About Claire

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

Almond cinnamon shortbread cake

Almond cinnamon shortbread cake

Almond cinnamon shortbread cake

The other day I thought I lost a scrap of paper. It was just another scrap of paper with words on it, but it was worth fifty dollars, so I felt like an idiot for misplacing it. I searched for it through piles of papers with words on them, through drawers-full of scraps of paper with words on them. This is how I organize my life. I scribble thoughts and plans and recipes and names and dates and numbers unintelligibly on torn pieces of paper, which flutter around me like maddening moths. And then I lose them and years later I find them and wonder at their meaning. As I was searching, I found one relatively intact sheet of a smallish size stuffed into my drawer. Near the bottom, in very neat (for me) handwriting, it said “Yes Today is Today.” The neatness of the handwriting suggests to me that I was trying out a new pen. I love new pens! Other than that, I have no idea what the hell I was talking about, or why I wrote this. Judging from the name & number scribbled on the top of the paper, it dates from around a decade ago. What was I happy about on this today? What had I been looking forward to? I’ll never know. But what a good inspirational meme this would make, Yes Today is Today, with some lady in yoga pants and a flowing scarf looking ecstatic as she stretches into the sunset. It’s so now-momenty. Of course I’m not at all now-momenty. I understand the appeal and the advantages, but I just can’t do it. I live in a cluttered tangle of memories and plans, half-remembered words and half-hearted hopes. How can we live only in this moment when this moment is so fleeting? Of course we can’t, we’re made up of our past and our future is upon us before we know it. Obviously I don’t want to live in the past and anticipate the future at the expense of my appreciation of the present, but there would be no present without the past and the future. I like to think about the moment I wrote this years ago, I’m glad I don’t know what it was that made me happy, that I was looking forward to, I’m glad to imagine what it might have been. It seems more real, more full of promise than whatever actual event I was anticipating. It could have been anything. It could be anything, it might be something I’m still looking forward to. It might be nothing at all other than the recognition that today is irrevocably and undeniably today. There’s no arguing that point! And on these dark cold January mornings when it’s really goddamn hard to get out of bed, it might help to say Yes Today is Today.

Cinnamon almond shortbread

Cinnamon almond shortbread

This is an incredibly simple cake, and I like it a lot. It’s like soft shortbread when you first try it, with a crispy crunchy top of almonds and sugar. And after a day or so it becomes a little firmer and more cookie-like.

Here’s Time has Come Today by The Chambers Brothers

Continue reading

Small pies with french lentils and greens

IMG_5112

    American Mythologies #5: dress your way/EVERYBODY IN KHAKIS.

I ordered some clothes from a certain company and now they are my best friend. They’re so friendly and attentive, and I know they like me a lot because they write to me many times a day, offering me special exclusive deals that nobody else is privy to. The other day they sent me this message…

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 10.48.18 AM

Do you see how it is? You can have your own unique style just like everybody else. We’re all individuals! We’re all the same in being utterly original. Here in America we’re a nation of mavericks, we all do what we want to do and like what we want to like. Of course it helps if plenty of other people like it, too. Not everyone of course, but the right people, the cool people, and we can depend on advertising to reliably tell us who those people are. And we can count on the internet to tell us what’s viral and trending, so that we see exactly what everybody else sees, and so that we remember to watch to the very last second, because that is the moment that will astound us! Oxymoronically, even our most conservative politicians are mavericks. They keep us on our toes, we never know what crazy method they’re going to use to ensure America’s complete homogeneity. Remember Herbert Hoover’s rugged individualism during the depression? Well that’s who we are, we’re all individuals who can take care of ourselves, with no help from the government or anyone else at all. We can pull on our own bootstraps! We can iron our own khakis. Because there’s no greater marker of distinctive idiosyncratic style than a good pair of khakis. Originally adopted as a uniform for soldiers, so that they were all uniformly dressed, this drab fabric is supposed to stand out nowhere on nobody; you’ll melt seamlessly into the background wherever you may be. And now it’s the uniform of waiters and clerks and businessmen, of anybody who needs to be just like everybody else. Of course the truth is that although we haven’t always had the highest tolerance for difference, America has a splendid history of eccentrics, some celebrated, some obscure and forgotten. Many of the people who first declared America to be America, and then many of the people who forged West on some mad mission, despite the hardships and deprivations, must have been completely bonkers, and not always in a good way. And the truth is, that despite what my new best friends at the clothing company and their associates in the advertising division might tell us, you can be completely bonkers in a good way even if you’re wearing khakis. Even if you’re wearing the wrong khakis, which are out of style and ill-fitting and which you were forced to buy to work at some job that is strangling your soul. Even then, you can have a world of weird and wonderful thoughts in your head, which are unique and distinctive and entirely yours.

We ate these little pies on New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. Because lentils and greens and round foods are supposedly good luck, for health and wealth and happiness. They’re simple, but I thought they were really good.

Here’s Strange by Screaming Jay Hawkins
Continue reading

ART WILL OUT

artwillout

One night I was laying down,
I heard mama and papa talking.
I heard papa tell mama, let that boy boogie-woogie,
It’s in him, and it got to come out
And I felt so good,
Went on boogie’n just the same

The other evening after dinner David and I drank some red wine and ate some ginger chocolate and talked about Henry Darger. I said, “Art will out,” and David said, “You could put that on a t-shirt.” And maybe I will! But I’ve been thinking about this idea ever since. I’ve been thinking about how history is full of unlikely artists, people with little exposure to art or access to materials, who somehow find a way to get their voice heard. People with little formal education, who create work as beautiful or more beautiful than anyone else because they have to find their own way to say it. Elizabeth Cotten taught herself to play guitar upside down. Big Bill Broonzy made himself a fiddle out of a cigar box, and played with his friend Louis Carter, who played a homemade guitar. Henry Darger used junk he found in the streets to create over 15,000 pages of writing and art, a vibrant, beautiful, terrible world bursting out of him. It was in them and it had to come out. I’ve been thinking about William Carlos Williams who worked as a doctor but found time to write poetry about the world around him. I heard a story once that TS Eliot worked long hours at a bank, and scribbled his poems on matchbooks. I’ve been thinking about people who overcome prejudice or political or religious oppression to say what they need to say, and maybe the struggle makes their voice more powerful. I honestly believe that everyone has some world in their head that has to come out somehow, some song or story or picture. And maybe it won’t come out in any obvious way, maybe it will be in the unusual spices they add to their meal, or the pictures they take of their dogs, or the stories they tell themselves when they can’t sleep. And I believe that the creative process doesn’t stop with the product, it begins again when somebody reads or looks or listens, so that the person reading, looking, and listening becomes part of the process, becomes an artist, too. So maybe it will come out as the love you feel for a song, or the way you’re moved to tears by a book you read. Maybe it will come out as a conversation with someone you love, over wine and ginger chocolate on a chilly evening a few days before New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Years, Ordinary friends, and a sincere hope that we all hold dear the art within each other and ourselves, and that we all find some way to draw it or write it or speak it or sing it!

Here’s Boogie Chillun by John Lee Hooker, of course! When I got there, I say, “Yes, people”

Roasted butternut and yellow split pea soup

Roasted butternut and split pea soup

Roasted butternut and split pea soup

It’s the season for reflection, for looking back on the year just passing and taking a reckoning of all you’ve done or left undone. The wise men of newspapers and magazines are making lists of all the worst and best things that have happened over the course of a year, and Facebook’s computers are compiling photos of the most important events of our lives for us to share with our friends. And what is the phrase that has been stuck in my head with contrary steadfastness these past few days? “Don’t look back.” I’m unaccountably fascinated with this idea at the moment. It is, of course, one of Satchel Paige’s rules for longevity, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” And D.A. Pennebaker borrowed the phrase from Paige for the title of his beautiful 1967 (1967!) movie about Bob Dylan. And Bob Dylan himself used the phrase in his song She Belongs to Me, “She’s an artist, she don’t look back.” It’s an idea that shows up in myths from all over the world. Orpheus leading Eurydice out of Hades, Lot’s wife fleeing Sodom. If you look back you’ll be punished for disobeying a rule, for lacking trust or faith, for seeing God at his awe-ful job. But what does it mean? What does it mean? It can’t mean that we shouldn’t sift through our memories, and revisit people and places from our past life. We’d be nothing without our memories. Our future would be meaningless without our past. It can’t mean that. Is it spoken by someone who fears aging, like I do, and is frightened to see how fast it has all gone behind them, and how rapidly it will fly before them? Is Satchel telling us that we shouldn’t let fear of what has gone before frighten us about what’s to come? And what is gaining on us? What slouching beast? These are the questions we wrestle with on sleepless nights. Today I read the passage from Virgil’s Aeneid called “The visit to the underworld.” This was written more than 2000 years ago. Get your mind around that. I’m not sure that people have changed all that much, and I find it a strange comfort to look back all that way into someone else’s life, and see echoes of my own.

In the center is a giant and shady elm-tree, spreading branches like arms, full of years. False Dreams, so it is often said, take the tree for their home, and cling everywhere beneath its leaves.

Here’s The Temptations with Don’t Look Back. We’re gonna leave all our troubles behind.

This soup! It was tasty because butternut squash and yellow split peas are ridiculously tasty. Plus it has nice spices in it. It takes quite a while to cook the split peas, or it did for me, so plan ahead!

Continue reading

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

American Mythologies, #4: Catcher in the Rye is a sophomoric over-rated novel about teen angst.

    The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. A controversial novel originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angst and alienation.The novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion.

