“Will you do me a favor?” Tim says to me, the two of us side by side in the car. He’s driving. He’s usually driving when we’re in the car together. It’s our habit. He knows I’d rather sit—sit and look at Instagram, sit and watch people out my passenger window, sit and zone out to ponder some new topic he will no doubt hear about from me in due time—so the fact that he usually drives is one way he serves me. It’s right up there with killing bugs, cleaning out gutters and replacing the battery in our car—all tasks I guess I could do, if pressed, but which are becoming, to me, as good as poetry and candlelit dinners because I know, to him, they’re love. While it’s words that flow out of me when I feel great affection, for Tim, it’s more practical things, like going with me to Goodwill, which is the store we’re leaving now, as he pulls the car around a corner.
“Will you make beet greens for dinner?”
As he throws out this request, two bags of produce rumble along with us through industrial corners and residential streets in Woodbine and Berry Hill. Among this Monday’s CSA haul are lettuce, celery, radishes, garlic, a handful of thyme and, the item prompting his idea, beets. Tim loves beets. More specifically, beet greens. He loves all greens. As you may remember from his salad post, he grew up in a home where greens were everyday fare. His family ate salad every night, and, to this day, they all like sautéed spinach, sauteéd mustard greens, sauteéd Swiss chard. When we were in Chicago recently, visiting his grandma in a rehabilitation home, Tim’s aunt pulled out a thermos of escarole for her, cooked exactly the way Tim likes them: sauteéd in garlicky olive oil until soft and wilty, combined with water or broth and salt.
He pulls the car up our driveway, and the two of us walk inside. As I wash vegetables, he packages them in the fridge. I ask him to grab me a baking dish to roast the beets. I wonder if he could turn on the oven, and he does. While I wash dirt off beets, revealing deep red skin and rosy stems, I ask him to tell me again how to cook the greens. “Tell me in a linear fashion,” I say to him when I think he gets distracted. “So I sauté the garlic. What’s next?”
Tim heads out to a meeting, kissing me goodbye as he does, and I set to work at the stove. While he’s gone, the garlic dances in the pan. The giant pile of leaves wilts and reduces into an almost paltry sum. I check for softness—tender, with no more bite. I taste for salt—needs more. Remembering what he told me, I add water to the pan and let it cloud and darken, absorbing the flavors of what’s cooked.
“One of the bonuses of buying raw beets is getting the tops,” Marcella Hazan writes in her book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which I’ve pulled out and am flipping through while the kitchen fills with a heady garlic scent. “Both the stems and the leaves are excellent when boiled and served as a salad.”
I think back to the first time I held raw beets, like foreign jewels inside my CSA box. It was 2009. Then, Jacqui had been my encourager, just like Tim was to me today. She’d written instructions; Tim spoke them. In both cases, I felt blessed.
I know I talk about Tim a lot around here. I’m always telling you how thankful I am for him and how I’m still surprised he’s mine. This is the sort of thing many people don’t like: too sappy, too happy, too private, too young love. But words are what come out of me when I feel something, sort of like doing the dishes is what comes out of Tim, sort of like cooking is what comes out of a lot of you. I talk so much about the joy of sharing life with someone who knows me and loves me because I know so well what it’s like to go without it. And to anyone who reads this and feels a pang of sorrow, who wishes for a deeper intimacy or a partner or a friend, know that in that wanting, you are getting a deeper look at love. The darkest nights are what make the light shine brighter. The broken relationships help the healing ones stand out. No human love is perfect love, and no person will make you truly complete, but in the working there will be great joy. In the pushing towards each other, over and over again, through tears and through effort and through fear, there comes growth.
When Tim returns, I slide a plate in front of him at the table. It’s my attempt to love him in the way he feels it best, the way I’m weaker in. His eyes light up. He smiles. We feast.
Sauteed, Garlicky Beet Greens
Makes enough to serve two to three large portions for dinner; more as sides
As suggested in the post above, this same method works with a variety of greens, especially Swiss chard, mustard greens or spinach.
The stalks and greens of four fresh beets, washed
A generous glug of olive oil (around a tablespoon)
1 large clove of garlic
Salt, to taste
Set your biggest skillet on the stove and turn the heat to medium. Drizzle in a good glug of olive oil (enough to be able to move around and cover the pan, about a tablespoon) and wiggle around the pan to coat the bottom of it with oil. As it warms, grate in the clove of garlic (alternatively, mince it fine and drop it in; or add it whole and remove it before adding the beet greens, adding it back later as you like; if this fascinates you, you’ll enjoy this post from Rachel Eats).
Meanwhile, roughly chop the beet stalks and greens. Add them to the skillet. It will look like a lot of green leaves, but everything will reduce dramatically in time. Let the mixture cook a bit. If the pan looks dry, add a little water. Sauté for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to get everything evenly cooked. Salt generously.
Once the stems and greens are soft, add some water or broth to the pan and let the greens flavor the water to make a rich, murky broth. At this point, you may add more liquid and salt to create a sort of beet green soup, perfect for sopping up with garlic toast; or you may eat piles of the wilted greens on a plate on their own, salting them to taste before you do; or you could go traditional and use the greens as a lovely vegetable side dish with whatever else you’re having for dinner, again salting them to taste. Enjoy!