Friday, December 11, 2009

“That Beet’s All”

They call it the season of lights—because it’s so dark, I guess. We begin to appreciate the things that sparkle, like new-fallen snow as it catches the morning sunlight. But silhouettes of deer are also beautiful in the backyard moonlight and the vigor of our resident red-bellied woodpecker is striking as he shushes away the finches and chickadees.

Other lights of the season?

- Colored house lights have come into vogue, it seems, and for the most part I prefer them to the dangling strings of faux icicles that were popular a few years ago. Our neighbors to the west have a dense skein of tiny red and blue bulbs draped above their gutters, and the young couple with a new baby two houses down to the east have gone wild with a slightly less attractive mess of red, orange, and blue.

- The Happy Hour menu at Vincent. We parked in the Target ramp and bought enough laundry detergent inside to meet the Free Parking requirement, then sauntered two blocks down Nicollet Mall through the bitter evening to a couple of stool’s in Vincent’s dark and cozy bar. The menu now features a chicken liver pate served with golden slices of toasted bread.

“That’s a fine addition to the menu,” I said to the bartender, “though it’s a little sweet.” “There’s a sweet onion glaze on top,” he replied. “The French love their sweets.”

- Root crops. The furor of excitement over the turnip harvest has dissipated by now, but I was thrilled when Hilary came home from the farmer’s market the other day with a big bag of beets. I peeled them dutifully and they seemed to glow with the stored energy of summer sunlight. Alice Waters notes in her book on vegetables: “Unlike other root vegetables, the beet (Beta vulgaras) has intense, highly-saturated jewel-like colors.” And she’s right. And the effect is intensified with the brilliant December sunlight shining through them.

When they were peeled I ran them all through the food processor; they emerged as firm, thick, jiggly strips of glorious purplish red. Add carrots, onions, chicken stock, some pre-boiled stew meat and a healthy clump of fresh dill, simmer for an hour or three, and you’ve got Christmas borsht. (The white sour cream, with a spring of dill on top, completes the effect.)

But my love of beets has always been sullied by a perturbing undercurrent, a dark secret that takes the form of a very bad joke. A man is brought his dinner on a silver warming platter. Upon lifting the lid he sees that the platter contains only a single enormous beet. He turns to the waiter and says, “Well, that beet's all!”

No comments: