Clinging to the cliffs through Big Sur, California, with the tenacity of a big wall rock climber, Highway 1 still recalls a time when this was virtually an inaccessible stretch of coastline populated mostly by ranchers, Bohemians, hippies, and the author Henry Miller, whose book, "Tropic of Cancer" may be best-known, but “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” is better: a must-read for anyone contemplating driving this stretch. (Of course you should also toss some of the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, and Jack Kerouac’s wine-soaked novel “Big Sur,” into the glove box of your Tesla coupe as well.)
What you cannot do is simply drop in on the retreat center known as Esalen. They don’t allow tours. You can, however, call well in advance and book a stay, sign up for a multi-day class, or even apply for a staff position that allows you to live on site and “sing for your supper”—also known as cleaning rooms or washing dishes. But oh my, the site rewards your humble servitude...and more importantly, the sheer wonder of the place where “the human potential movement began” may change your life forever.
What does all this have to do with a Wellness Warrior well-loved recipe for food that’s good for you? Plenty. Guests and staff at Esalen generally have big appetites to satisfy, so the chefs there see that everyone eats well. It might have something to do with the hot springs causing an uptick in one’s appetite, or the ozone-laden misty air blowing off the tops of the big combers rolling into a wild coastline; whatever the cause, the taste buds seem to be on high alert at Esalen and foods that you might normally never order in a restaurant are quite suddenly...delicious.
Here’s a healthy sample. It would be best if you try it in person while a blustery gale rattles the windows of the Esalen dining room and you find yourself sitting on a bench next to a new friend who’s hell-bent on discussing quantum theory and wavefunction at dinner...but in the meantime, this will do. It’s pretty darned easy to make and requires no advanced degree in physics.
Roasted Carrot Soup
From “Esalen Cookbook; Healthy and Organic Recipes From Big Sur,” by Charlie Cascio (from $31, Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2006)
The book’s recipe intro tells us that this recipe was brought to Esalen by Jason Brodsky, a professional sound engineer “who decided to take a year off and explore his inner self at Esalen.” He asked author Cascio to tell all readers “that you must prepare this soup while listening to good music—it gives it a better taste!” Serves 4 to 6.
5 pounds carrots
1 medium-size apple
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¾ cup diced white onion (cut in ½ inch dice)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
8 cups vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the carrots and apple into thirds and toss them in a mixing bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once they are coated with the oil mixture, place them on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until slightly brown, about 45 minutes.
In a six-quart soup pot over medium heat, sauté onion in vegetable oil until it becomes translucent, and then add garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the vegetable stock or water, and then turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and drop in the baked carrots and apple.
It’s necessary to puree this soup. This can be done easily by using an immersion blender (also called a hand or stick blender). Or you can pour the soup into a blender in 3 or 4 batches and puree it. If you have none of the above available, the last resort is to use a potato masher and mash the vegetables as best as possible; finish with a whisk.
Return the pureed soup to pot and let it simmer for about two hours. It may be necessary to skim the top of the soup during the simmering if a natural foam-like substance appears. Finish the soup by adding the vinegar and salting to taste before serving. ”
PHOTO: via The Esalen website www.esalen.org