Chocolate chip cake with almond-hazelnut toffee topping

chocolate chip cake with almond-hazelnut toffee topping

chocolate chip cake with almond-hazelnut toffee topping

In defense of meandering

The nicest rejection I got for my novel (also, strangely, the most disappointing) said all sorts of kind things about my writing but concluded that the pace was too meandering. Well! I’ve thought about this a lot, since. I understand their objection, of course, but I like meandering! I like books that meander and movies that meander, and I like the act of meandering about in the world. In point of fact, this rejection has made me look back upon my life to realize that I have lived in an entirely meandering fashion. (In fact, too close an examination of my “career” might turn this into a cautionary tale about meandering, rather than a defense of it.) There’s so much I want to do, but I don’t have firm goals and plans of attack, I don’t have schedules and itineraries. I have been most fortunate in finding good traveling companions, and now I’m perfectly happy to meander about with them and see where we all end up.

There are places I’d like to go, things I’d like to achieve, but I feel like I’ll take a strange and winding path and be surprised and delighted when I get there. Of course, with this attitude I may never get there at all. That’s the danger. Or I’ll get there and find myself unprepared; I’ll discover that I haven’t packed all of the equipment that I need, because I always forget something. But then we’ll make do with what we have and what we find, and maybe we’ll come up with a better way of doing things than we ever would have if we’d packed more carefully. That’s the beauty of meandering…you never know where you’ll end up! As long as you keep turning down the most likely paths, as long as you’re happy to turn around if you find yourself somewhere that doesn’t work out, and start out again on a new path.
And probably as I’m meandering to a specific destination, someone else will be headed there with great purpose and focus. But maybe by the time I got close I would have decided to go somewhere else any way, somewhere better for me.
I was very happy to discover that the word “meander” comes from the name of a river in present day Turkey, know to the ancient Greeks as Maiandros, whose “course is so exceedingly winding that everything winding is called meandering.”  And a meander, as a noun, is a bend in a sinuous river. “Meandering” used in a disparaging manner, implies weakness, it implies vagueness and mildness that lead to inefficiency and failure. But surely there’s nothing stronger than a river! We might not always understand the pattern or the plan, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one! A river might not rush in a straightforward and obvious fashion to the sea, but it gets there nonetheless, making a beautiful design as it does so. And in Greek mythology, Meander is actually a river god, a god, son of the god of the sea, no doubt behaving in the strange and inexplicable manner of all gods, but powerful nonetheless.
 
I like to walk by the river, in an aimless and directionless fashion. I like to go for a meander. I have some of my best ideas this way, and my stories often take shape in my head while I’m adrift in this fashion. I believe that always knowing where you’re going, and always taking the quickest route to get there, and always checking your map or your phone’s map till that’s all you have in your head–all of that can be the death of the imagination, it doesn’t leave space for thoughts to grow and bloom. I think maybe as a society we’ve forgotten how to meander. We’re always so plugged in we’ve forgotten what it’s like to not know: to not be sure where we’re going or how many minutes it takes to get there and what the weather will be like when we do and the exact specific answer to every little question that should arise in our heads. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to wonder, we’re uncomfortable in those little pockets of uncertainty, which is sad, because this is where new ideas thrive and grow. And we have no time to wander,  to let our feet and thoughts fly where they will.
This is a typical Claire cake! Quite easy to put together, especially if you use your food processor, which I did. You don’t even clean the processor between mixing the batter and the topping, because having a bit of batter in helps the topping to stick together. It’s not actually toffee, the topping, but it’s butter, sugar and nuts, baked till brown and crispy.
Here’s Make the Road by Walking, by the Menahan Street Band
 

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Roasted tomato-pinenut sauce and potatoes baked with tomato broth and leeks

Potatoes and leeks in tomato broth

Potatoes and leeks in tomato broth

My kids are the most bright and beautiful. Just like everybody else’s kids. Do I tell them they’re bright and beautiful? Of course I do! Every time they say something funny or make something clever, every time they act wisely or kindly. Every time I feel it, which is all the time. Am I worried that I’m going to turn them into entitled little narcissists? Honestly, I’m not. The world will knock them down. People can be so cruel, and they’re just teetering on the precipice of the valley of nauseating self-doubt and insecurity that is the teen years. The world will knock them down, and they’ll be strong enough to get back up again.

