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A Ray of Sunshine in a Snowy World

The weather is getting to be a boring topic, but I’m so sick of winter that I have to say it. I don’t usually feel this way. I’ve always preferred winter to summer because I really don’t like to be hot. However, I don’t remember a winter in recent memory with this much relentless snow. It’s wearing me down and tiring me out. Even so, I wanted to share some of my favorite snow photos from this weekend.

My disdain for winter has come on gradually. In fact, about two weeks ago, when I read the following fabulous quote in the newspaper, it made me laugh, and I quoted it for days:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.”

We spent a good part of the weekend on snow remediation. We are fortunate that despite all the snow, and ice dams on the edges of the roof, we don’t have any leaks in the house. One activity involved shoveling the roof of the one low part of our house. My primary responsibilty was standing at the foot of the ladder, prepared to call 911 if Howard fell. I did take a turn on the ladder when his arms tired, but he worked at this harder than I did. When it warmed up Sunday, Howard cracked through the inch-thick coating of ice on the driveway and pathways, and I helped move the ice chunks onto the snow piles. I’m definitely not the main brawn for these tasks, but I am a very good helper.

It’s the sheer volume of snow that’s overwhelming. We live on a very busy road, so a lot of the snow that gets cleared from the road, ends up in our not-very-big front yard. Look at it all! My friend Lauren sent me a link for the The Boston Globe’s Shaq-o-Meter, to measure our snowfall. I have to admit that it made me laugh. Check it out.

It’s been so cold that the snowpiles haven’t really had a chance to diminish between storms. The backyard snow gauge more than 2 feet, so only about half of the overall snowfall has melted or sublimated.

What counteracts the winter doldrums, besides a getaway to tropical climes? Soup always works for me. We still have bags of carrots and parsnips in the refrigerator from our Winter CSA, so I wanted to use those. This is a very simple soup with great flavor, color, and texture, at least to me. I made a bisque with similar ingredients a couple of weeks ago, but this recipe is completely different.

This soup is garnished with parsnip chips and scallions. Always liking to make the most of my ingredients, I used the thin ends of the parsnips that were a little too skinny to peel. I gave them a good scrub and sliced them thin.

I used dried dillweed because I didn’t have any fresh herbs on hand. This would be even better with fresh dill.

Carrot-Parsnip Soup
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 lb parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 quart chicken broth
2 cups water
½ tsp dried dillweed
Salt & pepper to taste

Garnishes:

  • Parsnip Chips:
    • ½ cup parsnip slices, using the well-scrubbed ends of the parsnips or a whole parsnip
    • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender. Keep an eye on them to be sure they don’t brown too much or burn. You can cover the pot, trapping moisture in the pot, or add a little of the water, to keep them from burning.

Add chopped parsnips and carrots, chicken broth, water, and dillweed. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

In the meantime, make the parsnip chips. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Add the parsnip slices and cook until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.

Remove the pot from the heat. Let it cool down for about 5 minutes. In batches, puree the soup in the blender until smooth. Season to taste.

Reheat if necessary. Serve garnished with parsnip chips and scallions.

A Charmed Life

This week, I’m feeling like I live a charmed life.  I’m fortunate to live where I do, when I do, and how I do.  A major calamity would have to happen to make me start to feel sorry for myself. 

This musing comes on the tail of the movie and the play that I saw last weekend.  Both have caused me to be sure that regardless of the little inconveniences of life, I am a very lucky person.  I have a roof over my head, a job, and a family I love (human and canine), and quite a bit above and beyond these basics. Who could ask for more.

It started on Friday night when we rented watched the movie Winter’s Bone.  The movie was excellent, but incredibly depressing.  The movie tells the story of a teenaged girl Ree whose father has put their home up as collateral on a bond bail when he was arrested for making crystal meth.  And he’s disappeared.  If he can’t be found, the family will lose the house.  The girl is the only stable part of a family that, excluding the missing drug-dealing father, is made up of a mentally ill mother, incapable of caring for her children, and two younger siblings.  They live in extreme poverty in Appalachia.  Ree sets out to find her father and save her family’s home, running into low-life characters at each turn.  It was a grim story, though Ree’s strength and determination was inspiring.  This movie made me thankful for the life I have.

It gets worse.  On Saturday, we went to the Huntington Theatre to see their current production Ruined, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  This play was incredibly powerful, among the best I’ve seen in the years we’ve been attending the Huntington. 

The action takes place a bar/brothel set in a jungle in war-torn Congo.  The residents are women whose lives have been ruined by the war around them, both emotionally and physically.  In this world of brutal soldiers, rape is rampant, part of the pillage of the war.  Those that are raped are then shunned from their families and villages. As hard as it is to image, the brothel offers a haven for the girls, where survival in the bush, their only other option, would be tenuous to impossible.  Mama Nadi, the madam, offers a modicum of safety for these girls, as she herself struggles to survive. 

The best (and worst) of human nature drive the story, and the horror of the world this introduced me to has stayed with me.  Again, I look around my own world and realize how fortunate I am. Perspective is everything.

Comfort food was called for to rewarm the soul and take the chill off from these chilling realities. I dug up an old recipe for a root vegetable bisque. It’s probably been years since I last made it. We still have a large supply of root vegetables from our winter CSA. This soup starts with the sweetness of caramelized onions, potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. When the sherry and cream are added, it gives the soup the “bisque-y” flavor I love. This soup is only partially pureed, so some chunky vegetables provide contrasting textures in each bite.

Root Vegetable Bisque
Serves 8

2 Tbsp butter
2 large onions, halved and sliced
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
½ lb parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 quart chicken broth
1½ lbs red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ tsp dried thyme
1 cup half-and-half
¼ cup Sherry

Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large soup pot. Add the onions, and sauté until golden, about 15 minutes. Turn down the heat if they are browning too fast. Add the carrots and parsnips and cook for 10 more minutes. Add the chicken broth, potatoes, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until th potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Puree half of the soup in a blender (in batches, if necessary) and return the puree to the remaining soup in the pot. Stir in half-and-half and Sherry. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup back to a simmer before serving.