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

Butternut Squash Stew With Pomegranate Salsa. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)
Food and Dining Editor January 14, 2014

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.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column. View Archive

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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