on roasting beetroot and gaining perspective (part 2)

vegetables2

A vegetable freak’s story, continued. If you’ve missed part 1, here it is. Enjoy!

My studies completed, I moved to Scandinavia and my lettuce addiction unexpectedly jumped up at me. Lettuce was so obvious that I didn’t even need it on my shopping list. My very diet-conscious parents have always kept my plate green, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. So, I am one these annoying persons who can’t imagine pizza without lettuce. Or bread and cheese without lettuce. Or a sandwich without lettuce.

No, I am not ashamed to admit that I am a lettuce freak. Do you hear me, waiter? Don’t ever take my plate away before I have delightedly munched the ornamental lettuce leave. I HAVE NOT FINISHED!

Yes. That’s how bad it is. But I digress.

In my local scandinavian supermarket, lettuce came heavily wrapped in plastic. Option one: tiny lettuce hearts, ridiculously expensive. Option two: somewhat cheaper iceberg lettuce, local in the summer, otherwise from Spain. With the shameful purpose of getting my money’s worth of the vital greenness, I usually went for the later. Admittedly, overlooking two more layers of plastic, I spiced it up with a bit of arugula.

All this plastic gave me a guilty conscience. I loved it up north, but oh, how I missed that Breton farmer’s market! I subscribed to a vegetable delivery system whose website advertised beautiful, fresh, organic vegetables in returnable wooden boxes. It turned out that as far as the absence of plastic was concerned, the photos were, er, non-contractual. But that’s another story.

Half of the year, pretty much every week, there was a head of cabbage in the delivery. We were only halfway through last week’s, and the next one was already there. Cabbage was piling up in the fridge. My partner and I looked at each other in distress. Throwing food away was out of the question, but how on earth were we gonna get done with all this cabbage? It took us a few months to stop buying lettuce and start making coleslaw.

I realize now that for us who grew up in lands where lettuce can grow pretty much all year long, but also in a system where tomatoes can be found in the stores even when it’s snowing outside, winter vegetables were not much more than a necessary evil. Something you had instead. Something you ate because it was healthy, not tasty. That’s how my friend felt about broccoli. In our habits, in our culture, broccoli, like beetroot, had to be boiled. Cabbage had to be simmered for hours until all crispness was thoroughly destroyed. Crispness was to be found in lettuce – period.

Last saturday, we drove the 10 kilometers to the nearest grocery store, and came back happily with a huge head of local, organic cabbage. We feasted on a pile of roasted beetroot with goat’s cheese and rosemary. I suddenly realized that living here up north, and living frugally, I have trained my taste buds a little more. I don’t even look at this watery, tasteless iceberg lettuce in the store anymore. I rush straight at fresh, crispy local cabbage and juicy carrots. It is cripsness I want, not lettuce.

There is still – and always will be – a bottle of olive oil on the countertop. There is a slightly exaggerated supply of canned tomatoes in the cupboards. There are regular care packages with rosemary and thyme from my parents Provençal garden. You cannot just ditch your roots, can you? But as far as root vegetables are concerned, they should be roasted, damn it, not over boiled.

Over a delicious plate of roast beetroot, listening to the snow storm outside, I thought: there is no instead anymore.

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PS: Photo of this fall’s farmer’s market goodness stolen, again, from a certain brother of mine.

on roasting beetroot and gaining perspective (part 1)

farmer's market vegetable

I remember the horrified look on a friend’s face when I opened my lunchbox one day to reveal an innocent bunch of broccoli florets. He almost choked. “You’re putting broccoli in your salad?” Undeniably, to some of my friends, I am a vegetable freak.

It is indeed quite hard for me to cite a single vegetable I wouldn’t eat. There are some however that until recently, I just wouldn’t have rushed at when shopping by myself. Beetroot is one of them, poor beetroot! It’s not that I didn’t like it, but I definitely preferred all things mediterranean.

Both my parents are from Provence, and though I didn’t grow up there, I most certainly grew up delighting in platefuls of ratatouille and all kinds of greens sprinkled with thyme, topped with fresh basil, soaking in olive oil or in tomato sauce.

