Ten Thousand Carrots (featuring Roast Carrots with Sherry Hazelnut Butter)

Francis, dressed in a dark blue button-down shirt and sweatpants, rocked on his swivelly home office chair with a predictable Friday afternoon frustration. I perched on the bed in our guest-room-turned-office, waiting for the kitchen timer to beep while taunting Grace the cat with my fingertips.

Francis said, “The thing is, she’s very talented. She’s incredibly smart and organized, but she breaks down into tears at the littlest thing.”


I was thinking about the bread I was baking and the cat I was poking.

“I get frustrated that she gets so emotional. And then I feel guilty for making her cry even though I didn’t do anything more than ask her to do her job!”

“It sounds like she hasn’t chopped enough carrots,” I felt smugly defiant, my sudden wisdom a small victory in an otherwise empty week.

Francis sighed, knowing he was legally or at least emotionally required to sit and hear me pontificate about how carrot chopping applies to architecture spreadsheets. He turned his face from the computer screen to me with a passionless, “What?”

“She hasn’t chopped enough carrots,” I claimed more space on the bed to prove my point. Grace raised an eyebrow, persnickety about my infringement on the queen mattress she viewed as her own. Persnikitty.

“You have to chop a lot of carrots before you truly understand anything about carrots.”

“Huh,” Francis said with a smile, happy that my explanation was tidy.

“TEN THOUSAND CARROTS!” I erupted with the number.

Grace rolled her eyes and Francis slumped down in defeat, his chair no longer frivolously tilted.

“I think ten thousand carrots is the number of carrots that you have to chop to declare mastery. In my first years of professional cooking, all I did was chop carrots. Carrots and onions and celery. And there were tears, plenty of them, tears of frustration for only being trusted with such a basic task– which is a thrill-less job in the best of circumstances. Tears because in the middle of that easy assignment, you accidentally slice off a layer of your finger with the peeler or your brunoise is too big or you leave the carrots in the oven too long. In many ways, it could be said that I have a deeper relationship with carrots than I do with you! I’ve spent more time in the trenches with them for sure, even though carrots have never been my focus. I don’t care about carrots that much at all. It takes 20 minutes tops to learn how to properly chop a carrot, but it takes ten thousand carrots to learn the commitment, passion, respect, and patience you need to be a virtuoso anywhere in the kitchen. I think I’m at about 7500.”

This estimation made me feel both incredibly accomplished and like a tiny speck of dust in the 90 billion light-years of space we’re swirling through. I sucked on my bottom lip and brushed the flour off my black leggings with the palms of my hands.

Grace was asleep, Francis was staring at his phone, Amelia was clunking down the stairs, the bread timer beeped. That’s ok, I know these cooking analogies seem like a long braise of cheap beef.

Work has been miserably slow – one of my regular private chef clients is away for the season and the other one fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck in two places (he’s going to be ok). Catering clients have become party-averse with the dark chill of February and the soaring costs of food and labor. This slowness happens every year, I remind myself, figuratively staring at the mountain of chopped carrots in my rearview mirror. I’ve come so far, and yet…

A few nights later, some friends and I attended a storytelling benefit for Planned Parenthood. The writers were all spectacular women in various phases of their lives sharing tragic date night stories for the Valentine’s Day theme.

After the show, we nuzzled down in our coats as we exited the warm theatre onto chilly Alberta Street and my friend Maureen said, “Alison, have you ever thought about reading your work at something like this?”

I caught myself shaking my head aggressively, no no no no no, but said, “I did it once, but never went back. I suffer from paralyzing stage fright.”

She shrugged, “A lot of famous performers have stage fright. I think you’d be great.”

Her words buzzed in my ears as I walked the three blocks home. Because it is what I want to do more than anything. I would love to get up and read my work. And I’m so scared. I’m so certain of my failure. It feels like an irrefutable death, on a stage no less!

And then I thought, 5 carrots, maybe 6. That’s the number of carrots I’ve chopped so far for this dream. I’ve barely just begun. I have no idea what’s waiting for me. Sweat, blood, tears…  Only 9,994 carrots to go.

Roast Carrots with Sherry Hazelnut Butter


  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • ¼ cup skinned hazelnuts
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pounds carrots
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  1. In a small pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Stirring occasionally, letting the bubbles subside. After a few minutes, you’ll start to see little bits of brown butter on the bottom of the pan. That’s what you’re going for. Let it cook a little longer, stirring gently to make sure the brown bits don’t get burned. Take it off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Pour the butter, the sherry vinegar, the hazelnuts, the honey and the salt in a food processor and whiz until it looks like a slightly chunky nut butter.
  4. Peel the carrots, and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces. In a bowl, toss with hazelnut browned butter and sprinkle with half the chopped rosemary.
  5. Roast for 30 minutes and sprinkle with a little more rosemary and salt to taste.

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