Why This Cookbook Is Chicken Noodle Soup For My Soul

published Oct 27, 2016
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

I’ve had a rough year. It began with my marriage ending, and a subsequent months-long epic loss of appetite. I barely cooked, and could only stomach a handful of foods: yogurt, bananas, oatmeal, avocados, and super-simple brothy soups. In fact, the only thing I can remember cooking the entire month of January was two huge pots of basic chicken noodle soup — a stock made with a whole chicken, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, thyme, peas, and noodles.

The power of homemade chicken noodle soup is a cliché, but for a reason — it heals. Soups, potentially more than any other food, are international, a unifier, and whether you eat yours with a spoon or sip it straight from a bowl, chances are the bowl or cup you’re eating it from was handed to you by a generous cook who prepared it with intention. Perhaps from someone like cookbook author Kathy Gunst.

I first met Kathy at a summer party hosted by her husband, John Rudolph, my longtime mentor and the whole reason I became a radio producer. That past fall she’d been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and was recovering from chemotherapy. But she was so joyful and vibrant you never would have known had it not been for the yellow scarf wrapped around her head. I chatted with her shyly, arguably intimidated by her reputation (I mean, she’d already published at least a dozen cookbooks at that time). Regardless, she was so funny, welcoming, and attentive, and even though it wasn’t her party, she happily served and cleared plates, insisting we all keep eating because there was so much food.

On my way out, I ran into her and John in the hallway. She was crumpled in his arms, audibly crying, perhaps having reached the limit of how happy she could appear in the midst of all she was going through. I ducked back, not knowing her well enough to comfort her in that moment, but I wanted to badly.

Instead I mailed a card to her house in Maine, letting her know that although I was more or less a stranger, I was here for whatever she needed.

“That’s why this book is so special. She’s given us all a chance to embody her generous spirit.”

Four years later, I — like so many others — have been the fortunate recipient of Kathy Gunst’s infectious generosity. And there is no one more suited than her to write a book like Soup Swap. Its premise, that you should not only bring people together to eat and share space, but that you can also transform your home into a dinner swap-meet and allow each of your guests to take something home, keeps your affection for one another going.

In all the years I’ve known her, I’ve only had one soup prepared by Kathy. It was at her birthday party. Suffice to say it was a birthday where people should have been throwing her a party. Instead, she cooked all day, ordered trays of cheese and meats, and prepared a huge pot of chowder with local Maine clams and fresh corn she’d brought down to New York. She made time for one-on-one conversations with each of her guests, laughing, asking how their day was, and then delivering each of us a piping-hot bowl of perfectly seasoned, steamy creamy soup.

But that’s how Kathy is, and that’s why this book is so special. She’s given us all a chance to embody her generous spirit.

Soup is the ultimate comfort food; the thing you can throw together with barely edible odds and ends from the bottom of the fridge. Aromatic, healing, potentially cleansing, it can literally warm you from head to heart. It can be as decadent as a lobster bisque, as complex as spicy Indian mulligatawny, as satisfying as a Puerto Rican sancocho overflowing with root vegetables, or as earthy as a hearty borscht, bright purple with the taste of freshly turned soil after a big rain. But no matter how complex, they often don’t require much culinary skill or tools. Just a pot, some water, and some things to flavor it. Soup is a perfect food, and unequivocally my favorite thing to eat. And I know I’m not alone in that.

(Image credit: Chronicle Books)

You can find more soup recipes from Kathy in her latest book, Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share. In the meantime, see her recipe for roasted vegetable soup that she shared with us here.

Get the recipe: Roasted Fall Vegetable Soup

(Image credit: Chronicle Books)

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