We Made It!

We made it to the other side! No matter your involvement in/observance of the Hubbub Otherwise Known as Christmas, the safe passage and/or enjoyment thereof is an accomplishment and relief. Holidays are memory makers... our efforts and preparations, expectations fulfilled or otherwise, desires to please our loved ones... these are the palette and brushes with which we paint the memory scenes. Broad strokes of gratitude and contentment. Dapples of pleasant conversation, stipples of laughter. As it all draws to a close, the paint slowly dries and we trundle off to hang these precious canvases in the hallway where time doesn't elapse, nobody ages, where the joy of the moment is forever. Stop me before I turn into a living, breathing greeting card.

We were honored in the Austin Chronicle recently... read how we were the critic's choice for best family meal service here. Happy Last Week Of The Year. The menu below kicks off the New Year... let us know what looks good. Thank you for everything.

A Bunch Of Bologna

What sad sequence of events could bring us to the condition where we are most reminded of pink tubular "baloney" when we see the word "Bologna". What we should be thinking of is one of the world's great centers of culinary tradition and decadence. Similar events bring us to the sad condition of thinking of "Ragu" as a jarred supermarket red sauce instead of the highest form of slow-simmered meat sauce. "Ragu alla Bolognese", then, is doubly likely to be the most mis-interpreted menu item... We feature it on next week's menu with pride and trepidation. Trepidation that inaccurate associations will cause you to miss this excellent dish. One of my all-time personal favorites...

No, It Really Is Tuscan

Have I spoken to you much about my love for our Tuscan Polenta Soup? Perhaps the more experienced Soupies amongst you remember it better by its true, Italian, not-terribly-appetizing name: Intruglia. It is one of our kitchen's great works of art, beginning with our painstakingly handmade traditional beef stock, then slow-simmered with polenta and vegetables (the recipe calls for 12 heads of cabbage, which melt away into pure savory delicacy), then finished off with handmade sausage. It is one of the most satisfying one-pot meals that I've ever experienced. I did not actually find this soup in my Tuscan travels, but did spend time in the Garfagnana region which is the origin of this soup. Craggy hilltops upon which are perched painfully beautiful villages, deep ravines, lovely people, and of course amazing food at every turn. Do give this excellent recipe a try.

Anticipation of Jubilation.

Greetings from my perch in South Austin. I know you join me in savoring the promise of imminent weather relief; fantasies of the lush extravagance of outdoor dining (mosquito-free, no less), perchance to take a post-prandial amble in comfort. Tossing a ball in the yard. So inured are we to our cabin-bound reality that the possibilities of escape, loose-limbed enjoyment are somehow foreign. We will need to re-learn the sensation of relief, to open ourselves to experience the personal rejuvenative springtime which arrives so strangely autumnally. We envision deliverance from this oppression. It is coming soon. It must! There will be much jubilation.

Soup Vids

Your soup video playlist for this week... one of my favorite bandleaders, King Curtis, offers his Memphis Soul Stew...

Who can forget Gene Wilder's Soup Beautiful Soup from the 1999 Alice In Wonderland?

I love this up-and-coming famous soup song from those crazy Brits on The Mighty Boosh...

The lovable 1930's Flip The Frog does this great soup song... fast-forward to 3:20 to watch the soupmaking segment.

School Dreams

Raise your hand if you ever had a bad dream about school. Probably easier to count if only those who haven't raised their hands. Various flavors... of course you have your "forgot to wear your pants to school" dream. Your "can't find the building where the final exam is held" dream. The "teeth falling out" dream may or may not be applicable to back-to-school time. I do believe that I had one of those in a school context. Regardless of the dreamscape, it is undeniable that this time of year carries a stronger sense of "new year" than January 1st ever could. Personally speaking, this is my psychological gateway to "soup season". It's not just families that have this sense of seasonal punctuation... I believe everyone has wired into his/her DNA a sense of, well, if not impending doom, then fretful anticipation of change and newness this time of year. For those with kids or grandkids, it is an especially touching time, an opportune revisitation of one's own youth, a refreshing vista of the simplicity, the limitless possibilities of youth.

