Monday, November 12, 2007

Camping, a Cold, and Finding Comfort

Every Veteran's Day weekend for years, a group of friends and I have taken a camping trip to Leo Carillo State Beach. I look forward to this weekend of camping each year, especially since November always finds me exhausted, tired of grading papers, and up to my ears in the least favorite parts of my job. However many papers come at me, however many meetings I have to attend, and however short the hours of daylight may be, I can always count on this long weekend of camping each November.

This year, all the things that weigh on me in the fall have succeeded in dragging me down: I've been struck by a hell of a cold. By the time Friday rolled around last week, I knew I was sick, but I refused to believe that I wasn't well enough to go camping, so Saturday--in an attempt to deny the reality of my sickness--ECG and I packed up the car with our gear and goods for a top-notch camping barbecue. This decision, as optimistic as it may be, was not a wise one.

I'll stop complaining for a moment and be honest. Low tide Saturday was worth many colds, a hundred times over. The sea grass, kelp, and rocks merged to create a green, gold, and russet backdrop for the oranges, purples and turquoises of starfish, urchins, and anemones. I spent an hour crawling out on the rocks in the afternoon, just before the sun set, poking around in the tidal pools. I once read that to become marine biologists, candidates must participate in an unofficial "rite" of initiation: they must french kiss a sea anemone. I've never had the guts to do that (guess that's why I'm not a marine biologist), and I certainly didn't feel like giving any sea anemone my cold this weekend, but I followed my regular routine of sticking my finger in them and feeling their gentle little suckers attack my fingers. Don't worry--we don't have dangerous anemones in our local waters.





I've been trained well not to take anything from protected environments, but that doesn't stop me from handling the beautiful objects I find. I just make sure to put them back where I found them.





The next morning, I walked along the beach with some friends and their spunky Chihuahua, Tonya. The sky sputtered briny mist at us, but it was peaceful and eerily gorgeous just the same.



Tonya is a digger. So convinced is she that a treasure lay just below where she is, that she will dig up the entire beach looking for it. We egged her on just to watch how fast she could make the sand fly and how much sand she could get all over herself. According to her dog-parents--my friends R and SWW--she eats so much sand when she goes to the beach that she poops sand castles for days afterwards.


Skirting the edges of the shore, Sacred Datura bloomed (Datura wrightii) sweetly, belying it's poisonous and invasive nature.


As Sunday wore on, the poor camping sleep and wood smoke aggravated my already troublesome cough. My head pounded. I couldn't stay for the whole weekend. I needed to sleep in my own bed and focus on getting better, even if it meant leaving the long-awaited camping trip. ECG, beginning to feel the niggling beginnings of a cold himself, took down the tent, and we loaded up the car again.

Back in my car on the road, I fell asleep as ECG drove. Once home, we didn't even bother with unloading the car, but crawled straight upstairs, showered, and fell into bed. We napped for a couple hours, got into our pajamas, and moved downstairs for the ultimate movie-induced comfort that we could find: Trading Places. Is it just ECG and I who find watching well-worn movies as soothing as chamomile tea when sick? There's almost nothing better for a tired brain and body in this house than plopping on our leather couch and laughing along with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as they work their comedic wonder and prove both theories--nature and nurture--wrong.

When we finally rallied enough to feel like eating, I rummaged through my refrigerator looking for something soothing and easy, but alas, there was nothing that fit the bill. I had to invent something. And so I did: Parsnip Soup with Marsala.

Goodness this was easy. And goodness, this was good. Simple, smooth, and pleasantly creamy--but not too much so for already phlegm-filled sickies--this soup hit the spot for us last night. The marsala plays with the citrus-y notes of the parsnip and makes the whole dish feel a lot more elegant than it really is.

Parsnip Soup with Marsala
Serves four.

You will need:
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds of parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
4 cups of your favorite broth (I used beef, but vegetable, chicken or any other would work equally well here, each adding its particular perfume to the dish)
1/4 cup marsala
1/4 cup cream
salt

To make the soup:
In a large, heavy pot (I used my orange, well-worn dutch oven), melt the butter and add the onions with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cook on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent, but not brown. Add the parsnip coins and stir to toss them in the glaze of onions and butter. Cover the pot, turn the heat down to medium, and let the parsnips and onions cook together for about 10 minutes. Check periodically to make sure that they are not browning, but cooking slowly in the butter and their own steam. After the 10 minutes, and once the parsnips are beginning to get tender, add two cups of the broth. Cook for another few minutes, until the parsnips are tender all the way through, then turn the heat off.

Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a food processor, puree the mixture until completely smooth. (Be careful! The mixture is very hot and can splatter and burn you! Hold the lid down on the food processor or make sure the immersion blender is fully immersed before you blend.) If you used the food processor, return the mixture to the pot once you've blended it. If you used the immersion blender, it should still be--hopefully not splattered across the back of your stove--in your pot.

