Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée (and croquettes)

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

Back in the summertime, I could, and probably did, start every post with, “Malcolm and I went for a walk after dinner.” We haven’t gone for too many walks lately. He’s in school, now, middle school. He’s a busy boy. And the dark comes early and it’s too chilly to swim in the river. But the other night we went to buy milk in the evening, and we talked about this and that, as we do. I asked Malcolm if I would be the first American to win the Booker prize, which is a perfectly normal thing for a mom to ask her twelve-year-old son. We’ve all been there. He said, “No, no way.” And we walked a few more steps and he said, “Wait, what’s the Booker prize?” And I said it’s a prize for the best novel. And he said, “Oh yeah, you’ll definitely win that.” And I said, “What did you think the Booker prize was for?” And he said, “You know, for someone who books.” And he made the universal gesture for somebody running really fast. I didn’t take offense. I can scamper with the best of them, but I’m no speed demon. I know that, I’m comfortable with that. But Malcolm believes I’ll definitely win the Booker prize! I’ve always wanted to win the Booker prize, never more than when it was a complete impossibility. Until very recent history, it couldn’t be won by an American, and I, improbably and irrevocably, am an American. It also couldn’t be won by somebody who hadn’t written a novel, which is something I hadn’t done until very recently. As I say, I liked the impossibility of me ever winning a Booker prize, and it didn’t make me want to win it any less. It suited my sense of ambition, which is completely absurd and has no practical real-word application. I keep thinking of a conversation I had with my friend Maureen, when we were in Highschool. She said it might seem unlikely but she had no doubt in her mind that she would be a successful musician some day. And I said I felt the same way about being a writer. We had an unerring adolescent sense of inevitability, the glowing nugget of which has turned into a smoldering middle-aged sense of you-never-know. Because now I’ve written a novel. Will it win the Booker prize? Of course not! Will it ever be published? I’m starting to doubt it! Does my son Malcolm believe that of course I’ll be the first American to win the Booker prize? He does! What could be better than that?

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

I made this with some kale from the farm. I love kale, but I’ve been balking at the texture of it lately, for some reason. I always want it to be softer. So I made this puree, with castelvetrano olives and pistachios. It’s green. I thought it was really nice as a sort of side dish, but it would also be good tossed with pasta as a pesto or maybe with some rice and flatbread. The next day I added some eggs, cheese and bread crumbs and made croquettes. Also very easy and very tasty.

Here’s Booker T and the MGs with Time is Tight
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Eggplant and sweet potato tart with pistachios and pine nuts

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Last night I had trouble sleeping, as I often do, and I started thinking about thoughts. I thought specifically about how some thoughts are like mosquitoes. They buzz around your head, flying with sudden noise into your ears and eyes. You know they don’t do anybody any good. They’re impossible to ignore, and just when you think you’ve shooed them away, they’re in your ears again. And if you let them land, if they’re with you any time at all, they’ll leave angry welts, which will fester and grow the more you scratch at them. You can tear at them with your nails until you bleed, and they’ll only plague you more, with their fiendish itching. It’s best to leave them alone, to ignore them, but it’s so damned hard. There’s nothing valuable about these thoughts; they’re not worth pondering. You won’t figure anything out, you won’t arrive at any truths. They’re the lesser of Pandora’s evils, rising insubstantial and weightless in lazy persistent circles from her box, they’re lies, deceit, scolding, accusation, envy, gossip, scheming, self-doubt. They arrive in the evening, particularly this time of year, when the light fades and the chill steals in, the darker it grows the more they swarm. And these prickly devils, like mosquitoes, breed in stagnant water, in the festering ooze of a lazy mind. So the thing to do, of course, is to keep the waters running clear and cool, to keep your brain full of things worth thinking about, which will feed on the larvae of your mosquito-thoughts. Of course this is hard sometimes, in the middle of the night. It’s hard to steer your mind away from the angry buzzing, but it can be done, and it’s important to stock the waters with a ready supply of thoughts that can dart through the moving current, or hang rippling in pools of sunlight. You can think of a story you’re writing, a poem you can almost remember, a film you once enjoyed, a long ago conversation that made you happy once. When you finally sleep, these thing will weave through your dreams and become something new, something alive. If thoughts are going to keep you up all night, they should at least be worth thinking about.

