Potatoes poached with lemon and bay leaves

A PASTORAL
(With photographs)

We’re heading into the dark season. Last winter was a particularly long, cold, brutal one, in this part of the world, and it’s hard not to feel a mounting anxiety as the days grow shorter. I think everybody feels a little twinge of melancholy this time of year. Even the impending holiday can make a person anxious.

IMG_2604

When you feel seasonally challenged, you should take a walk on the towpath by my house. Most of the green is gone, but there are a few vines and mossy trunks, and they stand out against a background of rich rusts and umbers and golds, a strange warm quiet beauty on a cold day. And after about a mile you’ll come to my favorite field in the world. You’ve just emerged from a tunnel of trees, and now the world opens up and you’re looking out onto a field stretching away under a bright sky, sloping down like a saucer into a line of trees and running down to a beautiful railway bridge that stretches over a creek.

Summer

Summer

Winter

Winter

The light under this bridge is always strangely glowing, even on grey days, perhaps with the memories of summer afternoons spent swimming in the creek.
DSC_0052
This morning when Clio and I scrambled out this way, we came upon a pine tree festooned with blue birds, like the prettiest Christmas tree you have ever seen.

IMG_5070

One of them sat a little distance from the others, on a branch above our heads, and looked down on us like he wanted to tell us something. I nearly cried. They were still there on our way back, but after we walked by they flew off together along the bed of the creek. There is no more hopeful sight on earth than a bluebird, particularly in winter!
113BluebirdInternet
It fills you with a strange glow. Even these leafless plants we saw, with a strange light purple hue seemed oddly hopeful.
IMG_5072

I know I write about hope a lot, but it’s such a mysterious emotion. I’m always a little impatient when people say you can make good things happen just by thinking about it, that if you have a positive attitude the world will reward you with gifts, that if you stop worrying about not having enough money and just feel happy, you’ll suddenly have enough money. (Usually the people who tell you these things have plenty of money, or happen to be paying you poorly for your work.) And yet–it’s not the strange bright branches or the light under the bridge or even the rare and beautiful birds that make you hopeful, it’s something in you that responds to them. Which is an even more hopeful thought somehow. Who can explain it? Not me.

Potatoes poached with lemon and bay leaves

Potatoes poached with lemon and bay leaves

I had a hankering for potatoes, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted them boiled and soft and comforting or broiled and crispy. Then I thought I’d try something new, and see if I could have the best of both worlds. I think they turned out really well. They’re mostly soft, not crispy, but they have a more interesting texture than plain boiled potatoes. Lemon and bay are lovely together, and go very nicely with the mild, pleasing flavor of potatoes.

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Greensleeves from the phenomenal Christmas Cooking album.

Continue reading

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Today, friends, we interrupt our series of American Mythologies to bring you a tangential installment of our Films-of-1967 series. As you no doubt recall, David and I arewatching every film ever made in 1967. Every one! We’re making very slow progress. The other month we watched The Fireman’s Ball by Milos Forman. It was a brilliant and beautiful film, and I read it as a sly and subtle comedy about the foibles of human nature, and how within a community the best and worst in all of us is greatly magnified. Our hypocrisy, our desires, our fears and suspicions. I could tell it was about something more, though, I felt I was probably missing something, and it turns out the film was a satire of the Eastern European communist system. It was banned, and Forman left Czechoslovakia for America, where he made One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among other films. Obviously the fact that the true nature of Fireman’s Ball escaped me means that I’m not qualified to tell you a thing about it, other than that you should watch it as soon as you can. Instead I’ll tell you about the film we saw last week, also by Forman, called Loves of a Blonde. What a beautiful, funny, heartbreaking film! Like Fireman’s Ball, this film is about ordinary people and their desires and hypocrisies. And it is also a political film, though more subtly so, as is often the case with films with female protagonists. Andula is a very young woman who works at a shoe factory in a small Czech town. She lives in a dormitory with other shoe factory workers, and her life is stagnant and stilted, trapped as she is on the edge of nowhere, with little to do but work. The population of the town has a 16 to 1 ratio of women to men, so there’s little hope of romantic escape. The kindly owner of the shoe factory asks army officials to place a regiment in the town, saying of the women, “They need what we needed when we were young.” The regiment arrives to the disappointment of the young factory workers, who find it composed of middle-aged reservists. At a dance these men encourage each other to try their luck with the young ladies, clumsily sending a bottle of wine to the wrong table and dropping a wedding ring which leads them in an awkward chase across the dance floor. The women wonder if they’re just desperate enough to follow these unappealing men into the woods. Andula seems to be saved from this fate by young Milda, a pianist from Prague who played in the band at the dance. She wants to trust him, because he’s attentive and kind, though not very subtle in his advances. They spend the night together, and then he’s gone. After a few weeks, she hitchhikes to Prague with a small suitcase. She arrives at Milda’s apartment to find him out at a gig, though his mother and father are home and in an uproar over her appearance. And that’s it, that’s the story. But it’s told with such style and warmth and humor that it’s ridiculously compelling. Forman used a mixture of actors and non-actors. In the dance, the camera rests on the faces of people sitting and waiting to dance, and you feel that any of them have a story worth telling, they’re so real and expressive. The scenes in Milda’s bedroom are so perfectly filmed, beautiful and simple. You know he’s a scoundrel, she knows he’s a scoundrel, but he’s such an unlikely lothario, and he’s so funny and unlike everybody else in town that she decides it’s worth it to trust him, if only for this night of human connection, and the faint promise of more to come. Milda’s parents are comically strident, a sort of Archie and Edith of the Czech new wave. But it’s desperately sad, too, to think that all of their squabbling will only make it easier for Milda to send Andula back to her life of loneliness and exile. The movie is stylie, it features moments Wes Anderson would aspire to, or Godard would admire, but it’s so much more honest and human than those hipsters’ films. (I love those hipsters, too!) It’s a sweetly sad poem of human desire, hope, and loneliness.

