Pumpkinseed, green vegetable, and cheddar soup

pumpkinseed vegetable soup

pumpkinseed vegetable soup

I spent the morning cleaning. Let me tell you why that’s interesting. It’s not! It’s not interesting at all, to anyone! Cleaning is dull and tedious and repetitive, and it’s only satisfying if you’re good at it, which I’m not. You wouldn’t walk into my house and say, “This place looks great, Claire must have cleaned for hours this morning!” You’d more likely say, “Jesus, what a dump! How can they live in such squalor?” Cleaning is the most sisyphean of tasks, you clean, it gets messy again, you clean, it gets even messier. Especially if you have children or dogs. Honestly, I think cleaning a house with two little boys in it is the definition of insanity. They stand in the yard and throw dirt at things because it’s fun. They throw paint (and other substances) at the walls and the floor. Of course they do! Who wouldn’t? I’m a good mom for little boys, because I like dirt, as long as it’s good clean dirt. If they eat some soil in their lives, it can only be good for them, to take a bit of the earth into their bodies, right? But I don’t necessarily like dirt on my windowsills, and that’s what we had, in large quantities. I could have planted some seeds in there and they would have grown. Today I cleaned the windows and cleared out some cobwebs (literally–We share our home with many spiders). And that does feel good in springtime. To have a clear and unobstructed view of the world coming to life outside your windows. To remove some of the clutter that confuses your picture of the world. I don’t enjoy cleaning, but there are things I like about it. I like the fact that we all have to do it (or hire somebody to do it). There’s something comforting in that–cleaning connects us and it’s humbling and grounding for everyone. I like the clarity that it can bring, and the sense of renewal. My mind feels fuzzy and confused, sometimes, as though it is actually wrapped in spider webs, and cleaning my physical space can feel like opening a window in my brain, and blowing away some of that dust. Because cleaning is very good for freeing the mind. I have some of my best thoughts while sweeping the floor or scrubbing the tub, and if I get stuck on something I’m trying to write, cleaning is more than a way of procrastinating, it’s a way to keep thinking about something without consciously thinking about it. You shift the focus and alter the angle of the shot, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Sometimes when you clean you find a toy that you forgot you had, and you can stop and play with it for a while. And I like to think about spirits everywhere – angry pee spirits, mischievous dust spirits, the ghosts of little boy hand smudges, or phantom dog nose prints on glass–they all hold a little of the history or their happening. Even the clever spiders and their fantastical mysterious webs seem other-worldly at times. I feel that I make a deal with them when I clean. I’ll disturb them only so much, and then let them be. I’ll stir them up and make them dance around in a flurry, but I’ll understand that they’ll settle again, that they’re part of this house and have probably lived here longer than I have. So I spent the morning cleaning windows and clearing clutter, and my mind and my eyes are a little clearer, a little more ready for spring, and already the dust is softly settling around me once again.

This soup felt a little like spring cleaning the vegetable drawer. I had a lot of green vegetables and some were past the first blush of youth, because I wasn’t around much last week, so I decided to make them into a soup. I used broccoli, spinach, kale and cauliflower (not green, I know! But it doesn’t look ugly with green vegetables, and it makes such a smoooooth purée). YOu could use any vegetables you have on hand that you like together. First I toasted some pumpkinseeds, because I love their flavor, and they make the soup nice and creamy. And I finished it by melting in some cheddar, which added flavor and substantiality. I seasoned it with cumin, sage, oregano and cilantro, because I wanted it to go well with our leftover kale and black bean cornmeal cakes, but you could use any herbs and spices you like!

Here’s Van Morrison. He’s happy Cleaning Windows.
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Roasted rutabaga, corn and cheddar soup

Roasted rutabaga, cheddar and corn soup

Roasted rutabaga, cheddar and corn soup

Last week I posted a poem by Seamus Heaney, but I neglected to share the fact that it was only part I of the poem. There’s a part II, and here it is (with profound apologies for having split the poem up in this rude way)…

2. The Seed Cutters

They seem hundreds of years away. Brueghel,
You’ll know them if I can get them true.
They kneel under the hedge in a half-circle
Behind a windbreak wind is breaking through.
They are the seed cutters. The tuck and frill
Of leaf-sprout is on the seed potates
Buried under that straw. With time to kill,
They are taking their time. Each sharp knife goes
Lazily halving each root that falls apart
In the palm of the hand: a milky gleam,
And, at the centre, a dark watermark.
Oh, calendar customs! Under the broom
Yellowing over them, compose the frieze
With all of us there, our anonymities.

