Soup and the elusive art of simplicity

PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown

The hallmark of modern life is complexity. How are you? Busy. What’s next week look like? Busy. When’s that going to change? Heart attack, dementia or death, I suppose. I could try yoga but I can’t account for what my digestive system will do if I stretch like that. I could meditate. That actually works. But I’m pretty busy (See above). Maybe when things calm down (Appendix A).

I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure lately, trying to finish a big writing project. I don’t want to bore you with the details. I’ll do that when the book comes out. Sufficed to say, I wrote a nine-pound manuscript that needs to lose 40 percent of its body weight if it’s going to survive. (It takes after me). 

Because I’ve got a day job, the editing work gets crammed into my weekends. That’s not the part that bothers me. I like having a standing excuse for not going to things. No, the real challenge is how complicated the work has become. 

Imagine that all the homework you ever did in your whole life had to be rewritten as a snappy narrative that blends in new suggested research you haven’t read yet. And then imagine that the end product would be graded by a Mechagodzilla amalgamation of every teacher you ever had, powered by IBM Watson.

Anyway, I’m boring you with the details. I said I wouldn’t do that. Besides, I already know what you might say.

Keep it simple. That’s the advice they give you. Whether your problem is stress, amateur carpentry, astrophysics or life itself, the solution always seems to be some version of simplification.

To this end, fate recently gave me an opportunity to simplify. 

One day, I opened my office door to leave for the day and found a small bag of wild rice laying on the floor of the empty hallway. I looked left. I looked right. Nobody. Was this a gift? Did someone drop the rice? I worked through all those questions before deciding to bring the rice home. 

This meant soup. I designated a weekend to bake homemade bread and make my debut batch of chicken wild rice soup. Of course, other people — arguably better people — have done this sort of thing before, probably without the depth of analysis I dedicated to the endeavor. But, for me, this is what keeping it simple looks like. 

I found a recipe that looked good, but it only used one cup of wild rice. I had three. Simple problem. Simple solution. Triple the recipe. I used water to measure the size pot I would need. The medium one was a little tight, so I would use the big stock pot — the biggest pot we own. It would be good to have plenty of room to stir the soup.

For the next four hours I mixed and kneaded dough, contemplating what the word “tacky” really means. Is gooey tacky? My hands looked like I just murdered the Pillsbury Doughboy in a prison fight. That’s tacky, right? I persisted.

As the dough rose, I cut the chicken, sautéed the vegetables and mixed the soup together. When it came time to add the wild rice and cream, I realized the naïveté of my pot math.

PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown

The soup reached the very brim. Only the surface tension of the semi-viscous liquid kept it from burbling down the sides onto the glowing burner. I had to snatch out the first ladle-full like a soup ninja to prevent a disaster. After filling bowls with generous servings for all my family, the soup pot seemed almost untouched. It was barely two inches below the top.

There’s nothing more simple than homemade bread and soup. Or so I thought. With a creamy soup, I really didn’t want to freeze it. Now I had committed my family to a weekend of inadvisable soup consumption. Fortunately, we have three teenage sons. If you want a vat of soup and ten pounds of bread to disappear, they can make that happen.

I watched containers normally used for Thanksgiving leftovers, now filled with soup, leave the kitchen as unholy serving vessels for the next three days. After the second day, my wife tapped out, saying she just couldn’t eat anymore. We compared her to the mom from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” The rest of us forged on.

As the weekend drew to a close, I reflected upon the empty container of soup. What did I do this weekend? I made soup. I ate soup. And, in late night soup-fueled delirium, I finished editing a particularly vexing chapter of the book. Such are the advantages of keeping things simple. 

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.