Soup-Making Lessons for Immigrants

I “landed” in Florida about two months ago. My apartment is unpacked and organized and a new standing lamp and kitchen table have replaced the ones I left behind. I’m mostly settled in at work. I’m not anxious or lonely, but all the newness can still make my head spin.

Everything is new. Everyone I meet is a stranger. I dearly miss having friends who I can be snarky with, and knowing that my reputation is safe in their laughter.

Almost every outing requires a GPS and buckets of tolerance. Drivers quickly and loudly honk their displeasure here. I’m discouraged to find Florida motorists just as discourteous and aggressive as Californians.

I’m mourning the loss of authentic Mexican food and taste-testing the new flavors of Cuba and the Caribbean. I did, however, discover a delightful salsa made in-house at the local grocery store. It is bright and crisp in color and taste. I pull it out whenever my palate is tired of trying new flavors.

At work, I’m readjusting to using a desktop PC after 4 years of freedom with a Mac laptop. There’s new organizational and staff culture to learn and navigate, but thankfully there’s a lot of grace in those areas. My work days are longer and much more unpredictable, so I often arrive home wiped out physically and mentally.

Most of this change is good and enjoyable, but even positive things can be exhausting. I remind myself daily that all change comes with some loss, grief, and fatigue. Soon I hope to have the energy to put in time finding new friendships and having simple adventures. In the meantime, I’ve been making a lot of soup.

fall-vegetable-quinoa-soup-1By a lot, I mean vats — double and triple batches that fill my freezer and fridge. In the past two months, I’ve made six different soups. Two kinds of vegetable soup, two kinds of chicken chili, my favorite beef and barley, and then good, old-fashioned chicken noodle.

I don’t like to cook, but I do enjoy making soup. I think I like it because soup is low-maintenance. It’s easy and strangely soothing to chop veggies into uniform chunks. I like the rhythm and feel of the knife striking the cutting board. And then the smell of onions and garlic sauteing in olive oil. And the simple pleasure of tossing all the remaining ingredients into the pot and watching the seasonings swirl through the broth. And finally, letting it simmer away.

I always turn on music while I make soup. I’ve been on a hunt for the best chicken chili. Recently, feeling optimistic about a new recipe, I turned on some salsa music. The music made me dance more than the soup did, but the experimenting and creating was satisfying. I’ll try again with a new chili recipe and some more salsa.

It seems that all my soups have dictated their own soundtrack. The garden veggie soup simmered to classic rock, but the “fall vegetable” soup with its sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale, chickpeas and quinoa got a folksy mix of Joni Mitchell and Penny and Sparrow. I paired chicken noodle soup with the greatest hits of James Taylor — a no-brainer. My beef and barley tenderized to Celtic and New-age. It seems every soup must have its song.

And while the soup simmered and the scents and sounds wafted through my living room, I putzed or retreated to the couch to read. 30 minutes later I hovered over a steaming bowl, blew on a heaping spoonful, burned my tongue, and savored a good, wholesome meal. chicken noodle

I’ve discovered a connection between soup-making and starting over in a new place. The process of making soup has many lessons for immigrants like me. For instance, with soup there’s no rushing. In fact, it’s better to take the slower, fresh-and-homemade route because instant and canned soups are high in fat and salt and are bad for your heart.

My first soup-inspired lesson is to remind myself that there is no need to rush. In fact, you can’t really rush to “settle in.” Settling is something measured and deliberate. There’s no instant anything when you start over. Building a life and building friendships take time and patience. You have to be OK with that.

It’s a simple and predictable process to make a good soup: chop, saute, combine, season, simmer, and serve. A simple routine yields the best results. My second lesson is to find a routine, both at work and in personal time, and stick to it. I’m just now able to make weekly space for sabbath, and daily time for prayer and reflection. I’m getting up every morning at 6:00 to exercise. These routines anchor me amidst all the newness and uncertainty of my life. They remind me to begin and end each day, each week, and each new endeavor with deep breaths and some healthy stretching.

With soup, there’s no pressure to be perfect right away. You’ll discover that recipes are missing some flavor, or you make mistakes and put ingredients in at the wrong time. Thankfully, soup-making is forgiving. You can adjust flavors along the way, tweak a recipe the next time you make it, or look for a new recipe altogether. Lesson three for a new life is to be forgiving. Mistakes will happen. I won’t get things right the first time and maybe not even the third time. But each attempt is an opportunity to make things better.

Soup-making has a final lesson — don’t forget to put on music and dance. Even when everything is uncertain, new, or no-quite-right, you have to be positive. To celebrate the moments of joy, even if they are few and fleeting right now. To try new rhythms and dance even if you are dancing alone in your kitchen.

If you are inspired, you can try any of my lessons. I’m on my 7th cross-country move, so my tips are trustworthy. And if this post made you hungry, try out my favorite new recipe — Fall Vegetable Quinoa Soup.

One thought on “Soup-Making Lessons for Immigrants

  1. I share your love of chopping vegetables and how soothing it is. Soup is good. Glad to hear that you are finding some joy. It comes through in your writing. Continue to take care.
    With aloha, Becca


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