There’s some article making the rounds advising that you shouldn’t tell your child they’re special. Of course your child is special! Everybody’s child is special, and we’re all somebody’s child! We’re all special in the way that we’re all unique, that is, equally so. You can’t be more unique or the most unique, it doesn’t make sense–the laws of grammar and nature don’t allow it. So it is with specialness. But my children are also special to me, each of them, in a way that nobody else in the world is. I feel that this is something I’ve earned. It’s the gift that comes along with all the worry and trouble and sleepless nights. Do I tell them this? Not in so many words, I suppose. “Special” is such a strange word, so overused and undervalued, with such shifting meanings. But I hope that they understand it, in the way children understand a million things that we don’t say to them in so many words.

So I will praise my children, I want them to feel good about the things they do well, I want them to feel brave about trying things they might not do well. I want them to feel good about themselves. Insecurity is a dangerous quality, in my experience, and can cause people to behave in petty or destructive ways. When you feel bad about yourself it’s tempting to make other people feel bad about themselves, too. The big hope, of course, is that they’ll love themselves, and they’ll love everybody else, too. Which is where empathy and respect enter the equation. You teach them about empathy and respect by the way you treat them as though they’re special, and you treat each other that way, and the dog, and your neighbors, and everybody that you meet. Praise your children! Tell them that they’re smart and funny and beautiful. Respect them, show them love any way you can. Tell them that they’re special. To you, and in the world. It will make them stronger. And while you’re at it, praise someone else’s children as well, praise everybody’s children.
Roasted tomato and pine nut sauce

Roasted tomato and pine nut sauce

These two dishes go together! Partly because you use the broth from one to cook together. Partly because they’re both a tribute to late summer produce. We have (almost) more tomatoes than we know what to do with. And from our lovely farm we’ve got heaps of tiny potatoes, beautiful leeks and red and yellow peppers. If they grow together, they taste good together, right? I like to make oven roasted tomato sauces because it’s so easy to pick the peels out when they’re done cooking, rather than do that whole boiling and peeling thing before you make the sauce. But if you use all the juices from the tomatoes in the sauce it turns out quite thin. I decided to save the juiciness to baste some tiny potatoes and some braised leeks–simple, with only lemon thyme, white wine, and a lot of salt and pepper. The tomato sauce, then is much thicker, and it’s thickened still with toasted bread and nuts. Almost like a romesco sauce, but with pine nuts instead of hazelnuts, and far more tomatoes than peppers. You can use whatever tomatoes you happen to have in abundance at the moment. I used a mix of red, yellow, black. It’s nice spread on bread or roasted eggplant. It would make a nice sauce for pizza. Or you could just dip things in it. Whatever you like!
Here’s Top Special  by the White Stripes

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Yellow squash in brown butter with jalapeños and chives

