About Claire

I am a filmmaker, illustrator, graphic designer and copy editor.

Flourless chocolate almond cake with coffee and cinnamon

IMG_0364.jpgLast Saturday was a blizzarding day. The sky was white and bewildering, the time passed quickly and not-at-all, and the snow lay in deep, perfect drifts all around. A week later, the snow is still in giant gravelly piles where it was pushed away from all the places people walk and drive and park. The time is still passing strangely. The hours pass in the usual way, some flying some crawling, but at the end of the day it’s all a blur and I haven’t done half the things I’ve persuaded myself that I need to do. It’s days like this that make you want to turn into Malcolm’s latest superhero creation: Slothman. Slothman’s super power is that he goes slowly, he takes time to enjoy things. And he enjoys everything. Malcolm believes that people, and himself in particular, move too fast. He is a speedy fellow. So if he could turn into slothman he would slow down, everything would slow down. He could be happy just sitting up in a tree doing nothing but just sitting up in a tree. That in itself would become something to enjoy. The funny thing is that I think Malcolm already has this quality in spades. Not the slowness part, he is fairly full-speed-ahead in all endeavors. But the enjoying part. When you’re doing something with Malcolm–cooking or playing cards or going for a walk–he’ll announce, “This is fun.” And because he says it, you stop and think, “this is fun,” and then, strangely, it becomes more fun, just because he said it. And on the day that Malcolm told me about Slothman, we were on a walk. He’d been jumping puddles rimmed with black mud, and I was worried about his shoes, because it’s my job to worry about his shoes. Malcolm stopped walking and I yelled, “No jumping puddles!” But guess what–he wasn’t jumping puddles, he wasn’t moving at all. He was standing perfectly still, with a beaming face, and he said, “It’s so pretty! The light through the trees! And the shadows!” I looked ahead on the path and it was pretty, it was beautiful. The pale hopeful January light through brambled leafless trees. I thought about taking a picture, but it would never work, I couldn’t capture it. So we just stood for a moment and watched the shifting slanting light, until Clio woke us and we moved on.

 

Snowy weather is always good baking weather, so we’ve been making lots of cookies and cakes and bread. One day I ran out of flour, so I made this cake. It’s very tasty! Soft and flavorful, but with an almost crispy layer on the top. The flavors–cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, almond–they’re perfect together! This wasn’t at all hard to  make, and it was even easier to eat.

 

Here’s Groovin in Style by Ken Parker

 

Continue reading

Nutmeg gingerbread ice cream

IMG_0265

“Our family is the most powerful in the world.”

It’s a lazy morning over Christmas break and Malcolm and I are sitting together on the couch under a blanket and under Clio. We’re both just waking up, just pondering a day ahead with no plans and no obligations. All around us is sprawled a cheerful post-Christmas chaos of toys and socks and books. Malcolm has just cracked a joke that made David laugh aloud, which is a thing Malcolm loves to do.  And then he declares us the most powerful family in the world.

“How so?” You might well ask. “Wherein lies this supreme power?” Is it because we possess vast wealth, an intimidating arsenal, or confounding Machiavellian genius? No, no it’s not, although obviously we have all these things. According to Malcolm, the source of our power is that we have so much fun together. With the addendum that when we have nothing to do we sit around with a dog on top of us. Well, there it is! The secret to ultimate power revealed by a 13-year-old.

Predictably, I love this! I love that my son sees the ability to have fun as a source of power, that he sees that our cohesiveness makes us strong. I wish this understanding could be applied to all things, to all groups of people. I wish that threats and violence, rather than shows of strength, were recognized as the offshoots of weakness that they are. I wish this understanding applied even to countries. Can you imagine if we displayed our power not by amassing weapons but by showing how much we make each other laugh, how well we get along? Can you imagine the Fox News pundits sitting on their set with a dog sprawled on top of them, criticizing the president not because he showed weakness by not bombing people, but because he wasn’t making enough people laugh at international summits? Cohesiveness and joy, that’s what it’s all about.