Migratory Austin

As the summer migration draws to a close, Austinites flock back to their hot feathered nests to roost another year... gone are the days of the good old-fashioned postcard, the preferred "wish you were here" now broadcast with sunset photo instantly to all one's friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, family, obligatory high school and business contacts. Ne'er will your mom rummage through the kitchen junk drawer to unearth your status update, see the neat old postage stamp (remember when we had a postal service?! Oh, honey, we had a little box on a post out by the street and a little white truck would come by and drop off letters that people wrote to us...), recognize your handwriting and reflect back to the moment you proudly ran into the room and showed how you first wrote your name all by yourself. No, the status update carries none of that power. Let's make a mental note, shall we? A note to send home some postcards next time we vacation. Where was I? Oh yes, the closing of the loop of the summer exodus. Clinging to those quickly fading memories of verdant, cool vacation climes, remembering the sensation of being able to breathe through your whole skin, the frolicking, the merry-making. And then, returning. Bearing witness to the poor remains of your lawn and garden, squinting upward hopefully for a sign of relief, offering a quick prayer of thanks that you don't depend on this damn weather for your food.

Deep Thoughts On Ribollita

Among my soup travels, I count the pursuit of the great Tuscan ribollita among my very top experiences. A lot of people confuse Tuscan with Tusken, the nomadic Sand People of Tatooine, home planet of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. I'm speaking of the great culinary region in northern Italy... Toscana, or Tuscany. Italy, the country that gave humanity the italic font style. Font, often used interchangeably with typeface, but also the diminutive of fountain, which is a water-gushing installation in the center of most Italian squares, like the one in Firenze outside the restaurant where I tasted the best ribollita of my life. A photo of that soup may be found here. One of my favorite food quotes of all time is noted there. It is from the pen of Waverly Root... a food anthropologist from the time when saying "from the pen of" was meant quite literally. He says, "Florentine food is hearty and healthy, subtle in its deliberate eschewing of sophistication, which is perhaps the highest sophistication of all." I believe that that quote has much to say about what we try to accomplish daily here at The Soup Peddler. Back to the ribollita, though. I had sampled a few during the trip, but this one, at the end of a weary day of walking, sucking exhaust from countless Vespas and Fiats, tucked into a comfortable white-tablecloth, the alcohol molecules from a few glasses of red wine now swishing in a leisurely fashion alongside the corpuscles in my bloodstream... this one was possibly the apex of my eating life. Thoroughly slicked with olive oil, fluffed with overcooked zucchini, vegetal with soft cabbage, salted nearly to the limit of my tongue's capacity to process flavor, held together only by a lattice of soggy day-old bread. The epitome of the Root quote, sitting in real life on the table in front of me. What a poor Food Network travelogue host I would have been at that moment, unable to moan dramatically with pleasure or high-five the chef, consumed as I was in a private High Anxiety flavor spiral (see: Vertigo flavor spiral, for more sophisticated filmgoers), spinning, dizzy, lost in a timeless vortex, swirling in a maelstrom of sensation.

I set my sights to try to re-create the soup... if only to conjure a fraction of the experience... for my beloved Soupies. As well as possible, I reverse-engineered the recipe and feel that we've done a righteous job of producing it in quantity. In a nod to health, we back off on the salt and oil but do recommend the optional home augmentation thereof. To this day, it is my favorite vegan soup. Vegan, by design! Believe it or not.

Summer Soup

When you say "summer soup" to a Marylander like myself, gazpacho doesn't come to mind. Vichyssoise never even enters the picture. There are no cool melon soups or sour cherry this-n-thats in this noggin. No, when you say "summer soup" to me, the old memory banks sputter and crackle for a few nervous seconds, then crank up a vivid memory of folding tables and chairs in well-trod soft grass, newspaper and wooden mallets, spice-stained fingers and burning lips... all the trappings of a Maryland crab feast. And then there's the soup, most often made with the leftover crabs but sometimes served right with the feast itself. Fiery with Old Bay, sweet with fresh summer corn (the corn milk from the cutting board scraped into the pot along with stray strands of silk), cooked to death so the potatoes and green beans are ready to fall apart. And the most distinguishing feature... the demonic little orange claws emerging from the murky depths, a still life of an ingredient futilely trying to escape its fate. A slurping, dripping affair, it is. Not only is it a summer soup, it is an outdoor soup. Just as an overripe peach is an outdoor fruit. First for pragmatism, then ultimately for tradition and just plain rightness. We can't quite conjure that full experience, but we do put our hearts into our version of the crab soup... here is a photo of the first time I cooked crab soup at the Mary St. kitchen. We have since discovered some labor-saving processes, so the task isn't quite as murderous as it once was. Yet the result is quite faithful.

