It’s the last day of March and I’m having my final winter vegetable showdown with rutabaga and turnips. Why do early what you can put off to the last minute? That’s what I always say.
Since I’ve been a total slacker the last couple of months, I figured I should come out swinging for this meal because of two shout-em-from-the-rooftop reasons: these are my LAST WINTER VEGETABLES (I had a BLT today and I could actually taste the tomato….also, for those of you paying attention, I had a BLT today); and, apologies to those of you who live in Canada and Pennsylvania and have six more months of winter, but the temperature is GOING TO BE IN THE 80s here this week, so I’m, like, happy as a fucking clam. Good-bye, slacker, hello, spring!
Still, I didn’t want to over-do it and pull a muscle or anything, so to balance this renewed verve with my enduring winter attitude toward tonight’s horrible winter vegetables, I put off my research and shopping until last night. With extremely minimal effort I found a recipe that included both rutabagas and turnips (Google is magical), made a grocery list and headed to the store.
You would think by now I would have worked out the kinks in this buying groceries business. Because even though I spent the first half of this project lamenting how grocery stores and farmers’ markets are so obviously out to get me, lately I have been rather self-congratulatory as I combat grocery aisles with more confidence. So given that, maybe you would think I’m nearly kink-free. You shouldn’t. When I got into Kroger, I realized how long it had been since I’d darkened the doors of a grocery store and I promptly forgot everything I’d learned. I mean, I knew where the cookies and smutty magazines were, of course, but I was completely disoriented by the produce. I stood near the front of the store and methodically wiped my buggy with a Clorox wipe, looked at my list and tried to map my attack. When I was done with that I got another wipe and did it again. The greeter lady was watching me, wild-eyed and worried. “I’m fine,” I lied.
Then, Old Julie took pity on New Julie. Old Julie turned on autopilot and headed straight for the cheese. We picked out a few of our favorites, even though they weren’t on the list, and we soothed ourselves with fatty dairy for a few minutes. Then New Julie—calmed and grounded (it’s cheese, what problem won’t it solve?)—turned around and made a clear-headed beeline for the produce.
The produce section at my Kroger, like any mainstream grocery store, has pretty standard vegetables, or what I think of as standard, like things that were pictured on the food pyramid: tomatoes and corn, yes, Jerusalem artichoke, no. I was pretty sure I would find turnips, but probably not rutabaga. Who eats rutabaga? As I picked through the produce looking for turnips, I finally came to the lone vegetable I didn’t recognize (can you believe there’s only one? Granted I was at Kroger and not the farmers’ market, but still!). I looked for the little sign that says “California Gold Turnips!” (or, “We may or may not have paid migrant workers a pittance to pluck these tasteless blobs before they were ripe, sprayed some coloring on them, and shipped them to far, far from where they were grown for you to enjoy out of season or for pennies less than what you would pay your local farmer! Enjoy! ”), but there was no such sign for this mystery veg. I looked around. To my left, hipsters in skinny jeans and Wayfarers buying baby carrots in a bag. To my right, an old lady, who, frankly, looked as lost as I was. I went with the old lady because wasn’t it likely that she’d probably grown up during the Depression or something and subsisted on cheap root vegetables at least long enough to be able to identify this one for me? I thought so, too.
“Excuse me, may I ask you a question?”
She stared at me blankly. I was reconsidering this choice and hoping the hipsters were still within shouting distance.
“Do you know what this is?” I held out a mystery vegetable.
At this point, I think I might have offended Lost-looking Old Lady. Was this a joke? Was this some kind of vegetable Rorschach test of her mental capacity? Did I not think she knew a turnip when she saw one? Of all the nerve…
“That’s a turnip,” she huffed. She did an about-face and stomped off. No lie. That happened.
Red-faced and embarrassed, I gathered the rest of the things on my list (I was right about the standards, no rutabaga, I had to get those at the famers’ market, where I recognize almost nothing) and headed for checkout. I was still totally shaken from being barked at in the turnip section (at least it wouldn’t have hurt my feelings if the hipsters had been rude; it’s in their genes to be assholes) when the checkout guy picked up my turnips to scan them and said, “What are these?” Ha! Take that, mean old lady!
Lest you think my extended absence from cooking left me disoriented only at the grocery store, tonight I found myself, of course, totally lost in my kitchen, too. Winter really fucked me. And I couldn’t even find solace in cheese because as soon as I got it out to snack on Maggie ate it.
The recipe I found for rutabagas and turnips should have been easy, easy, easy:
Baked Carrots, Turnips and Rutabagas
- 2 large carrots, cut in large bite-sized pieces
- 1 medium turnip, cut in large bite-sized pieces
- 1 medium rutabaga, cut in large bite-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup dry sherry or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon apple juice concentrate or apple sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange carrots, turnip, and rutabaga in 2-quart casserole dish. In small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Drizzle over vegetables. Cover vegetables with aluminum foil; bake 40-50 minutes. Serve over brown rice. Makes 2 servings of 160 calories and 1 gram of fat each.
I got all the ingredients out first, like I always do. Easy, check. OK, so, I’ve got the ingredients out, now I….next I…. OK, next I chop vegetables. No wait…get out a casserole dish. No wait…preheat the oven. No wait…read the recipe again. Meanwhile I’m turning around and around in my kitchen with the biggest and sharpest of my new knives in my hand, which I had never put down after I decided I wasn’t ready to chop vegetables yet, because no wait… Dis.As.Ter.
This continued the whole time I was cooking, I never settled down. Why was my kitchen so intimidating? I went through three knives before I figured out which one was right for peeling and chopping these ridiculously tough root vegetables, and unlike previous prep, I did not find peeling, chopping and dicing those guys soothing at all; I found it totally stressful. Turnips and rutabagas, especially rutabagas, have super thick and waxy outer skins and then they’re really tough on the inside. I stuck my knife in the rutabaga and banged it on the counter, hard, three times before it split in half, like I was chopping a fucking tree. I thought about all the banging people must have had to do during the Depression just to get to the crappy center of this crappy vegetable because they had to eat it to avoid getting scurvy, and I felt bad for having mean thoughts about the old lady. Then I thought this is definitely why we’re in the middle of a processed food crisis, because if I were a laborer or a mom or me and I had been chopping rutabagas all throughout the Depression or the wars or whatever, but then along came the 50s and all of a sudden I got to choose between rutabagas (aka oak trees) or microwave dinners and powdered mashed potatoes, I would go with the microwave dinner every time. And I’m anti-microwave dinner. That’s how much I fucking hated chopping the rutabaga.
After this mini-breakdown, I arranged the mixed vegetables (a phrase that makes my skin crawl) in a casserole dish; poured the tasty mixture of apple sauce, maple syrup and vegetable broth over the all the colors and shapes; covered the dish with aluminum foil and popped it in the oven. I went into the kitchen at 6:30. I put the vegetables in the oven at 8:15. Seriously. No lie. That happened.
When the veggies were done, I took them out, examined them and immediately feared the worst. They didn’t look any different than they did when they went in the oven. David fell on his sword, though, and took the first bite. “These are great!” I know he does that just to be supportive and enthusiastic, which I can’t exactly complain about, but it’s not a great barometer for whether I’ll like it. I gave him my suspicious eye. “Really, I swear.”
He wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t totally right, either. They were edible. We ate them with rice and fried shrimp; it was a completely decent, edible meal; and I ate all of it, which I think makes it pretty successful. But I also think I owe it to myself, and the two turnips in my fridge that I will inevitably trash otherwise, to make plain ole Southern mashed turnips. That’s a thing, right?