Rufa: Did you hear the one about the rutabaga?

Robert Rufa Columnist

It keeps happening. People stop me in Ingles and tell me they enjoy my column. “Keep it up,” they say. “I’ll try,” I tell them, “but I have an expiration date.”

It happened again on Feb. 18, someone stopping me and saying my column made them laugh.

Inspired, I thought, Maybe I should write a column about Thurber as I motored over to the rutabagas. No, I already did a Thurber column. I mulled over the possibilities as I mulled over the rutabagas. Yeah, I can multi-task. There has to be a column here. I chose a big fat rutabaga and put it in my basket.

As I wove through produce, I pondered other ways to fix rutabaga. I knew exactly one way — simmered in a little no-salt-added chicken broth (oh, don’t get me started on canned chicken broth) until soft and mashed with butter — and maybe Google could offer up some suggestions.

I’ve always been afflicted with a quirky sense of humor, and people don’t always get me. That happened last year, after my column on Columnism appeared and someone said, “I didn’t get it.” But I try not to let a little negativity bother me, and I got over it after a few months of therapy.

I was rolling by the deli counter as I pondered the possibilities of getting a column out of this, wondering simultaneously if I could roast the rutabaga. “Google roast rutabaga” I wrote on the back of my shopping list so I wouldn’t forget. Maybe I should write a column about my failing memory, I thought. No, wait — did that too, pleased that I remembered, and as I browsed the hummus I decided I was lucky to live in a town where not everyone thought humor died with Henny Youngman.

I cruised over to the antipasto rack and grabbed a jar of my favorite marinated artichoke hearts. I’d made up my mind long ago that I’d never tell anyone I ate marinated artichoke hearts, and yet here I am spilling the beans. I suppose I need a “Real men eat artichoke hearts” bumper sticker now.

After picking up some tomato puree and unsalted chicken broth — homemade tomato soup, minus the turmeric, curry powder, sugar, and lemon juice — I headed to register 6 to check out, where I shared my secret tomato soup recipe with Jully, my regular cashier. She and I have an understanding — I won’t check out at another register, and she won’t bean me with a rutabaga.

To my surprise, Jully jotted down the ingredients. But then she has a good sense of humor too, so maybe she thought she was going along with a joke. But it’s no joke — this is my favorite tomato soup, and if I’m feeling really energetic I make it completely from scratch — a few overripe tomatoes, a chicken carcass, wilted aromatics, and garlic. That’s like making something out of almost nothing.

Which, now that I think about it, is a lot like writing a column.