Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Parsnips are a Writer's Best Friend

Kris Fletcher

I am not a huge fan of summer. It's not just the heat (I am Canadian: my natural state is bundled). It's not just the fact that my children are home, draped all over me, begging to have a playdate/go to Target/see a movie/have a snack/do SOMETHING. (Okay, it's largely that.) It's not just the hudity. It's not just the mosquitoes. It's not even the fact that this summer, we will be moving to a smaller house with a lot more land, meaning that I'll spend two months wandering around in a daze, unsure where to find my oven mitts or computer cords or, probably, the children.

No, as if those weren't enough reasons to have summer condemned as a season, there's the fact that cooking in summer sucks. You can grill something or you can overheat your kitchen. Yeah. The choices are overwhelming.

Cooking in winter, though ... ah, that's a different story. It's a treat to preheat the oven when it's snowing outside. It's a joy to make roasts and stews and hearty soups when you know you'll be eating them after fighting a bitter wind chill. It's fun to spend snow days making cookies and memories, baking bread and mulling cider and then spiking it when the kids aren't looking because seriously, after the third snow day in a row, that's the only way you're going to survive.

Not that I would ever do that.


One of my favorite winter foods is roasted vegetables. I can and do grill them, but there's nothing like a
medley of slow-roasted onions and beets and sweet potatoes and peppers and - yes - parsnips.
Parsnips have a bad reputation, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because folks look at them and think they should taste like a carrot. (A logical assumption.) Maybe because, when they're not cooked right, they have a peppery bite that some folks find off-putting.

Roassted vegetables and polenta. Because YUM.
But when you slice a parsnip into sticks and toss them with some olive oil and salt and pepper ... when you pop onto a baking sheet that's been preheated, so they sizzle the moment they make contact ... when you roast them until they are golden and browned and soft, with just a hint of chewiness on the sides ... when you do that, those parsnips are transformed. They are creamy and sweetened and mellow. They have become their best self. Their full potential has been achieved.

Which brings us to the characters in our stories.

At the beginning of a book, a character is like a raw parsnip: a little odd, a little bitter, a little stiff. Then the story begins. Other characters are mixed with our little parsnip, seasoning and spicing him or her. (You can make your own call about how and where the olive oil fits into this analogy.) We take these characters, already changed because of who they're dealing with, and we throw them into the plot oven. We hold them to the fire. We keep them in there, making things hotter and more overwhelming, until our little Snip is on the edge of burning out.

But then ... then, Snippy makes it out of the heat. And just like the humble root for which she is named, our gal Snip has become her best self. She's been transformed by the people and events of the story. She's still the same person ... and yet she's not. She is changed. She is sweeter. She is the best danged vegetable she could ever be.

She is a Parsnip.

(Many thanks to the amazing Sally MacKenzie, who answered my call for a blog topic with one word: parsnips.)


Mary Preston said...

I will never think of parsnips the same way again.

kris said...

LOL, Mary. In that case, my job here is done.

Anna Sugden said...

We LOVE parsnips! We roast them in butter with maple syrup. Doc Cambridge grows fabulous parsnips - can't beat home-grown. And mashed parsnips are fab too.

kris said...

Totally with you, Anna. I think they're amazing. Plus the kids will eat them, so BONUS.

Unknown said...

Kris, I'm with you and Anna! The humble parsnip is an amazing vegetable. They are amazing cut into sticks, boiled, drained and tossed in flour and rosemary, then sautéed until crisp in butter. Why, oh why, has this poor vegetable been so vilified over the years when it can taste so sublime???

kris said...

Ooooooh Mary, I am definitely trying that method of cooking. THat sounds SO good!

Snookie said...

I'm don't believe I've ever had a parsnip! Not sure what they looked like, so googled them. I think I have seen them before, but if you had asked before I googled, I wouldn't have been able to tell you what they look like. They must have them in our grocery stores since we get all the mainland vegetables on top of all our local veggies, but I don't think they're a big item here! Now I may just have to try them :) Wonder is we can grow them here or if they need the cold/frost.

kris said...

Snookie, my bet is that they do better in colder temps, but I'm not a botanist (nor do I play one on TV). I THINK they need conditions similar to carrots. If you can grow carrots on your gorgeous island, then I would give them a try!

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