National Homemade Soup Day

Warm, hearty, and comforting, soup is the perfect food for those chilly winter days. And since the groundhog saw his shadow and informed us we have six weeks of winter left, it’s especially fitting. We didn’t celebrate this holiday last year because mushrooms were on the plate, but we lucked out this year. February 4 is National Homemade Soup Day!

I say lucked out, because we didn’t plan this food challenge. I just happened to make a pot of homemade albondigas soup for dinner last night, and brought leftovers to work for lunch. It may be an accident, but hey, I’m going with it. I’ll take every opportunity I can to cross another food holiday off our official list!

Whether you’re enjoying a bouillon or consomme, a puree or a bisque, soup has been a part of the human diet for a very long time. Evidence dates back to 20,000 BC. Holy cow, were there even people back then?! Since waterproof containers were rare back then, liquid soups were cooked in either animal hides or baskets made of reed or bark, heated to boiling with hot rocks. Interestingly, the word restaurant means “physically restoring,” and was first used to describe a soup sold by 16th century French street vendors that purportedly was used as an antidote to physical exhaustion. In 1765, a shop was opened in Paris that specialized in these soups, and the term restaurant was used to describe eateries from that point forward. Dr. John T. Dorrance, a chemist with Campbell’s Soup Company, invented condensed soups in 1897; these canned soups allowed customers to simply add water and heat at home. Campbell’s remains popular to this day; the top three selling flavors are Tomato, Cream of Mushroom, and Chicken Noodle. Soup has been popularized in American culture thanks to people as diverse as Andy Warhol and the Soup Nazi, of Seinfeld fame.

Last night, I prepared a homemade albondigas soup. Albondigas is the Spanish word for meatball. Sure enough, this soup focuses on meatballs, cooked in a broth (I use beef, though many recipes call for chicken) with onion, tomato, carrots, celery, cilantro, and zucchini. A squirt of lime juice brings out the flavors. And, like many soups and stews, it’s better the next day, once the flavors have had time to meld together. My lunchtime bowl hit the spot!

National Homemade Soup Day

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363/365: National Pepper Pot Day

One of our final challenges involves a thick and spicy soup that played a crucial role in American history. December 29 is National Pepper Pot Day!

And of course, this is one of those unusual/complicated dishes that is impossible to find in a small town like Ely (and probably a stretch to locate even in a thriving metropolis such as Portland). One that requires careful preparation at home. Of course, we’re not AT home, and busy with other things…so how on earth will we possibly celebrate this food holiday? Is our quest for completion doomed to failure with a mere 3 days left?!?!

Read on, friends.

The year was 1777. The date, December 29. The Revolutionary War was in full swing, and George Washington’s troops were hunkered down in a snowy field in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, tired, weak, cold, and hungry. Area farmers had sold their crops to the British Army for cash, rather than rely on the meager currency carried by the Continental Army. Capitalism was at its finest, even then. The soldiers were low on food, and even lower on morale. And then Christopher Ludwick, the baker general of the Continental Army, gathered together every bit of food he could find: scraps of meat, tripe, vegetables, and pepper. He mixed the ingredients together in a large pot with whatever spices and seasonings he had available, and created a hearty, thick, spicy soup that became known as Pepper Pot. It gave the soldiers much-needed strength, which in turn restored their confidence. Pepper Pot is known as “the soup that won the war.” If not for Christopher Ludwick, we might all be driving on the left side of the road today and speaking in funny accents.

There are many different recipes for Pepper Pot. Truly, it’s one soup you can create from scratch on your own, following Ludwick’s original idea of using whatever is available. We more or less used this recipe from the City Tavern in Philadelphia, altering it enough to make it our own. Here’s the kicker: we made the soup Thursday evening, before we left for Ely. We enjoyed it for dinner that night, and then brought leftovers with us to heat for lunch while out of town. Probably the most prep work we’ve had to do all year (minus the vanilla custard, which also took place during a trip to Ely).

And how was the Pepper Pot? Absolutely delicious! The soup was rich, hearty, and aromatic; the allspice added warmth and a unique depth of flavor. This recipe’s a keeper – definitely one of my favorite challenges of the year!

