Chard and fresh mozzarella tart with raisins and shallots

Chard and fresh mozzarella tart

Chard and fresh mozzarella tart

I always feel like I’m waiting for summer to start and then one day I’ll wake up and realize we’re already well into it. These days have been like that. It’s July! It’s sweltering! The boys are rolling around the house laughing and screaming and making each other crazy. We go to the river almost every day and have the most beautiful fresh herbs and vegetables to eat. We have arrived! It’s a funny thing because I generally approach summer with a slight feeling of dread. I’m nostalgic for spring, I miss walking Isaac to school, I miss the sense of purpose I had when I was working on my novel. And all of the fun things a person looks forward to in summer strike a chord of anxiety into my strange and always-anxious heart. I love to see Malcolm happy in the water, which is his natural element, but I worry about riptides and sharks and river currents and copperhead snakes. Sunshine makes me dizzy and more confused than usual. I’m scared of thunderstorms. It’s so stupid, I know! Sometimes I even miss the simple icy indoor days of winter. Crazy. But today I was thinking that I like my house in the summer, I like my town, I like my garden, I like being with my boys all day. I like just being here. I can almost imagine this place as our summer house, where we spend long lazy days swimming and reading and writing and cooking, drinking wine and talking. I like to think of it that way. In my imagination, our home is our home away from home, and I love it here. After all, summer passes so very quickly these days. We’ll slow it down by staying still.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love the combination of chard, pine nuts and raisins. And I’ll find anyway I can to combine them. Here they are in a sort of tart. I made a jam of shallots and raisins and garlic, and I spread this on a yeasted crust. Then I topped that with a custard made with chard, fresh mozzarella and pine nuts, and of course lots of fresh basil, which is one of the best things about summer. And I put some slices of fresh mozzarella and more pine nuts on top.

Here’s Summertime by Billy Stewart.

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Pistachio tart with goat cheese, brie, fresh mozzarella and smoked paprika crust

Pistachio tart

Pistachio tart

I’ve been attempting to write query letters of late. I’m not very good at it. I’m not good at selling anything, especially if it’s something I made myself. I read a few rules for how to write a perfect query letter, and I’ve tried to follow them, but I just don’t know. I just don’t know. So I was imagining the letter I would write if I was trying to be more honest, and here it is.

Dear Literary Agent (I know I’m supposed to address this to a specific person, by name, and try to establish some sort of personal relationship or pretend that I know you, but I don’t know you, and you know I don’t know you. I’ve read about the things you like and don’t like, and they’re some of the things I like and don’t like. Maybe you’d like my novel. Maybe we could be friends.)

I’ll start by telling you that I know I can’t write a very good query letter. If I could, if I could sell my work, I wouldn’t really need an agent. Although of course I would, I know I would. I know enough about how the world works. I wish I could tell you that I’m always euphorically happy with my novel and sure that it’s great and enduring literature and that everybody should read it. But half the time I have the sinking horrible feeling that it’s dull or silly or even embarrassing. I can tell you that I always feel a warm sort of love for it, for the characters and the world they live in. I think about them sometimes as if they’re real, and thinking about them that way makes me happy. I can tell you that I have a million ideas, a million beautiful things in my head, and I will write them down with the most beautiful words I can find.

I can’t pretend that I’m familiar with the market. I read all the time, but I don’t read too much contemporary fiction. There’s a voice I don’t like, that I encounter often. A smug, clever well-wikipedia-researched voice. Or a coldness that I find unbeautiful. Of course I’ve read some modern novels that touched me very deeply, and I’ll tell you what those are, if you like.

I would love to say that I met you at a literary convention of some sort and that we discussed my work and you seemed very interested, but it’s not true, and you know it. I’ve never been to a literary convention, I’ve never been in an MFA program. I took part in some sort of novel-writing workshop once, but that was years ago, a lifetime ago, and I’m not sure the whole thing wasn’t some sort of scan. I’m not in any literary salon. You don’t know me, you don’t know my work. I guess I’m something of an outsider, but, as I’m sure you know, William Faulkner was an outsider, “[N]ow I realise for the first time what an amazing gift I had: uneducated in every formal sense, without even very literate, let alone literary, companions, yet to have made the things I made. I don’t know where it came from.” and yet, he says, “I am the best in America, by God.” Am I saying I’m as good as Faulkner? Am I saying I’m the best in America? Of course not, of course not.

