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Personal essays

Lemons and Stones - Essay from Newsletter 151

Rooting around the root cellar

Have a nice day

I hate the phrase, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

It sits somewhere between a barista asking me, “what can I get started for you” and, once I tell them what I would like (presumably when it’s finished), them saying “no problem.”

If life gave me lemons I’d be delighted. Do you know how many things taste better with lemons?

“Oh Daniel,” you say, “that’s not what they mean.”

Of course it isn’t. It’s one of those “ever cloud has a silver lining” things people say to you.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk about lemons and lemonade today, I wanted to talk about soup.

When life gives you celery root

I think of myself as fairly recipe bound when I cook. I often find a recipe online or in a book and gather the ingredients I have, go shopping for those I don’t, and then I make it.

Last week I found a recipe for Senate Bean soup on the Rancho Gordo site and bought some ham hocks to make the soup.

It was easy and delicious.

Actually, I’m not as recipe bound as I think.

The week before I’d made potato leek soup. That one is so easy that I don’t use a recipe. I sweat the leeks then add diced potatoes with water to cover. Actually, I cheated and used turkey stock that I had leftover from Thanksgiving. When the potatoes are soft I use an immersion blender and pureed it. A little salt, a little pepper, and just a touch of vinegar and it was perfect.

When I make soup, because it’s just me here, it lasts for a week. By the end of the week I was ready for a new type of soup so I looked in the refrigerator and there, behind the lemons, was some celery root.

The weekly box of vegetables has included celery root for a few weeks along with parsnips and other root vegetables. I know that somewhere I have a recipe for a cream soup you make from pureeing the celery root but I thought, what if I use it for its celery taste.

So I sautéed some onions in a little butter, added some celery root that I’d diced to be about the size of the beans, a pound of cranberry beans, and water to cover. Forty-five minutes later I added sliced carrots and parsnips.

A quick taste. Some Worcestershire sauce. Perfect.

All because I had extra celery root, parsnips, and multiple shelves of beans.

The Stone

The celery root wasn’t the lemons for making lemonade. The lemons was the metaphor for the sour situation that we’ve turned into a positive. It makes me feel as good as the store clerk who has mis-bagged my groceries telling me to have a nice day.

The celery root was more of the stone in stone soup.

Not quite. In stone soup, the stone is the way we get started making the soup and we add all the nicer ingredients until we have nothing to do with that initial stone - and then we discard the stone.

The soup still has the pronounced flavor of the celery root. It’s not defined by the celery root but it’s there.

But I never would have made the soup if it hadn’t been for the celery root sitting unloved in my refrigerator.

Elena loved rocks and used to pick them up wherever she went. After she died I used to pick up a stone now and then and carry it with me. I’d reach in my pocket and absent-mindedly flip it over. The action focused me - spurred thoughts.

The stone wasn’t the reason - it was just the excuse. It was the celery root and not the lemon.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 151. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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