I made carrot and ginger soup last night for my book club which was reading Under the Same Blue Sky. In theme with the book, I’d challenged myself to a brightly colored, light, vegetarian German summer menu. A 6-year old honorary club member declared it “delicious,” so the recipe seems worth sharing. The thickener is carrots, not flour, so it’s gluten free, with a true taste of carrot. Freezes well and goes well with historical fiction.
Carrot & Ginger Soup (for 4-6)
1 onion, peeled & chopped
I T ginger root, peeled & sliced thin
2T white wine
1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced
2 C vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 tsp salt
ground nutmeg to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp)
1 – 1 1/4 C whole milk.
1 T butter
juice of 1/2 lemon (or more)
parsley or mint for garnish
Saute the onion in butter until soft. Add carrot and ginger, saute briefly, add wine and cook for 30 sec. Add broth, salt, pepper, nutmeg. Bring to boil, then simmer until the carrots are tender. Put in food processor or (better I think) use an immersion blender. A few chunks are fine. You can store for a day or so at this point or, to finish, add milk and return to simmer. If you want it thinner, you can use water or broth. I happened to have some carrot juice, but other times I’ve used broth. Just before serving, add butter and lemon juice. Stir until butter is melted. Garnish as desired.
I was recently asked for an interview with the Pittsburgh Examiner. This turned out to be questions about History in general, with an invitation to time travel. Here are my answers. You can imagine yours.
(I’m traveling without much internet, so I can’t pretty up this post. Sorry).
The other day I was crossing the parking lot of the Knoxville Museum of Art when a young man got out of a dusty van wearing a full length tie-dyed robe. Time warp to the Sixties? He seemed to be leading a Great Dane. No. It was a billy goat with decorated halter. “Excuse me,” said the man. “Do you know where I can find some wi-fi?”
Not the question I expected. “Someplace you can take him?” Meaning the companion animal.
“No. My friend needs it.” He pointed vaguely at the van. A shadow inside might be the “friend.” Or another goat. I directed them to the public library, which unfortunately only allows service animals (including goats?) and has no forage nearby. But it was the closest wi-fi I could think of.
The van license said Virginia.
I’m wracking my brain for structure of a fourth novel which (so far) features no goats. So the opener is yours. What drove them from Virginia to Knoxville? Where are they headed? Why the goat? Why the robe? What were they going to Google? Have fun.
When I was about 11, my parents took me to a Broadway production of All the Way Home which nearly ended badly from an excess of dramatic involvement. Based on Agee’s Death in the Family, a young father dies in a car accident on a bumpy back road. The grieving widow’s none-too-helpful brother is explaining how Jay hit his chin just hard enough on just the exact “right” spot to create a fatal blow. A half inch over, the brother continues, and Jay would be right here with us, or . . . a little to the left or right, or with less force, he would be horribly crippled. Imagine, just that one spot . . .
The drama barreled on, but I didn’t, musing on the mystery of that spot. I leaned forward, tapping my chin thoughtfully on the seat in front of me until a strong hand took me by the shoulder and yanked me back. “Stop that!” my father whispered.
“I was just trying to find . . . ”
“Well don’t.” That’s the problem with drama. You want audience involvement but maybe not too much.
Years ago there was a children’s book, Flossie and Bossie, about two Bantam hens, the good, drab one, Flossie, and the mean, beautiful, vain Bossie. And their transforming friendship. I remember it as pretty gripping.
However there was a spook element for me in this drama of the hen house. Major figures are the hired hands, who I believe don’t have names. See the black and white illustration by the great Garth Williams (he also did E.B. White’s children’s books). Only hands. Never a body. Somehow these “hands” walked, talked, thought, ate. So of course I was spooked, especially when it turns out they lived in a house which first Flossie and then Bossie visit. A special house built for hands? What did their chairs look like? Did they sleep in hand-beds? Was the boss a regular person or was he a hands-only being too? It’s the sort of thing to keep a kid up at night.
“Writer’s block” adds a lovely sense of entitlement and specialness to the malaise. After all, nobody sanctions “pediatrician’s block” or “fireman’s block,” as in: “You know, I just don’t feel like taking care of your kid, or putting out your house fire today. I’m just not into it.” Other professionals just cowboy up and do their work.
Yet writing is so much about walking off a cliff. The time lapse between the first idea and the book/digital copy in your hand is so long, and the vagaries of “success” are so many. It’s just so hard, and so difficult to know when you’ve got it right. So one thinks . . .
I’m too old/young to do this.
My life has been too easy/hard to write.
Who cares about my idea?
My idea is great but XYZ did it better.
My style is too risky/mainstream.
The opening was OK, but it’s falling apart in the middle.
I can’t end this thing.
Other people have more important jobs.
I should do one of those other jobs.
Look, the garden needs weeding. The clothes need washing.
Someone has to watch the paint dry.
Something’s not working but I don’t know what.
I know what the fix is but I don’t know if I can do it.
Look at the trash that’s gobbled up. Who wants what I do?
Just a little more research . . . just a lot more research . . . and then I’ll write.
My life is difficult enough. I don’t want to feel my character’s pain too.
I thought I had “it” but maybe I lost “it.”
And so on. Yet we go on.
One wouldn’t think that a pasta sauce made mostly of onions would be so elegant, beguiling, and comforting too, but it is. With an abundance of onions this evening, I made a version of a heartier sauce I’d seen on menus in Naples. Here is a recipe for four people.
4 medium yellow onions, peeled & sliced thin
1 stick butter
chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 C heavy cream
Tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta, about 1 lb
Salt, freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, parsley
Saute the onions in the butter over low heat until soft but not brown. Covering the pan tightly, but stirring often helps to avoid browning. Add enough broth to barely cover. Cook, covered, 15-20 minutes, again, watchful that the onions don’t brown. You don’t want brown. (Meanwhile, start heating salted water of pasta) Add the cream to the onions. Puree the mixture. I used an immersion blender. The point is not to over-blend. You want some texture. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg (freshly grated if possible). Keep warm while the pasta cooks. Drain the pasta, Mix with warm sauce. Put in bowls, sprinkle on parsley. Pass the Parmesan. I added some pitted salt-cured black olives because I love them, but that does complicate the color theme of cream with a touch of green from the parsley.
For a rumination on cooking onions and the creative process, see my blog: “Onions & the Cost of Fiction.”