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 it’s true form.

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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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Charred eggplant, pistachio and pine nut dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Yesterday after dinner Malcolm and I went for a walk on the other side of the canal. The last time we’d gone that way, we’d lost Clio. It had only been for a few minutes, but long enough that I got that sinking feeling in my heart, long enough that Malcolm took off in a teary panic, feeling guilty because he’d dropped her leash. Last night I told Malcolm about my dream that Clio ran away, and in my dream I knew my favorite sound in the world was the jingle of Clio’s collar approaching through the fearful silence of having lost her. Malcolm started to think about his favorite sound. First he said it’s the sound of an airplane when it sounds like thunder a few days before your cousins visit. Then he said it’s the sound of a motor boat when your head is under water because it makes you feel…no, that’s not the right word. “What? What word?” I want to know the word for how a motor boat heard under water makes you feel, but he won’t tell me because that’s not his favorite sound anyway. He says, emphatically, it’s Isaac’s laugh. Not his fake laugh, but the laugh that fills up his whole body like it’s helium, so that he could float away on the laughter, the laugh that makes him glow. He said it’s a sound that makes you laugh when you hear it. And it is! And then he said he also likes a certain sound in combination with a certain smell, first thing in the morning. The sound is the bird that goes who who who whoooo. (“A mourning dove?” “Yeah.”) And the smell is water but sweet water. And he said he also likes a certain smell that smells like autumn, when you’re warm inside your coat but your cheeks are cold. I wanted to remember every word, but I knew I wouldn’t, and I made him repeat everything over and over, and it was slightly different every time, and it’s slightly different now when I write it all down. And though it’s changing all the time, I know now that I’ll never forget it.

What’s your favorite sound in the world?

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

On Monday the boys cooked every single meal over a campfire in the back yard. They made veggie sausages and toast for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and potatoes and mushrooms for dinner. My friend Neil had just told me about a Romanian eggplant dip made with charred eggplant, so I decided to make a version of that. I wrapped an eggplant in foil and cooked it right in the fire for about an hour, till it was melting inside and charred outside. I combined it with pistachios, pine nuts, some herbs, some roasted garlic, and I made thick smooth sauce. We ate it with olive bread and fresh tomatoes, but it would be good with pita and salad, or as a dip for roasted vegetables or chips.

Here’s Autumn Sounds by Jackie Mittoo

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Yellow squash and white bean empanadas

IMG_4277There’s a vine that grows outside our front door and along the back fence of our garden. It’s called wild clematis, or devil’s darning needles or old man’s beard. It has beautiful little white flowers, and the most intoxicating fragrance, not too sharp or too sweet, indescribable. Like honeysuckle, it blooms at the beginning and the end of summer, and like honeysuckle, it always comes as a sweetly melancholy reminder of summer’s passing. How fast these lazy days go! You can feel it…you can feel the hours drift away. Yesterday I took a blanket out for Clio, who likes to lie in the sun, but the sunlight moves so quickly these days that I couldn’t keep up. It races across the yard. We’ve had a ridiculous spate of perfect weather, the kind that almost hurts when you step outside, because you know it can’t last, and you feel as though you need to savor every moment of it, you don’t want to spend a second in the house. You want to feel the way the chill leaves the air in the morning and the day warms up but the shadows are so perfect, this time of year, that wherever you walk you move comfortably through sunlight and shadow in equal turns. The very air feels good, you walk out into it as you jump into water of the perfect temperature, it feels good on your skin, it feels good to move through it. This time of year, this kind of weather, you think about all of the summers of your life; when you were little and school started soon, when you’re older and you still have that strange feeling of transition, though you haven’t had a first-day-of-school in years. You think about all of the summers to come. I recently discovered the Portuguese word “saudade,” which is a beautiful thing. A sweet sort of nostalgia, missing something but glad that you knew it, and hoping to know it again some day.

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”

As the poets of wikipedia say, “one feels an interior satisfaction because it is impossible to find something, but one never stops thinking that one is searching for it.”

And doesn’t that sound like late August? Doesn’t that sound like the light shifting fast, and the days dawning cold, and the wild clematis blooming outside your door?

Summer means summer squash! We got three lovely little summer squash from the farm. I decided to make empanadas with them. I combined them with white beans, spinach, cherry tomatoes, small hot peppers, some herbs from the garden and sharp cheddar. They were a nice combination of crispy and tender. Very light, for an empanada. We ate them with a fresh tomato sauce, but you could make it all simpler still by chopping some summer-ripe tomatoes and having that alongside.

Here’s Saudade, by Cesaria Evoria.