I wish I knew some famous authors and they’d read my novel and had nice things to say about it. Or they hadn’t read it but said I could tell you I know them. But that’s not true either. But here’s what I imagine some famous writers might say. John Donne would say, “She stole my words for the title of her book!” And then he would say, “Of course she took them from my meditations on humans and sickness and religion, and that’s sort of what her book is about, so that’s okay.” And then TS Eliot would say, “You brat! You stole my source! You quoted the Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich, word for word! That’s not okay! Only I can do that.” And Zola would say, “Don’t think I didn’t notice you modeled a character on one of my characters, and you have him read my words aloud!” And Dostoyevsky would say, “Sure, go ahead and quote whole passages from one of my books. There’s not much I can do about it now, is there?” And Reverend Gary Davis would say, “I’m glad you like my songs enough put entire lines from them in someone else’s mouth.” And Ezra Pound would wander into the room and say, “Claire, sit on your knees to write and seal your query, And send it a thousand miles, thinking.”

Yeah. My novel is weird, but not in a clever or calculated way. I know that you receive millions of queries and many of them are from crazy people, and you must read such an odd assortment of nonsense that everything starts to sound like nonsense. I’m sure I sound crazy and awkward you’re going to read a few lines and toss me aside. I know I’ll never hear from you again, or I’ll get a polite e-mail telling me (and everybody else) that you wish us the best of luck with our project and our career. I understand that. And yet I’m hanging on to the small glimmer of hope that glows brighter every time I send a sample chapter out, that’s so hard to extinguish no matter how many rejections I receive, or how much blinding silence my words are greeted with.

So thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely in hope and promise,

Claire

Pistachio and goat cheese tart with brie and fresh mozzarella

Pistachio and goat cheese tart with brie and fresh mozzarella

Who is making lots of tarts lately? Who is? ME! I am! I did a ridiculously splurgy grocery shop before my birthday and got brie and pistachios and smoked mozzarella and pine nuts. Phew. So I combined them all in a tart. The crust has smoked paprika in it. The custard has pistachios and goat cheese and bronze fennel leaves. You could use regular fennel leaves of even tarragon, if you’d like to have that lovely anise-lemon flavor. The whole thing is topped with bits of brie, slices of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, casetlvetrano olives, pine nuts, fresh basil, and these beautiful little spicy shoots that make every picture prettier.

Here’s Please Please Please by James Brown.
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Beet and sorrel tart

Beet and sorrel tart

Beet and sorrel tart

Bruno is brash, buoyant, impulsive. He leaps into everything without thinking, he’s cheerful, likable, obnoxious. When we first meet him he’s zooming around a silent shuttered Rome in August; it’s a ghost town, everyone is gone already on vacation. He drives a sporty lancia aurelia, he drives fast and carelessly, even his horn is cheerful and obnoxious. He sees Roberto staring out his window and he calls up to ask a favor–will he make a phone call for him? Roberto invites him up to make the call himself. With the anxious self doubt of a man who spends a lot of time alone, he second guesses his decision to help, but assures himself that it will be okay. Next to Bruno, Roberto seems small, pale, quiet and serious, but somehow they hit it off, and Bruno persuades Roberto to go for a drink with him so that he can repay his kindness. What follows is the road trip at the center of Il Sorpasso, Dino Riso’s beautiful Commedie all’italiana starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vittorio Gassman. The heart of the film is the unlikely friendship between Bruno and Roberto. On the surface it seems like a morality tale: light and dark, angel and devil, the moral man tempted by the immoral man. But it’s far more complicated than that, and this is what makes it more honest and beautiful. Bruno, affable and social, has an easy way with people. He’s friendly and flirtatious, and he impresses Roberto with his schemes to seduce many of the women they meet. But he always fails to do so. He’s alone at the beginning of the film, and alone again at the end. And he’s surprised by Roberto’s flashes of humor and insight, by the strength of his personality, though it be quietly expressed. As the story of their friendship unfolds, through the streets and cafes and nightclubs of 1960s Italy, the camera lingers on other people all around them. Not fleetingly but thoughtfully, a real wondering pause that treats the characters not as extras but as people with fascinating stories of their own, which we could discover if only we chose to follow them instead of Bruno and Roberto. Many times throughout the film Roberto nearly leaves Bruno, to make his own way back to Rome. But he always stays in the end, and they develop almost a brotherly relationship. They talk about keeping in touch when they return to Rome, and you wonder if it would actually happen. Bruno plays and talks and sings, Roberto watches and thinks, and they speed along the Via Aurelia, passing everyone in their way.

Beet and sorrel tart

Beet and sorrel tart

Beets and sorrel! They just make sense! One is tart and bright, one is sweet and earthy. I decided to combine them in this tart, which also uses the beet greens and a handful of other fresh herbs. The beets (from Sandbrook Meadow farm) are so pretty, I just sliced them and roasted them and scattered them on top of the tart. The crust has a little cornmeal in it for extra crispiness. My oven is still broken, so I actually cooked this in the toaster oven on the toaster tray!!

Here’s Peppino di Capri’s Per Un Attimo.