We wanted to make some new holiday traditions just the four of us. Malcolm’s idea was to make a gingerbread house. So we did. Hoo boy. We made a derelict, condemned house out of gingerbread. We were going to put licorice vultures on top but the roof caved in. So we were left with a lot of (very tasty) gingerbread. David had the brilliant idea to crumble it up and mix it into nutmeg ice cream as it froze. Delicious! Very simple, but with strong, wonderful flavors. So this is a good use of leftover gingerbread house, or you can make a few extra gingerbread cookies next time, or you could just buy some gingerbread men.

Here’s Soul Power by the Heptones

Continue reading

Chervil pesto pizza (with mashed potatoes)

IMG_9897

Happy Boxing Day, Ordinary friends. In keeping with my recent holiday tradition, I’m feeling under the weather, all tired and achey. Fortunately Malcolm declared this a day that nobody has to get anything done and everybody can stay in pajamas all day, so all will be well. Since it’s boxing day, I’ll tell you about two of my favorite presents this year, which were, in fact, boxes. One is a pencil box, and it’s the prettiest pencil box you’ve ever seen. It’s strangely like a pencil box I was obsessed with as a third grader. All of the other girls had pencil boxes with sliding tops from WH Smith, and I wanted one so badly. And I got one! And I still remember how it smelled, and what a satisfying feeling it was to pack it with pencils and pens and erasers and how it felt like a box full of possibility for all the things I could write or draw. This box is a similar shape and size, with a sliding top, but instead of being made out of some weird plastic-wood, it’s made out of beautiful walnut, with a grain like flame or waves. and it’s hand-dovetailed by my favorite hands in the world. I put my special pen inside, and I’m fairly sure the box’s magical powers will imbue the pen with motivation or inspiration, and I’ll be able to write again. The other box is a Trojan DJ box set, and I’m COMPLETELY OBSESSED!! OBSESSED! This is 50 tracks (!), and each one is better than the one before, there are no stinkers. I love this music so much I want to eat it! This music is from the very late 60s and very early 70s, and it involves deejays taking popular tracks and mixing them up, and then toasting over them. Toasting is all good things! It’s blessing and praise, but it’s a little bit roasting and boasting as well. It’s poetry. It’s strange catch phrases or noises that are so simple but express so much. [What does this sound like? Hip hop! Of course! (Did you know that DJ Kool Herc was born in Jamaica?!?!)]  This is simultaneously the most moving, fragile, wobbly, and icily cool music I’ve heard in a while. I imagine a culture of DJs who support one another in friendly competition. They know one another and quote one another. It’s alternately funny and profound, or both at once. One of my favorite DJs in the box is King Stitt. He got the name King Stitt because he stuttered as  a child, and he got the name “The Ugly One” because he was born with a facial malformation and had very few teeth. But he was discovered because he could dance. I love that! And then he made a name by talking, and I love that too. He embraced what made him different, and realized that it made him cooler than cool. And he was one of the first DJs. He achieved success and everyone followed him. I like to imagine a community where this story is possible. I like to have these voices, which are so perfect and alive, in my foggy dispirited brain. To quote King Stitt, “Hot it from the top, to the very last drop!”

 

We have a forest of chervil growing in our garden. It’s the one herb that has thrived despite the few frosty nights, the drizzly days, and my constant picking. So I gathered some to make a pesto. Chervil is a lot more delicate than basil. It’s got a slight lemony-anise flavor, and it makes a lovely pesto. I made this like a normal basil pesto, with pine nuts and olive oil and garlic. Then I put it on a pizza with mashed potatoes for comfort and fresh tomatoes for liveliness. And that’s that.

 

Here’s King Stitt doing Fire Corner.

