Sometimes communication from the spirit world can be utterly down to earth. What could be more grounded than a soup made of root vegetables?
I wrote the following in November 2009. It seemed a little silly at the time, but it turned out to be some of the best practical advice I’ve gotten from the beyond.
The other night I was picking up the Polish and French Words of the Day I get by e-mail, and in the Polish section there was an article about kapusniak– cabbage soup. The author said that it’s her favorite comfort food when she is feeling unwell, but that she never manages to make it the way her dad does. I mentioned this to my mother, and we ended up discussing soup recipes. She happened to comment that she hates borscht even though she loves beets.
I was sitting at the piano at the time. Immediately there was a commotion off to my right, lots of energetic activity. I had been feeling my Invisible Man around a little earlier while I was practicing, but thought he had gone away. He was clearly still present, and he seemed to urgently want to tell me something, as if borscht were an overwhelmingly important subject that couldn’t be ignored. So I tried to catch what the message was. Did he love borscht? Hate it? Have opinions about what ought to be in it? I wasn’t sure, but I had a strong image of potatoes, and I thought he was conveying the idea that there should be a mix of vegetables, cabbage and maybe celery, not just beets. No words were involved.
Although I’d been brought up with Slovak cooking, I’d never been introduced to this basic Slavic soul food. I got curious and looked up recipes, and learned about barszcz czerwony, barszcz biały, and variations from different countries. I was struck by a picture of a bright pink Lithuanian cold borscht with a traditional boiled potato plunked by itself on a plate next to the soup bowl. It sounded pretty good, but I thought the naked potato looked so odd sitting there.
Today I had a session with Mendy Lou, my psychic teacher, and I told her about this culinary incident. Right away there was lots of agitation again– he really wanted to tell me something about soup! Ohhh-kaaayyy…. Mendy also had images of potatoes above all. I’ve been having some unusual troubles with my digestive system, and I was told that a soup of beets, cabbage, and yes, especially potatoes would be helpful to me, along with warming herbs. Including the ones in chai– oh, DANG, I have to force myself to get some of my very favorite beverage? Interesting that this came up, because the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory “cold” herbs I usually take for my chronic gastritis have been conspicuously not working for this. I was willing to give the soup idea a try. “Do I have to ferment it for seven days?” I asked warily– the old recipes recommend that. Fortunately, no!
Anyway, if we heard correctly, it seems that barszcz czerwony (“czerwony” meaning red) was our friend’s very favorite food in the world (better than chocolate??), and that he was expressing a special fondness for that poor potato sitting there next to it. He seemed rapturous about potatoes. It was the darndest thing. No sour cream in the soup, though, he said. Makes sense, I guess, because he seems to have had trouble digesting fats. (Perhaps he liked potatoes because he could manage to assimilate them well and they gave him some energy?)
A few days later I was at Scalo* listening to my husband’s band, and I happened to glance over toward the bar. I found myself sitting in a direct line with a bottle of Chopin vodka. (These things happen.) I squinted out the words “POTATO VODKA” running down the side of the bottle. Aha! I said to myself. That’s the deal with the potatoes! But no, really, it was plain old potatoes that had caught his attention. A Polish e-friend commented, “Yes, you have discovered the great love of Poles for potatoes.” True, it’s not exactly headline news, a Pole feeling enthusiastic about potatoes, but I’d never thought of them as something to get excited about.
At a later date, my husband happened to concur with this. He exclaimed, with a passion I thought was unwarranted for this very ordinary food, “I LOVE potatoes. They are just the best food!” I’ve noticed that he and Fryderyk are often in complete agreement on fundamental issues. Very sensible guys, in general.
Random soup thoughts:
I didn’t know at that time that there is a European variety of potatoes named for Chopin. I hear they’re good, but I don’t expect they’ll reach the US. He had a bouquet-full of namesake flowers already, and then there’s the yacht. Truly the man who has everything. Perhaps the potatoes would please him the most.
So now I’ve had two winters of cooking my soup every Sunday or so– it really doesn’t seem that long– and I’ve made the first pot of the season for this fall. It always makes me feel better, from the first bite, and honestly did help the digestive issue for which it was prescribed. I’m no culinary expert, but I have figured out a few things. One thing I’m clear on is that I hate peeling and cutting up beets**. I bet Fryderyk never had to cut his own beets. Or potatoes either.
Beets are interesting and sometimes surprising creatures, though. I think I accidentally invented barszcz żólty the other day. Though I suppose it’s been done– they say that in Russia there are as many borscht recipes as there are women, and I’ve seen a number from men as well, so that’s a lot of possibilities. I used beets that were an ordinary red on the outside, but turned out to be white with deep pink stripes on the inside. They bleached completely white while cooking, which was odd considering the usual propensity of beets to dye everything they touch. Between the Yukon Gold potatoes and the packaged vegetable broth I started with, the dish ended up an unusual yellow, though the taste was pretty much the same as when it’s red.
I’d tried gold beets before, which made the soup a bit less sweet than red beets; that’s something of an advantage. With cabbage, onions, and carrots all being sweet as well, a soup with beets needs some sour to balance it. I have not attempted that lengthy traditional fermentation process, although that might make an interesting experiment. (Scraping off mold– not an attractive prospect.) I’ve read both that one should add vinegar and that vinegar is anathema. My mother likes vinegar in it. I prefer a spoonful or two of yogurt in my bowl. My husband won’t go near beets either way. One solution is to make the soup without them (sad to say), and then to add canned pickled beets to just part of it, keeping beet-haters happy with the rest. It’s not the same but it’s not bad, and it saves dyeing one’s fingers. Whether fresh red beets or canned, a gorgeous fuschia color results, worth the stained fingers if necessary.
Family traditions, seasoning suggestions, and the like are welcome. Slavic persons who may find my gastronomic naïveté amusing are also welcome to comment.
*An Italian restaurant and bar in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill.
** Which is honest, respectable labor, and I should be grateful to have fresh vegetables!