I first tried rutabaga when I lived in England. They call it swede, as in Swedish turnip, over there. I have no idea why North Americans call it rutabaga rather than swede. If you do, please let me know.
In 2003 I made my way to a small town thirty minutes outside of London called Hitchin. This is a town so small that the mothers and children at the grocery store would point and stare at me because they’d never seen an Asian that was not an Indian in the flesh before and, omg, they shop in grocery stores too. Some of my students even asked me if I was Lucy Liu. I said yes.
I was there because I’d been hired as a chemistry teacher at an all boys school called Hitchin Boys’ School. Fresh out of teacher’s college, I was determined to use my degree as I intended it: to get work anywhere in the world so that I could travel.
Once I arrived, I was introduced to the French teacher named…you know I can’t remember her name. Unbelievable. I lived with this woman and her husband for six months and I can’t remember her name. Let’s call her Kiki.
This is a town so small that the mothers and children at the grocery store would point and stare at me because they’d never seen an Asian that was not an Indian in the flesh before and, omg, they shop in grocery stores too.
Kiki offered me a room in her house and without anywhere else to go I accepted. She was thirty-five at the time with chin length curly blond hair and plenty of highlights, which she styled with expensive gels and silicone based products. She wore frosty pink lipstick and sweaters with a lot of fringe around the neck that almost looked like a boa. She was good teacher and she helped me cope with the few toe rags in my classes who thought that they could take the piss out of the twenty-six year old Asian teacher who looked more like she was eighteen from Canada with an accent in a department where she was the only woman. The first two months were tough but it got a lot better and with no little thanks from Kiki.
Kiki was married to a Frenchman, a chef, who worked at the luxurious local country club. I don’t remember his name either, but he was quite nice. Let’s call him Pierre.
Kiki was a gregarious woman who detested getting old. She went to great length to make herself more youthful–the usual stuff like creams and hair coloring and wearing just slightly inappropriate articles of clothing. Then she went a step further and decided to get herself a pet in the form of a former student, a seventeen year old boy who’d graduated the year before I arrived in Hitchin. I don’t remember his name either. Let’s call him Scott.
Scott would drive up to the house on his motorcycle wearing full leather motorcycle gear like he was going to race in the motorcycle grand prix. At first his visits seemed innocent, just a former pupil wanting to catch up with his favorite teacher. And at first it was me and…Nikki! I just remembered her name! Nikki! I wonder if her husband’s name will come to me…. Anyway, so very innocent visits at first with me and Nikki and Scott in the front room, drinking tea and having biscuits. That was the extent of his initial visits.
Then later as his visits became more frequent she suggested that we all go for walk along the fields. And during this walk they would often fall behind and when I looked over my shoulder, I would see her giggling and touching his arm, standing very close. Once he even had his arm over her shoulder.
Eventually, Scott’s visits became a daily affair. He would vroom up to the house and they would go into the front room, the fire roaring, and shut the door behind them. It became fairly obvious that Nikki and Scott were having an affair. I don’t know if they had sex in there. Maybe it was just heavy petting. But I’m certain it wasn’t just a nice catch up session between teacher and student. There was no tea being brought into the room and certainly not the kind of cookies you’re thinking of.
Being a judgmental, unempathetic, narrow minded twit doesn’t get you anywhere. If there’s a lesson to be learned in this soup recipe, it’s not to pass up good wine because you’re too quick to pass shallow judgement.
This was also around the time that Nikki started to drink more. A lot more. My estimate is around five to seven glasses of wine every night. It’s hard to know just how much she drank because she would get her wine from a spout on a boxed. She and her husband brought these boxed wines back from France in their car twice a year from his home region of Rhône. They would drive over there, have a visit with his family, and load up the car many liters of Côtes du Rhône.
At the time, I disapproved of my landlady, her drinking, and her dalliance with a former student. It seemed not only tawdry but immoral in the most absolute way. She was probably an alcoholic and she was cheating on her husband under his roof with a seventeen year old. The age of consent in England is sixteen, if I’m not mistaken, so she wasn’t technically breaking any laws. But I know that my disapproval and even disgust must have been apparent to her since I’ve been told many times that I suck at hiding my true feelings.
Now as a thirty-five year old woman, I wish I’d been kinder to her. Very little in life is as cut and dry as I used to think they were. I wonder what she was thinking or going through at that time. Maybe a mid-life crisis. Perhaps it was all vanity and maybe not. Maybe it was she who’d been seduced rather than the other way around. And as taboo as this may sound, a seventeen year old boy is a fully sentient being who can be as wiley as a thirty-five year old woman. I’m not saying a seventeen year old ought to be appealing to a thirty-five year old, but if he were to pull out a gun and shoot someone in a mall is all I’m saying. Perhaps she wasn’t attracted to him either, but simply craved the attention. As for the drinking, which I looked upon as a weakness, I now embrace in spades. Weakness my ass. It’s called she liked to drink wine. My only regret is that I didn’t partake of that likely fabulous Côtes du Rhône hand picked by a French chef and driven across the Channel in a little Peugeot. Being a judgmental, unempathetic, narrow minded twit doesn’t get you anywhere. If there’s a lesson to be learned in this soup recipe, it’s not to pass up good wine because you’re too quick to pass shallow judgement.
Anyway, Nikki was the person who introduced me to swede or rutabaga. She liked to cube it and boil for about an hour until it was very soft, drain it, and mash it with butter, salt, and pepper. The brilliant yokey yellow color and nutty flavor of the root vegetable had me hooked at first bite.
And I still can’t remember her husband’s name. So annoying….
Kielbasa, Rutabaga, and Lentil Soup (This one’s a Saveur Days original.)
1 cup diced rutabaga
1/2 cup lentils
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 inches of kielbasa sliced thinly
4 cups of water
1 large can of diced tomatoes
2 packets of chicken bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown the kielbasa slices in a large sauce pan then just add all the other ingredients, bring to a boil, and lower the heat to simmer for 30 minutes or until the rutabaga and lentils are soft but still have a bit of bite. Enjoy!
For more photos, go to Flickr.