It's funny, the things that stay with you from childhood throughout your adult life. Imprints made on the "impressionable" child become stamped on the fabric of adulthood. A scent, a texture, a taste...
Perhaps some of the strongest imprints from my childhood are related to food. Associations. Links. Strands forever tying me to my childhood.
The tingle of peppermint candies takes me back to my grandmother's living room. Jarred pears and apples lining the cellar wall of my parent's basement and the musty smell of the ages old cellar. The rough cold texture of ice cream sliding across my tongue. The crackle of pop corn in the frying pan. The sounds and scents and tastes that bring me back across the decades - like a hug on a cold winter day.
Then, there are the associations that take me to a different place. The place of "blech". Foods that I will not willingly touch to this day. Some that have not crossed my lips in almost 30 years. Shredded coconut (I will endure it to be polite). Liver and onions (no way, no how). Beets (I don't think so). Absolutely, most definitely beets. Nasty, disgusting beets. Blech, blech and triple blech.
One of my most vivid food memories is of canned beets. And me being stubborn. I did not like them. I was not going to eat them. Sitting on my plate with a pat of margarine sitting on top. I am not touching them. No way, no how. Well.... mom and dad had a different idea. Eat those beats or you are not getting up from the table. No way, no how, no thank you. Table cleared. Plate on the table with the now ice cold red blobs sitting there. I don't think so. Dishes being washed. Dishes being dried. Dishes being put away. Still sitting there. It's getting later. Eventually giving in. Eeeewwww. Nasty. Chew. Swallow. Chew. Swallow. Gulp. It's finally over. I am so never making my children eat these things.
Flash forward thirty years. Have not touched the vile things. Until one day. A magazine article. Fresh beets. Roasted. With a gratin. And feta. And mint. Hmmm? Can the "fresh" touch override my childhood aversion to this oddity of nature?
So I roasted.
I peeled. I sliced. (and washed the red stain from my fingers)
And I wanted to like it. I wanted to say mind over matter. I can do this. I can overcome. I was scared.... No, really. I was scared.
So I baked and I tried. I chewed. I swallowed. It wasn't bad. I must admit, I am still not so fond of the texture of beets and the bright pink color was a little off-putting. And they won't ever be on my top ten list of vegetables. (Hello, brussel sprouts!). But they weren't bad; prepared this way, I would eat them again. The dude really enjoyed them. Said they were the best he's ever had (he is a beet liker). One girl really liked them, the other wasn't so fond. But I am proud to say that I did not force one beet bite down anyone's throat. It's voluntary consumption in my house.
At least I finally jumped over the beet hurdle. As for the coconut. Sorry. Finger nail clippings. Can't do it. Liver. Nope. I don't think there is any way you can prepare animal waste filters that is going to change my mind. But, root vegetables with cream and cheese... Hey, I can be open minded when my dabble takes me there.
Roasted Beet Gratin w/ Feta and Mint
Bon Appetit - October 2010
3 2 1/2- to 3-inch-diameter red beets, trimmed, scrubbed
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 fresh mint sprigs plus 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (for garnish)
1 garlic clove, peeled, smashed
Butter (for dish)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (goat cheese would have been nice as well)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place beets in small baking dish. Add enough water to reach depth of 1/4 inch. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until beets are tender, about 50 minutes. Uncover carefully (steam will be released) and cool. Peel beets; cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring cream, mint sprigs, and garlic to boil in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, lightly butter 1 1/2-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish. Arrange sliced beets in even layers in dish, sprinkling each layer lightly with salt.
Strain cream mixture over beets in dish. Sprinkle feta over. Bake until cream is bubbling at edges and feta is browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle pepper and chopped mint over. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.