Cashew-almond tamari sauce

Cashew tamari sauce

Cashew tamari sauce

Seibei Iguchi is a low-ranking samurai in mid-nineteenth century Japan, in an era when the notion of Samurai as a way of life is fading, confused, dying out. He’s employed as a bureaucrat in a grain warehouse, literally counting beans. His co-workers call him “twilight Seibei” because each evening at the close of the working day, when they go out and drink and consort with geishas, he rejects their invitation to join them and returns home instead. He’s a widower with a senile mother and two young daughters and he needs to be home to care for them, he can’t afford to go out. But this is not a hardship for him: he loves to be with his family, he loves to watch his daughters grow. He is content. This is Twilight Samurai, by Yôji Yamada, and it is a beautiful movie, and it is a very Ordinary movie! It’s not unique in showing samurai as displaced or unglamorous–Kurosawa’s nameless Samurai in Yojimbo is hungry and lousy. But I believe it is the first film I’ve seen to show a Samurai so quietly and contentedly engaged in ordinary everyday activities, going from day to day feeding his daughters, showing them how to make cricket cages, leaving for work and returning home, and noticing that the azaleas are in bloom. This is a quiet samurai movie with little (though beautifully filmed) fighting. Seibei Iguchi doesn’t hunger for glory or political advancement or financial gain. He’s full to bursting with the business of everyday life, with its pleasures and its responsibilities. Because twilight is more than just closing time, it’s the time of day when we become acutely aware of time passing, of the poignance and value of each moment, and we sense that Seibei Iguchi feels this aching beauty at all times.

My boys liked this sauce! It’s got a nice balance of sweet, tart and umami flavors. It’s good with steamed broccoli, with spinach, with carrots. It’s nice with rice or long noodles. And it’s very easy to make! We have quite a few basil plants outside, and this is a nice non-pesto use for the leaves.

Here’s a song from Twilight Samurai by Isao Tomita.

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Tart with grilled mushrooms, potatoes and herbs

Tart with grilled mushrooms, potatoes, and herbs

Tart with grilled mushrooms, potatoes, and herbs

This week, the Guardian UK had this bit of advice from a teacher to any and all parents. “Your kids are not your mates. Something I’m starting to hear with worrying frequency within the primary school setting is ‘my daughter’s my best friend.’ Often, this rings alarm bells. Your kids aren’t your mates. You’re their parent, and your responsibility is to provide them with guidance and boundaries, not to drag them into your own disputes. Your nine-year-old doesn’t need to know about your bitter feud with his friend’s mother, or which dad you’ve got the hots for at the school gate.” Well, I’m sorry, Guardian UK, you’re still my best newspaper friend forever, but I think this advice twists the issue and gets it wrong. First of all, the real problem is that a parent is telling anyone about their bitter feud with his friend’s mother or about which dad they have the hots for. Or that they have a bitter feud with their kid’s best friend’s mother in the first place. Some things are best kept to yourself! Secondly, this is such a strange definition of friendship! A friend is not necessarily someone you complain to or to enlist in your feuds. (Unless we’re all in some tawdry reality show and I’m blissfully unaware of it!) For me a friend is somebody who you enjoy spending time with, who you’re comfortable with, who you enjoy talking to, who you’ll take care of when they’re sick or down or need help with anything, and who you know will take care of you, too. And why am I bothering to get all huffy about a random article from the Guardian? I suppose it’s because just last week I was thinking happily about what good friends my boys have become for me. It’s one of my greatest pleasures in life, thinking about what good people and good friends they’re becoming. Walking with them, talking with them, cooking with them, reading with them, playing frisbee or basketball or some strange hybrid game that Malcolm invented that involves playing basketball with a frisbee while walking like a penguin. Even playing video games, which I do so badly that Malcolm laughs the whole time, is a good way to spend an afternoon. All of these are a joy to me, and more so every day. Of course I know that I’m the parent, I make the most basic rules, I tell them when it’s time to stop playing penguin ball and come and do some homework. I make them eat (at least some) of their dinner, I tell them when it’s time to go to bed. Or rather David and I do, because he’s a friend, too, and we’re all in this together. And of course I don’t expect them to take me to the doctor when I’m sick, or make me toast or decide what medicine I should take, like I do for them. But I do think it’s crushingly sweet that when I don’t feel well they bring me water, or try to be more quiet so that I can rest. And I think it’s important for them to feel needed, to feel as though they can help take care of somebody that they love. I think it’s important for them to know that we enjoy talking to them, that conversations with them are as entertaining and enlightening as with anyone else I know. From when he was very little, Isaac has said, “You’re fun to be with.” And I think it’s important for them to know that they’re fun to be with, too. The Guardian’s preachy teacher warned that being friends with your children might lead to social alienation for them later in life, but I believe the opposite. I believe they’re learning how to be a friend, and how good it feels to have a friend, how good it is to care. Or so I dearly hope!

