Recently my partner told me about a soup her mom used to make with potatoes and hotdogs. She loved it and so I tried to recreate a vegan version, based on her description. It turned out really great, but not like the one she’d had in the past, so I texted her mom and asked if she remembered the soup.
Not only did she remember it, she had the recipe written out on an index card that looked like it had time warped through the broadband directly from Brady bunch kitchen recipe Rolodex. It was labeled “Mommy’s Hot Dog Soup” and it had just a handful of ingredients, namely potatoes, hot dogs, evaporated milk, and butter. I was telling my friend about Mommy’s Hot Dog Soup and he said that all recipes from the 70s had those same four ingredients, they just adjusted the amounts from dish to dish.
80s foods weren’t much different, except they were all made by Keebler elves or the Quaker pilgrim or Mr. Kraft. The main ingredients were wheat flour, salt, corn syrup and monosodium glutamate. At least 25% of the average diet consisted of something that started as a powder in a packet that you had to add water to and 25% you tore the top off and microwaved. 25% came from cans and the last quarter was probably meat. And it sure was good until we all got overweight and the oceans filled with trash.
Nowadays everything has to be fresh from the farmer’s market, “humanely slaughtered” (whoever came up with this phrase is a diabolical genius), and you have to have at least three colors in every meal. You also have to “plate” everything and take a picture under some good light or you’re basic.
When did plate enter our vocabularies as a verb? I can’t remember. Nobody I ever heard of plated any food prior to 1997 CE. You used to just take your plate (n.) and put your food on it however you wanted to. If you were fancy, like the Ponderosa, you put a sprig of parsley and a slice of orange on there too. I just read an article that gave some tips for plating food thinking it would be funny and I was not disappointed.They said this:
- Plate with a clock in mind. As you begin plating your ingredients, picture the face of a clock. From the diner’s point of view, your protein should be between 3 and 9, your starch or carbohydrate from 9 and 12, and your vegetable from 12 and 3.
- Use moist ingredients as your base.
- Design and create with sauces-don’t just pour the sauce carelessly all over the plate.
- Place your garnishes thoughtfully.
- Serve odd amounts of food. Serving 7 Brussels sprouts instead of 6 creates more visual appeal, and diners will also perceive that they’re getting more food.
- I’d like to know how many people know about this clock suggestion. I generally just make a big pile of food in the middle that includes all the protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables in a one stop shop.
- Please never use the word moist again.
- Who pours sauce carelessly all over the plate? What kind of Swedish chefs do you take us for?
- How much thought can really go into garnish placement? Anything more than five seconds and you’re probably stoned and it’s going to look and taste great however you garnish it.
- They’ll probably perceive that because seven Brussels sprouts is actually more than six, you sociopath.
They end the article with some pictures of a top chef plating up his dishes with what look like surgical tools. Who are these platers? It’s sort of giving me “gateway to serial killer” vibes.
I’m actually not a stranger to food being plated. I used to work at the Four Seasons Restaurant (not the hotel) in NYC. It was veeeery fancy and expensive. I remember that a bottle of Evian water cost $11 and that was two decades ago. There was a twenty foot Picasso painting hanging in the hallway. I’m talking about the restaurant in past tense because I was thinking about that place as I wrote about hot dog soup and pretty food and I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that it closed in 2019. They sold off furnishings at an auction and someone bought four ashtrays for $12,500.
People seem to think that expensive things are better. Sometimes they are better. I think most of the time they are just different. And sometimes they are exactly the same. I was a host and a service bartender at the Four Seasons. When I first got the job the restaurant manager told me I had to wear tuxedo pants. I thought tuxedo pants were just black pants and so that’s what I wore on the first day. I got sent home because tuxedo pants actually have a satin stripe along the seam. He made it seem like if I didn’t have a satin stripe on my pants the diners would retch on the marble floor. “We have a code to uphold. We need to look polished.” He told me about a few places I could go to buy some tuxedo pants for the low price of $100. Little did he know I’d spent the last of the money I saved to get to NYC on bartending school. So I went to Goodwill in Queens and found a perfect pair for $10. When I went back I half expected him to grab me by the seat of my pauper’s pants and throw me into traffic. He didn’t even notice.
I saw people leave expensive bottles of wine half full on their table. I poured some into a glass and tried it once, just to see what $600 wine tasted like. I expected it to taste like liquid rainbow but it just tasted like wine. I accidentally made a dirty martini out of the wrong kind of gin and WAY too much olive juice for a very wealthy and lovely older woman who’d been drinking the same dirty martini at the Grill Room bar for years. She told me it was the best martini she’d ever had. I never told her why.
One night while I was hosting, I had to take a man upstairs in the elevator because he had a cane and couldn’t get up the stairs. We were entering the elevator and just as the doors were about to close, a cockroach climbed in with us.
Cockroaches in NYC are no joke. Once I came home from work and flipped on the light and I saw a cockroach the size of my thumb that had pulled a dog food into the middle of the room and was eating it. I kneeled down to get a closer look and it stopped eating and gave me the stink eye. I wasn’t scared so I got a little closer and I swear to God it hissed at me! I squashed it without feeling guilty and I always feel guilty about bug killing.
So there I was, escorting a very rich and distinguished gentleman upstairs to the grill room, designed by Mies van der Rohe and Phillip Johnson (they are famous architects if you didn’t know. I didn’t before I worked there). In my memory, the man was wearing a top hat and a monocle, but he was probably just wearing a suit and tie. I had on my very thick Four Seasons jacket, that I believe was fashioned after this guy:
The cockroach was walking toward us. I started to get nervous because it was heading straight for the guy’s cane. Closer and closer it came as we travelled up. My heart was beating fast and I began to sweat as the cockroach made it to the bottom of his cane. What would it do next? The elevator stopped just as the cockroach swished around with it’s disgusting little feelers and I could tell it was deciding to climb up his cane. The doors bing-ed open as it was reaching its hairy beast legs up onto the rubber bumper. “After you, sir!” I said brightly, and practically pushed him out the door just before the roach got a good grip. So even expensive places have to deal with cockroaches.
Anyway, back to the Hot Dog Soup. The first version I made, which was not Mommy’s, had a Béchamel sauce base. I boiled the potatoes and dipped the veggie dogs in the boiling water before I chopped them all up. I added some homemade soy yogurt, which I add to EVERYTHING creamy; and some carrots. Then I thoughtfully tossed in some herbs and spices and it tasted great, I thought. My partner agreed, but said it wasn’t like the one she had as a child because it tasted healthy. That’s when I asked her mom for the recipe.
Today I made an exact version of Mommy’s Hot Dog Soup (except I made it vegan). My mother-in-law told me I should use a couple more potatoes and add some garlic, so I did that. It was delicious. Buttery, creamy, and straight out of Mommy’s kitchen. It wasn’t plated, it’s wasn’t photographed in the perfect light. I did take a picture though. How else could I show you?
I’m not saying that expensive meals aren’t super awesome and fun sometimes if you can do it. But I won’t pretend that a little highly processed hot dog soup isn’t just as fun, in a different way. I got to chat with Grandma about her recipes, connect with my partner about her favorite foods growing up, and reminisce about a short period of time in my own life schooling, all over a bowl of soup. We’ve got to remember to appreciate the smaller things, especially now.