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Ratatouille-style ratatouille (With potatoes and roasted beets)

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

We’ve decided to watch every movie made in 1967. It is for fun! We chose 1967 at random, after watching La Chinoise a week or so ago. We’re obviously not going to watch every movie made that year, but we’re going to do our best. Some we’ve already seen and loved: Le Samourai, The Two of Us, Cool Hand Luke. Some aren’t available on DVD yet. But we’ll do the best we can, and I’ll probably tell you all about each and every film. As I said, we picked the year at random, but upon reflection it seems like an interesting time. (And wikipedia agrees, “The year 1967 in film involved some significant events. It is widely considered as one of the most ground-breaking years in film.”) On the cusp of a new decade, at the end of a decade of great change and tension and upheaval. People have new ideas, and they’re finding new ways to tell their new stories, new ways to capture the images, new ways to arrange their narratives. Many directors are working in color for the first time, and we’re moving from the cool black-and-white stylishness of the sixties to the polyester polychrome neon of the seventies. And the French are still driving enviably cool cars. (Have you seen Le Samourai?) Some films deal with shifting ideas about marriage and family. Some films are experimenting with the shockingly entertaining qualities of violence, from Bonnie and Clyde to Godard’s Weekend. We have films to distract you from your troubles–The Jungle Book, Elvis Presley movies, James Bond Movies, and films that tackle the issues head-on, like the Best Picture-winning In the Heat of the Night. Some people are looking back, and others are looking forward to a new world when anything is possible and everything is allowed. The new wave isn’t so new anymore, and the rebellious exploits of the early sixties seem quite tame and adolescent compared to what’s to come. It’s the year my parent’s got married, and two years before the summer of ’69, when men walked on the moon and I was born. I was going to tell you about the first movie we watched, La Collectionneuse, but this introduction has gone on so long that I’ll save it for another post. Watch this space!

IMG_4059It’s squash, eggplant and tomato season, and we all know what that means! It means ratatouille! We thought it would be fun to try to make it like they make it in the movie of the same name. Lots of other people have already recreated that recipe as closely as possible, so we thought we’d mix it up a bit. We decided to pre-cook everything, so that it got a little crispy. We decided to add potatoes and beets, because they’re nice thinly sliced and roasted, and because we’ve had them in abundance from the farm as well. And I cooked the eggplant separately, because I like it best crispy and roasted breadcrumbs, nuts and herbs. I cut the eggplant in large rounds, and we used it as a sort of plate for the ratatouille. Delicious!

Here’s Lulu’s To Sir with Love, the top song from 1967 from the movie released in 1967.

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Almond cake with blueberry & chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

Almond cake with blueberry and chocolate filling

We went to look for eagle feathers though we knew we wouldn’t find any. As with most things in life, it was more about the journey–the walk on the towpath, over the old train bridge, down the hill through the tall ferns and prickly vines, up to the tower where the eagle had lived. Maybe we’d go farther past it, all the way to the river, maybe we’d see the eagles flying over the water, looking for fish. We didn’t see the eagles, we didn’t find any feathers, the prickly vines scratched our ankles, but it was a wonderful walk. The wild ferns and flowers and vines are taller than me down by the eagle’s tower, and it’s a strange bright green world with narrow paths, some that lead into the woods, some that lead to the river, and some that lead up the hill back to the path. Under the staring blue sky, with small white clouds and grasshoppers flicking across our path, this felt like summer. Is it the dog days? Because we’re living like dogs, sun dogs, dogs of summer, here at The Ordinary, with no plans. We snooze in the warm sun, and wake to eat or run to the river for a swim, or chase wildly through tangled ferny paths. Clio is the leader of our pack, she shows us how it’s done, and the boys are attentive pupils. We’re trying to slow down the days, with our lazy ways, but they’re flying by anyway. Evening falls earlier, and there’s almost a chill in the air in the mornings. So we’ll follow Clio into the sunshine, and soak it up, we’ll store it inside of us against the cold days ahead.

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You know what I’ve been making a lot this summer? Flat wide cakes with fillings inside. Almost like a gateau basque. This one had blueberries and chocolate chips. (They almost always have chocolate) I’ve made some with ground almonds or almonds and pistachios, and I’ve filled them with jam or other kinds of fruit. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re crispy like big cookies. This one was quite soft inside, and a little crispy on top. It was very juicy, you can’t turn it out of the pan or anything, because it will fall apart. David said it’s like blueberry fudge. I’ll tell you about the other cakes another time.

Here’s Summertime by Sam Cooke.