Tart with grilled mushrooms, potatoes and fresh herbs

Tart with grilled mushrooms, potatoes and fresh herbs

Here’s another of my world famous pizza-like tarts. It has a yeasted crust with olive oil in it, which, let’s face it, is a pizza crust. But it also has an egg and cheese custard in the middle, which makes it like a big flat quiche. This one began as a way to use up leftover grilled portobellos and some cooked tiny potatoes. I decided to use them as toppings here. I also used smoked gouda, to accentuate the smokiness of the grilled mushrooms. And we have such an exciting variety of herbs in our garden, and I used them all!! I love a big medley of herbs together, with all of the unexpected and delightful flavors. Some herbs I think of as better cooked…sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano. And others I like best fresh and raw–basil, tarragon, cilantro. So I mixed some in with the custard and baked them into the tart, and others I scattered on top at the end.

Here’s The White Stripes with We’re Going to be Friends.

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Coconut-black pepper-rice flour pancakes

Coconut and black pepper roti

Coconut and black pepper roti

My favorite word at the moment is “perplex.” I like the sound of it–I think it has just a few more consonants than it needs, in just the right order, to make it perplexing to pronounce. And I like the idea of it, it’s not as dire as confusion or as final as bafflement. I find it pleasant to be perplexed, to puzzle over something that I don’t quite understand. It makes me feel awake and alive, although of course sleep and dreams are perplexing as well. Unpleasant things are confusing, like calculus tests and taxes, but perplexing things can be pleasant or even beautiful, like love or a poem with many layers of meaning. Something perplexing doesn’t need to be solved or fixed, but can linger raising questions, indefinitely. I love this quote from the Hagakure, “There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.” I love the idea that rain is perplexing, because of course it is. Water falling from the sky! The very smell is unsettling and stirring, because it signals a change. It reminds me of an interview with Tom Waits in which he said he named his album Rain Dogs because he liked to think about how perplexed dogs must be after a rainstorm, when everything smelled different to them. He imagined them saying, “Hey, who moved all the furniture.” I love the perplexing phrase, “I don’t want no woman got hair like drops a-rain.” What does it mean? I like the etymology of the word “perplex,” it means entangled, intricate, or braided. I believe that everything is interwoven, and this is both what makes the world so perplexing, and what makes it worth puzzling over. I believe this to be a beautiful summation of the complicated fact that words will never be adequate to describe our perplexities, but they’re all we have. “I am perplext, and know not what to say.” “What canst thou say, but will perplex thee more?” Indeed. And with that, I’ll wish everybody a pleasantly perplexing day, and get on with my work!

IMG_3666I found these cakes perplexing to name. They’re loosely based on Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for rice flour dosas, but they’re almost like crepes or just pancakes. They’re sweetish, but I thought of them as part of a savory meal, and we ate them with a curry of pigeon peas and raisins in cashew sauce, which I might tell you about some day. They’re quite easy to make, light and tender, and the boys liked them, too. I actually used plain old sweetened flaked coconut, but they’d probably be better with unsweetened.

Here’s Skip James with Look Down the Road.

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Crostini with roasted red pepper/hazelnut sauce, capers, and olives

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Malcolm yelled “Good luck!” to the bald eagle. Before work on Sunday, the first and only really lovely spring day this year, Malcolm and Clio and I went for a “run.” It was more of a fast walk, because he’d just eaten pancakes, but that suited me exactly. We came to the place where a bald eagle had built a nest across the canal. A big, random-looking pile of sticks on the top of a huge metal tower.
The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?

The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?


