Sunday, August 31, 2008

Beet "Caviar"

Words cover slightly different concepts in different languages. For example, not every language refers to a "book" of matches using the same word that describes a book that you read. In Russian, "caviar" refers not only to fish roe, but also to cold spreads that can be eaten on black bread much like regular caviar. Vegetable caviars are popular, and they can be made with all sorts of different vegetables (but especially eggplant!). Happily, they are a lot cheaper than fish roe.

For a few years now I have occasionally made beet caviar from a recipe in Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook, but I have never thought it was quite right. However, I decided to give it another try this year because I came home from the farmers' market with a small bunch of beets, and I had already made pickled cooked beet salad three times this summer and I needed to make something else.

The beet caviar recipe calls for prunes, which I'm afraid I simply don't like, so I never put in very much of them, and I still feel like my food tastes like prunes. This time I didn't have any prunes and decided to use dried cherries instead. I was also out of brandy and used diluted sherry instead. The result was scrumptious; I have finally found a beet caviar that pleases me.

Beet Caviar with Walnuts and Cherries

3 large beets, cooked, peeled, and cut into quarters
3 Tbsp. cooking sherry + 1 Tbsp. water + 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup dried cherries
3 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 additional Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2-3/4 c. walnut pieces, chopped
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise (I like Spectrum canola mayo or Nayonnaise)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring the sherry to a boil, then drop the cherries in, remove the pan from the heat, and let the cherries soak for 30 minutes.

Process the beets and garlic in a food processor until finely minced but not pureed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, the cherries, 2 tablespoons of the liquid used to cook the cherries, and the walnuts. Stir in the mayonnaise and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours or longer before eating.

Not everyone would like this, but I melted a little bleu cheese with some beet caviar and spread it on toast, and I thought it was quite good, though not as good as the straight caviar.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Lava Beds National Monument

On the Fourth of July we drove to California's Lava Beds National Monument. This was a very cool place, and I wished I had ditched my travel pillow to make room in my luggage for heavy pants for the lava tubes. I have been to a lot of limestone caves, and crawling around in them means becoming extraordinarily dirty. My friends warned me to bring clothes that I could get dirty, but they did not warn me about the rocks being sharp. The dirt was negligible compared to limestone caves, but since I was wearing lightweight summer pants, I felt uncomfortable climbing around very much. I don't like cutting up my legs.

I steered my friend away from the lava tube cave loop, where he normally goes exploring, and we went to see pictographs at Symbol Bridge, which had some good pictographs and also a welcome spot where cold air blew out of the ground. We looked in Big Painted Cave too, but as far as we could tell, this cave was not painted by Native Americans, only by mineral deposits and guano.

We went to the bottom of Skull Cave, which is a massive ice cave, and you can see the ice at the bottom. I was impressed with the size of this cave, formed not by thousands of years of water erosion, but by a volcanic eruption. I never once needed to bend over.

At that point I was running out of steam. I had been constantly on the move for a week, and my right knee was giving out, and I was falling asleep in the car. We stopped at the edge of the park to see petroglyphs, and then we headed to R.'s house, where we did not go out to see Fourth of July fireworks, but instead purchased salads at a grocery store, ate in, drank wine, and watched "Babylon 5" episodes on DVD.

Petroglyphs are a curious thing to me. We believe they may have had great spiritual significance, but they often remind me of teenagers who get drunk and paint bridges. Some are artistic, and others look to be on the lines of "Tony + Lisa."

On Saturday we breakfasted in Klamath Falls and drove back to Portland. R. was very kind to drive me such a long distance. Our Portland friends cooked us a wonderful dinner and bought us marionberry pie, which was so good that I had a second piece, when normally I only accept dessert to be polite.

In the evening we rounded up my friends' son, and we all went to Oaks Park, a little grouping of carnival rides. My favorite part was racing the other grown-ups down the super slide. The children's roller coaster was actually scary because it felt like we were going to fall out, and it banged us around quite a bit.

Sunday was Powell's City of Books, and then I flew back to Chicago. My car was still there, I got home fine on the spare, and I ordered a new tire in Iowa City.