Breakfast Soup

I ran into an old associate of mine at the Juicebox the other day ago, and found him ordering a chicken soup with rice for breakfast, with a smoothie chaser. "Breakfast of Champions," he said. I thought to myself, G-d bless him. Maybe I've been missing the obvious marketing catch-phrase: Soup, It's Not Just For Lunch And Dinner Anymore. In fact, there are many great breakfast soups around the world. Changua is the breakfast soup of Colombia, an admittedly soup-obsessed country. Congee, one of my favorite foods in the world, is a breakfast staple under one name or another for probably a quarter to a third of the world's population. In the Americas, hominy soups like Menudo are the great way to start your dia. But frankly, it doesn't appeal to even me, The Soup Peddler.

But that doesn't mean that I can't turn it into a marketing campaign, does it? Perhaps I could sway myself in the process... maybe I should start with a cup of miso in the morning to fire up the old engines. I certainly love the congee, maybe that could work. It is the inspiration behind our breakfast porridge at the Juicebox, which differs only in selection of grains and because it's just a bit on the sweet side. I have also seen a lovely soup version of a normal breakfast plate of eggs, bacon, and toast taught to me by a Spaniard, it was quite lovely and in fact brilliant peasant fare. Maybe that concoction is something America needs to know about vis-a-vis this explosive new breakfast soup trend.

Ham And Eagles

One of the more ingenious marketing technologies of the past forty or so centuries is the free branded calendar. Early on, you'd have your papyrus and stylus shops giving away calendars with sexy images of Liz Taylor look-alikes reclining in royal galabeas promoting the hippest new heiroglyphic characters. Later, Roman proto-media corporations would promote their latest spate of Battle At The Coliseum reality show merchandise on free calendars. It went on like that for centuries... snake oil salesman the world across would promote their businesses with these free calendars which would hang on wooden shanty, cliff-house, adobe, igloo, and stone hut walls throughout the year, finally culminating in its artistic apogee with the combination of bikini-clad women working on classic automobiles, which may be found in literally 100% of body and mechanic shops the world across. At least... I thought that was the high point. No. The high point comes much later, circa MMXI if you're still going by the Roman system. It is found on page seven of the free calendar supplied by one of our food vendors. It is an all-encompassing photographic description of how we can all do our job to be better patriots by simply making the right choice of what we eat on our Independence Day. Without further ado, I bring you the breathtaking... Ham and Eagles

Superpowers

This vendor of mine was just visiting and talking about how she makes everyone yawn. Like, seriously, people just start going into uncontrollable yawning jags around her. She can put babies to sleep in a matter of minutes. She’s not a downer, she’s a nice upbeat person. But she puts off something that makes people yawn like crazy. It happened here. It’s kind of like a personal superpower. What would be the thing that you pick for your personal superpower? You’re not allowed to pick flying or invisibility or x-ray vision or immense strength. It has to be weird. Personal superpowers have to be something unique and fairly believable compared with Action Comics and so forth. I would pick paranoia inducement and then I would go into the burglar alarm and safe business. Everyone I met would become a customer. No, new rule: you can’t have a superpower be for monetary gain or sexual conquest. It has to just be hilarious. I’d love to be able to make birds gather above someone of my choosing. I’d love to be able to make a magician’s tricks not work. Or walk into a museum and make paint melt. You?

Fishy Sauce

A most meaningful Memorial Day weekend to you... the gateway to summer is here. What does summer mean to you? (besides fire ants, mosquitos, and sunburn... the Texas Trinity of Integumentary Irritants) Correct answer: Cold Soup Season. Yes, folks, cold soup season is here and we are featuring our rotating cast of seven cold soups each week. The abuelito of them all of course is gazpacho, but we have carefully winnowed our list to the best that we can find. You'll notice that vichyssoise is gone. I give up on trying to sell vichyssoise. There's something about that name... to a Frenchperson it probably sounds immeasurably appealing, but to the American ear, something more akin to "fishy sauce." Would you like some cold fishy sauce to wash that down? In reality it is quite elegant and terribly refreshing with a few ice cubes in it, but I give up. You might, you just might find our "potato leek soup" on an upcoming menu; the more elevated amongst you will detect the clever ruse and prefer to serve it cold.