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yesterday was a near-perfect summer day. Bright round  blue sky, wispy clouds; not too hot, not too humid, with just an edge of autumn in the breeze that stirred the leaves. The kind of day on which it feels like a crime against time passing to spend even a moment indoors. On this perfect day, Malcolm and I found ourselves in the chilled fluorescent tin can that is the grocery store. Not ideal, but it has to be done. And I was with Malcolm, which is always a good thing, and we were pondering ice cream flavors, and there are worse places you could be. Malcolm said, “a little while ago I decided to start a career as an optimist.” !!!!! Of course I had a million questions! What made him decide to be an optimist? Where was he when this career path occurred to him? I hadn’t gotten as far as “how do you define ‘optimist?'” when I saw that look on his face that says, “Why do I bother telling her anything? So many questions!” So I stopped asking. He said it got hard to be an optimist because he felt sad about something, but he’s going to take it up again, because he is an optimist. Aside from the obvious joy I felt to hear that my occasionally broody 13-year-old son considers himself an optimist, I just love the idea of optimism as a career. I can imagine his guidance counsellor saying, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” And Malcolm replying, with that bright, clever look he gets, “An optimist!” And at career day he’ll pick up pamphlets from the optimists’ table, maybe set up between the army recruiters and the guys offering careers in pharmaceutical companies, and the pamphlets will tell him about which colleges have the best optimism courses and what kind of jobs that will be available when he graduates with his optimism degree. I like to imagine a world in which optimism is a career option. It’s not that far-fetched. Did you know that Epictetus began life as a slave, but through studying and teaching stoicism he obtained his freedom and started his own school? Surely optimism is an easier sell than stoicism! And Malcolm is no idealistic fool. He’s shrewd, he’s savvy. He hears everything and understands everything–the bad as well as the good. So his brand of optimism will have depth and value. It won’t be some shallow meme-worthy advice telling you that if you smile a lot money will drop in your lap and all your problems will be solved. It won’t be that. What will it be? I don’t know, don’t ask me! I haven’t had a career as an optimist! We’ll just have to wait and see.

This dish was extremely easy to prepare, extremely simple, and full of flavor. If you decide to use lemon thyme and a dash of fresh lemon juice, it will have a bright spicy flavor. If you decide to use balsamic and regular thyme it will be more round and earthy. Delicious either way! We had this mixed in with some fresh tomato sauce. It would be good on a  bed of baby spinach. Or just as it is, simple, as a side dish.

Here’s Nina Simone with Ooh Child. It’s the best!

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Ricotta and lemony herb tart with roasted beets and pine nuts

Ricotta and herb tart with roasted beets

Ricotta and herb tart with roasted beets

I had a birthday the other month, and I realized I don’t really want for anything, I don’t need anything more than I have. I want a dress with pockets and some wine that’s better than we usually drink, but that’s about it. And it’s summer, so lots of friends are going on big adventures, but we’re mostly going on smaller adventures, and I’m fine with that. I think I have an ample portion of whatever quality it is that breeds contentment. And why wouldn’t I? I have no excuse not to. And then I was thinking about people who struggle to be content in the face of adversity, Pierre Behusov; “The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories, and imaginings that came to him.” Or Myshkin; the idiot, “And I dreamed of all sorts of things, indeed. But afterwards I fancied one might find a wealth of life even in prison.” And there are times we shouldn’t rest in contentment: in the face of injustice or cruelty or any situation that deprives another of the opportunity to be content. And maybe contentment is dangerous sometimes, because if you’re too comfortable you might lose yourself in your own small world.

Around the time I was thinking all of this I encountered Epictetus. He was a stoic teacher, but he lived four hundred years after the original stoics. (Four hundred years.) He said one should be “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.” And he began life as a slave, his very name means “acquired.” In my ignorance, I’d always thought stoics taught that a person shouldn’t feel anything at all; not sadness or pain or desire or happiness. And yet according to my slight understanding of Epictetus, the whole point is to seek eudaimonia, which is happiness or flourishing or contentment. And to achieve this, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” Life comes at you in impressions, or phantasiai. And you don’t take these at face value, you question them, you talk to them. You say, “Stop, let me see what you are, and where you come from, just as the night-watch say, ‘Show me your token.” And if it’s a harsh impression, you “Make it your study then to confront every harsh impression with the words, ‘You are but an impression, and not at all what you seem to be.’ Then test it by those rules that you possess; and first by this–the chief test of all–’Is it concerned with what is in our power or with what is not in our power?’ And if it is concerned with what is not in our power, be ready with the answer that it is nothing to you.” And, like Pierre Behusov taking comfort in joyful comforting imaginings and memories, you “In the first place, do not allow yourself to be carried away by [the] intensity [of your impression]: but say, ‘Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are, and what you represent. Let me test you.’ Then, afterwards, do not allow it to draw you on by picturing what may come next, for if you do, it will lead you wherever it pleases. But rather, you should introduce some fair and noble impression to replace it, and banish this base and sordid one.”

