There are a few phrases from my childhood – phrases my mom said so often that we sometimes call them Jean-isms – that are so engrained that, even now, my adult siblings and I still say them to one another.
If one of us calls another with a weepy voice, complaining about some perceived slight, the other will say, with an audible eyebrow raise, “Is there blood on you?”
To which, there’s no doubt, the afflicted party will respond, “No, so I’m fine.”
Or one of us, usually the Actress (sorry, sister) will let out an impressive belch, and another will smirk and, with just a hint of nasal New York, say, “That’s attractive.”
But most often of all, one of us will be wallowing in self-pity about something totally inconsequential (as admittedly, we’re wont to do), and the other will look over and, with that token Jean edge in her voice, say, “Perk up.”
We can laugh about these things now, but I can’t even begin to evoke how frustrating it was, as a moody fifteen-year-old, to be told, “Perk up, and put on a happy face.”
Everything seemed like the end of the world, when I was fifteen. (Don’t most fifteen-year-olds feel that way?) But with Jean, there was no room for whining and self-flagellation. I wasn’t bleeding, ergo, I was fine.
And you know, what? Most of the time, it’s true. Of course, there are problems that do not involve blood, and many of them are just as important as those that do. But I like to think that what my mother really meant was something akin to “mind over matter.” If you allow yourself to wallow, then that’s all you have the brain space for. If you try – just try – to perk up, nine times out of ten, it works.
Case in point, last night, when I allowed myself, just for a moment, to descend into the abyss of self-pity, specifically about my career. It’s a common feeling, as a freelancer: each day is so filled with tiny successes and tiny defeats, with answered and ignored pitches, with praise and criticism from editors. My moods tend to roller-coaster, and I was at the bottom of the hill, last night.
I’ve been trying to journal by hand, of late, and this self-pity was the topic of last night’s entry. Within one line of wallowing, I stopped myself.
Of course I can do this, I wrote. I just need to put on a happy face. I just need to keep going. I just need to persevere.
And you know what? Today has been full of productive activity, full of ideas, full of creativity. It’s amazing what you can do when you just decide to perk up.
If an attitude change doesn’t come quite as easily to you… well, I understand. It takes time – precisely 29 years of conditioning, in my personal experience. So if you need a little boost to help you find your happy face, this seasonal squash soup filled with warm spices might be just the ticket.
Squash Soup with Beef Kofte (serves 4)
For the soup:
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 medium squash, peeled and cubed (I use 1/4 of a musquée de Provence variety, but you could also use kabocha or butternut)
3 carrots, cut into thirds
1 onion, quartered and peeled
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon quatre épices (a mix of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Alternatively, use 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon cloves, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, and a pinch of nutmeg.)
4 cups chicken broth (or water)
1 inch ginger root, peeled
salt and pepper
For the kofte:
250 grams (8 ounces) lean ground beef
2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 green onion, minced
1 tablespoon aleppo pepper
1/4 teaspoon quatre épices
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and pepper
olive oil or coconut oil
For the salad:
1/4 red cabbage, finely shredded
2 carrots, finely shredded
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh cilantro, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the squash, carrots, onion, garlic, and coconut oil on a baking sheet, and season with salt. Roast for about 30 minutes, until nicely golden brown. Reduce the heat to 350.
Place into a stock pot with the spices, and sauté for one minute, just until aromatic. Add the chicken broth and ginger root, and cook for about 15 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender, season as needed with salt and pepper, and set aside.
While the vegetables are roasting, you can begin the kofte and the salad. For the kofte, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Season as needed with salt and pepper. Form into small balls the size of golf balls.
Just before serving, heat the olive oil or coconut oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the kofte on all sides, then place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.
For the salad, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. This can be done up to 24 hours in advance.
When ready to serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls, and top with three kofte balls. Add a pile of slaw on top, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro just before serving.