In my kitchen after the war

It happens to moms everywhere: the moment when the patience evaporates, when all attempts at resolve—at playing the grown up, of all things—completely boil over because you forgot to lower the heat. (Right? Am I right?)

I’ve just had it out with Emmie, who was not being reasonable. It’s beyond tough for me to stay patient when my kids drop all efforts at reason, and this in itself is hardly reasonable. I wind up confronting the unreasonable with the unreasonable, expecting too much, and so it goes. (As parents are forever saying in France, “Tu n’es pas raisonnable.”).


So while Emmie’s done what girls will sometimes do, which is shut herself in her bedroom, I’m alone in my kitchen listening to Stars’ latest, In Our Bedroom After the War (it’s marvelous, I think), with the gangly parsnips and their grubby potato counterparts, peeler in hand. They’re not the cheeriest companions, but they’ll do. I’m back to making soup, again, because times like these call for soup. At first the peeling bit seems too long a process for a measly pot of winter bisque, but as the curls of vegetable skin start to pile up in the sink, I finally start to feel put in my place.

There’s a certain mental space I can only squeeze into while I’m cooking, and this is particularly so when other parts of my day have held a certain ratio of drama or turmoil. Not that my life is high on drama, truly, but everybody has their moments. And while some people deal with their moments by knitting or running or maxing out their credit card, I turn to my produce and my pots. I make dinner, and the process usually just kind of washes the rest of it away, and plops my perspective back where it belongs.


It’s almost like magic, which is appropriate, given how akin cooking is to magic. It’s taking one thing and joining it with something else and affecting a transformation, an altered, better state. It’s chopping the parsnips and the onions, cubing the potatoes, and browning it all just a touch in a pot with a couple sprigs of thyme. It’s simmering the mixture to softness in stock, then rendering it smooth and silky with a touch on the blender’s purée button. It’s topping it with black pepper just cracked and crumbled chestnuts just browned. It’s serving it to my family, all together again, patience and reason having decidedly returned.

Parnsip Bisque with Browned Chestnuts
(’twas a worthy use for my leftover chestnuts from the Christmas stuffing!)
Adapted from Gourmet

1 small onion, chopped
1 lb parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 to 2 ½ cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
½ to 1 cup water
8 vacuum-packed or jarred roasted whole chestnuts, coarsely crumbled

Cook onion, parsnips, potato, and thyme sprigs in 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until just beginning to brown on bottom of pan, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add broth and water. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs.

Puree soup in batches in a blender (be careful; remember hot liquids expand when blended) and transfer to a bowl. Return soup to saucepan, salt and pepper to taste and keep warm.

Sauté chestnuts in 1 teaspoon butter in a small nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with chestnuts to serve.


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