Lettuce turn up the beet

Well look at that. I wrote my first ever Wisconsin fun next exit (b)log post seven years ago today. I was just going to start off by talking about how it takes Half-moon and me, on average, 4.62 hours to get ready to leave the house (just to make it into the backyard) but I guess I’ll keep my mouth quiet about time. Because it can fly and it can drag but either way we never seem satisfied with it. Let’s talk about roasted beets instead.

I recently decided that there is nothing better than slicing into a warm beet and eating it while standing at the kitchen counter. Beets taste like the earth; like dirt and minerals. Beets are the real deal. My current stash of beets were dug out of the ground just past Magnolia, Wis. at Raleigh’s Hillside Farm. Nice work, Lauren and Kyle. While I like beets raw and shredded into a salad with citrus and herbs, in the fall and winter beets demand to be roasted. Lately I’ve been following my mom’s method, which is to preheat the oven to 350 degrees, wrap indivdual beets in aluminum foil and bake until they are tender and the skin peels right off with a paper towel (depending on the size of the beets, this is usually 40-50 minutes.) If you are feeling industrious, save the dark pink liquid that pools in the foil and use it to dye some cloth or something, just like I’m sure they would do in the Little House on the Prairie. Or at some hipster mercantile general store in Portland or Brooklyn. Once cooled, if they make it that long, the beets can be sliced and added to a jar with vinegar and water and stuck in the fridge to snack on later. Or they can be added to a salad, like the one I made recently, with a dressing of maple syrup and cayenne pepper that was inspired by a Driftless Organics farm recipe for squash. A word of warning: beets are messy. Half-moon loves them, especially with his favorite lunch of a mustard sandwich, which has led to a number of his bibs turning a slight shade of pink. But you can be strategic with this- the red one with the white polka dots is a good bet. Cutting boards, counters and fingers might also get smudged but I think it’s worth it.

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Roasted Beet Salad with Greens and Spicy Maple Syrup Dressing

Ingredients:
2-3 roasted beets, sliced
A bunch of arugula, spinach, or a crunchy lettuce (or a mix)
Optional toppings: crunchy celery, sesame seeds, hard boiled egg

Dressing- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup, chili powder or cayenne pepper (or both), salt and pepper to taste, a squeeze of lemon works, too

Instructions:
Wash and dry greens and place in salad bowl with sliced beets. Combine dressing ingredients in a jar and shake well, toss with greens + beets. Top with something crunchy- seeds or celery (or both) and enjoy.

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Happy November.

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Early summer soup

This morning a steady mist of rain spread out over the farm as I crouched in the mud snapping collard greens off their stalks. In jeans, a sweatshirt and a rain coat I felt cozy as the temperatures barely hit 60. As much as I love summer, I don’t mind the occasional cool, rainy day; they remind of summer camp- hunkering down in the lodge, a chance to don a sweater, a change of pace. Moving on to pull weeds from the winter squash, my mind wandered to soup. Making a deliciously simple potato soup for lunch is something that my mother pulls off on a regular basis, regardless the season. I think it is something that she inherited from her parents. When I picture my grandpa, it is often at the stove. Either the small gas one that sits in front of the brick-lined kitchen wall of the northwest Iowa cottage or the one sixty miles away at his home where I could hand-crank the bell on the door that led inside to the kitchen, announcing my arrival. At the cottage he popped his homegrown corn to perfection; at home he stirred his award-winning fudge. But I think he loved potatoes the most. To make a simple potato soup, cut up some potatoes and put them in a pot with just enough water to cover. Gently boil until the potatoes are cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed. Mash up the potatoes to the desired consistency and add milk, butter, salt and pepper. Mine never tastes as good as my mom’s.

After returning home from the farm today I wanted to make an Iowa-inspired potato soup for lunch, but I have turnips haunting me from my crisper drawer and garlic scapes curled-up, hovering on the bottom shelf waiting for something extraordinary to happen to them. I also took home two beets today from the farm, deemed “farmer food” due to the fact that some worms also wanted a few bites, so into the pot they go. And don’t forget the neglected leek, long forgotten under kale and lettuces.

