People talk a lot about “community building,” but in the case of Soup & Bread, I think what we’re up to could better be called “community revealing.” Building implies a master plan — a certain top-down intentionality. But on soup nights like the one this past Wednesday what happens in the back room of the Hideout is nothing more structured than the spontaneous illumination of pre-existing relationships whose true detail had been perhaps in shadow until the light of soup was shone upon them.
In that room there was a gardener who ran the program at the school where the parents’ children grew peppers. She was working on a new project with the editor, who was friendly with the social worker, who knew my friend the mom, who brought her friend the musician, who brought bread to donate to the table. The writer was working on a project with the editor, who lived up the street from the gardener, and used to work with the other writer, who was pals with the restaurateur, who had hired the bartender (the other bartender) to paint his shop. And, well, you get the gist. It was all very six-degrees-of-soup-separation.
It feels silly sometimes, writing about soup week after week. Doubly so lately, because when not trying to find new ways to describe something that’s both very simple and yet, like all good communities, can be much more than the sum of its parts, I’m finishing up work on the new edition of the Soup & Bread Cookbook. A girl can only handle so many labored soup metaphors in a day.
But nights like this one make it not seem so silly after all. I often don’t get to experience Soup & Bread in the moment: there are drinks to be made, and ladles to be washed, and bread to be cut, and when it’s all over I just sit there and think, “Did that just really happen?” (My consistently terrible photo documentation doesn’t help, though I take some pride in being responsible for possibly the blurriest photos on the internet.) But this was really something, and even I could see that.
To a backdrop of tunes spun by Sound Opinions producers Robin Linn and Jason Saldanha, we had a densely complicated oden from Mike Sula, who came in disguise, and Elizabeth Gomez (above), who was in Japan most of last month and flew home from Tokyo the day after the earthquake. We had refreshing tomato, basil, and white bean soup from Laura Fox and her mother, Monica. Laura’s been helping me wrangle recipes for the cookbook for the last few months, and without her I would be lost. And we had a hearty white bean and smoked sausage soup from James Sapytka, who is a standup guy and friends with our equally standup, if elusive, door guy Al.
We had savory roasted onion soup from Sarah Steedman, and roasted beet soup from Cleetus Friedman, above in the apron — beet soup that had the ability to send a seven-year-old boy back for thirds. (A million thanks also to Cleetus for the sandwich, which I desperately needed later on.) We had ramen from Hugh Amano, next to Cleetus, whose support of Soup & Bread is only equalled by his superlative soup-making skills.
And we had not one but two soups — a tangy Pakistani chicken soup and a zesty Haitian “Independence Day” soup full of butternut squash — brought by the ladies from the Marjorie Kovler Center for Treatment of Survivors of Torture at the Heartland Alliance, the beneficiary of this weeks’ soup donations. We (by which I mean “you”) raised $570 on their behalf, and as staffer Mary Black wrote me later, “Most of the clients who come to Kovler are political asylum applicants who live without work authorization or access to government subsidies (such as a Link card) until they are granted asylum — this can take years! So having access to healthy food is primary, as you can imagine. $570 is a tremendous help!”
There are just three weeks left of Soup & Bread this year, and we’ve got some heavy hitters on the docket. More info to come about next week’s lineup. In the meantime, earnestly, honestly, thank you. Without you we’re nothing.
Soup & Bread