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Starting Over

Sweet potato blossom

If you read last week’s post, you might think a good cook can correct any dish that hasn’t turned out right.  Add a little bit of this, a little of that and voila, the meal is saved. Sorry. Sometimes when culinary explorations don’t work out the only recourse is to start over.

That’s what happened with this week’s soup. It started with a lovely crop of sweet potatoes. It ended in tragedy.

I had this dream of a soup that contrasted the sweetness of the sweet potatoes with the heat of Anaheim chiles. The result was not so dreamy.  The chiles, mild as they were, burned right through the sweet potatoes.  No problem, I thought, I can rehab this thing.  First step (and last): heighten the sweetness of the potatoes with brown sugar.  (Sigh.) Imagine a liquified sweet potato casserole complete with miniature marshmallows.

Now, in my defense, it was past my bedtime and I was trying to put this together after a day of child care, cookie baking and something else that must have pushed the common sense part of my brain into a closet.  It wasn’t pretty.  It wasn’t soup.  It was compost.

It’s not something I like to do with food, but in my working life it’s been a fairly common occurrence.

As a writer I’ve worked in a wide variety of fields.  Starting out in publishing, I then moved to environmental science, journalism, entertainment (Thank you, Academy), education, advertising, yadda, yadda, yadda.  A lifetime’s worth of passionate exploration, yes, but also the relentless pursuit of the dollar like everybody else.

What I’ve gotten out of all these twists and turns, besides a resume with multiple personalities, is not just that beginning anew is scary, no big discovery there.  It’s also invigorating and, with time, a great source for future comedy.

If you’re like me and this “great” recession has cost you a job.  You’re not alone.  This shakedown has disrupted large chunks of the world’s work force, but with that disruption comes opportunity.  It’s almost a cliché. I know. What can we do with it?

Begin again.  Put all of our experiences into a pot, turn up the heat and create something original.

Okay, then.  Here’s take two:  Starting with sweet potatoes once more, instead of setting up an opposition with the peppers, I matched them with something else that was sweet: pears.  The sweetness still needed some counterpoint but it didn’t need to be so bold.  Parsley and scallions were enough.  Then I rounded it out with some half & half.

The soup was interesting, surprising and fun.  The soup was new.

That’s what fresh starts are all about.

It’s almost spring. Everything in the world is starting over (okay, only in the northern hemisphere, smart guy).  Why can’t a husband and father of two?

Come on over. It’s nice enough for a picnic.  Just not outside.  You bring the soup.

Pear and Sweet Potato Soup
(serves 4-6)
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 lb barlett pears (about 4), peeled and cored
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup scallions, sliced
1 cup half & half
Salt & pepper, to taste

  1. Put the sweet potatoes, pears and stock into into a 3-quart pot, bring to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and continue simmering for about an hour.
  2. Remove from heat and add parsley.
  3. Puree with an immersion or standing blender
  4. Add scallions and adjust seasoning.
  5. Finish with half & half and serve.  We had it with roast chicken but any roasted entrée would pair well with it.

Photo Credit:  A sweet potato blossom by a beekeeper named Dave (on the Physics Daily website)

Try something new.  Leave comments. Ask questions. Try to make it better.  I’ll be listening and responding.  Thanks.


Leave a Comment to “Starting Over”

  1. Kathy Lundeen says:

    OK, I need to invest in an immersion blender. Anything to save time. I’m going to try the carrot soup this week and maybe the Pear & SP soup next week. I need to know more about your Academy Award, please fill me in.

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks for the comment. Don’t forget about the cucumber soup, that was a good one too. Another great use for the immersion blender is salad dressing. We haven’t bought dressing from the store for years now. It’s quick and easy.

      I didn’t actually win an academy award. I won an Emmy. They call it the television academy though, so it’s the same thank you speech.

      Good luck with the soups.


  2. Deb Barrett says:

    Another great article, Phil! I love your writing, and especially in this case, I understand your experience as well, both in cooking and in career. It’s tough getting to the point of accepting the fact that starting over is necessary, and it’s often as frustrating as it is scary. But as that old adage about making lemonade from life’s lemons reminds us, the power of a fresh start can be incredible.

    Keep cooking and keep writing!!

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks for your nice words, Deb. You’re right about the fresh start. Being a Californian, I also had no idea what a difference the change of seasons make on one’s outlook and how invigorating the rebirth of spring really is. You also got my mind working about a soup with lemons. You don’t have to make lemonade, you don’t even have to make something sweet, just something good.

  3. Heidi Earle says:

    Yum! Thanks for sharing your food and thought.
    Love to you and your girls, Heidi

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope spring has arrived in Portland as it has here (almost) in the Midwest.