The Beet Goes On

9 Oct

Fall is finally here.

My waking days have quietly slipped into a gentle grayness.  Instead of being greeted by wide beams of golden yellow sun streaking through the front window, my mornings are spent in a cozy half-light.  And as the financial crisis rolls on, the last rosy radiations of the setting sun, that just last month greeted me as I left the the office, are becoming weaker and weaker.  Each night it’s a little darker, a little grayer, a little more obvious that summer is really truly over.

I’m fine with this, and in fact love it.  Fall in New York is the most glorious time of the year (even if the Yankees decided to act more like the Knicks and less like the Giants thus robbing me of one of my favorite autumnal traditions).  The air is crisp; the sky is the most glorious, searing, pellucid blue.  It’s scarf and stockings with riding boots and plaid wool skirt weather.  The greenmarket is bursting at the seams with the last of summer’s bounty as well as the radiant oranges, yellows and reds of squash and pumpkins and root vegetables.

And then there’s the weekends upstate.  Walking out the back door is like stepping into a Frederick Edwin Church painting.  The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change, some into shades of orange and red that shouldn’t be possible in nature.  And the smell! Oh the smell.  Dryness and earthiness with a hint of smoke.  Five seconds of breathing it in makes up for all the early mornings and long nights I’ve spent toiling away this past month.

Though we still have a hole in our house from the foul fowl, it looks like we just might (cross your fingers, knock on wood) get that fixed this weekend, and then we can go back to living a normal, turkey-free life (at least until Thanksgiving).

This past weekend was spent planning for the future.  I planted bulbs, which is no mean feat.  Our house was built directly on some geologic feature that makes it impossible to dig any hole without hitting a rock every quarter-of-an-inch.  I’m tempted to name the house “Rockfield.”  It sounds just a wee bit snooty, but is based entirely in truth.  While I was scratching away at the earth, Isaac raked the yard,  also no mean feat.  The house is surrounded by mature and magnificent stands of maples and oaks and birch and elm which are prolific leaf producers.

After all that hard work, we deserved a break, and a delicious dinner.  So we took a drive over to the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, by the back route, through Spencertown, possibly the most beautiful New England town in all the world that isn’t technically in New England.  From there, we went to visit a farmer I noticed at the greenmarket last Friday.

I had asked Dan, the farmer, where I could buy his beef in Columbia County, since it seems foolish to buy it in the city once its been driven down from upstate only to put it back in a car to drive it back to where it came from, and he said that they sell at the farm on Saturdays.  So we dropped by, got a tour and bought some eggs, sausage and and two chuck eye steaks.

Fully provisioned, I hit the kitchen to make some borscht.  Everything was going along just swimingly until I began peeling the beets Isaac had bought at the greenmarket.  With each swipe of the blade, the beets became less rosy, and more, well, white.  Dammit!  He bought me chioggia beets!  Well, at least the back-up beets I had procured at Hawthorne Valley would be red, I thought.  And then I started peeling my beets… Ach du liebe, scheisse! I had done the same thing.  We had been bamboozled by the beets!

Ah, well, nevermind.  So the borscht was a little pale, and a little, well, less beety.  But Dan’s beautiful beef really saved the day.  The fat and amazing, clear flavor really, uhm, beefed *groan* up the soup and gave it depth that it might otherwise have been lacking.  I served it with some wine-braised cabbage and big chunks of rye bread.  It was fortifying and delicious, which was good, because we had another big day of yard work ahead of us.

We’re planning to move the garden next year.  It’s technically on our neighbor’s property (though he doesn’t seem to mind) and a little too close to the blackberry bramble, and it’s overrun with weeds and blackberries and we have too much yard, so we’re going to start over.

I brought up a huge stack of Wall Street Journals and New York Times‘, the detritus of the crisis.  We put these down on the lawn in a big rectangle, wet it and then made a huge pile of our leaves on top.  We’re going to do it again this weekend, on an adjacent rectangle of land.  Come spring, all I have to do is put a little compost over top, and dig right in.  Or so I’m told!

So, I’m alright with it being fall.  Things feel like they’re slowing down a bit.  And though my days in the City are a little gray, my weekends are full of joy and color.  It’s a nice balance, even when the borscht isn’t quite the color it should be.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Borscht, Of Another Color.

Borscht, Of Another Color

prep time: 1 hour ~ cooking time: 1 – 2 hours

  • 1 lb thawed Chuck Eye Steaks, or similar beef (but not stew chunks), cut into cubes
  • Oil
  • 2 Onions, sliced
  • lots and lots and lots of Garlic, at least 2 medium-sized heads, finely minced
  • 1 small bunch Celery, washed and chopped
  • about a pound of Parsnips, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt
  • Caraway Seeds
  • Vermouth
  • 2 lbs Chioggia Beets, peeled and cut into halves if small, quarters if big
  • Water
  • 1 packet of Dried Polish Mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water (preferably Borowik)
  • Cider Vinegar
  • Dry Dill

In a large stock pot, brown the beef cubes in a glug of oil over medium-high heat  When deeply browned, remove from pot and set aside to cool.  Turn the heat down to medium.

Add the onions to the fat and cook until becomming soft and lightly golden.  Add 1/3 of the garlic and cook for a few moments.  Add the celery and parsnips.  Season with salt and a pinch of caraway seeds.  Cook until the vegetables are sizzling then add a glug of vermouth.  Turn the heat to high and cook until almost completely gone.

