PARSNIPS: THREE WAYS, or OVERCOMING A BITTER ROOT WITH COMPLEXITY

After putting a lot of spirit and emotion into reflective writing recently, I have been feeling extremely vulnerable. I feel exposed, unearthed, and somehow alienated. I realize that I have felt this way for much of my life- torn between social acceptance and independent creative expression. I find that people older than me are much more capable of seeing the complexity in me, and in others, and in situations of life. So, as a child, I found acceptance and comfort much more readily in adults than in my classmates. I continued to desperately want to find connection with my peers, but what I found more often than not, was fun, which I also value greatly. But connection and fun are only sometimes found together. I have, at too many times in my life, felt that the fun was not worth the game it required. That I, like it or not, am a person too raw of soul or uncompromised of spirit to peddle myself out, strategically, just as the world becomes ready. Still, I find myself, in moments of vulnerability, wanting to choose somehow, between art and society. And I wonder if the bitter root of living a life in service of connection and expression requires people to live in exile.

I think about writers I have looked up to. Sylvia Plath. Ezra Pound. I have so much respect for these people, who showed the world a way of seeing that was not mainstream, or comfortable. And I look at Plath not only for what she accomplished in our emotional consciousness, but also for what she achieved for women, and modern poetry as a whole. But, she stuck her head in an oven. She suffered greatly. And we learn, in literature classes, or in art school, that many of these creators were “unstable.” I wonder how many situations we could look at in depth and ask the question of whether the person was volatile, or the environment. When was it not that the struggle to choose created the exhaustion? Ezra Pound was a deeply wise artist, but his sanity was questioned, he spent years in confinement for treason.  Was there no one to go home to? No one who listened to his heart, and his breathing? No one who loved him despite his great, bleeding weaknesses, weaknesses that daily made life more difficult?

I cooked some parsnips and rutabagas in a demo class yesterday. I also taught a class on the science and manipulation of sauces. My head was filled with pictures of complex starches, and simple sugars, and the way we use them, the way we understand them on our palate. A root will be sweeter if the soil is right, and if conditions such as temperature and humidity favor the metabolism of complex molecules. Often, the variability of this is troublesome to the cook. Or the farmer. Or the eater.

I am by no means suggesting that I am Sylvia Plath, or Ezra Pound, or that my struggle is that of the snow-white cells of a turnip. But I do think that I identify with them, as many artists probably do. I am not about to go stick my head in an oven. I beg readers to see the complexity. And I beg myself to allow that complexity the liberty it will inevitably take with me. That I can write about the ways people persecute each other, or the sum total of happenings in a very hard week, and still be enamored with the color of the sky outside of my office, or excited to go and see my children. I may write unhappy truths, but I am not an unhappy woman. I may write of the duality within, but that doesn’t mean I’m unstable. I’m interested in building a better environment for life. All life, all the time.

Trying to temper the sharpness of each side of my personality seems like an elaborate game, and it isn’t my calling. I am good at food, and mostly good at living, but I may be unlucky at connection, unlucky at love. Men may come and go like cats, and be fed, but just as one cannot eat and eat and eat, there may be no one who can deal with this indefinitely. That is a bitter realization, which I can choose to accept, or try to overcome. Just as I beg others to see complexity in me, in an effort to bond, I should try to attack this parsnip with a combination of the principle and complexity that I so value.

Or, as my friend Pat says “Just don’t harvest until after a cold snap.” This is true, mostly, but when it comes to the daily work and rushing on of time, it isn’t always an option for sweetening the root.

So, in recognition and reverence of these thoughts, I give you Parsnips: Three ways. Or: Overcoming a Bitter Root with Complexity (and a bit of wine).

The principle preparation of the root is the same, here. Sautee the parsnips in onions, garlic, and butter to bring out their earthy aromas, then do a white wine reduction to sweeten and cook them through. Next, there is the option of three sauces, each favoring a different side of this lovably complex vegetable. Enjoy.

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TO COOK THE PARSNIPS:

No need to peel. The peel will not hurt you, and peeling will expend about seven minutes of your life that you won’t get back. Chop the parsnips into 1 inch cubes. For each four parsnips, dice one sweet onion, and mince two fat cloves of garlic.

In a large cast iron skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the garlic and onion and cook until soft. Add the parsnips, and cook until they begin to brown at the edges. Over medium heat, you’ll find your pan becoming rather dry and hot. This is good. That means it’s time to add white wine, just enough to surround the parsnips. Allow the wine to boil around the veggies until it is reduced to mere remnants in the pan. Time to remove from the heat, and sauce the parnsips. Choose one of the following:

MUSTARD SAUCE:

After the wine has reduced, add 1 T. brown sugar to the pan and stir to dissolve. Then, add 2 T. coarse ground mustard, and stir to coat the parsnips. Salt to taste and serve.

HORSERADISH & DILL:

After the wine has reduced, add ¼ C. horseradish cream sauce (preferably homemade), and 2 T. dried dill leaves. Stir to coat, salt to taste, and serve.

MISO SAUCE:

As the wine reduces, combine 2 T. toasted sesame oil, 1 T. mirin, 2 T. brown rice miso, 1 T rice wine vinegar, and 1 T maple syrup in a small bowl. As soon as the wine is reduced in the pan, pour the miso glaze over the parsnips and stir to coat. Salt to taste, and serve.