Oct 30

Season of Soup


Dear friends,
Like the fog which has settled in Chimacum valley the last few weeks, I’m settling into fall at last, grateful for a steaming cup of lemon ginger tea by the fire, even if the days are ending sooner than I’d like. For the last month, I’ve been too busy to embrace fall, and when I’m too busy I find that resistance is my default:  “Oh, if only the fog would lift” or “I wish I could go for one more hike up to Lena Lake.”  October was full with teaching, conferences, readings, family visiting. But now I’m home at last, with time to make soup, clean the house, put the garden to bed, rest and catch up with the self who’s been racing—not as mindfully as she would like—from one event to the next.

This isn’t a surprise; I know my resistance to fall is as predictable as salmon returning to their home streams. And it’s not that I don’t love fall, it’s that rituals of summer—swimming, hiking, gardening—seem to vanish too quickly, leaving me feeling adrift. For me, it’s fall foods that help ground me:  harvesting the last beets to roast, cooking squash and pumpkin for soups, making risotto.

According to the Ayervedic tradition, the food we prepare should reflect the changes we see in the outer world.  Farewell to summer salads and chilled soup; instead, we instinctively turn toward warming, spicy foods, like winter squash stew and cassoulet. (See the recipe for Thai Tofu and Winter Squash Stew below.)

So today I’ll finally put away my beach towel and swim fins, coil the soaker hoses, sow a cover crop in the bed recently vacated by the tomatoes, and make winter squash soup. Later, I’ll choose a book from the tall stack by my bed and settle down in front of the fire with tea, grateful for quiet time to read, reflect, turn inward, easing my inner life into alignment with the rhythm of fall at last.

This week, I hope you’ll join me in taking a few moments to consciously bring our outer and inner worlds into alignment.  What foods help you embrace the fall?  How are you allowing your body—like the earth—to lie fallow, turn inward and renew itself?  Please write about the rituals you use to embrace fall and share them with us here.  

Yours in gratitude—at last—for the season of soup,

Thai Tofu and Winter Squash Stew
Serves 3 – 4

2-3 medium leeks, white parts only
2 Tbsp. peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 serrano chilies, minced
1 Tbsp. finely chopped ginger
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 15 oz. can coconut milk
1 ½ lbs. butternut squash, peeled and diced into ½ “ cubes
1 tsp. salt
1 10 oz. package silken firm tofu, cut into ½ “ cubes
juice of 1 lime
1/3  c. raw peanuts
¼ c. chopped fresh cilantro

Halve the leeks lengthwise, cut crosswise into ¼” pieces. Wash, then drain.

Heat the peanut oil in a wide soup pot.  Add the leeks and cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, until partially softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic, most of the chiles, and ginger, cook 1 minute more, then add the curry, sugar and soy sauce. Reduce the heat to medium, scrape the pan and cook for a few more minutes.

Add 3 cups water, coconut milk, squash and 1 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add the tofu, fried or raw, to the stew once the squash is almost tender, then simmer until it’s done.  Taste for salt and add the lime juice. Fry the peanuts in a few drops of peanut oil over medium heat until browned, then chop. Serve the stew over rice with cilantro, peanuts and remaining chile scattered on top.



Oct 17

To Foster


Dear Friends,
The last few weeks have been a little tough: I needed to let go of my 13-year-old cat Madrona. She had been diagnosed with liver cancer in the summer, and over the last few months I watched her body diminish until it became clear her time had come. I still can’t believe how much I cried.


In an odd way, though, it felt good to cry, to feel this love so strongly in the body. So often, love becomes a murmur in the background; now it had become a waterfall.

A strange coincidence happened, too. While I was in the vet’s office on Madrona’s last visit, my cell phone rang. I didn’t answer it, and didn’t even look at the message until the next day. It was the rescue organization, Happy Tails Happy Homes, calling to say they had a little dog who very much needed temporary foster care.

So, a hole opened up in my home, and an animal arrived to take up some space. This little guy, Gizmo:


He was adorable in every way, but scared and confused. He settled down pretty quickly, and caring for him took my mind off Madrona for a little while. He was adopted just a couple of days later, to an elderly couple who wanted nothing more than the ultimate lap dog.

When he left, the kitty-shaped hole Madrona had left behind loomed wide, and  waves of grief washed over me again. Now this little girl has shown up, Tiny:

Rescued from a puppy mill, Tiny doesn’t know much about humans, and even less about the outdoors. She likes to skitter away and hide. My dog, Abbe, isn’t too happy about having to be the mature one around here, but she’s doing her job, showing Tiny where outdoors is and what one does there. Tiny’s going to need some time and patience, but already she’s started wagging her skinny tail and taking treats from my hand. She asked nicely to be let up on the couch, and we sat together a long time, my hand stroking her belly.

In the meantime, Madrona’s ashes sit on my bookshelf, flanked by a picture of Quan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. I pass her several times a day and say hello. I think about the word “foster” and what it means, literally “to help grow and develop.” In this way, perhaps  I was Madrona’s foster child: in her temporary care as she witnessed me evolve over the last 13 years. Her life span marks my entire time here in Bellingham, Wa: moving from a scared and lonely new professor at Western Washington University to a more confident place, a little more sure in how I fit into the world.

How have your animals marked the time spans of your life? How have you been fostered?

With love,