I hadn’t actually seen an eagle there, but I stopped to look every time we passed. This time I saw a big hulking bird farther down the tower, and I asked Malcolm if it had a white head, because I couldn’t see that far, and it could have been a vulture. It did! It did have a white head! We walked back on the other side of the canal, to get a closer look. Malcolm was talking cheerfully about his schemes for the future, and I was thinking how good it felt to go for a walk with him again, and hear his zany chatter, after a long, shut-in winter. When we got to the tower, the eagle was gone, but we stood for a moment looking up into the bright blue sky. You could feel the earth getting warmer all around us, waking up and coming to life. And then the eagle flew up out of the river, and landed very low on the tower, where we could see it perfectly. It was a stunning moment, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it felt as if my heart soared up with the eagle. We watched it for a while, sitting there so beautiful and impossibly large and completely cool, and then Malcolm yelled, “Good luck,” and we walked home. It felt so sunny, to hear him say that, to think about Malcolm encouraging this huge unruffled raptor. It seems so precarious to try to raise chicks on the top of a tower that holds power lines, in a world full of people, it feels like such a hopeful thing to do. I’ve been feeling vaguely anxious lately about equally vague events that may-or-may not happen. Worried about the future more than usual, troubled by time passing though I know there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. It feels good to take a walk, and see the eagles and the geese sitting on their nests in the sunshine, everybody is doing what they have to do, getting on with their lives, waking with the spring. Isaac recently showed me the sign for “All you need.” You hold your hands together in front of you, and then spread them to your sides. It’s a beautiful gesture, particularly as performed by a serious eight-year-old. It seems like a good gesture to make when you’re feeling anxious, to remind yourself of what you have, and that all you can do is what you have to do, and try feel good about what you’re working on and where you’re going. It’s a gesture like spreading wings in the sunshine.

Isaac likes crostini. I made these last week after he’d been sick for a few days and eaten nothing but toast. These were like a step up from toast, and Isaac ate quite a few. The sauce itself is inspired by romesco sauce, and it’s sweet smoky nuttiness goes well with the sharp saltiness of capers and olives. It made a nice meal with a big salad.

Here’s All I Need by Radiohead.
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Roasted mushroom, pine nut and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Roasted mushroom and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Roasted mushroom and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Sleepy John Estes had a “…tendency to withdraw from his surroundings into drowsiness whenever life was too cruel or too boring to warrant full attention,” according to blues historian Bob Koester. In a strange way, when I read this I thought, “I know what that feels like!” I’ve always gotten very tired when I feel nervous or confused, and I sometimes I think I feel tired all the time because I don’t sleep very well…I’m half-awake all night and half-asleep all day. I wonder if Sleepy John Estes felt that way, too, because he sings, “You know I worried last night and all night before/ You know by that I won’t be worried no more/ I was worried for you, I was worried for me/ You know by that I’m gon’ let it be.” It’s a beautiful song with a kazoo, and I love to hear him say that he’s not going to worry any more, but we all know that’s easier said than done. There’s something about Sleepy John Estes songs that makes them easy to relate to, that makes them very powerful though they’re often quite simple. He talks about his life, he talks about the people he meets, and the events that effect him from day to day, and though the subject is quotidian, his language is resonant and the music is perfect. He’s another patron saint of The Ordinary.
By R. Crumb

By R. Crumb


He talks about waiting for the mailman, hoping for some good news. “Now I been waiting on the mailman : he usually come around about eleven o’clock/ Now I guess he must have had car trouble : or either the road must be blocked/ Mailman : please don’t you lose your head/ You know I’m looking for a letter from my babe : some of my people might be dead.” He tells the story of a fire in his town,”When you see the chief : boys please clear the street/ Because you know he’s going down : save little Martha Hardin’s house for me/ She’s a hard‑working woman : you know her salary is very small/ Then when she pay up her house rent : that don’t leave anything for insurance at all./ Now I wrote little Martha a letter : five days it returned back to me/ You know little Martha Hardin’s house done burnt down : she done moved on Bathurst Street.” It’s almost as though he’s reporting on the local news, but though the details are small and specific, the words and imagery are so urgent the tale becomes more universal. In Floating Bridge, Estes tells of a time he nearly drowned during a flood. It feels dreamlike and mythological, he talks of the flood and of drowning and rebirth. “Now I never will forget that floating bridge/ Tell me five minutes time under the water I was hid/ When I was going down I thowed up my hands/ Now they carried me in the house and they laid me ‘cross the bank/ “Bout a gallon-and-half muddy water I had drank/ Now they dried me off and they laid me in the bed/ Couldn’t hear nothin’ but muddy water runnnin’ through my head/ Now, people standin’ on the bridge, screamin’ and cry in’ People on the bridge was screamin’ and cry in'” It’s so beautiful and wild and surreally real. One of my favorite songs is Clean Up at Home. It’s a rare sentiment in any kind of music. It really is about cleaning up your home, but it’s also about taking care of yourself and what you have and who you have, it’s about tending your own garden.

