Roasted radish and beet salad

Roasted radish and beet salad

Whenever I hear the word “radish” I think of the Simpsons. Other things that make me think of the Simpsons: oregano, doughnuts, convenience store hot dogs, very long sandwiches, skateboards, saxophones, tramampamolines, clouds in a blue sky, Mitt Romney, and, of course, 3 foot high blue hair. I used to love the Simpsons! I haven’t watched for about a decade, maybe. It all went downhill, for me, when they started having celebrity guests in most episodes. Luke Perry was the beginning of the end. But I’ve watched every episode from before that time about a billion times each, so I’m covered, Simpsons-wise. It’s funny how many situations in life call to mind a scene from the Simpsons. We rented the second season on DVD for the boys. They’ve seen some pretty dark shows – Star Wars, Harry Potter, Coraline – they all have some actually scary moments, and my boys are usually fine with it. But they found the Simpsons very unsettling. Despite the tall blue hair and the absurd humor, the Simpsons are very real. The problems they face each episode are very real human problems. And problems that my boys could relate to, and felt uneasy about – getting in trouble, problems with bullies, realizing that your parents don’t have the answer to every question. I think, despite being cartoons, and very cartoonish, the characters in this odd yellow family are well-rounded and subtle. I like when Lisa is little girlish, I like when she’s Simpsonish. I love Marge’s gentle nature – I need to be more like her!

When we got two big bunches of radishes from the CSA, I was tempted to carve them all into radish rosettes, like Marge’s impressive aliens. Instead, I decided to roast them with beets. Both pink, both root vegetables, but one is sharp and spicy and one is sweet and earthy. I thought they’d be perfect together! I’ve never eaten roasted radishes before, so I tried to keep the salad very simple so I could really taste them. I added almonds and fresh basil. I think it would be good with feta or goat cheese as well – maybe next time. We ate this with some fresh arugula from the farm, and it was very good indeed!

Here’s Mikey Dread with Roots and Culture
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Beet dogs

Beet dogs

I love sleeping. I’m not very good at it – I never have been! I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and my brain will start buzzing, and I can’t quiet it down. It’s like the little people in my brain that have the middle-of-the night shift are working over time. I used to panic that if I didn’t get enough sleep I’d go crazy. I mean, there’s only so much of being with myself that I can take! I need a break, man! Of course, panicking about not being able to sleep is a rookie mistake; all the seasoned insomniacs know that it only makes things worse. Having children has put some sleepless fears to rest. I get along fine without much sleep. Yes I’ll be tired and blurry, but it won’t last forever. But a good night’s sleep, or even a good few-hours of sleep, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I don’t consider this a lazy attitude, because with sleep comes dreams, and dreaming is one of the most active and creative activities that a mind can engage in. I love dreaming! Perhaps because I’m a filmmaker that hasn’t made a film in over a decade, I consider every dream like a short film – I’ve even have a dream that I make a film, and it’s always a perfect and beautiful film, which I lose when I wake up. David’s alarm goes off at 6, and I’ll sleep for another hour or so, and this is when you have all the best dreams – or at least you remember them best. Dreams about old clothes, dreams about flying, dreams about falling, dreams about houses that have unexpected rooms and passages, dreams about climbing trees, dreams about my dog, dreams about people I’ve never met, dreams of swimming, dreams of drowning, dreams about water, dreams about glass, dreams about darkness, dreams about school, and about schools with unexpected rooms and corridors. And lately, of course, dreams about food. This recipe came to me in a dream. And part of me, upon waking, thought, you’re not really going to try that, are you? And another part of me thought, why the hell not? These are a sort of version of vegetarian hot dogs. They’re made with beets, pinto beans, garlic, smoked paprika, a pinch of nutmeg, and a pinch of allspice. They have some flour and eggs in them. They’re very simple and easy to make. They look funny and a bit embarrassing while you’re making them, so if you have boys in your house I suggest you banish them from the kitchen, unless you’d like to hear rude jokes and titters. The jokes stopped when they tasted these, though! Everybody was dubious, but everybody loved them. We all ate more than we planned on. Isaac sat with his chair tilted back, one beet dog in each hand, talking and gesturing, and ate every single bite. (Being allowed to eat them with their hands was part of the appeal!) Malcolm declared them better than store-bought not-dogs. I tried them two ways. First, I just fried them in butter (which is the way I make not dogs.) Second, in a flash of inspiration, I had the idea to boil them first, like gnocchi (which they resemble in some ways!) and then fry them in butter. I thought these came out better. Less dry, with a nice sort of chewy texture. They really are unlike anything I’ve ever eaten, but in a good way. Try them! Why the hell not! They’re very easy to make. I think that the boiled ones would be grillable, too. I’ll try it and let you know!