For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Not everything that Epictetus writes makes sense to me. I think passion and desire are beautiful and unavoidable emotions, and we should try to live with them rather than without them. But I like the idea of using your mind and your imagination to overcome anxiety and make your way through the world. I like the idea of working to change what you can and understanding that you can’t change everything. I like the idea of living in accord with nature, and with our nature, our name. “Further, we must remember who we are, and by what name we are called, and must try to direct our acts to fit each situation and its possibilities.” The name we are called is sister, mother, brother, father, friend, and when you act according to your name you do so regardless of the situation or the behavior of others. So if, say, your 13-year-old is unaccountably angry and moody and worrisome, you don’t respond with anger, you respond as his mother who loves him and tries to understand him at all times, if mother is one of the names you are called. I like the balance of this idea. I’m done with my ramble, but here are some Epictetus quotes that appealed to me.

Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

When a raven happens to croak unluckily, don’t allow the appearance hurry you away with it, but immediately make the distinction to yourself, and say, “None of these things are foretold to me; but either to my paltry body, or property, or reputation, or children, or wife. But to me all omens are lucky, if I will. For whichever of these things happens, it is in my control to derive advantage from it.”

Avoid swearing, if possible, altogether; if not, as far as you are able.

These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better”; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding actions: The habit of walking by walking, the habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer write.

Here’s When the Saints go Marching In by Barbecue Bob, because I love it!

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Potatoes with capers, olives, artichokes, almonds and paprika

Smoky spicy potatoes with olives capers and artichoke hearts

Smoky spicy potatoes with olives capers and artichoke hearts

We go to the river most days in the summer, so the boys and dog can swim. You can probably hear me, from wherever you happen to live, yelling to them to come back, closer to the shore, closer to me. Once upon a time a grown man came and plunged into the water with them. At first his small dog nervously swam out to reach him, crying with each stroke, as nervous swimming dogs do. But the man swam farther and farther out, he was more than halfway across the river, and he was floating away with the current, down the river towards the bridge. It was, at once, a most peaceful and a most anxious sight. He seemed fine, he was fine, he probably just wanted to know what it was like to hang out on the pylons with the turtles, and who hasn’t wanted to do that? But I’d been standing in the sun for a long time, and reading my book of Egyptian literature, and feeling a little dazed. I imagined him having existential thoughts. Not a crisis, just a pondering, a “Why not float out to sea?” moment. The center-piece of my Egyptian literature book is a “remarkable Middle Kingdom text” called The Man Who Was Tired of Life. It’s a dialogue between a man and his soul. I know what you’re thinking, plenty of people have written dialogues between body and soul. There’s Andrew Marvel’s A Dialogue Between the Body and the Soul, and Yeats A Dialogue between Self and Soul. But this is early, this is from the middle kingdom of Egyptian literature, and that’s…that’s…well, I honestly have no idea when that was, but it’s really early. And this man is so strangely relatable. I imagine most people have felt like this at one time or another. He’s feeling down. Partially in the “I think I’ll go eat worms,” way. “Behold, my name is detested, Behold more than the smell of vultures/ On a summer’s day when the sky is hot.” (More than the smell of vultures!) But he’s also feeling discouraged about people, about all of humanity.

“To whom can I speak today?/ Faces are averted,/ And every man looks askance at his brethren.
To whom can I speak today?/ Hearts are rapacious/And there is no man’s heart in which one can trust.
To whom can I speak today?/ There are no just persons/And the land is left over to doers of wrong.”

