Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

There’s a crow in my backyard making the strangest noises: throaty, urgent, with just an edge of rudeness. They’ve been all around my house all day, these crows, calling to each other, calling to me, trying to tell me something. It’s not just what they’re saying, either, it’s the way they fly as well, it feels studied, with a pattern and a purpose. It’s quite dramatic and beautiful. And it’s all around my house, circling my world. Of course, once I ventured outside of my house, beyond my block, I realize that they’re all over town behaving strangely, these crows. It’s spring, they’re in a tizzy. But as long as I’m sitting in my own home, searching for meaning everywhere, it feels as thought they’re speaking just to me. I passed a man on the way to school today who was talking to some friends in a truck idling in front of his house. He said that every morning, when he steps onto his porch, he sees the vulture who is nesting in the abandoned house next door, and the vulture is staring down at him, watching his every move. It doesn’t bode well for his day, he fears. I’ve been studying the calls and flight patterns of birds, lately, because I’m applying for an exciting new job. I want to be an augur. It’s a stressful job, I know, with a lot of responsibility, but I feel up for the task. My duties, as an augur, will involve studying the flight paths of birds, listening to how they sing or call, identifying patterns and directions, determining the kind of bird, and whether it flies in a group or alone. If a flock of birds takes into the air all at once, in a confusion of movement, in certain waves, with small sure speed, like an explosion of fireworks, I will know what this means. If a lone bird soars far above the clouds in great lazy circles, I will understand what that bird is telling me, because I will take the auspices. I will decide what is auspicious. Of course the job of an augur is not to determine the future, but to decide if a path already begun upon is the right path to take, if a plan of action is pleasing to the gods. And the gods show us this on the wings of birds, the delicate, powerful, inexplicable, beautiful wings of birds. And this is where I think I would shine as an augur. Because I always think birds are beautiful, I love all of their calls and songs, I love the birds with dusky feathers as well as those with jewel-like plumage. I admire vultures and revere crows, practically anything a bird can do seems like a happy portent to me, except maybe flying into a window. So if you want some good news, you want to feel hopeful about a project you’ve started or a journey you’re taking, come to me. I will read your auspices, I will watch the birds busy in you back yard, feeding in your garden or floating dreamily high above your house, and I will find encouraging signs there.

Toasted almond shortbread cake

Toasted almond shortbread cake

This cake was inspired by memories of a good humor toasted almond bar. It has a simple, shortbread like base, with chocolate chips, of course! And it’s topped with a crunchy almond crumb.

Here’s Flying Birds by the RZA

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Pecan & coconut brownies

Coconut pecan brownies

Coconut pecan brownies

There’s an ad I’ve been seeing a lot lately, when I try to watch my shows on the computer. It promises an “all new more everything plan,” and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that it has me teetering on the thin line between amusement and despair. First of all, do we really need to reinforce the image of Americans as inarticulate greedy toddlers? MORE MORE MORE NEW NEW NEW!! No, we don’t, we truly don’t. Second of all, thank you once again, marketing-Americans for reducing words to a state of flaccid meaninglessness. It’s like a drug, it started with fairly mild words, “wholesome” or “goodness,” words that most actual people don’t actually use very often and that never had that much vitality. But our tolerance for those words grew to the point that we don’t even notice them anymore, it’s like we didn’t even hear them. So it spread to words that once had some power and complexity, “awesome,” “extreme,” even “power” itself. And now those have about as much flavor as gum that’s been chewed up, spit out, and stuck to the bottom of somebody’s shoe for a few weeks. So it’s on to the really big words. What’s bigger than everything? And this is the idea that keeps going around and around in my head. Everything? Really? More everything? More money, more sunshine, more inspiration, more creativity, more good-will, more intelligence, more patience, more ice cream cones, more cool non-leather shoes, more homes for stray dogs, more empathy for everyone in the world? And then, the next logical question…more everything? Are you sure? More poverty, more rain, more earthquakes, more misunderstanding, more tetanus shots, more rotten raspberries in a bowl that looked so perfect, more war, more hatred, more chaos, more ignorance, more cruelty? More of all of that? And more nothing? Because that’s part of everything, too, isn’t it? Anything, something, nothing, it’s all part of everything. Does this all-new plan offer a glimpse into the abyss? Because I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I’m not ready for all being and nothingness. So be careful what you sign up for, read the fine print, and ask yourself if you’re prepared to take on the extreme awesome power of the all new everything plan.