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Fresh mint sorbet

Fresh mint leaves

Fresh mint leaves

Well, I have two boys. They’re different in many ways, but they’re alike in this. Sometimes you can tell that something is bothering them: they get distracted and quiet, or they talk a lot, they seem nervous, they want to be alone or they’re extra clingy. And with both of them it doesn’t always help to ask them what’s wrong, because they’ll say “nothing.” They’ll both say “I’m fine.” But if you stay with them long enough, if you can get them go for a walk with you, or if you just sit by them on the couch with the dog, or take them for a ride to some place or another, they might tell you what’s eating at them, they might share their worries. Sometimes it’s best just to be there and to be quiet, so when they’re ready to talk, you’re around. It’s hard to do, of course. It’s hard to wait, when every instinct is yelling at you to go in there and figure it out, to fix it and make it better right away. And sometimes when they finally tell you what’s bothering them, it’s not something you can fix in an instant. Sometimes it’s not something you can fix at all, ever. At some point you lose the magical ability to soothe every hurt with a kiss. It’s the hardest thing to do, to just sit and wait and listen, but sometimes it’s the most important. Because it does help to talk about things. Sometimes a worry, which grows larger and uglier in the darkness of your own mind, shrivels to nothing when you expose it to the light by sharing it with another person. Sometimes just saying that you feel pain helps to lessen the pain. And maybe somebody says “I’ve felt that pain, too,” which helps you to know you’ll live through it. Because people like to make connections, they need to. We need to. We all need someone to listen to us with no judgement, no advice, just open caring warmth. And we can wait and listen not just to our own children, but to other people’s children as well. And everybody is somebody else’s child. We’re all in this together. It’s hard to wait and be silent. It’s hard to listen for what is really being spoken. But sometimes it’s the most important thing you can do.

When I was little my mom used to buy Family Circle and Woman’s Day magazines. If you knew my mom, this fact would probably be surprising to you. I used to look through them for helpful household tips and recipes. Once they had a recipe for mint ice. Made with fresh mint leaves. I LOVED it. I still remember exactly how it tasted. I don’t remember the recipe, though. So I’ve tried to recreate it based on how it seems like it should go. We have a wild and unruly bunch of fresh mint in our garden, and I harvested some to make this. You can use any kind you have, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint…anything! I used my ice cream maker to make this, because I love my ice cream maker. But if you don’t have one, you can make this as a granita. Let it partially freeze, then stir it, then let it freeze some more, and stir it, till it’s all frozen and all broken up. That’s how I made it when I was little. This was really delicious. Really refreshing. If I do say so myself, and I do!

Here’s Velvet Underground with I’ll Be Your Mirror.

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Blueberry cornbread

Blueberry cornbread

Blueberry cornbread

“…and Eris whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men’s pain heavier.” Eris, also known as Strife or Discordia, and her friend or brother Ares, the god of war, walk through the world causing pain and destruction. They love to see people fighting with one another, they laugh on battlefields turned to mire with the blood of slain men, they yell horribly and happily across fields of wounded men, and taunt them back to the fighting so that they become corpses. Eris comes between friends and lovers, introducing jealousy, suspicion and doubt into happy relationships and turning them sour and broken. All of the creatures in Pandora’s box: scolding, despair, envy, gossip, distrust, drudgery, and–worst of all–false oaths, all of these creatures are children of Eris. The gods don’t like Eris, because she’s so unpleasant and nasty, they don’t invite her to their parties; but they use her. If somebody angers them, they’ll send Eris down to destroy their life and their love. Sometimes Eris is seen as valuable to men. She introduces the kind of dissatisfaction that makes a man work harder. She makes him feel insecure about his achievements compared to those of his neighbor and inspires him to become more industrious. But then potter fights with potter, farmer fights with farmer, carpenter fights with carpenter and everybody is miserable. Eris has apples of discord, and she throws these down to distract people and make them fight. If you ignore them they’re very small and harmless. But the more attention you pay them, the more you try to get rid of them, the larger they get, until they block your way entirely, or destroy you. I find Eris fascinating, and frighteningly recognizable. When I first read about her, I thought, “I know people like that.” I thought of people at my newly old job who lied and gossiped and stirred up trouble because they enjoyed the drama and knew that others did, too. I thought of countries who lied and spread fear so that they could provoke or justify war, for whatever evil and greedy reason they harbored. But maybe we all have a bit of Eris in us. We can blame it on her children, on envy or despair, or any other weakness and insecurity, but maybe everybody has a tendency to make things more difficult than they need to be from time to time. It’s a frightening idea. I suppose the thing to do when faced with an apple of discord is to pay it no attention, to not let yourself be sucked into a web of lies that grows more tangled and dangerous with each person to believe the stories and to spread them. It’s better not to feed the discontent, but to starve it by speaking the truth, and spreading kindness and encouragement instead of misery and strife. Or we’ll anger the gods and they’ll turn us all into birds!

Blueberry cornbread

Blueberry cornbread

This genius idea was David’s. He thought that cornbread is sort of dry and almost crispy, and blueberries are soft and juicy. And they’re both sort of sweet-but-not-too-sweet, so they’d all go well together. And they do! This was a nice almost-a-cake kind of a bread. David made French toast with this one morning, and it was ridiculously good!

Here’s Trouble by Cat Stevens.

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