A bird pooped on my head and down my shirt this last Sunday, which only further bolsters my long brewing animosity towards nature. I’m not a happy camper, quite literally, and I’ve never understood why sleeping outside of four walls and a roof is any more magical than driving out to a location well beyond the lights of the city to marvel at the stars and then returning to a place with a hot shower and clean sheets. I don’t need or have any desire to wake up, dirty, with a creaky back and caffeine withdrawal, only to hike back to my overheated car, no thank you.
Two of my fellow ‘paloozians had milestone birthdays within two days of each other this week, and though I will not repeat that scary number (scary at least to single girls with pet children), it rhymes with worty, which no one wants to be except Madonna who, in a fit of good Kabbalah luck was “enlightened” at worty.
Anyway, in an impromptu celebration of these two women, a few of our rag tag crew drove up north of Santa Barbara to a very beautiful state park and went glamping. No, that was not a typo; we went “glamorous camping”, which I would argue, is as much an oxymoron as jumbo shrimp. What exactly is glamping you ask? Glamping basically consists of a few steps. One: drive to a very nice campground in your Prius (for the record and as I stated earlier, the environment and I are not exactly facebook friends, so obviously the Prius belongs to someone else-- I prefer my cars to get less than 14 MPG) which will be weighted down with three ice chests full of such necessities as carrot cake, israeli couscous salad, artisanal goat cheese, truffle sausage and fig jam. Next, pay the nice lady in the log cabin the cost of a very nice piece of furniture for two nights, spend the next hour unpacking the car and then apply bug spray before settling in to your posh camp house, which is really just a re-branded mobile home made to look like a log cabin. And finally, after all this, order your BBQ kit consisting of hamburger, fixins, tools and ingredients to make s’mores, to be delivered directly to your fire pit for dinner.
It’s not exactly roughing it, but I still concur that for the same price of admission, a poolside bungalow at the Chateau is a bit more my speed. In any event, it was great to get away with such lovely friends and celebrate their worty years on the planet, especially since it was so not something I would have ever thought of or wanted to do on my own. But the bird poop on my head sealed the deal for me. No more camping.
Since I’m taking a pass on this whole mother earth business, I’m going to have to just keep preparing things that grow in it to keep my karma all nice and healthy. And what is more entrenched in the ground than beets?
I prepared this salad as the accompaniment to the carrot purée a few weeks back, and everyone agreed that it was hearty and delicious. I’d never roasted fresh beets before, and though they took some time to prepare, it wasn’t full of effort. And they left a beautiful stain of color on my roasting pan. Even if you think you don’t like beets, think about giving this a try, because they were ah-mazing. I used golden beets and red beets for a little color variety, and I did toast some chopped walnuts and pop them in a preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes 325 degrees. Tip: after toasting nuts, toss with the oil of that nut (walnuts with walnut oil, i.e.) in the ratio of 1 TBSP to 1 cup of nuts and add some maldon or kosher salt. It’s pretty great.
From Dorie Greenspan’s blog, In the Kitchen and On the Road with Dorie:
This is hardly a recipe. I made it up as I went along and you should too.
A bundle of beets
Arugula, washed, dried and cut into ribbons or torn
Moist, plump dried cherries (mine were coarsely chopped)
Shards of Cabrales
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sherry vinegar or fresh lemon or lime juice, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted walnuts (I wish I’d had them)
To roast the beets: Cut away the leafy greens from the beets (if they're fresh, you can add them to a mixed salad; if they're limp but still tasty, you can add them to a saute of greens) leaving about an inch or so of stem attached to the beets. Leave the wispy roots too. Scrub the beets and lay them in a single layer in a roasting pan. Add a little water (just a couple of spoonfuls), cover the pan with foil, poke a pair of holes in the foil and roast the beets at 425 degrees F until you can pierce them easily with a paring knife. My beets were small and took just 30 minutes, but average-size beets usually take 40 minutes or more. Remove the pan from the oven, carefully lift off the foil (you don't want to be hit with a puff of steam) and, when the beets are cool enough to handle (or cool), trim and peel them (the messy part). Cut them into small chunks or thick slices.
To assemble the salad: When you’re ready to serve, toss the arugula with a little olive oil and, if you’d like, a drop of vinegar or juice. Season with salt and pepper and make a layer of arugula in the bottom of a serving platter. Season the beets with oil, salt and pepper and a squirt of vinegar or juice, if you want, and pile them in the center of the greens. Scatter the dried cherries, pieces of Cabrales and toasted walnuts, if you’ve got them, over the beets and drizzle the salad with a little (very little) honey. Toss the salad at the table.
For a main course we had LINGUINE AND SHRIMP WITH GARLIC-SCAPE PESTO and I laughed when I searched for the garlic-scape pesto recipe and discovered that I’d made it almost exactly to the day a year ago and, just as I had yesterday, I’d bought the scapes on the market’s opening day.
Last night, I didn’t add nuts to the pesto. Instead, I made it with just garlic scapes (make sure to chop them before putting them in the blender), olive oil and grated cheese (last night it was Pecorino). I was going to grill the shrimp, but in the end, convenience got the better of me: when the linguine had two minutes to go, I tossed the shrimp into the pasta pot and let them boil. In the end, I think it was better than grilling because you got more of the pesto flavor in the dish – not that you could ever miss the pesto: Garlic scapes are no wallflowers.
Feel free to remind me what a crap custodian of the planet I am in general. That’s cool. I really do take nature seriously and appreciate it, just when that nature is on a plate.