National Pepper Pot Day

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340/365: National Gazpacho Day*

If you’re a fan of eating cold soup in one of the coldest months of the year, then…you’re weird. But apparently, not alone. December 6 is National Gazpacho Day!

It’s also National Microwave Oven Day and National Cook for Christmas Day. I suppose we could have taken the easy way out and nuked a bag of microwave popcorn, but where’s the fun in that? And, Christmas is still nearly three weeks away. Unless we cooked something that could then be frozen, I’m pretty sure it would be stale or moldy by then. I’d rather not spend the magical day praying to the porcelain gods, so gazpacho it is! Even though it makes no sense to me, having this holiday now. Kind of like National Vichyssoise Day made no sense to me in November.

Gazpacho is a tomato-based vegetable soup, usually served cold, that originated in southern Spain. It’s a staple of Spanish and Portugese cuisine. (Well, of course it is. The climate there is decidedly warmer. Although even over there, it’s more often considered a summer dish). Most recipes include some or all of the following ingredients: stale bread, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and garlic, olive oil, wine vinegar, water, and salt. The soup can be traced back to ancient times, and may have its roots either the Moors or Romans. (Let’s face it, it was probably the Romans. They had their hands in everything else back in the day).

I was actually excited to find a recipe for Gazpacho Shooters. These are both simple and fun, and don’t require a lot of prep work – and, they contain most of the key ingredients, anyway. Here’s the recipe:


1 16 oz. container salsa
1 cup Bloody Mary mix
3/4 cup finely chopped cucumber
1/2 cup water


Stir together salsa, Bloody Mary mix, cucumber, and water. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve gazpacho in 2- to 4-oz. shot glasses. Garnish with cucumber sticks, if desired.

We did just that, and I have to say, this was one of the more fun food holidays of the whole year! They were delicious. And couldn’t have been easier to make.

National Gazpacho Day

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322/365: National Vichyssoise Day*

If you subscribe to the theory that soup, like revenge, is a dish best served cold, then you won’t give today’s food holiday a chilly reception. November 18 is National Vichyssoise Day!

And also National Apple Cider Day. Which would have been delicious, refreshing, in season, and could have been served piping hot to take away the autumn chill. But yesterday, I had to go and open my mouth and declare that since our food challenge is winding down, we wanted to focus on some of the more unique foods that we might not otherwise encounter for a long time again (if ever), and I can’t say I’ve ever had vichyssoise. Hell, I can barely pronounce it! (Vi-shee-swa). So, let’s just dive right in to this soup that is made with pureed potatoes, leeks, and onions, and traditionally served cold!

The overriding question is, why is this soup served cold? Legend has it that King Louis XV of France (1710 –1774) was a big fan of potato soup, but was also paranoid that somebody might try to poison him. Thus, he demanded his servants taste his food before it made its way to him. Inevitably, by the time the potato soup reached the hungry king, it had grown cold. Rather than being irritated by this, the good king decided he happened to prefer his potato soup cold, after all. Nevertheless, vichyssoise fell out of favor for a couple of centuries, until one day in 1917 Ritz-Carlton chef Louis Diat, in an effort to cool off diners during the hot and sultry summer months, recreated a childhood favorite hot leek and potato soup his mother used to make. The family would cool it off by adding milk, and Diat did the same, calling it “creme vichyssoise.” Originally it was only served during the summer months, but demand became so great, it was added to the menu as a regular dish in 1923.

I made vichyssoise using this recipe from, scaling down the serving size since we only wanted to try it as an appetizer. I actually made it last night and let it sit in the fridge, stirring in the cream at the last minute before serving. The result? Tasty…but kind of pointless. I make a hot cream of potato soup that is so much better, especially this time of year. THIS had me craving THAT. Of course, that’s easy for me to say, seeing as how I don’t have anybody trying to poison me.

That I know of, anyway.

P.S. 5 minutes after posting this, I found myself unable to put the spoon down. This really IS pretty good. Once you get used to the fact that it’s cold, the flavor grows on you. I like it!

National Vichyssoise Day

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316/365: National Chicken Soup For The Soul Day*

Why did the chicken cross the road? To avoid fowl play and escape the stewpot, of course. No such luck today. November 12 is National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day!