The strange thing…when we came home from the river, I sat in our cool store and continued to make my slow way through Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and I happened to be on a passage in which thirteen-year-old Kolya says to Prince Myshkin, “Honest People are terribly scarce here, so that there’s really nobody one can respect…We are all adventurers nowadays…they are all money-grubbers, every one of them.”
And then, if you read the news, especially lately, it’s hard not to get down about humanity, it’s hard to keep from being discouraged and cynical and pessimistic. But it’s important to remember that for every piece of tragic news, we can cling to hope in the response of most of the people who hear it: in the outpouring of sympathy and love and even anger, all of these things that will combine to push us towards justice. “Hate won’t win.” And the man on the river made it easily to shore, and stood on the bank joking with whoever was standing there. And the soul persuades the Man Who Was Tired of Life to carry on, and to “Cast complaint upon the peg,…and cleave to life.” And Myshkin, who notices everything and understands everything, says, “What could I teach you? At first I was simply not dull; I soon began to grow stronger. Then every day became precious to me, and more precious as time went on, so that I began to notice it. I used to go to bed very happy and get up happier still. But it would be hard to say why.” We have to cleave to hope, even if we can’t say why.

Here’s Amazing Grace by Blind Willie McTell

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PIne nut and herb tart with a yeasted crust

Herb and pine nut tart

Herb and pine nut tart

Lately, at our Dickensian flea market, there’s been a man with a table full of books about ancient Egypt. He’s got books on history, on art, on myth, on language. It’s a full collection, somebody’s entire library. I wonder how it all ended up here. I imagine a Tintin character, a scholar with a long white beard and round glasses, an Egyptologist, who gives it all up, sells all his books,  and goes on an   adventurous journey down the Nile. I bought a beautiful book called The Literature of Ancient Egypt. I will freely admit to you that I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Of course I knew about the myths and the gods, but I didn’t know there were stories and poems, that we could still read lengthy narratives from all those years ago. And how strange and beautiful they are! They alternate between the completely human and recognizable and the fantastically bizarre. There’s a ghost story that isn’t spooky at all because “death for a deceased Egyptian who had undergone the rites ofbeatification was an extension of life…and rapport between the living and the dead was by no means always a gloomy affair.” There’s The Shipwrecked Sailor, which is a story within a story within a story, one of them told by a golden snake.

And the love poems are crazy, intimate and yearning. In a context I only remotely understand, maybe there’s a sense that the people who describe themselves as belonging to another actually belong to the other as property, but if you’ve ever been in love you know how it feels to belong with someone, and in this context, these speak to me. Listen to this love poem:

The voice of the turtledove speaks out. It says:
day breaks, which way are you going?
Lay off, little bird,
must you so scold me?

I found my lover on his bed and my heart was sweet to excess.

We said:

I shall never be far away from you
while my hand is in your hand,
and I shall stroll with you in every favorite place.

He set me first of the girls
and he does not break my heart.

and this one…

A dense growth is in it,
in the midst of which we become ennobled

I am your best girl:
I belong to you like an acre of land
which I have planted
with flowers and every sweet-smelling grass.

Pleasant is the channel through it
which your hand dug outdoor refreshing ourselves with the breeze,
a happy place for walking
with your hand in my hand.

My body is excited, my heart joyful,
at our traveling together.

Many of the passages dole out advice, mostly to sons, some from fathers who are already dead. My favorite is The Maxims of Ptahhotpe. He’s not yet dead, but he’s aging, which he describes in a Sappho-worthy passage.

