Sorting out soups
Food for Thought

Sorting out soups

Sorting out soups

If you’re in the mood to make something really delicious while avoiding unnecessary trips to the grocery store, consider soup. Chances are you’ve got the ingredients lurking within your refrigerator and pantry. You just need to initiate that right side of your brain because making soup is definitely a creative outlet. This Creamy Broccoli, Potato, and Cheese Soup came to be because of an abundance of broccoli lurking in the refrigerator. When making soup from scratch, recipes are really just road maps, guiding you along to a culinary destination of your choosing. So relax and enjoy the process.

After taking inventory of our refrigerator’s contents the other night I discovered quite a bit of broccoli on the verge of taking a disagreeable turn. So creamy broccoli and cheese soup was going to be the evening meal.

In one of those stream of consciousness sort of ways that you will understand in a moment, my soup ponderings had me reflecting on husbands and carpentry. You see, a few winters ago, my sweetie had flipped into DIY mode. Even though there are plenty of times when I love working side by side with him and his tool belt, playing apprentice to his chief electrician, on this particular occasion was it not going well.

So while I waited next to a freshly-sawed 3-inch hole in a first-floor wall to snare a stubborn piece of wire he was attempting to thread down to me from his cramped and dusty corner of the attic, I reflected on our situation. I had plenty of time to do that because the only thing reaching me was a lot of muttering on his end. The wire simply wasn't cooperating. What was it, I pondered, that turned conditions so testy? I was no idiot and Steve was no ogre. But good intentions aside, I felt more like a tentative, helpless toddler than helpmate.

Then — because of my tendency to couch everything in food writer terms — it hit me: Weekend carpentry is like making soup. Without a strong dose of intuitiveness, it will likely be a disappointment. You see, when you make a pot of soup, you have to have an idea of what that soup is to become, and what you need to do to achieve it. Recipes are only a general guideline when so many variables are involved, from the potency of your garlic and onions, to the quality of your broth. There's got to be a lot of tasting and adjusting along the way.

Hence, the intuitive part. Success in soup cookery comes because you a) have a basic understanding of what it takes to make soup, and b) don't panic when a mid-course correction is called for because (please see "a").

I decided to test my soup theory, so I called a time-out and asked Steve to take a few minutes and explain the entire project step-by-step. What was our goal? How were we going to achieve it? What was needed along the way?

It worked. Not only did we make it through the session without either one of us strangling the other, but I enjoyed the process thanks to my higher level of understanding. I was even able to contribute some intuition-based suggestions, like, "It must be curled up against the doorbell casing, Sparky," which came about by visualizing where that gol' darned wire needed to be, and what was keeping it from getting there.

So for last week’s batch of broccoli soup, my goal was to transform some tired vegetables into a delightful meal. To do so meant enlisting both sides of my brain: the practical “Don’t waste the broccoli!” left side, along with my creative, free-spirited “Let’s make it delicious!” right side. The result was, indeed, delectable.

So, at a time when we’re all attempting to make the most out of our refrigerator and pantry contents, I thought I’d pass along some inspiration. Notice I didn't say "recipes," because like I said, a recipe is only part of the process. Consider the ones that follow as road maps, guiding you along to a culinary destination. Whether you select the direct route, or opt for a little intuitive cooking along the scenic tour, is strictly up to you — and what you hear up there in the right side of your brain. Or in my case, the attic.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at or find additional recipes and food tips on her blog at


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Creamy Broccoli, Potato and Cheese Soup

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