I love that poem by Julia Kasdorf, "What I Learned From My Mother", about how to love the living.
There is a jar of fruit salad in it and a vase of peonies, and there is this calm too. There is generosity, and there is focus. The focus is on the living, the other, the one who maybe needs a bit of physicality. They need to be dragged out of the realm of memory and maybe, dread or grief, into the flesh that sets the feet solid on ground that will hold.
I first heard that poem five years ago. I remember where I sat as it was read from the podium--second row, far right--and how my professor's cadence was conversational, not dramatized. I remember how I looked it up later and read it over often.
I had no idea what the poem would mean later and how the connections would line up: I would study the art of food, have that same professor as an adviser for my poetry thesis, and the poet Julia Kasdorf would be the editor of my first published poem. But what is more, her poem would teach me the act of loving. It is the loving where we come and bring food and we sit. We listen when they talk and wait while they don't.
We don't need words, cluttering as they can be, blocking the pathways of sacred. Rather, we need to give bread, butter, soup, and our own grieving selves, sitting beside them, holding their hands.
Butternut Squash Soup with Thyme and SageThis is a very simple soup. There is no catch, no funny ingredients. Be aware then that this is the point. It is, as they say, like velvet. And because it is so simple, and because those eating it are likely to need something both soothing and grounding at the same time, don't forget the pepitas. It takes this good, soothing, straightforward soup and then draws the energy downward like an inhale draws the spirit up. Trust me.
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
2 medium onions
2 pears, peeled and cubed (bosc or bartlet sized)
1/2 cup half and half or cream
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage*
4 cups chicken broth
salt to taste
8 ounces pepitas, toasted**
Combine the squash, onions, pears, thyme, sage and chicken broth in a stock pot. If needed, add more water to just barely cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil and simmer until very soft, about twenty minutes. Blend the soup in batches in a blender or food processor until completely smooth, or, use an immersion blender to do the same.
Return to stock pot and bring back to a simmer. Taste. Add salt if too bland, a little at a time, letting it dissolve and cook for a few minutes in between additions and taste tests. When the flavor is balanced take it off the heat and add the cream. Taste again. It should be perfect, but if not, add more salt. Stir and let dissolve. Reheat gently if necessary. Do not boil. Serve topped with toasted hulled pumpkin seeds, also know as pepitas. Enjoy!
*A note on dried herbs: There are a lot of really old, bad dried herbs out there in Cupboard Land. Do your soup a favor and update your stash. If they are much older than a year they will start to smell (and taste) more like dust than like food.
**To toast pepitas I cook them on medium heat on the stove-top in a skillet. Stir often over a span of five to ten minutes. They will go from flat to puffed like pillows, making much popping sounds in the process. Be not alarmed; it is all part of the fun. Let them cook a bit longer after they've puffed to get properly golden.