    The Eyes are dim, the ears are deaf, strength is perishing because of my lassitude, the mouth is silent and cannot speak, the mind has come to an end and cannot remember yesterday, the bones suffer all over, good is become evil, all taste has gone…

His advice is sometimes strange and sexist (how to deal with the women you own), but sometimes beautifully generous and still very pertinent today. He says not to judge anyone by their position, and not to be arrogant because of your knowledge, but to confer with the ignorant man as with the learned, for “Good speech is more hidden than malachite, yet it is found in the possession of women slaves at the millstones.” Anybody is worth speaking to, if you give them the chance to speak! He says that you shouldn’t pay any attention to a man who is speaking ill of others, you should be silent because he ” will be dubbed an ignoramus when your self-control has matched his prolixity.” And he says “Do not inspire terror in men…for no terror of man has ever been effective…plan to live in peace, and what men give will come of its own accord.” And most mysterious and most lovely, “Follow your desire as long as you live and do not perform more than is ordered, do not lessen the time of following desire, for the wasting of time is an abomination to the spirit; do not use up the daytime more than is necessary for the maintenance of your household.”

It’s so strange to read words from an almost incomprehensible time ago, when it’s hard to imagine how people lived, and find truth in them that still resonates today. I’m not always the biggest fan of human beings in general, but sometimes in the bright round mystery of our history, we’re remarkable and beautiful and persistently true.

We have so many herbs growing in our garden! I love this time of year. I love the bright taste of all of the herbs mingled together with something milder like eggs or cheese or potatoes. This turned out really good, I think. I used chervil and tarragon, which are both lovely and lemony and anise-y, plus basil and thyme, and sage and rosemary, and a little oregano. You can use whatever you have. I think the idea is to use strong flavors you might not usually combine, but which work well together because they’re all growing together at the same time. Very simple tart, in many ways, so it compliments the complexity of the herbs. You could play around endlessly with this!

Here’s a song by Oum Kalthoum. Another thing I don’t understand completely, but find beautiful.

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Pizza with grilled mushrooms, french lentils and roasted potatoes

Pizza with french lentils, grilled mushrooms and roasted potatoes

Pizza with french lentils, grilled mushrooms and roasted potatoes

“Do you want to hear something that doesn’t make sense?”

“Yes I do.”

Isaac and I are walking to school on a spring morning that’s warm on the inside and cool on the outside, on a morning that makes you shiver. The day will warm up, the year will warm up, but it’s all on the edge right now. He’s got one finger hovering softly on my spine just between my shoulder blades as we walk along, which is a thing that he does lately that pretty much knocks me out with the sweetness of it.

“I’m a non-evil demon wizard who is 999 years old, and Malcolm is a 13-year-old fire wizard…”

This is not the thing that doesn’t make sense. So far, this all makes perfect sense. The thing that doesn’t make sense is that Malcolm says Isaac’s not allowed to use fire against him, or is vulnerable to Malcolm’s fire, which…

“Now you’re just making fun of me!”

I wasn’t, I swear, but I was laughing so hard I might have missed the crux of the problem. I said maybe they could work together to make something out of fire.

“I don’t make things out of fire,” replied Isaac indignantly, “I live in cities of fire!”

Well! They do this a lot. They make up worlds, and those worlds have rules, and those rules are constantly shifting. Their place in the world changes with the rules, as do their powers and abilities, their actions and their fates. Usually it’s Malcolm, with his older-brother-power, making up most of the rules, which means his character has more power and “wins.” But Isaac can hold his own, he’s got a fierce imagination too. Or he can just stop playing. I’ve been thinking that this is not something we outgrow, though the older we get the less fun and funny it is. It’s still people with more power making all the rules and telling us that our actions are useless and our abilities are worthless. Telling us that we’re powerless against their fire. And that’s when we summon our fierce imaginations and change the rules so that it works out better for everyone. Or we just stop playing their game.

Pizza with french lentils, grille mushrooms and roasted potatoes.

Pizza with french lentils, grille mushrooms and roasted potatoes.

This pizza was a good way to use up some leftovers. Leftover french lentils, leftover roast potatoes, leftover grilled mushrooms. But it was also delicious! Smoky from the pine nuts and grilled mushrooms, earthy and sweet from the lentils. Nicely crispy and soft.

