It has not been a brutal winter, and over the past few days I could almost believe that spring is here. Still, it feels like every run of pleasant weather this season has ended abruptly in a cold snap or burst of snow—a harsh reminder that this is, after all, winter in New England. Unusually mild February temperatures coaxed the first shoots from the ground last week, only for March to defiantly assert her winter affiliation by adorning the emergent plants with a layer of snow. The brave tulips and crocuses speared their green heads up through the glittering white coating, dotting the landscape with flashes of color.
After the drab color famine of winter, even the faint pink of a tree’s new buds is a veritable feast, an early promise of nature’s spring kaleidescope. And a late summer farmers’ market table is as much a delight for the eyes as it is for the palate. Taste is an interplay of all the senses, and winter meals can seem somewhat lacking without this dazzling array of color.
So I treasure rare flashes of summer that arrive in midwinter. Veins of color shooting through a bunch of rainbow chard become confetti embedded in our dinner frittata. The glossy skin and grassy aroma of a green bell pepper brighten an otherwise one-dimensional plate of refried bean quesadillas (my go-to wintertime comfort food). And ruby red juices that ooze precious Florida strawberries can elevate any winter dessert.
But now that we try to limit our out-of-season produce to whatever treats appear in our farmshare, these flashes of summer are few and far between. I have come to appreciate the hues of the season in their own right: bright orange carrots, brilliant magenta beets, deep tones of leafy cooking greens, creamy potato flesh that roasts to a rich, golden brown finish.
As part of a shift toward more mindful eating (and living), I seek out the natural variation and beauty that may previously have escaped my attention. It is all too easy to slip into the pattern of wishing that summer would just get here already while unloading yet another pound of carrots into the refrigerator. But if that happened, we would have missed an intriguing specimen: a three-branched carrot, its roots intertwined and spreading like some kind of flaming Buddha’s Hand. And then there were the bullseye beets.
I must have encountered chioggia beets in the past, but I have no memory of it. Last week I found a dozen or so of the unassuming roots rolling around the bottom of our farmshare box. Their dull brownish skin—somewhat less inviting than the rich, deep red of common beetroot—belied the vividly striped flesh underneath. Though a quick internet search would have told me what beauty lay inside, I actually discovered it quite by accident.
Because I find peeling raw beets to be both messy and time-consuming, my usual plan of attack is to roast them whole, after which the skin slips off easily. (To be fair, this is no less messy than peeling them before cooking. But at least with cooked beets I can hand the task off to my daughter, who doesn’t mind walking around with pink fingers for a day or two.) Thanks to an abundance of carrots, I decided to roast a mix of root vegetables for dinner one night. I pulled out the bag of beets, peeled one, cut it in half and gasped at the bands of pink radiating throughout.
Alas, beauty is fleeting, and these brilliant stripes fade with heat. Had I roasted the beets whole, the result—though tasty—would have looked mottled and drab. Although there was only faintest shadow of alternating colors by the time this dish came to the table, I am glad I took the time to see them inside and out in their natural state. That flash of color will carry me through the winter that remains.