple branches? I certainly did not want to send this soup into over-thyme (Boom! I warned you!) So I asked La Belle Fille. However, if I didn't know what a "sprig" was, I don't know why I thought someone who learned English within the past 5 years would know. The conversation went like this:
Me: What is a sprig?
LBF: I have no clue.
Me: Well, a sprig is like a twig.
LBF: What's a twig?
Me: It's kind of like a little branch.
LBF: Okay, so a sprig is a little branch.
Me: Yeah, but it's not. I need to know whether a sprig is the whole branch with multiple smaller branches, or just a single branch from the larger branch.
LBF: How would I know this?
Me: Uhmm, I suppose I didn't think this through when I approached you. What is it in French?

This conversation went on for about 5 minutes longer than it should have, and after consulting several dictionaries and thesauri with conflicting definitions and synonyms of "sprig," I decided I had spent far too much thyme on this issue (I just can't help it!), and I just threw them all in there - sprigs, stems, twigs, branches, whatever I could find.

The next problem was that the ingredients did not fit into the Crock Pot. This was like some sort of joke from the makers of the Crock Pot and their accompanying cookbook because the recipe was seemingly designed specifically for this particular model. First of all, it seemed like this was going to be a hell of a lot of soup. Would we be capable of actually consuming five freaking quarts of soup? When it comes to cooking I'm a very concrete thinking, so the possibility of using simple division to reduce the size of the yield did not occur to me. Second of all, 14 cups of water seems like a lot, doesn't it?

I mentioned my soup-making venture to my parents over the phone and they seemed to be getting a perverse sense of pleasure from phoning me for updates as I progressed through multiple screw ups (e.g., "What!? It doesn't fit in the pot? How much soup are you making?!"). I did not appreciate their accompanying howls of laughter which seemed to increase along with their phone calls as my project carried on. It was like I was some sort of disaster chef side show for their personal amusement ("Lynn, get a load of this - he's using dried peas instead of canned peas! I'm serious, come talk to him!").

So anyways, I decided that I could sacrifice a few cups of water. After pushing down the lid on the Crock Pot, stuffed to the brim with ingredients, I turned it on and prayed to the soup gods. The next morning, we awoke to the delicious aroma of my soup simmering in the pot. At least it passed the smell test. But the moment of truth was still to come. I opened the lid to get a better view of my creation. Hmmm. It seemed to lack a certain 'je ne sais quoi.' Actually, I know exactly what it lacked - water. Go figure. I scooped up a spoonful - it stuck to the spoon like a soldier being helicoptered out of 'Nam. It looked like vegetable and ham cookie dough. I took a bite. Closing my eyes, I let the morsels of peas and ham invigorate my taste buds as I processed the essence of the soup. It had the overwhelming flavour of....thyme.

Apparently, French-Canadian pea soup is supposed to look like this:
20090519-goodsoup.jpgMmmm, looks tasty!

And my soup looked like this:
20090519-willsoup.jpgLet's face it, mine looks like straight-up vomit.

At first, La Belle Fille was very courteous about the soup. I served her a bowl and she mustered a gratuitous Mmmm and a polite It's good. Bless her heart.

After she had one bowl she said that it was good but that I would probably have to eat most of it because she generally doesn't like thick soup. Well played, Belle Fille. But I wasn't going to let her off that easy. There was too much at stake (5 quarts of soup, to be exact). What ensued resembled a careful battle of wits reminiscent of Kasparov versus Deep Blue. I countered:
Me: You can add some water.
-She was unphased and hit me back with a doozy-
LBF: True. But also I don't like carrots too much.
Me: Oh there aren't that many, I'll pick them out for you.
LBF: That would be great but I'm full from that first bowl.
Me: You actually didn't eat any. I caught you feeding it to the dog when I went into the bedroom.
LBF: Yeah, well we don't have any soup spoons and my doctor told me not to eat soup with tiny spoons. It's bad for my cholesterol.
Me: First, that's completely illogical. Second, I saw your medical chart. Your cholesterol is a perfect 150 mg/dL. Third, I bought regulation-sized soup spoons yesterday.
LBF: I'm training for the 2010 Canadian Biathlon team and we're not allowed to eat peas. Too many carbs.
Me: You don't know how to ski.
LBF: Oh crap, my pinky finger is severed! I need to go to the hospital!
Me: Your finger is fine.
LBF: Give me a sec. May I borrow that knife?

After that, I accepted the fact that she would not be voluntarily eating the soup. I felt like I let her Quebecois ancestors down. But that did not stop me from trying to get her to eat it. I pulled out all the tricks but still nothing seemed to work.

Ingratiation: "Gosh you look pretty today." ("Thanks but I'm still not eating the soup.")
Blackmail: "I'll never cook again if you don't eat it." ("Promise?")
Bribery: "I'll cook dinner every night if you eat it." ("That's supposed to be sort of incentive?")
Reverse-psychology: "I don't care if you don't eat it. More for me." ("Thank God!")

Sigh. I suppose my pea soup experiment did not work out so well. From now on, I'll leave the French-Canadian cuisine up to the real experts - French Canadians. In the meantime, my soup will die a lonely death in that Tupperware container in our fridge. Rest in peace, dear soup. Although you don't taste great, I had a great thyme making you (zut alors!).

Relevant song: "Almost a Full Moon" by Hawksley Workman:
Let's make some soup cause the weather is turning cold/ Let's stir it together 'til we are both grey and old/ Let's stir it together 'til it tells the stories of its old/ Let's make some soup cause the weather is turning cold

Photo credits go to the author (and chef) himself, as well as Flickr users ericschoon and letouj.



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Smoked Meat Diaries #9: Terminal Pea Soup Viscosity
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