Although out-of-breath and with quivering legs, I managed to brace myself against the wind. I had made it to the top of the dune, aptly named, “8-minutes of Hell.” I have to admit that with the sand packed down by the winter rains, it wasn’t nearly as trying of a climb as in the summer when the sand gives way at every point of pressure. So, perhaps for just that day, it should have been called, “6-minutes of Hell.” I yanked my hood up and drew tight the draw-strings. The wind was blowing so hard up there it was howling. Whistling through my ears even.
I steadied myself and breathed deeply. My eyes cautiously peered over the edge of the sharp cliffs of red rock that plunged straight down to the ocean only a hop away from where I stood. Those cliffs that make-up Cape Kiwanda. My eyes then followed the beach northward toward Tierra del Mar. I took in the great expanse of sand. I took in the waves. So forceful. Unrelenting. Letting me know my place in the world.
Carefully, I turned around to face the wind. To face where I had just been. The beach I had walked on. The climb I had made. No sun today. Just low gray clouds and bits of rain. But, there, off in the distance, growing smaller and smaller as they walked away from where I stood, I could see them. These women. These women that I have grown so fond of. I watched as they walked in groups of 2…3. I watched as one would splinter off and they would regroup into 4. Walking. Talking. Sharing. Pondering. I thought about how each of us, so different from one another, were brought together years ago due to our shared love of books.
Each year we gather for a weekend to plan our year of reading. We come loaded down with books, reviews, notes. And while the books are the catalyst for our gathering…we really come for much more than that. We come bearing food. Lots and lots of food. Homemade soups – a white bean and ham, a vegetable, chicken, a spicy pumpkin – served with warmed ciabatta bread sprinkled with kosher salt. Salads of baby greens topped with nuts and dried berries, smoked salmon and goat cheese – all tossed with homemade vinaigrettes. A decadent crab and artichoke dip. Breakfast brings freshly baked chocolate chip scones, blueberry muffins, a sinful coffee cake, scrambled-up eggs and even, an apple pie. And, of course, for dessert, these chocolate chip cookies, which we moaned over and debated whether or not they are the perfect chocolate chip cookies. Do they have the correct “crunch to goo” ratio? We share our wine, our clementines, our tins of nuts. And, while we eat, drink, read, and walk, we also share stories…about ourselves, our families, our lives. And somehow, this sharing of stories…of taking the time to listen and of being given the chance to be heard…nourishes us. Nourishes us differently from the food. This sharing allows us to go home feeling…peaceful and yet reinvigorated about our role as a mother, friend, daughter, wife.
I recently came across a quote by author Sue Monk Kidd that struck a chord with me about women and the way we group together, whether over books, food, wine, or tupperware, to share our stories. She wrote, “The truth is, in order to heal we need to tell our stories and have them witnessed…the story itself becomes a vessel that holds us up, that sustains, that allows us to order our jumbled experiences into meaning. As I told my stories of fear, awakening, struggle and transformation and had them received, heard, and validated by other women, I found healing. I also needed to hear other women’s stories in order to see and embrace my own. Sometimes another woman’s story becomes a mirror that shows me a self I haven’t seen before. When I listen to her tell it, her experience quickens and clarifies my own. Her questions rouse mine. Her conflicts illumine my conflicts. Her resolutions call forth my hope. Her strengths summon my strengths. All of this can happen even when our stories and our lives are very different.”
When I return from one of these weekends and am at home, carrying on with life as before, I find myself thinking warmly about what was said. What we laughed over. What we spoke earnestly about. What brought tears. And, I go on and carry around the bits of wisdom given freely to me by these women. And, for that, I am a better person.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup
About a month ago, my dear friend, Christine, served me this spicy pumpkin soup she had made. I have not been able to stop thinking about it and told her I just had to have the recipe…she kindly fulfilled my request. This soup is definitely savory. Not as sweet as the butternut squash soup I posted here. And, definitely spicy. I would put the S & P on the table when you serve it, though, as some people might like to spice it up even more. The beautiful thing about this soup is you probably have all of the ingredients hanging around in the pantry right now. It’s so easy to put together and yet, it’s so…elegant.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 medium onions (yellow or white), chopped
2 tsp, minced garlic
1/8 to 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of ground cayenne pepper (or up to 3 pinches if you love spicy food.)
3 15-oz cans 100% pumpkin
3 14 1/2 oz cans chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
2 cups milk
salt & pepper to taste
a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream
some diced, cooked, thick-sliced bacon or pancetta
Melt/heat butter and olive oil over med-high heat. Turn the heat down to medium low or even low and add onions and garlic and saute them stirring from time to time. Cook until softened, approximately 4 minutes or up to 10, if you like your onions to take on some caramelization like I do.
Add dry spices and stir, about 1 minute.
Add canned pumpkin and 5 cups of broth. Bring soup to a boil and immediately reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add milk and stir until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Let cool a bit and then, if desired, transfer in batches to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Or, like me, pull out your 18-year old hand-held blender and run that around the pot a couple of times.
Ladle into bowls and top with a small dollop of creme fraiche and a sprinkle of pepitas you may have left-over from this recipe. Crack the pepper-mill a couple of times and then…enjoy.
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010