The best kind of comfort isn't asked for. It just shows up.

By Emily Nunn
Updated January 09, 2020
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Credit: Ana Celaya

For a certain type of person (me, for instance), one of the hardest things to do is accept comfort—from strangers and even close friends. If we fall into a ravine while hiking and break a bone, we’ll shout from the bottom, “I’m fine! Just a sprain! You all go ahead without me.” I tend to think everyone else is freakishly stalwart, too. That they don’t need my help. So I often fear it’s not my nature to nurture.

Except when it comes to food. No one has ever said, “Emily, I’m so sad. I’m tired. Could you please cook something delicious and soothing for me?” And yet I’ve shown up at a lot of front doors with a lot of covered dishes, hoping they will magically fix whatever has gone wrong inside. I secretly believe that these people need my help desperately and just can’t ask. I also happen to believe the best kind of comfort isn’t asked for. It just shows up.

It arrived by surprise for me quite a bit this year after I was diagnosed with a rare cancer while visiting my cousin Toni in Atlanta. (I’m fine! We don’t have to talk about it! Go on ahead.)

Friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades, showed up in surprising ways, often involving food. One college friend wanted to bring a casserole by the cancer ward. And later, after my appetite disappeared for days, a homemade ham and Swiss on white bread that Toni brought me seemed so exquisite and miraculous that I took a photo of it. It was surely the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten.

When I finally got out of the hospital, I was so glad to be alive that I headed to Toni’s kitchen and made two different kinds of risotto for her and her kids. It made me happy.

Credit: Victor Protasio

Unfortunately, I ended up in that same dreaded hospital twice within the next few months. The first time, Toni was quite ill, so I travelled from my home in North Carolina to Atlanta to be with her. Two months later, while visiting Atlanta again, I ended up driving her mom, my aunt Mariah, there for a little emergency care, and she couldn’t chew when we got back.

What the hell was going on? I was starting to think I should just move into this hospital, like a hotel. But more than that, I realized what a great idea it is to have one simple but delicious recipe in your repertoire, something to feed people (whether they ask for it or not) who are not tip-top—physically or emotionally.

For me, that recipe is this soup, which everyone devours. It’s adjustable in ways that guarantee everyone will eat it, and love it, in any condition they’re in. But it’s not sick-people food. It can be luxurious (pureed with cream and a dash of nutmeg, which is how I made it for Aunt Mariah, so she could sip it). And while it’s perfect for a sad or broken-hearted person because it goes down so easy, it can also be hearty and happy, embellished with fresh shoepeg corn, some chopped jalapeños, and even a handful of cilantro at the end. You can use onions if you’re being basic or wonderful leeks if you need something fancier. I have begun to call it Everybody Soup.

By the way: We’re all fine now.

Get the recipe: Everybody Soup