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.

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Eggplant croquettes

Eggplant croquettes

Eggplant croquettes

If you’re familiar with The Ordinary at all, you’ll know we’re big fans of Square America, an online collection of found photos: the kind you see in yard sales and flea markets, the kind that make you a little sad, because they’re pictures of somebody’s family and friends, and you wonder how they ended up here, in a jumble, in the hands of strangers. The pictures are intriguing, often moving, sometimes funny. You wonder what happened before, what came next. It’s a tiny moment in someone’s life, a rare glimpse. You might recall that all last year I wrote a story a week based on photos found on Square America, a habit that only died out because one of them turned into a novel, a habit I hope to pick up again as soon as I get myself organized. Last week, the proprietor of Square America posted a series of mug shots from New Castle, PA. What a strange thing to see! Probably the least private and personal of the Square America photographs, and yet you feel almost guilty looking at them, it’s really none of your business. All the same, you can’t help wondering about these people, captured in this way on a bad day, a low point in their lives, probably. You can’t help wondering what brought them here and where they went next. Well, the proprietor of Square America posted a link to Small Town Noir, a site where some very thorough person has scanned the local papers of New Castle, PA, to discover the story behind each mug shot, and then went on to research any information about the rest of their lives. You learn what brought them here and where they went next. You learn about their parents and their lovers and their children. It’s crazy, crazy to read. I couldn’t stop reading it yesterday, and it gave me such strange dreams. People are so vulnerable when they’re alone. People need each other so much and are so cruel to one another. And people endure. So many of these people have extraordinary, awful, strange and almost unimaginable tribulations, and they live to rebuild their lives and meet new people and raise their children, and survive to a hale old age. It’s crazy to read, crazy.

Eggplant croquettes! We were eating eggplant almost every day at one point in the summer. We grew it, and we got some from our CSA. So I was trying to do something new and unusual with it, and I came up with this idea. I cooked the eggplants whole until they were meltingly soft. Then I peeled them and processed them with pine nuts, bread crumbs, cheese and herbs. Then I baked them in olive oil till they were nice and crispy outside and soft and warm on the inside. These have a nice smoky flavor because of the charred eggplant, the smoked paprika, and the smoked gouda.

Here’s Tom Waits with Singapore, because many of these stories could easily become a Tom Waits song.

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Zucchini and cornmeal croquettes

Cornmeal and zucchini croquettes

Cornmeal and zucchini croquettes

Malcolm and I have an ongoing joke. He’ll show me something–a picture he’s drawn, something he’s made out of legos, a frog, a handful of sweet ferns. And I’ll cry, “look at your fingernails!” Yeah. Actually Malcolm doesn’t think it’s a very funny joke. Malcolm is growing fast, and so are his fingernails. Moments after he cuts them they’re already a quarter-inch long and caked with dirt. This is only a slight exaggeration. The thing is, I never used to mind dirty fingernails. I used to say they were a sign that you’d had a good day, that you’d gotten out of the house and climbed a tree or played in the dirt. How much more true is this for a boy in this age of video games and nonstop screen-related entertainment. He could spend the whole day indoors staring at flickering glowing surfaces of varying sizes and never move at all. So I should be glad when he has a little dirt under his fingernails, or when he has mud on his shoes that he’s tracking all over the house. I’ve never been a super-tidy person or a stickler for cleanliness, so why did I become a person who sees the dirt on the hands and not what they’re holding? I resolve to change the situation from this moment forwards. I won’t see the dirt for the ferns. I won’t be distracted from the truly important things by trivial matters of personal grooming. I will fully appreciate the gesture of somebody raising cupped hands towards me to share something that is remarkable or precious to them. I will see the beauty of the outstretched palm. When I see muddy prints on the floor, I won’t grab the broom, I’ll ask for the story instead, I’ll ask where he was walking, where he gathered this mud, and what he was thinking about as he walked, who he was talking to, where he was headed.

It’s the season of summer squash and tomatoes. What a wonderful season! I like zucchini croquettes. I wasn’t sure what to call these, in point of fact, because they’re almost like dumplings. They’re soft inside, crispy outside, with a pleasant denseness. They’re very flavorful with golden raisins, sage, oregano, garlic, pine nuts and a bit of sharp cheddar. They’re nice dipped in or covered with a sauce, and this time of year of course it’s going to be a tomato sauce! We ate them one day with fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, olive oil and balsamic, and one day with a simple cooked fresh tomato sauce. Good either way!

Here’s Dirt Dauber Blues by Memphis Minnie. We found such a large blueblack wasp in our store today! Nearly two inches!!

