Betty Teller
Napa Valley Register file photo

My house has a distinctive smell. It’s not unpleasant, but I don’t especially like it and yet I can’t make it go away. It doesn’t matter what room fresheners or deodorizers I use. It returned even after major renovations that took part of the house down to studs.

I get a whiff of it every time I return from a trip, when the house has been closed up for a while. Fortunately, because of a peculiar and interesting quality of our brains that causes us to stop perceiving persistent odors, I cease noticing it a day or so after I come home. I suspect it is still there, but I just can’t detect it anymore.

I was musing about it as I fast-forwarded to bypass a Febreze commercial that was doing its best to convince me that the whole world is judging me for smells I have become “nose blind” to. (I assure you, I’ve tried Febreze. No dice.) So I thought I would come clean to you here, and let you know that it’s not my fault, in case you have been mentally criticizing me for it.

Though you probably haven’t.

Because I’m pretty sure that if you have been to my house, you have likely spent your disapproval energy silently judging me for my clutter blindness instead.

I think clutter blindness is actually another aspect of the same phenomenon. After too much exposure, my poor brain gives up hope that this stuff will go away, and starts ignoring any visual indication of clutter.

I know I am not alone in suffering from this syndrome. Almost anyone who has ever moved into a new house has experienced it to some degree. At some point, there will be a box filled with odds and ends that don’t have an obvious home. It will sit patiently somewhere in a corner, waiting to be noticed, for months at a time. Even if you persistently bang your shins on it, you still may not see it.

Then you go away for a week or two, and when you come back and fall over it, you think, “Gee, who left that there? I really should put that stuff away.” (At which point, if you are me, you either shove it into the guest bedroom to with it at some unspecified future time, or ignore it long enough for it to become invisible again.)

As I was dumping stuff in the guest bedroom yesterday in preparation for a gathering at my house (isn’t that how everyone prepares for a party?), I came across a classic example of this phenomenon. Among the stuff I was moving from the kitchen counter was my favorite bowl. It’s just an inexpensive plastic bowl, but it’s the perfect size for making a quick salad, so I use it a lot.

Or rather, I used to.

It happened to be sitting out one day, and had the misfortune to become the repository for odds and ends that needed to be tidied up. You know, the stuff that creeps into the kitchen and then hangs out — pens, coupons, a couple of business cards, a few pieces of hard candy, rubber bands, a safety pin. In a burst of orderliness, I had swept them all up and put them into the bowl in preparation for dealing with them. Since it was my favorite bowl, I knew I would get to it soon.

But then clutter blindness set in, and I didn’t.

As I was retrieving the bowl from the guest room this morning and getting ready to plop it back on the counter, it occurred to me I should just empty it out and put it away.

Of course that thought has occurred to me pretty much every time I wanted to make a salad for the last several months, but this time I acted on it.

It was so easy, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to do it.

It helped that I could throw away most of the contents: The safety pin had rusted, the candy was sticky, the pens had dried up, the rubber bands had lost their elasticity and I couldn’t remember even meeting the folks whose business cards I had saved.

And the coupons? I guess the bowl had been hiding under its invisibility cloak a bit longer than I remembered.

They expired in 2014.

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Seriously? Do I really have to tell you how to make a salad? If you are stumped, email me and I’ll send you some remedial instructions. Instead, I’m offering you the soup I made to accompany the salad I tossed together in my reclaimed bowl.

Most of my soup inventions are inspired by what happens to be in my fridge at the time, and this one is no exception. I happened to have carrots, a butternut squash, sweet potatoes and a leek on hand, so I combined them. Because of the mostly orange vegetables, the soup turned out very pretty, and sweetly delicious.

Topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and served with a tossed salad, this makes a very satisfying and healthy winter meal.

1 small butternut squash

2 large sweet potatoes or yams

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

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1 small leek, sliced thin

5-6 carrots, peeled and sliced or chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. fresh-ground pepper

4-5 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)

Salt to taste

Whole milk Greek yogurt

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves cut side down on a sheet pan, along with the sweet potatoes. Roast in the oven until both are done, about 40 minutes. When they are cooked, scoop out the flesh, discarding the skins.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, leek and carrots and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic cloves, coriander, cumin, pepper, squash, sweet potato and 4 cups of the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer.

Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the flavors are melded, adding salt and additional pepper to taste.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender, returning the pureed mixture to the pan). Add additional stock as needed to thin it to your desired consistency. Bring the soup back to a simmer.

Serve garnished with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Betty Teller wishes her brain would stop noticing how cluttered her desk is. Tell her what your brain is blind to at amuse-bouche@sbcglobal.net.

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