It’s amazing how a simple bowl of soup can transport you back in time, nearly thirty-fives years in fact! When I travelled to Palermo last week (with the dog, on the bus), I walked around La Kalsa district and found a shop just selling dried goods, big sacks of them, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and all sorts of other things I didn’t recognise. I stepped inside and decided to get a kilo of lentils, since they looked so good and because the weather is slowly turning into soup weather, now that October has arrived.
Once home, I stored them in a nice glass jar belonging to the inlaws. The right day to cook them hadn’t come yet, until yesterday, when it was a bit cloudy and they seemed the perfect thing to prepare. I pulled out my well-worn notebook, the one where I wrote recipes down long ago, while I stood beside Greek women for the first time, as they prepared lentil soup and I made notes. This method of recording recipes is not as accurate as modern day books, but there’s more to be learnt by watching someone than reading a hundred books.
Whenever I open the tattered, stained pages of my notebook, I am immediately taken back to the presence of the cook at the time, to my own young self, to the taste of the dish and the kitchen I stood in while learning. Some of the people I associate these dishes with are dead now, but others are alive and no doubt still making lentil soup just as it’s written in my notebook!
If I am not watchful at times like this, I can get carried along the path of sorrow, flung into memories which seem never-ending. Then, I have to pull back, realise where I am now, ask myself why it all happened this way, and carry on making the soup. First, though, I usually read the following lines:
To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about
the past, or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to
allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about
Thich Nhat Hanh
Fortified by the above words and others like them, I continue with the task at hand. I can tell that the lentils are really good, very fresh. The olive oil and tomato juice are excellent too and early on I can judge the quality of the soup. The wooden spoon has just the right feel about it as I stir in various ingredients. I peel loads of large garlic cloves until my fingers are sticky and throw them into the simmering red-brown liquid. In a couple of hours this pot of delights will be ready.
With clean hands I return to my notebook and carefully close the loose pages. I fix the old elastic band along its spiral edge. It’s full of things I like to cook and full of memories I cherish. It is indeed, one of my treasures.