The Talking Scale
By Jessica Harper
"My daughters are gone to college, my nest is empty, and my friend gave me a monster zucchini...two more reasons to be grateful for my talking kitchen scale."
My friend Dawn gave me a zucchini the size of a dachshund, which I love because it gives me an excuse to use my scale.
See, now that my second daughter has followed her sister to college on the east coast, the only female voice left in my house is that of my talking kitchen scale. I turn the thing on and a low-registered, warm voice says, "Hello," which is rather pleasant in the profound silence of my recently emptied nest. Then she pauses for a second, presumably to make internal adjustments, and says, "I'm ready."
This is an eerie echo of what Nora said in September, when she was itching to get to college. Now she's gone, and when we came back to L.A. after dropping her off, after all the packing, schlepping, shopping and shipping, her room at home looked and felt like Dorothy's did, post-tornado: a mess, and dead still.
I didn't dare enter it for a couple of days; I knew it was an emotional minefield. When I finally wandered in and picked my way through Nora's detritus, I remained calm even when handling her abandoned fairy wings. Nor was my composure rocked by the sight of the worn schoolbooks and the ancient teddy bear. It was the picture on the wall of young Nora, one that captures her spunky spirit—she´s leaping and laughing, just kind of glorious—that did me in.
After the weeping, I knew I needed task therapy. I thought I'd concoct a recipe for Dawn's monster zucchini. I flipped the switch on the kitchen scale: "Hello." Pause. "I'm ready."
"Easy for you to say," I said as I plunked the zucchini on the scale.
Dawn's zucchini weighed in at 4 pounds, 10 ounces, which is more than my nephew weighed at birth. I needed to do something with it. I knew I could use it as a neck roller, or to clobber a thief or hit a softball. Or I could add some detailing (a couple of olive eyeballs, a red pepper grin), and this vegetable would scare kids on Halloween. But I opted to chop it to pieces and make zucchini chowder, comfort food.
I half expected the monster to rear up and bite me when I cut through that 4-inch diameter. (Luckily, this did not happen.) Inside, I found some gnarly seeds, so I dug out the little buggers and planted them so I can gift friends with monsters next year. (Actually, I contemplated planting them. If the spirit moves me, I will take the next step and actually commit them to the earth, but this may not happen as I am too lazy.)
I chopped up a few cups of zuke, I gathered some potatoes and an onion, and a couple of blanched ears of corn left over from a dinner I served to carbo-phobes the night before. A little broth, a little cream, and a little basil (which I actually did plant myself), and I had it going on.
Now what the hell do I do with the remaining 3 pounds of zucchini?
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium-sized, sweet onion, chopped
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
4 cups chopped Monster Zucchini
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken broth
¼ cup cream
Kernels scraped from 2 ears of blanched corn (or two cups frozen corn)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup freshly grated Reggiano-Parmagiana cheese
Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan or soup pan over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent and soft, about ten minutes. Stir in the potatoes and cook for about two minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for another two minutes, stirring a few times. Add the salt and pepper, and then pour in the broth, raise the heat slightly and bring the soup to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about fifteen minutes.
Puree the soup in a food processor and return to the pot, adding a little more broth if you like a thinner soup. Add the corn and the cream, return the soup to a simmer and cook for two minutes. Stir in the herbs and adjust the seasonings. Serve hot, sprinkled with the cheese.
The soup was delicious and comforting, and by the way, aside from the consolation it offers, that kitchen scale is a great tool for those of us who are visually challenged. Just plop something down on it and press the red button and that charming lady tells you just what you want to know. Whether or not you have a sadly empty nest or a monster zucchini, I recommend you check this out. I got mine on Amazon: Talking Kitchen Scale.