Here’s Big Mama Thornton with Hound Dog
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Beet & zucchini tacos with chipotle & queso blanco

Beet and zucchini tacos

Ever since the last time, I’ve been thinking of quotes to use this time. The last time, I chose the quotes at random, and was curious to see how they made connections with each other. This time, I’ve chosen quotes that have been stuck in my head one way or another over the years. And one from the book I’m currently reading. And one from Isaac, which he said while I was typing this up. Do you have quotes that get stuck in your head, and surface at the strangest times?

Mom, make your hand a fist and pretend it’s the world.”- Isaac.

He ain’t God, man.” – Chili Davis, on Dwight Gooden

Hwaet thu ece God !” – King Alfred

Now, on a Sunday morning, most of the windows
were occupied, men in their shirtsleeves leant out smoking, or carefully
and gently held small children on the sills.
” – Franz Kafka, The Trial

One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her
?” – Shakespeare, Hamlet

It took me like three hours to finish the shading on your upper lip. It’s probably the best drawing I’ve ever done.” – Napoleon Dynamite

The more stupid one is, the closer one is to reality. The more stupid one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Educated no, stupid yes,
And when I say stupid I mean stupid fresh
” – The Beastie Boys

And here are some tacos to use up some of the beets and zucchini you got from your CSA/garden!” – Claire
I was excited all day about making (and eating!) this. I bought some queso blanco at the grocery store. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for ages, but it’s a bit of a splurge. It wasn’t universally popular in my family. I like it – it’s mild, and salty. If you have feta, that would work well, too (it goes nicely with the earthy sweetness of the beets.) And, actually, grated jack or sharp cheddar would be tasty in this as well! I thought this turned out really pretty – the beets go so nicely with the dark kidney beans, and they color everything around them, but there are flashes of green here and there to set them off. The flavors were nice – smoky, spicy, sweet. The recipe calls for cooked rice. I definitely recommend basmati or something else with distinct grains – anything else would make the mixture too sticky. Wild rice or black rice might be even better! I just made a big pot of basmati, mixed some in, and left some separate for the boys, who like a higher rice to bean ratio. I think tacos are the most fun to eat! And the quickest and easiest to cook! I have some leftover beet/zuke/bean mixture, and I think it would make a nice bisque, if puréed with some good broth. Will I try it? I don’t know! It’s very hot, still!

Here’s Trenchtown Rock, from Bob Marley. There was a train bridge in New Brunswick, back in the day. A beautiful old train bridge. And somebody had painted in large white letters, “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” I mother flippin love that bridge, that quote, that song…

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Steamed dumplings with beets, black beans and lime

Beet dumplings (these have been toasted, on day 2, so they’re a little browned on top!)

As Oscar Wilde famously said, “When a person remakes beet dumplings after having ruined the first batch by dropping the entire thing on the ground, this illustrates the triumph of hope over experience.” Well, he may not have used those exact words, but the sentiment was there. Can’t you just see him in a beet-red velvet suit? Maybe not on a day as hot as this one!! Anyway, here at The Ordinary, we believe in second chances. If, at first, you ruin your entire dinner and waste a bunch of ingredients, try try again, but this time let somebody else carry the food out to the table. That’s our motto. So David cleverly fixed the broken bamboo steamer, and we decided to spend one of the warmest days of the year standing over a steaming wok. Actually – you don’t need to spend much time over the stove at all, making this. You just leave the steamer on the wok for twenty minutes, and that’s that! Ever since The Dinner of Disaster, I’ve been wanting to try the combination of beets, black beans, tamari, lime and basil. It sounded like such a nice earthy/sweet/tart/salty combination. And it seemed like it might turn out quite pretty, judging from the mess of innards we cleaned off the ground.

