Saucy Root Stew

A pot of stew marries earth and sky. Root starch lends weight to the sauce; slow cooking makes it gravy. Aromatics of celery, sweet allium and bitter thyme balance overnight. Stew self-seasons if you just give it time.
At service, torn leaves of fresh parsley are welcome and bright.
This is healing food, whoever you are. It calms the nerves, soothes digestion, gives an easy time to every part. All your parts need a break. As well as the richness of flavor. Sometimes we all need a good strong reminder of how beautiful things can be. So spend awhile at the stove. Tend to the pot. Put in what you need it to give you. Patience, forgiveness, sauce.

Rutabaga & Carrots, Thyme Gravy

1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic smashed
2 rutabaga, peeled and cut in hunks
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias
2 Yukon potatoes, scrubbed and diced
a dozen wild mushrooms, optional
several sprigs of thyme
a handful of parsley leaves
2 T olive oil
salt & white pepper for seasoning

Start a stock pot on a low flame and warm your oil gently. Add onions, garlic and celery. Push the vegetables this way and that every few minutes. Those billows of steam are moisture leaving as sugars are brought forward; this is where the flavor begins. Light caramelization is okay but keep the flame low enough that nothing takes on much color. When you notice the onions have gone opaque, that signals their chi is leaving. Onion chi is like a kick in the face; you want the power and grace of allium without the actual impact.
Next add rutabaga, carrots and potatoes. Cover with water. Be sure nothing is stuck to the bottom. Drop in thyme and optionally, mushrooms. Season now as a sort of a guess. Go light, but still, put the salt. Reason being, whatever you add now will be cooked into the vegetables, rather than remaining only in liquid. Simmer until the broth has reduced to sauce. Taste a vegetable. They should all be supple. Season again to your liking.

It’s a common mistake to treat stew as a throw away dish. True, it’s a marvelous way to use dying ingredients. But, given time and attention, there’s a worthwhile challenge to master balance and depth. Why else are the best ones by gramma?

For while you wait, a chef’s idea of a cocktail.

1 orange, chilled
fine ground cinnamon
a short pour of tequila, and then again

Some things should not be kept in the fridge, for instance, tomatoes. Oranges on the other hand, only improve. Pull one out for this private indulgence. Halve and slice the orange into half moons.
Dust each one with cinnamon.
Pour your best tequila into a pretty glass or tea cup.
When you’re ready, throw some back and then place the orange slice on your tongue, cinnamon side down. This is important because the juice of the orange will stop you from choking on powder.

Cooking is a creative space, and so are these pages. It was only after choosing the poem for this recipe that I realized it pulls forward the thread of a woman whistling from the last one. What a mysterious wonder is one’s own imagination.

Refrain

There is a woman who whistles
from the arroyo—oh hollow bone
you have a body you cannot carry alone.

What I carry beneath an ocean
same color as the sky
is not my own

though I am always yours,
collecting fractals of falling hours,
coral scales for your necklace.

Nightly I fall from my skin
to the surface—glass worms
drift in the trade winds,
sighs of porpoises billow the dunes.

Beneath the swimming Sargassum blooms,
snails’ sapphire wings,
I depend on the rain of the dead for food—
my umbrella, flared, is a fossil.

Oh abyssal fish with telescope eyes,
fish with luminous torches,
where are the whirling Spanish dancers?
Where are my drowned teeth, ear bone, jaw?

A crab marches its marbled shell
across the ocean floor—
as if the body was ensnared
by its own memory.

Body, I drag you like a shipwreck,
pluck the pelican-trampled weeds
from the cracks of the gas-lit shore
to fasten into your hair nest—

and some days can only manage
to sit on the deck with a cigarette
watching the tin clouds rust in the rain,
my fish-shaped bath soaps
bleed into gutters

no longer knowing blue
from blue, flesh from light,
sea from sky. I cannot echo

your absence without dissolving you,
cannot retrieve you from rock
or from sound, nor can I return you.

A freight train carrying last night’s dreams
steams across the in-between
where I wait at the depot catching dust,
holding a suitcase and your clammy hand—
where the eyes of fish
are not windows

but moons the earth
has forgotten. Like a bone
afloat on a darkening sea
the arroyo’s fluted
surface whistles—
Body, have you forgotten me
so soon?

Jennifer Elise Foerster

Jennifer Elise Foerster is an alumna of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and received her MFA from the Vermont College of the Fine Arts. She is the recipient of a NEA Creative Writing Fellowship (2017), a Lannan Foundation Writing Residency Fellowship (2014), and was a Robert Frost Fellow in Poetry at Breadloaf (2017) and a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford (2008-2010). A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, she teaches at the IAIA MFA Low-Residency Program, and co-directs For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for Mvskoke youth in Oklahoma. Jennifer is the author of Leaving Tulsa, (2013) and Bright Raft in the Afterweather (2018), both published by the University of Arizona Press; “Refrain” first appeared in Bright Raft in the Afterweather, of which Joy Harjo says, “We are adrift in mythic waters that hold the possibility of rebirth even as they float the remains of human destruction.”
Foerster resides in San Francisco.

photo credit: Richard Blue Cloud Castaneda