Thursday, March 5, 2009

Celery Soup and French Cartoons

I don't think I have ever recovered from Watership Down. It seems quite harmless, a story about a group of rabbits on a journey for safer pastures. Along their quest, these humble hares find obstacles such as rat infested cemeteries, snares, and mute humans. Sure, sounds bucolic. The two main rabbits are brothers and the younger one, Fiver, is a small runt with poor eyesight. Now, I don't need to apply Jung psychology to figure out my intense fear for Fiver's survival. But in first grade, these Oxford English speaking buck-toothed rabbits sacred me. While Fiver, a poorly sighted rabbit, barely scraped through fields of barking dogs, I scooted off of my carpet square and hid under a desk for most of the movie--cupping my hands around my fogging glasses. 

You see, by age three I had glasses. It wasn't first diagnosed by a teacher like, "Emily squints in class while looking at the chalkboard." No, I needed glasses to see seven inches in front of me. I needed glasses to walk around and not fall. I was born small, the last of three and preferred to watch Walt Disney television three inches from the screen. So, outside of not speaking with a British accent, I really identified with the protagonist's tragic flaws of smallness and poor eyesight. I'd like to give credit to my mild blindness as being an asset to my creativity, because if you cannot see something, then you make it up. I would also prefer to remember walking around running into things as being an early seventies soothsayer--using blindness to see beyond this world. But I can't. Basically, I was born severely far-sighted and small. Not prophetic like the British rabbit.

So as I hid in my first grade classroom behind fogged up Cinderella Gumdrop glasses, I was terrified and yet something very important began as I watched that dark and violent sophisticated journey. It was my first exposure to epics tales--the idea of descending into some darkness to rise into the light--or as the film would show--search for an English garden of Edenic bliss and stay there. Besides the natural setting of the cartoon, there was a mythical quality about their plight and their reliance on perseverance, intelligence, and humility. These qualities I'm attracted to in writing as well as in people. 

This past week, I was reminded of these qualities by yet another cartoon, "l'homme qui plantait des arbes" or The Man Who Planted Trees. Like Watership Down, it is a simple tale with allegorical qualities. The author, Jean Giono, lived most of his life in Provence which is where the story is set. The plot is about a young man who travels by foot into the Alps and finds nothing but barren villages and ruthless winds. Basically, it is like the adult version of The Little Prince, or if the prince was really a man on earth instead of on a barren planet with a fox and a random rose. Okay, maybe it is not like that, but it is a journey of a man walking in search of beauty. He walks farther and farther into desolation and becomes severely dehydrated until he meets a lone shepherd. This shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier, gives the traveller some water, feeds him some soup, and gives him a place to rest. Elzeard is a quiet man who spends his evenings after supper counting acorns, carefully dividing them up into groups of ten. Later we find out, that this shepherd has planted over 10,000 oaks in this barren region and well, as the title aptly says, he is, as you may guess, the man who planted trees--but I won't tell you what happens from here. The whole cartoon is done in colored pencil and the artistry is whimsical, timeless, and with a resonating message. A tale worth telling in any language.

As I was watching this lovely story, I couldn't help myself by imagining what kind of soup this shepherd might have made or would have liked to have made for his visitor. I decided that it would be Celery Root and Apple Soup with crumbled Bacon and Cheshire. Perhaps I am just trying to merge two culinary worlds, French and English, with this recipe like I tried with this short narrative on these two cartoons--both tales which for me represent this idea of middleWest. The idea of middleWest is the humble pursuit in perfecting your passions in order to share them with others. For me, I am learning to cook and sharing the recipes so others can try it at home and I'm also trying to write well--so I can entertain and maybe one day, before I go completely blind, I might enlighten others too. 

But regardless of loose allusions to cartoons and this idea of middleWest, this soup is a wonderful Saturday meal with fresh bread, have it with a spinach salad with orange slices and hazelnuts. If you want to have a heartier soup with a grainer texture, then leave the apple peels on. If not, peel your apples for a smoother more traditionally French tasting soup de jour. And yes, this recipe is from Bon Appetit, but I added the Bacon and Cheshire touch. If you can find it, try to get Neal's Yard Dairy Cheshire. It is lovely. 

Celery Root & Apple Soup with Bacon & Cheshire 

1/2 stick of butter or 1/4 cup
4 cups, 1/2-inch cubed, peeled celery root
3 cups, 1/2-inch peeled and cored Granny Smith apples (from two apples)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
4 cups chicken broth


3 ounces of bacon, crumbled
4 ounces of Cheshire, shredded 

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent about 8 minutes. Add celery root and apples and cook for about 15 minutes, but do not brown either apples of celery root--stir occasionally. Add four cups of chicken broth. Cover and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium low; simmer covered until celery root and apples are soft, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Use an immersion blender and puree soup to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with bacon and Cheshire and serve.

The simple soup can be made one day ahead and I have found it does well with time. It just gets better. I'd like to think Elzeard too just kept this over the open fire and then let it cool and ate it for days with crusty bread while counting acorns. 

1 comment:

  1. I hope you'll be able to come to my birthday party and make me delectable food. :)