Soup and Suffering

The rain has been falling steadily since early this morning, leaving a gray, cold, heavy feeling in the air. I feel it in my spirit as well – the heaviness pressing down on places of pain. As I listen to what my body is telling me, I am aware of a need for warmth and comfort. I began my day wrapped in a warm blanket, holding a steaming cup of coffee, reviewing my plan to make soup, bake bread and write this post. What felt like an agenda before has now become a necessary act of nurture and comfort.

Suffering brings with it an inherent need for comfort: arms to wrap around, shoulders to lean against, eyes to see and speak love. When loving presence is combined with a steaming bowl of soup, Campbell’s would have us believe all is right with the world.

My love for soup began early in our marriage, after moving across the country from Michigan to California, which felt like a foreign land to this conservative, quiet, Midwest girl. Chris and I were invited to dinner with some other teachers from the school where I was teaching, and I was hopeful for an opportunity to perhaps belong somewhere. My fellow teachers at the small private school had been welcoming and kind, something sorely needed for my lonely heart that was far away from any family or friends. Our hostess carried out a large pumpkin and removed the top to reveal a Chicken Curry Soup, complete with scrapings of soft roasted pumpkin. Everything in me warmed and relaxed as I sat taking it all in.

Soup didn’t speak the same way to Chris, at least not at first. Perhaps it was his childhood memory of cheap, canned vegetable soup at his babysitter’s house, which he tried in vain to conceal in a napkin and flush down the toilet, only to be discovered and punished. Whatever the reason, he was sorely disappointed that night to learn soup was not only the first course; it was the only course! It was one of many experiences that took us both out of the sheltered culture we’d been raised in and forced us to embrace a much bigger, more complex and colorful view of the world and of ourselves.

Our time in California was the beginning of a season in our lives that would bring many moves. Each move brought with it the slow process of building new relationships and the tearing away of the same when we would move again. I often sought comfort in a place I could connect my heart and my body and all it was feeling – my kitchen. Whether creating a soothing meal for my family, welcoming those around our table who were also away from home, or bringing meals to others in need, I found peace in creating warm, nourishing food.

There is something about soup that ministers to grief, sickness, discouragement, exhaustion or loneliness like nothing else. I have gathered a collection of recipes over the years that are paired in my memory with people and places: Corn Chowder, Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice, Tomato Basil, Broccoli Cheese, Vegetarian Chili, Butternut Bisque, Chicken Noodle, Spicy Black Bean, Italian Bread and Zuppa di Farro.

Today my heart bears the weight of suffering – my own and others. I listened to stories full of tragedy and pain in Journey groups all day Saturday. Over the weekend I felt again the silence in our house with both of our sons gone at college. I received news from a friend who’s just been diagnosed with cancer. My tears flow and my heart aches and I reach out for comfort. Today’s assignment is perfectly timed kindness for my soul.

Janet copy

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
2 1/2 c. cooked wild rice
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
4 c. chicken broth
3 c. half and half or milk *
1 tsp. poultry seasoning or dried sage

Cook wild rice in water with a little bouillon added for flavor, drain any leftover liquid and set aside. (1/2 c. Uncooked with 11/2 c. Liquid) In a separate pan, place chicken breasts in just enough water to cover, simmer until tender. Sauté chopped vegetables with olive oil in large, heavy stockpot. When tender, add butter, salt and pepper, and flour. Cook a couple minutes, until the flour/butter mixture turns light brown. Slowly whisk in chicken broth until mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Stir constantly until mixture returns to a boil, boil for a couple minutes until mixture is thickened. Add milk and/or cream, reduce heat to simmer, stirring often. (Do not boil once milk is added.) Remove chicken breasts from broth, shred with fork. Add chicken and cooked rice to soup, heat gently. Season with poultry seasoning or sage, additional salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 6.
* I used a mixture of part half and half, part non-fat milk. The cream gives it a creamier consistency, but also adds calories and fat, so it’s easy to adjust with milk depending on your taste. You may also add more milk at the end if you desire a thinner consistency.

Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity.  Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 25 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.