 

 

Continue reading

French lentil and wild rice soup

IMG_0031

The other day Isaac wrote some sentences. It was for school. Usually he hates writing sentences, he hems and haws and procrastinates and eventually scrawls out a few lines with little thought for legibility or the rules of spelling. But on this occasion he took his time, he enjoyed himself. He told us what he was writing about, he looked pleased, he looked happy. He read us his favorite sentence a few times, “The children were babbling like mad to hear their voices echoing off the canyon walls.” I love this! I love to see him happy with his words, happy with something he’s created. And I love the sentence itself. Sometimes it seems like we’re all children babbling like mad to hear our voices echoing off the canyon walls. We’re all talking and talking, and posting things all over the place, everything we feel and think and notice, everything that annoys us or makes us feel thankful or blessed. We’re sharing our observations and our pictures of ourselves and everyone we love, in all our moods and various flattering lightings. And we’re waiting to hear the echoes back of people liking everything we’ve posted, noticing everything we say. It’s easy to be cynical about this, but if I think about it long enough, I think this is all good, I love all of this. I love people sharing their moments and marking them as blessed or thankful moments. It’s good to notice, it’s good to feel grateful. It can’t be a new thing–people must have always felt this way, wanting to get their thoughts and feelings out, though it wasn’t so easy to share everything so quickly. And maybe it was all better when you had to take your time and think more carefully about everything you said. Maybe words are more precious when they’re not more easily shared, when you have to work and work at it till you get that wonderful buzz from getting it just right. But then I think about how easily and strangely words come to my boys when they’re not thinking about it at all. They’re not even worried about sharing it, they’re not even concerned about the reaction they get. They’re just saying what they think in all of their unselfconscious oddly perfect glory. Malcolm’s favorite adjective is “dancing,” and he uses it in the most unlikely most wonderful places. It throws you off guard with how much sense it makes. And our Isaac always has the right weird words at the right weird time. He was feeling down the other night after it got dark and we sent him to bed, and he said everything felt “damp and broken.” If you’ve ever felt down, which means if you’re human, you know that he got it exactly right. And Isaac likes to share his philosophies. Here’s one: Nobody can do everything, but everyone can try. And here’s another: It’s not done until you do it. And last night he actually spent a lot of time and effort perfecting this ridiculously beautiful tongue twister: I think I thought a thousand thoughts that no-one else could think. And isn’t that the crux of it all! When you’re having trouble getting the words out, or making something that you need to make, or doing something the you need to do…think about the billions of thoughts you’ve thought that no-one else could think. And then think about how important that makes them. And then, children, babble them like mad, until they echo off the canyon walls.

David said this soup was “perfect” and that made me happy! It’s a meaty vegetarian soup. (Vegan if you leave the butter out.) I put a lot of things in it that you certainly don’t need to add if you don’t have them. Honestly, the rice and lentils will give it favor enough. Miso and tamari give it a deeper, more savory flavor, but if you happen not to have them, no worries! If you have marmite, you could add a teaspoon of the instead or as well. I used the herbs that are still in my garden, and I think there’s a perfect balance if you use rosemary, sage, and lemon thyme. If you don’t have those, though, use what you do have! It’s a very adaptable soup. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Twilight Echoes by Roy Smeck.
Continue reading

Kale and chickpea flour gnocchi pakoras

kale and chickpea flour croquettes

kale and chickpea flour croquettes

Thirteen is a ridiculous age. How can a person be so achingly sweet one moment and so sassy-bordering-on-cruel the next? How can a person be sunny and confident one second and in tears over some imagined slight the next? How can a person be mature and wise, as good a friend and advisor as anyone could hope for, and turn into a childish menace because someone got more pizza than he did? I’m sure I was a piece of work when I was thirteen. Moody, disagreeable, constantly saying things I regretted the second I said them. And now we have a thirteen-year-old in the house, and it all comes rushing back, that feeling of being helplessly unable to control what you think or feel or say. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and remembering, and remembering makes me feel anxious all over again, lying awake worrying. And then one night we were in the car and the boys were bickering. I sighed and said, “It gets me down when you do that.” And Malcolm said, “Everything gets you down! I hate it when you’re depressed. But when you’re happy it’s the best thing in the world!” Well! That hit me like a ton of bricks! 46 is the most ridiculous age! One minute you’re feeling happy and hopeful, and the next you’re walking around the house sighing and sad, bringing everyone in the family down with you! But that’s not okay. I’m the adult. I’m the parent. It’s my job, my responsibility, to make the boys feel better when they’re down. Or to recognize that I can’t make them feel better, and to give them the space they need to be cranky, to ignore the things they say that they probably instantly regret. It’s my job to recognize when I’m being miserable and childish and to snap out of it. I was thinking about all of this and feeling a little bad, feeling a little irresponsible.

