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Freshly shucked chestnuts, lined up like so many little brains on a mad scientist's table.
Freshly shucked chestnuts, lined up like so many little brains on a mad scientist's table.
Growing up in California, the Christmas lyrics, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire / Jack Frost nipping at your nose” had very little meaning for me. (The only Jack Frost I was familiar with sold bags of ice.)

Here in Chicago, as temperatures dip and people in my office start to talk about snow (“It’s not ‘real’ if it doesn’t stick,” I was told), Jack Frost takes on a bit of a new meaning! And tonight, I roasted my own chestnuts for the first time.

I hadn’t had a chestnut — or even seen one — until a couple of weeks ago at Green City farmers market. A vendor there was just setting out what looked like a tub of bits of charcoal. She told me they were chestnuts, and that I could peel one open and eat it if I wanted. Like charcoal, the skin fell apart in my hands and left inky black traces. The nut inside was soft, and I didn’t think I liked it at first because of the consistency, but it was sweet and delicious. I bought a carton and got very specific roasting directions from her (which I promptly forgot and had to look up on the internet later).

I finally got the chance to roast them in my oven tonight. While they weren’t as good as those flame-roasted ones, they were a treat not only for the mouth but for the nose, as they gave off a wonderful aroma while they roasted.

It’s discovering things like this that makes me love living in radically different places. It’s visiting the fireworks emporiums of Kentucky and the historical civil rights epicenters in DC; the cowboy yodelers in Colorado and the uneasy legislature of Arizona. (Sadly, I never made it down to Arizona’s border fence itself.) It’s coffee fincas in Guatemala, the ever-so-odd Christmas decorations in Panama, sailing the brilliant blue atolls of Kiribati (where, incidentally, the opening scene of Gilligan’s Island was filmed). And it’s learning how to cook and eat chestnuts in Chicago.

I always knew, somehow, that I was never meant to stay close to home. What I didn’t realize was how addicting the adventure of discovering new places can be, especially when you get the chance to take your time exploring it, finding all the little things that make it interesting and different.

Published in My Life in Boystown