17. Sloppy Soup

Butternut-Squash-SoupOn Monday Burton invited me over to eat dinner at his house and hang out. It was exciting to have someone I liked invite me into his home to share a meal with him.

We didn’t do much, but it was fun. He was into using the internet for… everything. I was so analog that I had never even ordered delivery to my home in the seven years I’d been in Chicago, let alone ordered it over the internet. And that’s what we did. We got Thai food using the magic of the World Wide Web.

We watched TV, an experience also heavily influenced by the internet. I still had a cathode ray tube TV with an antenna and I was still hanging on to my VCR. I was used to passively watching broadcast television that involved a lot of reruns of the King of Queens, How I Met Your Mother and the occasional Seinfeld episode. His TV only operated by what he selected from the internet. It was a very active ordeal. He never just turned on the TV. He had to select things to watch before he could watch anything. This whole thinking about things before watching them was a foreign endeavor to me.

Butternut-Squash-SoupWhile I ate my pad see ew and he nibbled on his spicy shrimp rice we watched something he had chosen. It was an interview with Stephen Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I was not familiar with Neil deGrasse Tyson, but he was apparently Burton’s favorite astrophysicist.

After about thirty minutes of questions about stars and the universe, Burton turned to me and said, “You must really like me to be putting up with this.” I gave him a smile. Then he said, “You know, thinking back to our first date when you made me watch cat videos, I don’t feel bad.” I laughed and we continued to watch 54 more minutes of astrophysicist talk. It wasn’t so bad. Tyson was quite charming and engaging.

LinguiniAt ten o’clock I packed up my stuff to go home and go to bed despite Burton’s invitation to spend the night. When I got home I was kicking myself for not sleeping over — not only because I enjoyed sharing a bed with Burton but because his house was closer to work than my house. Never again, I resolved, would I not spend the night.

Tuesday night I spent the night. Wednesday night I worked at Pots and Pans and bought my pasta attachment for my mixer. For Friday night I invited Burton to be my ravioli guinea pig and to try my butternut squash soup. He gladly accepted. I spent Thursday night making the soup and experimenting with the pasta attachment for ravioli. I wasn’t pleased with the results; it was excruciatingly labor-intensive. The pork filling had too much sage and the dough fell apart in the boiling water. It was a mess. I knew what I was doing wrong and I knew how to correct it, but I regretted inviting Burton to try my food that I wasn’t yet confident about. I ended up using most of the dough for linguini.

Butternut-Squash-SoupFriday arrived and I had the timing mapped out in my head to make ravioli I would be proud of. I would come home at noon, take a nap and start cooking at two o’clock and I could shower and get everything cleaned up at four-thirty so I could be ready for Burton at six.

A wrench was thrown in my plan when I received a text from Burton telling me that I would be seeing him much earlier than six. He left work at two. I was not ready for him, but I wanted to see him. I put everything on hold and told him I could meet him at Cleo’s for a cocktail at four.

When I arrived, Burton was sitting at the bar. I sidled up to him and he insisted on kissing me. I ordered a vodka soda.

“Why aren’t you working?” I asked. “I wasn’t expecting you until six.”

“They shut down the server and I couldn’t do any work so I left,” he answered. “How was your day?”

Butternut-Squash-Soup“Kind of annoying. One of my ladies called in sick and it threw off my whole day. It was just a little more work than usual. Such is my life as a lunch lady.”

“You don’t call yourself that, do you?”

“No. I don’t serve them. Except today, though, because Maria wasn’t there.”

“I promise you that all the boys were excited to be served by you.”

Per usual, this was a fun date. Brett and I never went to bars and hung out — he had little interest in being social and getting drunk. Brett was not fun. I missed fun.

The bar was relatively empty as it was four o’clock in the afternoon so we chatted with the bartender. She occasionally did stand-up and knew a good friend of mine in the Chicago comedy circuit. She poured us each a shot of Jameson and we ordered beers.

Butternut-Squash-SoupWe took a break from the dark bar and went outside to smoke where we talked more about our professional lives. It was an uncomfortable topic for me. Though I felt strongly about being an agent for the change of school lunches, I didn’t have a strategy in place to grow and build on my idea and aspirations. It was one of those knots inside my head that could magically be untied by a few beers and retied again with the onset of a hangover. Burton could go on and on about design and his plans with the underpinnings all sorted out — with or without a cocktail. “Talent” was a word he used excessively and annoyingly. It made me feel inadequate. Talent wasn’t something I felt I had. I was not willing to disclose my limitations to him.

“Does it bother you that I know nothing about design?” I asked.

“No! I don’t date within the industry as a rule.”

“Yeah, but when you tell me things about design, I don’t have any response because I don’t know anything about it.”

Butternut-Squash-Soup“Oh I don’t care. I talk about it because I need to talk about it. It’s just something I love. It’s a hobby that I’ve turned into a career,” he said confidently. “Are you happy with what you’re doing?”

“Yes. I like it a lot, but I know I can’t do it forever,” I said. “Honestly, I think that I would be really happy if I could make pie all day long.”

“Then you should do it.”

“I can’t. Baking doesn’t pay enough to live,” I responded, defeated. “Do you know what bakeries pay? Ten dollars an hour. That’s slightly more than minimum wage.”

“You can do it for yourself, you know.”

“I don’t have the money to do it.”

Butternut-Squash-Soup“You don’t have to. All you need is a website — which I would be happy to help you with — and I can take pictures for you. Sell your pies through that.”

“But there are laws — you can’t make anything out of your home.”

“There are ways to get around the laws. What you do is you start giving your friends pies and build a name for yourself and instead of charging people for your pies you put a ‘donation’ button on the website.”

“That’s an interesting idea.”

“You just have to do it. Just be an expert.”

It was something to contemplate, but I didn’t know if I had the courage to do it. I didn’t tell him that.

When six o’clock rolled around, I was too drunk to finish the ravioli and the only thing I had completed was the butternut squash soup. I felt bad about this. I promised him a meal and I was flaking. It was true that I was too drunk to cook, but it was also part of my accidental plan. I conceived it at the last drunken second thinking back to how my friend, Theo, regarded the girl he was interested in after tasting her terrible mac and cheese. If he hated my food, he would lose interest in me — maybe even respect — and I did this for a living. I didn’t want to be a failure even though my butternut squash soup was a winner. I was self-conscious. But we were both drunk and hungry so we left and went to the bar near his house and got sliders.

I’m an expert at making a lot of things. I forget sometimes that I can’t be an expert — talented or not — at something the time first around. Everything takes practice to be good at it, and I had practiced butternut squash soup plenty. I got my power through practice.



Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt
  • white pepper

Preheat oven to 425F.

Cut squash into large pieces and remove seeds. Place squash on sheet pan. Roast in oven about 45 minutes or until squash is soft. When it’s cooled, scoop out flesh from the the skin. Set aside.

In a stock pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery. When the onion is soft, add broth and bring to a boil. Add roasted squash. Reduce heat to medium low for about 20 minutes or until the squash and soup are combined and mushy. let mixture cook slightly. Transfer mixture to blender and puree. Pass through a fine sieve. Return to pot and let simmer for about five minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.




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