Apparently there was a slight chance we could see the aurora borealis from our part of the world. We knew we wouldn’t see the lights, but we took a drive above the town anyway, because when it gets dark an hour earlier you take any excuse to get out of the house after dinner. We parked next to the cemetery on the hill and looked down at our town, surprisingly noisy, and so beautifully bustling and bright we’d never see anything spectacular in the sky. Malcolm lay on his back and stared up at the stars, while in the town below him most of the people he’d known most of his life went about their lives. It must have been a little dizzying, and just the thought of it set me reeling. When he stood up I hugged him and he said, “I love you, too.” And that’s hopeful! That’s heartening! I don’t even need to tell him, and he knows!

kale pakoras

kale pakoras

I thought of these as being a combination between pakoras, which Isaac likes, and Gnocchi, which Malcolm likes. They have chickpea flour in them, and they’re fried in olive oil so they’re very crisp on the outside, but they have an egg and a little cheese in them, and they’re nice and soft on the inside. They have kale, but the boys loved them anyway.

Here’s Beginning to See the Light by The Velvet Underground.
Continue reading

Black Rice and French Lentil Tacos with Pistachio Herb Sauce

Black rice, french lentil tacos

Black rice, french lentil tacos

There’s a scene in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot in which the titular idiot, Prince Myshkin (who, of course, is not an idiot at all but the wisest man in any room) tells the story of a condemned man. He describes, in great detail, the thoughts going through the condemned man’s mind, minute by minute. “He said that nothing was more oppressive for him at that moment than the constant thought: ‘What if I were not to die! What if life were given back to me–what infinity! And it would all be mine! Then I’d turn each minute into a whole age, I’d lose nothing, I’d reckon up every  minute separately, I’d let nothing be wasted!'” And someone asks Myshkin what happened to the condemned man after his punishment was changed at the last minute, and he was granted “infinite life.” Did he live reckoning up every  minute? “Oh, no, he told me himself–I asked him about it–he didn’t live that way at all and lost  many, many minutes.” The condemned man is Dostoesvsky himself! This exact thing happened to him when he was 29 years old–he was before the firing squad when a reprieve was delivered. So the account of the rest of his life must be about him, as well, he lost many, many minutes, as we all do.

I love the fact that Myshkin knows Dostoevsky, not by name, but as a man he’s spoken to, at one time or another. And one of the things I love most about The Idiot is just how much Dostoevsky seems not to know Myshkin, from time-to-time. He loves him, clearly, as does everybody who meets him, even the angry anarchists who don’t want to love him at all. And at moments he has beautiful flashes of insight into Myshkin’s thoughts and feelings–just before his epileptic fit, for example. Because, of course, Myshikin is Dostoevsky, in part, his creation, born of his imagination. But there are times when Dostoevsky says, regarding the Prince’s actions and emotions, “…we can supply very little information.” He doesn’t know where the Prince disappeared to, or why he left! He doesn’t know, and he gives us only the hints and rumors that any of the other characters would be privy to. And at the end, when we wonder why the Prince acted the way he did in a certain crisis, he says, “And yet we feel that we must limit ourselves to the simple statement of facts…because we ourselves, in many cases, have difficulty explaining what happened.” Of course this has the effect of allowing us to see Prince Myshkin as a strange and inexplicable creature in a society in which people have certain expectations for the way people will act and speak. But it’s also a beautiful description of the creation of a character who becomes alive for the writer and the reader, a character you think long about after you’ve finished the book.