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Colcannon Croquettes

IMG_2944Happy St. Patrick’s day. As far as I know, I’m not Irish in any way, so I probably have no right to celebrate St. Patrick’s day, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of green-beer-drinking Americans, so why should I let it stop me? Actually I don’t have any Ceilidhs planned, but I did spend some time Reading Yeats’ poems today, in keeping with the situation. I’d never noticed how preoccupied Yeats is with growing older, but now that I’ve started to become more preoccupied with the subject myself, it seems that his poems are suffused with memories and regrets of youth, and fear of growing old and of bodily decay. Many of them are filled with sadness and disappointment, and though they’re beautiful, they’re not easy to read. I love this one, though. I love the idea of thinking in a marrow bone.

A Prayer for Old Age

God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;

From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song’s sake a fool?

I pray—for word is out
And prayer comes round again—
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.

Colcannon is, I’m told “An Irish dish of cabbage and potatoes boiled and pounded.” I made this with kale, rather than cabbage, but they’re both brassicae, so I think that’s okay. Basically this is mashed potatoes with kale, cheese, eggs and herbs mixed in, and then baked in olive oil till they’re crispy outside and soft inside. You can use any herbs you like (or no herbs at all). I used tarragon, rosemary and basil, because I like them and that’s what I had. I made an olive hazelnut sauce to eat these with, but the boys actually at them with catsup!

Here’s The Sickbed of Cuchlainn by the Pogues.
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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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Butternut ricotta kofta with pistachio-pumpkinseed sauce

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

Here at The Ordinary we’ve had two snow days and two delayed opening in one week. This means lots of stir-craziness, an increasing amount of crankiness, and a lot of legos. We decided that life is like a box of legos. (I’m not saying it’s not like a box of chocolates, but I’m not a fan of the “You never know what you’re going to get,” part of that statement. I think you’ll find that you have a fairly good idea of what you’re going to get with a box of chocolates. It’s going to be sweet and chocolate covered, you might not know the specific filling, but there are only so many options. Often there’s a diagram, telling you exactly what you’re going to get.) Anyway, life is like a a box of legos. You can never quite find the piece you’re looking for, but you’ll find a similar piece that you’ll throw back into the box, only to realize that it’s exactly what you wanted all along. You can never find the piece you’re looking for, but you might find something totally unexpected, which works even better and sends you off in a new and wonderful direction. Some people need to open the box right away and put it together all in a rush, others take their time, and do it as the mood strikes them. Some people need to follow the directions to the letter, and go carefully to make it look just like the picture. Others throw the rules away, and put together something nobody has ever made before. Some people have a plan, they know what they want it to look like in the end, and others make make it up as they go along. This week Malcolm instructed us all to make “habitats,” and they were trying to make theirs as full of nature as possible. In the end they had a treehouse, the ruins of a castle, and lots of little storm troopers milling about. If life is like a box of legos, I have high hopes for the way theirs will turn out! Full of imagination and creativity. Unexpected but inspired.

As poet R. Lee Sharpe tells us, we’re all give the tools to work with, we’re all given the lego starter set, and what we do with it is up to us…

R. Lee Sharpe
“A Bag of Tools”

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people like you and me,
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, a book of rules;
And each must make- ere life is flown-
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

This is my idea of a fun meal! While we were eating I gave myself a little pat on the back, because I don’t think anyone else would think of combining these particular ingredients in this particular way. Grated roasted butternut squash, ricotta cheese, chickpea flour, raisins and sharp cheddar? Delicious! The kofta were plump and pleasant and sweet, and the sauce earthy and a little tart-sweet. We ate these with warm tortillas, lightly cooked kale and spinach and chopped tomatoes and olives. You could eat them with pita bread, or just as they are, dipped in the sauce. They’re gluten-free, too, if you leave out the tortillas.

Here’s The Heptones with Book of Rules, based on R. Lee Sharpe’s poem.

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Semolina, artichoke and mozzarella croquettes (with romesco sauce)

Semolina artichoke croquettes

Semolina artichoke croquettes

I spent the morning cleaning and thinking about James Baldwin. I’m reading Go Tell it on the Mountain, and it’s such a strange combination of instantly powerful and hauntingly beautiful. The scenes and sentences that stay in my head aren’t the ones I expect, the passages I find myself instantly re-reading and then reading again are not the most dramatic passages. They describe in-between times, times of working and waiting, and they’re so thoughtfully observed and beautifully expressed that they make the book human and honest and real, and make it something greater than that as well. And I spent the morning cleaning, as I spend most mornings cleaning, to try to fight the creeping dust and dirt and chaos. But you can’t tell that I’ve been cleaning, you could never tell, because I’m not very good at it and for whatever small part I clean, the rest of the house is conspiring to coat itself in dust and clutter all around me. And it does feel like a waste of time, sometimes, except that you can think about James Baldwin while you do it, and even think that he’s had the same feelings about it.

