Bonnie: Oddly, many of my tennis girlfriends have birthdays in spring.

Although none of us belong to Ridgetop Pool and Tennis Club where we all met and bonded playing singles and doubles, we still get together. Or try to. Not so much for tennis, although we attempt to play a couple of times a summer.

In our heyday (pre injury, surgery and aging) we were all pretty decent players, aggressive, competitive and—to the bane of those on the red clay court next to us—laughing while we played. So much fun. That is, other than the couple of times we decided to enter the women’s doubles club championship where four of us would always end up in the finals. Did I mention competitive?

Back to the birthdays. My travel schedule goes into high gear with annual events and conventions I cannot miss just as the forsythia, tulips and magnolias bloom. That means I’m not in town to observe each of their new year’s celebrations.

So what do I do? A b-day luncheon to celebrate all at once! To make it special, I sometimes place one red rose across each luncheon plate, tie a balloon to the back of the chairs, have an “it’s my birthday” button for each, or do something else that tickles my fancy as I set the table.

Last year I served a crab salad replete with fruit and nuts along with crusty rolls and grilled asparagus. I tossed lots of succulent crab in a lowfat, pureed mango citrus dressing (olive oil, pureed mango, some orange juice and rice wine vinegar), then mixed it with arugula, lettuces, various veggies, toasted chopped almonds, and finely diced mango and papaya.

I’d give you a recipe if I had one; I just tossed together those ingredients.

On deadline for Parade and Supermarket Sampler and having just returned from a convention, I hadn’t thought through the minutia of the meal as I usually do. Excuses? Yes. So, at the last minute, as there was a chill in the air, I decided to serve some hot soup as a starter.

What does a food writer do when needing a course at the last moment? Peek in the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what can be tossed together. There in my pantry I noticed two boxes of Campbell’s new Select Golden Butternut Squash soup. Remembering how yummy it was during testing, I decided it would do the trick.

I garnished each bowlful with a dollop of Vermont Butter & Cheese crème fraiche from the fridge and sprinkled that with smoked paprika and fresh herbs from my garden. The soup – and the salad – got raves.

Did I mention it was from a box? No. If asked, I would have. All I was asked was, “When you make squash soup do you use an immersion blender.”

“Yes,” I said answering the question truthfully.

Ssshhh. It’ll be our secret.

Bryan: I make the best butternut squash soup, but if I don’t have time to roast the squash, Campbell’s is a great alternative. Butternut squash soup is pretty simple at heart (slice and roast a squash, puree with some cream, add spices). One of my favorite variants of the dish is to finish the soup with three spicy seared diver scallops. The textures are perfect for each other and you can go a bit crazy with the spice on the scallops as the creamy squash cools all. Campbell’s offers a pretty delectable product with their version. Though you may not go to all the trouble of searing seafood when you open your package… Eric’s suggestion of a nice crusty bread more than makes a meal with this great soup.

Eric: There is something about walking in on a cold, snowy day, filling up a soup bowl and ripping off a piece of nice crusty bread to eat along with it that makes me always smile during winter. I never was a big soup fan while growing-up and only had my occasional favorites of New England Clam Chowder and my mother’s Portuguese Bean soup with chunks of fresh butternut squash, but never was a fan of soup as a meal, mostly as a course during a meal. Recently while living in The Netherlands, I began to eat Ertwensoup (Split Pea Soup) on almost a daily basis, which oddly got me interested into trying a variety of store-bought soups. I instantly became a fan of vegetable soups (tomato, broccoli, pumpkin) and when my mother first sent me the butternut squash soup to try, I was less than resistant. This soup really is an amazingly tasty packaged product that, when combined with that good piece of crusty bread, can grace my dinner table any day.