Yesterday I made an old favorite, Split Pea Soup with Frizzled Ham, from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook. More of an autumn gal, personally, I was thrilled by the morning’s cloud cover and seized the brief spell of cool weather as justification for a kettle of soup. Plus, I love this particular recipe – I’d heard Mark speak at the Schnitzer a few years ago when he was promoting his book and felt a certain affinity for the fellow food enthusiast.
Soup making is a ritual; one I’ve learned to treasure over the years. A way to slow down, savor, and fill up -not just belly, but heart. My fondness for soups only grew after several previous meditation retreats, where soup and bread were our main meal of the day. Trust me, when you rise at 5:30am for alternating periods of sitting and walking (all in silence), every bite of food you receive is pure magic. I’ve written mediocre poetry and more than one essay about my food experiences on retreat. Rarely has my experience of food been so flavorful, or so precious.
Lately, I’ve been musing through the complexities of my own life – work, parenting, relationships, health; the evolving, mysterious nature of identity and longing; the struggle to find balance between competing needs. It’s been several years since I’ve been able to get away for retreat. Thinking and doing (while also keeping up with the news), too often my prominent state.
So I was excited to dive into the soothing ritual of soup. I knew I had the basic ingredients – dried split peas, fresh chicken broth, carrots, onions, garlic – in stock. A defrosted loaf of olive bread, and a quick stop at Trader Joes for pancetta, and I was ready. The house, thankfully, atypically quiet, before my family arrived home. I turned on Pandora, poured a glass of white wine, and began to chop, saute, simmer. Each step, a deepening toward something familiar and primal.
Gradually, I noticed a sense of settling in….into my body, and into the moment; into this moment. I realized that I was using soup making as a mindfulness practice, as a doorway into an experience that I’d been searching for but missing amidst all of my busyness. One that is accessible to me via the breath, the yoga mat, the meditation cushion or chair…and also the cutting board, and stove.
I can’t cook from scratch everyday – and soup, in particular, takes an extra bit of planning and patience. However, we all can identify small opportunities to connect with the present moment, through food: picking berries, slicing vegetables, preparing and sauteing and savoring, whether it be a morning drink, a snack, a meal, or a sweet treat at the end of the day.
Preparing food for ourselves, perhaps one of the most mindful, self-compassionate acts of all.