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Of course, if you’re me, you’ll spend some of your ample insomnia hours thinking about how to cook the eggplants you picked from your garden, and how to use up all of the sweet potatoes from the farm. And eventually you’ll make this tart, which I thought was really delicious! Perfect for this time of year. I made eggplant the way I generally do, marinating, dipping in egg, breading and baking in olive oil. This is a good recipe to use up leftover eggplant that you’ve made this way a day or so before. I have very thin sweet potatoes from the farm, and I liked the idea of them looking like pepperoni, so I roasted them with a little tamari and smoked paprika. And I topped everything with some lovely crunchy pistachios and pine nuts.

Here’s Benjamin Booker with Have You Seen My Son, because I’m obsessed with this album at the moment.

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Chickpea and sweet potato tacos

Sweet potato chickpea tacos

Sweet potato chickpea tacos


I’ve been thinking lately that hope is some sort of involuntary muscle. We have absolutely no control over it. You can tell yourself not to get your hopes up. You can believe that you’re not getting your hopes up. You can lie to yourself about it so cleverly that you don’t know you’re doing it. But when you’re disappointed, and you feel your hopes crashing to great depths, you realize that you’d been hopeful all along, despite your best intentions. And when your hopes come to rest, down there in the deep depths, you can tell yourself that you’ll keep them down this time, you’ll suppress them and block their every attempt to rise again. But it won’t work. You can’t keep them down any more than you can stop your heart beating just by thinking about it. Your hopes will rise again all around you, though you can’t see them and maybe even can’t feel them, and before you know it you’ll be working on something again. You’ll forget the rejection and disappointment, and you’ll try to make connections. You’ll try to give your hope something solid and substantial to float on, something not so easily dashed and capsized. This must be true for everybody, however cynical they are, however much success and riches and love they have. They must feel the same cycle of hopes rising and falling and rising again, for all things big and little in their life. It must be involuntary for everyone. Doesn’t it seem sometimes that hope is necessary for survival, as necessary as air?

Sweet potato and chickpea tacos

Sweet potato and chickpea tacos

These tacos are very autumnal! Warm colors, warm flavors, smoky sweet and spicy. Quick and easy to make, too. We ate them with warm tortillas, grated sharp cheddar, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced avocado. All the usual suspects! And basmati rice of course. You could just eat it over rice, as is. Or you could add some broth and make it saucier, and eat it as a soup or stew with crusty bread. Vegan if you leave the butter out!

Here is Jordil Saval with Good Again by Tobias Hume, which comes after a song called “My hope is decayed.”

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Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

Isaac ends his sentences with an ascension. His voice travels upwards at the end of each thought. Sometimes it trails upwards in a lengthy and leisurely fashion. Sometimes, when he’s indignant, it rises sharply to unhearable heights. It sounds like he’s asking a question, even if he isn’t asking a question. This is not uncommon, I think. I’ve heard other children talk in this fashion. The question is why, and here at The Ordinary’s institute for analysis of vocal inflection, we’ve been looking into it. We’ve been examining data, both quantitative and qualitative, and using the scientific method to posit hypotheses before testing them against focal groups and sample fields. (I’ve been helping Malcolm with his biology homework!) We’ve come up with two possible theories to explain the phenomenon. One is that Isaac’s thoughts are buoyant. They bubble out of him and float up into the atmosphere. They’re not insubstantial, they start with a pleasant weight and depth, but they’re uncontainable, exuberant, they catch the breeze and rise like kites to travel where Isaac’s unusual mind will take them. Like to the lark at break of day arising
from sullen earth, Isaac’s thoughts sing hymns at heaven’s gate. This is one theory. The other, more probably theory, is that he doesn’t believe we’re paying attention, so each statement is a question, a “did you hear these words, are you listening?” question. Well of course we’re listening! We catch his words as they float out of him, and they help to lift us up on even the dreariest of days.

Speaking of dreary days, if you’re experiencing such a thing, make this soup! It’s warm and bright, a little spicy but very comforting. I made it with golden tomatoes from our garden, which gave it a pretty color. You could make it with any kind of tomatoes, though, it would still be good. We ate it almost as dal, over rice. I added some chopped baby spinach to mine. You could eat it just as it is, though, with some nice crusty bread, for a perfect autumn meal.

