Facebook is screwing everything up. Well, in the sense that I've reconnected with such a random assortment of people from my past that I now have to be careful on the blog. Which is a shame, because there's nothing like talking smack about people from your youth with full confidence that they'll never discover your little corner of the online world.
So I'm forced to do this: Stephanie * used to be one of my best friends. We were inseparable, hanging out with each other after school, on the weekends, and on all major holidays. I'd go over to her house, she'd whip out her air-pop popper, and we'd popcorn ourselves to death while playing Tetris or Space Invaders in her sunken den. One year when we were a little older she had a slumber party and showed The Shining, and I don't know what kind of pipe her parents were smoking but The Shining is NOT slumber party appropriate and I couldn't sleep for weeks.
Just thinking about those two freaky Redrum twins with their little fingers makes me shudder.
Jokes about pipe-smoking aside (her folks didn't smoke), there was a strict rule in Stephanie's house that I came to abhor. It was the "eat all your vegetables before you can have dessert" rule. Now it may surprise you that this rule was tough for me, but at my house meal time was pretty flexible. I had a fair to middling relationship with vegetables, and certainly had never thought of them as a bargaining chip. But as soon as you present the "to get this sweet deliciousness, you must suffer this bit of nastiness," you're setting up a death match between the forces of good and evil.
But I was under their jurisdiction, so what could I do?
I sat at the table, experiencing the major full-body quivers as I waited to see what Stephanie's mom was going to bring out. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good, because if she made her vegetables tasty, to my mind at least, the family wouldn't have instituted this questionable rule in the first place.
It was boiled carrots.
Now this did not bode well for me. Always a carrot eater, the one preparation I couldn't stomach was the cooked to death version that fell apart in your mouth and tasted like tainted water with a hint of, I don't know, sweet sewage. You could put all the butter you wanted on carrots like that but it would never save them. So as soon as they hit the table and Stephanie and her brothers gave that sharp inhale followed by the long, groaning sigh, with the slumped shoulders and the disbelieving head shakes, I knew, KNEW I was in Big Fat Trouble.
That I was a guest did not make me exempt from the house rules, a travesty of justice if ever there were one.
I will say this, though. I suffered through those carrots like a good soldier, and at the end of the meal, just before dessert was served, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I also felt confident that something really special was on deck -- a homemade cake, or some Swiss Miss, maybe even a big bowl of ice cream with a drizzle of U-Bet chocolate syrup.
All those carrots, that work, that effort, that willpower to suck down a plateful of obliterated, overcooked vegetables won me the measliest and most inadequate of prizes: two Oreos.
How I even lived to tell the tale is beyond me.
These days, I love carrots. I'll roast them, crunch them whole, shred them into slaws. I'll even eat them baked in a pot roast or brisket, though it took me a few years to get over the soft-texture-aversion given my past trauma.
My favorite way to eat carrots now is in soup, pureed into a thick, velvety loveliness, with no relation whatsoever to the overboiled coins of my youth.
* not her real name
Recipe for Carrot-Leek Soup with Tarragon and a touch of cream
This soup is one of my new favorites. I recently rediscovered tarragon after a long separation, and it adds a subtle but welcome herbal note to this super-simple, gently-flavored soup. A swirl of sour cream lends sophistication and richness.
Makes about 8 cups
1/4 cup olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, quartered lengthwise then roughly chopped
1-1/2 pounds carrots (about 4 to 6 medium), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and roughly chopped
1 russet potato, peeled, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Two 14-1/2 ounce cans low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, plus additional for garnish
2 tablespoons sour cream, plus additional for garnish
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, diced potato, and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
Slowly add the chicken broth and the equivalent of 1 can of cold water (just shy of 2 cups). Add the tarragon and raise the heat to high. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the vegetables are all tender. Remove from the heat.
If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree the soup. (Otherwise, allow to cool slightly and then puree in batches in a traditional blender. Return soup to the pot.) Swirl in two tablespoons of the sour cream and the lime juice, and adjust the salt and pepper, if necessary. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream and garnish with a sprinkling of additional tarragon, if desired.