Friday, September 22, 2006

the whole beet

i have been blessed with beets this summer, and it looks like this blessing will last into the fall. there are countless reasons to become enamoured with this vegetable. from the wonderful color that seeps out from severed root and stains your skin, to the wine colored veins of the leaves. then there's the indistinguishable flavors of the root, both earthy and sweet at the same time. and the surprisingly spicy undertones of the leaves... every way i have prepared them, from the complicated construction of perestroika to simply boiling the root and stir frying or steaming the greens, they have been utterly delectable. but the other night i prepared beets in a way that has topped all others (excluding borscht). rather than separating the root from the leaf, i tried cooking the entire plant. this works great if you have a handful of small beets. here's what you do:

wash well and remove any inedible parts, leaving them whole and keeping the skin and the leaves. using a heavy pan with a lid that fits securely, heat a couple tablespoons oil, juice from one lemon, some chopped onion, dash dill, dash tarragon, a little bit of garlic (a small clove chopped fine) and some salt. add whole beets and steam over medium heat with lid closed tightly. check after 5minutes, adding a little water if necessary to prevent burning. steam until tender (about 10-15 minutes depending on how many beets). hint: don't be tempted to peel the skin after cooking! trust me, it's edible, tastes good, and the only thing you'll achieve is dying the skin under your fingernails bright pink!

i ate these with homemade garlic mashed potatos, garden peas, kale stir fried in garlic & onion & braggs liquid aminos (you can also use tamari) and broccoli that was stir fried in a sesame orange sauce. it was a great combination of flavors, transforming my garden goods into gourmet fare. while each dish was tasty, the most simply prepared, the beets, left the most notable impression on my palette.

i got the idea from one of my favorite cookboks: Laurel's Kitchen. if the cool, rainy weather sticks around this weekend, i believe i'll try her recipe for whole beet borscht. sounds like a certain success!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Band of Brothers

With my company safely departed, Judy Branch seems quiet these days. Not silence, but the kind of quiet that allows frogs, crickets and distant trains to dominate the night air. The sort of quiet where you can actually hear the percussive beating of a moth's wings or an insect leap onto a broad, damp leaf. If you cut out the intermittent conversations between the Judy Branch pack and neighboring dogs, this place provides the perfect soundtrack for dreaming, reflection, and just being part of the quiet. Sometimes I sit inside and listen from my kitchen table, rocking chair or couch. Other times I contribute the creak of a porch swing, the brush-thumb of a banjo, or, like now, the muted click of a keyboard.

Tonight, I am soaking in the quiet after a turbulent day of withdrawal. For the past few days I have been 100% engaged in living life. I have opened myself to the hearts and minds of people I have come to deeply love, and I have basked in their friendship and affection. I have given myself completely to music and danced for hours without abandon on streets. These days spent in good company of the band (aforementioned house guests) provided me with an essential escape from the poisonous politics of my workplace. In hindsight, I realize that those crazy guys, who now feel like brothers to me, not only gifted me an escape, but reminded me how people should interact with each other every day they are alive. Traveling on the road together as much as they do, you would expect some seriously dysfunctional behavior. Yet they really seem to know how to treat each other and the people that they meet. The times they are stuck together are not only tolerable, but really good. Now that I am out of their fold, I am facing some of the nastiest forms of human interaction and manipulation by day. Even so, my doubt in the goodness of the human spirit is not so intense as it was before. Tonight I am soothed by the symphony on Judy Branch and the recent memories of fine times with friends.

I just wish that Judy Branch dogs Bingo, Monkey, Lucy, Sally and Frankie Mophead would stop it with the solo breaks already!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Strange Company

Six days ago, five house guests arrived at Judy Branch. Much of the heavy yard and house labor I threw myself into the days leading up to their arrival was in anticipation of their arrival. I knew that Judy Branch was plenty big enough to host five grown men, even if they were musicians, but I had no idea how easy they would make it on me! Since they were visiting from the West Coast, I prepared a bunch of good southern cooking for them, mostly from my garden: stewed okra & tomatos, green beans, homemade mac & cheese, black eyed peas, corn bread, bannana pudding. And a couple of more cosmopolitan snacks like coffee cake and my basil hummus.

During their time here they had a couple of gigs to play music, but during the days, I arranged home visits to some of the old time musicians who live nearby. I know my guests were really impressed by the musicians they met, and I was tickeled to see how much joy the old timers got out of swapping tunes with young musicians who appreciate their musical traditions.

It was one of the easiest hostessing experiences I've ever had, and then they turned round and decided to host me. I flew the coop with my guests after two days to accompany them on their journey south through Carter Family country. We stopped by the fold and the graveyard where Sarah, A.P., Janette and Joe are buried. Then I got to be their guest as they worked at the Rhythm and Roots Reunion down in Bristol.

As I am usually somewhat reclusive, I haven't been venturing out of Judy Branch to check out many of the nearby happenings. I really enjoyed spending some time in Bristol and hearing so many wonderful musicians. In fact, I will have to give big thanks to my house guests for getting me out on the town. I danced so much in the streets of Bristol that for the past two days I've been limping painfully with each step.

What strikes me the most is how I managed to spend five solid days and nights in the company of five men and not go insane. I enjoy the company of friends, but after a few hours, I am usually ready to retreat to the quiet of my home. I didn't once have a single urge to flee. That's a first for me. I am now soaking in the quiet of Judy Branch with rain thumping on tin roof. It is nice to be back home.