Jason sat outside the market nursing his double caramel latte, wondering if Gloria would even show up. She had looked so frightened when she had invited him to cook soup. He knew that finding out anything about Gloria and her past was going to be a delicate business. She was such an oyster. But heavens, she was a pearl as well. Lost in his reverie he didn’t see Gloria approaching.
When she saw Jason sitting on the bench outside the market, Gloria wanted to turn around and run away. He hadn’t seen her yet -- there was still time. But she had made a commitment and, no matter how rash the decision had been, she wasn’t going to back out just because she was afraid she wouldn’t know what to say. ‘Just stick to soup,’ she thought. Soup was easy -- soup was safe.
“Hey Jason, ready to get cooking?” Gloria asked as she approached the bench.
“Absolutely.” Jason nodded vigorously. Together they set off into the vast realms of the supermarket. Jason noticed his familiar and beloved canned soup isle but Gloria said they were building from scratch. Terrifying prospect but Jason was ready to learn something that might help him eat better.
“What is your favourite soup?”
“Gosh…a favourite. It is always hard to choose a favourite soup when so many of them are good. I suppose I would have to say chicken soup because it’s a perfect meal and is useful when you are sick with a cold. So I guess it does double duty as a soup.”
“Good answer,” Gloria nodded approvingly. “Chicken soup is one of the easiest soups to make as well as all those other good reasons to make chicken soup.” Together they shopped for all of the ingredients that went into a chicken soup…some of them Jason would never have guessed would go in soup because he had never seen them in the canned soup. And although Gloria wanted to pay for all the ingredients, Jason wouldn’t let her.
“No way. You are teaching me how to make soup and we are making it at your place so there is no way I’m going to let you pay for all the ingredients!” Jason argued emphatically. “By the way…where is your place?”
“Oh, down on the water.” Gloria replied with nonchalance.
“On the water? Wow, how in the world can you afford to live on the water? Waterfront property is so expensive.”
“I’ve been lucky in some regards.” Gloria wasn’t quite ready to get into explaining it all but she could feel Jason building to his next question. “Lucky, in that I inherited a sailboat, but unlucky in that my parents had to die in order for me to get it.”
“Oh man -- that really sucks, losing your parents. I’m sorry.”
* * * * *
In the city it didn’t make much sense to own a car. Gloria lived close to work and all of the amenities she needed were close at hand. Gloria learned that, Jason too, walked most places he needed to go, so together they walked from the supermarket to the waterfront. At the marina, Gloria keyed in her access code to the private docks. Jason ogled the boats as they walked down the dock to Gloria’s slip. Gloria lived on a new Hunter 41 with a deck salon. A boat big enough to be comfortable yet small enough to be crewed by a single person if necessary. Because Gloria loved to cook her favourite part of the boat was the galley and, though it was small, it had everything she needed. After getting on board and unlocking the main hatchway, Gloria turned to find Jason still standing on the dock.
“Permission to board, Captain?” Jason mustered the best pirate imitation in his meagre pirate repertoir. In spite of herself Gloria laughed. She hadn’t had anyone take sailing that serious since she got the boat but she liked the romance of it anyway. Yet seriousness blended with humour…she was reminded of her father and how he would carry on about the high seas and piracy and protocol.
“Permission to come aboard.”
“Wow, this is a really great boat. I don’t know anything about boats but this one sure does look nice.”
“Come on down, I will give you a tour. In the front you will see the forward state room, in the rear you will see the rear state room. There are two heads…”
“You boat is a two headed monster?” Jason joked.
“No,” Gloria rolled her eyes, “the ‘head’ is the sailing term for washroom.”
The main cabin consisted of the galley or kitchen and the salon or living room. It was all the space Gloria needed and was cheaper than keeping an apartment and still having to pay for the moorage on the boat.
“So, here you go.” Gloria said as she passed Jason the onion. “I will let you chop the onion because I don’t want to cry. The reason we are chopping the onion first is so that we can sauté it before adding the other vegetables. Understanding that this is not necessarily the way you would see a recipe for soup in a cook book but it’s the way I’ve made chicken soup for years.” Jason began chopping the onion on the cutting board that Gloria had provided.
