I had all the intentions for a well-balanced meal. I had bought my veal scaloppini for an, albeit, politically incorrect entree, but after an instant sauté carefully paired with fresh lemon sauce, white wine, and plump capers even this milk-fed tender cow would understand why I had to do it. To go with my meat I had lugged out my super-sized industrial rice maker, whose wide and shiny chrome exterior parallels that of a small car. It came from the top shelf of my garage, buried amongst the cemetery of culinary items I thought I couldn’t live without (but turns out I can). Underneath these gadgets is another shelf filled with a rainbow of toxic paints from nine years’ worth of wall history in our house. This is the shelf my husband swears he can’t live without (‘what if we need to touch up the kids’ bedroom from three themes ago?’) but turns out he can. So, getting to this rice maker takes some drive, but damn it, I wanted this meal to be perfect and that chromed beauty does wonders with my Basmati rice, a 20 lbs. sack I lugged home in a moment of weakness from Costco during one of my hording phases. The scratchy sack proudly proclaims these millions of grains (at a steal at $9.99) are “watered by the snow-fed rivers of these mysterious mountains” and with the Oster Multi-Use Deluxe I swear I really can taste the Himalayan rainwater.Plump green beans beckoned to serve as the vegetable side dish for this event. Rinsed and cut into perfect 1 1/2 inch pieces, they waited to be simmered in olive oil with some slivered garlic, onions and coarse sea salt only then to be topped with thick slices of Florida tomatoes that I had gently ripened on my window sill.The meal was a simple one, nothing in the realm of sophistication, but well designed and satisfying, where each dish got along with the other like a happy family. And then there were the beets. Just the way their lush, dark green stems peeked out of the Whole Foods bag was a tease. Immediately, I became distracted. I knew I should most likely close the fridge and continue with the safe preparations of my pre-planned meal, but I couldn’t. I pulled the bag out of the fridge and removed them from it, exposing 5 dark purple curvy bulbs dusted in fresh dirt. Even their primal presentation was exciting as it served a refreshing change from the pre-packaged, sanitized, smell-less food options we have grown accustomed to today. This here was real, fresh food that I could smell and whose mere handling left my fingers dirty.I had been looking forward to my meal of veal, rice and green beans but now all I could think about where these wild, lonely beets. I wondered what to do with them, what role they would play in the evening’s culinary production. Somehow, they had to be included. Would I throw them into my green bean dish for a final crimson touch? Perhaps grate them raw in a leafy green salad? Mixing them with the others seemed an injustice somehow. I didn’t want them to meet, didn’t want the flavors to match up. I knew they would get along (beets are wonderful additions to so many dishes) but tonight, these beets felt special, they felt mine, and I wanted to enjoy them for who they are and not try and incorporate them into someone else’s flavor.My eyes filled with momentary guilt as I glanced at my happy family of veal, rice and green beans waiting to be prepared. They seemed to smile in their bags and packages, promising that after a quick and painless preparation, I would be entitled to a very predictably delicious meal. I knew this. I wanted to do this, but the dirt from the beet had already slipped under my fingernails and I could feel its grittiness pulling me in. I had to rinse these first and give them center stage. Afterwards, I would turn back to the others. I decided to roast my precious beets. This would guarantee their flavor not be tarnished or altered but rather enhanced and celebrated. It was all about them tonight I thought to myself as I carefully wrapped each one in tin foil. I didn’t know what I would do with them after I roasted them. We were dancing this tango one step at a time, my beets and I. All I knew is that I needed to pop them in this 400F oven and wait for magic to begin to happen and just the thought of that made me so inpatient and eager, I didn’t think I’d be able to wait.Sweet, warm, nourishing scents of earth filled the room thirty minutes later. It assaulted my senses and captured my heart and I found myself dumbfounded by its strength just standing in front of my oven waiting in a confused stupor. I yearned to taste this smell. My mind could only think of one thing and that was that I had to have these beets, N-O-W. Under that spell of roasted rubies I would be eating this source of earth, this root of life, right here, right now, and I would experience pleasure in a way I’d never before. This crimson mistress had fogged my mind and senses.I shook my head in disbelief at my epiphany. I wanted to justify my husband being out of town so long with my crazed infatuation with, yes, beets. I mean, on paper it sounds pretty absurd and unbelievable. But standing in front of that oven that was holding those tiny foiled packets of glory, first-hand I can tell you it’s not crazy. It’s the beets. Trust me.Barely in time to put some oven mitts on, I pulled the baked culprits out and tore their foiled wardrobe off them, exposing their dark, blushed skin. I envisioned offering them at least a fancy home to sit centerpiece: perhaps some freshly snipped arugula with its sharp, peppery bite offering a cool contrast to the beet’s mellow sweetness. I’d bathe them lightly with some roasted pumpkin seeds for that final crunch. Thick stalks of heart of palms beckoned as another alternative. I’d slice these into broad 2″ rings and pair them with quartered hard-boiled eggs, fresh dill, and lime honey vinaigrette.But in the end, I tossed all my ideas of grandeur out the window and enjoyed them in the most instant and passionate way a lover would: standing over my stove, beets barely peeled and quartered, I ate them straight up, only stopping on occasion to dip them in a Dijon vinaigrette I happened to have on hand.It was a delectable experience: one I had no control over, but rather allowed to control me. I closed my eyes and ate and ate and ate. ‘Keep some for later’, I said to myself. ‘Keep some for one of those salads’, I begged. ‘Stop this and fix your veal’. But I couldn’t listen to myself then. I knew it was a lost cause. I hoped the veal would understand and would forgive me. I knew I had had all the right intentions, but in the end, all the right intentions led me straight to a delicious dinner of roasted beets, where the only remnants of the affair was the smile on my face and my crimson-tainted fingertips.
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