Call me the Soup Marxist (National Post, February 1, 2006)

According to my late mother, the pediatrician to whom my older sister and I were taken for our periodic check-ups was a genius. He claimed to know, just from a child's arm muscles, what she liked to eat. "This one," he said, "squeezing my sister's arm, "likes meat." Then, squeezing mine, he declared, "This one likes soup."

Either he was in fact a genius, or my arm muscles were flabby, or he was like Clever Hans, the "counting" horse, and my mother forgot she had previously mentioned that Anne liked meat and I liked soup. Whatever. Anne did like meat, I did like soup, and still do: potage, consomme, borscht, gumbo, bouillabaisse, chowder, puree, -- limpid, opaque, chunky, smooth, soup is the only comestible I never tire of, and really take pride in cooking.

Soup is so nourishing, comforting, extendable and universal in its appeal, it's always a wonder to me how few people make it on a regular basis, and how appreciative they are when they eat yours, as if it took some special talent to make it. On the contrary, soup is a forgiving culinary medium, receptive to alchemy-shifting ingredients at any step along the way.

By its nature, soup is designed for hospitality, indeed is difficult to make in small quantities. With only two of us at home, I must seek additional outlets for my batching surfeits. I send my kids home with jars full, urge it upon recuperating pals, and always appropriate the soup course for potluck dinners.

A recent press release guaranteed to pique my interest on this score announced that Al Yeganeh -- better known as the "Soup Nazi" thanks to the satirical treatment his New York landmark received on Seinfeld -- is in the process of franchising his business to anyone who'll pay US$30,000 and royalties of 5% of annual gross sales -- not marketed as Soup Nazi (which he resents for some inscrutable reason), but under "Soup Kitchen International," his 20-year old cramped storefront operation's real name. Given my problem -- not enough takers for my largesse -- it's a tempting proposition.

But since I would have to use Yeganeh's soups, prepared and shipped from a plant in Piscataway, N.J., it rather defeats the purpose of sharing the fruit of my own labour. Besides, Yeganeh's soups sell for between $12 and $20 a quart. There has to be 800% profit in there.

Don't misunderstand. I am by nature a capitalist, but soup's cultural associations -- the homeless, the disaster-struck, Great Depression retrospectives -- coupled with a few atavistically Jewish genes (Eat! Eat! Enjoy! Enjoy!) -- inhibit me from charging so much for food that is both cheap and idiotproof.

So The Soup Nazi and I are clearly not a fit. And even though he doesn't want it, I would fear the wrath of the irony-challenged in using that name. On the other hand, given that I have the need to make soup and am willing to charge according to one's ability to pay, maybe I should open a non-profit storefront operation called the Soup Marxist. I could then legitimately adopt as surly and totalitarian an attitude as the Soup Nazi, and if I set up shop near the universities, I'd be ideologically in sync with the environment.

Moreover, as a profit-eschewing Marxist, I'd be faithful to Soviet/Cuban style mercantile tradition in making arbitrary changes without guilt. So I could be like, "No matzo balls for you today! Healthy peasant kasha for you today!" (The matzo balls would be reserved for family "apparatchniks"), and who could complain at those prices?

Last week, a heritage moment for me, my 35-year-old daughter made her first pot of homemade soup (cauliflower roasted with olive oil dumped in chicken broth along with onion, optional potato for increased viscosity, salt, pepper, and a dash of seasoned rice vinegar, cooked through, spinach added five minutes before the end, then blended. It looks like creamy speckled velvet, casts a welcome fragrance, tastes yummy). Joanne and I shopped together for our twin soup fixings, plus a crusty bread apiece, and my parting words of wisdom as our homeward paths diverged were, "Remember, where there is soup and bread, there's a meal."

She without a beat replied, "And where there's soup and a computer, there's a column." And so there was.

© National Post 2006