mangelwurzel

What a surprise to pull my first beet out of the ground. I’ve been admiring the gorgeous green leaves of this plant for weeks now. Not the course variegated leaf of a red beet that I typical cut off and put in the compost because I find them too bitter, these leaves have been developing smooth and creamy green, virtually blemish free. When I planted the ‘yellow mangel beet’ seeds I picked up at a local seed swap, I was imagining these would be the little round golden beets I love to find in the farmer’s markets. I was expecting that the little fingerling size beets that were forming would fill out and become round.

The greens let me know when it was time to finally harvest one from the dirt.

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They clearly wanted to be eaten and I wanted to oblige. But the beet that emerged with them was only a much bigger version of the oblong shape I witnessed earlier. With some disappointment, I came in to consult Google, saw many pictures of a root that looked exactly like the one in my hand and was amazed to learn that this plant, also called ‘mangelwurzel’, is grown primarily for the economy of nutrition it offers livestock!

From Wikipedia,

Mangelwurzel or mangold wurzel (from German Mangel/Mangold and Wurzel, “root”), also called mangold,[1] mangel beet,[1] field beet,[2] and fodder beet, is a cultivated root vegetable derived from Beta vulgaris. Its large white, yellow or orange-yellow swollen roots were developed in the 18th century as a fodder crop for feeding livestock.

Contemporary use is primarily for cattle, pig and other stock feed, although it can be eaten – especially when young – by humans. Considered a crop for cool-temperate climates, the mangelwurzel sown in autumn can be grown as a winter crop in warm-temperate to sub-tropical climates. Both leaves and roots may be eaten. Leaves can be lightly steamed for salads or lightly boiled as a vegetable if treated like English spinach. Grown in well-dug, well-composted soil and watered regularly, the roots become tender, juicy and flavourful. The roots are prepared boiled like potato for serving mashed, diced or in sweet curries. Animals are known to thrive upon this plant; both its leaves and roots providing a nutritious food. Mangelwurzel may require supplementary potassium (potash) for optimum yields, flavour and texture, and foliage readily displays potassium deficiency as interveinal chlorosis. In 19th-century American usage they were sometimes referred to as ‘mango.’

I further learned that these roots can live in the ground for quite some time and get very large, up to 20 lbs. and 2 feet long. Clearly, what I had in hand was a young root, only 4″ long and barely 6 ounces. I went out to harvest a few more, scrubbed the roots clean and admired their bright yellow color.

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The greens were beautiful, almost too perfect.

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Arranged in a vase like a bouquet of flowers, they continued to call out to be eaten, the way something fresh and bursting with nutrition can do.

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I boiled the whole roots in a large saucepan until they were soft. The skins slipped right off. The beets were cut into discs and while still warm, dressed lightly in a little olive oil and cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and fresh basil.

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I admired the white flesh of these roots, noted the characteristic rings of a beet, and took my first bite. Sweet. Juicy. Yes, I found articles that talked about the bitter aftertaste that can come after a mouthful of these beets. But that wasn’t my experience eating the young roots the size that they are now. Characteristically different than it’s other more colorful cousins, there is a quality to these beets that brings lightness to the table and something altogether new to the repertoire of worthy seasonal vegetables to consider.

But it is the greens that truly make this plant something special. Boiled the first night, and served with dash of olive oil and fresh lemon juice, added to a plate with some of the sliced marinated root, a serving of garbanzo beans and slices of fresh bakery bread, made for a feast of simple fare.

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These greens are some of the best I have ever tasted. Flavorful like spinach, though firmer, with a hint of beet and chard, it has all the qualities of a green worth adding to every meal. Yes, they do cook down, but a little bit goes a long way.

The next night was a variation on the theme.  I threw the rest of the greens into a pot of cooking spaghetti for the last 5 minutes while making a sauce with gold cherry tomatoes picked daily from the one prolific plant outside my door.  Tomatoes cut in half, sautéed with lots of garlic and chopped fresh basil, and tossed at the end with added butter, some more of the beans,  and grated Parmesan. Sigh. It is just too delicious.

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As with all beets, mangel-wurzel leaves contain oxalates and are more digestible when lightly steamed or stir-fried. I found a reference to serving the roots and leaves in a coconut milk-based curry with garbanzos and fresh ginger. Great way to use up the rest of the beans, smile.

I’m not sure why this plant doesn’t find its way into human consumption with the same priority as other beets. I am sure I will never see a yellow mangel beet for sale at the grocery store and have never seen them at the farmer’s market either for that matter. Ironically it is a scarcity, and yet grown in abundance at the same time.   It makes me realize that just about everything else I eat I can get somewhere, any time of year, either from a local farm or the supermarket, fresh frozen or otherwise. Except mangel beets and their spectacular greens. So I’ll just have to keep growing them myself….