Beautiful! And it got me to thinking about Brueghel, and about the fact that poets love him. We’ve talked about his Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, and the fact that WH Auden and William Carlos Williams both wrote poems about the painting. And William Carlos Williams, patron poet of The Ordinary, has a whole collection of poems called Pictures from Brueghel. Why do the poets love him so much? Is it because he tells stories with his paintings? He shows so many characters, so much movement and beauty and drama, but the drama of everyday life that we can all relate to. Is this why the poets of The Ordinary love him? Because he renders with such skill and accuracy some universal truth of humanity that we can all understand – with so much beauty and so few words. They called him “the peasant Brueghel,” apparently, in his day. Not because he was a peasant, but because he painted peasants, and some say he dressed as a peasant so he could mingle with them – unnoticed but noticing everything. This was very rare, at the time, and it is only through his paintings that we understand as much as we do about the lives of poor people in his place and in his time. I wonder why he painted peasants. Was it patronizing? Was it, as Van Gogh has said about The Potato Eaters, to show how less-civilized people lived? Was it opportunistic? Was it because these were the people who were everywhere about him, who would model for him. Because peasants must have served as models for paintings of nobility, as well, and for paintings of Christ and Mary. We’ll never know! The peasants in Brueghel’s paintings are so richly painted that it feels to me as if he’s honoring them. Seeing what I want to see, no doubt, through the lenses of my 21st century Ordinary agenda, it feels as though Brueghel captures some timeless quality that connects us all. We’re all engaged in the struggle and the joy of living, of staying alive, and working and resting and dancing. Heaney’s seed cutters might “seem hundreds of years away,” because they’re closely connected to Brueghel’s resting corn harvesters, and they’re connected as well to people taking a break outside of their offices or shops, sitting in the sun, eating a sandwich. Williams, in describing Brueghel’s nativity, says,

    —it is a scene, authentic
    enough, to be witnessed frequently
    among the poor (I salute
    the man Brueghel who painted
    what he saw—
    many times no doubt
    among his own kids but not of course
    in this setting)

Brueghel and Williams are reminding us that Mary and Joseph were poor, and that this was just a moment in time to the people milling about – the soldiers, who couldn’t have understood why this moment would be significant.

    —the soldiers’ ragged clothes,
    mouths open,
    their knees and feet
    broken from thirty years of
    war, hard campaigns, their mouths
    watering for the feast which
    had been provided
    Peter Brueghel the artist saw it
    from the two sides: the
    imagination must be served—
    and he served

We saw a beautiful film about Brueghel’s painting The Procession to Calvary, called The Mill and the Cross. It’s a gorgeous dream-like film, that fleshes out Brueghel’s characters in a mysteriously effective manner. It shows Brueghel creating the painting, and it connects the story of Christ to the suffering of Brueghel’s contemporaries at the hands of Spanish catholics. In the film, Brueghel explains that most paintings show God in the sky, parting the clouds and looking down with displeasure. But in his painting God is in a mill high on a strange mountain. God is a miller, grinding the bread of life and destiny. The bread that we all eat to nourish ourselves – soldiers and peasants and artists and Christ himself. We’re all connected by the struggle to stay alive.

Last night for dinner we ate this delicious soup and ate leftover mushroom pie and talked about Brueghel. It was a simple meal, but it was such a good conversation. I feel so lucky to have somebody with whom to puzzle these things out, and somebody who is comfortable, as I am, with not having answers. We’ll never know! This soup was good. I grated and roasted the rutabaga with some thyme (it smelled amazing cooking!) and then I added shallots, garlic, rosemary and some lentil-cooking water. I added sweet corn, for a touch of brightness, and melted in some sharp cheddar, which made the soup lovely and savory and satisfying. I puréed part, but left some as it was, because the grated rutabaga had such a nice texture.

Here is Alec Ounsworth with That is Not My Home (After Brueghel)

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