Making Minestrone in the Moment (While Dancing the Ideal Life)
What makes a good minestrone soup is balance. First, one must consider the variety of vegetables and the amount you\’ll use. Second, vegetables need to be cut and sized so they complement each other. Then there\’s the right blend of spices and herbs; and, finally, its flavor is determined by how long you cook it. Balance these elements, and you\’ll get perfect minestrone every time. What makes a delicious person is very much like the minestrone formula.
How a person assembles their particular variety of qualities—how each quality is proportioned among the others—determines whether any one quality overpowers another. Personal spices that each person brings to their plate and seasonal tastes that change with circumstances and age compose a person\’s “flavor.” And how a person simmers these qualities determines who they become.
A delicious soup and a delicious person are often surprisingly perfect in their imperfection. I do not believe in strictly following a recipe; what makes cooking fun is to innovate, to find a natural balance between instinct and adherence. We are just like the minestrone we make. The more abandon we allow in making our soup, and ourselves, the greater the opportunity for discovery. Being a delicious person dancing in the moment, listening to intuition as well as one\’s values, is a delicate art. Often the greatest learning lessons—the most profound “Aha!” moments—come from courageously creating change, adding new ingredients to our routine, while preserving our core beliefs.
Too Much of a Good Thing Is Too Much
Variety is essential for the ideal minestrone and for a life well-lived. A balanced blend of seasonal vegetables and year-round ingredients provides complementary textures and flavors that support a well-structured soup. If we favor a particular vegetable, we may add more and more of it to the soup. We may also assume that other people must love it, too, so we push it on them. Too much of a good thing, however, is still too much. Who knew zucchini wasn\’t a safe bet? Yet, what we think is best for ourselves is not necessarily so for other people. One day our partner might say, “I am leaving you because you are too much zucchini.” Too much of something, or something too often, may bore them.
What would it be like to experiment with a variety of vegetables, allowing the creation of the ideal minestrone to be exciting and different every time? What would it be like to find unfamiliar or exotic vegetables, to stretch way beyond our cooking comfort zone? If we let go of the judgment we have toward certain vegetables (or behaviors or qualities or experiences) and give them a chance, we might just realize that anything in moderation is good. Even flavors we don\’t like, if balanced in combination with flavors we love, can end up working out quite well!
Finding Your Ideal Mix of Ingredients
Every quality in a person, just like a vegetable in our minestrone, can be an asset if we let go of judging it and are instead willing to experiment. Most of us probably resist arrogance in ourselves and in others. However, a pinch of arrogance in responsible balance with other qualities adds a flavor of boldness, self-confidence. Would you rather be a bland, artless soup or a minestrone of deliciously varied qualities, ones you love and ones you might find challenging? We can be arrogant, confident, serious, funny, strict, and flexible. In balance, everything works!
A pinch of all qualities, uniquely combined, lends complexity to our personality. Who wants to be known as just plain nice? Sure, it gets us by in the world—just as minestrone is passable with only one vegetable—but it\’s boring. Many people choose to play it safe, to stay in their comfort zone, by developing only certain qualities they perceive will be appreciated as if there is only one recipe to follow.
Imagine how rich and unexpected life would be if we experimented with all types of experiences and qualities, never knowing where our creativity would take us and what the results would be. Imagine the excitement of “dancing in the moment,” being willing to fail and really stretching to come up with new versions of ourselves—always striving for the perfect equilibrium between past experiences and current and future challenges.
This same in-the-moment attitude applies to preparing minestrone. One day you may want to cut the vegetables all the same size and throw them in at different times; on another day, you may choose to cut them in varying shapes and sizes and add them all at once. What would be the most improbable thing for you to do now? (You may want overcooked acorn squash and hard-as-rock carrots!) When you make your minestrone, you can have the perfect ingredients, yet still have to juggle circumstances and improvise, because, after all, every stove-top is unique and holds its own element of surprise.
Circumstances Can Determine Your Choices
I must confess that when it comes to my minestrone, I prefer consistent, conservative herb-spice combinations dictated by my nationality of origin. I generally stick to the classical flavors—parsley or basil and black pepper—though seasonality usually determines my choices. For summer minestrone, fresh basil is a must. I lacerate it by hand—I never chop it with a knife—and I never cook it with the vegetables but add it fresh at the end: my unwritten rules of basil. I love to serve Italian-style summer minestrone slightly warm, with finely grated parmesan and fresh basil sprinkled on top. And during the fall, I like to add a hint of nutmeg.
If I am in a Mediterranean mood, I make Greek-style minestrone, with fresh oregano coarsely chopped and feta cheese grated and mixed in with the vegetables. I do not mind experimenting with new herb-spice combinations; however, if I pick a nationality, then I stay with that cuisine\’s conventions all the way. As much as I like to break the rules, when it comes to herbs and spices, I am a classicist.
Who are you when adding flavor to your life, er, minestrone? Who would you like to be? Which rules would you like to break? Which are you happy to follow? Do you consistently overspice? Or are you careful with your proportions? What are the unwritten rules of your cooking methods?
Timing Is Everything and Nothing Is the Same
Cooking minestrone is an art, a true art, and no one can ever tell you how long to keep it on the stove, or how high or low the heat should be. And whether you serve your minestrone hot, warm, or cold will determine the appropriate time to throw in your vegetables.
As in minestrone, so in life: timing is everything. And that requires instinct—a deep connection with yourself that communicates just when is the right time to make the next step. It\’s that fine balance between trusting your intuition and applying your knowledge of what has worked before. And, of course, there\’s serendipity: being in the right place at the right time!
In today\’s world, we like to be prepared; we like to have all the answers. We generalize past experiences and accordingly categorize present and future ones, in order to protect ourselves from failing or getting hurt again. What would life be like if we got excited about risking failure? What would it be like to recognize that nothing is ever the same, that the only thing we know is that we don\’t know anything?
Certainly, when you make minestrone from this stance, you open yourself to a new experience every time. Apply this philosophy to your world beyond your kitchen, and watch how the unknown can enhance and excite your life!