Put the beef in the fridge.

Add the beets and add water to cover.  Strain the mushroom soaking liquid into the pot, then move the mushrooms to a cutting board and chop into bite-sized pieces.  Add the mushrooms to the pot.  Add a glug of cider vinegar.

Allow to cook at a bold simmer until the beets are tender 30 minutes to an hour (depends on your beets), then, with a slotted spoon, remove the beets to a chopping board and allow to cool while the soup continues to simmer.  Add another 1/3 of the garlic, taste and add more salt and vinegar if you like.  The vinegar should be a very low note in the soup’s flavor profile.

When the beets are cool chop them into bite-sized pieces and add them, and the cooled beef, back to the soup.  Cook until all is heated through and the soup is tasty and thickened, 10-20 minutes.  Just before serving, add the last 1/3 of garlic and more salt and vinegar if needed.  Serve with a dusting of dry dill and enjoy!

10 Responses to “The Beet Goes On”

  1. Toni October 9, 2008 at 11:03 am #

    You’ve made me wish I was back on the east coast again. There is absolutely nothing in this life like autumn in the northeast. Reading your post, I could feel the crisp air, smell the smells, and practically help you guys rake leaves! Thanks again, Ann, for your beautiful journal style of writing and photographing!

    Oh – and I much prefer this hot borscht to the cold style. In fact, I think you’ve just inspired me – only I’ll stick with the red beets!

  2. Julie October 9, 2008 at 11:23 am #

    You’ve captured autumn so well in these pictures — sunny, glowing, beautiful. I love fall too but I also find myself melancholy at the passing of summer. There’s an element of the bittersweet for me.

    Your borscht sounds delicious. I’m not much of a fan of beets but this still sounds delicious.

  3. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) October 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm #

    I love that you are so rapidly becoming a country person. Planning a garden is the most wonderful, hopeful act of this season — and planting in the rock field, well, I’m here to tell you that eventually the bulbs will overrun those rocks on their own. Or they will find a way around. Either way, keep enjoying and keep sharing your enjoyment with us!

  4. Sarah October 10, 2008 at 2:10 pm #

    You totally captured everything I love about fall in New York…and the best part is getting out to the country on the weekends. I’m so jealous of your “Rockfield” (you’d be like a Jane Austen character!). Beet bamboozled is maybe my new favorite expression.

  5. Carol October 10, 2008 at 2:26 pm #

    Totally capturing the experience of the Fall season in NYC. Your writing and pictures are wonderful….calming and yet up-lifting….and even if your borscht did not turn out exactly the way you wanted…..its still good and i am guessing quite tasty.

    Love reading your blog…..love the photos….love your writing

  6. ann October 13, 2008 at 7:02 am #

    Toni — Awh, I’m so happy to bring you fall!! You would have loved this weekend, the colors were at that eye-searing fluorescent point, especially when the sun was shining right on them. It’s like the trees had lights inside them. So beautiful!

    Julie — Usually there’s bittersweetness for me too, but not this year. Maybe its the excitement of having the house, maybe its just the bone-tiredness I’m feeling from all this stupid crisis. Either way, I’m really looking forward to winter, so I can actually kick back and relax :-)

    Lydia — That’s good to know! I’ve been wondering if the bulbs will make it around all those rocks. Its been incredibly hard, shoulder-aching work to get the holes deep enough to plant them. And now I have to fear the squirrels! Who knew buying a house came up with so much anxiety :-)

    Sarah — Jane Austen! Yes!! I love it! The other candidate for the house name is “La Maison du Betes Sauvage” aka House of the Wild Animals. That’s Isaac’s pick. Maybe we’ll just have to split the house down the middle ;-) I love beet bamboozled too. I came up with it while talking to the guy that sold us the beef at the greenmarket. It made him laugh, so I knew it was a keeper.

    Carol — Thanks!! You’re so kind. The borscht was awesome, especially a few days later for dinner. It was so good. Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment. Its nice to know people are enjoying themselves while they’re here :-)

  7. Robin October 13, 2008 at 12:21 pm #

    Ann, I’m looking forward to see all that you do with your new place by next summer – can’t wait to see the new garden!

  8. Lucy October 14, 2008 at 10:04 am #

    Beautiful sentiments for a special time of year. I love this post. I love the shadow of the trees.

  9. Terry B October 15, 2008 at 10:19 pm #

    Despite my UK/Brit/Scottish heritage, I can’t follow you into plaid skirt territory, Ann. Otherwise, though, I’m right there with you in your appreciation of autumn. A glorious time of year marred only by the fact that it’s followed by winter.

    Regarding your less than red beets, we’ve recently been roasting some golden ones. They’re spectacular.

  10. ann October 16, 2008 at 7:30 am #

    Robin — You and me both!! I can’t wait to see if anything comes up. So exciting.

    Lucy — Thanks. That lump was one of the things that really sold the house for us. I have dreams of stringing lights up in the trees next summer and placing a picnic table beneath them, and sitting and drinking wine and eating grilled meats while laughing with friends. I can’t wait.

    Terry — You should try a kilt! I bet you’d be adorable ;-) I do love roasted golden beets, they’re especially delicious with really good balsamic, at least to me!

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