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Keeping it Easy (+ Turnip Soup)

6 January 2014


[Casablanca, December 2013.]

Since the new year: more runs along the ocean, beaucoup de spinach and sweet potatoes (the excitement I experienced upon having acess to these two relied-upon vegetables cannot be understated), hauling out the ‘big camera’, marinating on some possible story ideas, countless cups of coffee (can’t be helped it seems), some regular 8-hour stretches of sleep, pretty cold temperatures at night, a small party. Also: vegetable quiches and the hankering to make another pot of turnip soup.

I thought I’d posted a recipe for turnip soup here before, but a quick search revealed that no: I had posted a recipe for a parsnip soup and a turnip and cauliflower soup but those are not at all the same. Perhaps I’d never actually made good use of turnips before a few weeks ago when in the spirit of making the most of what I have on hand I was ‘forced’ into using the turnips that’d been hanging around the fridge for perhaps too long (though root vegetables do keep quite well in cold storage for all that). My search also led me to this old post from almost exactly three years ago and wow, have things changed. I remember that rather violent rainstorm and I wish down to my bones I could recreate at least half of that water fall for California right now. Drought, drought, it’s headed into a major dry spell is all I hear and while I truly appreciated the weather when I was still there I am and always will be enough of a Northern Californian to worry when rain is scarce.

Re-reading that post I realize I have forgotten that January is my Steinbeck-reading time — sweet, slow, cozy January in which no matter the weather it is the best month to curl up with a book and wool socks and lots of coffee and take things very, very simply. And it’s true that’s what we’ve been doing: while I have managed some early morning runs, baked some cakes for a party, and dipped a toe back into the working world we have been keeping things very easy and close to home. And it’s been very nice, if lacking a bit in Steinbeck, who always serves to ground me when I am feeling a little out of my element regardless of where I happen to be.

To paraphrase myself, re-reading Steinbeck is appropriate at any time, particularly in the new year. The words just feel right. Each time I go back into one of his books I’m struck by the way the man could write a sentence — of course I’m a bit biased because he wrote about my beloved California so beautifully,he too being a native — but it’s more than that. I think it’s just that he was so good.

For example: Doc was collecting marine animals in the Great Tide Pool on the tip of the Peninsula. It is a fabulous place: when the tide is in, a wave-churned basin, creamy with foam, whipped by the combers that roll in from the whistling buoy on the reef. But when the tide goes out the little water world becomes quiet and lovely. (from Cannery Row)

and, Once, when Doc was at the University of Chicago he had love trouble and he worked too hard. He thought it would be nice to take a very long walk. He put on a little knapsack and he walked through Indiana and Kentucky and North Caroline and clear through to Florida. He walked among farmers and mountain people, among the swamp people and fisherman. And everywhere people asked him why he was walking through the country. Because he loved true things he tried to explain. (also from Cannery Row)

Oh, the love for true things! Like water, like mountains, like a snowfall in the woods, like the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Africa before 8 o’clock in the morning when I try to savor the pale light and send my thoughts directly across the sea (give or take a few latitude degrees) to Maine and my family there, like Sierra’s ever-more-present smile. And yes, soup — soup from gangly and rather unappealing-looking vegetables such as turnips that nonetheless can be cooked down into something silky and velevety and altogether of the season.

This is a simple and easy enough soup to make in this month of keeping things easy. Yet it’s not boring, especially if you add lots of freshly-ground black pepper just before serving. Maybe a swirl of sesame oil? But I just stuck to the pepper, and we ate bowls of it, very hot, with biscuits, the night before the night before Christmas. Next time I will search out my copy of Sweet Thursday and steal 15 minutes to myself to read my favorite passages with a cup of soup and another of rooibos tea. If we get our fireplace sorted out I may even be able to toast my toes whilst doing so … but for now, just for right now, the soup will be enough.

  • Art & Lemons 6 January 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Gangly vegetable soups, biscuits, and Steinbeck—yes, perfect this time of year. For me right now its Hemingway.

  • Helen spiridakis 6 January 2014 at 9:50 am

    Lovely!