So, naturally, when I left home and started taking care of my own food, tomatoes were on top of my shopping list, year-round. I willingly accepted the idea that it is better to eat seasonal food. I did my best, but tomatoes were the cornerstone of my diet and I had simply never thought of doing without them.

I soon discovered that the lovely Breton city I had settled in as a student had a fantastic farmer’s market I could easily walk to every saturday morning. In the summer months, I would find organic tomatoes that had nothing, nothing in common with their supermarket counterparts. I stopped buying – in fact I even stopped wanting – tomatoes in the winter.

Great, I thought, I’ve reached that step: I’m eating local, seasonal food, and I don’t even feel deprived. I’d rather not eat tomatoes than eating this watery, tasteless shit. If I want color on my plate, I’ll have beetroot instead.

That’s my point. Not beetroot. Beetroot instead. I had certainly taken a step forward but as I was about to realize, there was still some way to go.

to be continued…

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PS: Photo of this fall’s farmer’s market goodness stolen from a certain brother of mine.

on neighbors and apple cake

apples-small

My neighbor is almost 90 and we don’t speak the same language. In his garden, he has a beautiful apple tree.

When I first moved to Scandinavia, I landed in a big city. I rarely stammered anything in my new language because all my neighbors spoke English very well. In my green, tidy, fancy neighborhood, every garden had its own beautiful apple tree.

The apples, though, remained largely unpicked. They fell, and rotted. Sometimes, a few remained on the trees after the snow came, dressing them with red dots, looking like Christmas bulbs. It was beautiful, and stupid.

This fall, just a few days after I ended up in this tiny village here up north, my 90 years old neighbor, who doesn’t speak English, told me that he had too many apples and that I could pick as many as I wanted from his tree.

I stammered, in my new language: thank you, thank you so much, that is so nice of you.

I’ve spoken different languages and lived in neighborhoods with apple trees before, but this, you see, had never happened to me.

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The apple cake of good neighbors

Ingredients

3 dL flour
2 dL sugar
1 ts baking soda
1 dL sour milk or yoghurt
2 eggs
1/2 dL neutral vegetable oil (I use peanut oil)
1 pinch of vanilla sugar

2-3 of the neighbor’s apples. (If your neighbor happens to have a plum tree instead, grab a bunch of plums. It’s delicious too)

Instructions

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add liquids/eggs and mix well. Pour in a buttered pan. Slice the fruits and arrange them on top of the batter. Place in a warm oven (200°C). Bake until the top is golden (about half an hour). Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and continue baking for another half hour or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

on growing food and carrot greens soup

last-harvest-small

That’s about it. The last harvest of the season. Not pictured: a nice bunch of salads, a bunch of peppermint, and the last blueberries from the forest. The herbs and flowers, we dried and saved to slowly enjoy in cups of tea and sprinkled over pizza through the winter. The vegetables, we savored – every last one of them. Picked about a month ago, and now, long gone.

I was pretty sure that I had never wasted much food. But growing my own – or, more precisely, growing only a tiny little part of it – I’m learning my lesson: there’s still room for improvement. Before growing carrots myself, I had never wondered, silly me, if you could eat carrot greens. I’m glad I know that now, because they make a delicious soup.

Here’s to growing, what? A week’s worth of carrots?
Next year, hopefully, we’ll grow some more.


Carrot Greens Soup
adapted from this recipe

Serves 4 as a starter, or 2 as a main meal with home baked bread and cheese or hummus.

Ingredients
– The greens from a bunch of carrots (about half the carrots pictured above). I removed the stem-like parts and kept only the leafy parts.
– 3 potatoes, pealed and diced
– 1 onion, chopped
– 1 clove of garlic
– 3 tablespoons of oil
– 1 pinch of fenugreek, or 1 cube of stock
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 liter of water

Instructions
Sauté the onions and garlic in oil. Add the potatoes and carrot greens and brown for 4-5 minutes while stirring.
Pour the water and add seasoning. Bring to a light boil, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Blend and enjoy. Never
EVER again throw away any carrot greens.