I got off the bus several stops early to make my way back home. It was a great day for a walk; the sun was still out, the leaves changing. It smelled like fall.
I can see and smell fall better when I walk home.
And in addition to the walk, I had another motive for getting off early. I wanted to gather some of the chestnuts that have fallen from many trees here, take them home, and roast them. I remember the chestnut vendors being everywhere in NYC – they were one of the signs that winter was coming. Here, the primary sign is rain and it wasn’t due for another couple of days, but was expected to be heavy over the weekend. So, in anticipation of ringing in the long winter season here, went gathering. This wasn’t quite an unprecedented quest, as over the summer I often purposively walked by neighborhood fig trees which were full of over-ripe fruit falling to the ground. Figs are one of my favorites and it broke my heart and offended my taste buds to see such wonderful fruit go to waste. Anything that was soft, fragrant, and reachable in those parking-strip trees became mine. I figured I was just helping keep the sidewalks clean.
In contrast to my fig saving project, I had no idea what a “good chestnut” was. Were the darker, shinier ones the way to go, or should I be favoring the reddish ones with just a little bit of give to the shell? I tried to remember what the ones in NYC looked like when I was a kid, but I couldn’t actually remember ever eating them there. I just recalled the smell of burned richness and salt. I settled on a mix of the two, leaning toward darker ones because that’s what they looked like while still in their prickly shell so therefore those should be fresher.
That weekend the rains came heavier than usual. My basement flooded and Saturday ended up being spent not on creating a last-minute Halloween costume for a party on the other side of town, but on vacuuming up water and looking for the sources of entrance to see if I could prevent more from pouring in. I’m thankful that a good friend spent the afternoon helping me clean up, instead of doing one of a million other things that would have been more enjoyable.
Satisfied that the water mess was contained as much as possible, we returned upstairs and considered the chestnut project – he had accompanied me on one of my fig-rescuing missions (pun!) and so it seemed fitting he was along for the chestnut experiment. It seemed like an excellent way to pass some time while being able to carefully monitor what was going on downstairs. It was getting dark, and I had a bowl of Almond Joys and York Peppermint Patties by the door. No goblins, witches, Elsas, Minions, or Star Wars characters dared the rain to claim them. I’m not sure there would have been any if the weather were nice.
We looked up the basics on how to roast chestnuts, which is a pretty easy process:
My recipe for roasted chestnuts, which is a composite of several from the interwebs:
- Score the chestnuts with an “X” on their rounded sides for easy peeling later.
- Soak in warm water for a minute or so to create moisture for steam.
- Roll them around a bit in olive oil and salt.
- Lay flat on some tin foil, then tent the foil for more steam making.
- Put in a 350-degree oven for about half an hour – until the “X” starts to peel back a bit and the nut feels tender.
- Let them cool a bit, but peel them before they get too cool – apparently the peeling becomes even more of a hassle if they aren’t still warm.
- Enjoy yummy, sweet, nut flesh.
We got to step #5 when we thought something was wrong. The nuts weren’t really peeling back and the flesh was more mealy and brittle. We tasted one and it was super bitter. So I Googled “bitter chestnuts” and learned that what we roasted wasn’t the real thing, but its poisonous cousin the horse chestnut (http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/before-you-roast-that-chestnut-make-sure-its-safe-to-snack-on/). We didn’t eat enough to make ourselves sick (honestly, I don’t know anyone who could – these things tasted horrible), and threw the remaining oily offenders into the trash. So much for that idea.
I now know that this is a horse chestnut.
All in all, it was a good day. Things happened, and we fixed them as best we could; something went wrong, and it made for a good laugh (since, you know, no one really was poisoned).
The next day we went to a fancy grocery store and bought actual chestnuts and roasted them using the instructions above. We added a little berbere spice to them as well, as we had visited an Ethiopian Market earlier that day.
They were delicious.
Today I am grateful for the times when I can laugh at my mistakes and even enjoy them.