What are your best conversation starters?
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After moving into a new apartment a few months ago, I've been looking for ways to build community with some of the really cool people that live in the building.
In December, I even attempted a holiday cookie exchange. I hung flyers on every floor and thought surely out of 146 apartments, there have to be some kindred spirits? Nope, not one person RSVP'd. As I took down the flyers, I tried not to feel too disappointed.
Come to find out, the day of, 12 people showed up(!)
I hope they still swapped sugary treats
So, until I work up enough courage to try something again (a Cookbook Club, maybe?), I've decided to practice my small talk. Which, truth be told, isn't always my forte. I always find myself wanting to dive in, down into the depths of what makes us all tick. (I know you're not in the least surprised).
Every morning, before I head out into the world, I think of two or three topics to bring up. Just in case a conversation is in danger of turning into weather observation territory. They have to be interesting enough that everyone will have an answer. A question helps, of course
I get that it might not be effortless, and doesn't always allow for organic conversational flow. But it's become surprisingly fun. Especially at get-togethers where I don't know anyone, never-ending coffee shop lines, or even when chatting with the neighbor who sometimes comes over to check on the kitties
The need to know other people, instead of simply knowing things about other people. It's my thing. Part of my DNA. And so, I practice. Here are a few of my go-to's:
Instead of, “What do you do?” Try, “What did you do today?”
Ask about something completely unexpected. For example, 40% of Americans say ranch is their favorite salad dressing – a compelling subject for a multitude of reasons.
Pick topics you could talk about for hours and are genuinely interested in what someone has to say about them. “Have you read any good books recently?” or “What's for dinner tonight?” or “Are you planning any cool vacations?”
“Favorite Trader Joe's find?” If their eyes light up, I know I've found a kindred spirit
“Is a hot dog a sandwich?” Ode to my grandson
“Tell me about yourself” Because .. Terry Gross would never steer us wrong
Last, but certainly not least ..
“What is your favorite thing to eat during the holidays?”
Not only have I come away with some great recipe ideas, but I've also heard the sweetest stories.
Who knew Walmart's glazed ham was so good? (6 people told me so!) The secret to an amazing green bean casserole? Crispy fried onions mixed throughout and also on top. Hot chocolate and chai lattes while picking out a Christmas tree. Baked french toast for New Year's brunch. And ..
A woman after my own heart
I make soup for people. It's what I do. Every Christmas Eve, I host an open house and make three or four different kinds. It's nourishing, tasty, and pretty inexpensive to put together. Making soup for someone is like saying “Would you like some time and love? Here you go!” So often when someone does something nice for me, like treating me to a new restaurant or passing on a good book, what I have to offer in return is soup.
And so, that latest addition to my list?
“What's a little thing you do that says ‘I love you' to someone else?”
Certainly, it's a bit more personal, and maybe best asked in a trusted circle where vulnerability is an agreed-upon pursuit, completely void of comparison. (My method: add wine)
But honestly, I'd encourage you to give some of them a try. And you'll definitely have to tell me what happens (You know I'd love to hear)
The downtown coffee shop that's become my second home always has big pots of simmering soups and stews, along with big comfy sofas full of chatty, friendly people. The tea is always hot, and the cozy vibe makes you want to stay all day (or night)
The red pepper and gouda soup is amazing. In a moment of great optimism, I even asked if they'd consider sharing their recipe. Mums the word
So instead of calling every day to find out if it's on the menu, I thought a pot of my own would be a better idea. I fired up the broiler and started slicing. It's quite simple really, just a handful of ingredients, the majority of which are roasted to the point of charing.
Simmer, puree, stir in melty cheese, season with a kiss of cayenne (if you're feeling brave), and enjoy. That's it.
A few notes about the recipe:
I tweaked the original a shade by saving a few of the peppers from their hand-blender fate, which added a bit of rustic texture to each bowl. I like this soup heated, but you can serve it hot, cold – whatever the weather calls for. And you can do it a day or two in advance if need be, it keeps well.
Many of recipes for red pepper soup call for the addition of cream at the end, but honestly, I didn't add any. It will take an edge off of the acidity, but I thought the cheese does a nice job of balancing it out
Soup thickness, I've found, is a matter of taste. You can always add more broth at the end to thin it, but it's tough to go the other way. Start with three cups, and know you can always add more toward the end
~ Adapted from Moosewood Daily Special
Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Gouda
- 6 red bell peppers (or two 13 oz jars roasted red peppers)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes (or 1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne - more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 (16 oz) can tomatoes, undrained
- 1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
- 2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock or water)
- 8 oz (~ 2 cups) Gouda cheese, shredded + additional for garnish
- For Garnish (Optional)
- garlic croutons (toasted thin slices of bread, rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, and cut into squares)
- slivered fresh basil leaves
- Roast the Peppers
- Rub oil on peppers and char them over a gas flame or under the broiler until blackened on all sides
- Put them in a paper bag and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before peeling, seeding, and slicing (** If using canned roasted peppers, rinse them well in a colander and set them aside to drain)
- Warm oil over medium heat in large stockpot. Add the onions and sauté for about 15 minutes, until the onions are very soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic a pinch of salt and sauté for another minute or so
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the tomatoes, coconut milk, water, and the roasted red peppers.
- Purée soup with a hand blender. Alternately, working in batches, use a conventional blender or food processor. I like a little chunk and texture to this soup particularly if the weather has a bit of a chill, but smooth or chunky, it's up to you
- Return it to the soup pot and cook on medium heat until hot
- Add the cheese, and red pepper flakes (or cayenne pepper, if using), along with a bit more salt if needed - adjusting to your taste.
- Serve topped with croutons, cheese, and/or slivered basil
I am in no way surprised you have a list of ready questions to ask someone. I’m not always prepared with a question. But I think my answers always go above and beyond what people are expecting. Whenever someone asks how I am, I don’t just state the trite “fine”. Although part of that is the fact that I can never hide the expression of my face. Good or bad, or whatever I am feeling, it’s always out there for the world to see. So I just tell them blah or I am so happy because . . . or something they never expect. I think maybe you do some other recipe exchange and show up anyway. People are horrible with RSVP’s these days. They never remember and show up anyway. It’s almost worse if they sign up and then don’t show up. We had that at a recipe event at the library. Wonder if you could get something like that started at the library. Talk to your local one. He or she might help out with it. Whatever the case, it’s good to see you here writing again and looking forward to reading more soon.