We had some leftover mashed potatoes, so this is what I made. I lined a cake pan with butter, then bread crumbs and chopped pecans, then a layer of mashed potatoes. I molded this into a crust. Then I poured in a mixture of eggs, cheese and greens. It bakes together quite nicely. Soft and satisfying, but with a crispiness on the outside from the nuts and breadcrumbs. If you’re trying to go gluten free, leave out the bread crumbs, and add a few more pecans. And that’s that! This was nice with a spicy red sauce.

Here’s a song from the opening credits of Loves of a Blonde sung by one of Andula’s fellow factory workers. If you don’t fall in love with this film from the first second, you’re crazy, crazy I tell you!
Continue reading

Roasted mushroom and white bean soup (with smoked basmati rice, of course!)

Smoky roasted mushroom and white bean soup

Smoky roasted mushroom and white bean soup

American mythologies #3: The end is nigh. In America everybody will try to sell you something. That’s how the system works. Your waiter wants you to buy another drink, at the food store they want you to buy a lot of snacks you don’t need, at the clothing store they want you to buy more clothes than you’ll ever wear, at the big big stores they want you to buy all kinds of crap you never needed to know existed, your kids want you to buy cheese-stuffed pretzels and wrapping paper for some club or other, the nice artist next door wants you to buy his paintings, the failed novelist wants some publisher to buy her stupid novel, the pharmacists want you to believe you’ll die without their medicines, the people on the news want you to buy their lies about how everything is going to hell, so that you’ll watch more news and buy all the products their sponsors advertise. If you’re an American, chances are you, yourself, are trying to sell something to someone much of the time, whether you want to or not. All year long, but this time of year most of all, every bit of mail I get, either from the postman or my computer, every message I receive, is a frantic alert that I’m about to miss an opportunity! Time is running out! Everything ends in two days! Or ten hours! Or by the time you finish reading the message! Act now! Act now! Act now! Don’t delay or the moment will be gone. You will have missed it, and it will never ever come back.The sale will be over, and you won’t have bought the thing you never knew you needed at a slightly reduced inflated price, and you might as well just off yourself. And then you watch the news, which ignores anything of actual significance to warn you of deadly terrors that, well, they’re unlikely to touch your life, but YOU NEVER KNOW! And when you’re in a constant state of near-panic, a never-ending ferment of knotty anxiety, the last thing you want to hear is that this is your last chance! YOUR LAST CHANCE for an exclusive special offer! Beat the clock! Before midnight! Only hours to go! Limited time hot deal! TODAY ONLY!! FINAL HOURS!! FINAL HOURS!! * Your absolute very last final last chance! Until the next time, of course, because as soon as you delete that one email, or recycle that one flyer, another will appear in your mailbox, offering a different sale for the same product. And when you ignore that one another will come along. And another and another. Until it’s all just noise, the words have no meaning, time has no meaning, it’s not really passing, it’s in some strange cycle from day to day till the last syllable of the next dozen emails you open. The truth, children, is this: Time is passing at an alarming rate. It’s running and passing, and flying by more quickly with each unfolding day. So don’t waste it buying things. Don’t waste it in stores or online shopping carts. You will never regret not buying that one thing you probably don’t need, but you might regret time you don’t spend with people you love, doing things that you love. Act now! To make something you feel good about…a picture, a story, a meal. And when you do buy something, because you must eventually, try to buy it from somebody who, in making it, was doing something that they love. If time is running out, spend it well, it’s the most important thing you have to spend.