Here’s You Can Never Hold Back Spring by Tom Waits, because I love it.

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Chard, raisin, and pine nut tart with chickpea flour crust

IMG_6054I drove Malcolm to a middle school dance. We were listening to the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack, we were driving through some of the prettiest countryside in the world, up and up winding roads to the school itself. It was a soft rosy 8 o’clock on the edge of an unseasonably warm day. I felt a little stale in the head, because I hadn’t slept too well, what with one thing and another, partly worrying about Malcolm being gone all day on a chorus/band trip to an amusement park. I’d weirdly missed him in the 4 hours after school we would usually spend together, despite the fact that the 4 hours after school the last two days had been fraught and difficult at times. In the scant time between the field trip and the dance we’d walked to buy two slices of pizza, and Malcolm said that it feels good to eat pizza when you’re walking down the street. So when we go home I made him watch the opening to Saturday Night Fever. And it’s not a bad thing to go to a middle school dance with the bee gees in your head. In the car on the way to the dance he didn’t seem tired, he was cheerful, and he asked me to tell David something when I got home. And I said “sure, sure” but I was lost in thought, and I didn’t hear him, and he knew it. I asked him to repeat what he said and he did, and then he said, “Don’t forget!” And put one finger from his right hand on his head, and one finger from his left hand on my forehead. We drove a little more and I said, “Can you do that again? With the fingers on the foreheads?” He said, “Why?” I said “I want to feel as bright and smart as you are.” He said, it works better like this…one hand, pinky on his head, thumb on mine. I leaned towards him, so we’d all fit, and the song playing on our radio said,

Every moment
Every moment
Every moment
Every moment

chard, raisin, pine nut and chickpea flour tart

chard, raisin, pine nut and chickpea flour tart

I said, while we were eating this that it could be the national dish of some country, and David said, “Claironia.” It’s true, this dish combines a lot of my favorite flavors. They just seem to go perfectly together. It’s juicy, a little smoky, a tiny bit sweet and a little nutty. The crust is crispy on the outside and soft and almost bready inside.

Here’s Every Moment by Rogue Wave from the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack.

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Pumpkinseed oil! (in a sauce with pumpkinseeds, almonds and lime)

IMG_5763The other day I went on and on about superheroes, and I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. But it’s not my fault, I’ve been conditioned by society: Society is to blame. One day in the winter, Malcolm and I went for a walk on yet another snowy day, which is almost hard to imagine, on a day as warm and jewel-bright as this one. Malcolm started telling stories, as he does, and he came up with one of my favorite superheroes ever. This superhero, this guy, can only exercise his super power after he’s walked a mile! How perfect is that?! Inconvenient, maybe, but perfect. Malcolm came up with this idea because all of his best stories come to him when he’s out walking, which is a thing I’ve noticed too, for myself. If I go for a walk or a bike ride and don’t actively try to think about something I’m working on, sometimes that’s when the best ideas surface. But it also seems like a good idea to step away from the conflict, to take a walk and think about it, so you can respond rationally to the situation and not just wield your super power in the heat of the moment. How many super heroes have responded with excessive violence in violation of their self-imposed code, only to regret it later during long hours of heartfelt introspection? If you’re going to take justice into your own hands, you should probably be cool and collected about it. Maybe while you’re out walking you’ll come up with another way to resolve the situation, without using your super strength or weaponized tech or kung fu skills, or whatever your super power happens to entail. Perhaps you’ll think of a different way to end the story. Presumably you also get to freeze the moment when you’re out walking, which is a nice idea, too. You can take a moment of passion and urgency and hold it for a time–it’s almost like taking a photograph of the emotions. I also like this idea because the way Malcolm framed it, it almost sounded like his super power is telling stories. That’s a super power I would like to have! Especially if I needed to walk a mile before using it. While I’m on this meandering tale of superheroes, I’ll tell you about another super power I’d like to have. I thought of it this morning, when I sat on the couch and absentmindedly patted the cushion beside me. Clio heard it, wherever she was, and raced into the room and squashed herself next to me. It’s a super pat! Yes, that universal gesture that calls dogs and people to your side! You can wield it from miles away, to draw people to come and sit next to you, wherever you may be. The applications of this practical ability are endless!

