Oh, beets and good grocery baggers
are so very important in life, I think… to me at least!
by Charlie Leck
I strolled slowly through the produce aisles of my favorite grocery store, looking for something exciting to serve with the tuna steaks I planned for dinner that night. I would serve baked potato halves and I needed something with color for the plate. The asparagus looked good, but I'd been serving it an awful lot lately. My eyes fell upon some scrumptious looking fresh beets, still on their stems and greens. I decided to go with those. I'm a beet lover and my wife is okay with them if I take the time to do something special with them.
The prettiest, sweetest young lady was bagging that day at the check-out counter that I happened to pick. She was filled with wittiness and chatter and her eyes sparkled and seemed to be laughing and smiling when I looked into them. Oh, my! A crush like this is unmistakable. Why she's younger than my youngest daughter. Get hold of yourself, you silly old man.
"Beets?" She shouted out with a smile. "They always look so good, but I haven't the faintest idea how to cook them."
"Just peel and steam," the cashier said a bit sarcastically. It was clear she was tired of all the intense attention the bagger at her station was getting and drawing away from her.
"Well," I said, "that's one way."
"But, beets are very versatile," I continued, "and you can do lots of wonderful things with them. I like to steam them just a bit and then sauté or roast them with lots of seasoning possibilities."
The bagger was listening very intently and I liked that. So, I told her about Johnny Bowden's book, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, and about how I was trying to find some of them so I could experiment and learn how to make them all in delicious ways."
The cashier had to interrupt me, in order to ask for money. Some other customers were lined up behind me and they clearly were hoping the bagger would speed it up a bit. I thought she was doing just a perfectly wonderful job and there was, indeed, no reason to hurry.
I had only two relatively small bags when she finished and I was prepared to grab hold of them and hustle out to the parking lot and my car. It was a hot and humid day and I'd need to get the air-conditioning going to keep the beet greens nice and fresh looking.
"I'll help you to the car with these," the bagger offered kindly. I thought about refusing her offer, but what the heck!
"I'm vegan," she announced over her shoulder as she strolled attractively in front of me. "I love talking to gentlemen who can talk about vegetables."
"Oh," I replied, "I love talking about vegetables."
I tried to sound very enthusiastic as I puffed, trying to keep up with her lithe, young legs. My implanted, artificial hip was resisting the pace I was trying to keep and I was damning its unwillingness.
"I'm trying to figure out swiss chard," I called ahead to her.
She turned to look back at me and saw the gap between us, so she stopped and waited for me as I pointed in the direction of my car.
"What about swiss chard?" she asked.
"The book says it's remarkably good for us, but I've never cooked it. I can't even find it. I've never seen it here."
"Oh, silly," she smiled, "you need to go to a better store. The Wedge, on Lyndale Avenue is wonderful for things like that. You'll find it there, and it is wonderful! I could teach you how to cook it."
"Well, well," I stuttered, "it seems like a ways to go for one little vegetable."
"No, no," she said, as she settled in next to me and in stride now, "they have all kinds of wonderful things there you won't be able to resist."
We were at the car now and I opened the door for her and she put the two bags on the back seat so gingerly and neatly. Her smile was still as crisp and pretty as it had been in the store and her eyes still sparkled. This was a first class bagger. I fished in my pocket for a few bucks.
"I'll tell you about swiss chard," she said very engagingly. She leaned a hip against my car and looked up at me. It was only then that I realized how short she was and that she had dimples that were adorable.
"You must make sure it's fresh," she began, while waving her hand so cutely, "and make sure you rinse it very thoroughly. Then cut away the toughest part of the stalk and save it for your compost pile, or there are some other recipes that could make use of them. Again, I could teach you about those. Now then, chop up the leaves into strips of, oh, about an inch or so."
I found myself wishing I had a little tape-recorder or, at least, a pen and paper. I also knew I should get the car started because of that tuna fish and the nice fresh beet greens; nevertheless, I raised an arm and leaned against the top of the rear door that was hanging open; you know, the way Robert Redford might. She was smiling and going on about the chard.
"Put some good olive oil – probably extra virgin, you know – in a saucepan and heat it up on medium. Add some slices of garlic and I like to put some red peppers in with the garlic. Sauté those for a minute or two and then add the chopped swiss chard leaves and let them cook for 5 minutes or so. You could add a little water or a drop of Madera would add a nice flavor. After five minutes, sauté everything together a little bit and add some crunchy sea salt. Cover it up and let it cook another five minutes. Add a little butter for the last five minutes if you want. I wouldn't, but most people like to do that. Slide it into a serving dish and you're set to go."
She made an adorable little sliding motion with her hands, as if she was moving chard from a hot pan into a lovely, delicate serving dish.
"Sounds absolutely wonderful," I said, smiling as widely as I could, though somewhat self-consciously because of the aging look of my teeth. "It almost makes me want to jump in my car and drive into the city now to get some."
"Oh, call first," she said with a dainty chuckle, "and make sure they have some on hand. I don't want you to be baddy-mad at me." She winked and said she'd better get back in the store before she got fired.
"Wait," I stammered, struggling to pull the dollar bills loose from my billfold. I saw the five-spot then and tugged it out instead. I handed it to her.
"Thanks so much," I said.
"Oh, my goodness," she cooed so enthusiastically as she took the currency. "You are just the sweetest man ever."
She turned and ran so gracefully between the cars and back toward the store. A few cars away, she suddenly stopped and turned back and saw me looking at her. I was so embarrassed. She chuckled knowingly.
"You know what?" she called back to me, "You should have chosen a fish other than that tuna. That's listed as over-fished and endangered by the Blue Ocean Institute, you know." She waved vigorously and then turned again and hurried away.
I wanted to call out to her, to say something clever, but my mouth went dry, and my knees began to act up, and I began one of my little coughing fits. I coughed so hard that my back began to ache. The humidity began to fog over my glasses. I pushed the car door closed and then turned and cracked an elbow on the side-view mirror of the car next to mine. I cursed.