Tamari – lime – basil dipping sauce

It turned out very delicious! The dumplings are plump and juicy, pleasingly soft, but with a bit of crunch from the pine nuts. The star of the show, for the boys, was the tamari dipping sauce, which we made with balsamic, brown sugar, lime, basil and hot red pepper flakes. They’ve been eating it on everything – rice, long noodles, green peas. The dumplings were very pretty, too! Dark, rosy, and with a hint of green. If you don’t have a steamer, you can make these in a regular vegetable steamer, of even bake them in the oven. They come out a little crisper that way.

Inside a beet dumpling

Here’s Byron Lee and the Dragonaires with Scorcher.
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Grilled veg, pigeon peas, lime, basil and pine nuts

Grilled veg and pigeon peas

Here at The Ordinary’s anti-boredom institute, we believe that you have to be taught to be bored. Babies are never bored. Give them a shaft of light and their little fingers and they’re happy for ages. Little children don’t get bored. It’s when you’re older, and somebody shows you that it’s cool to be bored, that it all comes crashing down, and you lose the ability to entertain yourself. Unfortunately it feels as if this is happening at a younger and younger age. One week into summer vacation, Malcolm announced that he was bored, and needed to watch a(nother) video. I lost it a little bit. I yelled, “you are not that boy – you don’t have so little going on in your busy brain that you need to watch television to keep from being bored!” He sighed, and may have rolled his eyes, my little nearly-ten-year-old-teenager. I’m a big believer in unstructured time, for little ones. Isaac likes to lie on his back in bed, one leg thrown over the other knee, singing and thinking. I always wonder what’s going on in his bright little head. The two of them together can spend hours on some scheme or another. Sometimes it’s better not to know what they’re up to! When I was growing up my mom used to say, “people who are bored are boring.” It’s a lesson that I took to heart. I truly believe that you should have enough inner resources to be stuck in traffic and not be bored – your thoughts should be able to keep you busy and happy. It’s mother-flippin hard sometimes, I know! Inertia, ennui, fatigue, 90+ degree weather – they weigh you down! But it’s what I wish for my bright boys. Now to keep them away from the damn DVD player! Of course it might help if I stopped writing about how I don’t want them to be bored, stepped away from the damn computer, and engaged! We live in such a noisy world! My friend Laura shared this article from the NYT that I found very validating!

OMG, you know what else is totally boring? Eating the same grilled vegetables two days in a row. Sheesh. Unless…you sautée them with pigeon peas, add a squeeze of lime, a giant handful of fresh basil, and a scattering of pine nuts. (Now that I have pine nuts, pretty much every thing I make will involve pine nuts. Until they’re gone. You’ve been warned!) This turned out really tasty. It was an after work – very tired – it’s too hot to cook meal, but it was actually quite special. It was David’s suggestion to use pigeon peas, and it was an excellent one. They have an earthy quality that went well with everything else. You could use any grilled vegetables you have leftover, but I have to say beets, potatoes and mushrooms were lovely. I stir-fried some zucchini, and with the beet juice and nigella seeds, it ended up looking uncannily like water-melon slices! You could, of course grill the zucchini. You could also roast all the veg, or even sautee it all, if that was easier for you, or you don’t have a grill, or it happens not to be summer as your read this. And you could substitute chickpeas for pigeon peas, if that’s what you have on hand. We ate this with basmati rice and some good bread.

Here’s Bob Marley with Lively Up Yourself. I can’t get enough of him, lately!