Coconut pecan brownies

Coconut pecan brownies

Speaking of everything, these wholesomely delicious brownies have it all! They’re soft and flavorful with a crispy top. They have a nice texture because of the coconut and pecans, which are both ground up so that they’re surprising but recognizable.

Here’s The Ramones with I Wanted Everything.

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Malcolm’s strawberry surprise cookies

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

I like most flavors. I love some more than others, obviously, but there aren’t many that I actively dislike. I suppose this is why I’ve always been impatient with picky eaters. I just don’t understand not liking food! And then along came Isaac. He’s hard to feed. I get angry with him sometimes, because he seems to decide he doesn’t like something before he’s even tasted it! He seems to not like something just because I made it! It hurts my feelings! I made something the other day and he liked it at first, but after a few bites he put it down. “How is that possible!?!?” I wanted to yell. But he said, “I like the first flavor, and the middle flavor, but the last flavor is something I don’t like.” And then it struck me that we taste things differently. I suppose this is obvious and I should have known it all along, but I hadn’t really thought about it before. For me, tasting something is an immediate experience, for Isaac it’s a journey. All of those wine labels that mention top notes and bottom notes, which leave me feeling a little perplexed? Isaac would get that, he’d know what they mean. He’s got a complicated taster. I used to joke with David, when we first met, that he was more of a discerning eater because he hadn’t deadened his taste buds by burning them on hot coffee and tea as often as I had, but in truth, I think he’s just got a more complicated taster, and he passed it on to our boys. It’s become a cliché to say that children like bland foods, and to give them plain pasta and plain potatoes and bread, but I don’t think this is true at all. Most of the foods Isaac likes are bursting with flavor: goat cheese and olives and capers. I suppose it’s a question of letting them try everything and decide for themselves what they like, and recognizing that it’s okay if they like different things. I’d like to be able to taste the way Isaac does, to think about the first and middle and the last of it. I’m going to give it a try, to really think about all of the flavors. And this understanding applies to all things. I’ve long thought that one person’s courage is another person’s lack of imagination. It’s not necessarily brave to face fears that you don’t feel or dangers that you’re not aware of because they hadn’t occurred to you. We’re less likely to be impatient with somebody or call them a coward if we understand that they might just have a more complicated and active imagination. We’ve just got to learn to slow down and take that walk with them, and be sure to notice every part of the journey.

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

Chocolate covered strawberry cookies

Malcolm invented these cookies, and when he was describing them and I wasn’t quite understanding it, he said, “I’ve got a very complicated mind.” He does, and I’m glad of it. And these cookies were delicious. They’re quite large, like little cakes really, and this recipe makes only twelve of them. They’re like giant thumb print cookies, with fresh strawberries hidden under a layer of dark chocolate. They were delicious! We all decided that if we made them again we’d add a little jam or nutella under the strawberry, so the whole thing doesn’t slide out when you bite into it. I melted chocolate chips on top of the cookies and then spread that across them, but you could also melt chocolate separately and spread that over, if that seems easier to you.

