Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Meal for the Monks: Pumpkin Apple Soup

Six monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery, who have been traveling around the U.S. for eighteen months, arrived in my little corner of the universe on Saturday night in the middle of a freak blizzard.  I can only imagine what the drive down from New York State was like for them; I was driving my son and daughter home from a birthday party, and every muscle in my body was tense as I watched huge tree limbs snap all around us under the weight of the snow on the leaves that hadn't yet fallen.  It still looks like a war zone around here, worse than when the hurricane hit.  Lots of people still have no power, which means no heat (with temperatures outside below freezing) and no water (unless you're lucky enough to live in town, like we do).

It was pretty amazing to meet Tibetan Buddhist monks on tour, and their visit brought some useful perspective and calm to the county in the aftermath of the storm.  They were down to earth (three of them actually went trick or treating with some kids in the neighborhood), and yet, somehow unearthly--both their chanting (which sent chills down my spine) and their air of calm acceptance made them feel different.  They talked about a lot of things I've been thinking about recently anyway: that life is like a great ocean, and that the ups and downs are little ripples (even if they feel like tsunamis at the time); that you feel the most suffering when you spend the most time thinking about yourself and your inappropriate attachment to things that just go away or change anyway; that people can only give what they have, and that people who are suffering cannot give joy.

(This last one is the hardest for me to swallow.  My conversation with one of the monks went something like this:  
me: "So what about people who are malicious?"
monk: "They're not malicious to everyone.  And they are suffering."
me: "But why be malicious to me, then?"
monk: "That's what they have to give."
me: "I'm not feeling very compassionate towards these people."
monk: *smiling*  "No one said it was easy.")

Now I don't think that I'm going to become a Buddhist any time soon.  In a perverse way, I think I enjoy the highs and lows of human existence.  But I confess I've been feeling more than a little sorry for myself lately, hearing nothing but crickets from the resumes and cover letters I keep sending into the abyss, especially as we're turning the corner into winter (and I'd thought that by now I'd be re-employed), doing the endless loads of laundry and dishes (which I'd be doing anyway, but breaks in the monotony would be nice), cooking until late into the night only to get up at 5am and start the whole thing over again.  And it would be wise of me to remember compassion, and appreciate simplicity (gee, isn't it nice to have heat and running water?), and be a little less cranky.

I volunteered to bring the monks a meal while they were staying with another family in town, and I made this soup, along with a lentil salad and homemade bread.  It's the sort of soup that warms you body and soul, and makes you remember that the world is a fundamentally good place, and that just as the good things come and go, so do the power outages and the crappy days filled with laundry.

Pumpkin Apple Soup
(with thanks to Brown Eyed Baker for the original)

1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
½ t. kosher salt
6 c. vegetable stock
2/3 c. natural (no sugar added) applesauce
½ t. ground white pepper
½ t. ground sage
½ t. dried thyme
¼ t. ground nutmeg
2 (15-ounce) cans pumpkin (3 1/2 c.)
¼ c. brown sugar (or 2 T agave)
½ c. light cream (or half and half)

Heat a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the diced onion, apples and salt. Saute until onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, applesauce, white pepper, sage, thyme and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and cook until apples are very tender, about 5 more minutes.

Add the pumpkin and brown sugar and cook for 10 – 15 minutes over medium heat. Use an immersion blender to blend soup until it’s smooth. (You can also use a blender to blend the soup in batches.) Add the cream to the soup and heat through over very low heat. (You can add more cream or water, if desired, to thin out more.) Remove from heat and serve.
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  1. I love this dish a lot..Thanks for the recipe dear..Totally loving it....Following your blog straight away..If you have time Check out my blog too..

    I am having a Giveaway..

  2. I really needed to read this today as I head towards a busy weekend filled with people I don't really want to be with (but have to) Pumpkin is my all time favourite soup but I have never tried it with apples. Will definitely give it a go! I hope the weather improves, over here it's climbing in the 30's and bushfire season.

  3. i had a comment all typed out & darn blogger ate it! must have thought yuor suop looked yummy too.
    i love soup & this will be making our menu this week for sure. pureed soups are my best friend right now, since one of the boys is on a veggie-strike!
    & i love the sentiment that you can only give what you have. N & I have been tlking lately about what the way we treat others has to say about ourselves. & how cool is it that you got to meet traveling monks? pretty sweet! leave it to a Buddhist to make you think! ;)

  4. Oh my gosh! That soup looks delicious! Really made my mouth water!

    I think it sometimes does us good to be able to step back and look at life from someone else's perspective and I don't think you can get very more insightful than a monk. I hope you find employment again soon! The Hubs was out of work for 16 months from November '08 to February '10 and I know how demoralising it was for him. It's good you're keeping yourself busy, but I know the monotony of it all must drive you crazy. Sending positive thoughts for better things soon your way!

  5. Your conversation about being malicious gave me goosebumps. Don't beat yourself up for being a little cranky sometimes. Sometimes you have to go through a low to appreciate just how great the highs are.

    This soup (and your description of it) look amazing. I am sold!

  6. People who are suffering can't give joy. So simple and yet so profound. So then, does it become our responsibility to relieve suffering? Buddhism intrigues me.

    So does your soup. I'm kind of on an anti-pumpkin kick from the overdose that i've had on blogs lately, but this one looks really good. I love the idea of pumpkins and apples together in one's like fall in a bowl! I'm going to try this recipe. Thanks!

  7. I really like this part of your post.

    "that you feel the most suffering when you spend the most time thinking about yourself and your inappropriate attachment to things that just go away or change anyway; that people can only give what they have, and that people who are suffering cannot give joy."

    I love to travel because I always come home wanting to purge useless items, (which is probably 1/2 my possessions) This part of your post really describes how I feel after international travel. And since I can't do that now, I will just think about those words.

    I thought of you and hope you and your family are well.

  8. Wonderful recipe! Soup may just be my favorite thing about late fall/winter. There is nothing like a hot bowl on a cold night.

    I'm sorry about the lack of job opportunities and the monotony. The monks sound like they may have provided a much needed infusion of perspective - something we could ALL use from time to time.


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