I wash my clothes, I hang ‘em by the fire
Get up in the mornin’ they be thoroughly dry
CHORUS: Clean up at home, clean up at home
Clean up at home, I ‘clare you can’t go wrong

I went to the beer tavern, tryin’ to make me a dime
Said, “Go ‘way, boy, clean up and git on some time.”
CHORUS

Five cents cap and ten cent suit
Then y’all think I’m tryin’ to act cute, I want to
CHORUS

I was doin’ somethin’ that you can’t do
Go ’round on State Street, get a woman for a pot of stew, you have to
CHORUS: Clean up at home, you have to clean up at home,
Clean up at home, I ‘clare you can’t go wrong

I played for the colored, I played for the white
All you got to do, act kinda nice, you got to
CHORUS: Clean up at home, you got to clean up at home
Clean up at home, ‘clare you can’t go wrong

Yeah. I was worried last night and the night before, but I ain’t gonna be worried no more.

THE PIZZA:
I was feeling sort of wobbly all week last week, so I kept making bread, comforting foods. Here’s one! It’s a sort of pizza, but it has a mashed potato crust. This makes the crust quite soft, it’s more of a knife-and-fork pizza. The crust is comforting, but the topping is quite flavorful–roasted mushrooms, olives, and a mixture of sharp cheddar, mozzarella and smoked gouda. A nice meal for a reluctant spring.

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Pizza with olives, capers, caramelized onions and sweet potato mash

Pizza with sweet potatoes, olives, capers, and caramelized onions

Pizza with sweet potatoes, olives, capers, and caramelized onions

Yesterday Malcolm told me that my nickname is “dictionary.” I love it! I more than love it, I’ve decided that I want to be a superhero called “The Dictionary.” I wouldn’t be a snarky sort of superhero who went around telling people they used the wrong form of “their,” or they used “less” when they should have used “fewer.” First of all, that’s a job for the word police. Second of all, Lord knows I make plenty of mistakes myself. And finally, I believe that using words incorrectly and spelling them irregularly might be what keeps language alive and changing and growing. And naturally, as The Dictionary, I’d be like the OED. I wouldn’t tell people what words mean, but what they have meant and how people have used them differently over the centuries, how their meanings vary from year to year and place to place and usage to usage. I’d resolve conflicts by showing the combatants that their words have shades of meanings, and if they only shift their understanding slightly one way or another, everybody could get along. I’d show how “attack” can mean, “To enter upon a work of difficulty, with the intention of conquering and completing it.” So we can decide together that the work of difficulty will be an epic novel or an opera in twelve acts, and we’ll all attack it together. I’ll point out that “take” originally meant, “to put he hand on, to touch, to lay hands upon, to accept what is handed to one, or even to understand.” And it still means, “to take root, to germinate, and to begin to grow.” So we’d all marinate on those meanings for a while, and maybe plant a garden together and watch and wait for the seeds to take, and forget why we were fighting. Because, of course, we could all fight together…we could all fight disease or fight poverty or ignorance instead of each other. And I’d swoop down in classrooms and explain that “essay” means “to try,” and that the important thing is the attempt itself, the process. And before you know it everybody would be as delightfully bewildered by vagaries of meaning as I am, and everybody would agree that nothing is written in stone or immutable, and that everything is open to interpretation and we’d all be expressively unintelligible and unproductive.

I made some caramelized onions last summer and froze them for a wintery day. We’ve had a lot of those lately! I decided to put them on this pizza, which also has capers and black olives. And, it has white sweet potatoes mashed with ricotta cheese! White sweet potatoes have a mildly citrus-y flavor that I like a lot. This whole pizza was a mixture of sharp flavors and comforting textures, and I liked it a lot.

