Butternut Squash Soup with Maple Cream and a Side of Zen:

Making soup is a meditation. The repetitive slow chopping of vegetables can be trance-inducing. The lazy stirring of a mirepoix into a soft, fragrant base—adding the spices and salt, and watching the whole thing sweat its flavours into a pan—makes my mind slip sideways: on pause, for once.

Since this is a rarity, I enjoy it while it lasts.

When life starts spinning a little too fast, I often grab a colander full of veggies and start cutting. (The sarcastic part of my brain imagines that if Beth had figured out how to channel her fascination with sharp objects into cooking, life would have been a hell of a lot tidier. But she doesn’t, and thus Jellicle Girl was born…)

Vegetable soup has so many incarnations, and the blending of harvested components creates nourishment that’s equal parts physical and spiritual. Having been raised Catholic, I wonder if I will always view the breaking of bread as a soul-experience…

To step out of the fray, to slow things down, I line up ingredients, boil the kettle, and make minestrone. During the Dark Days in December, I make broccoli soup and put on a fire. When I was pregnant and nauseous, wondering how long nine months was exactly—in minutes—I’d experiment with winter root vegetables and purées, some of which I could eat, but most of which went to my friends, neighbours and family.

When my foster son died, I survived on soup for a year.

Soup is transcendent.

Complete.

And the traditional way to take care.

A friend of mine recently suffered a concussion and wasn’t able to go to work. I imagined her at home in the dark, on the slow process to recovery, and remembered the endless, isolated days I spent in bed, waiting for my daughter to be born.
My first thought, of course, was to bring her soup. Why wouldn’t I? Soup is magic!

With March winds whipping at -25, I decided on Butternut Squash. And then, because squash practically begs for a maple pairing, I added a maple cream garnish. (If you’ve never tried whipped cream made with maple syrup, you’re going to want to check it out.)

As I turned the pot on to heat, I felt the familiar haze at the edges of my brain. The day’s conversations and to-dos got pushed to the side. I let my mind wander as I diced the onions and put them into the pot to sweat, then turned to scoop out the bright orange flesh of the squash I’d baked earlier.

Novels get born in this half-state. Plot problems unwind. Characters speak to me. Sometimes, I feel angels on my shoulder.

As I make Butternut Squash soup for Diane, I’m immersed in the life of Diana, my new protagonist—an agoraphobic journalist who wants to be a food critic. (The subtle parallels of the universe never fail to amaze me…)

The soup bubbles.

Melt onions, rosemary, nutmeg, salt, butternut squash, stock. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer before pureeing.

The simplest recipe for the simplest sentiment. “I hope you feel better soon.”

Diane is waiting for me at the door when I arrive with a canvas bag full of food. She looks casual in her leggings and hockey hoodie, but rolls her eyes and thanks me when I tell her she looks pretty good for a person with a head injury.

We sit in the dark, eating the soup and assessing the journey so far. How has it been? I wonder. Has the interruption in her day driven her crazy?

She thinks for a moment and says “It’s been a pretty zen experience, actually.”

And I smile because of course that’s the best way to approach a forced rest—by making it meaningful. Recognising an opportunity and embracing it. Seeing an injury for what it really is—a chance to reflect and redirect. To slow down for a minute and think.

You can ram your head against a wall, OR…turn the radio to the Zen channel and enjoy the ride. Let people visit and talk quietly; let them bring you dinner: a spaghetti squash lasagna or Thai takeout… or soup. 🙂

Soup is a meditation.

And, sometimes, apparently, so is a concussion.

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