Goodbye Nueva O.

My favorite breakfast taco place closed last week. It was called Nueva Onda and it was like an extended family. There was a wall of photos of Los Regulars and my daughter's picture was on the wall. I could call in my order and it would be sitting on my table waiting for me when I got there. During the last week, one of my compadres there, a long-time Soupie and the owner of Esther's Follies, asked me, "What are we going to do?" No easy answers there. In a town full of breakfast tacos, you would think that it wouldn't be hard to find an ample replacement. The Monday after they closed, I ran into another regular trying tacos at another place. I saw another regular driving down South First and I imagined he was having a hard time knowing where to go. The thought that you'll NEVER taste that taco and that salsa again is sort of hard. When I broke the news to Mia, it was a very touching moment. I said, "Mia, you know, Michael's Tacos (the owner's son is Michael) is going to close and we will not be able to go there anymore. We are going to go one more time." Her eyes welled up with tears and she literally stiffened her upper lip and suppressed the wave of emotion. I thought of all the bygone places in my mind, so indelibly etched. I thought of how permanent and formative childhood memories are, that this would be one of her memories, that it would form in some way what food means to her, what Austin means to her. My childhood pizza place is gone, and without doubt, your childhood pizza is the correct pizza. I'll never taste that pizza again. I wonder if this would be her childhood taco against which all other tacos would be compared. Her near tears touched me because they were about impermanence and I thought, "may this be your greatest loss." As the bygone downtown graffiti on the railroad bridge said, "Life Is Change. Be Flexible." There is really no greater truth. Life is change; permanence is the heart's peculiar folly.

Edible Austin - Larry McGuire

Chefs at Home: Larry McGuire by David Ansel

When conjuring a mental image of a chef’s home kitchen, one might envision small pots of fresh herbs sunbathing on a windowsill, a pegboard rack lined with naughty pans facing a wall or a magnetic knife strip stocked with varied shapes, sizes and patinas of blade. A peek in the refrigerator might reveal a cornucopia of fresh produce and proteins, rare condiments, preserved lemons, homemade Worcestershire, perhaps a bit of hazelnut confiture picked up on a recent research trip to the south of France.

But upon entering the home kitchen of Larry McGuire—the boy genius behind monumentally successful Lambert’s and Perla’s restaurants—none of these things are present. Rather, one is confronted with an austere sort of Dwell-magazine-meets-Travis-Heights sense of low-fidelity minimalism—no hint of any recent activity; no pots, no pans; the refrigerator is empty save for some fizzy water and butter. In fact, the most commanding element of the kitchen—the open shelving that lines the entire north wall, where any reasonable human being would place some dishware, maybe a small sampling of cookbooks or even a few tchotchkes—cradles only numerous, neatly stacked ranks of manila accordion files.

“Those are my end-of-month financial statements,” McGuire says proudly when asked if the files are full of recipes.

It takes a bit of background to understand why a chef’s home would be quite so… foodless. First, McGuire, at 28, is quite properly a bachelor, yet without the usual pitiable gastronomic detritus of bachelorhood: the coffee grinds on the floor, the forlorn take-out containers in the fridge, the bag of limp carrots solitary-confined to the crisper. Why? McGuire simply doesn’t eat at home.

“I wake up and go to Jo’s for coffee,” he says. “Then there’s usually eggs going on at one of the restaurants. I’m in the restaurant all day, and then, since my friends are chefs, I eat out at a great restaurant every night… Parkside, Uchi, Vespaio.”

What might sound like an extravagant lifestyle is really, in a sense, just work. McGuire has graduated from the ranks of the struggling chef to the echelon of restaurateur/creator—one who travels to New York and Los Angeles just to eat and stay current; one who religiously consumes cookbooks and The New York Times’ food section. His immersion into restaurant culture—both locally and nationally—is part and parcel of his career.

“A lot of people ask me,” McGuire says with a genuinely humble pause, “‘How do you do things that people… like so much?’ My answer is that I just grew up here; I am the customer. I see what holes there are in the offerings here.”

