The older you get, the more you realize how important it is to be grateful for all that life, God and the universe have given you. When I was a kid (though always grateful), I think I took for granted that I would always have a warm house, a full refrigerator, parents who loved and disciplined me, and a merry future with a great education, hopefully marriage and children, and a rewarding career. And, except for children, all of those things were always there.
As I enter the early years of my 5th decade, I realize how lucky and blessed I have been and am grateful for that and all that still remains. First and foremost, health. I’ve witnessed many friends, my age and many much younger, lose beloved friends and family members this year, many to horrific and hard to understand circumstances. I’m grateful to have two parents who are still vital and healthy, even as they both move towards their mid-eighties. I’m grateful for my beautiful house, a house that has become a home in the first full year it’s been lived in by me and my little pet family. It now houses memories and shadows of faces and good, well-lived and sometimes sad days past. I’m grateful for my bed, which I embrace every morning and thank “it” for proferring such a delicious night’s sleep. I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbors. I’m grateful for a steady stream of work in an unpredictable business. I’m grateful for the beauty of the world that surrounds me in Charleston, my adopted home of almost seventeen years. She still stuns me and silences me with the glory of her sunsets and the wisdom of her old soul. I’m grateful to have made it through months and days of mourning the dual loss of my beloved Tann Mann and Chutney Cat last spring. Days and months that felt like I was walking through milk (no, make that bechamel, cold bechamel and not a well seasoned one) wearing a blindfold on my eyes and shackles on my feet. Finally the blindfold and shackles fell, milk cleared to bright and eventually happy, and for that I credit God, faith, family and friends, and especially Mr. Purrfect, my slate grey and pure white Tuxedo cat who thinks he’s a dog, walks on a leash, and curls up on my back as I sleep. He also loves yogurt and a nice bit of cheese and has been the source of much amusement and joy since he entered my life six months ago. I’m grateful to my darling Michael (affectionately known as The Adorable One, or TAO), a constant rainbow of love and laughter who walked with me every step of the way, good and bad, this year and for several past.
Finally, I’m grateful for Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith, Sept. 6, 2016) which was a joy to create and write and I’ve loved watching people cook from it this fall and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it. The recipe that follows is one of my top three favorites in the book, and one of the top ten I’ve ever created for any cookbook or anyone. It’s perfect. The celery trifecta – celery root, fresh celery, and celery seeds – is the idyllic foil to the creamy potatoes and offer delightful little bites of texture and flavor in each bite. And, what goes better with celery and potatoes than turkey? This is THE consummate side for your table. Make it today or on Thanksgiving, refrigerate, and reheat it over a water bath while the turkey’s resting and everyone begins to toast the holiday, giving thanks for all they love and value.
Triple Threat Celery Mash
(Yields 8 servings)
1 large celery root, rough outer skin and inner skin removed and discarded , and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 stalks fresh celery, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1”-lengths (Note: Reserve any fresh celery leaves for garnish)
Water to cover
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh celery leaves for garnish
Place the prepped celery root, potatoes, and fresh celery in a medium pot. Cover generously with fresh, cold water. Add salt. Bring up to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer over medium/medium low heat. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until all ingredients are very tender when pierced with a knife or fork. Pour the potatoes, celery root, celery and water into a colander and drain well. Return to the warm cooking pot. Heat the celery/potato mixture over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking to move around the pan and dry out the ingredients. Separately, heat the cream, butter and celery seed in the microwave or in a saucepan until warm and melted. Pour, in thirds, into the celery and potato mixture, mashing coarsely with a manual masher to combine and puree. Season with salt and pepper, tasting to adjust as needed. Serve hot, and garnish if desired with a few chopped celery leaves. (Note: The mash will store beautifully in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Reheat over water bath or microwave before serving.)
Love, Holly and Mr. Purrfect, The Cat who Thinks He’s a Dog
Every spring, my parents make their annual trek from their winter home in Naples, FL to their summer home in Kansas City. Along the winding Amtrak railways they make a stop first in Charleston to visit me for about a week, and then head up to Boston to do the same with my twin sister, Heather. It’s a familial tradition that always includes lots of laughs, a few tears, lots of delicious food, lots of wine, lots of long walks, and countless hands of Hearts.
Mom and Dad, affectionately known as Hen and Herb, completed the Charleston leg of their journey two days ago. All the usual suspects were at play, including lunch at two of my mothers favorite restaurants, Hominy Grill and Magnolias. And, even though she is loathe to deviate from her preferred Charleston restaurant path, Hen (and less reluctantly, Herb) agreed to try some of my newer favorites, including Zen Asian Fusion and Martha Lou’s Kitchen. Of course, there were many meals at my kitchen table, which Hen and Herb, sweetly, declared “the best of all.”
But, there was a new, sad element at play on this occasion. It was evident in my Dad’s and dog’s slowing gaits, my Mother’s increased nap time, and my own aching shoulder. It was even more evident in conversations, many heavily peppered with memories of those long passed, like my Nanna, and those of recent passing, like several of Hen and Herb’s friends. But, it was most evident to me as I sat with my father at a Riverdogs game and watched my nearly 80 year-old father beam with the joy of the small boy he was almost as many years ago when he met his idol, Babe Ruth, and began a life-long love of baseball. He loved explaining the game to me, and even as he did, I realized with powerful clarity that I wouldn’t always have my Dad or Mom. Tears seeped from my eyes as he described the job of “The Closer,” even as I squeezed my Mom’s hand that much tighter during the fireworks she so loves.
Of course, I’ve always known we won’t always be together in this life, but it really hit home on this trip. Father Time is catching up with all of us. All the more reason to appreciate what we have while we have it, and boy, do I. The house has been painfully silent the last few days as I’ve re-lived the many memories of this past visit both while waking and in dreams. Reality struck this morning, again, when I finally decided to get on the scale after all of that indulgence. The numbers told a cruel, three pound weight gain story.
Small matter, nothing that salads and lots of veggies won’t cure. The recipe that follows is one of my favorites from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook that is the perfect seasonal ticket for light and delicious eating, using two of spring’s sweetest, onions and fresh, creamy turnips, one of my Nanna’s favorites. Both elegant and simple, it’s perfect for early spring entertaining. And, it’s so healthy, it will help stave off Father Time and create memories to last a life time, like my past week with Hen and Herb.
Creamy White Turnip Soup with Spring Onions and Roasted Garlic
(Serves 4 to 6)
1 head roasted garlic
1 bunch (about 4 cups) white turnips, peeled (outer layer discarded), and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 medium spring onion, root and green top trimmed to 1-inch lengths from the bulb and cut into 8 wedges
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 slices prosciutto, cut into thin strips and 1-inch lengths
1/4 cup creme fraiche or whole cream
Green onion tops to garnish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim the top of the garlic and wrap with foil. Place in the middle of the oven and roast until soft to the touch, about 30 to 45 minutes. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the soft pulp by pressing the blade of a chef’s knife against the bulb to release the roasted flesh; discard the papery casing.
Place the garlic, turnips, onions, and chicken stock in a large saucepan. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the turnips are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the stove and puree until smooth with a handheld blender or food processor. Return the soup to the pan. Add the nutmeg, prosciutto, and creme fraiche. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings as required. Garnish with a sprinkling of freshly chopped green onions and serve immediately.
Note: This soup can be prepared in advance and frozen or stored in the refrigerator. However, if you plan to do so, add the cream just before serving, not before storing.