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Roasted (tomato, beet, & zucchini) sauce with basil and pine nuts

Roasted sauce

It’s my birthday! I know I should probably be more cool about it, and not say anything, but I’m like a big (rapidly aging) child when it comes to my birthday. I genuinely don’t want a lot of fuss, or presents or parties, but I have this feeling that I want something special to happen, but on some cosmic level. I know! It’s dumb! I’m 43, which is just absolutely crazy to me. How can I be middle-aged when I’m still waiting to feel like a responsible full-grown adult? I have to admit that turning 40 was harder for me than I expected it to be. Part of me felt like I was having a slow-motion mid-life crisis, with brief shard-like pangs of anxiety and melancholy. (I feel better this year, though! Not sure why!) I’m not indulging in this birthday whine for sympathy, but because one of the harder things, for me, was having everybody tell me how great they felt to turn 40, and how easy it was for them. I think it’s okay to feel the pangs of time passing. Anxious aging people everywhere, I absolve you!

The other night while we were at the shore, and I had my usual not-in-my-own-bed insomnia, I was half awake and listening to the waves, and this metaphor crept into my head. I’ll share it with you! It’s an extended metaphor, and I’m going to go on about it for a really long time, so I get extra points on my essay. Aging is like being in the ocean. You bob along, from day to day, treading water. You see your family on the beach, bright, and real, and busy and playing in the waves that wash towards them. You feel the sand under your feet slipping away, a little more with each wave, but it’s not unpleasant. Every once in a while you step on a sharp shell or get pinched by a crab, but the waves carry the sharp thing away again, and you bob and and you tread. The vasty ocean curves all around you, beautiful, comforting, frightening, inexplicable. And you’re fine; you’re lifted up, you’re set back down, you’re happy. And then when your back is turned a giant wave comes and breaks right over your head, you’re not ready for it, you’re turned upside down, your mouth and eyes and ears are full of water. But you struggle to right yourself, to see your family on the glowing sand, you clear your soggy head, you tread, you bob, you’re fine.

The older I get, the more I realize it’s the small everyday things that matter. Today we’re making a cake, and Malcolm drew me a card with green and blue Dog Woman on it, and Isaac drew me a card with a picture of him and me laughing. The sun is shining, the day is cool. Yesterday I went to a grocery store with my boys, but it was a special grocery store, and I got special things, and they’re full of happy potential for good meals. We’re all on the same boat together going in the same inevitable direction – we may as well enjoy the meals!

One of the nice things about having a summer birthday is the vegetables. I LOVE VEGETABLES!! Yesterday I made a sauce with roasted tomatoes, roasted beets, roasted zucchini, tons of fresh basil, a pinch of marjoram and thyme, and a few of my special birthday purchases – viz, sherry vinegar, fresh mozzarella, and pinenuts. I think it turned out really nice! A little beet-sweet, with the subtle tang of sherry vinegar. We had it with penne, but it would be good with anything, I think. It would even make a good soup, if you added more water or stock!

Here’s Tom Waits’ Time, surely one of the most beautiful songs ever!

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Golden beet & goat cheese tarte tatin AND Roasted beets with french feta and hazelnuts

Beet tarte tatin

I’m going to be 43 this month, and yesterday I bought reading glasses for the first time. Apparently this is very predictable behavior, and exactly the age one’s eyes are supposed to stop working. Sigh. I bought the glasses so I could get on with a paperback copy of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, which has the most fiendishly small cramped letters I have every seen. I suppose I could have just bought another copy of the book, but it’s not just this paperback. It’s other books, too, anything with small print…particularly at the end of the day. It’s time I faced a fact that is right in front of my face – literally, because I have to hold it very close or I can’t see it.