He also credits much of his success to what he refers to as the Lambert aesthetic—a distinct mix of comfort and smart design that is the hallmark of Lou and Liz Lambert’s hospitality projects. “Everything I’ve done is their design; their aesthetic. Working with Lambert’s, doing Steak Night at the [hotel] San Jose and having contact with this whole up-and-coming creative crowd and seeing South Congress really evolve was a lucky break for me.”

Breaks aside, McGuire worked hard beforehand to acquire his business degree from the University of Texas while pulling night shifts on the line at the old Lambert’s. From both experiences, he was able to craft the business plans and investor packages for the new Lambert’s, Perla’s and his two current projects (which are?). Now, firmly ensconced on the other side, McGuire’s bootstrap, dues-paying days may be over.

“I started cooking around town when I was 16, and I’m 28 now, so holidays and weekends for that big chunk of my early life are gone,” he says. “I have weekends off for the first time in ten years.”

To fill some of this new free time, McGuire’s has infrequently hosted small outdoor gatherings at his home, around the oversized grill that once served as the centerpiece of so many of those Steak Nights at the San Jose. Guests are usually chefs and their hangers-on, and the sausages were, of course, ground, seasoned and encased at one of McGuire’s professional kitchens.

Still though, the image of the financial statements lining the walls of his home kitchen seems most telling. At the end of the day it’s sill the food service business, after all, and McGuire is as proud of those spreadsheets as he is his bouillabaisse (I like the word “bouillabaisse,” but don’t you think we should name some kind of sausage to align with the previous paragraph?). Truth be told, the spreadsheets may even hold more promise as they describe a near future where McGuire can reliably take weekends, holidays and nights off; where he can find a girl, settle down… maybe even cook a meal inside.

 

The Soup Peddler Goes Mobile!

Soupies, We are very excited to announce our latest business venture. A lot of Austinites seem to feel that the whole mobile food truck thing has "jumped the shark" lately (no offense to Fonzie, a great soup lover in his time). The Soup Peddler, at one time, was a cutting-edge food business in Austin and feels that it should step up and re-assert its leadership amongst this parvenu crowd of Johnny-come-lately foodies.

Therefore, we bring you... the mobile food helicopter.

As you can see, early adopters are "eating it up" and the pure kitsch factor of getting your nourishment from a helicopter makes it super-fun for kids!

OK, onto the menu... these are just a few of the airborne treats we will be serving...

Soup On A Stick! What says fun more than oddball foods served on sticks? Our line of frozen soups available in stick format include standards such as chicken noodle and vegetable beef, but also such crazy innovations as bacon-stuffed matzoh balls and deep-fried tortilla soup! (Serves 4) $10

Crispy On The Inside And Juicy On The Outside This isn't so much a development in food science as it is a revelation. Food marketers have misled the public for generations into believing that "crunch" followed by "ooey gooey" (think jalapeno poppers and the like) was the most sensible way to feed people snacks. We have discovered a fascinating method for covering a crunchy core with a slippery, gloppy coating... ten times the finger-licking for your overstretched food dollar... this will revolutionize game day snacking and keep all that greasy fried crispy residue inside your belly and not on your fingers! (Serves 2) 11.9**

**studies show that removing the dollar sign and adding a single decimal representing tens of cents subtly dissociates the menu item from the dollar amount

There is one fish that, due to whatever collusion of interests and prejudices, has not made its way onto the menus of those white table cloth establishments that line our fancy streets: the carp. Little-known fact: bottom feeders taste the best. All of the food that those other fish drop while they're clumsily tearing it apart with their sharp teeth... where do you think it goes? It falls to the ocean floor, where the lazy couch potato of the sea****, the carp, munches along with glee and aplomb... (Serves 2) $4

****the carp may actually be a freshwater fish

In honor of Lebowski's latest Oscar-quality film remake, we offer this excellent preparation of real, 100% bonafide, made in the good old USA, (hang on a sec while I hit up thesaurus.com....), actual, authentic, indubitable, legitimate, sho'nuff, yeah you right, unfeigned, veracious, true grits... $10

Order early and often! Thank you as always for your continued soupport, and I feel I would be most remiss if I did not wish you and yours a joyous, happy April First.

Your friend, The Soup Peddler