Here’s As I Rise by the Decemberists.
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Smoky eggplant-pistachio mince, and Turnovers with eggplant mince, white beans, roasted peppers and olives

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

I have a new job. I like it a lot, but I still feel like I’m just getting used to it. I have these strange anxiety dreams that have nothing to do with the actual job–waitressing anxiety dreams, or middle school anxiety dreams (although these probably have more to do with Malcolm actually starting middle school). My old job was a lot of walking and talking to people. My new job is lots of sitting and writing and looking. Part of my work is deciding if images are ready to be made into prints that artists can sell–if they’re cropped correctly, and in focus, and of a sufficiently large size. This part of the job was hard for me at first. I’m naturally a second-guesser. I don’t always trust my eyes. I don’t really like to be the decider, especially if it involves someone else’s work. But here’s the funny thing. Each artist’s work is wildly different from every other artist’s work. Some are sweet, some are pretty, some are disturbing. Some are oil, some pastel, some drawings or prints or mixed media. Obviously I don’t love everything I see. Nobody would. I like certain kinds of art just like everybody else does. But it’s my job to look at the work as closely as I can, to zoom right in and make sure everything is in focus. And I’ve experienced such a strange phenomenon. When I look at each image as closely as I possibly can: too close to see the subject matter, but close enough to see each brush stroke or pencil scratch, too close to even read the signature, when I see them like this I love each one. I often wonder why people do what they do–why they say what they say and write what they write and sing what they sing and draw what they draw. Why that particular thing, why bother at all? Well, when you see them up close like this, you realize that this is a useless question. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what. It’s beautiful just that they tried, they created something with their own hands, with strokes that no other hands could have made in exactly the same way. Many of them are just Ordinary people with day jobs, for many of them art is not a career, it’s a passion. But I like to think about them going about their day thinking about their art, with that bright spark in their mind and then giving that spark life with strokes on canvas or paper. I like to think about that.

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

More eggplant! This was sort of a failed dish that turned into something better. I was going to make eggplant cutlets or kofta, but they fell apart, and I ended up making a sort of mince. I thought it was really good! We made a fire in the back yard and put the eggplant right into the fire, till they were charred and melty. When they were cool enough I peeled them and mashed them with some pistachios and garlic and herbs. And then I ended up frying them almost like I was making scrambled eggs or hash browns. The first night we ate this with sautéed chard and some bread that I made and a creamy pistachio sauce. The next night I made turnovers or empanadas with leftover eggplant mince and white beans, olives, roasted red peppers and leeks. Even Isaac liked them! He ate seconds!

Here’s the Velvet Underground with Sweet Jane, because I’m currently obsessed with it, and because you could be a clerk and still make art.

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Tarragon ice cream

Tarragon ice cream

Tarragon ice cream

Many ages and ages ago, I told you that David and I are going to try to watch as many movies from 1967 as we can find. And I promised I’d tell you all about them. Well, we’re making a slow go of it, and it’s taken me weeks to even tell you about the first film we saw. That film was La Collectionneuse, by Eric Rohmer. Rohmer begins the film with a sort of prologue, introducing the three main characters; two men and one woman. The men are introduced in their natural habitat, in the natural habitat of a Rohmer movie, they’re with friends and they’re talking, they’re all talking. The woman, Haydée, is introduced in a bikini on a beach. I thought, “Please let her talk, please let her talk,” but she doesn’t, she doesn’t say a word. And this seems to be setting us up for a movie in which the young woman is just an object and the men are more interesting and likable. But in fact, in many ways, Haydée’s silence is her strength, and the men trip themselves up with talking. The character of Haydee is not very thoroughly-drawn, but she is a strong, compelling presence in the film. The film takes place in the south of France during a couple of idyllic weeks. The three main characters share a home owned by an absent mutual friend. We catch glimpses of the mens’ lives before and after this summer interlude, but we don’t know anything about Haydée, we don’t know where she comes from, or where she’ll go after the vacation. The men think they have her all figured out…she’s just a little slut, with a different boyfriend each night. She’s younger than them, and they think she’s flighty, thoughtless, easily dismissed. They can’t help but be attracted to her, against their will and judgement, though they try to laugh it off. They feel obliged to seduce her, though not very determined to actually go about it, and they discuss who should do it, giving each other permission as though she was the last ripe plum in the house, and they don’t want to be greedy in their enjoyment of it. Rohmer lets the men talk more than Haydée, and he gives them enough words to tangle and hang themselves. Rohmer has said, “You should never think of me as an apologist for my male character, even (or especially) when he is being his own apologist. On the contrary, the men in my films are not meant to be particularly sympathetic characters.” A fourth character enters the film, an American antiques dealer, a collector. He sees Haydee as something the men will give him to ensure his business, a beautiful object he expects to collect. He’s a crude and brutal man–we’re not expected to like him and we don’t. He acts as a sort of mirror for the other men, showing what they really are, in a harsh and unflattering light. The men accuse Haydee of being a collectionneuse, using young men for her own shallow pleasure. She says she’s not collecting, she’s searching, and she has never yet had a lover in the true sense of the word. She doesn’t have many words, but she has the most honest and sincere of the words. In the end Adrien leaves her by the side of the road to an uncertain future. He goes back to the house, and this man who is always talking is suddenly afraid of the silence and aware of the loss of something he had not valued at all. “I was overwhelmed by a feeling of exquisite freedom. Now I could do whatever I wanted. But once back in the emptiness and silence of the house, I was seized with anxiety and unable to sleep.”

