our little q-tip

This is my life right now:

Adorable, right? The head covering, to unsuspecting passersby, apparently looks like a legitimate hat, so I guess it's not obvious to most people that it is actually a pressure wrap designed to keep the swelling down around the incision site of Wylie's recent surgery.

Doesn't that sound horrible and scary? I haven't figured out a way to say it that doesn't make it sound weird or more serious than it really was. It wasn't head surgery, not in the invasive way that name implies, at least. To be very specific, it was scalp surgery, but that sounds bizarre and gross. I'd like to not think about in those terms. Considering that it was performed by a plastic surgeon, I suppose we could just celebritize it and call it a 'procedure,' and leave it at that.

Whatever you call it, the result has been a child in need of extra attention as he recovers and tries to deal with wearing a 'hat' no one will let him take off, that is getting itchier (and dirtier!) by the day, and a sore head that he doesn't understand the cause of.

There is of course a second child in the mix, one who also - in spite of being a tremendously helpful and understanding big brother - needs a more-than-normal amount of individual attention, to compensate for the temporary imbalance in sibling neediness. Needless to say, I have been breaking up a lot of fights and soothing out-of-nowhere meltdowns these past couple days.

I have discovered that I need a chart to keep track of when and which medicines to administer throughout the day, and that I am not above using M&Ms and melted ice cream to get that medicine to go down. To further complicate things, it hadn't occurred to me that we would have wardrobe issues post-surgery; Wylie doesn't have anywhere near the number of wide-collared, easy-to-slide-over-a-sensitive-head shirts he needs to get him into next week, when the wrap comes off.

But you know what? This is all fine with me. It seems like a small price to pay for an easy, non-invasive surgery that was as untraumatic for the patient as could possibly be imagined. And most of all, for a healthy child. There are far too many parents whose children must undergo intensive, life-saving surgeries, or who bravely live with chronic illness, or who suffer in ways I can't even think or write about. But us? We are very fortunate. I am not complaining.

But I do miss having more time to devote to food. I wish I had more than ten minutes at a time to devote to planning Thanksgiving dinner (which is a pretty big deal in this food-centered family!). I wish midday was calm enough for me to make a real lunch for the kids, instead of rummaging around in the fridge and laying out an assortment of this-sort-of-passes-as-lunch type foods. And I wish I had more time to bake, of course. I console myself on that last point by acknowledging that we really don't need any more sweets around here, and at the very least not making them saves me the work of all the extra dishes.

I did, however, decide to make time today to prepare a real dish for our supper. One that required some forethought and time, both for preparation and cooking. One that would hopefully be nourishing and comforting to all those in need of such qualities (and yes, I include myself in that group).

Naturally, I made soup. Unfortunately, there are no photos. Simply getting it on the table before a sleep-deprived Wylie fell asleep on the couch was a challenge, and I ate quickly, with the nodding-off child cuddled against me. Bedtime occurred immediately afterward. And honestly, any photos I might have taken would necessarily have been unflattering, bathed as they would have been in the light from our energy-efficient-but-very-unnatural CFLs. I still haven't figured out how to take natural-looking dinner photos at this (dark!) time of year. Someday, there may be fancy lights . . .

So anyway, imagine if you will a pale, glowing, mustard-colored soup, shimmering slightly from the olive oil and fat from the homemade chicken stock, with an earthy, sweet scent that one immediately knows means root vegetables, and a behind-the-scenes whiff of something familiar, yet unexpected. (Hint: think Parmesan.) This soup is only partly puréed, so the remaining pieces of vegetable imply a heft and heartiness that completely creamy, smooth soups rarely have. The soup was perfect on this cold, blustery November evening, and infused the house with a scent I wish we could bottle and bring out every time the mercury dips. We dipped pieces of this bread into it, which was perfect, but if any of you decided that instead you wanted to smear your bread with a nice soft goat cheese, I for one would not stand in your way.

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I almost always like every soup I make. The boys, on the other hand, do not. But tonight, Kalen not only ate lots of his serving, he even asked me if I'd like to make the same soup again sometime. And when I said yes, he wisely followed up with, "Well, did you write it all down so you can do it again?" (When did he get so hip to the fundamentals of recipe development?) To which I fumbled something along the lines of "Well, no, but I'll remember, I'm sure I can do it again." That boy knows me well, though; I would very likely forget not only how I made it, but that I ever intended to make it again if I didn't write it down. So, for Kalen and my future soup-making self and all of you, here it is: Vegetable Soup to Nourish and Comfort on a Cold Fall Night. Kalen thought it should simply be called Tara Soup, but that's not nearly rambling and romantic enough, don't you think?

Vegetable Soup to Nourish and Comfort on a Cold Fall Night
serves 4-6

1/2 large Spanish onion
2 stalks celery
1 large carrot (mine was white, but any color is fine)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic
1 delicata squash, peeled and seeded
1 large russet potato, peeled
6-8 sunchokes, scrubbed clean
1 Parmesan cheese rind (the rinds have lots of uses, from flavoring soups to risottos to sauces - don't throw them away!)
1 quart homemade chicken stock (alternately, you could use a high-quality, low-sodium broth)
kosher salt and freshly crushed black pepper, to taste

Dice the onion, celery, and carrot. Heat oil in a large soup pot (I like to use my Dutch oven) over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the mirepoix (the onion-celery-carrot mixture) to the oil, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften and the onions just begin to get some color, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince the garlic. Cut the squash, potato, and sunchokes into medium-sized cubes roughly all the same size (to ensure even cooking).

Once some of the onions in the pot have begun to turn pale golden brown, stir in the minced garlic. Continue to cook, still stirring frequently, until the onions are a deeper brown and the garlic has begun to brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the cubed squash, potato, and sunchokes. Stir to combine, then add the chicken stock and Parmesan rind. Increase heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 25-35 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove pot from heat and fish out the Parmesan rind. Discard. If you have an immersion (stick) blender, use that to purée the soup about halfway, leaving some vegetable pieces whole. Otherwise, use a blender to carefully purée half of the soup (you may need to do this in batches), stirring it back into the pot once it's velvety-smooth. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly crushed black pepper. Serve hot with your favorite warm bread.

Soup keeps, refrigerated, for up to 3 days, but will thicken, so you may need to add additional chicken stock when reheating it, and adjust the seasonings accordingly.


  1. Soup really IS nourishing and comforting, isn't it? :-)

    So sorry to hear about your little one's surgery. I hope he will heal well and be totally fine oh-so-soon!

  2. What a well written story about your son's operation. I hope he recovers well. He sure looks good laughing! I will be thinking of you & your lovely family.

    That soup sounds so good to me!

  3. Juanita - Thanks! He's doing quite well now. And sometimes I think soup is more comforting for the adults than for the kids it was intended for. ;)

    Sophie - Thank you for thinking of us! That means a lot. He gets the head wrap off tomorrow, which will make him even happier.


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