Some Roots

A little over a week ago, two friends I hadn’t seen in a long time traveled to Boston for short visits. Although our days were planned and time was tight for all three of us, our schedules held an unstructured hour or two here and there. Enough, we discovered, for conversation over a cup of coffee. Just enough for a little chat and a hug that helped bridge several years.

I have known Marie since high school. We were good friends as teens, kept in touch with occasional letters through the college years, drifted apart for a while, rediscovered each other at a high school reunion, caught up over coffee not long after, drifted apart again, found each other again. The proximity our friendship lacks is made up for with an easy, in-and-out tidal rhythm, the ability to connect and re-connect over and over. For though we are different people now, and our points of reference have changed – discussions of teachers and school events and music and boyfriends have been supplanted by stories of our work and our children and our parents, whether gone or still chugging along – our grownup selves remain very much rooted in those two teenaged girls who couldn’t wait to leave town, couldn’t wait to see the world, couldn’t wait to participate in it. Together again, whenever we are fortunate enough for that to happen, I think we see the journeys we have made and are still making. It’s a good perspective from those seats at the table, looking over a couple of cups of coffee.

I met Kerry at a writers’ conference many years ago. I came to the conference with several vignettes – or scenes –  from what would become my first novel, Hunger. At the time, the novel was nowhere near being a complete novel, and had no real discernible novel qualities. Sure, I had characters and I had some ideas for plot points. I had even sketched out some of the character interactions, but there was no cohesion to the pieces, no beginning, middle, and end. There was no consistency either. One of the scenes I had written was done in first person, another in third. The manuscript was a mess. But that was why I went to the conference: to get enough perspective on the material to see my way out of the mess.

Because the manuscript read nothing like a novel, I was seated not in the novel workshop, but in the short story workshop, along with Kerry. Unlike me, Kerry had brought with her real stories, beautiful stories, compact but with narrative arcs and pivot points and development. She was an accomplished short story writer with elegant prose style. I was a novice, a confused one with a confusing potential book that might be a novel one day but would never be a short story collection. Still, I forged on with the book, trying to get it right even in the face of some bald but honest critique from the workshop’s facilitator, mostly because Kerry urged me on. She is one of those generous writers, the kind who knows there is enough room at the table and will even pull out the chair next to her so that you might sit down.

Kerry is still an accomplished short story writer with elegant prose style. Her next collection, Live Your Life & Other Stories, comes out on November 8, and I will be reviewing the stories here. When Kerry was in Massachusetts recently to participate in a reading in Somerville, I went to listen and also to see her. It was our first visit since the workshop, with only emails and Facebook updates in between. After she read from her essay on American-Chinese adoption (from the Wising Up Press anthology Shifting Balance Sheets), we hugged. We spoke a bit. We hugged again. The interim years? We did our best to recognize them – Look where we’ve come from! – and also condense them – Look where we’ve gotten to! It was also an embrace for the future: We go there, writers together.

The hardiest of root vegetables always remind me of these protracted friendships. They sustain us through the cold. They abide.

Root Vegetable Soup celebrates just that, synthesizing the best of the late harvest vegetables into sustenance for the cold. I used what vegetables I found in my CSA basket. Use whatever combination you might have. And make a large pot.

  • olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1/2 small celery root, peeled and chopped into rough chunks
  • 2 pounds white turnips, peeled and cut into rough chunks
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold, or other all-purpose potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 generous thyme sprigs, tied together with kitchen twine
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock, plus additional stock or water as necessary to thin the soup
  • salt and pepper to taste

Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with olive oil and set this over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and garlic. Stir and saute until the onion is soft and begins to turn golden, without letting the garlic burn. Add to the pot the carrot and celery. Just as the celery turns translucent, add the celery root, turnip, and potato. Add in the thyme bundle. Stir to combine. Add the stock to the pot and raise the heat a bit under the pot to bring the liquid to a simmer.

Once simmering, cover the pot but leave a crack for steam to escape. Reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a steady simmer. Simmer until the celery root, turnip and potatoes become fork tender. Add pepper to the soup. Stir. Remove the pot from the heat. Remove the thyme bundle.

Using a stick blender, puree the soup right in the pot. Alternately, puree the soup in batches in the blender or in the food processor. Return puree to the saucepan, if using blender or food processor. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water, a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired.

To serve, add a dollop of sour cream or green yoghurt, drizzle with a little olive oil, add a crouton if desired. Enjoy.

©2012  Jane A. Ward