I told you I was going to put smoked basmati rice in everything I made from now on, and this soup is no exception! (You could make this with regular basmati rice or even white rice. It will still be smoky from the roastedness and the smoked paprika.) This is a really meaty, umami-isn soup. You could make it even more so by adding a dash of tamari, a smidgen of marmite, or a spoonful of miso paste. I didn’t think it needed that, though. It’s plenty flavorful as it is. It’s also pretty easy to make. It doesn’t take long to roast the mushrooms, and don’t be afraid to cook them till they’re quite well-browned, it will deepen the flavor. This soup will still be creamy, and it will be vegan if you leave the small bit of butter out.

Here’s Big Youth with Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Spot the sample!

    Time is running and passing and passing and running, so you all better get it right this time, because there might be no next time.

* actual messages from my deleted folder!
Continue reading

Smoked basmati rice!!! And smoky red lentil and pine nut croquettes

Red lentil and smoked basmati croquettes

Red lentil and smoked basmati croquettes

Well, I’m still thinking about American mythologies, and today I’m thinking about our creation myths. Maybe because it’s Thanksgiving-time, or because I’ve been helping Malcolm study for his social studies test, I’ve been thinking about the birth of our nation. The boys have been steeped in comic book culture lately, so I’ve been thinking of the whole situation more as an origin story than a creation myth. We think of ourselves as a super-power, after all. A superhero nation, coming to the aid of everyone else in need. “With great power comes great responsibility” could be our national motto, particularly when we’re trying to think of excuses to invade other nations, for one reason or another. And like all good origin stories, ours is fraught with drama, well-intentioned, and deeply flawed. Like all heroes, we have a weakness, visited upon us before our birth, deeply entangled with everything in our history, everything that has ever befallen or ever will befall our nation. I will admit to you that while I was studying with Malcolm, I was moved nearly to tears. (It doesn’t take much these days!) I was moved to think about these men talking about ideas, and to think that they recognized the gravity of their task. They knew how momentous a thing it was to forge a nation, and in doing so to discuss ideas such as natural rights. Natural rights! What a mind boggling concept! Every man is entitled to Life, Liberty, and Property. It’s such a beautiful thought. Until you read further, and you realize that, of course, it’s every white man. And there it is, the fundamental flaw. The system was created by white men to be protected by white men to protect white men. Any changes to it were made by white men for hundreds of years. For far longer than we’d like to admit to ourselves. And certainly things are changing, slowly and haltingly. But the fundamental fault in our foundation still resonates in every decision we make, every action we take, as people and as a nation. We can never forget that, and when we tell the myth of our creation, which has so much to admire and to celebrate we have to tell that part, too.

Smoked basmati rice, pine nut and red lentil croquettes

Smoked basmati rice, pine nut and red lentil croquettes

Smoked basmati rice!! Who knew? Not me. I found this at Wegmans and I was so ridiculously excited about it. It smells amazing when you open the bag, amazing while it’s cooking. It’s decidedly smoky tasting. I made it once just to try plain, and found it delicious. Then I had the idea to try it like this. And I’m quite proud of myself, because I wasn’t at all sure that it would work, but it did! First I soaked the rice and the red lentils (separately) for about eight hours. You could probably get away with five or so, but I don’t know for sure because I haven’t tried it. Then I drained them and processed them till coarsely ground. Then I added some smoked gouda, and egg, some pine nuts, some garlic and some smoked paprika. And I processed them again until fairly smooth. Like thick cookie batter. Then I fried them in a shallow pan of olive oil. Crispy, flavorful, and smoky like bacony baconless croquettes. We had them with a smooth creamy dipping sauce of pine nuts and (store-bought) harissa. And that’s that! You could easily add other herbs and spices if you like. I think you could make this without the egg and cheese, if you wanted it to be vegan. If anybody tries it, let me kwow! And you could easily make this with non-smoked basmati rice, if that’s all you have. Although, honestly, I’m putting smoked basmati rice in everything I make from now on!

