Sometimes, Soup Is So Much More Than Soup (Butternut Squash Soup)

Sometimes, soup is so much more than soup. Sometimes, a bowl of hot soup helps us feel at home when nothing else can. Making Butternut Squash Soup on a rainy night or cold November afternoon gives us something to look forward to when our spirits are low or we need a bit of hope. Soup is also something we can eat together–something that helps make a connection between two or three people.  Some of my friends through my Sanctuary London church & community, as well as folks on the streets of London, love soup because they are cold and/or hungry during the winter season, while others love soup because they have always loved soup, lucky enough to grow up in a family where soup was part of ‘home’. But what I am thinking about most tonight, is how soup represents a much bigger metaphor for making something beautiful out of not that much, where apart we have little, but together we have a lot.

A lovely meal to eat in community, to eat as family. A chance to say over our bowl of soup, my week hurt me a lot or, my week was challenging or even, my week was unexpectedly beautiful.

Last night at Sanctuary London, during our drop-in, we ate butternut squash soup with baguettes and butter, homemade oatmeal and chocolate cookies, and rainbow-icing cake, and then afterwards as one group, we talked about lament. We shared our own stories of disappointment, loss or grief, and we gave space for those truths to sit among us. A much-needed space to hurt during the holiday season… What does it feel like to have your dreams unrealized, to know the grief of having your life turn out entirely differently than you expected, or even lose a dream part-way through it’s realization? The volcanic emotional gap between what we wanted/hoped/expected it would be, and what it actually looks like now. “What it was supposed to be” can be the most painful truth to carry.

When we lament or grieve our dreams, the things we wanted more than anything in this world, it can feel like we have been abandoned, left behind, not loved, not wanted. For some, it’s hard to find a reason to move forward. A friend told me today about the terrible apathy she faces in her depression, how many of her dreams have been lost, how she can no longer conjure up even a single spark of passion or joy about anything in her life. The grief and loss of how our life looks, compared to what we so deeply wanted and longed for, can create an apathy so intense, that your heart feels like cardboard, unable to feel anything at all. Have you ever experienced something like that?

And, you are probably thinking, what possibly does all this have to do with soup?

Yesterday afternoon, while I made soup in our community house kitchen, our neighbour from the other side of our duplex had lunch with us (we made an egg and avocado sandwich) and my housemate T. worked on some art and daily writing (she is very artistic and her signature art is usually flowers sketched with pens of many colours). The afternoon sun was shining into our kitchen, and the conversation was easygoing and friendly, all with the beautiful smells of garlic, onion, and butter from the pot, the deep auburn orange of the roasted spiced squash coming out of the oven, and the sound of bubbling soup. It was an easy meal to make–a few ingredients, little cost, wonderful for a creating an atmosphere of warmth and conversation. It gave us a space to have something in common.

As we took the soup to drop-in, the conversation continued, as more and more folks brought food and their own contribution of honest sharing well into the evening. I imagined the simplicity of soup, the deep flavour, the orange brightness–it was the colour of my dreams that I still carry with me. It was also the colour of love, that I have found in ways I never dreamed. It was the colour of family that I have found in blood relationships, but also in friends. It is over simple things like soup and conversation that we get closer, that we can come out from behind our fear and shame, that we get to make peace with our laments, and it’s over soup and conversation that we can begin to dream again. For ourselves, but also for our friends, for our community, for our world. What do you dream about? What do you hope for? What would make you well?

Here is the step-by-step recipe and photos of my Butternut Squash soup-making adventure. Try it out. I hope you like how it tastes. But I encourage you, if you do make this soup, perhaps engage in some reflecting while you cook. What dreams have you had that maybe didn’t turn out as you wanted them to. What dreams have you lost? What dreams were torn out of you? What dreams took root instead, that were maybe even better than you hoped for? Who in your life can you share your soup and conversation with? Where can you go to be sanctuary for others, and have them be sanctuary for you?

Happy soup-making. I hope you find a moment of peace in this holiday season.

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Melt two tablespoons of butter in a stock pot, and add 2 cloves of minced garlic. Before long, your house will be smelling like a restaurant, and anyone who comes over will immediately feel like they are coming home…

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Add some onion for flavour. The recipe called for 1/2 cup, but I used only 1/4 cup and that was the perfect amount for me. I’m not as much an onion lover as some, but a little onion did add to the sweet blend of flavour.

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Fry the onion and garlic lightly, not until brown, but just until clear and translucent.

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Don’t do like me, and cut and peel and chop the squash when it’s still raw. As I learned the hard way, that will give you an unexpected arm and wrist and elbow workout. My housemate T. did one half and I chopped and peeled the other, and thank goodness for her help, or dinner would have been much later than it was.

[Afterwards, I asked online what I should have done differently. About 20 people responded (thank you!!): bake, roast, heat, or microwave the squash first. Now why didn’t I think of that??? Cook at 375 F for approx. 35-40 min.] *see my notes further down.

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Cook the squash in 4 cups of chicken broth, mixed with the onion and garlic, for about 15-20 minutes, or until the soup is boiling and the squash is soft enough to blend.

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Make sure you watch the squash bake in the oven by peeking at least once or twice. It won’t help in the baking, but your mood and spirit will definitely be lifted. What is it about watching food cook in the oven, warmed by the light, covered in spices, smelling and looking delicious? A feeling of home that we can never get enough of at our house, a feeling of safety, a sense that all is right with the world.

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Once out of the oven, it’s ready to go. I had already scooped out the seeds before roasting it. The salt, pepper, nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon had a chance to really sink into the squash, making the flavour even more evident in the soup. If cooked long enough the squash peel should come off fairly easily with your hands or a knife. Scoop out the insides, and then cut into approx. 1 inch cubes. Put all the squash into the soup, and cook as before (bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes), until tender enough for blending. This will take a less time than if you had put the squash in raw.

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Delicious soup. I doubled the recipe and made enough for two 3 person family batches with a little leftover. About 9 cups or so. If you were serving soup to a dinner party of 8-10 people, I would make two whole batches, or 2 whole squashes. The recipe is below.

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Bon appetite! Your work is not over yet. Make the meal appetizing to the eyes, heart and stomach. Add pink napkins (or the colour of your choice), candles, bread. Make an extra batch to take to a friend. Make conversation and love part of your meal and your cooking. Reflect. Enjoy. Find peace. Food is about so much more than just food. And soup is so much more than just soup.

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Butternut Squash Soup Recipe:

To make 4 cups of soup:

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 onion, chopped
1/2 butternut squash
4 cups of chicken broth (replace 1/2 cup of the water with milk or cream)
Sprinkle salt, pepper, nutmeg, and allspice. A dash of cinnamon if so desired.

Directions:

Cut the butternut squash in half. Sprinkle one half with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and allspice, approx. 1/2 tsp of each. Remove the seeds from the squash. Place the squash half on a pan and cover with tinfoil (use tinfoil in oven cooking only). Cook in the oven at 375 F for approx 35-40 min or until tender and the skin comes easily away from the squash.

Melt the butter in the sauce pan over low heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until translucent. Add the onion and cook for 1-2 minutes until translucent. Stir. Add 4 cups of chicken brother. For a creamier flavour, replace 1/2 cup of the water with milk or cream. Remove the cooked squash from its skin. Cut into one-inch cubes and add to the soup.

Add more spice as needed for flavour. Bring the soup to a boil, and then turn down to simmer for approx. 15 minutes or until ready to blend. Using a hand blender, blend the soup until smooth. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon on top if desired, and eat with fresh bread.

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