Four months ago, when dahlias and asters were crowning the summer season, I inserted a mesh on the windows to bar insects from entering, and to hear the swish of an oak tree that quivers on the backyard like a parasol. Under the canopy you’ll find clusters of acorn – little nuts that look like heads wearing a cap or, as I like to imagine, bells that jingle in the evenings when the man-made world – far away – quiets down. Although woodland creatures – deer, squirrels and birds – gobble them like a starving tribe, I’m sure it is the humming of these wind-chimes that lulls us to sleep every night.
Like adulthood, summer induces the best of many. It stands for potential, and ushers us to wander and explore. Time expands to ripen everything that started earlier as a seed: red currants, wheat, families, and our hopes and needs. With more ease and comfort than in youth, our self-acceptance matures like a corncob in the field.
But, usually sooner than we’d like, shadows grow taller and the breeze hints at the change of mood. Blooms retreat and greens fade. Then, one morning, chirping becomes but a heavy sigh. That’s when you have to pull down the screens and install the windows back. Hey mosquitoes, bees and flies! Where are you now? Have you escaped to a warmer sphere because the autumn is here?
Leaves fall from a tree when they lose their grasp. They hover down and transform. Such falling has indicated autumn (in English) since the early 1600s. Before that, the season was called a harvest.
‘Harvest’ sounds so much more abundant than ‘fall’, doesn’t it?
Although labor-intensive, it reminds of togetherness, woolen socks, hot chocolate, and thanks-giving. It’s the time to reap our quota, gather crops, preserve energy, extract from the culture, wind down, retire to an inner space, and stack for the winter (or the old age). Falling, which is an urban term, signals that something or someone is becoming less, diminishing and sinking inward, failing to keep up or meet expectations, and descending or collapsing by a force, such as gravity. Many have fallen from grace. Which of us hasn’t fallen apart at times?
Autumn is one the scenes nature lays out to teach. As a constant, it walks us through a series of changes, year after year, to show decomposition and the end of all, and then, a renewal. Past the prime, at fifty, I can relate to this better than ever. The seasonal cycle offers a program for a slow-learner like me to reflect on the wheel of samsara, repeated birth and death, and the duties that come along with participating in such a pastime.
To undergo a change is rarely easy – especially when it defies my identity, relationships, abilities or means. When a challenge becomes too overbearing, I take shelter of routines or my personal invariables that anchor me to the favorable side of the situation. Sanguinity works as an inherent antidepressant and enables discernment that clears doubts. Such keenness of insight is an essential element of meditative outlook. It activates the brain’s reward center in a sustainable manner. A conscious effort to recognize positive and negative emotions by describing them in words boosts serotonin and dopamine, the feel good hormones that reduce stress. A constructive disposition of the mind – acquiring knowledge, and feeling grateful and humble – produces good impressions which, in turn, develop into a good habit that will gradually expand awareness. To solve problems by employing guilt, shame, anger and anxiety, on the other hand, gives a quick release, but will propel to destructive impulses again in the future.
Pumpkin soup is one on my autumnal balance points. This must be the third pumpkin soup recipe on the blog; not because I’m addicted to the gourd family fruits or consider them more noteworthy than other vegetables, but I jump at them on the market because they represent the bright face of autumn. Under their skin beats a soft, generous heart – the kind I’d like to cultivate, too.
In what ways is the autumn tutoring and empowering you?
WINTER SQUASH SOUP
Ingredients for the soup:
2 Tbsp ghee (or butter, or oil)
¼ tsp pure hing powder
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp grated fresh turmeric
2 medium size potatoes, diced
4 cups (1 liter) diced winter squash
¼ - ½ tsp cayenne powder
4 cups (1 liter) water
2 tsp dry roasted panch phoron powder
2 cups (500 ml) whey
2-3 tsp Himalayan salt
½ - 1 tsp garam masala powder
Ingredients for the garnish:
1 Tbsp ghee (or butter, or oil)
2 cups (500 ml) diced Hokkaido squash (red kuri)
2 pinches of Himalayan salt
1 pinch of cayenne powder
Roasted pumpkin seeds
1 -2 cups (250-500 ml) shalloew-fried paneer cubes
Heat up the ghee (or butter, or oil) in a large pot. When it’s hot but not smoking; sprinkle in the hing powder, and grated ginger and turmeric. After about a minute, add the potato dices. Fry the potatoes over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Then toss in the winter squash dices and continue frying for another 5 minutes before pouring in the water. Cook (covered) until the vegetables are soft. Use a food processor, a stand blender or a hand blender to break the vegetables into a velvety soup. Whisk in the panch phoron powder, whey and salt. Bring the soup to a boil again, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Finally add the garam masala powder before serving.
While the soup is cooking, heat up a tablespoon of ghee (or butter, or oil) in a wok or a pan. Add the Hokkaido squash dices and sprinkle them with salt and cayenne. Fry them until they are cooked, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted seeds and fried paneer cubes. Combine the garnish with the soup.
For panch phoron powder, take equal amount of each: mustard, fennel, jeera, kalonji and fenugreek seeds. Dry roast them on a pan over a moderately low heat until the seeds are a few shades darker and aromatic, for about 5 minutes. Let the spices cool down and grind them into powder.
The simplest garam masala powder consists of toasted cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds and cloves. You may add black peppercorns, jeera, fennel, coriander, tejpatta, nutmeg and other spices to make it more complex.