Trying New Things

The observant person finds many teachers.

James Clear

Not all my people were willing to introduce their palates to beets.The most celebrated among us, my Grandmother Margaret, would cast a despairing glance at the bowl full of sliced reds which my Grandfather CM had silently placed on the buffet for the noon meal. She would not any more know what to make of the balsamic roasted beets on menus today as she would social media photos of a trip to the Maldives.

CM enjoyed prepping them the same way he addressed any form of daily bread, boil the hell out of it. As I watched, he ritualistically dressed them in a yellow pyrex bowl and added a measured dash of salt and pepper.

“I do not care for beets,” she would command the stage as if this was news to us all. “They taste like flowers.”

Why a flowerful dish was alienating to her I am still disturbed for not asking. I found her distasteful statement of forbidden fruit enticing and to this day believe those words lit my flame of endless curiosity.

Hence if in my presence a person digs into their solitary belief system, I am compelled to introduce them to a bigger, wider world. I have no idea why this came to the top of my nature. Appreciation for complexity and never ending beauty of it all just makes sense when life is short and you live in gratitude.

Often I’m embarrassed that I feel the need to introduce new things to rigid minds such as my Grandmother’s. Who am I to explain that the fullness of creation’s design is, in fact, the Garden of Eden? But still my plight prevails.

Consider the pink fairy armadillo of Argentina. Should these tiny and shy nocturnal creatures be considered less worthy than the armadillos known only to the southeastern United States? Just because the pink fairies are who they are which is particularly artful and darling, I think not.

Which believe it or not brings us back to the beet that too apparently was created in diversity. Not surprisingly both the beet and armadillo share the commonality of making the most of the earth’s soil.

My dear Grandmother would talk a bluer streak if she had been aware of the countless varieties of edible beets. Now we are truly talking flowers: the colors and shapes, the utter variations promoted while being eaten for a healthy gut.

So you will be intrigued as I was when a gorgeous bunch of golden beets topped my CSA basket celebrating the week of autumnal colors and Thanksgiving. Seasonal eating is such a trip. Right in the middle of traditional dish time, I am compelled to try something that in our area is as rare as a bunch of Ruby Romans which I’ve heard have been known to sell for 458 dollars per grape.

Not only that, but along side the golden beets lay two fennel bulbs with their stupendous fronds. Because of the twin timing of their growth, beets and fennel are partners in flavor and I am here to say, that like my Grandfather, you will be applauded (albeit inaudibly) when you place this dish on the table. Words are not necessary only the open mindedness to make them a part of your broader dietary repertoire.

Roasted Beet and Fennel Salad

1 and 1/2 pound yellow beets, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch wedge.
*If the greens are attached, cut them off and sauté with olive oil for a wonderful addition to soup or omelet

4 thyme sprigs

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large fennel bulb with fronds – only the bulb should cut into 1/2 inch wedges
*Rinse and freeze entire frond for a flavorful addition to soups and casseroles.

1 tablespoon of fronds, chopped

1 teaspoon or more of sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400.

Toss the beets with the thyme, the water and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and cook for about 40 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly. Discard the thyme.

Drizzle the fennel wedges with the remaining 2 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes longer until tender and lightly browned.

Pour any beet juice into a bowl and whisk in the vinegar. Add the beets, fennel wedges and fronds and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.