“Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.” ~Auguste Escoffier
Kentucky is fairly monochromatic in February. Look out any window and you’re apt to see only shades of white, brown, and gray, snow and mud and lifeless, leafless trees. I am colorblind. Since my eyes struggle to absorb light particles like the average bear, I can only truly see bright, true colors. This means my world started out more washed-out than most, so the dead of winter feels especially drab.
I have learned to cope. I sit in front of a box each morning that emits full-spectrum light to help reset my body’s natural rhythms that get out of kilter this time of year. I buy bright yellow sunflowers for the kitchen and happy orange tangelos for the fruit bowl.
And on Sundays, I make my Midwinter Everything Soup. Midwinter because the ingredients are colorful and pleasing to the eye, a balm to the dreary landscape outside. Everything because it takes any vegetable that needs eating and makes something wonderful of it. There’s nothing cozier than hot, colorful soup on a cold, dreary day.
Neuroscience teaches that our minds are wandering off about 47% of the time. Who wants to lose almost half of their life simply existing on autopilot? Actively bringing your thoughts to the moment leads, over time, to the growth of neurons, or brain cells. But there are immediate rewards for being present as well. Every time we see, smell, touch, taste, or hear something pleasing, a rush of feel-good dopamine is released into our bloodstream.
Conscious cooking is a great opportunity to be fully present in our life by engaging the senses. Peeling, dicing, and stirring is a dance for the hands and a treat for the eyes. The orange carrots, green celery, and red tomatoes contrast and pop. I crunch a bite of raw carrot, try to file away the experience to compare it later to the cooked carrots. The aroma of each vegetable is unique. My tears are salty as I cut the pearly white onion. The feel of the kale as I knead it is a sensory delight – kale is tough and fibrous, so we massage it to make it more tender and easier to digest. As it starts to cook, the crockpot becomes its own soundtrack of hissing steam and bubbling broth. A deep breath over the steaming pot brings me into the now, reminds me that all of the rehashing and rehearsing of my thoughts is just a silly dance creating needless worry. I feel grateful to the farmers who grew these vegetables, the factory workers and truck drivers and grocery store stockers whose toil allowed me this sacred moment.
All it takes are noticing these things to get the dopamine rush. In this moment, I’m reminded to stay.
And soup is the perfect food for mindful eating. It’s nourishing and warming and it cannot be mindlessly chugged – unless you want a burned tongue! It asks us to slow down. To sip. To savor. To engage the senses again by noticing all the tiny details of the experience.
Erin’s Midwinter Everything Soup
Cook’s Note: My daughter is a vegetarian, so this is a vegetarian soup. But you can easily adapt it to make it heartier by using chicken stock and/or sausage-filled tortellini. You can also add just about any vegetables you have that need to be used.
- 1 medium onion diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
- Handful kale, washed and massaged
- 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 Jar Pasta Sauce
- Dried or fresh Italian seasonings, to taste
- 9 ounces fresh cheese-filled tortellini
- Add all ingredients except tortellini to a 5-quart or larger slow cooker.
- Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.
- Add the tortellini into the soup and cook for another 10-20 minutes on high.