By Summer Miller, author of New Prairie Kitchen
I woke to find the air misty and damp. It was early March and the sun had yet to rise. I stayed in bed for a minute as blue light settled on the surface of my nightstand, and across a stack of unread books.
“Gear,” I thought, “What do I own that constitutes gear? It’s too late to find hiking poles anyway, and who knows if I’m even up for this. Climb muddy hills with strangers? Why not! I’m sure they are all 20-years-old and fit enough to scale a mountain wall. I’ll fit right in!”
I took a deep breath to release my pessimism, and assess my 38-year-old body still soft from birthing a baby four years earlier. I wondered if I could handle a rainy, hilly, 8-mile hike. I wondered what business I had trying.
My back has fallen down on the job. It has chosen not to support the structure of my body, which means I cannot engage in high-impact activities. I watch my children bounce on trampolines from the sidelines, and wave them goodbye as their little feet crunch the gravel road on family runs with my husband. On this morning, however, I was going to try something new. Something outside walking the lowest speed of a treadmill, and engage with the world in a way that made sense to me. I was afraid I would fail, and it would be solid proof that I would never regain the health and athleticism I once knew. It was time to confront fear with action, however, and if I slid down a muddy ravine or reinjured my back, then so be it.
I put on the only hiking “gear” I owned — a pair of jeans, some old tennis shoes, and my winter coat, which was much too warm for the day, but it was my only waterproof jacket. Just shy of an hour later, I arrived at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska.
A smiling, 20-something, refreshed looking, natural beauty goddess, fit enough to scale a mountain wall greeted me.
“Are you here for the Outsiders Hike?”
“Yes,” I said as she gave the person at the front desk a ticket.
“We are going to wait here for about 10 more minutes to make sure we have the whole group then we’ll head out.”
The hikers stood in an awkward and misshapen circle, smiling and casually avoiding eye contact. I found another poor soul who had to pile on winter clothing to keep dry. In his case, it was a ski suit complete with poles.
It took a bit of courage for me to get up that morning, but I knew instantly I’d made the right decision to put my frumpy body in frumpy clothes and meet those people in that place. I wasn’t trying to break a world record. I was trying to break a habit. I had walled myself up and surrounded myself with comfortable things, people and experiences. I was trying to remember what I was like and who I was when I challenged my body and took risks.
In the big scheme of things, it was a small moment, but those unsung decisions have a way of changing our lives. I honestly don’t know why I signed up for that hike. I just know I was absent mindedly scrolling through Facebook when the event popped up, and I hit yes, I will attend.
One hike 2 years ago has led to exploring fifteen different parks, and recreational trails in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. It has been the motivation for family camping trips, mom and kids camping trips, and one cherished weekend with some close girlfriends. I have found something to challenge me personally, serve as quiet meditation or some much needed quality time with people I love, and it’s all thanks to the day, I woke up and put on a winter coat in March.
Orange and beets are a classic combination, but they aren’t in season and I wanted this sandwich to use a recipe I already shared with you, Peach Basil Jam (Click HERE for recipe), in a new way. Of course, if you don’t want to make peach basil jam from scratch you can buy peach jam or apricot jam and add basil leaves to it. It’s cheating, but not everyone is into making jam, so go ahead and buy peach jam from someone who is into making jam, then add 1 tsp of thinly sliced basil to a ¼ cup of it. It will make you both happy.
1 ½ lbs. beets, trimmed of roots and tops
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
½ lb. arugula or mixed greens
¼ cup peach basil jam
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch kosher salt
½ cup sour cream
10 turns of freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon horseradish
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Trim beet ends and tops, but don’t peel them. Wrap in a foil pouch with about ½ cup water. Place pouch in roasting dish with lid, and roast in the oven for 1 hour. It could be more or it could be less depending upon the size of your beets.
While the beets are roasting make your vinaigrette. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients.
While the beets are still warm, but easy to handle rub the skins off with a paper towel slice them like you would slice a tomato for a BLT, and add them to the vinaigrette toss to coat.
In a small bowl combine all of the ingredients for the sandwich spread.
Slice your bread. Toast it. Spread 1 tablespoon of sandwich spread on each slice. Top with arugula, 3 to 4 beet slices, thinly sliced red onion, and remaining slice of bread.
Note: You will have beets leftover because there is no point in turning your oven only to roast enough beets for a sandwich. Have a few leftover and add them to a salad. Thin leftover sandwich spread with a little cream, and use it as a dressing, or don’t thin it and use it as a dip for other vegetables.
Check out Summer’s website!