My friend Neil, who lives in Germany, sent me a bottle of pumpkinseed oil. I’d never tried it before, but now I’m completely addicted! It’s so delicious, mild and nutty, with a kind of warmth. I’ve eaten some every day. Mostly on a salad of arugula and avocado, with a little balsamic and salt and pepper. But it’s good drizzled on warm greens, too. And I combined it with actual pumpkin seeds as well as some almonds and a little chipotle puree to make this pretty sauce. We ate it with tacos one night and empanadas the next. You could use it as a dip, too, or a salad dressing. You can’t really tell in the picture, but it was bright green. One of the most magical things about pumpkinseed oil is that in a thin layer it’s bright bright green, but when it’s thicker it’s a beautiful rusty red. Lovely!

Here’s Make the Road by Walking by the Menahan String Band

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Membrillo and Manchego Tart

Membrillo and Manchego tart

Membrillo and Manchego tart

David described A Time For Burning as probably the quietest civil rights film we’ve seen. And indeed, the whole film shows people talking; quietly, earnestly, discussing issues. And yet it’s an amazingly compelling 56 minutes of film. The film, by Bill Jersey, was shot in Omaha, Nebraska in 1966, and as one of the characters explains, it’s about Lutherans talking to Lutherans. Seemingly such a small thing, a tiny step. But it turns out to be an insurmountable step to many. The film “explores the attempts of the minister of Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, to persuade his all-white congregation to reach out to ‘negro’ Lutherans in the city’s north side.” The pastor, Rev. L. William Youngdahl, is kind and thoughtful and well-meaning, and he loses his job over this issue. In the course of the film he encounters the remarkable Ernie Chambers, a barber who goes on to law school and then to become the longest-serving senator in the history of Nebraska. The conversations between Youngdahl and Chambers are bracing and passionate and necessary and uncomfortable. The conversations amongst the white parishioners are heartbreaking of the I-can’t-believe-anybody-ever-spoke-unashamedly-in-that-way-and-so-little-has-changed variety. The conversations amongst black teenagers (whose visit to the white church one Sunday caused the congregation to shrink) are lovely and hopeful and sharp. But the character I found the most moving–I don’t even know his name. He had glasses with thick lenses and thick frames, in a uniquely 1960s style. At first, listening to the reverend propose his plan, this man seemed myopic, doubtful and unsure. It would be easier, after all, to ignore the situation altogether. But over the course of the film we watch him change, incredibly change. He starts to question what it means to be human, what it means to be the person he is, in the time and place that he lives. He thinks about kindness, justice, history, his faith, his family, the future of mankind. He says he’s like a newborn, two weeks old, and the world is changing all around him. He thinks about the history of his country and the history of oppression. He recognizes how simple, how monumental this one small step would be, and he’s desperate to take it. He’s conscious of the way the country is changing all around him, in that moment, and he wants to be part of it. The saddest thing, watching nearly fifty years later, is how little has changed. This is a painfully relevant film, and everyone should watch it.

I wasn’t going to go on so long about it, because the characters speak for themselves, and there’s a documentary about the documentary that discusses it all much more intelligently than I could ever do.

So! Someone gave me a little carton of Membrillo, which I love. And I bought a little bit of manchego, and I thought I’d turn them into a tart, because they just have to be together. It’s a super-simple tart, flavor-wise, and not hard to make.

Here’s Chambers Brothers and Barbrara Dane, from 1966, the year A Time For Burning was filmed, with You’ve Got to Reap What You Sow.

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