“I will cook the chicken.”
“Why are you cooking the chicken? Won’t it cook in the soup?” Jason asked.
“Yes it would cook in the soup but it would cause the soup to take longer to cook. I usually decide to cook soup on a whim rather than planning hours in advance of when I want to eat it and I‘ve found that by cooking the chicken in advance, it cooks in the time it takes to get all the vegetables chopped and partially cooked. Also, I don’t like my veggies to be overcooked so I don’t like to have the soup actually cooking for as long as it would take to cook raw chicken in the soup. I suppose another reason that I like to cook the chicken in advance is that I can season the chicken without overwhelming the soup with the seasonings.” As Gloria finished she realized that Jason was staring at her.
“You’re amazing. I have already learned so much about soup and I’m not even finished cutting this onion. And I see now why you didn’t want to do it. This onion sure is strong.” Jason sniffed and wiped his eyes.
“That is what makes it a great onion for cooking.” Gloria passed a soup pot over so that Jason could deposit his chopped onion in it then began coating the chicken and putting it into the oven.
“What’s next captain?”
Gloria passed the potatoes for peeling while she worked on cleaning the celery and carrots.
“So when you are making soup on your own you will need to remember to season your chicken, I have my homemade chicken coating mix but using store bought works just as well. You can even use leftover chicken from a different meal, which kinda makes things simpler again.”
After preparing all the vegetables and getting them sautéing, Gloria was able to explain to Jason about the soup base. There were so many options, a person could create a clear based soup, a cream based soup or a gravy based soup. You could puree the veggies for a smooth soup or leave them in chunks. Gloria preferred the gravy based soup so that is what she taught Jason. In the space of an hour they had transformed some random vegetables, a chicken breast, and water into an amazing meal. They sat together in the salon and enjoyed some wine, warmed dinner rolls and their steaming hardy chicken soup.
“I can’t believe this is so good.” Jason revelled in the beauty of the soup.
“You didn’t think I could do it?” Gloria questioned doubtfully.
“I had every confidence you could do it, the amazing part is that it still turned out well even though I helped.”
“You are a fine cook Jason; all of the skills for chicken soup can be applied to create every kind of soup you might want to eat. Take for example a beef vegetable soup. Choose the veggies you like, cook the meat in advance, mix it all together in your water, add the seasonings and you’re away. It’s simple.”
“You really are amazing. And we made this soup and I’m getting pretty full and we have enough left over for another meal probably. So that makes two meals for …” Jason started doing the math, “Five dollars a meal”, he concluded.
“That is why I find the cafeteria so disappointing. It doesn’t take much to make a good soup and yet they simply used canned stuff.”
“I bet if you wanted to run the cafeteria you could give Biggs a bowl of this soup then make the pitch that you could offer this and other really great soups through the company cafeteria for less than what it would cost the company in low employee morale.”
“There is no way Biggs would listen to me. I’ve only been there for three months and I’m just a tech flunky. Why would Biggs even consider what I have to say?”
“Because you are a great cook and the cafeteria soup sucks. I can pull the company stats for you about how much lost time due to employees being sick, and reduced productivity. Hell, you don’t look happy in your cubicle most days yet your eyes light right up at the idea of cooking soup. Give it a shot, the worst that can happen is that Biggs will say no and we will be stuck eating canned soup in the cafeteria…forever.” Jason finished emphasizing the word forever.
“I suppose you’re right. I just didn’t think that I would even have a chance. When you found me in the cafeteria today I was considering finding a new job because I just can’t seem to fit in doing this tech stuff.”
“I would definitely consider the cafeteria cooking before looking for a job with someone else.”
The remainder of the evening was filled with awesome conversation about some of the most basic of things that Gloria would never have thought that anyone would have the patience to sit and listen to. After cleaning up the dinner dishes, Gloria walked with Jason to the bridge and then returned home.