When Dostoevsky wrote he didn’t know what would happen next in his story, so that he was just as surprised by it as the reader. And the first parts of the book were published in journals before he’d written the next, so he couldn’t go back and change his mind. The story becomes as inevitable as our lives. The Idiot is meandering and strange and strangely written in a way that I find thrilling. In a clumsy, beautiful, heartfelt “explanation,” Ippolit, the angry anarchist, who considers himself condemned to death by the last stages of consumption, tells us about the joy of traveling when you don’t know where you’re going, and of trying to understand things and express things  you will never be able to understand or express, “Ask them, only ask them one and all, what they understand by happiness? Oh, you may be sure that Columbus was happy not when he had discovered America, but when he was discovering it; you  may be sure that the highest moment of his happiness was, perhaps exactly three days before the discovery of the New World, when the mutinous crew in their despair almost turned the ship back to Europe, right around! The New World is not the point here, it can just as well perish. Columbus died having seen very little of it and in fact not knowing what he had discovered. The point is in life, in life alone–discovering it, constantly and eternally, and not at all in the discovery itself. But what is the point of talking? I suspect that everything I am saying  now sounds so much like the most common phrases that I will probably be taken for a student in the lowest grade presenting his easy on ‘the sunrise….’ But, nevertheless, I will add that in any ingenious or new human thought, or even simply in any ernest human thought born in someone’s head, there always remains something which it is quite impossible to convey to other people, though you may fill whole volumes with writing and spend thirty-five years trying to explain your thought; there always remains something that absolutely refuses to leave your skull and will stay with you forever; you will die with it, not having conveyed to anyone what is perhaps most important in your idea.”

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

I love the flavor or black rice, so nutty! And I especilaly love it mixed with a bit of smoked basmati, which makes it ridiculously tasty. And of course I love French Lentils! I made both of these separately, then stir fried them with some garlic, added spinach and cannelloni beans, and seasoned with smoked paprika and garam masala. We ate them with warm tortillas, grated mozzarella cheese and an herbaceous pistachio sauce. Really nice! It was also very easy to make, and tonight the leftovers will turn into croquettes.

Here’s Idiot Wind by Bob Dylan

Continue reading

Roasted beet “relish” with olives and feta

roasted beets, feta, olives, pine nuts

roasted beets, feta, olives, pine nuts

Desk Set is one of my favorite movies of all time. All Time! That’s a very decisive statement for someone as indecisive as myself! It’s so well-written. It’s witty all of the time, and downright funny in flashes. It’s incredibly generous to the characters–the writers love all of them, even the extra-quirky ones. And the characters love each other. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, obviously, glow in each other’s presence. That’s a given. But one of my favorite aspects of the film is the friendship between Katherine Hepburn’s Bunny, and her friend Peg Costello, played by Joan Blondell. They have a history, they look after each other, they make each other laugh. One of the best passages in the history of film is the office christmas party. Peg and Bunny drink champagne and scotch and  martinis and lord knows what else (“they’re all the same base–alcohol!”) They become giddy, and you feel giddy watching them. At one point, they’re reminiscing about New Year’s Eves through the years, about being lonely, and Peg tells a story about a missed opportunity with a well-dressed man. Katherine Hepburn raises her paper cup of champagne in the air and says “More power to you!”

This is a line and a delivery that has been stuck in my head a lot lately. And I want to keep it there. I happen to have a snarky voice in my head from time-to-time. When I was a teenager they called me Miss Snide–in the minefield of high school, sarcasm is sometimes the best defense. And this voice lingers in my head, right into middle age. It’s a sarcastic, and often, sadly, a judgmental voice. Society is to blame! We live in a world full of petty criticisms, mean anonymous comments, articles that rate people and compare people and criticize their every move. I try to hold the voice in check. I don’t want to waste my time in being critical of trivial things. I believe that people should be able to wear what they want to wear, say what they want to say, and act how they want to act, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. I want to be generous and affectionate all the time. But I’m not, I’m just not. So, lately, when I feel myself being snidely critical of some small thing a person does or says or wears, I imagine Katherine Hepburn, paper cup of champagne in the air, declaring, “More power to you!” If every single cruel and acidic comment on the old internet could be replaced with “More power to you!” Well, that wouldn’t be so bad. More power to you! More power to each and every one of you!

