For more than thirty years, I have encouraged the reading of anything M.F. K. Fisher. I have a strong personal opinion that she is the best food writer of all time. I discovered while searching my bookshelves that my M.F.K. Fisher books were lent and never returned. (Lament) I attempted to reserve a few of my favorites at my library and was a bit dismayed to see how many of her books have been weeded from the system. I did find the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Art of Eating, which I am re-reading with a new perspective that only comes with age and experience.
I have a personal reason for recommending reading M.F. K. Fisher because she made me the food person I am today. In my twenties when I was figuring out who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live, I came across writers who spoke to my growing sense of self. This author lived life large and generally around the table. What she loved most was a cast of characters gathered around a serious and simple meal with good alcohol, and I was discovering my own joy in those same pleasures.
Over the years, I came to realize how very different and smart she was. She published in a time when her style of living and writing was unconventional and slightly scandalous. But what she managed to do was describe the very essence of living through a language of food. She liked her ingredients simple and local and unadulterated. In her early work, she reminisced on the time she was a naïve young bride in France living in hovel after hovel as her first husband gained his doctoral degree. One of my favorite paragraphs sums up her brilliant writing from this scene when they finally found a private apartment with a tiny kitchen in 1931:
“It was the first real day-to-day meal-after-meal cooking I’d ever done, and was only a little less complicated than performing an appendectomy on a life-raft, but after I got used to hauling water and putting together three courses on a table the size of a bandana and lighting the portable oven without blowing myself clear into the living room instead of only halfway, it was fun.”
The Gastronomical Me
She has never failed to make me laugh out loud or think deeply about my role in friendships or even something as troublesome as my place in life. She certainly inspired me to seek out other food writers and discover a certain Zen in the smallest of ingredients. Her voice taught me to consider the process before wading in hip deep to cook. Her writing also influenced the rest of the “greats” from my era: Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Alice Waters and more recently, Ruth Reichl. Reading about food and the emotions that surround the most basic of human needs led me down a crooked but well-lit path that landed me where I am today.
Reading passages from these great food writers inspired this soup. Rather than follow elaborate recipes, I started breaking down the complicated recipes of the era into the everyday ingredients and flavors in my meager pantry. I had plain mushrooms but no heavy cream; I had onions but not shallots. I had cream cheese but not Crème Fraiche. I was led to create with flavors I had to work with rather than giving up because of the ingredients I lacked. Since those early days, I have used this basic recipe as my “cream of” soup. Mushroom, tomato, chicken, it all works from this basic technique.
- Butter and Olive Oil-1 Tbs each
- Onion- 1large yellow, diced
- Mushrooms-sliced 16 ounces.
- Garlic-2 cloves diced
- Chicken or Vegetable Stock, 1 quart
- Water-2 cups
- Thyme-dried, 2 tsp.
- Soy Sauce- 2 Tbl.
- Salt-kosher, 1 tsp.
- Black Pepper-1 tsp.
- Cream Cheese-8 ounces
- Heat a large saucepan on high and add olive oil and butter.
- Add diced onions and reduce heat and allow onions to soften and brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add mushrooms, garlic and salt, stir occasionally until mushrooms have released all their moisture and it has evaporated. Keep the heat on medium low to prevent burning.
- Raise the heat to high and add soy sauce and stir to scrape up any brown bits.
- Add Thyme, Chicken or Vegetable Stock, water and black pepper, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes.
- Taste for salt and adjust. Turn off heat.
- Carefully ladle about 2 cups of soup into a blender container.
- Cut cream cheese into large cubes and add to the blender.
- Use caution when blending hot liquids, the best method is to remove the top insert and cover with a kitchen towel. Hot liquids expand easily and can blow the top off.
- Blend on a low speed in short bursts until the cream cheese has been completely incorporated.
- Pour the blended mixture back into the sauce pan and stir.