Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The parsnip deserves some respect

By Dick Hirsch

Right now, probably at this very moment as you read these words, a relatively small but very clever and insightful group of individuals are out in their gardens, digging, oh so gently. The soil is just softening from the winter freeze, and they are eagerly conducting the annual harvest.

Harvest? Yes, harvest.

Spring is generally considered the time for planting, and that is certainly a correct description. But the timing is different for some varieties of produce; their patient growers plant seeds in the spring and nurture through the summer, fall and the snows of winter. Spring is the moment for which they have been waiting since last year.

They are the growers of parsnips and they are now carefully harvesting their crop. While digging and then scrubbing off the muddy residue, they are anticipating the joyous moment when they will be dining on this ungainly root, a delightful item that remains a mystery to most of the adult population.

Once, a few years ago, we had company for dinner, and my wife, Lynn, roasted some parsnips as a vegetable to be served. Was she expecting questions? I can’t say, but, if so, she wasn’t disappointed. I’ve always treasured the moment when one of the dinner guests, a very good friend, looked up from his plate and asked:

“What am I eating?”

Others guests at the table were probably wondering the same thing, but were too embarrassed to inquire. Lynn revealed they were parsnips and explained how they had been prepared. In those days we ate parsnips, but we knew little of their heritage or the rituals involved in planting and harvesting. We never grew any, relying instead on the generosity of friends with vegetable gardens, or else choosing the best specimens from the usually sparse selection in the produce department of the supermarket.

Parsnips have never received much respect. Generally they are consigned to a low-traffic location on the outskirts of the produce aisle since so many people are unfamiliar with all their good qualities. They are often parked near a mound of their relatives, the rutabaga, or else in close proximity to the okra or the kohlrabi, two other vegetables that, like the parsnip, are scorned by the multitudes.

The treatment such vegetables receive is very unfair. It can be traced to a substantial portion of the population whose members are reluctant to try new things. Their childhood was dominated by peas and carrots, with an occasional serving of string beans, but any suggestion that they eat, say, spinach or asparagus, was likely to result in an immediate tantrum. Such persons carried over those views into adulthood without justification.

The result: healthy, tasty and well-intentioned vegetables like the parsnip are ignored and derided, and those who grow and eat them are often misunderstood and sometimes ridiculed. It’s a matter of image. You will recall that broccoli was slandered in an unprovoked outburst by the first President Bush. Before that unfortunate incident, broccoli had never before been an issue; it had its supporters, but they were quiet folks who did not proselytize. In the wake of the presidential criticism, there was an outpouring of support for broccoli and it has since attained greater acceptance than before.

It is my hope that defenders and growers of parsnips will step forward to support this unique vegetable. They have survived for thousands of years; in Roman times they were consumed as a sweet delicacy, but by the Renaissance they had become a favored side dish for beef and poultry. They were challenged by the emergence of the potato which soon surpassed them, relegating the parsnip to its status as an also ran, used primarily in making chicken soup.

Check your cookbooks; they are versatile and lend themselves to various treatments. We prefer them roasted. Clean them and cut them into small pieces which can be put into a bowl and then drizzled with olive oil. Then place them on a cookie sheet and roast at 375-400 degrees for about 20 minutes. You will be astonished and pleased with the result.

In closing, I suppose I should mention my source for freshly dug parsnips, the friends with the garden in Akron, who plant parsnip seeds in late spring and harvest them the following year. But should I do that, they are likely to be overwhelmed with parsnip requests, and there might not be any left for us. So check your local market, over near the okra or the rutabagas.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

First, practice standing in line, then...

By Dick Hirsch

Life is a educational process and by this time, I should have graduated and learned how to stand in line without stress. But, no; despite my best efforts while in line I still quickly become fidgety, a status that eventually leads to a combination of aggravation, boredom and anxiety.

Years ago I wrote a story explaining the differences between a Type A personality and a Type B personality. A Type A person is characterized as being highly competitive, impatient and concerned about wasting time. They get frustrated while waiting in line, interrupt others often, walk or talk at a rapid pace, and can often be seen repeatedly glancing at their watch, since they are always painfully aware of how little time they have to spare. A’s also insist on pushing and re-pushing the “close door” button on automated elevators and also rev their engines at traffic lights.

It is considered unhealthy to be a Type A, since the most often cited health risk associated with that group is high blood pressure, which can lead to coronary disease and premature death.

Of course a Type B is just the opposite: relaxed, seemingly carefree, patient, laid back, even laconic in their approach to business and social situations.

Before you start any self-assessment, I should emphasize that it is quite likely that an individual can navigate comfortably through life with a combination of A and B traits. Thus, it is possible for an A person to feel hassled and become agitated and anxious in certain situations while being patient and calm in other settings where a pure Type A would be going bonkers.

There are self help remedies. All the medical and psychological studies recommend that Type A’s either take up knitting, needlepoint or crocheting as a hobby and/or practice standing in line.

Years ago I chose to ignore knitting and those other pastimes and determine whether I could overcome my aversion to standing in line by adopting a new outlook when confronted with a line. It worked in a limited fashion, in places like the bank, the movies and the post office, all of which have lines most of the time. They are usually lines that are short and they move swiftly, without creating feelings of stress.

