• Marisa Guerin

Sopa de Nevera

Updated: Nov 6, 2018

Marisa Guerin, Ph.D. - November 5,2018



Child’s play rehearses adult life, and sometimes more deeply than we realize.

When I was a child, if it wasn’t raining and I wasn’t in school, the basic plan for me and my six siblings on most days seemed to be some variation of “Out the door you go -- get some fresh air and don’t come back until dinner time”. In that time and place – 1960’s in a modest suburb bordering Philadelphia – we kids roamed around the backyards and the neighborhood with our friends, largely unsupervised and inventing our entertainment as we went. Every once in a while, we’d get the urge to play “cooking.”

We would borrow a big, slightly dented, metal pot from the pantry and a big spoon. Then it was off to create. Mud was a basic – dig some dirt, run the hose into it for a few minutes, stir. Then the imaginative tossing in of little hedge-leaves, random red berries, interesting sticks and stones, extra-special flower petals, etc. I don’t remember what we did with the resulting “soup” other than stir it around and judge it as “Yum” or “Yuck” (without benefit of tasting it).


That memory came to my mind a few weeks ago when I found myself in the kitchen, ready to make dinner but with no advance plan for the menu. I checked the fridge and the pantry: half a head of cabbage, tomatoes, onions, some leftover chicken, a packet of farro, my sister’s home-grown basil, and miscellaneous jars and bottles. Hmm. Possibilities, I thought. I googled a few recipes with similar ingredients, and proceeded to play at “cooking” – add, blend, taste, add something else, correct the seasonings. The result was a “Yum”! I was quite proud of myself that a better-than-decent meal emerged, and Mike liked it, too. (* At the end of the posting you can find a bonus recipe for a tasty salad dressing from one such adventurous meal.)


When I cook this way, I introduce the meal using the phrase I learned from my cousin Pilar in Spain who cooks from scratch every day for a big family. If her pantry is uninspiring, she whips up something her kids call “Sopa de nevera” (Roughly translated as “Soup a-la-refrigerator-pickings”).


Here’s the thing: Sopa de nevera is sometimes forgettable, sometimes amazing, but never repeatable.


It seems like a good reminder to me of how one makes a life, especially past the middle years. After all, there are many “recipes” we’re instructed to follow for how to be a good student and a dutiful son or daughter, how to get a job, how to find a mate or a community or a place of one’s own.


But once in adulthood, with many years of living still ahead of one (hopefully), the recipes are fewer. We have to make things work with the ingredients we find available to us -- some sweet, some sour, in combinations that may or may not have been anticipated. We make our lives as best we can from what we have -- our family members and friends, our physical and mental health or its limits, our resources, blessings and gifts, losses and burdens. We may not have too many degrees of freedom for creativity, but regardless, we stir a life that is always unique and always our own – giving expression to the Life-force that animates us every day.


For me, that’s important to remember because I am prone to feeling overwhelmed by the problems and conflicts in my world. I have learned, though, that taking initiative dispels depression. And we each can take action towards “cooking” a good life in our own part of the world, even if we are not using the same recipe or the same ingredients (or the same faith or politics or culture.) Some of us can vote and some of us can volunteer; some nurture family and others work hard at the jobs that make the world. Life is stirred when we create art, make music, water plants, companion loved ones. It's a very humble, normal kind of thing, to animate your own life. But from this brave willingness to embrace every day, comes the unrepeatable miracle of each living being and the wonderful beauty of the human community, in all its imperfection. Each of us is making their own Sopa de nevera“YUM!”



* Bonus:

Here’s a recent discovery that turned out to be REALLY good – a normal homemade salad dressing with a secret ingredient. I blended the usual proportions of olive oil (3 parts) and a white wine vinegar (1-to-2 parts), with a tiny pinch of salt and a squeeze of Dijon mustard. Then, instead of some honey, the innovation: a spoonful of fancy Fig Jam, found in the back of the fridge. (Or whatever tasty jam you find.) Put all the ingredients in a jar and shake for a good long time until the jam is all dissolved and the dressing very emulsified. Correct the balance if necessary – add, shake, taste – until you like it. Lovely taste, can’t quite put your finger on it!