Tamar Adler has to say about beets what I have to say about preaching the Word, more or less:
"Sprinkle the cut beets with a little red wine vinegar and some salt. Vinegar seems to bring out the very essence of the beet. It doesn't make theoretical sense that they'd taste more like themselves after being dressed with vinegar, but this is not theoretical."
As I've thought about what preaching is and what it ought to do, I keep returning to food preparation as a metaphor.
The Word is our bread, our drink. It alone feeds us, nourishes us, makes us live.
Yet this thing called preaching has been extended to us as a way of receiving that food. And it's the preacher's job to prepare that food as well as she can.
She ought to know the character of the food so she can treat it properly, dress it appropriately, present it winsomely.
The food is both wholesome and toothsome on its own, but a good glug of olive oil, a long roast in the oven, or a flourish of salt can call forth the food's own essence. Beets, as Adler says in An Everlasting Meal, taste more like themselves when dressed with vinegar. A light touch is sufficient. Pasta is always boiled in well-salted water. And I've never met a roasted squash I didn't like. These are the trustworthy ways of the masters.
Artificial flavorings and sweeteners should be avoided. They're deceptive and lead nowhere good.
But a pot of water and a dash of salt, a knife in the hand of a capable chef, a hot oven and a clean platter—these things go a long way in moving a meal from the earth to the kitchen to the table to the belly. (And the belly is where a good meal is headed.) They do not lie; they tell the truth. They preserve the food's integrity and bring out its spirit.
So preach like these beets.
Simple Roasted Beets
inspired by Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal
all the beets you have
red wine vinegar
Turn your oven to 400ºF.
Chop the greens off your beets. Rinse the beets, but not meticulously; the peels will take the dirt with them later. Cozy them together in a pan, make a little puddle of water in a corner, and drizzle them with olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and slide it into the oven.
Check on the beets periodically after 40 minutes, lifting a corner of the foil and poking them with a knife. The knife should slice without force. I like Tamar's advice: "If you're not sure if they're done, they're not."
When they are done, remove the foil and leave them out to cool. Once you can bear to touch them, work half with your fingers and half with a knife to slip them out of their skins. Cut out tough parts as you encounter them.
If you're done for the day, leave the beets in the refrigerator for as long as a generous week (mine are closing in on 10 days and I think they're doing fine), and then, when you're ready to eat them, set them on the counter to come back to room temperature.
Here is the part where you get to slosh them with a little red wine vinegar and a few pinches of salt. Leave the dish alone so the vinegar can do its summoning work. When it's time to eat, toss the whole thing with olive oil.
Taste the essence.
(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
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