defeat, and tomato soup

by breannruthwhite

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A few nights ago, I was digging through a large box stored away upstairs. This box is large enough to hold all the parts of a twin bed frame, but for the last 4 years, has kept what is left of my college art work.

I was looking for old prints to show a student in my class the following day. And during my search, deep in the bottom of the box, I found old pictures.

My husband doesn’t really like when I look at old pictures. Probably because of how they make me feel. Something about looking into the face – the beaming eyes of a young girl who used to think she had a lot of control over her life and where it was going – makes me feel a bit sad.

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That night, we had just put my son to bed. As soon as I closed his bedroom door I allowed all the bad feelings of the day to flood over me. And my husband was right. It was not a good idea for me to look at those pictures. The pictures of the girl in a cross country uniform standing so fittingly within a group. Her face flushed and triumphant after finishing a race.

Of the girl swinging from monkey bars when she should have been studying for finals. Her ponytail a wavy, yellow mess. Her eyes closed.

That night, after a particularly bad day, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried or hoped, how thin I stretched my abilities, I was not very good at anything. Not a great teacher. Not a great mom. Not a great friend or spouse, housekeeper or artist. And all I wanted to do was isolate myself from everyone. To cement my walls, guarding my vulnerabilities. Keeping me safe from this feeling of defeat. Clasping the old pictures to my chest.

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Yet time, as always, is a funny thing. A frustrating and perfect thing. Because it heals. It grants experience. Wisdom. Perspective.

But it makes us wait.

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And today. Days after that night of low, bad feelings, I am writing about how hope comes in unexpected forms. How, the next day, I saw a student reach out to another in complete, unexpected kindness. How another student, through trial and tribulation, thanked me for helping him complete a project he was proud of.

How my 21-month-old son woke me up this morning by kissing me on the lips… over and over again.

How people really do need each other. For encouragement. For understanding. For direction. For love.

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I often envision myself tightly surrounded by layers and layers of brick, holding old pictures, wishing to be that elusive girl again.

But through the serendipitous roles I have fallen into, as a mother, a spouse, a sister, daughter, and very recently a teacher… through time and perseverance, personal defeat and faint glimmers of hope, the bricks don’t seem as necessary. The walls feel less like a heaven and more like a cage. Something to slowly, but surely, break free from.

. . .

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As fall weather makes its debut, our garden churns out the last of its tomatoes. We are relishing every last one.

Roasted Garden Tomato Soup

Yield 4 servings

  • 3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap garlic cloves in a tight foil packet. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Add foil packet of garlic to tray. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Unwrap garlic packet and peel cloves. Transfer cloves, tomatoes and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor and pulse machine on and off until tomatoes are a chunky puree. Transfer tomatoes to medium pot and add thyme, grated lemon zest and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with toasted corn tortillas (as we often do) or toasted sourdough bread. We usually top this soup with sharp cheddar.

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