Here’s Sugar Never Tasted So Good by the White Stripes
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Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Malcolm was a little cantankerous last week (to use one of his vocabulary words). He was slightly brittle. He became upset and annoyed very easily, he yelled and cried over the slightest things. He goes through these moods sometimes (don’t we all?). They don’t last long and I’m sure they’re part of a growth spurt or hormones or some other completely normal and natural occurrence. And I always deal with the situation with my usual gracious composure. I certainly didn’t yell back at him. I certainly didn’t yell, “You want to see a tantrum? I’ll show you a tantrum!” because that would have been horrible parenting, mama. I didn’t ask him over and over and over if something was bothering him, something at school, maybe? Something with his friends? Because that kind of pestering never works and everybody knows it only annoys the pesteree. On Friday he went to breakfast at one friend’s house and after school he went for a sleepover at another friend’s house, and since I had to work Saturday morning, I didn’t think I’d see him for quite a few hours. So Thursday night we were cuddling and reading in Isaac’s bed, as we always do, but it was much later than usual and I was tired and I just wanted to go downstairs and switch myself off. Malcolm grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go and said I should stay just a few more minutes. Which I should have done. I should have stayed and read with them. I shouldn’t have gotten cranky and angry and gone downstairs. All that night and the next day and the next I felt bad about it. What is it about these small moments of regret that are so poignant? Why do these seemingly insignificant missed opportunities take on so much weight and meaning? I suppose because it hurts to realize we’ve underestimated the importance of a particular moment, and in doing so we’ve lost it. So the thing to do is to notice everything and appreciate everything, to understand how valuable these few minutes are even as they’re passing. To savor every moment of connection and recognize it for the glowing thing it is. And, of course, to be glad that no event is finite, it’s all part of a longer chain of moments flying by. This week Malcolm is back to his sweet cheerful self. He woke up Monday morning whistling “Let’s go Fly a Kite,” he didn’t get annoyed when I asked him five times if he had his homework and his lunch and his safety patrol belt. And last night he did his homework up on my bed while I put laundry away. We were looking up words in the dictionary, which is one of my favorite pastimes. We were laughing at the word cantankerous. And Clio came and stood between us, just stood and hovered, very quietly and seriously for more than a few minutes. Not a very spectacular incident, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it any time soon.

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis

What? Cadbury mini-egg clafoutis?!?! That’s right!! It’s probably not an official clafoutis, which as we all know is a French tart made of cherries baked in a sweet batter. It’s a tart made of mini-eggs baked in a sweet batter! I added ground almonds to the mix, because I love the flavor of them. I made this twice, the first time I added almond extract, and the second time I left it out. Both kinds were tasty. Also, the first time I sprinkled all the eggs on top before baking and they sank to the bottom. The second time I added them gradually as the batter cooked and solidified and they were more evenly distributed. I liked it both ways. The eggs stay pleasantly soft, so you don’t feel as though you’re cracking your teeth on something hard in the soft batter, and you get just a little crunch from the shell. Nice.
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Raspberry chocolate biscotti ice cream

Raspberry chocolate biscotti ice cream

Raspberry chocolate biscotti ice cream

“Would you rather have one weakness nobody could detect, or no weaknesses at all?”

“No weaknesses at all.”

“No, would you rather have one weakness nobody could detect or no weaknesses at all?”

“Well I just don’t see why anybody would want a weakness if they could choose to have no weaknesses.”

“If you have a weakness and you wish to get rid of it, then you’re not yourself any more! Your weakness is part of who you are!”

These are the wise words of our Isaac, eight years old. At the beginning of the year when getting-to-know-you exercises abound, Isaac brought home a self-portrait with bright blue eyes, and on the bottom he wrote that his blue eyes and his heart murmur make him special. He’s got a heart murmur he won’t grow out of, and when they first diagnosed it, he thought it might be a defect, but now he’s embraced it as something that makes him different, something to be proud of. After all, there’s nobody on earth with a heart like Isaac’s! I love to think about Isaac thinking about these things. I love to think about him thinking about what makes a person a person, and thinking with such grounded generosity about the weakness that everybody on earth must inevitably have. Of course a weakness is a vulnerability, which is why we keep our weaknesses as secret as we can, and we hope that no one will detect it. Unless we love somebody, and then we open our hearts to them, and trust them with the knowledge of all or our weaknesses and foibles; we share our good and our bad. This takes great courage, but it turns weakness into strength, and Isaac does this better than anyone. He shares his remarkable thoughts, his uncommon contemplations, and his unguarded love with a warmth and wisdom that make him as strong as anyone I know.

Raspberry chocolate biscotti ice cream

Raspberry chocolate biscotti ice cream

I have a terrible weakness for ice cream! We’ve been snowed in so many days that I’ve been baking through bag after bag of flour. On one day I made croissants and biscotti, both from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook. We changed the biscotti recipe slightly, because Malcolm wanted to add almonds and chocolate. So we added some almond extract, too, and a pinch of cinnamon. They turned out nice! In order to coat one side of them with chocolate I devised the ingenious method of placing chocolate chips along one side when they’re returned to the oven for the final ten minute drying-out period, and then spreading the chocolate once it softened. I think I might have baked them slightly too long, because they were extra crumbly when I tried to slice them, but we put those crumbs to good use! We took any of the half-pieces and mangled pieces and tiny pieces, and we ground them up even further in a food processor with some bittersweet chocolate chips, and we added them to raspberry ice cream. (Wintertime raspberry ice cream, with framboise and raspberry jam rather than fresh raspberries). This turned out deeeeeeelicious!

