Twice a month the peaceCENTER used to have an evening potluck/staff meeting/re-centering and Narjis would bring a crockpot of homemade soup, often made with produce from her community garden.

“What is it this time?” I asked her, greedily.

“Burnt flower soup — an old Swiss recipe, she replied.” Narjis is Swiss.

What kind of flowers? I wondered. Nasturtium? Squash blossom? Marigolds? Maybe rose petal — roses are still blooming in San Antonio. Edelweiss — they grow in the Alps, don’t they? Perhaps her mother mails her a packet every month. I ladled myself a bowl and inhaled the aroma of flowers kissed by the flame. Roses. Definitely roses. A complex bouquet.  Those crazy Swiss. I wondered why they burned the flowers. So I asked.

Narjis looked at me as if I’d grown two heads. I asked again: what kind of flowers are in this soup? She paused and then barked out a huge laugh.

“It’s burnt FLOUR, Susan. FLOUR. Like you would use to bake a cake. And the green stuff is the last of the kale and chard from the garden.”

Drat those homonyms! Flower-flour. I had heard flower, and because I heard flower, I smelled flower, tasted flowers on my tongue, saw scraps of singed roses peeking through the broth. I had created an alternative universe where the Swiss feasted on burnt flower soup and it had become so real to me I wanted to leap up onto the couch and yodel my appreciation. Swiss flower soup! Swiss flower soup! Let it echo off the walls for eternity. Except it existed only in my imagination.

Part of compassion is the realization that I never have the whole story. Even if I saw something with my own lying eyes, heard it, tasted it, smelled it, digested it — I can be wrong. The reality I perceive is not necessarily real. It could be a crock of — burnt flower soup.

For the cooks in the crowd — the burnt flour is basically a roux, like you would use in making a gumbo. More browned flour than burnt flour. It comes from Basel, as does Narjis. You’ll need 2 tablespoons of butter, 4 tablespoons of flour and about 6 cups of stock. Melt the butter and add 2 tablespoons flour and brown lightly, stirring constantly. Add remaining flour and remove from heat. Pour in stock and stir well. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes. I guess it’s OK to add greens from the community garden. After all, Narjis did, and she’s Swiss.

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