I have never done well with lines in governmental offices, where citizens form lines for various reasons, where a person registers, applies or pays for something. Such lines are usually not very well organized and time insensitive.

I mention all this because I just recently had cause to stand in the longest line of my entire life. It snaked around and around in a series of interlacing “S” curves. There were some 4,000 people in that line and they were all determined to stay the course and have their credentials certified and thus gain entry to the event.

My own determination to join the line and stay was severely tested but I knew from the outset there was no turning back since admission included free breakfast and free lunch, free advice from a cast of financial experts and, at the end of the day, free entertainment.

Most people see me as a Type B, but years ago I diagnosed myself as a classic blend of the two types. When confronted with certain situations some of my fierce Type A characteristics soon seize control and begin to roar like a lion in heat. I tried to recall all the many benefits that accrue to those who stand calmly in a line waiting their turn, but that memory game didn’t function with approximately 3,000 people waiting ahead and another 1,000 or so behind.

I soon found myself pacing and humming. I knew I was sliding into a downward trajectory since I hardly ever pace or hum. (It is impossible to pace back and forth or hither and yon while standing in a line since it is vital to retain your position. So pacing is reduced to a movement best described as unsatisfactory circular shuffling.)

I was stressed. Oh, how I wished I had taken a newspaper along that morning. I could have read it while standing, an approach I don’t recommend except under extreme circumstances. Many of the others in the line were talking on their cell phones and their side of the conversations drifted over the crowd. I kept hearing different versions of the same story. It went like this:

“Of course we got here early, but so did everyone else.”

The result? Eventually I became first in line. Did the experience improve my approach to lines? Grrr. I doubt it.


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Shh. No talking on these trips.

By Dick Hirsch

No one ever taught me the proper way to ride in an elevator. There is no instruction manual for passengers available and that is part of the problem. Elevator riding is just one of those procedures that is repeated until learned, but there are some riders who just never learn.

Elevators are basically the same as they have always been, but in the newer buildings the interior decor has been enhanced substantially. The old elevators had a certain closet-like atmosphere, but landlords must have decided they needed the elevators to reflect the quality and character of the building, since, aside from the lobby, that is the first space the visitor sees. The result has been more emphasis on ambiance, with decorative panels on the walls and enhanced lighting.

How do I know this?

Because when I ride an elevator I have nothing else to do but surreptitiously look around at the setting. I realize that one of the basic rules of elevator behavior is this: never look directly at any of the other passengers. That being the rule, I concentrate first on the floor, then on the ceiling and then, finally, in the most unobtrusive manner I can muster, on the door and side walls. If I am traveling to one of the upper floors in a high rise office building such as the HSBC Center, I usually have made a complete examination of the space and am very familiar with my surroundings by the time I reach my destination.

Of course what I study most intently are the changing numbers as we travel from floor to floor. Those numbers have always been the focus of attention for riders who are familiar with universally accepted elevator protocol.

The essentials of proper elevator behavior can be explained this way:

Avoid eye contact with other riders. I’ve already covered that aspect of riding, but it bears repeating since there are many passengers who either don’t understand the importance of that rule or else cannot refrain from allowing their eyes to wander. My own practice, standard procedure for most persons with whom I have discussed this topic, is to focus directly on the floor indicator. Since that is usually in an elevated position over or near the door, concentrating on the changing numbers not only enables you to know your precise location, it also facilitates the avoidance of eye contact. Many riders claim they derive satisfaction from watching the changing numbers.

Next, make yourself as small as possible. This is a confined space, so it is vital to stand still and erect, arms at sides, palms turned inward. No gesturing of any kind or foot shuffling.

Upon entry, turn either left or right, locate the control panel and push the desired button, then find a vacant area of the floor, pivot, turn toward the door and establish your claim to that space. That is a maneuver which should be accomplished with a smooth but emphatic motion. Even in an overcrowded elevator, facing the rear is considered completely inappropriate. Under those conditions, wait for the next car.

Proper button pushing is important, whether in the corridor awaiting the elevator or actually inside, push the desired button firmly but only once. There are many, many riders who push the button repeatedly, as if that will hasten the arrival or departure. These are impatient people who are under the mistaken impression that repeated pushing has benefits. They are wrong, but there is no convincing them.

Whether it is in motion or at a standstill while loading or unloading, talking while aboard an elevator is ill-advised and considered bad form. If you are riding with a companion, isn’t it better to to wait 10 or 15 seconds and finish your sentence after leaving the car? In cases where riders insist on conducting a conversation it is perfectly permissible to listen. It cannot be classified as eavesdropping since the speakers know they are in a public area and they are making no effort to whisper.

But what if someone speaks to you, attempting to start an unwanted conversation? What is the best response? I was confronted with such a situation years go, in the early ‘80s, when I boarded as crowded elevator and was promptly spotted by a passenger in the rear who immediately started a conversation, introduced me to his new wife and started asking me questions, all of which I ignored. But he persisted.

Then the elevator stopped and I got off. He probably still thinks that was my floor.