Marginalia (and roasted golden beet, olive, and feta salad with fennel vinaigrette)

My friend Laura posted a picture of a stick library for dogs; basically a pile of sticks with a sign saying take-a-stick-leave-a-stick. (NO, Claire, NO! Leave it! Drop it! No more talking about dogs and sticks!) When I saw the picture I instantly thought that Clio would be way more interested in the dogs who had carried the sticks than in the sticks themselves. When she finds a well-gnawed stick she reads it, she studies it. She can probably tell every dog who carried it, what they had for breakfast, what mood they were in when they ate that breakfast.

Then I was thinking about books you get from an actual library–a book library–and how one of the pleasures of a book-library-book used to be seeing the names of the people who had checked the book out before you. I think nowadays they just stamp a date due, but if you get an older book you can still see the names of everyone who borrowed it, and the dates they did. Seeing those hand-written names evokes a rare wistfulness and curiosity. Sometimes people would check the book out multiple times, and you wonder what was happening in their lives that distracted them from it. Probably they just got bored, but maybe they set it aside to tend to someone with an illness. Or did they have an illness? Did they have a sudden chance for a trip around the world, and were they worried about taking a library book with them because they might lose it? Sometimes the same person would check the book out and then check it out again years later. And you can imagine them reading the book, setting it aside, and then something reminding them of it later, as they sat outside on a spring evening, with the light slanting just a certain way, and the birds singing a song they didn’t remember that they remembered. You think about what was going on in their life that made the book important to them again at that time.

And remember in high school, when you’d see the list of names in a well-worn text book, and you’d recognize, maybe, someone’s cool older sister? And how she wrote the name of her favorite band in bubble letters all over the inside covers, and you’d wonder what life was like when she walked the halls, if the school smelled the same, if the light was the same, or if it has that pale yellow glow of old home movies as it did in your imagination.

And when you buy a book from a used book store, if you’re lucky, whoever had it before you (or all the many people who had it before you!) left notes, and replies to the notes, and doodles. My favorite marginalia is that of my son Isaac, in every single math workbook or history worksheet ever. Of course I should tell him to concentrate on his studies, of course I should discourage him from making a world of sketches instead of focussing on his assignment. But his doodles are so perfect, so beautiful.

I read that beets and anise/fennel is a classic Spanish combination. Well, I love anything Spanish, and I’ve been obsessed with Fennel lately. I don’t currently have fresh fennel, it’s still oddly pricey, but I have a big packet of fennel seeds and I (ruin every dish-Isaac ed) add it to everything lately. This is a quick and simple and adaptable salad for days when vegetables are not fresh and juicy. Winter, or spring-clinging-to-winter like we have now. I don’t actually have arugula, but I think that would only make this so so much better. I’ve only been to the grocery store twice in the last year–David has been going since lockdown, and I sometimes forget to put all the things I really want on the list. Also, if I’m being honest I made all of this in the toaster oven instead of the big oven, but I’m assuming not everyone has a toaster oven or uses it as extensively as I do.

I think this could make a full meal if you combined it with couscous or farro or rice and some legume. But it was quite nice as a small bit of salad too.

2 medium-sized golden beets
Olive oil to coat
Handful of your favorite olives, roughly chopped
crumbled feta, to taste

Dressing
2T olive oil
1 t fennel or anise seeds
1 plump clove garlic
Generous squeeze of lemon juice
Splash of sherry vinegar
Dollop of honey

salt and freshly ground pepper

A couple handfuls of arugula

Preheat oven to 425

Peel the beets and cut into about 1/2 inch dice. Mix with just enough olive oil to coat and Spread evenly on a tray. Roast, stirring often for about 15 or 20 minutes till just starting to brown and caramelize. Slice through the skin of the garlic clove and pop it on the tray. Take it out when it’s starting to brown but still soft.

If you have a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel seeds with the garlic clove and a bit of olive oil till soft and mushy. If not combine in s small blender or processor. Add all of the other dressing ingredients and mix well.

In a bowl mix the roasted beets and olives. Toss with enough of the dressing to coat. Then crumble feta over. season well with salt and pepper, and adjust for lemon/honey/vinegar. If you have arugula, spread it in a shallow bowl and arrange the beety mixture over. If not, just scoop it into a bowl.

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