Be The Soup

Posted by Sam Bower on Nov 11, 2018
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Today I got to focus on childcare for Ahn while Hiromi prepared soup and snacks for the Head, Heart and Hands retreat at Banyan Grove. In the morning we carried a big basket of carefully selected, organic, locally farmed butternut squash, onions and fresh herbs to the kitchen while the retreat participants were in the Zendo. Ahn wandered in and around the living room area playing with the rocks by the fireplace - Tranquility, Love, Peace.

After unloading we left Hiromi there to cook and headed out to go about our own business, feeding some of the entrance gate apples to the neighborhood horses down the road, housecleaning, cooking our own food and getting Ahn ready for her nap. After lunch and the nap we returned to Banyan Grove to pick Hiromi up. She shared some of her reflections on our way back.

As a vegan farm-to-table chef, Hiromi often finds herself cooking for other people in various settings. Frequently, it seems, she is asked to share her recipes and how she made a particular dish. It is a way of complimenting a chef and she’s learned to distinguish when someone is mostly trying to say thank you and when they are actually interested in trying to recreate something they enjoyed from the menu.

At the retreat, someone did ask her after lunch about the butternut squash soup she’d made. “Could you share the recipe?”, they inquired. It turns out, this is a difficult question. Hiromi has been interning lately at a fancy restaurant in Berkeley that rarely uses recipes. The soup she made for the retreat was inspired by soup she made in enormous batches one afternoon there. She tried to explain that the recipe could help you understand the ingredients but that it couldn’t explain how to actually make the soup taste like the soup at the retreat. You have to know how to select the best local organic onions and sauté them slowly until just the right moment for maximum flavor. The seasonal squash needed to be roasted just so, the purée blended to the right consistency, the right type of salt added at the right time, the fresh herbs tied in a bundle, etc.

For Hiromi, the ingredients, the procedures, the steps, are unlikely to lead to the same soup. The recipe (any recipe) can’t contain the depth of knowledge and experience required. It wasn’t about bragging, but it was about how limited words are at communicating what makes something delicious. It was part of a holistic experience connecting people to the land, the farmers and the larger community. How to communicate all that? It was a blessing of course, to know that someone liked the soup and wanted to make an effort to recreate it. Likely, the participant’s version, if they tried it out, would be delicious in its own way.

This story made me think about gift ecology and generosity and how easy it can be to focus on an act of kindness, for example, but sometimes miss the inner transformation part. Fortunately, we are blessed to have each other to illuminate and reflect the fullness of life. For Hiromi, the recipe was missing the important parts - the invisible elements that would ultimately ensure whether the result was delicious or not. For me, I don’t think anyone would want to recreate the recipe for my life, but if anyone tried, it wouldn’t be the same for them. Any advice I might offer someone about the virtues (and challenges) of giving my savings and possessions away and then falling in love and having a child at age 52, can’t begin to describe what it’s been like and the miraculous transformation it’s brought (and continues to bring) to my sense of things. ServiceSpace leads by embodying core values and principles rather than giving instructions. It helps to visit the Kindness Temple (Awakin Central in Santa Clara) or an actual Awakin circle someplace else to experience the depth of the gathering before hosting one yourself, for example.

People within the ServiceSpace ecosystem travel the world “being the change”, and inspiring folks with kindness, generosity and transformation stories. They “step it up” and give away their speaker fees/music/time/consulting/magazines, help people out in extraordinary ways along the way and hand out gifts passed on to them by complete strangers. It’s the Service Space recipe, in a way: “Change Yourself, Change the World.” The ingredients and cooking times can’t possibly capture what it's like to *know* when the onions are simmered to perfection.

I wasn’t there but I imagine the Head, Heart and Hands retreat itself gave participants a taste of what they might need to make any recipe more delicious. All I know is that when something really resonates, it’s likely because everything else is in the right place to receive it, amplify it and pay it forward. I’m grateful to all the farmers, cooks and tasters working hard to bring more deliciousness into the world. May their work nourish and transform and help us all experience a bit more of the indescribable fullness of what it means to be a body within the body of the Earth.


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Comments (5)

  • Nipun Mehta wrote ...

    Habibi! The soup was amazing, precisely for all the reasons you described above -- and of course, it's super yummy, with Hiromi Chan's presentation style and so much more. Thanks for it all! Big hugs ...

  • Aditie wrote ...

    Thanks for the amazing soup and the recipe Hiromi!...what a generous gift. will start with the farmers market for the ingredients then :)

  • Bradley Stoll wrote ...

    Hiromi's love (and skills) came through like flying colors in that soup! It was delightfully delicious, as were the sandwiches and cookies<3.

  • Helen Kimura wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing this, Sam! I think I was one of the people who asked her about the recipe...but also lucky enough to have ‘watched’ her in bits how she was making it. I agreed...it’s hard to ‘repeat’ the recipe. For example, I wouldn’t know exactly when to take the squash out of the oven as ‘done’, etc. even though I watched her do exactly that. Thank you for watching Anh so we could all enjoy her yummy soup and the heart she put in it!!

  • Birju Pandya wrote ...

    really appreciating this metaphor! it brings to mind a question, applicable to cooking as to life - how can i become an instrument such that i can be sensitive to the soup that wants to come forth? :)