Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A pot of soup, a token gesture

I knew my neighbor wasn’t feeling well. I could tell this because I didn’t see her out tending to her yard or taking care of her livestock. I didn’t even see her driving in and out of the driveway. And the car that belongs to her mother was parked in front of the house all week, meaning that she had come to help with errands and rides for my neighbor’s two children. Eventually, I emailed a note of concern to my neighbor; she responded briefly, saying indeed she had not been well for the past several days.

I tried to offer help, but it can be hard when you don’t know exactly what a family needs. I emailed my friend again and also mentioned to her mother when we saw each other on the road that I could help out with errands, cooking, or rides for the kids. But the family didn’t particularly need anything. They just needed for her to feel better.

On Saturday, feeling a little discouraged that I couldn’t make myself more useful, I distracted myself by turning to a favorite cooking blog, Mangia Vita, to make a pot of soup. I’d spotted the recipe several weeks ago and even gotten as far as buying those ingredients that I didn’t already have on hand, but I wasn’t really sure at the time that I’d ever get around to making the soup. I knew no one else in my family but me would like it, and most of the time, if I’m going to dedicate myself to a cooking project, it had better be something that feeds the whole family and not just myself.

Still, I was curious about this one: a curried lentil and yellow split pea soup with carrots, ginger, coconut milk…and I planned to add some barley I’d long had in the freezer to plump it up a little bit as well. Soon the whole house smelled of curry. I watched it simmer and thicken. I poured myself a bowl. It was delicious. And it looked like it would last a long time, given that no one else wanted to try any.

And then it struck me that of course I hadn’t made this soup for myself at all – I’d made it for my neighbors. They are a family of four, all vegetarians, and they put a high priority on healthy, low-fat cooking with interesting flavors. A vegetarian soup featuring curry, lentils, barley and coconut milk? It sounded interesting to me, but it was much more their kind of dish. My subconscious must have known that all along.

So I let it cool a little, poured it into a large plastic container, put that in a reusable grocery bag, and left the whole thing on their doorstep. I didn’t want to bother them by ringing the doorbell, but I knew whoever next went in or out of the house would find it.

Making soup isn’t much when you feel like there’s a lot more you’d like to be able to do to help, but sometimes all you can come up with is a token gesture. It might nourish them for a meal or two, just as the act of making it and giving it away nourished my spirit in a very small way. I’ll make the next pot for myself, and hope they tell me what else I can do to help.

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