inspiration. i’ve been thinking a lot recently about what that word represents and what that ideas means to me. what i’ve come up with is: less and less. this quote from madeleine l’engle found me via this blog post and i’m not usually one who gets excited about the specific words people say, pasting them all over binders to honor them as new dogma or something, but her idea hit me like a brick:
inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.
i am crippingly afraid of exposing my ideas about something if i feel like i don’t have a functioning understanding of it. example: high school jazz band, i played piano, my band director went around the room asking each person to improvise a solo over a steady blues progression. fear struck. walls : up. jazz was not my jam and neither was improvising publicly. so when it was my turn, instead of attempting or engaging i banged on the keyboard in time with the rhythm section’s accompaniment and guffawed loudly as if to say ‘i don’t have a care in the world!’ but what i was screaming inside my flushing body was ‘i am unable to force myself to exercise my vulnerable unformed ideas for you or anyone else because i am afraid they will not be brilliant’.
i think i’ve come a little ways since then — in part because i don’t often involve myself these days in things i’m not totally into — but i still suffer a stifling tendency to keep my process sheathed. on many occasions i choose to remain silent rather than contribute to something i have not thoroughly researched, practiced, come to some sort of socially-acceptable/respectable understanding of. i religiously read the manual before pressing ‘on’. i do days of research before taking the first step. it’s probably a little insane. and for what? does it make my understanding of the thing so much greater than if i’d just spend time doing the thing? — i ask myself, and only in retrospect — i don’t think so.
i have confined inspiration to a process in itself with specific times and specific rules: that it must happen before engaging in the thing and that it must certainly come from elsewhere; an outside source; an authoritative reference, after which it must be fully comprehended, neatly contained, and carried around with crisply folded edges. but madeleine’s idea, simple, profound, uncomplicated, illuminating, struck a chord and i’ve allowed myself the space to think that inspiration is not limiting as i had imagined it. that perhaps it doesn’t just happen and then it’s over and i own it and i know it like i know the alphabet. it is the process. it is the thing i don’t want to do, and however i make myself do it and whatever happens when i do it, that’s inspiration, and so are the infinite other facets and happenstances and moments of movement and momentum that i couldn’t possibly realize in a list because the whole point is, i don’t know it all, i don’t have to, and that is okay.
over the weekend i found myself craving soup like it was the only right thing. i decided to throw one together using the last remaining soldiers of our giant squash haul and some easy pantry staples: quinoa and red lentils. what i expected was a simple supper to appease my sloshy desires but what i ended up with was something magical, for a few notable reasons:
- this soup (including the red lentils) cooked + integrated in record time
- the red lentils broke down — so completely that i almost convinced myself i’d left them out — into a crazy creamy starchy stock
- the quinoa absorbed the crazy creamy stock and blew up with lusciousness in all the right ways (think congee/jook)
- i added several cups more water halfway through cooking when i saw how much had been absorbed, so my recipe yielded a giant pot of fragrant, nourishing, simple soup
it was a soup victory but it was also something else, i think; a springboard off of which i continue to bounce ideas and a reminder to just try things that seem well and good because they might just turn out well and good and i’ll get to live out my process, unashamed, connected, full steam ahead. and why not.
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 cup dry red lentils
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- one large onion, diced
- three large cloves garlic, minced or crushed
- a bunch of zucchini/squash -- five or six or seven--cut into small cubes or half-coins
- vegetable stock or water as needed
- 2-3 tomatoes or one 14-ounce can (i use fire-roasted tomatoes)
- salt to taste (~1.5 teaspoon)
- ½ teaspoon dried dill weed or other herb
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander seed (or more, to taste)
- wash, rinse, and soak the quinoa and red lentils in separate large bowls with plenty of water, 8 hours or overnight.
- place a large pot on the stovetop over medium heat. add olive oil and when it's warm, toss in the diced onions. let sizzle, stirring occassionally, until translucent. add the garlic and zucchini and cook for a few minutes.
- add the lentils, quinoa, and maybe 8-10 cups of water/stock/water+stock to start. bring just to a boil then reduce heat to low/medium-low. simmer for thirty minutes, then add tomatoes and assess your liquid situation. if you want it to be soupier, add more water. continue to simmer, stirring occassionally, for another ten to twenty minutes or as long as you'd like.
- finish off by adding the salt, dill, and coriander. stir, taste, and adding a bit more salt and pepper as necessary. serve in bowls. enjoy.
this simple soup can be a template for any spice/herb combinations you might want to try. get creative with your seasonings and let me know how they turn out.
this soup is fairly quick to throw together already, but i think it would work well in a slow cooker, too! low + slow all day long.
i used the last of the early fall squash for my soup, but i think this would also be good with the sweet gourds everyone's obsessed with around october, carrots, sweet potatoes, or totally green: kale, spinach, tot soi -- whatever you have on hand. this is that kinda soup.
this soup is especially fun slurped out of japanese-style spoons