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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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Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded mushrooms and eggplant

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded mushrooms and eggplant

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded mushrooms and eggplant

Yesterday we had torrential rain on and off all day. In the middle of the grey morning, Malcolm came home sick from school. We sat on the couch with his soft blanket and soft grey dog, and he ate a warm blueberry bagel, and asked if I’d read aloud to him from Go Saddle the Sea, one of my favorite books when I was his age. It’s the tale of a boy named Felix traveling through Spain on a beloved, bad-tempered mule. The boy is about Malcolm’s age, and he’s fair and strong and smart and resourceful, like my Malcolm is. It felt so perfect to sit with Malcolm on this icy wet day, warm and dry, reading this book, thinking about how, when I first read it and loved it, I could never have guessed about Malcolm, never have guessed that someday I’d have a boy so sweet and clever and complex. Malcolm is so strong and capable and level-headed that I’ve come to rely on him to help me with so many things, and it seemed so strange to see him miserable and sick, lying on the couch “crying without even trying.” I’ve probably mentioned it before, but one of my favorite quotes of all time is this one, “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.” It’s Alyosha from Brother’s Karmazov, who is kind and thoughtful to everybody that he meets. It might sound condescending, but I think the point is that we were all children once, and everybody gets sick sometimes. We’re all in it together, we’re all here to care for each other. I think about this passage sometimes when I’m waiting on tables, or talking to co-workers or teachers or total strangers, when I’m feeling bitter and ill-used, when somebody is rude to me. It’s hard sometimes, but with an effort I can remember that they were children once, they’re still somebody’s children, somebody cared for them as I care for my boys. I can remember that they have been sick, or imagine that they’re even in present pain, that they certainly have cares and worries that I’ll never know about. Yesterday I was thinking that being sick makes us into children again. It makes us needy and vulnerable. Everybody wants to be taken care of when they’re not feeling well, no matter how old and important they may be. Malcolm’s so strong and capable, he’s growing up so fast, he does everything so fast, he never stands still. It felt like a rare gift to have this rainy day with him, though I’m sorry he was so miserable. It’s like a rare chance to slow things down a little, to travel back in time to his (younger) childhood, to my childhood. It seems like a reminder that though we’re always looking forward, always looking inward, everything goes in cycles and turns in circles, and we can take an afternoon to sit under blankets and read an old book, watch cartoons, eat crackers and ginger beer, doze and wake. A day well-spent.

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded eggplant and mushrooms

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded eggplant and mushrooms

This was really two meals. The first night I marinated and breaded some mushrooms and slices of eggplant until they were tender and crispy. We ate these over couscous, with a sauce of pistachios and castelvetrano olives. The second night, I made some pizza dough, spread the sauce over, topped it with a mixture of smoked gouda, sharp cheddar and mozzarella, and then scattered the leftover mushrooms and eggplant over that. Delicious!

Here’s A Tribe Called Quest with Excursions, “I said, well daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles”

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Spinach, tarragon and ricotta quiche with a pecan crust

Spinach, tarragon and ricotta quiche with a pecan crust

Spinach, tarragon and ricotta quiche with a pecan crust

Today is spring break! Just today. They were supposed to have a whole week, but after all of the snow days this winter they’re left with just this one day. So we’ve packed a whole week’s worth of fun and adventure into this day. To that end, we’ve … cleaned their room! Watched some cartoons! drawn some cartoons! Played with legos! Yes, it’s a vacation they’ll never forget. And we went for a walk. As ever, Clio pulled ahead, lunging at every squirrel and cat and bird, and the boys trailed behind, talking. I heard them earnestly discussing who they were going to be. They were deciding what creatures they would be in the world of their invention. How they would look, and what they’d wear, and how they’d get along with each other. They are telling stories as we walked. And then they caught up with me and told me they’d just downloaded themselves into the world my brother and I invented when we were little. All of our imaginary worlds are joining together to form one great world without end! It made me so happy to hear them talking, and all the more so because I myself was walking along ahead of them completely lost in the world of my novel, creating a world of my own. It’s become so real to me, and so complicated, and I’m so close to it that I only think I ever consider it rationally when I’m out walking, trying not to think about it. Then I catch glimpses of the whole world and all the characters in it, and I wonder what they’ll do next, I wonder how the whole thing will turn out. And it makes me so happy to catch these glimpses of the world I’ve created, most of the time, when it’s going well. I’m glad the boys have that, too. I hope they never lose the ability to create worlds for themselves and each other. I would wish that superhero skill for everyone I know, because sometimes this real world is a little too real. And now, a novel gets written one word at a time, it might be swirling around in my head in great waves, but it comes out one word at a time (and then that word gets erased and replaced with a few, possibly better, words, and then they get erased…) so I’d better get to work.

