Perspective, and a pot of soup - FamilyEducation

Perspective, and a pot of soup

October 01,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Right after I posted my slightly whiny column yesterday about being sick, I went to class and ran into lots of sick students. This time of the semester always hits the freshmen hard. They've been doing the college thing for almost six weeks now, and the weather has been up and down--cool, then hot, then cool again. Midterms are next week, and they're tired and dragged out. They're homesick and alone. New college students just have trouble pacing themselves, I've found. They throw themselves into the experience with tons of energy, burning the candle at both ends, and then they find themselves exhausted by midterms.

So I had lots of sniffling, sneezing, coughing, feet-dragging students in my classes yesterday. Back at my office, while I was sucking on a throat lozenge and checking email, a student came in with a large white towel clutched over the lower half of his face.

Oh god, I thought. What's wrong with him? What kind of contagious illness is he bringing in here?

But, as it turned out, he had a toothache--a terrible one, and he's been having it for days now.

"I curdnt urg cas wif toof," he mumbled to me, as an explanation for his absence in class that morning.

"Have you been to a dentist?" I asked him.

He shook his head.

"No surance," he mumbled. No insurance. Dentists are expensive.

I instantly felt bad for feeling sorry for myself. It's tough to juggle it all, of course, but in the end I'm a grown-up and I'm lucky enough to be able to take myself to the doctor if I need to, or the dentist if I really have to. I have my home to retreat to, and a warm bed, and the ability to make pots of hot soup for my poor, scratchy throat. I think about many of my students, so far from home, feeling tired and sick and alone. I also think about all the people out there--people like one of my older, nontraditional students--who can't afford to get sick, who have no insurance and have to really tough it out, hoping for the best. I thought about another student of mine who, at the tender age of 19, is battling a chronic and terrible illness.

I wish I could make a pot of soup for them all--each and every one of them. I wish I could fix it all.

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I had several email requests for the Hot and Sour Soup recipe I so casually mentioned in my column yesterday. It's not exactly MY recipe, but I adapted it from two recipes (this one and this one) that I found when I was digging around for a Hot and Sour Soup recipe a few weeks ago. Most of the recipes have intimidating ingredients, like tiger lily buds and tree ears (a type of mushroom), and most of the recipes call for chicken broth and/or chicken and pork in the actual soup. But I substituted vegetarian broth for the chicken broth, and included a tablespoon of miso paste for the nutritional benefits.

1 cup firm tofu cut up into slivers or narrow strips

2-3 cups vegetable broth (use 3 if you want more broth--I tend to use 3)

2 cups water

1/2 package of sliced mushrooms (you can add the whole package if you love mushrooms)

1 cup snow peas, cut into strips (you can leave these out, or add other veggies like broccoli or sliced carrots)

1 can bamboo shoots

1 can diced water chestnuts

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2-3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup green onion 

1 tablespoon miso paste

1 teaspoon chopped ginger

The first time I made this we were out of ginger and miso, and it turned out just wonderfully. But the ginger adds a nice flavor to it, and it's really good for you, too, as is miso paste, which is virtually tasteless if you're worried about it. If you have trouble finding miso you can get a miso soup base (most Asian markets sell it and it looks like this, and you can usually find it at your local store, too) and just add it to the broth.

Throw everything into a soup pot and let simmer until the mushrooms are soft, then add more vinegar, etc., to season according to your taste. You can also put it all in the crockpot, as the crockpot guru suggests, and let it cook while you're out--or languishing on the couch.