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i am here

Walking in the woods the past few days, the word that keeps coming to me is ‘intervention’. There is wood on the ground everywhere, small blown off branches, decomposing limbs, and large felled trunks that create a kind of bumpy maze to negotiate. But mostly it is visual. I keep resisting the urge to clean it all up, make the floor I am walking on smooth and blemish free and the view of the water pristine like a fountain. Soon I will begin my forage for kindling, that is different. This impulse now is about intervening in the natural process of death and rejuvenation. Everything on the ground right now will decompose and put organic matter back into the earth. Why would I want to alter this?

If these were man-made objects that had been destroyed by storm or fire, it would be completely acceptable to remove the debris, a requirement actually, to cart it all away out of sight to hopefully decompose in another man-made place.

Then there is the kind of intervention that is about something added. Discreetly or not. There are a few places in these woods where this is true and I look for them today. First, the lovely wind chimes hanging from a tree just inside the tree line. The faint music that is produced by these charms matches pitch with the sound of the wind in the trees and harmonizes. There is the curled up cat sleeping at the base of a tree on the ridge overlooking the brook, a ceramic likeness that convincingly embodies the spirit of something true. Both of these man-made interventions fit.

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It is the piece of rope wrapped around a trunk that invites speculation. Up close it could be something organic like a caterpillar, but in relation to the trunk it is too perfect, too different, too constricting to be one naturally with the tree. This intervention has the quality of ‘I am here’.

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I imagine that if I wasn’t just a visitor in these woods, if they literally became home to me in the way I inhabit my house, I would be like the beaver making a dam and begin to intervene in the natural order of things to insure my survival. But then to truly express my aliveness and my creative relationship to this place, I would inevitably begin to make my own human signs. I would begin to move things around, like clearing space in front of the rose quartz heart here,

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to let it breathe and be seen. Eventually I would add something in this space, something to invite ritual perhaps, something beautiful. And so begin a process of marking this place with ‘I am here’, if only for a time.

Coming back to this elemental way of thinking both sharpens and softens my sensibility as one who has made a living from intervening. Having a relationship with the elements, with the elementals that shape the perception of place, is a gift…

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molly

I’d been waiting for the rain all day. But the fifty percent chance predicted was consistently yielding to the sun and blue sky and a blessed breeze, making a day to be outside doing anything. Or sitting in the porch room which might as well be outside with all the windows open and the day right there, listening to and feeling the strength of that blessed breeze in this place, listening to the sounds of Molly within, making us a meal, or cleaning up, or listening to her music, or talking to Nora….

It’s good to be back home after a week of vacation. Good to have my daughter Molly here for another week before she returns to Peru. Good to be dancing with wild Nora again, and good to be inspired to make the inevitable changes that can come about from a time away and seeing everything fresh again upon return.

While Molly sorts through years of stored possessions for packing to take back with her, I re-arrange my studio/quilt-making area and re-focus in on the quilt on the wall that wants to be finished, feeling the strength of the place this quilt lives both on the wall and in me,

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trying to capture the feeling of charge and flow and color living in the brook that is as home to me as the house I live in.

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It is important to connect to this feeling of love I feel for where I am now as I anticipate the challenging emotion I’ll feel once Molly leaves again…

Molly loves to play music while she works.   I prefer silence. She likes to leave traces of herself wherever she occupies space, I am a no trace camper. She fully and gloriously lives in the space she is in. And helps me see how I can too, even more than I think I do. I really am going to miss her so much.

Each day, we three (me Nora and Molly) have walked the woods and meadow loop, noting the burgeoning apple trees, able to clearly see now who is offering red apples and who is offering green. Gus is the last of the trees we pass before landing back on the driveway at the house. He is as impressive from the down slope vantage point as he is from up above.

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I always think of Gus from ‘Lonesome Dove’ and his wise, witty, and oh so resilient presence. His character shines through the receding life of the wildflowers in the meadow in the abundance of green apples coming into life from his limbs.

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Beautiful green apples!

I found this quote and wonder about the life of this magnificent tree in this place,

“It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live.” ~spoken by Augustus ‘Gus’ McCrae” (Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove)

I imagine he is the one, closest to the house, that has always gotten the most attention, the most visits, the most love, years of sharing the meadow with the four other gorgeous apple bearing trees, but close to home too.

It does matter where you live! It matters what place you choose to live, and most poignantly,  it matters where you live in body and spirit, in relation to all that is here. Having Molly here helps me remember how easy it is to become the hermit, even in my own space. She is helping me remember to balance the solitude with music, order with the freedom of letting go, make a mess even, right where I am…

Bon voyage to my beautiful daughter. May she continue to inspire us all with her gift for taking risks, and for exploring where she lives in heart, soul, and body, even if it takes her to places we may not understand right now. May she continue to honor where she truly lives, the way she does….

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ritual

Shortly before sunrise, me, my father, and brother quietly descend into the kitchen, first one there making the coffee. The sky is light and the sun is on its way.

