Last week I confessed to the fact that I loath cleaning.
This week I confess to the fact that I love chestnuts.
You’re wondering how I’m going to tie those two statements together, now, aren’t you?
Oh ye of little faith…..
When we lived in Andorra I had an excellent cleaner.
For the equivalent of about 25 US dollars per week she kept our house spotless.
Ours and half the other houses in our village.
She was Portuguese. She and her family: husband and 3 adult children (she was in her late 40’s), spouses and grandchildren all lived and worked in Andorra. (Well, the grand-kids didn’t work.)
They worked very hard.
My cleaner’s day went something like this: 5am she cleaned one of the shops in the village. At 9am she was picked up by the owner of her first house to clean. Three hours later she was driven to the next house. Three house later that client drove her to the next house. And so on throughout the day. She came to us at 3pm on Thursdays. At 6pm I drove her down to the village where she had one last shop to clean before her day was done.
They rented a small apartment in the village and worked like that 6 or 7 days every week.
They had a plan, you see….
She and her husband had managed to raise their children to adulthood, but they had nothing, really, for themselves. They were poor. They found an old house in the foothills that they wanted to restore and retire in. Jobs were scarce and not very well paying at that time in Portugal so they came to Andorra.
Their plan was to work, nonstop, at anything and everything they could, save every bit of their money and return to Portugal in 10 years time, retired.
She would do anything: one client only had her do the ironing and clean the bathroom; another had her plant tulips in the spring and trim his trees in the fall.
Twice a year they would drive all the way across Spain to Portugal for a week, to work on their house and visit their family.
She always brought pictures of their house to show me. Her husband was making the furniture by hand and she was crocheting the bedspreads and curtains, meticulously, out of fine, thin thread.
In front of their house was a big, old, chestnut tree. After their trip in late autumn she would bring me a huge sack of chestnuts – as well as some very excellent sweet wine her father-in-law made.
She spoke a little Catalan and some Spanish (along with Portuguese, of course) and I spoke a some Spanish and much less Catalan but we managed to become friends.
For 6 years my oven was always clean and my windows always sparkled.
A year after we left Andorra, she and her husband quit all their jobs, packed the car and went home to Portugal….
I always think of her when I smell furniture polish…. There was a unique scent in the house when she was finished: lemon floor cleaner, bees wax furniture polish and, er, pungent body odor. I was always glad when I could have the windows down when I drove her down the mountain….
And I always think of her when I have chestnuts…
I hope she’s enjoying her retirement, sitting under the chestnut tree with a glass of sweet wine.
This is a great first course soup for the holidays. Make ahead and reheat.
3 – 4 slices bacon, (3oz, 90gr)
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 rib celery
1 medium carrot
1 1/2 cups chestnuts
1 tbs butter
2 bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock
If using fresh chestnuts: With a sharp knife cut an ‘X’ through tough outer shell. Put in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and boil for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Removing 1 chestnut at a time peel off shells and inner skin. Chestnuts must stay hot to peel easily. If they cool down too much while you are working, bring them to a boil again.
Put peeled chestnuts into a saucepan, cover with beef broth, bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until tender. Drain.
If using canned chestnuts: Open jar.
The soup: Cut bacon into matchsticks. Roughly chop onion, celery and carrot. Mince garlic.
Sauté bacon in a medium saucepan. When crisp, remove and drain fat. Add butter to pan along with onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Sauté until onion is tender. Add chestnuts, bay leaves and stock. Cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Break any whole chestnuts up with the back of the spoon. When soup is ready, remove bay leaves, ladle into bowls and serve.
In addition to this, for the week of December 3 we have Scallops in White Wine, Cheese Pancake with Spinach Salad, Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, Chicken and Butternut Squash Lasagne ….
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