Here’s Words of Love by Buddy Holly.
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Mushroom and black bean “meatballs”

Mushroom and pecan "meatballs"

Mushroom and pecan “meatballs”

I have a shocking confession to make. Every morning in the wintertime, when it’s too cold and icy to scamper on the towpath, I exercise by jumping up and down and waving around two cans of beans. As embarrassing as this may seem, it is not the shocking confession. I watch shows on the computer while I jump up and down, to make the time go faster and for my general edification. I catch up on the news of the world with The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I watch some worthy well-written sitcoms. And sometimes I watch insipid trash. That’s my confession! It’s horrible, I know! We only have so many hours in the day and I waste it on some of the worst written, poorly acted, insultingly stupid programming to come across the small screen. One show I watched recently for a few seasons, before it got so bad I couldn’t watch it anymore, dealt with the trials and tribulations of the wealthy youth of the upper east side of Manhattan. They had problems, man, that you just couldn’t understand, but that seemed really glamorous and way more fun and dramatic than your own problems. They were constantly embroiled in a remarkably repetitive chain of idiotic romances with the same people over and over and over again. But here’s a funny thing, all of the characters would stop occasionally, and think about themselves and the world around them and they’d say “I’m Chuck Bass,” or whatever their particular name happened to be, and that would solve all of their problems. Sometimes they’d remind each other who they were, as a friendly way of helping them out of a bad situation. They’d say, “You’re Chuck Bass!” And everything would be resolved and that would be the end of the show. Of course it matters more for them that they are who they are, because the whole point of being who they are is that they have so much money and influence that they actually can change the course of events by saying their names. But they’re really really horrible people. They’re mean and ignorant and fairly useless in the broad scheme of things. They don’t create anything but problems. I was thinking that, on balance, almost everyone else in the world deserves this super power more than they do. All of us, when we face some sort of trouble, should be able to stop and say, “I’m who I am!” and it should make things better. Not because we have wealth and power but because we have ourselves. We have our imagination and our abilities and our affections and our hopes and our memories and our flaws and our souls, whatever those are. Sometimes when you’re being belittled or treated badly and it seems as though nothing is going well or ever will again, it’s easy to lose yourself and to feel worthless or hopeless. I’ve felt it a million times. It’s worse than a feeling of failure, it’s a feeling of nothing, of being nothing and having nothing. Well, the next time that happens, I plan to say my name aloud. I’m going to say, “I’m Claire Adas,” and I’ll ignore the perplexed looks of anyone around me and I’ll think of everything that I have, everything that I’ve made, everyone that I love, the whole round life I’ve made for myself. That’s right, I’m Claire Adas.

Maybe it won’t get me reservations at the newest latest whatever, but who wants to go there anyway, when I’ve got a bottle of cheap wine, shelves full of spices, a drawerful of vegetables, a head full of strange and delicious meals to make, and good friends to eat and drink with. I made these little flavorful “meatballs” out of mushrooms, hazelnuts, pecans, black beans, and smoked gouda. They’re seasoned with sage, rosemary, smoked paprika an nutmeg. The boys ate them with long pasta and red sauce, but you can eat them with any kind of sauce you like! You can dip them, or put them in a sandwich. The possibilities are endless!

Here’s I am I Be by De La Soul

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semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut, butter beans and spinach-almond-asparagus pesto

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

“I doe now publish my Essayes; which, of all my other works, have been most Currant: For that, as it seems, they come home, to Mens Businesse, and Bosomes.” This is how Francis Bacon prefaces The Essays: or Counsels, Civil and Moral. I have a beautiful copy of this book, and I love the form of it. It is, simply, a series of short essays: Of Truth, Of Death, Of Unity in Religion, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Simulation and Dissimulation, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Envy, Of Love and so on and on it goes. And I love the tone of it. It’s quite matter-of-fact, he’s stating truths as he believes them, and he makes the truths sound incontrovertible, but we also feel that he hasn’t arrived at them lightly. He’s thought and thought on these subjects, and considered all of the facets and vagaries of them. And though he sounds sure of himself, he hasn’t sealed his mind on any of these ideas. He’s thinking on them still. We feel that he would agree with James Baldwin and with me that “…all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.” My favorite essay is the first, On Truth. You can tell that he loves truth as a thing, almost as a person. He loves the search for truth, “…yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.” And just as a hope is a place, so is truth, “It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.” He talks about poetry being the shadow of a lie, which adds some beauty to the truth, and he talks about lies such as “vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like,” as saving men’s minds from becoming “poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition.” In just this way he mixes wild, poetical language with the more staid and scholarly, and helps us to see not just the matter of his text, but his passion for it as well. I’d like to write a book of essays like this. I’d like to see everybody do it! We could pick the topics, of course, according to our interests, but we’d keep the essays short and fierce and thoughtful, like these are. We’d look at the world around us and decide what questions are important to ask, and then we’d spend time thinking about these questions, and then we’d write it all down. Not the answers to the questions, because there are no answers, but we’d write all of the ways we’ve been thinking about it, the truths that we have wooed. We’d share our truths with each other, and see that our truths aren’t the only ones, and that would make us seek not just the truth of our own little world, but of the great and common world, the whole round world.

"IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND."

“IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND.”

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Speaking of round! I made this ring of semolina dumplings, which are puffy and soft and comforting. Then I filled the center with butternut squash roasted with herbs, butter beans and mozzarella…all soft and creamy and sweet and roasty. And I topped the whole thing off with a bright, green, vegetal, lemony pesto of spinach, almonds and asparagus. This meal has layers. It didn’t take long to make, and it was a nice complex but comforting winter meal.

Here’s some more Gary Davis for you.

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French lentil crepes with roasted butternut and chard

French lentil crepes

French lentil crepes

Malcolm has a little pile of worksheets on “the apostrophe;” laying down the rules, telling you when and how to use an apostrophe. Like all good grammar packets, it has sentences to illustrate the possible applications of this particular punctuation mark. These sentences aren’t supposed to be interesting or memorable, they just have to be informative and correct. You can imagine somebody straining their brain to come up with something dull and appropriate, trying to think of a name they haven’t used yet for an imaginary possessor or omitter of letters and numbers. Well! The sentences in this particular package are a little strange, they’re even almost funny. Viz: “the girls’ logrolling team.” (Is that even a thing?) And “Lucas’ hobby is collecting pencil stubs.” I love this one! I can just see Lucas, walking along, brow furrowed, searching the hallways for discarded pencil stubs. He’s probably collected about 547 so far, and he used to keep them in a box in his room, but then he had so many that they spilled out of the box and fell to the floor. Maybe he stepped on them one night when he was half-awake in the dark, and he rolled on them like they were tiny logs, until he found himself splashing around on the floor in a pile of blankets and toys. So he decided to move them to the garage. He liked the garage, because it was quiet and private and full of interesting and possibly dangerous objects. It felt rain-washed and dusty. It smelled like fertilizer and gasoline and dried cut grass. And now it smelled like pencils, which was his favorite smell in the world. He separated his pencil stubs by color, of course, and of course he had more yellow pencils than pencils of any other hue, so he put these in a big green rusting metal box with a broken latch. And the rest of the pencils, the green, blue, red and black ones, he organized in little drawers of a plastic case designed to hold screws and nails and nuts. He dumped all the nails into a clanking pile on the floor, and he lovingly separated his pencils of many colors. The pencils with designs: covered with hearts or rainbows or foil stars or slogans like “reading is my superpower!” these pencils he kept in some old cardboard box. He wasn’t too crazy about them. He was a pencil purist. He liked the plain bright colors, the perfect lettering in black or metallic green. He was a true collector, an enthusiast.He would take note of each pencil’s condition in a special notebook (he wrote in ink): did it have an eraser, or had it been rubbed down or pulled off? A perfect eraser on a stump of pencil was a rare and wonderful find, a prized possession. Did the pencil still have a point? Was it a sharp point, or a stubby point with the wood of the pencil frustratingly longer than the lead? Did the pencil have teeth marks? He’d chewed on a few pencils himself, and he understood the appeal, the feeling of wood yielding to his teeth, the flecks of paint like tiny inconsequential shards of glass. He liked to think about all of the words that had been written with each pencil. Lots of homework assignments, sure, but what else? Stories? Love notes? In the art room he’d collected quite a few drawing pencils, black or green with a rounded white end instead of an eraser. Soft, thick leads. These were his favorite of all. If he stared at them long enough he could almost see all the pictures they had drawn: still-lives, self-portraits, dream scenes. He felt bad for the pencils. It made him sad that they’d worked so hard, and then been cast aside. Did they not still contain lead? Yes they did! (Well, most of them did) Could they not still write? Of course they could, if you didn’t mind a little hand-cramping. He himself didn’t write with them, ever. They were too perfect, too special, and so little of them remained–they would be gone so soon. What could he possibly write that would be worthy of these little stubs of possibility, these small stumps of potential? What picture could he draw that would justify using up the small store of unused lead? He lay awake thinking about it. Someday he’d write the most perfectly beautiful story ever written, and he’d use one pencil for each word, and then he’d put each pencil back in its chipped plastic drawer until the next time. Some day.