It’s also National Pizza With Everything (Except Anchovies) Day. Two cleverly named food holidays, both of them promising tasty dinners. We had us a real dilemma deciding which one to celebrate. Seeing that it’s a weekday our initial thought was ordering a pizza with everything except anchovies, but we’ve already gone the pizza route twice, while few soups have popped up on the menu. There was split pea soup a few days ago, of course. But other than that, just turkey neck soup, way back in March. Chowders and bisques don’t count. Considering that nothing satisfies on a cool, crisp autumn evening like a bowl of piping hot soup, this turned out to be a pretty easy decision, after all.

Chicken Soup For The Soul is the name of a series of popular inspirational books first published in 1993. The name was chosen because chicken soup is a popular home remedy for the sick, and is therefore good for the body – while the inspirational stories within are meant to be good for the soul. This is one of the few food holidays with corporate sponsorship; Chicken Soup For The Soul Enterprises, Inc. pushed for the holiday as a means to celebrate eating chicken soup as well as “who you are, where you’ve been, where you’re going and who you will be thankful to when you get there.” Which almost makes me want to roll my eyes, but I am thankful for chicken soup, so I’ll check my cynicism at the door.

Chicken soup has been enjoyed by many cultures for hundreds of years. In Colonial America, chickens were mainly raised for their eggs; when hens grew old, their meat was stringy, and they were considered too tough for roasting, so they were used in soup instead. Chicken noodle soup is a popular variation in the U.S., but almost never came to be: Campbell’s was preparing to discontinue its “chicken with noodles soup” due to poor sales when an announcer slipped up during a live commercial airing during The Amos and Andy Show and referred to it as “chicken noodle soup.” This simple mistake generated a ton of interest, and people wrote letters to Campbell’s asking about the new flavor. It has been one of their top-sellers ever since. Chicken soup has long been associated as a cure for the common cold, and a 2000 study by the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha actually found anti-inflammatory properties in chicken soup, which means eating it while sick could hypothetically lead to a reduction in symptoms, lending credence to what many had considered an old wive’s tale.

To celebrate, Tara made chicken noodle soup. From scratch. Including the noodles. How impressive is that? This is a creamy version that was a childhood favorite; she hadn’t had it in roughly 2o years. Until this past Saturday night, when her mom Tracy made it for us. It was so delicious, we decided to take advantage of the holiday and have it again today. Absolutely yummy!

National Chicken Soup For The Soul Day

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313/365: National Split Pea Soup Day*

All we are saying is give peas a chance. Especially today: November 9 is National Split Pea Soup Day!

It’s also National Scrapple Day. If you’re wondering what the heck scrapple is, so was I. I’m almost afraid I bothered to look it up. Apparently, scrapple is a loaf of meat made with the scraps left over from butchering hogs. Spices and buckwheat flour are added to the pork fat and trimmings, and the whole thing is poured into a loaf pan to chill and take on a semi-solid congealed texture. Later, it’s sliced and fried, and this “delicacy” – popular in the Mid-Atlantic states – is panfried and served with ketchup, jelly, honey, mustard, or syrup. It’s considered a traditional meal of the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish. And people give me a hard time for liking Spam! {Shudder}. What a shame scrapple is pretty much impossible to find out here on the West Coast. Of course, some people (cough*Tara*cough) don’t consider split pea soup much of a step up, but given the alternative, c’mon! (And there’s a 3rd food holiday – National Cook Something Bold and Pungent Day – that is much too wide open to interpretation to do us much good. We’re having a fun and busy weekend in the Emerald City. Who’s got time to think?).

Oh, and it’s also my mother-in-law’s (Tara’s mom’s) birthday. Happy birthday, Tracy! Sorry I don’t have a nice, gift-wrapped scrapple for you.

Peas have been cultivated for nearly as long as humans have walked the earth, and pea soup dates back to ancient times. Greeks and Romans were growing peas around 500 to 400 B.C., and street vendors in Athens often peddled hot pea soup. The soup is made from dried split peas and can range from grayish-green to yellow in color, depending on the variety of pea used.

