Tomato soup for the morbid and depressed

When I was little, I would float saltine crackers on my tomato soup, then nudge them down slowly into my bowl, watching the tomato lava well up into the crackers’ holes. “Stay on the raft, stay on the raft,” I would whisper in the voices of the doomed adventurers on the sadly absorbent raft. I don’t remember if my poor little soup adventurers managed to jump to the rim of the bowl, or if I was a morbid enough kid that they perished descending the crater of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup Volcano.

Tomato soup is as essential to my childhood as the sound of softballs hitting aluminum baseball bats and the hot, righteous tomato-red anger of yelling that it was Greg’s fault, not mine, slamming the door, and pulling at my own hair while scream-crying.

I figured I should add the last part because I always worry about sounding sappy, which I thought might happen after writing a list of childhood memories that turned out to be only one thing. Apparently, I also already forgot* that I lead with the tragic deaths of the tomato soup explorers.

Everything I do is overkill.

Anyway, speaking of scream-crying, this is exactly the brand of depression I was experiencing one particular night when it turned out that my partner would be working late and it would fall to me to provide dinner. This is the type of mental anguish which makes even searching for a tomato soup recipe overwhelming. The search was frustrating to begin with because, somewhere, we have a good recipe from when we first made homemade tomato soup back in 2007.

Back in 2007, tomato soup was still a mysterious thing. I had only ever tried it from a can, which is weird because I didn’t grow up eating a ton of processed food or stuff made from mixes. But Campbell’s tomato soup was a pantry staple. It was not a food composed of other ingredients, but a substance unto itself, a dull martian red liquid that could be listed as an ingredient in other recipes, such as meatloaf and hamburger pie. How many other soups can be listed as ingredients? There are no recipes that call for “an extra cup of tortilla soup, added at the end” or “corn chowder, added to the desired consistency.”

The only other soup that doubles as an ingredient is canned cream of mushroom, but I don’t know if “doubles” is the correct verb because I’ve never heard of anyone also eating cream of mushroom. It goes in green bean casserole**. That’s it. Then back in the corner. And when I say “corner,” I mean “dank dungeon with one of those giant, pendulous scythes.” I hate, hate, hate mushrooms, and for this reason, created an extremely factual infographic as a service to the world.

Back to the tomato soup. Combine a missing recipe with scream-crying depression, a baby I am responsible for taking care of, and the fact that I can’t chop onions anymore because of how quickly and painfully my eyes tear up. I can’t even chop a shallot, which is the size of the flesh at the base of my thumb. The weight of responsibility for cooking a meal–normally not one of my household chores–came to weigh on me like a couch being carried up two flights of stairs.

Why didn’t I order food out instead? I can’t remember why that wasn’t an option. Maybe I didn’t have the mental energy to dislodge the idea of tomato soup from my brain. Whatever the case, I arrived home from my parents’ house with a few tablespoons of dried minced onion and and some garlic cloves to get me started.

I sauteed the onion with butter, and burned it.

Luckily, I found that we had not been out of dried onion after all. I sauteed some more, and burned them again while focused on chopping the garlic.

But then everything clicked into place; I stopped burning things; the baby played nicely, banging jars on the floor and trying to sweep our filthy kitchen.

I prefer loose methods to recipes.

Here’s the tomato soup method I came up with:

Start with allium component–onion and garlic, in my case.
Add tomato component along with other liquids: water or broth.
Season while the liquids heat. Throw in a bay leaf, some Italian seasoning type stuff, if not Italian seasoning itself. Black pepper and crushed red pepper.
Add dairy component–milk or cream, plus some Parmesan for the umami.

And here’s what’s in that:

A few tablespoons of dried minced onion
A couple of tablespoons butter
3 cloves of garlic
One 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with added basil
Italian seasoning, or similar
Bay leaf
Black pepper
Crushed red pepper
Salt
A teaspoon of Better than Bouillon, veggie flavor
A cup of water
A little over a cup of milk

Serving suggestion for tomato soup topped with Cheddar Whisps
Sounds like my cheddar Whisps are volunteering to go on what will surely be an ill-fated rescue mission for the Saltines that have been lost these long years.

This made enough for two dinner-sized bowls of soup, and a couple mugs leftover to have with salad the next day.

Between the ingredient list and the directions, it ended up being a proto-recipe, one lacking in specific ingredients. Or does that lack make it a method? Either way, it’s something to throw together without finally-tuned spice blends, and in less-than-ideal conditions.


*If it makes it better, I don’t write in order.
**And even that’s a stretch. It’s pretty easy to make a quick sauce of broth and cream instead.

The universe “takes care of it”

There is a certain view that if we just sit back and stop worrying, the universe will take care of it. But there’s more than one meaning of “take care of it.” Sometimes, “take care of it” is what the villain says upon learning that the hero, or one of the hero’s plucky associates, is alive and well and making trouble. Turning to Henchman Number One, the villain says, “Take care of it.” And you know that the Henchman off to murder/ ambush/ kidnap/ maim someone.

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Let it not be said that the universe doesn’t look out for us, for surely it does. Sometimes like a benevolent guide, sometimes like a sadistic yet curious mad scientist.

Sometimes, that’s how the universe is too. Here’s a real life example:

Me: So I was thinking that I’d leave for work early and stop to get that computer mouse.

Universe: That’s one idea. But, ooh, how about instead the heat and hot water at your apartment stop working? And you can make a phone call about that.

Me: I hate phone calls.

Universe: Would it be better if a glass shattered on the floor right before you have to make the phone call?

