Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
An Evening with Michael Pollan

I was recently graciously given the opportunity by my friend, Rachelle King, of Blinded by the Bite, to attend a discussion given by Michael Pollan, bestselling author of Second Nature, A Place of My Own, The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and most recently, the highly-acclaimed Food Rules. The event took place at the grand old dame, the Paramount Theatre in Austin, and was moderated by my whip-smart friend, Addie Broyles, of the Austin American Statesman.  It promised to be an interesting and informative evening, and it did not disappoint.

Mr. Pollan is surprisingly self-effacing and down to earth, letting it slip that he has a weakness for candy, and admitting that the ideologies of Emerson and Thoreau did not exactly serve the realities of growing vegetables successfully--weeds, were, indeed, not all that virtuous, and that fence-less gardens were simply gardens for moles and the like.  And as a struggling Thoreau and Emerson-loving farmer-met-with-the-cruel-reality-of-nature, well, he had me.  I was all ears. This fella had some truths to share.
“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.” ― Michael Pollan
And during his entire discussion, as I furtively scribbled notes in the darkened theater, I could not help but think that what Mr. Pollan was getting at, among the questions and answers about sustainable agriculture, genetically-modified foods, the politics of Big Ag, the affordability of non-industrial food, and all the other hot topics of food supply, was one simple truth:  We should eat like our ancestors.
“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” ― Michael Pollan
We should take a little time preparing our meals. We should take a little time eating them. Together, perhaps. We should grow a few vegetables, and then learn how to prepare them. We should base our meals around plants, in season, not from the industrial plant, without any season. We should eat wisely.
“Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.” ― Michael Pollan
I think he's onto something there.  And according to book sales, and speaking engagements, and newspaper columns, millions others seem to, too.

My mother, years ago, told my brother and I, as we pinched our noses and forced down the canned beets forced upon us, that those were her grandmother's favorite food.  We couldn't imagine why. She must have been penniless, our poor great grandmother, we thought. Who in their right mind would love beets?

She went on to tell us how much she enjoyed watching her grandmother working in the gardens, harvesting the beets that would be dinner that evening.  Her grandmother slathered them with lard, and wrapped them in tinfoil, and tossed them into the ashes of her potbellied stove. They were a precious treat, so said my mother.
“... the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.” ― Michael Pollan,
And it would be some forty several years later before I found out why they were so precious.  They were precious because they had no connection whatsoever to the canned pickled beets we'd choked down as children.  Perhaps it is true, that the food you raise yourself tastes better than anything you buy in the store, or perhaps the freshness of beets straight from the garden are much superior to those that are canned.  Whatever the reason, magically, roasted beets have become one of our (though I can't speak for my brother) favorite vegetables.

My great grandmother would be awfully tickled.

Fennel-Roasted Beets on Mixed Greens

with blue cheese and spiced candied almonds

Infuse oil by toasting 1 tablespoon fennel seed in a dry skillet or saucepan just until fragrance is released, then add one cup of extra-virgin olive oil, and steep over low heat for thirty minutes. You may use infused oil at this point, or keep bottled, refrigerated, for up to a week. When refrigerated, oil will solidify, so you will want to either bring it back to room temperature, or slowly drizzle warm water on the bottle, in the sink, to liquefy.  The longer the oil is stored, the stronger the infusion flavor will be.

Prepare fresh beets by scrubbing, and trimming tops. Leaving about 1/2" of the stems will keep the beet from 'bleeding' as profusely as they sometimes do, although care should be taken to avoid beet stains. Beet stains are for life. Okay, not that long. But they are stubborn. Another way to avoid 'excessive bleeding', is to roast the beets unpeeled.  In fact, I even eat the beet unpeeled, and recommend you try them that way. They keep their body and shape, and much of the fiber and vitamins are found in the peeling.  With a good pre-scrubbing, I can't even taste a difference. Cut beets in halves or quarters, depending upon your mood.  Half mood or quarter mood?  You decide.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle a small amount of infused oil in the bottom of a baking pan that will accommodate as many beets as you are roasting (we used one large, or two baby beets per salad) in a single layer.  Add beets, and drizzle more infused oil to coat beets. Cover with aluminum foil. Roast for about 45 minutes (depending on your mood--that is more for half mood, less for quarter mood), or until fork inserts easily into the middle.  Remove, and allow to cool.  Peel at this stage, if you prefer.  Set aside.

Combine 2T butter, 1tsp garam masala, 1/4 cup brown sugar in a saucepan.  Allow butter to melt and combine with ingredients.  Stir in one cup sliced almonds.  Watching carefully, Stir and cook over medium high heat until sticky and slightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Spoon onto silicone-lined baking sheet to cool (they will slightly 'harden' into sheets).  Carefully break into bite-sized pieces.

Prepare salad by plating your favorite seasonal mixed greens (love this time of year when we get to grow salads in the cool weather!), roasted beets, sprinkled with crumbled blue cheese, and spiced candied almonds.

You could certainly make up a classic vinaigrette, seasoned with anything from fennel frond, stone-ground mustard, a little maple syrup, a pinch of cayenne pepper--oh you could do a whole lot.  But why gild the lily when there are so many beautiful Meyer lemons on our trees?  A simple squeeze of a lemon half, and an additional drizzle with the fennel-infused oil, plus a sprinkle of sea salt is all that's required to dress this beauty.  And a beauty it is!  The joy of eating a diverse, wholesome, plant-based diet is the fragrant vibrancy that is this plate.  Farm-fancy, I like to think of it.  And to think of how hard my mother had to work to force these upon us......
“Culture, when it comes to food, is of course a fancy word for your mom.” ― Michael Pollan

Read More:
Michael Pollan Answers Readers' Questions
"Food Rules": A Completely Different Way To Fix The Health Care Crisis
New York Times Interactive: Michael Pollan's Favorite Food Rules
New York Times Well Blog: Michael Pollan Offers 64 Ways to Eat Food
“Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.” ― Michael Pollan


  1. Your beet dish looks scrumptious! Isn't it ironic that with all our advances in technology, farming, cooking our food (microwave), etc... the healthiest way to eat is like our ancestors? I think sometimes we have to go back to the basics to move forward.

    1. You are right on the money! Maybe 'advances' are all that advanced after all? Thanks so much for dropping in and sharing your thoughts!

  2. I <3 you so much, Maggie. You are a Food Evangelist! Beautiful pics and a great observation. So glad to have an expanded guide to cooking beets.

    1. I love you back, ladybug! I just read your comment to Tom, and he is so tickled. I'm going to totally own that title, now, so Praise the Lord and Pass the Beets!

    2. And by the way, I often roast the beets with nothing more than a little lemon-infused olive oil, and that's pretty sweet, too!

  3. I am so jealous of the opportunity to attend the Michael Pollan event! He is one of my heroes.

    100% agree with you on roasted beets, and really, they are so very easy. There's so much you can do with them, too. Your dish looks scrumptious.


Thank you for visiting Notes from Maggie's Farm. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...