We have a busy day planned and nobody was crazy about serving split pea soup on Tracy’s birthday (with the possible exception of me – I love the stuff), so we took the easy way out and heated up a can of Campbell’s Split Pea with Ham. For an appetizer before the birthday dinner. As per usual, I loved it. Tracy loved it. Anne loves it. Tara thought it was disgusting, but took her requisite spoonful. My nephew Anthony and I polished off the rest of the bowl, ’cause we can appreciate a delicious soup!

National Split Pea Soup Day

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292/365: National Seafood Bisque Day*

It would be shellfish of me not to remind you about today’s food holiday. October 19 is National Seafood Bisque Day!

Alternatively, you could celebrate National Oatmeal Muffin Day. No offense to oatmeal or muffins, but why would you? A rich, hearty, and delicious seafood bisque sounds about a million times more appealing, especially as the weather is turning colder. Besides, this will enable us to use up the last of our crab from the wedding.

A bisque is a smooth, creamy soup based on a strained broth made with crustacean shells – typically shrimp, crab, or lobster. The name of this French classic is believed to have come from the Bay of Biscay, though bis cuites (“twice cooked”) also applies to the preparation of a typical bisque, in which the crustaceans are generally sauteed in their shells first, before being simmered in a broth of wine and other ingredients and then strained. Cream is then added, and the soup is thickened with a roux, though in the past rice was commonly used, or even the pulverized crustacean shells themselves. When cooking a bisque, Julia Childs instructs, “Do not wash anything off until the soup is done because you will be using the same utensils repeatedly and you don’t want any marvelous tidbits of flavor losing themselves down the drain.” Marvelous tidbits of flavor, come baaaack!!!

We’ve been very fortunate with the timing of many of these food holidays. I guess we picked a good year to take on this project, because it seems the toughest challenges have fallen on either Friday nights when we could go out, or weekends, when we are able to invest the time in cooking a tricky meal from scratch. I know this has been the case with Peking duck, escargot, and rum punch, among others, and today is no exception. Besides the Dungeness crab from our wedding, Tara added shrimp and  made a wonderful seafood bisque that was hot, creamy, and loaded with delicious flavor.

National Seafood Bisque Day

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89/365: National Turkey Neck Soup Day

You’ll want to gobble up a bowl of delicious, hot soup today. March 30th is National Turkey Neck Soup Day! Which, let’s face it, is kind of bizarre. Turkey soup I could see. But turkey neck soup?! Sounds like something only Cousin Eddie would appreciate. Save-Neck-For-Me-Navy-Shirt

Few foods are as quintessentially American as turkey. Not only is it synonymous with Thanksgiving, but every signature on the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other important documents dreamed up by the Founding Fathers was inscribed using a turkey feather quill. By the way, ever wonder why turkeys are referred to as Tom? Benjamin Franklin jokingly called them that because Thomas Jefferson chose the bald eagle over the turkey to represent the new nation’s symbol. I guess Jefferson really ruffled Ben’s feathers.

The turkey neck may not be the most popular part of the bird, but the meat it contains is pretty tasty – as long as you cook it for awhile. It is tough at first, but after several hours simmering in broth, it becomes quite tender and flavorful. Making a turkey neck soup was a breeze. We had some wonderful leftover homemade chicken stock which we used as a base, along with the requisite turkey necks (surprisingly easy to find – thanks, mom!), some carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bell peppers, fresh parsley, salt, and pepper. It made for a delicious lunch!

Turkey Neck Soup

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56/365: National Clam Chowder Day

If you’re thinking wait a minute, wasn’t there already a clam chowder day? – well, so were we. And there was! We celebrated National New England Clam Chowder Day on January 21st. So, what gives? They’re separate holidays, that’s what. Seems to me they’d make ’em more than a month apart, but we didn’t invent the rules…we just follow them. Since the first holiday specified New England clam chowder and this one is dedicated to clam chowder in general, we decided to make Manhattan clam chowder this go-round. It’s different enough to give us variety!

Unlike the popular New England variety of clam chowder – which is thick and cream-based – Manhattan clam chowder is more like a fish stew: thinner, with a tomato-based broth. Despite the name, the ingredients do not include chunks of skyscrapers. In the 1890s it was called “New York clam chowder” or “Fulton Fish Market clam chowder.” Portugese immigrants in Rhode Island were the first to substitute tomatoes for milk, as tomato stews were all the rage back in Portugal. Why they called it “New York” clam chowder rather than “Rhode Island” clam chowder is a mystery. It’s already such a tiny state, you’d think they’d want the publicity. Quick, name another food associated with Rhode Island!