    To sweep the front room meant, principally to sweep the heavy red and green and purple Oriental-style carpet that had once been the room’s glory, but was now so faded that it was all one swimming pool of color, and so frayed in places that it tangled with the broom. John hated sweeping this carpet, for dust rose, clogging his nose and sticking to his sweaty skin, and he felt that should he sweep it forever, the clouds of dust would not diminish, the rug would not be clean. It became in his imagination his impossible, lifelong task, his hard trial, like that of a man he had read about somewhere whose curse it was to push a boulder up a steep hill, only to have the giant who guarded the hill roll hte boulder down again–and so on, forever, throughout eternity; he was still out there, that hapless man, somewhere at the other end of the earth, pushing his boulder up the hill. He had John’s entire sympathy, for the longest and hardest part of his Saturday mornings was his voyage with the broom across this endless rug; and, coming to the French doors that ended the living room and stopped the rug, he felt like an indescribably weary traveler who sees his home at last. Yet, for each dustpan he so laboriously filled at the doorsill demons added to the rug twenty more; he saw in the expanse behind him the dust that he had raised settling again into the carpet; and he gritted his teeth, already on edge because of the dust that filled his mouth, and nearly wept to think that so much labor brought so little reward.

Well, as I scrubbed the bathroom I thought about how I’ve written about dust demons, and I’ve written about cleaning and Sisyphus! And I thought how foolish it is to feel good about having written about the same things in the same way as James Baldwin, how foolish it is to compare myself to James Baldwin at all, except that he makes everything feel so human and at once so specific and so universal that everybody reading him must find revelatory similarities and sympathies. I started reading Baldwin, at this time, because I’m writing a novel (insert laugh-track hilarity here.) And I always believe that if you read well, you’ll write well. I was hoping that some of Baldwin’s fierceness and honesty and fearlessness and poetry would rub off on me. And I happen to be writing about a person who cleans (yes it is going to be as interesting as that sounds!) It’s funny how sometimes something well-done can be inspiring, but if it’s so well-done it might make you think, “Why bother? Give it up, kid!” But I suppose, as in all things, there’s a balance. And for now I’m just grateful that Baldwin made it to the end of the rug and left the room, and found time to write this haunting and beautiful novel, to give this hapless woman something to think about on a dreary January day.

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

I love food you can eat with your fingers and dip in different sauces. I always pretend I make a meal like this for the boys, but it’s really for me. David asked me to make romesco sauce, which I was glad to do. Since romesco sauce is Spanish, I decided to invent tapas to dip in it. I made these croquettes with semolina, artichoke hearts and mozzarella. They’re like little semolina dumplings…soft and dense inside, and crispy and puffy outside. As ever, I used canned artichoke hearts that are packed in brine, but you could use fresh or frozen if you like. I also made oven-roasted fries to dip in the sauce, and I sauteed some kale and spinach with golden raisins, pecans and garlic, which might have been my favorite part of the meal!

Here’s Git up, Git Out by Outkast. Cee Lo Green always helps to shake a person out of discouraged despondence.
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Mushrooms stuffed with pecans, black beans and smoked gouda