Tarragon

Tarragon

Tarragon ice cream! Following on the success of my tarragon cookies a few weeks back, I did what any sane person would do and made tarragon ice cream. It’s sooooo delicious, with a haunting unplaceable flavor. I stewed the leaves in the milk of some time, and then I saved a few leaves to chop and add at the end, to give it flecks of color and flavor.

Here’s The Blossom Toes with Love Bomb. They did some music for the film, don’t you know.

 

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Eggplant croquettes

Eggplant croquettes

Eggplant croquettes

If you’re familiar with The Ordinary at all, you’ll know we’re big fans of Square America, an online collection of found photos: the kind you see in yard sales and flea markets, the kind that make you a little sad, because they’re pictures of somebody’s family and friends, and you wonder how they ended up here, in a jumble, in the hands of strangers. The pictures are intriguing, often moving, sometimes funny. You wonder what happened before, what came next. It’s a tiny moment in someone’s life, a rare glimpse. You might recall that all last year I wrote a story a week based on photos found on Square America, a habit that only died out because one of them turned into a novel, a habit I hope to pick up again as soon as I get myself organized. Last week, the proprietor of Square America posted a series of mug shots from New Castle, PA. What a strange thing to see! Probably the least private and personal of the Square America photographs, and yet you feel almost guilty looking at them, it’s really none of your business. All the same, you can’t help wondering about these people, captured in this way on a bad day, a low point in their lives, probably. You can’t help wondering what brought them here and where they went next. Well, the proprietor of Square America posted a link to Small Town Noir, a site where some very thorough person has scanned the local papers of New Castle, PA, to discover the story behind each mug shot, and then went on to research any information about the rest of their lives. You learn what brought them here and where they went next. You learn about their parents and their lovers and their children. It’s crazy, crazy to read. I couldn’t stop reading it yesterday, and it gave me such strange dreams. People are so vulnerable when they’re alone. People need each other so much and are so cruel to one another. And people endure. So many of these people have extraordinary, awful, strange and almost unimaginable tribulations, and they live to rebuild their lives and meet new people and raise their children, and survive to a hale old age. It’s crazy to read, crazy.

Eggplant croquettes! We were eating eggplant almost every day at one point in the summer. We grew it, and we got some from our CSA. So I was trying to do something new and unusual with it, and I came up with this idea. I cooked the eggplants whole until they were meltingly soft. Then I peeled them and processed them with pine nuts, bread crumbs, cheese and herbs. Then I baked them in olive oil till they were nice and crispy outside and soft and warm on the inside. These have a nice smoky flavor because of the charred eggplant, the smoked paprika, and the smoked gouda.

Here’s Tom Waits with Singapore, because many of these stories could easily become a Tom Waits song.

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Almond tarragon cookies

Almond tarragon cookies

Almond tarragon cookies

It’s been such a strange week, with Malcolm starting middle school and summer coming to a close and me sort of starting a new job. I’ll tell you what I keep thinking about, the image that keeps playing over and over in my head. One evening we went down to the river. The sun was beautiful as it set in the blue-shadowed clouds, the trees were beautiful as they settled into fall. Isaac danced around collecting conkers with David, who could reach into the branches. Later Isaac would bring the conkers home and leave them on a table with a sign that read “choos yore chestnut.” He labeled them small, medeum, and large. I’d been asking Malcolm all day long about school. I get little snatches of information, but I really have no idea how he feels about it all. I was trying not to hound him, but you could tell he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Well, he went into the water, and he went way out to the middle of the river, all by himself, and he stood battling the never-ending current. It came gently but relentlessly towards him, and he splashed against it, in a world by himself, in his element, thinking.

Almond tarragon cookies

Almond tarragon cookies

Tarragon in something sweet! In cookies! Light lacy almond cookies! I’ll admit I was a little scared to try this, because I’ve always thought of tarragon as a savory flavor. But I’ve also always thought that the lemony anisey taste would be nice in a sweet setting. So I only added this to half the cookies. They turned out absolutely delicious, with a light, haunting addictive flavor.

Here’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Down by the Riverside.

