Soup! I love to make soup, especially when the weather turns cooler and the fabulously redolent smells fill my kitchen. The next soup I make will be one of my favorites for this time of year, a pumpkin and squash combination with Indian spices that tastes so creamy without one drop of cream in it. I don’t think I even have a recipe for it. I just throw it together, and consequently it’s a little different each time, but always delicious and always deeply satisfying. I like knowing what’s in my food, knowing that it’s fresh, and knowing that food prepared with love tastes different than food without.
A new soup recipe is always an adventure. The first time I make soup, I follow the recipe to the letter. Well, not exactly. Once I get into it, I can tell that I’d rather use vegetable broth than chicken broth, or vice versa; I can get by with adding less salt. I know there’s no such thing as “too much garlic” at my house. But I don’t substitute ingredients, or experiment with variations, until I know what the basic recipe is and how I like it. Over time, I’ve learned which recipes are trustworthy as-is, and which one’s I’ll need to jazz up a bit. And, I’ve learned enough basics of soup-making that I can extemporize and come up with something edible, and often sensational.
I made a new recipe for the Book Salon last week. It was one of the recipes from an NPR piece about autumn soups, and so I went to the website and printed off all the recipes described. First up was a mushroom soup that sounded just perfect. Along with the onions, carrots, potatoes, and barley, the secret seemed to be a handful of dried porcini mushrooms, which made the plain-Jane mushrooms perk up and rise to the occasion. The aroma of that soup cooking was amazing. (Since our book this month was “The Emperor of Scent,” we HAD to smell wonderful.) Our guests gobbled it down, and the soup was mighty tasty. But, to me, something was missing.
The soup was earthy and rich and delicious. I thought the taste was too “dark,” with too many “low notes.” In musical terms, it was heavy on the trombones and cellos, and all tasted like accompaniment to me. I wanted a voice, an oboe, or perhaps a triangle pinging to lighten things up and bring some focus. It needed something acidic. In leftover homemade soups, you can tweak the recipe for the next meal. Overnight, the flavors marry and the taste is more refined, without the rough edges. The solution to my low note dilemma with the mushroom soup was to add some seasoned rice vinegar, one of my favorite, must-have, pantry staples. The effect was immediate and miraculous. There was now a clear, high note, a little tart and a little sweet, and suddenly the other flavors sprang to life! There was harmony in my bowl.
Everyone has individual tastes and preferences. Now that I know this recipe, I can make it completely vegetarian if need be, or leave out the onions if I make it for my friend Martha. The important thing is not the exactness of adhering to the recipe, but the experience of dining with friends, of good conversation, and of pleasure. Makes you want to have a second helping.
I have several clients who have come to me because traditional solutions to their problems have left a bad taste in their mouth. Too much discomfort, and too little progress have made them curious to find out if something else is possible. Often they get a delightful surprise. Rather than being a diner, held hostage in a restaurant where they don’t like the food, they find that they are the chef! They learn the basics of organizing a way of moving that will nourish them. With the basics, they can learn to move in ways that will reduce the likelihood of further injury, and return to activities they enjoy at higher levels of functioning.
Each Feldenkrais lesson is like a “movement recipe.” What would you like today? Just as my friend knows that onions are not for her, there may be some movements that are not for you. To feel yourself move, in whatever way or range is possible for you in this moment, is the beginning of awareness, and an appetite for more.