Doesn't it always take you by surprise, that first Fall day when you realize that your jacket doesn't seem quite warm enough anymore, and you almost wish you were wearing gloves? Every Autumn this sensation seems to come out of nowhere, as if I haven't been bundling up for the winter year in and year out my entire life.
This year, I’m afraid, the cold is going to be more of a nuisance than usual. Since moving to the city, I’m spending a lot less time in my car, and a lot more time walking, or at the very least, standing outside waiting for buses. The cold, the dark, the snow, they’re all going to be especially wretched to deal with this winter. But one thing that cold weather has going for it is the food. Hot tea, hot chocolate, hot toffee nut lattes, not to mention all the various incarnations of holiday feasts. The enjoyment of nice warm nourishment really gets augmented when the temperature drops.
Which brings me to one of the underrated simple pleasures of cold weather: soup. Soup takes just a few minutes to heat up, and can be served as a first course with a fancy dinner, or taken to work in a Tupperware and eaten for lunch with a small sandwich or salad. You can make a big pot of soup one afternoon and have a ready-to-go meal whenever you want it for the rest of the week, almost like those ever-convenient microwavable dinners of which I was so fond before I started paying too much attention to ingredients lists and what they really mean.
Until recently, finding broth had been an impediment for me in making soup. Store-bought broths tend to have all kinds of sweeteners and generally unpronounceable additives in them. Plus, they feel like cheating in a way, don’t you think? If you’re going to make soup from scratch, go all the way.
My roommate gave me the suggestion that I make my own vegetable broth with scraps from vegetables I already have. Apparently this is very common practice, and it’s so easy that it just doesn’t make any sense not to do it. When I was making a stir-fry one night, I took stock of the odds and ends that I was going to throw away: the top, bottom, and outer skin of an onion, a couple of green pepper stems, carrot peels, and the like. Instead of throwing these away, I put them in a plastic bag and put the plastic bag into the freezer.
When I was ready to make soup, I simply put the veggie ends in a pot of hot water and simmered for about a half hour. The result was a delicious smelling and rich colored broth, which I strained to get rid of the solid vegetable pieces, and used as the base for my soup.
My personal favorite part of this is how much sense it makes. I mean seriously. Why spend money on something you had all along? Soup broth at worst has unhealthy preservatives, colorings and sweeteners in it, and even at best it's simply a waste of money and packaging once you realize how unbelievably simple it is to make your own vegetable stock.
The real reason this idea appeals to me, though, is that I hate throwing food away. Where I grew up, we had woods all around, and any scraps left over from dinner went out to the woods to either be food for the raccoons, or to turn into next spring’s compost. One of the adjustments I’ve had to make as a city-dweller is throwing things away that, in a rational world have no business being thrown away. Make-your-own vegetable stock is a great way to get a second use out of materials that would otherwise go into a landfill, and at the same time have a healthier, more nourishing meal and save money.