I am tongue-tied lately. Everything I want to say, I can’t say right, so I try to listen a little more and talk a little less, and, actually, this way of being comes pretty easily to me, as one of the analytic types labeled “extroverted introvert.” I often think what a blessing it is to be able to work from home, on my own schedule; that’s how I work best; but when I go for long stretches where I’m hardly leaving home, that more extroverted end of my personality gets annoyed—annoyed with myself, to be frank with you. I miss people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told Tim recently that I wish I could change my personality and be the type of person who draws energy from people, even when I’m tired, at least right now, so that I could be copywriting and cookbook writing and still have the mental and emotional energy to go grab coffee with a friend, to boot (I don’t). But the repeated argument that both he and I make back to myself is that I didn’t make myself, and the One who did is worth trusting, and also that this is just a season and seasons always end.
The whole point of that first paragraph was to tell you we’re still caught up in Cookbook World. I just read back over it, and I can’t tell that that’s what I’m saying, so I imagine you won’t be able to either unless I help out. We’re caught up in Cookbook World! You see what I mean now about being tongue-tied? We’ve both learned so much from this process, I know I need to write it all down soon so I won’t forget, and we are learning still. I can’t speak for Tim, but I’ve discovered I hate having things over my head. Any things over my head. I want to finish! Finish everything! And then go rest on the sofa for a minute with a clear head! But having a looming deadline that you cannot take care of in a day or a week or a series of them pushes this part of my personality to the brink. I get lost in my quiet house with thoughts, so many thoughts, that go round and round in my head, and I regularly have to tell myself to throw thoughts out. “I can’t think about that now” has become a sort of habit, and it’s helping me feel like everything will be okay. It’s funny how something like a creative project can demand so much energy from your mind, leaving you with less strength to do simple things, but that’s the way it works for me, and we’re all different.
I guess sometimes life feels like survival mode, you know? That’s what my friends who have small kids tell me, anyway, and I want to say I understand that in a small way, even though “overwhelmed” is relative and what’s hard for you might not be hard for me. I’m afraid to tell you a busy schedule makes me overwhelmed, to be honest, because you might be one of the 70% of people who will respond with, “Well, you shouldn’t be,” as if there are things worth being overwhelmed by and things absolutely not. (Let’s keep being honest: That’s not a helpful response when someone feels like she’s drowning, it never is, so when you feel yourself wanting to say that to a friend who’s breaking down, stop yourself. Maybe watch this video instead. A more helpful response would be, “That’s a bummer” or “How can I help?” or “Can I bring over some soup?”)
Soup. This is a soup we’ve been making for a few months now, every time a little different. While the recipe below calls for vegetable stock, which is what we tend to always have on hand (we save all our vegetable scraps in the freezer—those onion skins and celery ends, the kale stems, etc—and once in a while pull them all out, boil for a few hours, strain, and bottle the liquids), we’ve also used homemade beef stock (when you have leftover beef bones or, when you actually buy soup bones for this purpose, it’s just as easy as vegetable stock, but for a longer amount of time. We usually cover the bones with water, simmering for about six hours throughout the day, adding water as it reduces. The result is rich, fragrant, smells-like-heaven broth that is even better when it’s got leftover brisket sauce mixed in with it, let’s just say for example).
Here are the constants: vegetables, sautéed in oil; stock and water to create the brothy soup; sugar and balsamic to sweeten the flavor; cooked soba noodles; and lots of fresh additions to place on top (I’m partial to the mung bean sprouts on top, personally, but any sprouts would work). The idea is to create a super flavorful, sweet, spicy, rich broth with cooked vegetables and noodles, and then add in fresh, uncooked vegetables to brighten things up. It’s a little like pho, which I’m told gets pronounced like “fa,” a Vietnamese noodle soup I first tried at Nashville’s Far East cafe. Like chicken noodle soup, it’s one of those dishes that, no matter how weird you’ve been feeling, physically or emotionally, whether you’ve had a stomach ache or a mind that won’t quit, will probably make you feel like things will be okay.
All I know is we made this batch a few days ago, and when Tim and I slurped big bowls of it for lunch, I looked at him across from me, in his gray crewneck sweatshirt and brown eyes that crinkle when he smiles, with his unflinching enjoyment of baking more loaves of bread, and I thought, you know, this is fun. By this, I guess I meant eating the soup and living with him but, also, knowing that in all the twists and turns of life, in all my late-night panics and wishes for perfection, there are still soups to make and eat for lunch, moments to stop and slurp at the table, little bits of life so sweet and good and beautiful, you can’t help but notice, even when you’d swear you can’t.