Sometimes when life gets too full of stress and obligation and disappointments, I lock my door, bury my cell phone under the bed pillows and start chopping carrots. When all the carrots are chopped, I move to onions. When the onions are done, I push a few cloves of garlic under my knife. Usually by the time the garlic's done, I'm more relaxed, present and maybe even a little happy. It's time to move on to the ginger. It's time for carrot soup.
* * * * * * *Sometimes, the kitchen is a refuge. Of course, the kitchen isn't automatically a trouble-free zone. Kitchen anxiety does exists, and all those knives and boiling pots means it isn't always safe, either. But after spending a stressful day at work or at anytime when life gets too complicated, I happily reach for my knife and lose myself in the simplicity of chopping carrots. Carrots don't need feedback or negotiation, they don't break or require upgrading or get sick. They don't object to being peeled or want to weigh-in on how finely they should be chopped. In short, carrots don't want anything from me. And like washing the dishes or putting away groceries, the straightforward ease of chopping vegetables is refreshing. But the kitchen isn't always just refuge from something. It's also refuge in something. When I take refuge in the weight and warmth of sunlight as it brushes the kitchen window sill, I'm somehow a little less burdened. Taking refuge in the food I'm working with, the color and texture and the sound of the knife hitting the chopping board allows me to focus on something besides my worried preoccupations. There's refuge, too, in the sensuous nature of cooking, the smells and sounds of a meal being made. The taste, of course, and the temperature and the bright orange color of a pile of freshly cut carrots. Taking refuge is also the fact that I can spend time in this scrappy little kitchen, which I adore with it's tiny stove and chipped linoleum floor. That the cupboards, for now, are full and I have the strength to stand on my own two feet at the chopping board. Taking refuge is an act of appreciation. Is your kitchen ever a refuge? Do you turn to a particular recipe or task when you're distressed? Simple Carrot Soup for Tumultuous Times Peel and chop one yellow onion. Saute it in a pot with about a tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Medium heat. Stir occasionally. Meanwhile, peel and chop enough carrots to equal roughly twice the amount of onion. When the onion is translucent, add the carrots and stir. Add a few pinches of salt. Finely chop a clove or two of garlic and set it aside. Finely chop a knob of ginger--thumb-sized if this is a big pot of soup or if you really like ginger. Use half that amount for a smaller pot. Add the garlic and ginger to the pot and stir. After about a minute, add some water or stock (chicken or vegetable) to cover the vegetables by a good inch or so. Cover loosely and simmer gently until the carrots are very soft. Remove pot from the stove and let cool a few minutes. If you have a hand-held blender, congratulations! You've made your life infinitely simpler. Use it now. If you don't have a hand-held blender, no worries. Just use your food processor or blender to puree the soup. Be careful of the hot soup: you may have to do this in batches. When you're done, run out and buy yourself a hand-held blender. Thin the soup with more liquid if needed. You can use more water/stock. Or some milk or soy milk or cream. You can garnish this soup however you want, depending on what feels appropriate to your mood or pantry offerings: finely chopped herbs such as thyme or mint or rosemary; hot sauce, thinly sliced green onion and a little toasted sesame oil; creme fraiche or sour cream and a sprinkle of lemon zest; toasted cumin seeds and a dash of smoked paprika; a drizzle of yogurt dusted with curry powder and a few springs of cilantro. Related: Weekend Mediation: Belonging (Image: Kitchen Altar by Dana Velden)