I spent a great deal of my undergraduate days at the food court, a tiny corner in the middle of the main building (actually composed of four halls linked together). They served a variety of overpriced food items that I could make for probably a quarter of the price at home, but convenience and an empty stomach devoured every frugal thought. I needed sustenance. It was for my mind’s sake, and regardless of what dollar amount universalizes append to such things, what surcharges and registration fees and peaceful hours you must relinquish to higher education, you can’t put a price on a well-cultivated mind.

I ordered snacks from this food court on most days: pudding cups with Oreo crumbs and what I think was supposed to be whipped cream, pita triangles with a single tablespoon of hummus. On occasion, I would have a Chicken Sonoma salad, a delectable salad with fresh grapes, strawberries, and almonds, and I would devour these in my fish tank, a tutoring room lined with windows on two sides. But it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well enough that the main attraction of this food nook hastily became their soup selection.

I fondly remember their chicken noodle. It was, for a while, the closest thing to homemade I got. They used the frozen Reames noodles, which were the thickness of a children’s book and which were always overdone by the time I got to eating them. I remember their tortilla, which to this day I am certain was made with a jar of cheese sauce. If I think hard enough, I can even remember the taste of the turkey and rice, whose gummy grains sustained me through yet another shift at my location of employment, or else a lecture on American literature, which was comparatively worse for a self-proclaimed Victorianist like me.

Although I say all of these seemingly negative things about the soup provided at Cafe de la Alma Mater, I still stand by the fact that for soup that had to be kept at a hot temperature for three to seven hours, it was edible, and it tasted a hell of a lot better than the sandwiches, who were syllabus left to marinate in their own moisture until they were the consistency of a soggy diaper.

Aside from feeding my growing soup addiction, this particular food nook introduced me to someone I now consider a good friend: chowder. I remember our first meeting. It was a cold March day, and there was more snow on the ground than I care to discuss (in my opinion, even a dusting is too much), and as I marched into the building, half-frozen by winter’s insistent grip donning my trusty winter coat and gloves, I started sliding past this culinary corner to nutrition class.

Pause. I am now no longer rushing to nutrition class because I am faced with what sounds like an excellent idea.

My predecessors all select their suppers, mostly composed of pizza that would bring any Italian to tears. “Hello, what can I get for you?” asks the gentleman at the register.

This man is not skinny.

In terms of body language, this means I can trust him.

“I’ll take a bowl of your chicken and corn chowder, please.”

“That will be $2.50.”

The soup comes in six-ounce Styrofoam container with a translucent plastic lid and a pair of saltine cracker packets. I retrieve a plastic spoon and take my bounty upstairs.

The first bite is so euphoric that I would offer winter a bite if I didn’t want every last drop of it for myself. I feel myself getting a little feral, which I tend to do when I feel my food is in danger, and consume the rest with relish. For a moment, I’m not a student approaching a Bachelor’s degree in English; I am the king of the world, and this bowl was made by my private chef. An average dish was made great by novelty and by excellent timing. Perhaps the same can be said of all things average.

I never could have guessed three years later that I would be turning that dish into a soup for the sole with a twist courtesy of parental oversight.

Last weekend, my phone rang at 10:30. My parents had been on the road for a half an hour. My first fear was that something had gone wrong on the drive home, mainly stemming from my own car troubles. Since practically everything else had gone wrong since their first attempt in mid-January, I wouldn’t be surprised if poor luck followed them homeward. They came up to visit me on Saturday for the first time in six months, courtesy of chaos on my part and on my dad’s. One of the main attractions on this trip, a new Greek restaurant, perished before the weather cooperated well enough for them to make it. I checked the building out two weeks ago to find the windows dark, the tables staring mockingly at me from the windows. “See if you ever sit on us again,” they said, then laughed with their legs as I paced away. Instead, I took them to The Market on Main, a new artisan grocery store with all manners of unusual, delicious cheese, meat, microbrews, and the like, all at a price that no grad student in their right mind could afford. My dad made three purchases: a bottle of ginger beer, a wedge of blueberry shifton, and a slightly smaller wedge of chipole cheddar.

Instead of bad news, my dad simply said, “We forgot the cheese.” This isn’t an unusual occurence; in fact, I would call it relatively commonplace, but like my encounter with chowder, this average was of a higher order. The sweet dairy bounty of neglectful neurons was all mine for the taking.

These two average events, by their powers combined, yield this week’s soup for the sole, a tongue twister of a chowder that is much easier to eat than it is to name. I speak from experience: this soup is anything but average.

The Fourth Bowl

Chipotle Chicken Chowder

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken tenderloins, frozen
  • 8 oz chicken stock
  • 2 chicken boullion
  • 1 pint half and half
  • ½ onion
  • 1 giant potato
  • 1 cup chipotle cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Dice onion and sauté in butter.
  2. While onion is cooking, defrost chicken tenders. Dice potatoes. When chicken is done defrosting, dice chicken.
  3. When onions begin to caramelize, add flour and mix.
  4. Whisk in chicken stock. Add chicken and potatoes.
  5. Add half and half and chicken bouillon. Mix well. Simmer for 45 minutes, or until potatoes are nearing doneness.
  6. Whisk in cheddar in small batches.
  7. Add corn, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  8. Serve with chipotle cheddar and garlic biscuits [here is the link, as promised].

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Endnote: Chipotle cheddar is admittedly hard to find, not to mention it isn’t very cost effective. The average treated me kindly this time, but it may not do the same for you. This recipe would actually be good with regular old fashioned sharp cheddar (I have made a non-sole version of this recipe that utilized sharp cheddar). To get the chipotle flavor, a couple of canned or dried chipotles should do the trick. To preserve tonsils and lining of the stomach, make sure your chipotles are seeded. Consider it friendly advice… I know this from experience.

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