Pot Stirring as Spiritual Practice
A post for New Year’s Day 2016
My husband says it’s because I’m part witch. My children think I’m channeling a Jewish grandmother. I’m pretty sure I’m not either of those, but I love that both harken to a woman’s connection to the root of things as she understands them. Food has power. Eating it connects us to the earth, the animals, our bodies, and other people – the people with whom we share the table and the ones from whom the recipes and traditions come.
For the past few months, as our family has settled into a new community and I have found myself without all of the relationships and work that once filled my days, I have returned to the kitchen. Without the frequent ringing of a cell phone and without a calendar crammed with appointments, I’ve had the time and the space to cook for my family – and to consider what eating together means for us. My professional life – and my spiritual life – have been formed by a Sacred Meal around a simple but generous feast of Bread and Wine. In recent years, the metaphor expanded to include the more casual but life-shaping moments shared over coffee and scones as I have witnessed relationships deepened and even restored in the holy ordinary of a coffee shop. And in my own kitchen, our family life has been reshaped by the anticipation of a weekly meal of tacos and cheese dip.
My grandmother spent her time in the kitchen preserving summer’s bounty: pickling cucumbers, making plum jelly, freezing lady peas, and packaging perfect white boxes of creamed Silver Queen corn. When she visited, she always arrived with a wooden basket filled with tidy little jars of pickles and jelly. I haven’t eaten tuna fish salad since she stopped making her pickles because it just doesn’t taste right. I grieve that my children don’t understand the right jelly for a peanut butter sandwich is plum. Her contribution to our family meals always included that creamed corn, and if I played my cards right, she would send me home with a box for the freezer. More than once, she tried to teach me and my mother how to coax all of that milky goodness from an ear of corn, but it remains a technique I have yet to master and she’s not here to coach me anymore. At least I still have the memory of the lessons.
And though my family rallies around our Wednesday tacos and I do enjoy making them for us, my real soul-stilling kitchen endeavor is soup. The washing, the chopping, the stirring, and the bubbling are all part of a process that connects me to my tiny little self and to the great web of humanity – to what is right in front of me in this one little pot and to a universe of soil and sunshine – all at the same time. It is a blending of all that is practical – making good use of the garden and the leftovers in the frig – and all that is of the soul – paying attention to the parts that make the whole, the long simmer that draws out flavors, the surprise goodness that results from a daring mix of improvisation and the wisdom of experience.
Today begins a new year and to mark it most of us share some sort of traditional meal. It’s not one I’ve ever loved. Turnip greens have always felt more like punishment than the promise of wealth, and black-eyed peas were something I endured, not a dish that brought good luck. But my husband loves greens, and on New Year’s it’s just what you do. I’ve found a way to enjoy it – and to give myself the space to stir and be stirred – by turning it into a One Pot New Year’s – a riff on my favorite Piggy in a Garden Soup. It’s smelling great in here, and my new year is beginning with stillness and gratitude.
I don’t measure much of anything when I’m making soup, so you aren’t going to find teaspoons and cups, but I’ve given you the ingredients below. We’re going to have it with the fried corn bread my other grandmother made famous. Make it your own, and may 2016 bring you blessings and light!
New Year’s Soup – South by Southwest Piggy in a Garden
Black Eyed Peas
Sliced Yellow Squash
I used leftover chili lime seasoned pork from our Christmas Eve tacos – but you can use ham, Italian sausage, kielbasa.
Herbs and Spices
I just open the spice drawer and start shaking. Today’s pot has generous dashes of oregano, basil, parsley, crushed red pepper, cilantro, salt, and pepper.