Friday, July 29, 2011

Recipe for Strange Research

For this recipe, you may need to start with a taste for beets and some other stuff, otherwise, this might suck.

1. In writing a murder mystery, describe one 16th century non-invasive autopsy. Garnish with gory details, and add a dash of humour (optional). This is best done during a Muskoka Novel Marathon, in the dead of night (so to speak), preferably while one is hungry for a midnight snack. Ensure that beet soup is somehow implicated in the murder.

2. Have cravings for beet soup for the next 2-4 weeks. Research medieval recipes and accidentally discover that in England, prior to the mid-to-late 16th century, beer was actually a stimulant and was not made with hops.

3a) Discover what goes into borscht. Laugh off your cravings, because cabbage does loud and entertaining things to your insides.

3b). Get tired of eating the same routine of Oatmeal Raisin Crisp, bagels, sunflower seeds, fruit snacks and beef jerky. Add colour to your diet.

4. Buy the following items, and have absolutely no idea how to cook them as an ensemble:

- some pearl barley
- a chunk of ginger root
- a few bits of raw garlic
- four raw beets of varying sizes
- some beef broth
- a bunch of carrots

5. Soak the pearl barley. It's dusty and tastes like crap if you don't wash it first. Trust me on this. And don't ask me how long to soak the barley. Just keep rinsing it until the water runs clear, I guess.

6. Boil the beets, skin and all, for about 15-20 minutes in an inadequate pot. If you think it's going to boil over, it probably will, so keep the temperature about medium-high or lower.

7. Simmer the barley for about 15 minutes. They should come out al dente (they're still a little tough, but they don't crunch). Do Steps 8 through 11 while you're waiting for the barley to soften up. Stir like you know what you're doing. Oh, and don't put anything in the water except for the barley. If you add salt, your mouth will shrivel up like a slug when you're done: there's plenty of salt already in the beef broth, depending on the brand you use.

8. Skin the beets (and your knuckles) while they're still warm. Grate the beets (and your knuckles). By the way, don't wear white.

9. Grate some carrots. You might want to avoid baby carrots for this. They're convenient and everything, but you may end up with a very sweet soup if you don't use the grown-up carrots. You also have a smaller likelihood of grating your knuckles again, using the bigger carrots. And yes, I know, carrots are "out of period" for the story, but so what. They were going bad in the fridge.

10. Peel and grate the ginger. During this stage, if you followed Step 7 to the letter, you may rediscover where your knuckles were grated. Ginger stings. A lot. And uh...yeah, don't try to suck the ginger juice out of the open wound.

11. Peel and grate the garlic. Or, if you're a keener and/or if you got one for your housewarming party, use a garlic press. I don't have a garlic press, and I'm too lazy to go to IKEA to buy one right now. (And same thing as with the ginger: if it gets into the open wound, just wash it off. You'll get a real surprise - and halitosis - if you suck garlic off your stinging knuckles.)

12. Prepare the beef broth. This can be as easy as opening up four of those OXO cubes and applying the right amount of hot water, or as complicated as trying to remember where the blankety-blank you put the can opener this time. Depending on the thickness and saltiness of the broth, you may want to add some more water. I used about four cups of broth made from OXO cubes (one cube : one cup of boiling water), then I added another 1-2 cups of broth 'cause I'm a dummy and put salt in with the barley.

13. Dump out the barley water. Be careful not to dump out the barley with the water. (Hint: colanders aren't just for mac and cheese.)

14. Throw everything into a big enough pot. (You may want to look carefully at the quantity of all your ingredients and do some mental math before putting everything into the first pot you lay hands on. If you don't, you'll end up doing extra dishes like I will be, later tonight.) Make sure you add all the ingredients: beets, carrots, garlic, ginger, broth, and what barley you didn't accidentally throw out. Double-check the counter(s), the sink, the stove top and the fridge for anything you may have left out.

15. Simmer everything that's in the big-enough pot for about 15-30 minutes. I don't know how long it took. I just kept getting up and trying it. If the barley had a "chewy pebble" texture, I kept the soup on the heat, stirred it thoroughly, then went back to work for a couple of minutes. As soon as the barley and the beets had a decent texture, it was good enough to eat. (Note: if you get distracted and the soup becomes glue, throw it out before it burns and start over.)

16. Once the soup is adequately done, turn the heat off. Let your masterpiece cool off for a couple of minutes. Scoop soup into receptacles of your choice (preferably bowls), and enjoy!

17. Check your hands and clothes for beet stains. Make mental notes where stains would be best used in your story.

18. After consuming some of your concoction, run to the nearest mirror and stick out your tongue. Note that it hasn't changed colour (even though your hands are probably, ahem, beet-red), but do note that there are probably bits of purple, fibrous material sticking to your tongue and teeth.

19. Go back and make careful updates to your extremely descriptive autopsy of a semi-naked body in the throes of rigor mortis.

And that's how you cook up some accuracy in your murder mystery. Stirring, isn't it?


  1. Post-script. There are onions in my fridge. I suspect it's because I'd meant to make the soup with onions. Why, I have no idea. I hate onions.

  2. Post-post-script. Apparently cabbage isn't the only food that does loud and entertaining things to my insides. Fortunately, I live alone. Unfortunately for the neighbourhood, all my windows are open.

  3. No offense, but that looks vile. On a side note, I love onions and hate beets. Beets are a weird colour. It ain't natch-rul.