Last night I was making the simplest possible dinner, but of course daughter is eating off an entirely different menu--no salad for her--so I put on a pot of carrots to boil.
"No, Dad!" she screamed in horror.
"What's wrong?" I inquired.
"You know I don't like carrots!" she stormed.
"Since when do you not like carrots?"
"I mean, I don't like carrots cooked," she said in her most didactic tone. "I only like them raw. How many times do I have to tell you?"
She's awfully bossy for an 8-year-old, that daughter of ours. I just threw up my hands. So Mom stepped in, quickly drained off the carrots and we sat down to our dinner: potatoes smothered in coq au vin sauce, for us, potatoes not smothered in coq au vin sauce--and raw carrots--for daughter.
Truth is, I had originally thought of grating those carrots raw and turning them into a carrot salad. A mental picture of the salad--a little mayo, some raisins, a little curry powder--had flashed across the back of my brain pan for a nano-second. And that, for some reason, was enough to send me on a carrot jag from which I still have not fully recovered.
We plant a lot of carrots. In my usual fashion, I had to have one of every kind and my first efforts consisted of mixing all the carrot seeds together and sealing them in a paper envelope. A snipped off one corner of the envelope and whenever I needed to plant more carrots, I would simply remove the envelope from its place in the crisper drawer, pour some of the seed mix out of the snipped-off corner and scatter the seeds in the garden bed.
As you might imagine, I had some pretty ungainly growths of carrots. There were fat carrots, skinny carrots, thumb-sized mini-carrots, orange carrots, yellow carrots, red carrots. You could spot the yellow carrots from a distance: They sent up incredibly thick, robust foliage and seemed to grow twice as fast--and big--as the other varieties.
But it turns out no matter what color or which size, carrots all taste pretty much the same. I am starting to think variety is not as important as the seed catalogues would have you believe. Maybe focusing on making really good soil for the carrots, planting them on a regular schedule and harvesting them before they get woody and tough would be a better use of my time.
We don't give carrots much thought, yet they are so important to so much of what we cook. Onions are ubiquitous (can you imagine cooking without onions?) Carrots come in close behind. Two days ago I made a split pea soup. The soup would not have been complete--would have been terribly lacking--without onions and carrots. It cooked for a long time, that soup, and I could not help admiring the way the carrots held their shape--cut into little dice--to the very end of the cooking process. I scopped one up with a spoon and even after four hours on the stove it still had the sweet, fresh taste of carrot, as if I'd just pulled it out of the garden.
Yesterday I made a pasta sauce with ground pork. After the pork browned, diced onion and carrot went into the pot. You don't always see carrot in pasta sauce. But I wanted this one to have it. Maybe I've just had carrots on the brain. But somehow a sauce with friendly bits of carrots in it puts a smile on my face, as if the garden were speaking to me through my pasta.
Yes, we take carrots too much for granted. We toss them into the mix of our roasted root vegetables with hardly a second thought. We dice them up for our mire poix as if they were just another aromatic. We unconsciously slice them on an angle for a stand-alone side dish or as a vegetable buddy for our beef stew, knowing but not consciously acknowledging how handsome they are sliced just so, and how pathetic they would look cut into silly little rounds.
But now that it is January, the worst that could happen has come to pass: There are no more carrots in the garden. I actually had to buy some in the store. In fact, I had harvested all of our carrots before winter set in, cooked them and froze them in individual bundles. We have bags of sliced carrots the daughter will not eat.
I see carrots in my future. But you know what? I'm not complaining.