Thus speaketh Wikipedia, and although ordinarily I would eschew Wikipedia as a less-than-scholarly source, when dealing with American mythologies, it is the authority, the ultimate collection of all of the opinions that have gathered over the years to become myth. Whether or not you like Catcher in the Rye, I think we can all agree that it has achieved mythic status in the pantheon of American literature. And Salinger’s legendary reclusiveness has only added to the mysterious air of cool that clings to the novel. I would argue that, over the years, our ideas of what the novel is about have taken on a life of their own, so that now they seem more real in some ways than the original story, and they bear little relation to it. Now we think of Holden as a rebel, a maverick, and if they ever made the book into a movie (which, mercifully, they never will) it would star James Dean or a young Marlon Brando. Wikipedia tells us, “Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States,” because Holden was a bad role model, further adding, “Often the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself.” No less than three shootings have been somehow associated with the book. Of course none of this has anything to do with anything that actually happens in the book. The very phrase, “teen angst” is disparaging; it suggests that the nature of the angst is trivial and misguided, a self-centered foolishness to be outgrown, born of boredom and a bratty hatred for everything and everybody. Teen angst is all about ME, and why I’m so unfortunate. And I think Holden is thinking about everyone around him: his elderly teacher, the ducks in Central Park, his kid sister, his old friend, his dead brother, children in some mis-heard song, some miserable kid prostitute in a green dress. I think that’s why it’s beautiful. I don’t think Holden hates anyone, I think his problem, the source of his pain, is that he loves everyone he meets. Even with the people he doesn’t like he finds something to love. The kid who is a terrific bore is an excellent whistler, “So I don’t know about bores. Maybe you shouldn’t feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them. They’re don’t hurt anybody, most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.” He loves everybody: the mother he meets on the train, the nuns he meets in the station, the grippey teacher who yells “good luck” at him, the girl whose roller skate he tightens. He’s not the scowling kid who scrawls “Fuck You” every where he goes, he’s the kid who gets depressed when he sees that somebody else has done that. He doesn’t hate school because he’s too cool for it, it’s just the opposite, he hates the fact that people are forced to be more cool, more contained, to dim their enthusiasm. “What I mean is, lots of time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most. I mean you can’t help it sometimes. What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.” He doesn’t mistrust adults or authority figures, unless they’re hypocritical or tyrannical. I think he recognizes that they’re as confused as he is, that you never really outgrow the bewilderment caused by human connection, by sex, by loss, by loneliness. I think Holden is a teenager in the way Calvin is a six-year-old, his age allows him to say things we’re all feeling, as does the fact that he keeps calling himself a moron and a madman. There’s a passage in the book in which he’s talking about Laurence Olivier’s performance of Hamlet and he says, “He was too much like a goddamn general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy.” And I think Holden is that sad, screwed up type guy, too, not a fighter, not a rebel. And he’s got good reason to be sad. In Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the title characters go through the long list of woes that have afflicted Hamlet, and then they say, “And why are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?” It’s like that with Catcher in the Rye, too. His brother died at the age of eleven, when Holden was only thirteen. Three short years prior to the time that the story is set. He’s been in one boarding school after another since that time, alone, lonely, homesick, mourning. It’s Christmas time and he’s afraid to go home because he’s failed out of another school. Why would he behave in this extraordinary way? Why would he have a breakdown and become sick and sit in the park thinking he was going to die? Why would he talk aloud to his dead brother, wracked with regret over the one time he didn’t let him ride to his friend’s house years ago? How could he not! He’s searching for some sort of meaningful connection, and he’s disappointed by people who pretend to be something they’re not, or hide who they really are. But he loves them anyway. I know I quote this passage too much, but he reminds me of Alyosha in Brothers Karamazov, “Do you know, Lise, my elder told me once to care for most people exactly as one would for children, and for some of them as one would for the sick in hospitals.” Holden feels sorry for people a lot, and I think that’s a form of love. At the end of Franny and Zooey, when Zooey, as an adolescent, says everybody is a moron, his brother Seymore tells him to shine his shoes or be funny for the fat lady, and then Franny and Zooey get this idea of a cancer patient somewhere, listening to them talk, and then Zooey says the fat lady is christ, which means that everybody is christ, but they’re Jewish, so it’s not in any Christian sense of the word. It’s about loving everybody that you meet. And I think Holden does that. In Brothers Karamazov Ivan talks at great length about the suffering of children, and he asks Alyosha if he would kill one child to bring peace to the entire world. Alysosha wouldn’t, he would save the child, and Holden, standing on the edge of a cliff, would save all the children if he could, as they come running through the rye.

I’ve gone on and on, and I could go on even more! I could write a book about this book. But I won’t. I’ll tell you about this pizza instead. I think it had nice flavors, sort of nutty from the salsify and asparagus, and bright from the tarragon. We grew salsify in our garden this summer, and we’re just harvesting it now. It’s a funny sort of root, with a mild sweet nutty flavor. It’s quite hard to find in stores. You could replace it with parsnips if you can’t find salsify. It’s similar, and much easier to clean. Or you could leave it out altogether. This would still be tasty.

Here’s Just One of Those Things by Art Tatum, because it’s a song Holden likes.

Continue reading

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