Does every postgraduate student have a fantasy other life in which they imagine the path not taken? While writing her PhD, my sister pondered opening a shop of gifts for men, called The Thinking Man's Crumpet. She'd sell astrolabes and pipes and vintage magnifying glasses; detective novels and squashy cushions in muted, masculine colours; cufflinks, ties and very nice socks; select old records and CDs; and other things for the sort of intelligent and gentle man she finds attractive.
My fantasy is to open a soup shop. I imagine a tiny hole in the wall that seats six to ten people, with another half dozen seats outside. Every day, I'd make two or three soups, and that's it. Maybe you could get a bread roll or an apple, too – but nothing more complicated. In winter, I'd go heavy on the lentils and roast vegetables; in summer, light minestrones and gazpacho would feature strongly. People could come in and eat a bowlful, or buy a container for their supper.
I'd also sell stocks: good homemade veal and chicken and vegetable stocks for people to take home. I've yet to find a commercial stock that doesn't taste horrible; I think there's a market for proper stocks for the home cook.
I only drink wine and water with my meals, so see no reason to serve anything else. In my fantasy, you'd be able to buy a bistro glass of jug wine (red or white) to have with your soup; or perhaps some mineral water. Many years ago we lunched on bread rolls and glasses of vin ordinaire from a hole in the wall in Florence. The premises consisted of a counter facing the street, behind which three men filled the warm rolls and poured out wine. There was no seating, so everyone stood in the street munching and sipping. I wonder whether Australian licensing laws have caught up.
Because I've always wanted a small bookshop, I might also stock a few random books: favourite cookbooks, children's story books, and cosy detective novels – all good to read over soup. Or perhaps I'd just have them there for customers to thumb through; I haven't quite decided. While having books to read would make it the sort of place I'd want to go, it would also make people linger, and with such a small shop that might be a problem.
As for décor, perhaps I'd paint the interior the colour of rich pumpkin soup. And I'd want a few herb boxes on the footpath, overflowing with parsley and marjoram and thyme; the mingled scents would make everything eaten there taste better. I could put up a few soupy quotes around the place, preferably cross-stitched – I'm not afraid of kitsch – and the crockery would really need to be that heavy brown English stoneware from the 1970's.
Such a shop would almost certainly run at a loss, but since my husband owns a business, we could set my losses against his profits and pay less tax.
You see? So many things to think about – and so much easier than writing a literature review!
What follows is a winter soup, good to eat on a cold night. A slice of heavy rye bread, thickly buttered, would go nicely on the side.
Cabbage, Potato, White Bean and Caraway Soup
- 125g bacon rashers, chopped into little squares
Warm the butter in a large soup pot. Cook the bacon until it is crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Throw the onion into the pot, and cook until soft. Add the caraway seeds and thyme and cook for a few minutes. Add the cabbage and cook until it has wilted. Add the potatoes, cannellini beans, bacon and enough stock or water to just cover the other ingredients.
Bring to a simmer. Cover slightly, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the potatoes are tender. Check for seasoning. Serve.
Note: For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon, use vegetable stock (preferable one made with dried mushrooms) and add a second can of cannellini beans.
Adapted from a recipe found in the very useful Ultimate Cook Book.
(Local: potatoes, cabbage, bacon, thyme, onion. Not local: butter, caraway seeds, cannellini beans.)