Here’s Blind Willie McTell with Amazing Grace

Continue reading

Black rice, french lentil, roasted mushroom croquettes

IMG_5008I like the idea of Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. Have I read them? I have not, not even a smicker of them, as our Malcolm used to say. Will that stop me talking about them? It will not! According to my understanding, Barthes examines certain aspects of modern life that have become accepted as fact and shows how they are, in truth, myths: stories that we use to define ourselves and our place in the world. Barthes was writing in France in the 1950s, and it seems that now, here, in America in 2014, we’ve woven such an insane tangle of stories to explain ourselves to ourselves and the rest of the world that it’s almost overwhelming. It seems important, though, to take a step back from time to time, and to try to unravel them to arrive at some truth. Some ever-shifting never-reachable truth. Here’s one I’ve been thinking about lately. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” It all starts in pre-school, when they’re handing out crayons or cookies. The fundamental idea, of course, is to be content with what you’re given, and to shut up and stop whining! At its most basic, it’s toddler crowd control. At its most basic, I like the idea. I would like my children to be capable of contentment, a difficult state to achieve. I would like them to be grateful to get anything at all. I would like them to be even-tempered and agreeable rather than whiny and difficult. Of course I would. And I would like to live in a world where these qualities are rewarded. But the truth is that we don’t live in that world. We can send an army of five-year-olds home chanting the catchy little rhyme, but if they absorb the lesson too completely how will they ever become successful modern Americans? We’re not supposed to be happy with what we have! We’re supposed to want more! Too much is never enough! We’re supposed to want whatever other people have. It’s one of our older myths, as Americans, that if we work hard and strive for more, for better, we can achieve success and riches. How would advertising work if people were content with what they had and who they are? It wouldn’t! It wouldn’t work, and billions of advertising dollars would be wasted trying to manipulate people based on desires and insecurities they didn’t really feel. In America we award the loud people, the talkers, the salesmen, the people who want what they get and want what everyone around them gets, too. We don’t admire people who settle. We’re scornful of people who don’t strive to better themselves, even if they face insurmountable odds such as we can’t even dream of. I believe there are countries where ambition is looked upon as a negative quality, as a vice, but we don’t live in such a country. As long as we’re telling stories about the world we inhabit, I’d like to tell this one: You get what you get, and you change it to make exactly what you need. And if you don’t get the right parts to make what you need, you share with your neighbor. You trade them the parts they need for the parts you need, and everybody creates exactly what they want. Obviously, if everyone makes a picture with the one crayon they’re given, which might not even be a color they like, it won’t be as satisfying as if everybody shares all the colors to make their pictures. Everybody makes something beautiful. And still, nobody gets upset.

Black rice, french lentil and roasted mushroom croquettes.

Black rice, french lentil and roasted mushroom croquettes.

Croquettes! Or kofta, if you like. Or burgers. These would make great veggie burgers! These are very flavorful, very umami-ish. They have a nice texture-quite crispy. We ate them in warm tortillas with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grated sharp cheddar. Which was delicious! But you could also make them larger and put them on a bun to make burgers. Black rice is not hard to find, I think, but you could make these with any other kind of rice, even rice leftover from your take-out food. All of these things, the lentils, the rice, can be used in other meals, which is good because the recipes given below will give you more than you need.

Here’s Bob Marley with Want More.

