When I took my son for his riding lesson yesterday, one of the horses at the barn was getting his hair clipped in such a way as to accommodate his snappy winter jacket.  In order to calm this jittery horse for said procedure (buzzing clippers!  touching of personal areas!), he had been fitted with a twitch (which is an item, not a symptom), and is intended to calm the animal by encouraging a release of endorphins.  

Take a look at this picture and let me know how many of your personal endorphins you think would be released if you were outfitted similarly:

Yes, that is a large metal clamp on his nose, or lip, depending on how you view such matters.  Were I to take a tip from the animal kingdom in the management of my own jitters, I think I would lean more towards the Thunder Shirt, a snug vest I have seen in use on several dogs of my acquaintance, which takes them--in one press of the Velcro--from "HOLY GREAT GOOD GOD I THINK THAT MAN HAS A HAT ON AND I AM CERTAIN THAT MEANS HE WANTS TO KILL ME" to "oh, what, is that, like, the doorbell?  Missed it." 

photo by tales & tails

I am not being paid to promote their product, but if as a result of this post, the good people over at ThunderShirt decide to send me a case of same (size Large, please; not fussy about the color) to pass around the holiday table, I am prepared to conduct a human trial.  I think it is the correct season for that.

Now that we have led the conversation about stress around to the dining room, let's talk about soup.  

I think I have nattered before about the cookbook from Greens Restaurant, which I admire, and its tendency to list among the 17 ingredients for a dish "one batch of X, p. 138," which turns out to be a 3 page recipe itself, with numerous ingredients and various stages of preparation.

Generally, I try to avoid preparing (let alone exhorting you to prepare) anything that has a preamble of this nature.  But I am not sure we can go on like this if you don't throw together a batch of vegetable stock concentrate.  It's the backbone of winter soups, and I go on and on about soup once the temperature dips below 64 degrees.  Vegetable stock concentrate has an enormous potential for making you feel like the heir apparent to the Rock Star throne of the universe, given its ease-of-preparation-to-usefulness ratio.  And I am reminding you of it now, when you may be abusing yourself about the need to bake for holiday giving.  Hint: no one will mind not receiving more cookies.  And no one will mind AT ALL being handed a jar of this stuff in place of a cookie basket.  Instead of cursing you as they heave onto the Stairmaster in early January, they will build a little altar to you in their home, and keep it stocked with incense and orchids and tropical fruit at the peak of ripeness.  Maybe. If you do not have a copy of the River Cottage Preserves cookbook, then thank your lucky stars that Laura posted the recipe for this stuff on her blog.  When I make it I add a couple of stalks of celery as well as celery root, and I use thyme instead of cilantro, because it seems more one-size-fits-all.  But it's hard to go very far wrong, I think. If you don't make the stuff, you can still live a happy and fulfilling life, because you can leave your comment here and possibly be the person I send a jar to.  Go ahead. It's not a Giveaway exactly, not another excuse for me to go all Ryan Gosling on you.  I've sworn off those, because they are deeply demoralizing.  So this is something entirely different.  You don't even have to say anything.  You can make an empty comment, in the spirit of the political season.  Or a full one, in gratitude for the thin margin by which we avoided certain doom. So you might receive a windfall jar, if you do that.  

You can also just salt your soup.  You will still have tasty soup, but if you are wondering if it will be that much tastier if you take the (minimal) trouble to make the paste, you will be right.  It will be that much tastier. Are you not convinced yet? Should I mention that for your (minimal) trouble, you will end up with several jars of the stuff, and it keeps forever (roughly), so if you don't give any away, you will be rolling in the stuff for months to come?  Did that do the trick? Meanwhile, thanks to historic levels of personal tension, I seem to be stuck on two settings in the kitchen: 'Bake For Comfort and Distraction' is one, and 'Leave It Kind Of Late To Get Dinner Together; Punt and Roast Something' is the other.

So here is some roasted soup.  I made this the other night and my middle child said, "well, thanks a lot.  You have ruined me.  I can't ever eat any other soup than this one." Enough said, in my view.

forsake all others tomato soup 1 medium bulb of fennel, trimmed of stalks and thickly sliced 2 large carrots, peeled and cut in chunks 1 large or 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts, quartered and cleaned 1 medium onion, peeled and thickly sliced 2T olive oil coarse salt and fresh pepper 2 T butter, or more olive oil 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 28 oz canned tomatoes (whole or ground or puree) 2-3 T vegetable stock concentrate, or salt to taste 1/3 c half and half, optional but worth it Heat the oven to 400.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment (or live dangerously and go commando), and spread the prepared vegetables on the tray in a single layer.  Drizzle them with oil and sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over them.  Roast about 15 minutes, until starting to brown, then switch the oven off and leave them in there to soften up a little more in the residual heat. Heat the butter or olive oil in a large pot, and sauté the garlic in it for about a minute.  DO NOT LET IT BROWN, or you will experience a nasty flashback to the late 80's when everything was flavored with "toasted" (a/k/a 'burned') garlic.  Feh.  Add the tomatoes and heat them through. Now add the roasted vegetables, two tomato containers full of water, and the stock concentrate (or about a teaspoon of salt).  Attack the soup with a stick blender, or process in batches in a regular blender, observing all common sense precautions regarding hot liquid and expansion, until you have a thick, smooth purée. Stir in the half and half, and taste to correct the seasoning as you like it.  Go all restaurant and garnish with a drizzle of lemon oil or minced fennel fronds or some creme fraiche swirled in pretty patterns or casually rustic crumbles of goat cheese, or just eat it.

And don't forget to leave a comment if you want a shot at a jar of redemption.