Return the pot to low heat. Add the remaining stock and the marsala. Bring the soup to a simmer and taste for salt--add more if necessary. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream, stirring until completely combined.

Serve immediately for immediate comfort.

15 comments:

Wendy said...

Hope you feel better soon, Christina! I'm just getting over an illness too and it sucks having so little energy especially when it's a busy time of the year.
Your beach photos are gorgeous. Not sure I'd be brave enough to stick my finger in an anemone. :)

Christina said...

Wendy: Did you watch the video of Tonya digging? I thought of you when I played with her this weekend. I hope you're feeling better!

ann said...

oh god those are pretty pictures!! I love the seashore, I've never stuck my finger in an anemone, but I sure have messed with a few horseshoe crabs.
I hope you guys are feeling better soon. What a great soup! There must be something in the air because Isaac and I had soup made from the Christmas Limas you sent me last night. It was amazing! thanks again for trading with me :-)

winedeb said...

Oh Christina, with so little free time, I hope you get well quick so you can enjoy your free time! Living by the ocean myself, there is something healing about getting "into" the water and becoming one with the sea's life. We go kayaking when the winds die down and I am just amazed at the life in the water world. Your photos are wonderful. Next time I am out into the flats, I will try to get some shots of what we get to live with in the Keys. Have some good hot tea with that soup and get well soon!

Lucy said...

Tonya, digging, is hilarious! Tell me, is that you I hear egging her on?

I've never French-kissed an anemone, but I must admit, it does sound kinda nice...don't you love the sea?

Great soup - best, BEST way to cure any sort of cold, flu or even a bout of ennui. Spicy, warming. Yum.

Christina said...

Ann: I'm so glad you enjoyed the limas. I love cooking them to just the right consistency, then squishing them against the top of my mouth. The inside of the bean squirts out like mashed potatoes. I know that sounds weird . . ..

Winedeb: I'd love to see what you see in the sea. Please post pictures of that!

Lucy: Yes, you can hear me in the video. My voice is a bit squeaky from this cold, but the loudest voice is mine. Tonya is a very funny dog: she never fails to crack me up. And yes, I do love the sea. As for the soup, it isn't spicy--I used marsala (a sweet wine) not masala (the Indian spice mix). I don't think I could handle a quarter cup of masala in there, as much as I do love spicy things. Replacing the wine with spice is a great idea though; then I think I'd use a splash of lemon juice and perhaps yogurt instead of cream. Wow! You just got me thinking of a whole different type of soup!

rowena said...

Tonya is too cute!!!! Thank you for such a lovely post which immediately brought to mind the tidepools back home. If there is one thing that I really do miss, it's the ocean. Just the smell of it....

Interesting combination of parsnips and Marsala, but it sounds like a winner!

Lucy said...

Ah, yes, I see that now...Marsala is a delicious, fine thing too.

Terry B said...

Christina, hope you and ECG are feeling better. Your beautiful photographs just remind me of how totally amazed I was by the natural beauty of California on our recent trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. We will be back.

Maryann@FindingLaDolceVita said...

I hope you are feeling better. I loved your post and the photos were very nice. I love playing in tidal pools. You found some interesting things.

Wendy said...

It's a video! I didn't notice. :) What a cutie - love tha snuffle-y nose thing dogs do when they're digging! Thank you - you've made my morning.

Susan said...

Parsnips! You have reminded me of planning my Xmas menu. They get slighted a lot in favor of carrots. What fine photos of your time at the beach! Your tidal pool shots are enchanting. Marine creatures are my favorite. Sorry you weren't feeling well; it's a drag when illness messes with your leisure time.

Christina said...

Rowena: I love the ocean and an energized by it; I've had to live in parts of the country that are very far from the ocean before, and it is very uncomfortable for me. I can't imagine what it would be like for you, having grown up surrounded by ocean, to be far from it now. Yes, Tonya is a cutie. You'd love her.

Terry B.: This is quite the nagging cold--it just won't leave me alone. I can wait for the weekend when I'll finally be able to get more rest. Thanks for your concern. Anyway, I am THRILLED that you found the California coastline beautiful. Isn't it a varied and glorious place?

Maryann: I'm glad you liked the pictures. Although I did find some wonderful treats in the tidal pools, I found out that the next day, the friends that stayed after I had to go home found baby octopi in the rocks. I'm disappointed that I missed that--it would have been amazing to see them. Thanks for your well-wishes!

Wendy: You're welcome!

Susan: Thank you for the compliments. Ooh--I'm excited to hear about the Christmas menu that you've been planning. Knowing your work, I'm sure it will be amazing!

Susan in Italy said...

I hear you about grading papers; it's so painful, but it sounds like you really found a good antidote!

camping france said...

what beautiful pictures!
Great post Christina!

Cheers,
Gabbi