Friends were coming for dinner Sunday to light the first Advent candle, so I decided to make stew – a thick, rich stew full of root vegetables and hearty chunks of beef.

Saturday, I had purchased four long, skinny yams from an Amish farmer with a bowl haircut. His stand at the farmers market had a wooden box filled with yams, though the sign said “sweet potatoes.” I was relieved to have found them, yams being one of four items on my list.

So as the beef simmered on the stove, I peeled and sliced the yams directly into the pot. I was surprised by the light colored flesh beneath the dirty peel. All the way in the center of the sweet potato disks was the orange color I had expected. This must be a different variety of yam, I thought to myself, curious about the words “yam” and “sweet potato” and how easily I interchanged them.

With the yams sliced and the beef browned, I chopped a bit of onion and celery, letting those saute for a minute or two before I covered it all with water and turned the burner up a little. I wanted to get to a boil quickly to make the broth thick and to get the yams soft.

Next I peeled the carrots.

The white and orange carrots I pulled from the refrigerator came from my own garden just about three weeks ago. My heart swelled as I had pulled and dug them from the ground, the first carrots I had every grown successfully. It had more to do with indifference than know-how, though.

My garden didn’t do well this summer, and when news of my cancer recurrence came in mid-July, the raised beds were mostly left to fend for themselves. I picked handfuls of cherry tomatoes here and there, but the lettuce burned up, the beans shriveled on the vine, and the yellow peppers turned red.

But all along, the carrot tops stayed perky and green. Every once in a while I would walk past the garden and see the head of a carrot peeking out of the dirt, but since I’ve never been able to grow carrots in the past, I wasn’t too excited. They’re either growing down there or they’re not, I’d think to myself apathetically, but if I pull them now, I’ll never know what might have been.

So, a few weeks ago, when it was time to toss the wilted tomato vines into the compost pile and put the spindly pepper plants out of their misery, I decided it was judgment day for the carrots, as well. As long as they were hidden in the dirt there was hope. But they weren’t doing anyone any good staying down there forever.

As I scrubbed and chopped the carrots into the pan Sunday, I thought about how fun it had been to dig root after root, some of them the size of cigars, other more like cigarettes, but all of them grown from seeds I had planted.

After the carrots, I chopped small red potatoes into the pot, then I dumped in tomatoes from the freezer, extras from a summer past, and a few frozen green beans. As the stewed heated up, I added salt, curry, and cumin, then a few bay leaves as is my tradition.

Then, the lid went on and I waited. Root vegetables take time to cook, but they are so worth it.


Can’t get enough of Advent? Check out what others are writing about:

  • Michelle Derusha is hosting an Advent Link up every Monday during the season, read yesterday’s The Awakening.
  • is posting on Advent throughout the season, including The Already/Not Yet of Advent.
  • My new friend Sue Palmer also is writing about Advent all season long
Photo by color line,via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.