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So I chopped up turnips, a couple of potatoes and beets and added them to leeks and garlic scapes sauteed in olive oil and butter. I added dill and red pepper flakes. Right before serving I blended it all up, added salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

As the vegetables simmered on the stove, I sauteed more garlic scapes, dill and chives in olive oil and made herbed croutons from the 1/2 eaten loaf of sourdough bread leftover from my lunch a few days ago. Danger Boy watched the whole thing, perched under my muddy jeans and garlic scapes.

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Please use the following recipe as a guide- I don’t have a tendency to measure things- and adjust it to whatever vegetables are haunting you.

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Early Summer Soup with Herbed Croutons

Soup ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 leek, cleaned and chopped
4 garlic scapes, finely chopped (use only the part below the bud)
2 potatoes, cut into chunks
5 white turnips, cut into chunks
2 beets, cut into chunks
herbs (I used dried thyme, pepper flakes and fresh dill)
4 cups water (or veggie broth, if you like)
lemon juice
salt + pepper to taste

Crouton ingredients:

1/2 loaf of good, old bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh herbs (I used dill, chives and a chopped garlic scape)
salt + pepper

Directions:

In a large soup pot heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the leek and scapes and saute for a few minutes. Add the root vegetables and herbs and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the liquid to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rip the bread into bite-sized pieces. In a skillet, saute the fresh herbs in the olive oil. Remove from the heat and add the bread, tossing to coat. Pour the bread onto a baking sheet, making sure to spread the pieces out. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring occasionaly.
When the vegetables in the soup are tender, blend it with an immersion blender until smooth. Add fresh herbs and as much lemon juice as you like (I like a lot, Dan likes a little, so I add more to my own bowl). Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a pour of olive oil, more dill and herbed croutons.

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Cultivating and cooking are in our bones. This soup will warm yours.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Full circle

About 42 million years ago when Dan and I visited Bayfield in March, I found out that I was going to be interviewing for the Greater Madison Writing Project. While on vacation in Boulder in April, I found out that I had been accepted to the program. And as of last Thursday, I can call myself a fellow of the GMWP Summer Institute (barring a couple of assignments that I still owe my team of enthusiastic leaders). Being part of the summer program meant presenting a 90-minute ‘Teacher Workshop’ in which I shared something that I was wondering about how I taught writing. I considered prezi and power point, but the truth is, I love blogs. So I created another one for my presentation- you can find this blog, entitled ‘Inspiring Writers,’ here.

Before my summer writing adventure began in July, Dan and I took a trip back to the Bayfield area, but this time we didn’t stop at the edge of the land. This time we took the ferry across the drink to Madeline Island.

Oh, Madeline Island. We jumped off rocks into Lake Superior, cooked delicious meals in the campsite and had riproaring campfires. We drove around listening to Neil Young, drank beer at Tom’s Burned Down Bar, checked out real estate and decided that we could retire now and work later.

And speaking of Bayfield, the photo behind this story has been making me happy/ weepy for several days now. If anyone knows anyone getting married in the midwest area anytime soon, I think you should encourage them to hire this woman.

All of this leads me to beets.

You have stuck around this far, so the least I can do is give you an idea for dinner. Dan and I recently dined with our friends Martha and Dominic, who always give me inspiration for salads. On this evening in their backyard we had a salad of garden tomatoes, olive oil, basil and mozzarella cheese and one of shredded beets dressed them in citrus and herbs. I have been making a version of this beet salad religiously since that night.

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Shredded beet salad with citrus and herbs

1 bunch beets (I have been using golden beets)

Handful of fresh herbs (I like a combination of parsley, chives and lemon basil)

Juice of 1 lemon and 1 lime (and zest of lemon and lime, if you are so inclined)

Splash of orange juice

Glug of olive oil

Salt and pepper, optional

Shred the beets in a bowl. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a jar and give it a good shake. Pour dressing over the beets. Enjoy as is, or mix with spinach/ arugula/ lettuce.

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My mom and sister, my salad gurus, have taught me that you can marinate components of the salad and then use this in place of the dressing (for example, cucumbers that have been soaking in oil, vinegar and herbs). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Madeline Island, so I am heading back. This time I will be bringing a jar of shredded beets to pour over greens for our salads as we ponder that cabin with the lakefront view.