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This Plate.

Posted Aug 21 2013 10:44am

It started with a few bunches of beets.

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I bought them at the farmer’s market last weekend, and they’ve been lurking in my produce drawer ever since.  I think beets are one of those things people are often intimidated to cook at home, but the process is actually quite simple.  Even so, it took me over a week to get to them, as our evenings last week were all rushed and dinner were mostly thrown together with little time to prep.

Sunday evening I was craving comfort, and something more than random ingredients tossed together in a hurry to sneak dinner in before bath time.  I looked in the fridge, saw the beets, and decided it was time to tackle them.  I roasted them in my dutch oven along with a pound of whole carrots and a few springs of rosemary from my herb pots out back. 

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It was 75 degrees and sunny outside, a perfect late summer evening.  And yet, in my stomach it was 55 and breezy, and early fall.  I wanted something heavy, hearty, and warming.  I wanted mashed potatoes. 

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We didn’t have any potatoes at home, but I wasn’t going to be talked down that easily.  With our vegetables slowly roasting away in the oven, and a batch of lentils cooking in the rice cooker , I rounded up the family for a walk to our neighborhood grocery store.  I grabbed a big mixed bag of organic yukon gold and red potatoes, and headed back eager to get started. 

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As soon as I walked in the door, I smelled the rosemary roasting within the wall oven, and the earthiness of beets just waiting to be peeled.  It smelled like football, circle scarves, and rain boots.  Casey took Cullen out back for a late evening game of tee ball (crazy adorable) while I dug out my stand mixer and massive steamer pot, and made a gigantic mess in the kitchen.

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I steamed potatoes, made ridiculous vegan shiitake mushroom gravy from scratch, whisked until my arms were tired, and got all weepy and sentimental for my years of cooking that have passed.  I pictured myself two years ago, standing in my second-floor Fremont kitchen with a similarly large and food-splattered pregnant belly, enthusiastically planning, prepping, cooking, and photographing laborious new recipes that ended in 9pm dinners. 

I remembered what it felt like to decide on a whim to make masked potatoes and fresh gravy, and to never be worried about dinner deadlines or picky palates.  How I went into each week with a memory card full of recipe photos ready to download, and ingredient lists scrawled all over tiny scraps of paper around the kitchen.

I longed for more time, more energy, and less chatter swirling around in my head. 

And then I heard the cheers of a “homerun” from the backyard, and glanced out the window to see Casey and Cullen running around in their baseball caps, and I remembered how I wouldn’t trade what I have now for all the time and mashed potatoes in the world. 

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I’m scared of having another baby.  I’m scared that I am already spread so thin, and that I don’t know where the extra energy or resources will come from.  I’m scared that I will never, ever figure out how to slowly sauté shiitakes again, and be able to enjoy the absolute heaven that was this gravy. 

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But I go to bed every night reminding myself that we figured it out once, and just like so many others have, we’ll do it again.  And this time, I’ll be prepared with the lessons I’ve already learned from our first go-round.  I haven’t learned to perfectly manage our time, or achieve that ideal work/life balance.  But I have learned what is important to me, and how critical it is to make time for the things you love.  And for me, one of those things is cooking.  Even if that means a big plate of fall on a hot summer day – these days I take the opportunities I am given.

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I have eaten all the watermelon I can handle, and so I’m looking ahead to a fall season of cooler weather, a snuggly newborn strapped to my chest, and big pots of chili on the stove. 

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