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Pesto, lentil and tomato tart

Tomato, pesto, french lentil tart

Tomato, pesto, french lentil tart

This is the 900th post to come at you from The Ordinary. Nine hundred recipes and songs, 900 confused and meaningless meandering rambling essays. It’s crazy, I tell you. Crazy. It’s a crazy amount of words. The other night, whilst half-awake, I found myself composing an Ordinary post in my head, and I realized that I hadn’t done it in a while. And I realized that I missed it. I’ve always had words running through my head–does everybody? And I’ve always arranged them into phrases, and imagined them written. When I was little, I narrated my life in the third person. And then maybe everything was silent for a while. I can’t remember. Maybe I thought in pictures instead, and music, maybe I thought about movie scenes. But when I started writing posts from The Ordinary, when I really started writing essays, and not just providing tepid descriptions of food I’d cooked, I started to write in my head again. I was always thinking of things I could write about. Everything I saw or watched or heard or read seemed to filter itself into an Ordinary post. The world became reorganized in this way, reimagined, seen through Ordinary eyes. Everything seemed worth talking about. And then it was the novel, it took over my thoughts, and the characters spoke to each other in my head, and that was the best feeling of all. And then I fell out of the habit, and suddenly nothing seemed worth talking about, even everything I’d already written. The more you do something, the more you do something, and I think that’s good, and important to remember. If you’re feeling listless and detached, if you’re feeling whybotherish, start to do something you once enjoyed: draw, make music, cook, write. It might be hard at first, it might not come out like you’d planned, but the more you do it, the better it will feel, the more you’ll think about it when you’re not thinking about it, the more you’ll come back to it as your natural resting place. The very act of doing it will give it meaning and value, if you persevere. And that’s where I am now, coming out of the hazy lazy listless summer slump to sharpen my thoughts again, to point them in a certain direction and then follow wherever they lead. I’ll take all the splinters of words and images that have slept in my head all summer, and string them together, so that the words chasing each other around my head in the middle of the night become worth writing down in the morning, so that they become worth sharing.

Lentil, tomato and pesto tart

Lentil, tomato and pesto tart

In keeping with this august benchmark in Ordinary history, I’ll tell you about this very Ordinaryish tart. I love lentils! Especially French lentils! And I love tarts! And I love all of the abundant produce of summer. The pesto I made from basil from our yard and from the CSA we belong to. The tomatoes are from our yard (and they’re wonderful!) Everything was nice together, I think. Fresh, but earthy and satisfying. The crust is yeasted and has a little chickpea flour in for flavor, the pesto is made with pistachios, almonds and sharp cheddar. The lentils are flavored with a little cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and smoked paprika. Lovely spices for lentils.

Here’s 9th and Hennepin, by Tom Waits, because it’s been in my head all morning, and because it’s one of the best collections of words I’ve ever heard.
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Cherry, white peach, chocolate and frangipane tart

Cherry peach chocolate almond tart

Cherry peach chocolate almond tart

Last night Clio and I went for a walk after dinner, as we almost always do. It wasn’t even close to 8 o’clock yet, but it was getting dark. There was a chill in the air, but we could feel the warmth radiate from the wall of rocks, which had soaked in sunshine all day. Earlier in the day, we’d seen that someone had stuck a piece of tassly grass into the trunk of a tree. It looked like a little bouquet, or a little spray of fireworks. However, at dusk, it seemingly took its true form.

IMG_4536

The spirit of the end of summer. He’s laughing at us from behind a tree, full of mischief, but a little sad, too, maybe even slightly scared. He seems substantial, but if you run your hands through his tresses, as we did today in the bright afternoon light, he falls to nothing. Through his winking eyes and gaping mouth, you can see the beautiful darkening light along our towpath, and watch the leaves fall like bright shadows.

Cherry, white peach, chocolate, and almond tart

Cherry, white peach, chocolate, and almond tart

This tart contained many of my favorite flavors. It was fun to make, and I realized I hadn’t made anything slightly complicated in some time. It’s not complicated as in difficult, but it does have a few steps, a few layers. The first is a sweetish buttery crust. But you don’t roll it out, you just press it down with your hands, so it’s not that hard. The second layer is bittersweet chocolate. I melted the chocolate chips over a low heat till they were just soft, and then spread them into a thin layer with the back of my spoon. The third layer is a frangipane, but on the firm side, not too custardy. And finally, of course, the fruit! I like the rich, tangy, sweet but not too sweet quality of this tart, and ate if for breakfast and before bed for days. We also ate it with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream, and I recommend these presentations as well.

Here’s The Ethiopians with Feel the Spirit. Love this one.

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