Parsnip Chowder for Galway Kinnell
Consider the subtleness of bay leaves. The bay leaf is not a boisterous curry or scintillating smoked paprika. It is one note among many, reportedly essential but mysteriously undetectable in a beef stew. Many flavors take up permanent residence in my memory but the exact flavor of bay leaf escapes me. Yet it is there. It facilitates and enhances and maybe even translates something for us in the dish. It is a small thing to add and I like to think of the small things.
When I was buying the ingredients for this simple soup, I wondered if I could just leave out the bay leaves to save money. When I looked at the leaves in their convincing and elegant garments of green, I just couldn't do it. These were going to be the "fancy" part of the world's simplest chow-da.
The soup is one that I never had a recipe for. I had to make it in large quantities when I was a line cook at a lovely little farm to table restaurant in Brooklyn. You really don't know how large cookware can get until you work in a restaurant. I had the best biceps of my life and a toddler could have taken a comfy snooze in most of the soup pots I carried up the narrow set of stairs. This soup that I have renamed and re-imagined as chowder, is a creamy ode to the knobby nosed root vegetable. Parsnips are sweet and earthly, "cheap and cheerful" as my genius roommate might say. They remind me of wood stoves and somber pained windows and pumpkin moons. There is something soul filling as well as belly filling about a soup that only demands a few ingredients and can be so hearty and rich. I just pulled these out of the root cellar you know! And look these artisanally dried bay leaves are hanging from my barn raftered house by sustainable twine!
All joking aside, this scene is one I'd gladly be discovered in.
A soup also needs a stalwart bread companion. I was contemplating the brown bread my grandmother (per my grandfather's request) would make in an old coffee can. Or pumpernickel croutons with a creamy slice of goat cheese on top. This pesto pull apart bread from How Sweet Eats caught my eye instead. Given my penchant for pulling the best doughy, cheesy corners off of a dish, this sounded like a match made in heaven.
Bread and Soup. The Loveliness of the Sow.
One of my favorite poets died last week. I read Galway Kinnell's poetry for the first time in my middle school English classes with one of my favorite English teachers of all time. His poems have dotted my experiences ever since. He is the sort of poet who can create the longed- for hush. The snow falling on snow texture in your chest that helps you to remember the particular parts of your body, attached as they are like the tiny ligaments of leaves revealed by sunlight.
They say he "sang of the quotidian world" or rather that he helped us to see that what occurs everyday is a kind of miracle of matter and spirit. He writes about eating oatmeal with John Keats and squeezing the dark juice from late September blackberries, the way he would squeeze out words to describe them. He writes about his infant son who now interrupts the lovemaking that created him. He is a poet of re-flowering, of blessing again, baptizing anew. Recognizing that our imperiled and imperfect life needs daily ( sometimes minute to minute!) reminder of the indwelling beauty and deep sorrow of our connection to each other, the animals, the oats, the seeds. Kinnell also addresses the mystery of what the past means to us. He spoke into darkness, and let it be darkness still, and let it be a kind of peace. If I could feed the poet I might want to give him a bone warming soup like this, so he could write more words on a winter afternoon in Vermont. I might ask if he could taste the bay leaf. We might wonder together what mattered, and decide it all did. Love to Galway Kinnell and thankfulness for his words.
Wait by Galway Kinnell
Wait, for now. Distrust everything, if you have to. But trust the hours. Haven't they carried you everywhere, up to now? Personal events will become interesting again. Hair will become interesting. Pain will become interesting. Buds that open out of season will become lovely again. Second-hand gloves will become lovely again, their memories are what give them the need for other hands. And the desolation of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness carved out of such tiny beings as we are asks to be filled; the need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Wait. Don't go too early. You're tired. But everyone's tired. But no one is tired enough. Only wait a while and listen. Music of hair, Music of pain, music of looms weaving all our loves again. Be there to hear it, it will be the only time, most of all to hear, the flute of your whole existence, rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
for 4 0r 5
5-6 parsnips 1 large white or yellow onion 3/4 to 1 stick of butter ( I like butter) 2 Bay leaves 3 Tablespoons (or more to taste) of good quality Honey 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream salt & peppa Water
1. Peal and cut parsnips,thin rounds will do. Dice onion and sauté in butter in a medium soup pan. Once the onions have sweated a bit and are smelling a little more mellow, add the parsnips, bay leaves, and honey. This soup is a tasting soup. You want the sweet to balance with the fat of the cream. It is a good idea to salt the soup at the end. Wait.
2. Once the parsnips have become a little more tender, add enough water to just reach the top parsnip and keep simmering until the parsnips are very tender but not falling apart. Add more water if needed. If you have an immersion blender you can take the pot of the heat and add the cream. Blend and add salt and pepper from there, adjusting to taste. If you have only a blender like me, you can do it in messy installments. This is a slightly thick soup that you can thin with more water if you desire. It is all creamy parsnip business from here on out.
Joyful bread of choice and a light bodied Cote du Rhone! Or Riesling...hmmm. I bet a little sherry would also love to be in this soup.
Until next time, eat well and read on dear folks.