Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wringing Wet

Our new washing machine overloaded and dumped water all over the utility room floor. This necessitated a major bail and mop. Then our antique dishwasher decided to call it a day and did the same thing, so within a couple of days, there I was again, cursing and mopping up buckets of water.

I’d just stopped feeling like the sorcerer’s apprentice when my husband and I attended an outdoor party at which the heavens opened up. They opened wide, with torrential, driving rain that turned the place to mud and drenched everyone to the skin because the squall gusts caused the party tent to buckle and blow away.

Clearly, God/Life/the universe was throwing an awful lot of water at me. The question is, why?

A friend, altered by drink, theorized that while we think we’re big and important, we’re really just water bearers. We exist to do water’s bidding. We spend our days taking it in, moving it to other places, releasing it. Water, not man, is Earth’s real intelligent life source. It would explain a lot about our current political system.

My feeling, though, is that this water was a personal message. Prior to the deluge, I had not been feeling in the flow. In fact, I felt like a dried legume rattling around in a jar, not like an inspired let alone inspiring creator. I kept getting myself into a tight little knot, writing and rewriting the same paragraph without making it any better. I was not doing myself much good, either.

I do not know why these dry spells happen but I hate when they do. I feel so fallow and purposeless and not how I perceive myself at all. I beat myself up in frustration -- not that it helps.

I am not especially comfortable talking about faith, since I have so little of it, and yet I’m fascinated by those who believe. Faith is intrinic to who they are and trying to get them to parse or discuss it is like trying to get someone to imagine being without a limb -- academic and arcane.

It must be nice. I come at faith like the Little Match Girl, ever on the outside, nose pressed to the glass. Instead of faith, I have perseverence. It’s not nearly as fun. I’d rather have faith, but maybe doggedness is just as good. It’s all part of what Chang-rae Lee calls “that pumping, thriving nature of life,” which, like water, keeps seeping in.

While working on his powerful new novel The Surrendered, Lee said, “I felt completely lost. There were many points in which I felt overwhelmed and overmatched. I learned I have a reserve of faith i didn’t know I had. I’m not a religious person, a going-to-church- type person, but I must say I drew upon some kind of idea, a sense I can do this, if I keep trying and quell these thoughts of desperation, if I can keep going, maybe it’ll work out. I was surprised by how I endured those moments.”

It was all I could do to muzzle the desire to say, “Oh, honey, you, too?” But I was interviewing him, so instead we talked about literature. And silicon boobs, golf, food and wine. But that’s another story.

These past few days, I’ve felt like something has budged, shifted, given way. I’ve been singing as I set about my work, a sign the gloom is lifting. It is one of the great unsung pleasures -- the release when a headache or heartache vanish, when a fever or funk break. It is the rediscovery of the simplest sensory delights like the delicious feeling of sun on your skin or sipping silky broth or really seeing the person you live with. It is being here now, being grateful for where you are without overthinking or trying to hold it too tightly (this part’s the killer for me).

I am -- at the moment, anyway -- more focused, more engaged, more grateful, more tolerant. I’ve been feeling a generosity of spirit, not faith but -- oh, let’s say it -- love -- bubbling up in me like a spring.

It’s raining now. And I’m enjoying it. And accepting it. And opening myself up to it and all that. But I’ve mopped up enough, wasted enough water, paid off enough repairmen, no more appliances need malfunction. It’s okay, universe -- I get it already.


It sounds fancy and Italian, it means a soup of vegetables cooked in water. Left to my own devices, I’d add white beans or quinoa or enhance it with wine or vegetable broth. I am, however, honoring it for what it is. Acquacotta is peasanty, unpretentious and comforting, greater than the sum of its parts. It’s sort of like stone soup without the rocks -- a nice illustration of faith and a cheap and green meal, too.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 habanero or 1 jalapeno, chopped

4 carrots, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

8 ounces green beans, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch chard or other greens, chopped

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes

5 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 big bunch of basil, chopped

1 small handful fresh thyme leaves

sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

For serving:

6 slices whole-grain bread, toasted

extra olive oil for drizzling

Options for lacto-ovo-types:

poached eggs

grated Parmesan

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic, chopped onions, carrots, celery and habanero or jalapeno. Saute stirring occaionally until vegetables soften and turn fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add chopped greens, mushrooms, green beans and diced tomatoes. Continue cooking another 5 minutes.

Stir in water, bay, basil and thyme and cover pot. Reduce heat to medium-low and let the soup simmer for half an hour.

To serve: Place one slice of toasted bread at the bottom of each bowl. Ladle soup over toast, add an extra drizzle of olive oil for gilding and enjoy.

Egg and cheese eaters can add one poached egg per bowl and a generous grating of Parmesan.

Serves 6.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ellen!

    Do you have a contact email? I would like to write you about a Fairchild Tropical Botanic garden food event.