I know that Super Bowl Sunday isn’t a national holiday, though perhaps it ought to be. After all, football — the most popular sport in the U.S. — seems to be the national religion. The football itself is a kind of Holy Grail to be protected against enemies, and the Super Bowl outdoes Christmas, the Fourth of July and Easter, too.
Now, there’s also Souperbowl Sunday, which might be called the anti-Super Bowl. It’s not for sports fans stoked on tackling, blocking, punt returns, touchdowns and sacks. It’s kinder and gentler.
I have attended in the past. I am not attending this year, because I want to watch Cam Newton, the African American quarterback for the Carolina Panthers who sometimes sounds like a Black Panther of old. Like Huey Newton, the founder of the radical Black Panthers, Cam Newton, the star of the Carolina Panthers, isn’t afraid to talk about racism on and off the football field.
I’ll get to the Souperbowl in sixty seconds or so, but first Super Bowl Sunday.
All around the world, millions of men, women and kids, will watch the game; scalpers sell tickets for thousands of dollars, gamblers place big bet on winners and losers and advertisers go all out for outrageous ads that are broadcast throughout the game and that often look sexier than the halftime show.
Every Super Bowl Sunday for the past two decades I’ve gone to the same log house west of Sebastopol where I watch the game, eat barbecued ham, potatoes, salad and pie for desert.
It’s a social event as much as anything else, and while a dozen of us watch the two teams beat up on another, we talk about most everything under the sun from GMOs to the Golden State Warriors and more. Sometimes a famous local singer and songwriter, (his initials are T.W.), shows up with his son and blends into the crowd.
Despite the hoopla and despite the incidence of domestic violence that occurs on Super Bowl Sunday, there’s something deeply meaningful about the ritual. Make no mistake about it, it’s a global ritual. This year it seems even more ritualistic than ever before because it’s the 50th Super Bowl. Moreover, the San Francisco Bay Area plays host to hordes of tourists; the party promises to be phenomenal with food and drink for everyone’s taste.
Still, I know that the day and the game aren’t for everyone, not even for everyone I know in Sonoma County. Isa and Stacey, two fun-loving, serious-minded friends of mine, who live next door to one another, and who love to cook and eat — mostly grains and vegetables — throw a party on Super Bowl Sunday.
They serve homemade soup, and so they aptly call their event “Souperbowl Sunday.” Get it!
It’s all about the soup and about sharing and daring not to be part of football madness and mayhem. Stacey and Isa invite friends, mostly women, though men are welcome to attend and do, indeed, arrive in their Sunday best, eat soup and join the festivities.
This year’s soup is, as always, vegetarian. Isa starts by making a stock with carrots, celery, onions, fennel, parsley and parsnips. She cares about flavors, but she also wants the soup to have high nutritional value. After all it’s chilly and damp outside. The stock simmers and simmers and simmers on the stove in her kitchen. Usually there’s a secret ingredient or two or three.
Souperbowl Sunday has become a kind of bona-fide Sonoma County countercultural tradition. Perhaps it will spread to other parts of the country, where the religion of football hasn’t entirely taken hold and where citizens boycott contact sports.
Sonoma County’s own Jill Nussinow recommends a winter vegetable and barley soup for Super Bowl Sunday. A cookbook author, culinary educator and registered dietitian known as “the Veggie Queen,” she grew up in New York with a father she describes as “football loving” and who didn’t have a single son to share his love of the game.
This year Nussinow plans to watch the big game with her husband. She usually roots for the underdog in the contest. Nussinow will probably cheer for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers who play home games at Bank of America Stadium where the food concession serve hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue, pizza, nachos, and ice cream, none of which are part of Nussinow’s repertoire.
Her recipe for winter vegetable and barley soup, which she makes in a pressure cooker, only takes 10 minutes. The ingredients and the steps to prepare it are available on her website, http://www.theveggiequeen.com, though she recently made changes. These days she likes to use whole oat groats (available under the Bob’s Red Mill label). It’s gluten-free.
Other recipes on her site include winter pear and squash and that old stand-by potato and leek, though hers is exceptionally thick and creamy. My own favorite winter soups are French onion and split pea sometimes with ham hocks, and seasoned with tarragon that I grow on the deck outside my kitchen door. I don’t follow recipes and I’ve learned to try different ingredients; sometimes I add carrots and potatoes to the split pea soup and then it tastes really super.
Whether you’re rooting for the Broncos or the Panthers, and whether you’re planning to eat homemade soup or barbecued ham and potatoes I say, “Go Team!”
Jonah Raskin is a member of Slow Food Russian River and the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.