Here’s The Weakest Part by Yo La Tengo.

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Oatmeal chocolate chip pecan praline cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip pecan praline cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip pecan praline cookies

Where I’m from, the kids used to run around the neighborhood like wild things. We’d chart the in-between places, behind garages alongside hedges, in parking lots and alleys. We played tag and hide and seek, we ran around with bows and arrows made out of sticks and string, and we never crossed the street. We played stickball and climbed trees and spied: we had secret hand signals and elaborate stories about the goings on of the neighborhood. At night we dared each other to run down to the next corner and touch the mailbox. It was a small town and when we were older we’d walk the streets endlessly, night and day, looking for anyone we knew. When somebody learned to drive we’d all pile in the car and drive around the streets slowly, looking for anyone we knew or we’d drive right out of town and feel like we were free, like we were flying. We’d go to parties and drink sweet sickening drinks and dance to the Beastie Boys and the Violent Femmes. In the summer we’d drive to the shore and sneak over tall walls onto private beaches, and swim in the ocean at night. It was all remarkably uneventful, though it felt full of meaning and drama at the time.

I like songs about home, about where people are from and when they’re from. Like Mos Def’s Habitat.

    When I think of home, my remembrance of my beginning
    Laundromat helping ma dukes fold the bed linen
    Chillin in front my building with my brother and them
    Spending nights in Bushwick with my cousins and them
    Wise town and Beat Street, federal relief
    Slowly melting in the morning grits we used to eat
    Sticking to your teeth and teeth is hard to keep
    With every flavor Now & Later only a dime apiece
    Old timers on the bench playing cards and thangs
    Telling tales about they used to be involved in things
    Start to drinking, talking loud, cussing up and showing out
    On the phone, call the cops, pick’em up, move’em out
    And it’s all too common to start wildin
    I’m a pirate on an island seeking treasure known as silence
    And it’s hard to find

Or Dungeon Family’s White Gutz

    Sitting on 400 wides that’s what they love
    Incense swingin from the mirror that’s what they love
    Six course licked with the glaze that’s what they love
    drive with the dealership tag that’s what they love
    hairbone strayed on my shoulder that’s what they love
    the smell of new leather in the cold that’s what they love
    strawhat V-neck t’s that what they love
    moonroof open blowing smoke that’s what they love
    Romeo cologne every week that’s what they love
    that’s what they love

Or K’naan’s My Old Home

    My old home smelled of good birth
    Boiled red beans, kernel oil and hand me down poetry
    It’s brick white-washed walls widowed by first paint
    The tin roof top humming songs of promise while time is
    Locked into demonic rhythm with the leaves
    The trees had to win
    Hugging them, loving them a torturous love
    Buggin’ when
    It was over and done
    The round cemented pot kept the rain drops cool
    Neighbors and dwellers spatter in the pool
    Kids playin football with his hand and sock
    We had what we got, and it wasn’t a lot

So the subject of today’s Sunday Interactive Playlist is Where I’m From. It’s a song about the place and time that made you. The song doesn’t have to be about where you’re from, or even where the singer is from, just a song about somebody’s home.

Oatmeal chocolate chip pecan praline cookies

Oatmeal chocolate chip pecan praline cookies

Two recipes in a row with pecan praline in them? Yes, indeed. I had some leftover, and I thought it would be good with chocolate chips. So I actually made even more, because it’s so completely easy to make. And then I combined it with oats and put it in cookies. Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are our natural anti-depressant, here at The Ordinary, and it’s been a long, cold winter!

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist. Add what you like! Or make a suggestion in the comments and I’ll add it through the week.