Exactly my point.

Actually, there is a regional variety called Rhode Island clam chowder, made with a clear broth. Man, talk about confusing! New Englanders, who believed their chowder was soup-erior, felt that labeling anything “New York” was an insult, so they dubbed Rhode Island’s tomato-based chowder “Manhattan” clam chowder. Bitter much, Bostonians?

There are many other regional varieties of clam chowder. Delaware clam chowder contains fried cubes of salt pork and quahog clams, Hatteras clam chowder has a clear broth thickened with flour, and Minorcan clam chowder – popular in Florida – is tomato-based and features spicy datil peppers. There’s even a New Jersey clam chowder, but if I give you the recipe some guy named Guido has threatened to whack me.

Growing up, I used to enjoy an occasional can of Campbell’s Manhattan clam chowder. For today’s challenge, I wanted to make it from scratch, so I found a recipe online. Turned out pretty good, too. My kids were astounded that clam chowder could be a color other than white, but they finished their bowls, so I’m thinking they enjoyed it, too. Thank you, ever-reliable!

Manhattan Clam Chowder

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21/365: National New England Clam Chowder Day

Today is National New England Clam Chowder Day! When I started researching this holiday, I was confused because a bunch of websites were telling me February 25th is National Clam Chowder Day. Turns out that’s true: in a month we celebrate clam chowder, but today is devoted to NEW ENGLAND clam chowder. Or as I like to call it, “Region Whose Football Team Is NOT Going To The Super Bowl This Year HaHaHa” clam chowder.

Sorry, Tom Brady fans.

There are many different variations of chowder (or “chowdah” as they say in Boston), most of which have the same base ingredients: clams, potatoes, onions, salt pork or bacon, and celery. Originating in Northeastern fishing villages in the 18th century, New Englanders take their chowder very seriously. They look with derision upon New Yorkers who have the audacity to substitute tomatoes for milk in their version (Manhattan clam chowder). And I thought the whole Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was intense. A 1939 bill was introduced to the Maine legislature making tomatoes illegal in New England clam chowder. No idea whether this is still official law. Maybe we should ask somebody from Maine.


Does anybody actually live in Maine? Other than Stephen King, that is?

New England clam chowder is usually served with oyster crackers, a nod to the hardtack (sea biscuits) that were typically served on long ocean voyages. Hardtack was cheap and long-lasting, and usually consisted of nothing more than flour and water. Hardtack was sometimes called pilot bread, dog biscuits, tooth dullers, worm castles, and molar breakers. Can’t imagine why they were scorned by sailors!

Clam chowder is often served in restaurants on Fridays. This is to provide a seafood option for Catholics who abstain from meat on Friday. Though the church loosened their rules some years back, the tradition lives on. I love clam chowder, and have been known to time restaurant visits to coincide with when it was being served.

Tara had the day off today while some of us had to work. Not that I’m bitter much. This was great though, because she had never made clam chowder before and was eager to try.

I sure was.  And even though I was offered recipes from Mark and my mom, I also insisted on finding and trying my own recipe.  I’ve learned that sometimes the easiest way to find a good recipe is to click on a website like, type in what you’re searching for, and go with the one with the highest and most reviews.  Today was no exception.

This particular recipe was easy, rich, and delicious.  At the suggestion of some of the reviews, I made a few modifications; I sautéed the onions, carrots and celery in bacon grease.  We bought an extra jar of clam juice to cook the veggies and potatoes instead of water.  There was some leftover heavy whipping cream (from the bittersweet chocolate ganache a couple weeks ago) that helped thicken the base.  And clams.  Lots and lots of clams.

It’s funny how our palettes change as we mature (I was going to say grow older, but Mark tends to take those remarks personally).  I never cared for clam chowder when I was younger, and since I don’t like potatoes, it was too much work to pick around all the spuds for just a few bits of clam.  Thankfully, we now have a recipe that’s really good and my potato to clam ratio is just right!


New England Clam Chowder


P.S.  This is a great song to listen to while making your clam chowder.  Enjoy!

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