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Yellow onions, garlic and fresh ginger are sfubzling away over a low heat on the stove.
(Sfubzling: (the “s” is silent) a little-known culinary term, used only by cooks with their ears truly to the ground, describing the noise which emanates from the cooking vessel and seems much like a mix of sizzling, bubbling, and fizzing. It’s a delightful and promising noise. Good smells most usually accompany.)
I cue the music, step into the kitchen, light a candle in the window, sharpen my knives, crank up the stove, pour a glass of “Prosperity Merlot” and place my brand new, shiny-sunny yellow Le Creuset soup pot on the front burner. It was a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law and I can only dream of all of the hundreds of wonder-full soups, stews and braises it will hold in its belly as it goes through this life with me. A few glugs of olive oil and I’m off and running. I chop, chop, chop with my sharp knife (an immeasurable pleasure), hum along with the groovy Nat King Cole tune, sip my wine, and in a hair’s-breadth of a minute, I am revived — brought home to myself — by a pretty soup pot and a prayer.
For somewhere in the neighborhood of the last three months, I have not felt quite like myself. The curious, creative and industrious wedge of the Evie Pie, which is usually the predominant, has not been so active. She has been wandering off blindly into traffic while chasing illusory butterflies, whistling out of tune, distracted by shiny things in the underbrush, picking useless weeds, picking her nose…. Wha….?, you ask? That’s just it. I don’t know how to make much sense out of where the buzzing, artistic side of me has been for the last quarter of a year. I know, this seems a little silly since I’m am ART teacher for heaven’s sake, but that hardly gets me out of this conundrum. I mean, sure, I did a nice job of gift-wrapping my Christmas presents. That qualifies as “creative.” But largely, I’ve seemed to be on the outside looking in on that lovely, blessed bubble of creative and divine inspiration.
This happens to me from time to time, and I find all sorts of things to blame it on. I complain about my cramped, un-feng-shui studio situation and how the kids just wore me out at school, I need to go to the grocery store, I have to catch up on my DVR’d shows so that I can free up space (have to be considerate to the housemate, you know), I must update my Netflix queue, there are magazines to be perused. Oh, it just takes so much brain power to sit down and write. I will, I will find anything and everything to cloud the instinct and urge to create. I, I…I….I am a lazy wretch.
So I just found a two-month-old sweet potato (similarly wretched) in the bin under the sink, and I’m not ashamed to say I peeled it and threw it in with the previously sfubzling ingredients. Also added a can each of chickpeas and petite diced tomatoes. (You see, I’m working with the dregs of the cupboard tonight. Call me Mother Hubbard. I over-spent, over-ate, over-did pretty much everything I could have possibly over-done over Christmas holiday and I sure had a fun time over-doing it.) And now I have added the holy trinity of spices: chili powder, cumin and cinnamon, then a hefty pinch or two of red pepper flakes for heat, a few springs of fresh rosemary from my winter-hardy herb bed by the front door, and it continues to sfubzle happily. It looks to be turning into something worthwhile.
Perhaps it’s three rounds of strep throat (Merry Christmas to me!) that have taken me on this ride through unfamiliar-feeling territory. Perhaps it was the busy-ness of the holidays and not enough time spent focusing on the very true Center of the holiday. Perhaps it’s that I haven’t been to church in a month of Sundays (quite literally, I’m sad to say) and I haven’t seen any of the people — God’s gifts to me — who encourage me, hold me up and keep me corralled and headed in the right direction. Perhaps it’s my detached, denying heart to which I have been comfortably applying a numbing salve. There are too many reasons I could name; so many questions about how and why I endlessly repeat this particular dim and lonely cycle. But all of these reasons and questions bleach of color and lose their nagging voices when held up to the light of our Good God who says gently, “My dearest, I love you. I created this yearning in your chest to tell my story in your own voice. Listen to it. Get up. Try again.”
And so I am beginning with soup. (I guess you could call it a Moroccan Peasant Stew of Sorts?…) Because, for this artist, cooking leads to dreaming, dreaming to writing, writing to drawing….it’s a pretty lovely cycle I go through. The final ingredients have been tossed into the glossy pot with the cheerful, sunshine-colored enamel: quartered artichoke hearts, chopped kalamata olives, and orange zest. An unlikely list of ingredients, I know, but I have a feeling it’s going to work nicely. A final tasting for salt and then it’s suppertime.