At dinner, over a wonderful bowl of homemade root vegetable vichyssoise pulled from the freezer because no one felt like cooking, while listening to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, the conversation turned to the mysteries of musical arrangement, a skill that dazzles me. I imagine the arranger walking around with an entire orchestra in his head, knowing by experience or maybe instinct exactly what instruments, what tempo, should be dropped into place at exactly the right moment. I could no more pull that off than fly to the moon.
Paul reminded me that I routinely carry around an entire cast of fictional characters and their stories in my head, calling them on stage when needed, moving them around. This brought the conversation back to the excellent soup in front of us. Root vegetable vichyssoise, in its way, is complex in its composition, but the analogy stops there.
I struggle with my characters and their stories all the time, just as I imagine the arranger must struggle getting all parts of his orchestration to come together. Making soup or stew or digging in the garden are diversionary tactics I use when I get stuck. There is no mental struggle with those tasks. Sometimes the best way to work through a plot or pacing or character problem is to go do something else; busy the hands, free the mind. If it’s warm out, I like to dig. If it’s cold, let’s cook a big pot of something. If it’s a big enough pot, I can put some away for those days the words are flowing and I don’t want to stop for details like meals.
Root vegetable vichyssoise is definitely a hearty, winter soup. Where I live in Northern California, winter seems to be passing us by this year. It’s been springlike, warm and dry, one day to the next. I have spent a lot of time outside, getting the ground ready for actual spring, assuming there will be any water at all available for a garden. But for all of you in the frozen middle and eastern parts of the country, you who are getting all the snow and rain that isn’t falling here, next time you are stuck, get up away from your computer and try this wonderful diversion. As my grandfather would say, it’ll put hair on your chest:
Root Vegetable Vichyssoise
In the morning, or whenever, place a big soup pot over medium heat. Cut 3 or 4 slices of thick, fat bacon into 1 inch lengths and add to pot. Cook until bacon begins to brown. Add 2 Tbs. butter and 1 lb. fresh leeks, well washed and cut into 1 inch rounds, 1 celery root, peeled and sliced OR 3 stalks of chopped celery, 4-5 cloves fresh California garlic, peeled and mashed. Cover pot until the leeks sweat and become translucent, about 5 minutes. Uncover pot and add 2 lbs. sliced, unpeeled white potatoes, 2 big carrots coarsely chopped, and any combination of peeled and sliced: turnip, parsnips, rutabaga or other root vegetables. Add 2 qts. rich, unsalted chicken broth. Bring to boil. Immediately lower heat, cover and simmer. Go back to work until it occurs to you to go give the soup a stir. When all the vegetables are soft, use an immersion blender and blend until the mixer is smoothish. Add 1 cup milk: do NOT let pot boil again after you add the milk. Salt, pepper and cayenne or powdered chipotle to taste. Cover and simmer over very low heat until meal time. Garnish each serving with a swirl of milk or cream and bacon crumbles.
The soup will be better the second day. Better yet on the third. On the fourth day, freeze the remains.
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