Life has a way of keeping me on my toes.
For weeks we kept warm with our work, rising to the bait of starting to panic at an impending deadline. There were moments when I felt like my brain was baking in the heat of it all, the responsibilities and expectations. The Chef and I reminded each other to breathe. And there was always Little Bean, whose smile lights up a room and obliterates our tiny, panicky brains. But still, the days marched inexorably forward.
And then, a surprise. Not a good one. One of those big-scary-adult surprises, the life-and-death, consider-your-own-mortality surprises. Our little family is fine. Little Bean continues to be robust and alive. But someone we love is facing scary decisions, the ones that press on the head with all the implications. There have been tearful conversations and hesitations, so many hopes for a good outcome. We feel like everything will be fine. But I have to admit I’m feeling a little like that cookie you poked too soon in the oven, and it comes out lopsided and dented.
We have an extension on the deadline for the book. Bless our editor, who understands. (And there’s plenty of time anyway, it turns out.) Even still, with three more weeks, we now feel released from that selfish anxiety of a book turning out well.
And in these days, I’m more in love than ever with humble foods. Little Bean has fallen in love with her carrot rattle. And for days, the Chef and I have been eating celery root.
Before I met the Chef, I had never eaten celery root. I’d seen celeriac written on fancy menus of restaurants I could not afford, but I had never figured out what it was. The root of the celery plant. Could there be a more humble vegetable than celery? We think of it as plain and bland, but take a deep smell the next time you hold it in your hand. There’s a pungency there, a faint bitterness underneath the sweet smiling green. Celery root — look closely at the photograph above and you can see where the celery grows — is that smell, intensified. Hairy and knobbly, this root defies attraction. Who looks at that and says, yum?
We do. This evening, the Chef made us a celery root-parsnip mash, a recipe we’re still working out for the book. It had the faint honeyed sweetness of parsnips, a pungent hit from the celery root, and the familiar quotidian joy of russet potatoes. With a mushroom gravy, this small meal made me happy. Just that. Happy.
That feels like these days: familiar quotidian joy; honeyed sweetness; and a pungent hit. And it seems to me that all those years, when I couldn’t imagine eating something called celeriac, I was just afraid of what I did not know.
That feels familiar too. Sometimes, the hairy knobbly bits turn out to be friends.
And so, how did you get over your fear of celery root? How do you like to cook it, to make yourself feel here?
p.s. Thank you to my friend Becky, who uses words like persnickety, one of only many reasons I adore her:
“Not to be persnickety but celeriac and celery are in the same family but not the same thing. Celeriac is cultivated for its root instead of for its stalk or leaves. So people shouldn’t be disappointed if they don’t find much going on root-wise when they pull up their regular celery. “