Continue reading

Pizza with pecan sage pesto and roasted mushrooms and potatoes

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’m feeling a little foggy in my brain lately, and if I’m being honest I’ve been in a bad mood. A terrible bad mood. (As opposed to my usual wonderful bad mood.) I’ve been epically discouraged, and I don’t really feel like doing anything. Blame it on the hibernating weather, if you like. So today I sat down to do nothing in the form of watching the supplementary material on a DVD we watched a week or so ago. Interviews with the director and the stars. This wasn’t the usual Hollywood miasma of self-congratulatory celebrities recounting hijinks with forced jollity. This was people remembering a film they worked on fifty-two years ago, reflecting on their lives at that time and on what they had become. And I swear to god the director had a message for me. It’s an odd story. Serge Bourguignon made Sundays and Cybele in 1962. It was his first feature and he was thirty-three years old. It didn’t do very well in France, it didn’t get distribution, but it got rave reviews at the Venice film festival, a New York Times reporter called it a masterpiece, and it won the oscar for best foreign language film. Needless to say, all this attention and affection from critics and Americans meant that the film got distribution in France, and also that it earned scorn from the other French filmmakers of the New Wave. Their films were fast, unplanned, edgy. Sundays and Cybele is slow and dreamlike, and it’s finely made. I’ve always admired the collaborative nature of the French New Wave, how they made films together and talked about films together and wrote about films together. It’s always seemed like it would be fun to live in such a time, to have friends like that. Bourguignon describes the new wavers as a club of cool kids, which he wasn’t part of, and I’d never really thought of it in that light. And then I read a modern scholarly essay on the film, and the author talked about how differently the film would be received now than it was then, because we’re all so jaded and cynical now and people grow up so fast. But to hear the people talking, people were always jaded and cynical and even in 1962 they watched the film with doubt and suspicion. The film tells the story of a thirty-year-old soldier, scarred by his experiences in Vietnam, who has trouble remembering, trouble fitting in. He meets a twelve-year-old girl, abandoned by her parents, who develops a strong attachment to him. They love each other, they’re good friends, and that is all. They’re children together, and she helps him as much as he helps her. Complicated, of course, but beautiful, like most human relationships. The director and the stars describe the filmmaking process as a wonderfully serendipitous time. Everything happened exactly as it should, everyone was happy, every moment was perfectly captured just as it should be. And the film is ridiculously beautiful, gorgeously filmed, so perfectly acted it doesn’t feel like acting, with a wonderful score, and a strangely dizzyingly clear feeling of looking at the world through patterns in glass or water.

Bourguignon talks about his career after Sundays and Cybele, which went really nowhere. He doesn’t sound bitter. And he says, I have written films since, I have dreamed films, and maybe someday another little miracle will happen, and I will make another film. Well! I have dreamed films! I have written films! And the film I have written, which on my good days I know that I will make someday, has almost exactly the same plot as Sundays and Cybele. That’s why I first noticed the film! That’s why I watched the DVD as soon as it became available on DVD! It’s the strangest thing, I tell you, the strangest thing, to sit here feeling old and discouraged and watch Bourguignon, who by any account has had remarkable success in his life, sounding old and discouraged. And then sounding so hopeful! It’s discombobulating. Well, I will make my film one day, and I look forward to watching Bourguignon’s next small miracle of a film as well.

pizza with pecan sage pesto

pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’ve been making lots of cheesy crusty things lately, to set myself up for hibernation, and this was no exception. Very autumnal! It’s smoky and flavorful. It’s more of a custard than a pesto, I guess, but either way…

Here’s Marisa Anderson in a tiny desk concert for NPR. I think she’s remarkable.

Continue reading

Roasted turnip, spinach and walnut pie

Turnip, spinach and walnut pie

Turnip, spinach and walnut pie

Well, time is folding in on itself again. The boys had two days off school, and we went for a long walk to my favorite field, and I realized that this was the same weekend that we went last year, except last time they were dressed as an owl and a ghost bat. We’re all a little older and more serious now, it seems. The boys were dressed in normal civilian attire and I wouldn’t let Clio off-leash because now I know how it feels to lose her for a while. I just woke up and noticed that all the trees are nearly bare, and last time I looked summer was just ending. But there we were walking to my favorite field again, we had the sun on our faces and the wind blowing the cobwebs from our minds. And Malcolm told me the story of a remarkable new superhero he invented. His name is an inversion of Dr. Doom’s–that’s how it all started. So he’s Mr. Mood. And his power is that he can control his moods, and when he does, it gives him super powers. So when he’s happy (and he can make himself happy) he can fly and shoot lightening. And when he’s sad he’s heavy, and he sinks down, down into the water, where he can breathe easily. And when he’s scared, he turns into something scary–whatever his adversary is afraid of. When he’s angry he turns into an adult, and he can drive, and he can shoot fire. Yeah. And here’s his backstory. He’s thirteen years old (one year older than Malcolm now.) Where does he live? Not in New York, because too many super heroes live in New York. He lives in Trenton, because his last name is Trent, and he thought he might find his parents there. He lives in an abandoned building. I love Mr. Mood! I love asking Malcolm questions about his backstory and hearing his thoughtful unexpected answers. If there’s one parenting skill I’ve always lacked (of course there are a million parenting skills I lack, but it’s no good dwelling on this too much, listing them and trying to choose the biggest and best), so if there’s one parenting skill I lack, it’s the ability to control my mood; to be fun when I’m feeling down, to be patient when I’m angry, to not curse when I hurt myself. Malcolm’s always been a little short-tempered himself, but I’ve watched with great joy this year as he’s worked very hard to change that. I’ve watched him get so angry he obviously wanted to punch something, and then stop, and turn it off, and sit down and do his homework. I’m going to work on it, too, at my ripe old age. I’m going to work on controlling my mood, too, and I’m looking forward to the super powers that ensue.