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Meyer lemon and clementine ice cream with pecan praline

Meyer lemon and clementine ice cream with pecan praline

Meyer lemon and clementine ice cream with pecan praline

In September 1956, Life Magazine published a Photo Essay called The Restraints: Open and Hidden. The photographs, by Gordon Parks, show the everyday comings and goings of an extended family in rural Alabama: A woman holding her great grandchild, children playing by a giant tree, an elderly couple posing for a portrait, people outside of stores or in their homes. These are civil rights-era photographs, and they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen. The images of this era that I’m familiar with, some of them taken by Parks himself, are black and white, and they’re full of drama and tension and import. They show great men and women doing great things. Park’s pictures for this photo essay are in color and they show ordinary people doing ordinary things. They’re glowingly beautiful, vibrantly pretty. They’re almost defiantly colorful. You can almost imagine a world in which “colored only” didn’t refer to a hateful and demeaning discriminatory practice but to the flowers on a little girl’s dress. I suppose it’s easier to understand a historical situation, to empathize with people that lived in another time and another place if we relate to them. Looking at these pictures we’re reminded of our grandparents, our parents, our children or ourselves as children.
segregation14
The way Parks presents his subjects, with so much affection and clarity, we feel that we love them, and this brings home the realities of fear and injustice in a new and powerful manner. We see people struggling for things that we take for granted every day … the right to have an ordinary life, and to carry on with the beautifully mundane littleness of every day without dread or worry. Right down to posing for a picture. From The New York Times photo blog, LENS,
    “Mrs. Causey, a teacher in a ramshackle one-room schoolhouse in Shady Grove, Ala., was quoted in the piece as advocating integration as “the only way through which Negroes will receive justice.” One of the most outspoken members of the Thornton family, she helped to organize voter drives and teach community members the Bill of Rights, the recital of which from memory was a prerequisite for African-Americans to vote in many Southern states.

    As Life later reported, Mrs. Causey’s candor and activism infuriated white supremacists, who taunted the couple about their participation in the photo essay. Service stations refused to sell gas to Mr. Causey, a woodcutter and farmer. He was soon accused of owing money on his truck, which was seized by alleged creditors. Without it, he was unable to work. Two weeks after the photo essay was published, Mrs. Causey was fired from her teaching job. Unable to make a living and fearing for their safety, the couple moved out of Alabama.”

Joanne Wilson was another of Parks’ subjects, and she and her family thought the project was worth it, despite the risks, and they understood the very deep importance of their participation. “My family saw the photo essay as an opportunity to advance the cause of civil rights,” said Michael Wilson, Mrs. Wilson’s son and the family historian. “These pictures were going to be published in a national magazine. People across the country would clearly see the problem. They could see our plight. Maybe then we could get help.” It’s a brave and hopeful act. And the career of Gordon Parks was a remarkable one. He wrote poetry, painted, wrote symphonies, choreographed ballets and made films. He directed Shaft! He said that all of his work was about freedom, about “Not allowing anyone to set boundaries, cutting loose the imagination, and then making the new horizons.”

Meyer lemon and clementine ice cream with pecan praline

Meyer lemon and clementine ice cream with pecan praline

It might seem crazy to make ice cream in January. But this ice cream is like a small blast of summer–warm and sweet and tart, with little crunchy deposits of pecan praline. It’s not hard to make, and it’s very easy to eat!!

Here’s a scene from Gordon Park’s film The Learning Tree, which he wrote, directed, produced and scored.
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Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti-meringue topping

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti meringue topping

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti meringue topping

Last night we went out for Indian food and we brought our restaurant-drawing book. Malcolm set us all the task of drawing clowns, so we did.

