When other kids were dreaming of being firefighters and ballerinas, I wanted to become a geneticist. I was a 12-year-old with a DNA obsession, a love for James Watson and Francis Crick (Maurice Wilkins, too), and a Genetics for Dummies book I carted around like a security blanket. I was set on being the first woman to grow babies in pods, Matrix-style, long before the movie was released.
A rigorous math-and-science highschool experience drove away this early love. All I’m left of my calling is an affinity for biology-themed Jeopardy! categories, and a family who tease me now and again about my childhood pod babies.
I’ve never naturally gotten on with children. Perhaps this is a product of my particular breed of introversion, but I don’t dream of becoming a mom like many women I know. If anything, the notion of responsibility for another life makes me want to run far, far away from the opposite sex. I have terrible fears of dropping babies or stepping on them or the worst case: not knowing how to love them right.
But with the birth of my nephew back in August, I changed a little. I love this little being with all my might, in an unexpected and unexplainable way. I make my sister email me photos. I have his ever-rotating picture as my desktop background at home and work. Baby Kieran is snuggly and fragile and smells nice. He even seems to like me.
I’ve warmed up to the idea of just loving, and not needing to understand the why and how.
My nephew ate his first solids this week, which was my inspiration for a whimsical way to showcase some market beets. After all, I do know how to feed people (babies included) and breakfast the colour of Play-Doh is fun for adults alike. These beet pancakes are a brilliant shade of magenta and packed with goodness – slightly sweet, very dense and almost earthy.
They’re exactly the food to fuel childhood dreams, however strange those dreams may be.
These pancakes are hefty and dense – the texture is similar to pound cake and one or two make an ample breakfast. Because of the honey in the batter, they are sweet enough plain. They’d also be delicious with some maple syrup and Greek yogurt or toasted walnuts. For a savoury take, omit the honey and up the salt to one teaspoon – then top with sour cream and dill for a non-traditional take on borscht. In coin-sized portions, the savoury version would make a terrific blini base.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt or other whole grain flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp fine sea salt (increase to 1 tsp for savoury version)
1 Tbsp cocoa, non-Dutch processed (I like Nativas Naturals raw cacao or Scharffen Berger cocoa)
2 medium red beets, roasted to tender (about 1 cup)
1.5 cups warm water
2 Tbsp honey (omit for savoury version)
1 large egg, beaten
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
large metal or glass mixing bowl (beets will stain plastic)
heavy non-stick frying pan or griddle
To roast the beets: preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub beets well and remove ends. Wrap individually in tin foil (as you would a baked potato) and roast for approximately one hour, until a sharp knife is easily inserted. This can be done in advance – just store the wrapped beets in the fridge.
To make the pancake batter: in bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, sea salt and cocoa until very well incorporated. Set aside.
In another bowl, dissolve honey into warm water. Add honey-water mixture and beets to blender and puree until very smooth and liquefied - there should be no beet pieces remaining.
Add the beet puree, egg and butter to the dry ingredients, stirring well to incorporate until an even bright magenta batter is achieved.
Drop 1/4 cup spoonfuls onto a heated griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook for two minutes per side until pancake is cooked through and forms a light brown crust. You will know when to flip because tiny bubbles will crack at the pancake’s surface.
Serve plain (the pancakes are slightly sweet from the honey and beet) or with maple syrup. For a savory version, see headnote. Makes 8 large pancakes. Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen and reheated.