It was the end of summer, 1978. My friend Spanky and I left Vermont and entered New York City on a Greyhound bus, young, wide-eyed, with an apartment promised us by a friend. We were broke, but living in style just off Central Park West, in a grand apartment decorated by an eclectic male ballet dancer, one who had decorated with art and fabric from many cultures with a quiet, classy style.
Trying to come up with a legitimate plan for increasing our funds, Spanks and I pooled our last fifty cents together and decided to light a candle in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. My mother often mentioned that tithing money was a way to give from the heart and be rewarded back in times of need. I recounted this theory to Spanks and we agreed to gamble it all on the good Saints in heaven. We made our way on foot across the park and up 5th Avenue to St. Patrick’s, and entered the dimly lit interior of the great church. It appeared from the crowds that we were not the only ones tithing their final coins that morning. The side aisles of St. Patrick’s were lined with alcoves of statues of saints and martyrs, each with a kneeling bench and rows of tea candles illuminating prayers the faithful leave behind. Spanks and I each chose a special Saint, though I don’t recall who picked whom or why. Slowly, painfully, I dropped my last quarter into the tin box and heard the clink of coin hitting metal. I lit the taper from another candle and put fire to the last unlit candle on the stand, as if, I thought, it was waiting there especially for me. I knelt and prayed that by tithing my last quarter, I would be granted a boon of generosity from somewhere well beyond my comprehension. Then, with a great sigh I gave it over into the hands of divine compassion, and together Spanks and I moved out into the sunlight and the hustling city.
Since there was no money for food, we returned to the apartment in hope that the kitchen cabinets would yield up some hidden treasures, but they were bare and empty—typical of a dancer’s kitchen, for food is temptation and a dancer’s body a temple of deprivation. Next, I turned to the refrigerator, where resting on the top shelf was a small container of plain yogurt, two zucchini, half a lemon, a small, slightly shriveled yellow onion, and half a stick of butter. To me, the makings of something grand; to Spanks, we were destined to starve through the night.
Stomach gurgling, I chopped and made a quick sauté with the onion and zucchini. Hallelujah!: there were salt and pepper I had overlooked… then all went into the blender with the yogurt and what little lemon juice I could squeeze from that pitiful half. Voila! Zucchini Yogurt Soup, eaten cross-legged on the floor of a million-dollar apartment. And it was so satisfying and delicious! Maybe it was because we were so hungry, or perhaps we were grateful for this sudden gift of food, but we savored every bite. At the end of our meal, the phone rang in the apartment. Expecting our dancer friend, we discovered it was instead my brother Kevin, calling to say that he needed to tithe some money and would wire me 50 dollars overnight. I hung up and told Spanks. Neither of us had mentioned to our families our dire financial situation (after all, we had to make it on our own), and yet in the matter of a few hours came the answer to our prayers.
Now, the Chilled Zucchini recipe ended up in my first cookbook, Starting Over, Learning to Cook with Natural Foods. Really, how could I not honor the memory of this lovely soup? Recently, I had the opportunity to prepare it again for a group of sixteen people. For a crowd, it required some adaptation of ingredient amounts, and as a final flourish I added a swirl of roasted red pepper coulis. All these years later and it is still as tasty, plus it holds such wonderful memories.
Chilled Zucchini Yogurt Soup
1. In a medium skillet heat the oil and butter and saute the onion and shallots until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini slices, toss well, add the stock, reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the zucchini is tender, about 10 minutes. This can be done the day before and left to cool until ready to serve. Otherwise, set aside and allow to cool while you prepare the red pepper coulis (recipe below).
2. When zucchini mixture is cool, combine in a blender with the lemon juice, yogurt, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth, adjust seasonings and add more yogurt or stock to your tastes. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
3. Ladle soup into bowls and swirl a spoonful of red pepper coulis across the surface; finish with a sprinkle of fresh chives.
Red Pepper Coulis
Combine ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Will last up to one week in the refrigerator. Also great on vegetables, salmon and cooked greens.
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