Roasted beets, olives, feta and pine nuts

Roasted beets, olives, feta and pine nuts

I made this earlier in the summer, but since beets are making a come back at the farm, I’m posting the recipe now. More power to me! It’s an easy recipe, with lots of strong flavors, but most of the children I fed it to liked it. It’s almost like a relish, because the beets are chopped so finely, so you can have it on the side of anything, or on some good bread, or however you like to eat it.

Here’s Go Where You Wanna Go by the Mamas and Papas

Continue reading

Smoky roasted delicata squash (On a pizza, on a salad)

Roasted delicata squash

Roasted delicata squash

I woke up in the middle of the night recently thinking about the word “ardent,” as one does. It’s a word we should use more often, it’s a way we should feel more often. The next morning I looked it up in the good old OED. I was delighted, dee-light-ed, to discover that “ardent” once meant “burning” and “glowing,” and these are the roots of the word. I love anything that glows! I love the idea of people glowing with an emotion. It feels too easy to go through each day half asleep, especially if you have a job you don’t love. Because every day is so full of things that need to be done–cleaning and shopping and chores. It’s impossible to face everything with fervor and ardor.

I thought about this:

0db23832f9c87676431364434df397e8

I agree with Calvin! But in a world where you can’t always be enthusiastic about everything you have to do, you can at least be passionate about everything you choose to do: the music you listen to, the books you read, the walks you walk, the meals you cook.

And I thought about The Idiot (which I am still reading). People in The Idiot are in a state. They’re excited, they’re ecstatic, they’re rapturous, they’re ardent. They all glow with their desires and even with their worries and their confusion. They’re ardent in their affection, love, admiration, friendship. They seem so alive. The Idiot suffers from epileptic fits, as Dostoyevsky himself did, and the description of the ecstatic moments before a fit is both frightening and beautiful:

He was thinking, incidentally, that there was a moment or two in his epileptic condition almost before the fit itself (if it occurred in waking hours) when suddenly amid the sadness, spiritual darkness and depression, his brain seemed to catch fire at brief moments….His sensation of being alive and his awareness increased tenfold at those moments which flashed by like lightning.  His mind and heart were flooded by a dazzling light.  All his agitation, doubts and worries, seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of understanding…

I fainted once, many years ago, and I felt something like this just moments before I fell. I wouldn’t like to feel this way all the time, obviously I wouldn’t, but it’s such a strange change from the stupor I feel most of the time going about the days. And obviously it’s not practical or even desirable to be as invested in every emotion as the characters in the Idiot are. It would be exhausting! But you know what else is tiring? Feeling half-alive all day long. Feeling “meh” about everything you do, as time flies by on its strong swift wings. As in all other things, I guess we have to find some balance, and to be as passionate about the people and occupations we love as we can, and to find as much joy in our chores as we can muster. Or at least to find some moments in each day that set us afire, that glow for us.

Pizza with pistachio herb pesto and roasted delicata squash

Pizza with pistachio herb pesto and roasted delicata squash

We got some lovely delicata squash from our CSA farm a few weeks in a row. I found a way to roast it, thinly sliced, and then season it with smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and I kind of ran with that! I put it on a pizza with a pistachio-sage pesto, and it was almost like pepperoni. (Not that I really remember what that was like!) This was a late summer-into-autumn pizza, with pretty golden tomatoes to go with the pretty roasted squash. I put it on a salad layered with red rice, smoked basmati rice and farro, and with french lentils, and topped with a bright lemony pine nut sauce. I’ve included a bunch of recipes after the jump. You can mix and match! Or you can make the squash and do whatever you like with it!

Salad with roasted delicata squash

Salad with roasted delicata squash

Here’s The Wailing Wailers with Who Feels it Knows it.

Continue reading

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
 

Continue reading

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

Continue reading