Spinach, ricotta, tarragon quiche

Spinach, ricotta, tarragon quiche

This is similar to a perfectly ordinary spinach quiche, except that it also has ricotta and mozzarella, which makes it juicy. And it has tarragon, which makes it very fresh and springlike. It’s simple, and made more interesting with the addition of the pecan crust.

Here’s Common with In My Own World

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Pizza with chard, golden raisins and pine nuts

IMG_3452“O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!”

“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.”

I love this exchange. It is, of course, spoken by Hamlet and his friend Horatio, and it is, of course, followed by “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I love the idea that a “stranger” is not just a new or unfamiliar person, but a wondrous strange person as well, and I love the implication that we’re all strangers. We’re all full of wondrously inexplicable ideas and emotions and inspiration. We’re all new somewhere, we’re all unusual to someone. And therefore we should welcome strangeness in others, even if they happen to be ghosts yelling at us from underneath the stage. Hamlet and Horatio are students of Wittenberg University, and are presumably deep in the study of rational thought, they probably both believe, as most students do, that it’s their job to understand everything and explain everything. But the ghostly visit teaches them that this isn’t possible for anyone. Nobody’s ideology is broad enough to hold everything on heaven and earth, nor even to hold dreams of everything. And this is why it’s important to welcome what you don’t understand, and make room for dreams of it in your own philosophy, because you’re asking others to make room for you in theirs.

Pizza with chard, pine nuts and golden raisins

Pizza with chard, pine nuts and golden raisins

This is my all-time favorite pizza! Why? Because chard, raisins and pine nuts is my favorite meal, and the only thing that can make it better is the addition of some melty cheese and a thin crispy crust, that’s why!

Here’s Stranger Blues by Elmore James

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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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Roasted butternut, spinach, raisin and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

I’m writing a novel. If you’ve spent any time with me you know this fact, because I go on and on about it to the point of tedium; ad nauseam, ad infinitum. I talk about it frequently, I think about it constantly, I dream about it every night. What I don’t do all that often is write it. I spent all day yesterday–all day–writing two scenes I’d thought about for ages, and I wrote…a couple of pages, maybe, and I’m not sure they’re any good. I wake up every morning determined to get on with it. I have a picture in my head of myself, in a frenzy of writing, spewing out page after perfect page. This doesn’t happen. I’m so easily distracted and discouraged. I’m so often plagued by saucy doubts and fears. I could write it now, but if I tried, instead, to write it in fifteen minutes, I’d write completely different words! I’d have completely different ideas! How do I know it wouldn’t come out better if I waited an hour, or a day, or a week. Maybe something would happen between now and then that would alter the course of history (in the world of my novel.) Well this morning, when I thought about writing my novel, I kept finding a song in my head, and I’ve decided that this is my new novel-motivational track. It’s Precisely the Right Rhyme, by Gang Starr. It’s about knowing that what you say is the right thing to say, and that you’re saying it at the right time. It’s about confidence. I’ve been thinking about confidence a lot lately. It’s not something I possess great quantities of, it’s not something I’ve passed down to my boys. Instead I’ve got a bizarre mixture of crippling insecurity and bafflingly misplaced arrogance. Confidence is not even something I admire, necessarily. I don’t respect people who are all cockiness and swagger. I’m attracted to humility and moved by human weakness. And yet, and yet…I’m starting to recognize confidence as an essential part of the creative process, if not of life. On Malcolm’s basketball team it was never the tallest or most agile kids that played best, it was the kids who acted like the ball belonged to them, the basket belonged to them, the whole damn court was theirs and everybody else was in their way. So that’s how I’m going to write, with “everybody else” being the twin demons of doubt and distraction who fly at me from every side. This understanding applies to all things. So maybe you’re not trying to write a novel (although, honestly sometimes it seems that most people are!) But whatever you’re trying to do, tell yourself you’re doing it just right, at just the right time. Tell yourself till you believe it! In the words of Troy McClure, “Get confident, stupid!”

And the words of Gang Starr,

    My subject matter and context are blessed
    Vocal inflection connects, it’s a slugfest
    Ladies approach to hear quotes from the spokesman
    Thoughts are like oceans for my lyrics to float in
    I’m absolutely astute so salute

    Just get with the words and the way I command ya
    Cause you’re in the right place, and luckily it’s the right time
    And since I’m inclined, I’ll kick precisely the right rhymes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love greens, pine nuts, raisins and garlic. It’s the perfect combination for me. In this instance I’ve packed all that into a pie with some grated roasted butternut squash and some mozzarella cheese. I made this pie for a bunch of people to eat standing around without plates or utensils, and it worked well in this regard. It would be nice for a party or a picnic, I think, for this reason.

Here’s Gang Starr with Precisely the Right Rhymes.
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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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