Black bean and pecan stuffed mushrooms

Black bean and pecan stuffed mushrooms

I took the day off work yesterday, not because I’m sick, although I am, but because somebody asked for my shift and I thought, “Why not?” But I felt vaguely guilty all day. I only work two days a week, so it’s absurd to take one of them off. I had the mildly panicky feeling that we had to have a really wonderful day to justify my idleness. We had to do important things, and get a lot done, and have a remarkably good time. We had to have a hundred-dollar-day, because that’s what I might have hoped to make at work. Well, we didn’t get much done, we didn’t have any great adventures or go anywhere exciting. Isaac never even got out of his pjs, and yet I wouldn’t have traded this day or the memory of this day for any amount of money. We don’t have many days off together, because I work on the weekends and our store is open and the boys are in school all week. So David took Malcolm up to the shop, and they learned how to use Malcolm’s new airbrush. And Isaac and I didn’t do much of anything. We built a lego tower. We sketched: he drew sea monsters, “in the mom style,” and I sketched him sketching. We shared a sliced pear and played a game with strange cards and shifting rules. And then he asked me if I like being a mom. “It is a home question.” I replied, “I shall have to lay myself open to such a catechist, and I am not sure that I am prepared to do it.” Of course I didn’t say that! I don’t even fully understand the meaning of the word catechist. But it is a home question, it gets to the very heart of everything, of me, of our home, of my life. Mr. Thornton’s answer is to the question “You are all striving for money. What do you want it for?” And Mr. Thornton was silent. Then he said, “I really don’t know. But money is not what I strive for.” “And what then?” And what then? Well, I told Isaac that I like being his mother, it’s the best thing in the world. And then he said he wanted to see what it felt like to take care of someone. He made me lie on the couch, close enough to Clio that I could pet her, which was an important part of the process. He got me two pillows and a glass of water. He tucked me in with two of the softest blankets imaginable. Then he “unbundled” my hair so I could sleep better. And he read to me from a book of strange facts, about a walrus that plays the flute, and an upside-down house, and a teddy bear made of gold with diamond eyes. He said, “Are you entertained? Are you entertained?” And then he was very quiet so that I would fall asleep. I didn’t sleep, but it seems as though I dreamed in flashes. And that was our afternoon. I suppose everybody needs to be taken care of sometimes, and often you don’t realize it until it comes from an unexpected place, until somebody makes you sit still for a moment. People raced by our house in the cold endless rain, and Clio sighed and groaned and refused to go into the yard. Towards evening when the rain slowed a pale greenish glow filled the sky and as the day ebbed it was as bright as it had been since morning. David and Malcolm came home. We made a good dinner, we went to a movie in the movie theater for the first time in ages. It was a good day, it was a home day, it’s what we strive for.

I like after holidays when giant mushrooms go on sale. I used giant white mushrooms–stuffing mushrooms they call them, but you could easily use portobella instead. I stuffed them with a mixture of chopped pecans, chopped mushroom stems, chopped black beans, and grated smoked gouda and sharp cheddar. I got a new food processor for Christmas, and I’m chopping everything in sight! Watch out!! They were flavored with sage, thyme, and nutmeg. They took on a nice savory-sweet almost praline-y flavor once the pecans browned.

Here’s My Baby Just Cares For Me, by Nina Simone.
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Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes, and butter-fried croquettes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

“He wouldn’t listen to her, and he clasped her desperately, his heart drowning in an immense sadness. A need for peace and an uncontrollable need for happiness invaded him; and he pictured himself married, in a nice clean little house, with no other ambition than for the two of them to live and die together inside it. They would only need a little bread to eat; and even if there was only enough for one of them, he would give her the whole piece. What was the point of wanting anything else? Was there anything in life worth more than that?” Indeed! Well, I haven’t finished the book yet, but I know how things turn out. I always read ahead, I read a few pages here and there in the middle, and I read the end. I always have, somehow knowing how it will end makes the story more compelling for me, even if it ends sadly, as this one does, I’m sorry to say. They are, of course, Etienne and Catherine from Germinal. They’re sitting on the edge of the bed in icy darkness, preparing to go back down the pit. After a winter of sickness and strife, starvation and deprivation, after months of physical and emotional abuse from her cruel lover, after ages of liking and loving and longing for each other, all unspoken, they’re at a crossroads. “Don’t do it!” You want to yell at them. “Don’t go down the mine. Run away!!” When I was little I used to imagine an island people could go to when things weren’t going well for them in plays or books or movies. An island for star-crossed lovers where everything aligned a little more benevolently, and all of the outside forces that kept them apart were nowhere to be found. It would be a place you could go despite your obstacles–money troubles couldn’t keep you away, and neither could overbearing relatives or jealous lovers or fickle fortune. And once you got there you’d be free to live out your days with your lover, just as you choose. You would grow old together. And maybe this would be hard for some of the couples that wind up on the island, because they hadn’t known each other very long in the old world, but I think they’d be glad to have the chance. After all, we each have to grow old, and it’s nice to have somebody to do it with. Romeo and Juliet were so young when they died. Juliet is thirteen. So maybe on this island they would grow up together, they would become adults together and be good friends. Catherine and Heathcliff–well, I just don’t know. They started as friends, they did grow up together, but weren’t they disappointingly cruel to each other and themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think even a magical island could provide them with a cheery future. Catherine and Etienne, though, I think they’d be okay. They’ve both suffered so much and worked so hard that they’d be glad of the peace and freedom to be kind to one another, to really love each other. They’d delight in any small warmth that they could find, and they’d kindle such a bonfire of pent-up affection they’d be able to light up a whole wintery mining village. And they wouldn’t be ignorant but happy, either. I think about Catherine a lot, about how bright and interested she is, and about how her only hope in life is to earn enough money to survive, and that her cruel man won’t be too cruel to her. I like to think about her writing stories in her head, down in the pit. But Etienne has taken such pleasure in learning, and in educating himself, and you know he’d love to teach her, too, and that he’d take pleasure in doing it, and be proud of all she learned. I like to think about what she might do, if she had some knowledge. I like to imagine them happy. They don’t expect much, and they deserve the world.