French lentil crepes

French lentil crepes

What? Crepes made with french lentils? French lentils in the crepes? That’s right! Inspired by the Indian black eyed pea pancakes, I thought to myself, “Why not try this with french lentils, which are probably my favorite legume in the world?!?! I soaked them for a shorter time than the black eyed peas, because they don’t need to soak before cooking and they cook quite quickly. I added warm milk and eggs rather than water, and I seasoned them very simply, with rosemary and black pepper. They turned out good, I think! They’re denser than a regular crepe, and they have a lovely earthy flavor. We piled them with sautéed chard and roasted butternut squash, and we topped it all off with a mixture of grated mozzarella and smoked gouda and some leftover pistachio-pumpkinseed sauce. Very tasty, very satisfying, and very fun to eat.

Here’s This Pencil Won’t Write No More by Bo Carter

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French lentil, roasted potato and smoked gouda pizza

French lentil and roasted potato pizza

French lentil and roasted potato pizza

Like many, many people, I suspect, I spent some time yesterday watching films and videos of Pete Seeger. In particular, we watched clips from his television show Rainbow Quest, which aired from 1965- 1966. It was videotaped in black and white, and although his wife, Toshi, was credited as “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer,” it happens that she actually directed the show. The program was made on a low budget, funded by Seeger and a co-producer, and though it’s humble and understated by today’s slick standards, it’s full of the generosity and joy that seems to pour out of Seeger. He seems so friendly and kind in a way that makes those ordinary qualities the most weighty and important in the world. Watching him, you can feel that he’s brimming over with the desire to share; to share music and knowledge and love. On his guitar he wrote the words “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender,” and the whole rich history of Seeger’s political activism just makes sense in this light. Looking back now it seems so easy to decide to be on the side of the oppressed, the poor, the hated. It couldn’t have been easy at the time, and we have the songs and spirit of Seeger to thank for helping to lead us in the direction of generosity and affection. He touched so many people, with his uncalculating unselfconscious enthusiasm. He was a teacher and a disseminator. It seems that his desire to make music and to perform was never about fame or stardom, it was about the joy of making the music and the need to send that music out into the world so that others could hear it as well. He had a curatorial spirit, which is a quality I greatly admire, because it’s so unselfish and giving. You never see him singing when he doesn’t invite others to sing with him, his friends, his colleagues, his audience. We watched a clip of him on Johnny Cash’s TV show in 1970. He sings Worried Man Blues. Cash sets him up a chair at the edge of the stage, because he knows that Seeger needs to get the audience to sing with him. Seeger talks about the worries that we all share, and then he talks about the hope waiting for all of us, “Well I looked down the track just as far as I could see, little bitty hand was waving back at me.” We watched Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash on Seeger’s show as well. They tell stories, they sing together, they talk about friends they’ve loved and lost, and sing their songs as well. They sing folk songs about living and loving and dying and being remembered. Johnny Cash died four months after June, and Pete Seeger died yesterday, six months after his wife, Toshi. Just watching these clips of them, over the years, makes you thankful for enduring love and friendship in the world, wherever we can find it. Pete Seeger sings a song for June and Johnny, “Little birdy, little birdy, what makes your wings so blue, it’s because I’ve been a dreaming, dreaming after you, Little birdy little birdy come sing to me a song, I’ve a short while to be here, and a long time to be gone. Little birdy, little birdy, what makes you fly so high, it’s because I am a true little bird, and I do not fear to die.”

French lentil, roasted potato and smoked gouda pizza

French lentil, roasted potato and smoked gouda pizza

This is a very comforting wintertime pizza. Warm and smoky, soft and crispy.

Here’s Elizabeth Cotten on Rainbow Quest, telling the heartbreaking and hopeful story of how she met the Seegers because she worked for them as a cleaning lady and cook, and Pete Seeger’s step mother discovered that she played the guitar, though she hadn’t played in years.
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