Turnip and spinach pie

Turnip and spinach pie

It’s funny how all the vegetables seem to be a little more bitter in the fall. A little more strongly-flavored. Greens, lettuces, turnips. These turnips are just about the last of the produce we had from our CSA for the season. They’re pretty, but they have an edge to them. So I roasted them with a little brown sugar, to mellow them out somewhat. And then I combined them with spinach, walnuts, thyme and sharp cheddar and put them in a crispy soft brioche-style crust. And that’s that!

Here’s Dr. Doom with Charnushka.
Continue reading

PIne nut and sundried tomato sauce

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

When I was in high school, our English teacher handed us a xerox (or maybe it was a mimeograph, this was a long long time ago). It contained words in sentences, but there was nothing to identify it. No title, no author’s name. We didn’t know if it was fact or fiction, we didn’t know when or why it was written. The sentences were short, simple and strangely repetitive. The words were small plain words, and a few of these unimportant words were repeated from sentence to sentence or within sentences. The story was disarmingly uneventful. The teacher asked us what we thought of the writing, and we were all under-impressed and thought the author had a lot of work to do, tightening the writing and combining sentences and working a little harder to keep our attention, making it a little easier for us to get through the story. We’d been fed certain rules of effective writing for over a decade and we had thoroughly absorbed them. I didn’t think about this at the time, but I’m fairly certain that if the author had sent the first few pages of his manuscript to an agent or publisher today, they’d have given up after the first paragraph, and he’d never ever hear from them. Well, guess what? The author was Ernest Hemingway. That’s right, Ernest Hemingway. And though I doubt any of us had read enough Hemingway to form any kind of opinion about him at that point, we’d heard of him. We knew that other people liked him. He was well-known and well-respected. And suddenly we saw everything differently. The simplicity of the story seemed significant, even profound. The simplicity of the language seemed elemental, important. The repetition made beautiful, resonant little circles of words. And everything we’d learned about writing was bullshit. Well I’m very grateful to this teacher, because I think the understanding we gleaned from this lesson applies to all things, at least all things creative, and I consider life the biggest creative endeavor of them all. Don’t trust platitudes, be wary of easy advice. Don’t “kill your darlings,” your darlings are what make your writing yours. What would the world be like if Dickens or Nabokov had been more restrained, or had edited their work till it was spare and sellable? “Write about what you know” doesn’t mean write about the clumps of dirt in your backyard, it means write about what you know to be true, write with honesty about how it feels to human, even if you’re describing life a hundred years ago, a hundred years hence, or in a world that never existed. Speak with the rhythm in your head, even if you think people won’t understand it or be able to keep up with it or slow down to it. They might find it beautiful in the end. When they realize who you are. And read everything you encounter, everyone you meet, as if you’d love what they do, if you knew who they were.

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Speaking of simple! This is one of those simple yet delicious dishes. I bought a little bottle of sundried tomatoes in olive oil. If you buy dried sundried tomatoes, you might want to soak them in hot water (and then drain them) before using them in this recipe. This is a creamy vegan sauce with lots of flavor. You could add smoked paprika or roasted garlic if you want, they’d both be nice here. We ate this with roasted vegetables and chard croquettes one night, and with tacos the next night. You could dip things in it, or spread it on things, or toss it with pasta or rice. I think it would be fine however you’d like to use it!

The Hemingway I spoke of earlier is from his Nick Adams stories, or In Our Time. To this day, I’m not his biggest fan, but I love these stories. Here’s a sample of the language.

    As he smoked his legs stretched out in front of him, he noticed a grasshopper walk along the ground and up onto his woolen sock. The grasshopper was black. As he had walked along the road, climbing, he had started grasshoppers from with dust. They were all black They were not the big grasshoppers with yellow and black or red and black wings whirring out from their black wing sheathing as they fly up. These were just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color. Nick had wondered about them as he walked without really thinking about them. Now, as he watched the black hopper that was nibbling at the wool of his sock with its fourway lip he realized that they had all turned black from living in the I burned-over land. He realized that the fire must have come the year before, but the grasshoppers were all black now. He wondered how long they would stay that way.

Here’s Simple Things by Belle and Sebastian.

Continue reading

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
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading