I know, I know–I owe you a Friday Food Writers. Actually, I owe you many Friday Food Writers, and several hundred other posts, too. What can I say? Any excuse I could offer, though it would of course (of course!) be true, would probably just annoy you.
So instead, I’ll just tell you what’s on my mind today: chestnuts.
I’ve written about my father here before, and it’s testimony to the power of food that I have so many things to say about him in this context in spite of the fact that he almost literally could not cook a thing.
One of the things he could cook, though, were roasted chestnuts. When my sister and I were kids, he would bring home a pound or so, slit the top of each one, and throw them in a pan in a hot oven (400 degrees works well in case you want to try this at home, which I recommend) for about half an hour. Then we’d sit in the kitchen waiting for them to be done, listening to him tell stories about his childhood in Czechoslovakia. We loved the stories, but we also hoped for something else; an explosion.
There are few things more familiar and comforting to me than the sound of a heated chestnut spontaneously bursting its shell inside an oven because it wasn’t properly cut—a sudden, gentle POOF!—quickly followed by the not-unpleasant smell of burning nut when the pieces scattered all over the inside of the oven begin to scorch.
I tell you this today because here, alone in my apartment in Brooklyn, I just heard this very noise emanate from the kitchen and it made me grin and then get teary. My first chestnuts of the season are roasting, and that muffled announcement of their presence in the oven, which brings with it my father’s presence, is, like so many things in life, sweet and messy all at once.