Me: No, not really.

Universe: Ah, well, too late. No big deal, right?

Me: No, I suppose not. The glass broke in large pieces.

Universe: Right! Look at you, taking care of stuff like a champ.

Me: Yeah! I even still have time for lunch.

Universe: You know you have to clear off your car, right?

Me: Fine, no time for lunch. At least I have time to eat in the car.

Universe: No, now there’s blood. You have to take care of this.

Me: Blood? Where the hell is it coming from?

Universe: Your finger.

Me: Fine, I’ll put on a band-aid.

Universe: No, you can’t reach those.

Me: Well, then I’ll awkwardly wrap my finger in a napkin that I can kind of reach.

Universe: There you go. Now you can have lunch.

Me: No, I can’t. My finger is awkwardly wrapped in a napkin.

Universe: If you drive fast, you’ll have time to eat a few bites of sandwich before you walk into the building.

Me: That actually worked. You know, I’m not even in a bad mood. Despite all this.

Universe: Ok, that’s great! Now, how about you meet the person who was hired for that job you asked about all those months ago, but you didn’t follow up on it because you’re a big wimp and now you’re stuck making $10 an hour with the least flexible job in the world?

Me: Hi!

Universe: Good job. Now, how about that bad mood you mentioned earlier?

Me: Yes. I am totally depressed now.

“Checklist,” a blackout poem

What I like about blackout poetry is that it’s sort of an inverted version of pinhole cipher, where a hidden message is concealed in printed matter by pinholes under the words of the real message. I used to make pinhole ciphers on discarded newspapers in cafeterias and coffee shops, just in case someone noticed.

checklist

“Checklist. Smile smile smile smile. Imagine the lie.”

If I had nine lives, I’d use one of them to be a spy who retires and opens a coffee shop.  Preferably, the spy part would be in the early half of the twentieth century, before analogue cryptography was completely outmoded.

With blackout poetry, I can just sort of pretend that someone sent me a secret message and pick out whatever words or syllables interest me.

I didn’t have any particular plan when I did this one, but it’s clear to me that this poem explains how I deal with a lot of social niceties, particularly being asked how I’m doing when I’m not doing well, but I don’t want to say so. Smile, smile, find some sort of lie, and try not to sigh depressively.

Not that I would put on such a charade at my spy coffee shop. I like to think I foster an atmosphere of erudite grumpiness.

Dungeons & Dragons & Depression

Excluding my flower inspiration message, it’s been three weeks since my last post. One might think that I haven’t had anything to say, that nothing noteworthy has happened in my life or crossed my attention for the last several weeks. The opposite is true. As of this writing, I have 49 post ideas in a file, with 20 posts already started, some even mostly completed, that I haven’t bothered to upload.

Depression saps energy, takes up a lot of mind space, and is also damn boring. Medication has its uses, but comes with its own set of issues. Coping without medication involves frequent exercise, activity schedules, journal-keeping, and doing CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) exercises. All of which have been proven effective, and take a buttload of time to complete.

I’ve found that if there’s one thing more difficult than fighting against depressive lethargy, it’s prioritizing the time I have left to me. There are a lot of things I want to do with the remaining time in my day: back exercises; write blog; write novel; write current short story; edit other short story; work on assignments for How to Think Sideways; learn more about graphic design; learn more about locksmithing; do vision exercises; learn more about current events, electricity, meteorology, geology, and car repair so I don’t have to be embarrassed when these subjects come up; go on adventures; practice drawing; search for new job; search for new apartment; research yurts instead of searching for apartments; and practice drawing.

In other words, it’s the same dilemma I run into when I make a Dungeons and Dragons character. More often that not, I play skill based characters, like rogues and bards. Choosing between the many skills is both annoying and difficult. And for every single skill on the character sheet, I can come up with some kind of excuse for why I need that skill.

What good is Hide if you can’t hack your Move Silently check? Points to both!

Handle Animal? If we run into an animal, this will be so useful.

Bluff? Well, what if I have to lie to an animal? And if it has the same number of points as Diplomacy, I don’t have to worry if I’m lying or telling the truth!

Use rope? I’ve absolutely got to be able to use a rope. Every nerd remembers how important Samwise thought it was to have rope. But what good is it if it just sits limp in my hands because I can’t fathom the deep mysteries of how to operate it?

Disguise is a particular weak spot for me. I always imagine that putting points into disguise will result in something like this:

When in fact I don’t tend to find a lot of opportunities for Disguise at all.

And on, and on. Every single skill has some kind of useful appeal, except Listen and Spot, which are generally ignored by the bulk of my group. The end result is a character who has two points in everything except Listen and Spot, and consequently, never does anything because someone else in the party specialized in whatever skill check is needed, and is the more logical choice to make the check.

I’m sure by now you think you know what direction I’m going with this fairly obvious analogy*, but you’re wrong. I’m not going to compare the minutes in the day with a character’s allotted number of skill points, or state with flashing lights-obvious double meaning that true strength of character comes from prioritizing, choosing what is truly important over what is simply nice to have.

No.

Here’s my take-away from all this soul-searching and blogulating and youtube video-seeking: Put all your damn points in Disguise. In D&D and in real life.

But of course, you’ll need a few in Bluff also, so you can speak in disguise. And Diplomacy, in case you have to tell the truth. And Escape Artist, in case you get locked up anyway by the guy who was the sheep.


 

*Because you’re crafty, and you put due skill points into Knowledge: Obvious Analogies that Show up on Blogs.