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Nourish 4 – Green

Oh soup, how I love you.

Still unwell, so I’m turning to the most nourishing thing I can think of.  If baking and the scent of spices calms me, making soup makes me feel like I’m healing myself. I think I must feel like I’m channeling my Inner Wholesome Pagan Wise Woman. Or Inner Peter Rabbit.  Wait, he didn’t cook.  Inner Beatrix Potter? That would make me bethini pottini.  What was I talking about again? Oh yes, soup.  There is nothing mystic about this soup, just the simple transformative process of cooking, which is magical enough in itself. I’m tired and sick and to my current state of mind, there is nothing so nourishing as this quiet and earthy magic.

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While I find it tiring right now, I love that I can do something like take these herbs and vegetables and boil them and boil them and then, when I eat them, my body is going to break them all down into atoms and redistribute them around my atoms to nourish them accordingly. Isn’t that astonishing? This soup is taking carbon atoms (for example) that were constructed in tiny steps from the carbon of the soil, and transforming them into carbon atoms of bethini, temporarily.  I feel green, hippyish and nurturing of myself today.

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When I first moved out of home and started going to the farmers’ markets for fresh produce (where I lived with my parents, this wasn’t an option), the difference was really eye-opening.  I immediately fell in love with the seasonal shifts, the people, and the non-uniformity of all the fruits and vegetables.  I admit that when I now go to the supermarket and see banks of identical, shiny capsicums, it makes me want to poke fun at them for their plastic appearance, but then I wonder what happens to all the non-matching capsicums and I get very angry at my vision of billions of capsicums being cruelly thrown away for their non-conformity.  Shopping in supermarkets takes me a long time.  Anyway, the flavour was the other big revelation. Vegetables and fruit from the farmers’ markets has opened my eyes to fresh corn on the cob, fresh raw green beans, and ye Gods, I didn’t realise how much I love eggplant. There was all the other miraculous stuff, too: fresh-pressed olive oil from independent, local producers; dozens of artisan sourdough and focaccia loaves baked that morning; marinaded olives; locally-roasted coffee…this stuff blew my mind, and meeting and talking to the people behind it all even more so.  Not because they were glowing goodness gods and goddesses — quite the opposite.  Most of them were there in their tracky-daks and looking like they’d been up since 4 am, which, well, they had been. They were real and friendly and they made me realise I could do all that stuff too.  Maybe not the olive oil pressing yet, but the bread baking and the cooking with the fresh produce: it was all there, waiting for me to take it up.  So I did and it’s a wonderful part of my life. It nourishes me. It makes me feel like I’m giving myself the greatest, kindest food I can get, and — oh, all right, since we’re on a bit of a hippy streak today — it makes me feel connected to the growing, to the people who produce this stuff, to the cycles of the seasons and to the way flavours, nutrients, people and the soil are all woven together. This kind of nourishing is communal, holistic and I suspect quite precious. I’m not saying we should hold hands and wear gumboots and go back to bartering chook eggs for rotary hoes or anything like that: but I do think that we are (as a first-world, Western culture) probably a little too divorced from the process of where our food comes from.

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You can find a recipe for vegetable and lentil soup anywhere, if you don’t feel like making one up as you go, but this is the one I made today: I might as well share it with you since we’re here anyway and I’m here to tell you that it’s tasty and warming and lovely. Moving slowly, I finely cubed the stems off some cauliflower and broccoli (save the florets), carrots, onions and garlic, and sautéed the lot in some butter (not margarine).  Added some freshly-ground salt and let it sweat for a while, sizzling with the lid on.  When it is getting soft, add your bouquet garni — mine was a stick of rosemary, some sticks of thyme and a twig of sage, all tied together with some kitchen string.  I also threw in some dried bay leaves; then I topped the lot up with vegetable stock and let it start simmering.  Add some finely-chopped potato, broccoli and cauliflower tops, a handful of peas and a few very generous twists of salt from the grinder.  Get it all simmering away and add about half a cup of dried brown or green lentils and let it simmer for as long as you can.  The lentils will swell up and hog all the water, so make sure you check it and top it up with water if necessary.  The longer you simmer, the more rich and evenly-distributed the flavours will be. Taste it periodically to see if you need to add some more salt.  If you have leftovers (and, frankly, you will), you might need to top it up with more water when you reheat, because those greedy little lentils will continue to suck up all the water they can get and the soup will thicken.

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You don’t need me to tell you how to serve it, but I do recommend any of the following: with crusty bread, with grilled roast vegetable toasties, with wedges of warm sourdough or poured over some of M’s leftover handmade pasta.

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