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Here we have another meal that started as a bean and vegetable stew and ended up as croquettes. THe first night we had a bright, sweet, tart stew made of navy beans, fennel, and roasted sweet potatoes. It also had lemon thyme, lemon, caper, and a handful of raisins. Very delicious! And we ate it with bulgur. The next night I smashed all the leftovers together with bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, and smoked paprika, and baked it in a loaf pan. Then I sliced it (or tried to, it fell apart a bit) and fried it all in butter. The boys said it was like hotdogs, and it kinda was! Very good, though!

Here’s Louis Armstrong with Song of the Islands

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Mashed potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

Potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

Potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

People at work have been giving me grief about my handwriting. Sometimes they’re joking, sometimes they’re exasperated and angry, but it’s always the same cry, “You have to write more neatly.” The odd thing is that in my 44 years, most of which I’ve spent a lot of time writing, nobody has ever said a negative word about my handwriting. It’s not pretty, I’m no calligrapher, but it’s always been legible. I get my point across. I’m tempted to say, “Don’t worry, my seven-year-old has a hard time reading cursive, too. You’ll get it eventually.” But I don’t. The other odd thing is that it’s surprisingly hurtful to be teased about your handwriting. It feels bad to be scolded. It feels bad for about a minute, because this is just my extremely part-time job, and I don’t really care enough to care, and when you work in a restaurant if you can’t weather some criticism barked at you by stressed-out cooks you won’t last very long. The other day we were trying to sort through the mess of papers in Malcolm’s backpack, and most of them said, “Write more neatly!!” Well! I had such a surge of sympathy for my Malcolm! He hears it all the time. The teachers are only doing their job, and I’m sure they’re kinder than my co-workers (they’d better be!!). But I’m sure it’s not just the handwriting, it’s everything. I’m sure he’s constantly told to sit still, focus, be organized, pay attention. And that’s just the school part, just the educational side. He’s got a million other things to figure out, too. The other day he needed his tiger hat. With classic Malcolmish single-mindedness and urgency, he wouldn’t even eat breakfast until he found it. He was sure all the other kids would be wearing their animal hats (last year his class was like a strange sort of zoo.) Well, they weren’t. It’s just Malcolm and his tiger hat. But he didn’t care, he’s still happy to wear it, as cool as ever a kid could be. Yesterday Malcolm was worried about a grade he got on a math test. So worried that he wouldn’t look at me or talk to me. He wouldn’t lift his head, and I found myself talking to the blankly staring, slightly surprised button eyes on the tiger’s hat, pushed back to the top of Malcolm’s head. It’s overwhelming! There’s so much for Malcolm to be responsible for, to keep track of, to figure out! He’s so bright and sweet and smart and practical, but it seems like so much. We can’t do it for him, we can’t even be there with him most of the time while he’s holding all the pieces together. It’s just so strange to be a parent, sometimes. It’s my job to show Malcolm that all of this is important: that grades are important, and neatness, and showing your work,and points, there are always points to keep track of, to be lost and never regained. It’s my job to make this matter to Malcolm, when part of me wants to shout, “Who cares what your handwriting looks like if the words you write with it are as imaginative and clever and funny as you are? Who cares if your spelling is erratic as long as your stories are so brilliant and creative? And who cares about math at all?!” But of course I would never say that, because I do care, and I know that he should, too. I know he can manage all of this, I know he can. He’s a strong swimmer, I know he can carry himself over this sea of worries and responsibilities. His mind is a vivid, teeming, beautiful place, and I know his head hurts sometimes with trying to see his way through clearly, trying to rein it all in, and trying to get it all out–trying to organize all this brilliance and show his work, and write more neatly so other people can share it, too. I understand that sometimes a person might need to lie on the floor and hide behind his tiger hat before he wades in again, I might try it myself sometime.

I think there’s nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes! They smell like a holiday while they’re cooking, and they’re so pleasing and soft and gently flavorful. I had some left over, and I wanted to make something that accentuated their comfortingness, so I made these little croquettes. I kept them very simple, but they’re not bland. It’s just mashed potatoes mixed with smushed white beans, eggs, white sharp cheddar, and rosemary and sage. Quick and easy. I made a red sauce to go with them, with some balsamic and garlic and shallots, so it’s got stronger sharper flavors which were nice against the simplicity of the croquettes.

Here’s James Brown with Mashed Potato
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