Friday, November 25, 2005


I've been so lax in my blogging that even my mother commented on it, but my life decided to have work, family, cat, and appliance crises all in the same week. So my dishwasher has conked out and Orange Cat, the one with diabetes, peed on my bed, which was very inconvenient because I was in the middle of washing the guest bed sheets, so now we're sleeping on the futon in the basement while I wait for one set of sheets or the other to come through the wash. Which, combined with insomnia, gives me plenty of time to contemplate the wide variety of noises a house makes in the middle of the night.

But despite all these crises, we had a nice Thanksgiving. We visited a friend's family in Peoria for an outdoor Thanksgiving (Yes! Outdoor in that cold!) with a turkey cooked over an open fire, which I find frankly amazing. I prefer my fire neatly confined to the stovetop. I don't think I could cook actual food over an open fire without lighting it on fire, as evidenced by my experience roasting marshmellows.

My contribution to the Thanksgiving feast was mashed rutabaga, a traditional dish in our family that we have for Christmas and Thanksgiving every year. Rutabaga is sorta like a potato, but denser and a scary shade of orange. It's a sharper taste, but I really think it was the freakish color that kept me from eating it for a good 20 years of my life. But now that I'm on my own, I too insist on rutabaga for every holiday meal because it's a tradition my ancestors brought over from Ireland and by God I stick with tradition. It's a good dish to take to potlucks because a) nobody else brings it and b) there's a lot of leftovers to take home and eat yourself. Like I said, it's an acquired taste.

The soundtrack of every holiday of my childhood was the sound of rutabaga being chopped. Rutabaga is crazy dense. Picture a round object about the size of an infant's head, but a lot heavier. (Some of them are adult-head size, but my knife isn't that long.) The only way to get through it is to take your longest kitchen knife, sharpen it up, drive it in the first half inch or so, then whack the tip with your rolling pin. Hard. Over and over and over. Repeat this to cut the rutabaga into 1" chunks which you then boil and mash just like potatoes. It's hard, noisy work, cutting up the rutabaga. My mother likes to do the mashed potatoes and rutabaga first thing in the morning, so she just has to heat them up before the holiday meal. And when I say first thing in the morning, I mean first thing in the morning. For twenty-seven years I have woken up on Thanksgiving morning and Christmas Eve morning at about 6 or 6:30 a.m. to the sound of a rolling pin whacking a knife through a rutabaga.

This year, my mashed rutabaga was a big hit, and not just at the Thanksgiving meal where, to my utter shock, everyone ate some and several people liked it! When I was buying the rutabaga at the grocery store the Monday before Thanksgiving, the produce guy asked me what I was going to do with it. Then a random woman in the produce department said, "Those are rutabaga, right? How do you prepare them? I've never seen anyone make rutabaga!" I explained the mashing. Then in the checkout line, the checker said, "It's so good to see someone under fifty buying rutabaga - young people never buy rutabaga, parsnips, or turnips." And she too wanted to know what I would be doing with the rutabaga! I've never had it be quite such a conversation piece before! Once in North Carolina the assistant produce manager went to get someone who spoke Spanish (?!) because he thought I was speaking a foreign language when I asked if they carried rutabaga, but I've never had quite so many people quite so fascinated by my produce buying before!

So I apologize for my lack of blogging and I promise to be better -- at least, I'll be better once my dishwasher is fixed and I'm not up to my elbows in dishwater on a daily basis. And I hope you all had a rutabagatastic Thanksgiving! (And for my foreign readers, I hope you had a rutabagatastic random November Thursday in which you couldn't get anyone in the U.S. to take your calls or answer your e-mails.)


Leslie said...

Dear EM,

Now I did not expect to find anyone who loves the rutabaga as much as I. But then, you have to be pretty lonely to be searching on a Saturday night for the word "rutabaga."
Check this out

Samantha said...

nOk, Chris thinks I'm totally crazy because I just told him that I know someone who can make an entertaining story out of a rutabaga.

Of course, it could also have to do with the fact that our power is out and I'm blogging by the generator, but he's playing Mortal Kombat, so we're even on that one.