It does’t take long for rituals and routines to set in even on vacation. The cottage is on the west side of the lake, and the sunrise here is as sure and as present as the gently lapping expanse of water it wants to shine on. We’ve had a few overcast mornings, and even with those, the gentlest break in the clouds allows for a glimpse of the ball of fire coming up over the hills.

Sitting out on the concrete apron at the edge of the water with coffee in hand, we wait for it.

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Tentative first words uttered consist of sound bites about which way the wind is blowing, the temperature of the air, what kind of day we have ahead. Eventually we ease into more pressing matters, and what is there at the forefront of our memory, ready to share. I love these early morning moments as much as I adore these men.  My brother has found his rhythm in teasing his big sister and we catapult back into childhood bantering and laughter. My father’s presence is as strong and as comforting as it has always been, allowing us to sit in comfortable silence too. It is all so healing in its own way, these rituals that give us the space to see and experience who we have become.

The sun rises quickly in the sky and I prepare for ritual tour on the water in the kayak. It doesn’t matter if the water is like glass or if it is rippling in the wind, the thrill of hearing the sound of boat gently gliding in the water becomes a meditation. I just can’t get enough of being with the water this way, so close and viscerally fresh. This glacially formed lake has the feel of something pure and unadulterated still and I am grateful.

The rest of the family begin to appear. Dad becomes a short order cook and as soon as nephew Luke has eaten his breakfast, they disappear into one of the local golf courses to hit balls, just the two of them, every day. A new ritual this year.

Gatherings with more cousins, waterbathing and sunbathing, making amazing meals, and sharing movies together are just a few of the many daily rituals that are easy to maintain…

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Each day is a unique combination of these new and old.

A particularly special ritual this year was a family dinner out to honor and celebrate my mother’s birthday. We ate fabulous Mexican food and shared our sentiments and heartfelt memories with her. Hard to believe this beautiful woman is 80 years old.  A truly inspiring matriarch, she has made it possible for us all to be here in this gathering place…

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And so, our last day is here. The air is balmy and humid and the cicadas started early, it promises to be a hot one. But out in the kayak I watch turbulent water and feel the strength of the wind.

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Blowing through and taking us all with it….

close ups

I keep zooming in, drawn to what I have been seeing in the faces and bodies and energy of the day interacting with water and sun and concentrated fun. All the signs of vacation are here. Some heartfelt close ups…

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We gathered around the huge round table for yet another grand meal. Spaghetti with simple onion sauce (olive oil, onions, a little salt, and a little tomato, cooked slowly for a long time) and grated pecorino romano, large slabs of summer squashes grilled to perfection, a large bowl of white bean – tuna salad**,

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wilted greens made a new wonderful and fresh way (boiled, not sautéed, from the book ‘Cooking with Italian Grandmothers’….thank you Jessica Theroux!), and a loaf of gorgeous homemade bread dropped off earlier by a local friend. Together in banter and mutual fulfillment. A good day….

**White Bean – Tuna Salad

(2) 14 oz. cans small white beans

3 (6 oz.) cans tuna (solid white)

3-4 finely minced garlic cloves

1 firm fresh large red pepper, chopped into pea size pieces

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Juice 2 lemons and olive oil dressing, salt & pepper, to taste.

Rinse and drain beans.  Drain tuna.  Mix everything together and toss with olive oil and lemon.  A wonderful companion to lightly sauced spaghetti.  Even better eaten the next day…

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music food and water toys

After a day to acclimate, weekend lake traffic gone, we started getting down to the business of vacation.  Three paddle boards and two kayaks rented, electric piano and amp set up, and a trip to the store for the ingredients to make marinated grilled shrimp and Lomo Saltado, Molly’s favorite Peruvian dish.  Memorable water play,

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gorgeous musical collaboration of guitarist/vocalist Molly and jazz pianist cousin Luke,

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and inspired food prep moments in the kitchen produced delicious and heartfelt.

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The large pink wild caught Gulf shrimp were marinated in fresh lemon juice, then hand massaged in a plastic bag with fresh garlic and olive oil before grilling, a technique my brother has perfected.  The Lomo Saltado was amazing, Molly wowed us all with her practiced skill of making homemade french fries, an essential component of this fabulous meal made of stir fried steak, tomatoes, onions and poblano pepper, and then assembling each plate just so in the traditional way.

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After dinner, more music, even dancing, and tears watching my parents get up and jitterbug in the center of it all…

reunion

We had a glorious first day of reunion. A same time next year feeling for sure. The cottage that puts us at eye level with the water does not disappoint. Even without the kayaks and paddle boards that will be picked up today, the simple repetitive joy of running and jumping off the dock suffices. Siblings and cousins reunite. The generational gaps are filled. The growth that has happened over the past year can be measured in human anatomy inches, emotional acceptance, and in appreciation for the effort we all make to be here.

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We have a whole week now to weave these rich family threads into another clear memory…