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Chicken Soup For the Bowl

By Stett Holbrook

FIRST I got sick. It started with a sore throat, then body aches followed by a hacking cough. A few hours later, my wife got the same thing. I don't know who gave it to whom, but we were both miserable. To make matters worse, my 5-month-old son got sick, too. A cough sounds a lot worse coming from such a little body.

So with all of us sick, dinner became a challenge. I've never paid much attention to cooking shows and cookbooks that tout recipes for people too busy to cook. Food is a priority of mine, and I've always found ways to cook and eat well. But with a kid in the picture now, I suddenly find myself not only too busy to cook, but too damn tired. Feeling lousy, I craved a bowl of nourishing, homemade soup but I wasn't about to spend all day roasting bones and making stock for a proper soup. Instead, I headed to the grocery store with Kleenex in hand to see what I could find.

Ever on the job, I grabbed several brands of soup and planned on conducting a taste test. Call me a soup snob, but I avoided the CAMPBELL'S and went for premium brands I thought would taste better. I bought soups made by WOLFGANG PUCK, PROGRESSO, AMY'S and WALNUT ACRES.

They all sucked. Each one was thin and devoid of that hearty soup flavor, even though they were packed with salt, as much as 960 milligrams in some cases. Salt is my favorite edible mineral, but in the soups I tried it appears to have been used more as a preservative than as a flavor enhancer. Maybe Campbell's would have been better.

I was about to give up on store-bought soup when I discovered a new line of soups made by MOLLIE KATZEN, the Bay Area's doyenne of vegetarian cooking and author of the classic Moosewood Cookbook. Her soups are sold in plastic containers and have expiration dates, so maybe it's not fair to compare them to the canned variety, but hers are the only grocery-store soups I found fit to eat.

They all taste homemade and fresh. Flavors include Cuban black bean, Hungarian mushroom, Moroccan red lentil (my favorite), cashew carrot ginger, borscht and minestrone. They're available at ANDRONICO'S, WHOLE FOODS, MOLLIE STONES and other higher-end stores. At $3.89 and up, Katzen's soups are more expensive than the canned variety. But when you're sick or just don't feel like cooking, spending a little more for the good stuff is worth it.

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From the March 30-April 5, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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