I’m making slow progress with The Bros. Karamazov, but I’m enjoying it so much. I love to read novels in which the characters think so deeply and question everything – their lives, their souls their place in the world and society – to such an extent that this becomes a huge part of the drama. Levin’s musings at the end of Anna Karenina make me weepy! His story should be over, if you take it plot point by plot point, but there’s so much he doesn’t understand! When I was little I used to think about things in this way (at least that’s how I remember it). I used to try to figure it all out, and understand how I fit in with everything, and get all confused, and then have little flashes of clarity where certain things made sense. And then I’d heat up some frozen french fries and pore over a Tintin. I was a weird kid!! At some point I stopped thinking about it so much…everything goes so fast you get swept along, hour to hour, day to day. Maybe it’s better that way…there’s something to be said for just getting on with your day, getting things done. And we’ll always have Russian novels! And you just know they’re eating beets, because, um, borscht is Russian, right? We got some red beets from our CSA, and then I went to a market and saw some big beautiful golden beets, and I couldn’t resist! So we’ve got beets for weeks. I decided to make a beet tarte tatin. This is an upside-down tart, usually involving apples and caramel. I thought it would be nice to make a savory version with beets, because they’re so sweet that they seem to form their own caramel when you cook them. (I’ve tried it in the past with green tomatoes and that turned out well!) I added some balsamic, lemon zest, orange juice and goat cheese – a few tart, bright elements to offset the earthy sweetness of the beets. I think it came out really well! I cooked all the beets, and then I had too many to fit in one layer, so I made two layers. I think, if I had a do over, I’d make one layer of beets, and save the rest to toss with pasta or chop into a salad, because the two layers of beets was very beet-y. Delicious, though, if you like beets!! With a real tarte tatin, you use a skillet to caramelize the apples, then you put the dough right on that and put the whole thing in the oven. I wasn’t sure my skillet could handle it, so I transfered it to a cake pan. If you have a big, oven-proof skillet, though – you’re golden!!

And the other day, I made a nice salad-ish meal with roasted beets and potatoes, sliced thin, and sprinkled with french feta and hazelnuts. The whole assemblage being made upon a bed of arugula. I used a combination of red beets, golden beets, red bliss potatoes and yukon gold potatoes, and it was very pretty indeed!!

Here’s The Perfect Beet by Talib Kweli & KRS One. What? What? It’s beat? Ohhhh. These two men think a lot, and tell us all about it.
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Crispy beet & caper wontons with port wine sage sauce

Beet & caper won tons

I’ve always loved stories (usually children’s stories, but you sometimes find it in Dickens as well) in which a character is subjected to terrible cold and hunger and discomfort, but somehow finds themself, in the next scene, basking in humble fireside warmth and nice things to eat. On our spring break, we went into the mountains. We went for a hike, despite the chilliness, and the predictions of rain or even snow. We were in a place we’d been before, and the paths always wound back to the beginning. They were all only a mile long. We could do that! Isaac got tired and wanted to turn around. The weather worsened. We thought – we’re in a loop, if we turn now, we would have been minutes from the beginning. So we trudged on. Finally we came to a map. The woods chilled and quieted, and a cold pelting hail rained down with purpose. The map said, “Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of this trail. Now turn around and trudge back the miserable 1 and half miles, with a tired 6-year-old and a 9 year-old who has twisted his ankle.” It was an oddly panicky moment! One of those, “who said I could be a mom, because moms are supposed to know exactly where you’re going and how to get there” moments. But we walked back, and for five minutes the sun came out, and it was nice talking to the boys while we walked. We got to one spot where somebody had obviously made a campfire. The dirt was wet and sweet, and the charred wood was equally fragrant. Don’t think I’m crazy, but it really made me want to eat beets!! Then the hail came back, and we were so grateful to see the end of the trail, and go back to David’s mom’s lovely cabin and sit in dry warm pjs by the fireside!

Beets are sweet! And beautiful! And so tasty! I can’t believe I ever thought I didn’t like them. They’re combined here with capers (or flavor dynamites, as they’re known in my family). The tart savory brininess of the capers is a nice relief from the earthy sweetness of the beets. The beets are grated and toasted, and they have a lovely, charred-sugar flavor, and an almost juicy texture. All of this is tucked inside a wonton wrapper (they’re so much fun!) and then quickly fried in olive oil. Making for a perfect little crispy pouch of juicy deliciousness. We had these as a meal with a big salad, but I think they’d be a fun appetizer or snack for a party with a bowl of delicious dipping sauce alongside.

