As fall and winter become more visible on the horizon, getting together with family and close friends over a delicious bowl of soup might be just the prescription to ease us in to the cooler days ahead.
“Even though we have all become accustomed to spending more time at home, the winter months seem to make us want to burrow in even further,” said Leslie Shalabi, co-owner of Convivium Urban Farmstead. “But sharing a meal together is one of the ways that we can best connect with our loved ones.”
Hosting a soup swap
Similar to a cookie exchange, guests bring homemade soup to taste and share with other guests. The host can provide some additional sides like bread, crackers and garnishes.
The idea behind a soup swap is to gather with friends, sample the variety of soups brought by everyone then take home a serving of each soup brought to the swap along with the recipes.
Michelle Mentz, of Dubuque, and her husband, Randy, hosted a soup swap last October, just as the weather was getting a bit chilly.
“It was a healthy soup swap,” she said. “We are transformational coaches, so we help with healthy lifestyles and just being the best version of ourselves. We thought this would be a great way to get together and exchange some healthy food and recipes.”
The lineup of soups at the Mentz gathering included egg drop, zuppa toscana, loaded cauliflower, beef vegetable and bacon cheeseburger.
“We had seven guests, and it was the perfect amount,” Michelle said. “We offered recipes to anyone who wanted to come but didn’t have a soup to make in mind.”
Even better, they had an option for anyone who wanted to come but couldn’t, for whatever reason, make a homemade soup.
“Everyone brought soup,” Randy said. “But we did give them the option of bringing canned goods instead that we could donate to the local pantry. That way, we gave them an easy way to be able to come without feeling like they hadn’t contributed anything.”
Michelle ordered inexpensive to-go containers online to divide the soup and send it home with guests.
“It was pretty simple to host,” she said. “We’ve already had people ask if we’re going to do it again.”
Northern Europeans have made hunkering down during the winter months such an art that many have a word for it: “Gezellig” in the Netherlands, “mysa” in Sweden, “gemütlichkeit” in Germany, “koselig” in Norway and “hygge” in Denmark.
Rather than meaning any one thing, all of these words are used to convey a feeling of warmth and coziness, of gathering with family or friends and enjoying good food and conversation.
When the wind is raging and the snow is falling, there is no better way to create that feeling than with soup. It’s versatility and simplicity make it easy for even a noncook to bring something to the table.
Shalabi said if you decide to host a soup swap, be sure to clearly communicate the rules to your guests.
“Are you going to assign soups or let your guests choose?” she said. “Will you be providing bowls and utensils, or should guests bring their favorite bowls? Will you be providing the extras like bread, sour cream, garnish, dessert or drinks? The more detail you provide ahead of time, the better your guests will feel when they arrive the day of your event.”
Setting the mood around the table and doing a few things to encourage conversation will make your guests feel even more welcome and ready to enjoy a cozy afternoon or evening.
“It doesn’t have to be fancy, but put some thought into lighting and placement of guests to foster good conversation,” Shalabi said. “Make sure you position yourself in a way that if you have to get up for hosting activities, you don’t disturb the conversation flow. And banish cellphones. Just do it. Everyone can be without their phone for an hour.”
Shalabi also suggested jumpstarting the conversation with topic cards.
“We have conversation starter cards that we hide under the plates or placemats and then encourage each person to read their card,” she said. “It sparks some great conversations and can help stay away from hot button topics.”
Shalabi said that what happens when people share a meal together, whether it’s a bowl of soup or a seven-course feast, is pretty amazing.
“I wish I could explain it,” Shalabi said. “But there is often magic that happens around a dinner table. I’m not sure what causes it, but I do know that sharing food together is not just about nourishment of our bodies, but also of our souls.”
Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.