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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chestnuts Won't Be Rushed

It isn't home without a little clutter

The Artist and I no longer travel on holidays, not wanting to chance heavy traffic and possibly treacherous driving conditions. My son and a couple old friends were with us for Thanksgiving, which was very pleasant, but December brought winter in full strength, and all I wanted for Christmas Eve and Day was time at home in front of the fire. So after our holiday breakfast of waffles, and after I’d treated Sarah to a morning holiday bath (“Some treat!” she seemed to say with her eyes) and settled her in front of the fire with a good, fresh beef bone, and after I’d made the cranberry-orange relish and stashed it in the fridge for later, I settled down to work with chestnuts.

If there is a faster way to prepare fresh chestnuts for soup or purée, I don’t want to know about it. The slow, repetitious cutting with a knife of that little x on each nut, very carefully, one at a time, and then moving them, again one at a time, from the waiting bowl to the x’d bowl, ready for roasting, can be either meditative or sociable, depending on what’s going on in the cook’s immediate surroundings. In my case, on Christmas Eve, I was very aware of the Artist cheerfully working away in the bathroom to replace a faucet washer (he was wonderfully good-natured about it!) and our dog lying contentedly on a towel in front of the fire with her bone. I felt surrounded by and filled with love and contentment. Who would want to rush on from such a feeling?

While chestnuts are roasting in the oven, and afterward, while they’re cooling, the cook is free to do something else for a while -- and if it’s a holiday, and the rest of the family doesn’t need her attention or assistance, she may just pick up a book and read! Because, just as there was no rushing the preparation for the oven, so there is no rushing the roasting or cooling processes, either. It takes the time it takes, that’s all.

Peeling can be a little messy, but it can be done sitting at the table, and again there is no hurry involved. It’s interesting to see variations in color as roasted chestnuts emerge from their shells. Some are like ivory, veined with brown, others darker all over as if by a deep stain. The nuts are buttery soft, even before boiling.

Looks like a squirrel has been at work here

Finally, as the nuts simmer in chicken broth (simmering almost always gentler for anything than boiling, unless “a full rolling boil” is explicitly called for), the water gradually turns a soft brown, almost a cocoa color, and this will be the color of the eventual soup or puree, lightened with the addition of cream.

Somehow I neglected to photograph the final chestnut product in white china bowls. Instead we move from empty bowls to main dish prep to plated shrimp and sesame noodles. The important thing is that it all came together as planned, despite the leisurely pace of the day, and that made it an ideal holiday for the cook.