What is that delicious dipping sauce, you ask? Well, it is rich and savory, made with port wine, balsamic, fresh sage, and shallots. It’s a bit like a beurre rouge, but it has a lot less butter in it.

Here’s Down the Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton. Wonder if he was craving beets as well?

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Beezza

Beet pizza

It’s a beet pizza! My nine-year-old son asked me to write about this. It was his invention from start to finish.

It’s fun to take a walk with Malcolm, because he talks a lot. He’s a scrounger, and an inventor, and he has a wonderfully vivid imagination. He likes to talk about the things he’d like to create – contraptions he’ll make out of bits and pieces he finds; cars that he’ll invent that will make the world cleaner; superheroes that will make everyday life easier for people, or will save trees or animals. He has such sweet, zany ideas, and they’re always a pleasure to hear about, even though they’re not always possible to carry out. Not yet, anyway.

He has these schemes for things to create in the kitchen, too, and these are possible, they’re always possible. Nobody is going to tell him that it won’t work, or it sounds like a bad idea. (Luckily he has very good food instincts!) It’s a delight to cook with him – he’s so confident and creative. He likes to use the blender and the little food processor. He likes to chop things up. I was nervous about this at first, but I took a cue from my husband, the furniture maker. It will come as no surprise that Malcolm likes to go to David’s shop as well. Rather than tell Malcolm that he can’t use a saw, or a chisel, or (gulp) a lathe, David will teach him the safe way to use it. It takes some of the mystery out of it, and it makes it more fun, because he can create something really useful and beautiful. So I showed him how to chop vegetables with a big knife, but safely. (It’s nice to have a helper with that job!)

Malcolm and me in the messy kitchen

When my boys were littler I used to worry that I told them too often that they were handsome and smart and wonderful at everything. I thought I might turn them into vain little egotists. Now I think you can’t tell them often enough. The world is not an easy place, and the knockings-down start when they’re pretty young. I love cooking, I love sharing it with Malcolm, and I love to see him feel good about what he makes. What a joy to sit down as a family and eat something we’ve made together!

Phew – I just got very side-tracked. Let’s talk about beezza! It’s a pizza, and it’s made with Malcolm’s Supreme Spicy Sauce, which is made with Malcolm’s Supreme Spicy Spice mix. The mix reminds me a little of ethiopian berbere – it’s a little sweet and a little spicy. The toasted beets – also Malcolm’s invention – are in the sauce itself, and then dotted about the top. This is like no pizza you’ve ever tasted! It has a roastiness, from roasted red peppers and smoked paprika; a sweet earthiness from the beets; and a bit of tang, from tomatoes and balsamic. Even Isaac ate about four pieces!

Here’s Body Movin, by the Beastie Boys. One of Malcolm’s favorites. He’s so sweet he’s like a nice bon bon!
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Beet risotto croquettes

Risotto croquettes

What do you do with all of your leftover risotto? Turn it into croquettes, of course! You could make these with any risotto, I think, but I had beet lime risotto left, so that’s what I used. They’re very very simple to make, and they make a nice meal with a big salad. I couldn’t decide if I should fry them or bake them, they’d be crispier fried, but they’d fall apart and smoke up the kitchen, so I decided to bake them. If I had a deep fryer, I probably would have used that. But I don’t! (As we discussed this conundrum, my husband and I came up with the idea of slow cooker deep frying. For maximum oil absorption! Yum!) Baking them also gives the special surprise cheese in the center a chance to melt. What’s better than melted surprise cheese? We had these with a sauce made of pesto, balsamic, and a little of the broth that I used to make the risotto itself, but you could vary the sauce to suit your mood or the risotto that you used. My son dipped them in barbeque sauce!

Here’s A Tribe Called Quest’s wonderful Ham and Eggs. That’s right, they say “nice red beets”!

Asparagus tips look yummy, yummy, yummy
Candied yams inside my tummy
A collage of good eats, some snacks or nice treats
Apple sauce and some nice red beets
This is what we snack on when we’re Questin’
(both: No second guessin)

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