A warming — and calming — stew for a frigid, stressful night

Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post - Butternut Squash Stew With Pomegranate Salsa.

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The recipe had me at “pomegranate salsa.” I was looking for an easy, warming dish to make in the middle of the polar vortex, and the idea of root vegetables, Moroccan spices and a topping of pomegranate seeds, scallions, lime and mint seemed like it would do the trick.

Then, the morning of the day I was planning to make the stew, one of the pipes in my new townhouse froze. Every plumber I called was busy. And I had no way to warm the thing up and keep it from bursting.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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A few hours later, after a quick trip to the Walmart for a blow dryer and groceries, things hadn’t improved. The blow dryer wasn’t thawing the pipe. Neither was a borrowed space heater. My tension rose along with the thermostat, which I had turned up to 85. Visions of a flooded kitchen filled my head. I turned off the water from the main, but not before saving enough from the faucets that were still flowing to try to throw together dinner.

That’s when I realized I had left one of the main ingredients — a sweet potato — in the Car2Go I had rented for my errand.

I took a deep breath. After all, the recipe I was testing came from a book called “Eat Yourself Calm: Ingredients and Recipes to Reduce the Stress in Your Life,” so why sweat it? I doubled up on the butternut squash, skipped the missing sweet potato and persevered. My companion had already eaten dinner, so while we watched TV, I ate the stew — spicy, hot and satisfying — on the couch. I don’t know whether it was the power of suggestion or whether those spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables really were helping, but pretty soon I was able to say to myself, “This, too, shall thaw. Just give it some time.”

By the next morning, it had. And I imagined that someone, somewhere was using that found sweet potato as the basis of their own calming dinner.

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