On Soup and Safe Spaces
Please note, the following newsletter details incidents of harassment and homophobia.
What I’m Listening To: Sophie, “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-SIDES”
This past Friday, I encountered one of those incredibly rare instances in which I ran out of garlic. It was around 6pm, and I left the house to go to the grocery store on Centre Street in my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, MA. It was a pretty standard grocery run. I donned my coat, scrambled to remember where I put my wallet, grabbed my keys from the questionably stable key hook near the front door, put on my mask, and used the opportunity to call my mom. On my walk to the store, a man drove by who must have overheard my conversation. He stuck his head out the window, and then called me a homophobic slur. I wish it were an isolated incident, but in the eight years I’ve lived in Boston, I’ve experienced this more often than one would suspect.
When this happens, a fight-or-flight response ensues. My brain goes into defense mode with swirling questions like “Am I safe?,” “Am I about to be attacked?,” “Who else is around me?,” “How can I get away?” The experience of being outed through verbal hostility is as demoralizing as it is terrifying. My life, my experiences, my traumas laid bare for the world to see at the utterance of one word, feeling utterly powerless in preventing this public humiliation. In the aftermath of the incident, the floodgates of memories from earlier verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse open, undoing years of work done to firmly close those floodgates.
The healing process involves turning to safe spaces, spaces I often find in music. Recently, the pioneering trans artist, Sophie, unexpectedly passed away at the age of 34. I will admit that I wasn’t familiar with Sophie’s brilliance as I should have been before the artist [Sophie preferred not to use pronouns] passed away at the end of January. News of this tragedy was all over gay Instagram, which inspired my journey into Sophie’s extraordinary sound world. It’s a world where being a queer person is celebrated. It’s a world where it’s safe to exist.
What I’m Cooking: Chicken-Miso Noodle Soup
Safe spaces are also cultivated through food, and there are few things more comforting than good soup. I often joke about abandoning my current life in favor of one in which I travel across America selling soup out of a battered Winnebago. In my brothy escapist fantasy, it’s me and a large stock pot against the world.
The literature on the benefits of chicken soup and bone broth is vast. And while there are irrefutable physical benefits of chicken soup, the intoxicating aroma emanating from steam that fogs my glasses, the luxurious and schmaltzy mouth feel, the rush of warmth from the first sips, and the whimsical joy of slurping noodles offer spiritual benefits words can only attempt to capture.
Healing is a process, as is this soup with its 6 hour simmer time. The equally peaceful and tedious process of stripping meat from the bones, roasting said bones to concentrate their flavor, and checking in every hour to top off the stock pot with water is analogous to the ongoing process of nurturing oneself. It’s a metaphor to practice the self-care that I so often forget to do.
As I work through my trauma, and as anyone reading copes with their own challenges, I hope you can turn to a combination of musical and slowly simmered comforts that create your own safe space. Sophie once said “It’s Okay to Cry,” and I’m taking that advice.
Rest in Power, Sophie.
Some Further Reading
For anyone interested in some further reading about queerness and soup, please check out the following.
This piece on Sophie in The Atlantic speaks to the artist’s profound contributions to electronic music.
Dr. Eric Cervini , a scholar specializing in LGBTQIA+ history, is curating the Deviant’s Book Club, and it’s changing my life. I’ve read/am currently reading Cervini’s The Deviant’s War, Audre Lorde’s, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. These explore queer history, the earliest incarnations of LGBTQIA+ activism, and the intersection of queerness with other marginalized identities.
Chasten Buttigieg’s memoir, I Have Something to Tell You, is a beautiful and poignant account of growing up closeted in a conservative, rural community.
I discovered chef/author Jenn Louis and her book, The Chicken Soup Manifesto, through the podcast Splendid Table. I’m ordering it from my local bookshop, and cannot wait to read it.
Please also consider donating to the following organizations, if you are able.
Chicken-Miso Noodle Soup
2.5-3lbs chicken wings and drumsticks
16 cups water
¼ cup white miso paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 head garlic, split crosswise
1 large onion split in half (skin on)
1 inch of ginger
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
½ cup mirin (optional)
1 strip dried kombu (optional)
Ramen, soba, or rice noodles
Soft boiled eggs, chopped scallions, toasted sesame or chili oil for garnish
Preheat oven to 500F.
Remove skins from drumsticks (a pair of kitchen shears will work best for this) and set aside in the fridge. Season meat with kosher salt.
Add 16 cups of water to a large stock pot, add chicken wings and drumsticks, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is fully cooked through.
Remove from the pot, turn off the heat, skim the stock, transfer cooked chicken to a bowl and strip the meat from the bones, reserving the skins from the wings.
Roast the bones at 500F for 15-20 minutes or until deeply darkened in color. This will caramelize the bone marrow, resulting in a richer stock.
While bones are roasting, steep optional kombu for 10-15 minutes then remove. Turn off your oven.
Return roasted bones and skin from the wings to the stock pot with miso, garlic, onion, ginger, soy sauce, and optional mirin. Leave the skin on the onions to give a more golden hue to the stock.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Boiling this stock and keeping it at a simmer releases collagen, resulting in a thicker broth with a fattier mouth feel, similar to that of a traditional ramen broth.
Simmer partially covered for 6 hours, skimming the top often, and topping off the pot with more water every hour. You don’t want to end up with 1 cup of broth after all this work.
Once simmered to your liking, strain into a large bowl, and return cooked meat to the stock. Your yield should be around 8-10 cups. Don’t worry, this stuff freezes very well in airtight quart containers.
Optional Step (but not really . . .) Before serving, heat the oven to 350 and place reserved drumstick skin on a sheet tray. Roast the skins until they are crisp (10ish minutes), and use as a garnish.
Serve the soup with cooked ramen, soba, or rice noodles*, a soft boiled egg, freshly chopped scallions, and not-actually-optional crispy chicken skin. Finish with a swirl of toasted sesame oil or chili oil.
*You didn’t think I would write a whole newsletter without an opinionated and mildly shady footnote did you? Ahem . . . DO NOT cook the noodles in the broth. Cook them separately, unless you enjoy murky noodle goo with no broth in sight. Slightly under-cooking the noodles is advisable since they will sit in hot broth as you’re eating them.