clowns

The restaurant was glowing, the food was good, the boys were happy–we all were! And all night long I had the strangest dreams. I dreamt that David and I went to the bank, and there was such a long line that everybody waiting got a chair to sit in. David went to get some food, and then the bank teller called my number, 76, like I was in a deli line. I said, “Oh, but it’s not my turn next!” And everybody explained to me that I’d won a special opportunity to partake in “Community Supported Banking.” Everybody waiting with me, surrounding me in their chairs, would be given a special rate (for what? I don’t know!) as long as we all agreed to be responsible for each other’s financial situation from that moment forward. I woke up at that point and I thought about how I’d be anxious to be responsible for other people’s financial situation because they might be dishonest or irresponsible, and then I felt bad for having such a dim view of human nature. When I fell asleep again I dreamed that we were at the ocean and Malcolm jumped in the waves even though it was winter time and icy cold. We laughed and looked around for a towel, and then a wave the size of the ocean came down upon us, and I couldn’t find Isaac and Malcolm was far away and I could see David but I couldn’t reach him. And then David woke me up and told me I’d been crying. I’ll spare you the account of my other dreams of the night, but they were many, and they were strange. We’ve determined that we often have strange dreams when we eat Indian food, I wonder if it’s true, or if it’s just a self-fulfilling superstitious belief. Winsor McCay believed that Welsh Rarebit could give you strange dreams. In 1904 he began drawing a cartoon in which each day a person would eat Welsh Rarebit and then have bizarre, sometimes frightening dreams.

dreams-of-the-rarebit-fiend

The stories became so popular that Edwin Porter made a beautiful film version in 1906.

I’ve been thinking about Winsor McCay a lot recently, because each morning when I finally shake off my dreams and clear my eyes, I see long icicles hanging from the wires outside our window, and I know that our world is covered in frost and snow and it has been for weeks and it probably will be for weeks. I wonder if instead of waking up, I’m still dreaming, and I’m in Slumberland with Little Nemo, exploring Jack Frost’s palace.

Slumberland

Slumberland

I was busy helping Malcolm plan a trip to Planet Mercury yesterday, and I never got around to posting a Sunday Interactive Playlist, so this week we’ll do a Monday Interactive Playlist, and the subject is sleep. Songs about sleeping, songs about not sleeping, songs that make you sleepy.

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti-meringue topping

Cherry chocolate tart with amaretti-meringue topping

This tart is deeeeeeelicious, if I do say so myself and I do. It’s got a rich dense bottom layer, a juicy middle layer of cherry jam and bittersweet chocolate chips, and a top layer of amaretti meringue. What’s amaretti meringue, you ask? Well, it’s a meringue, and I hoped it would turn out like amaretti cookies, and it did! I’m so pleased! I’m not usually very good at making meringue, but this one turned out crisp and light, just as I hoped it would. I think if the weather was more humid we might have some problems with mushiness, but at the moment everything is wintery dry, and finally we’ve found a reason to be glad of that!

Here’s your link to the collaborative playlist of SLEEPY SONGS. Perfect accompaniment to my hibernation!

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Hazelnut blackberry pear tart and almond strawberry tart (with chocolate, of course!)

Blackberry, pear and hazelnut tart

Blackberry, pear and hazelnut tart

I think I had a big stupid smile on my face the entire time we watched Melody. Why the big 103-minute idiot grin? It wasn’t because the movie is sweet, although it certainly is. Nor because it is a happy movie, although in many ways it’s that, too. It was because it just felt so perfect. Everything about it was exactly as it needed to be. I could imagine the filmmakers watching the dailies and brimming over with gladness that they’d captured the shots they’d captured, and then adding just the right soundtrack, editing it perfectly, and sitting in the dark, full of joy, watching the finished movie. It’s an odd film in many ways. It’s called Melody, and it tells the story of a sweet sort of romance between Daniel Lassiter and Melody Perkins, but it’s almost more focussed on Daniel’s friendship with the kind but unruly urchin Ornshaw. Daniel is a child of relative privilege and Ornshaw is not, and the film reminded me of Machucha in that their friendship seems unexpected and almost discouraged, because it crosses certain unwritten boundaries; boundaries that adults create between certain types of people, boundaries which make no sense to children, but which they learn to honor and fear. And although the film is exceedingly sweet, it’s never saccharine. It’s too real for that. Apparently it’s Alan Parker’s first film script, and it’s beautifully told. The story unfolds in small meaningful moments, just like real friendships, just like life. We see spells of loneliness, moments of connection, misunderstandings and disappointments. When Melody and Daniel first spend any time together, they don’t really talk at all. She plays Frere Jaques on her recorder, and he joins in on his cello. They don’t play particularly well, but it feels as though they’re happy to be talking to each other. Like everything else in the movie, it’s the messiness and imperfection that makes the scene so beautifully human. Nothing is over-told, or too carefully explained, and we feel like we’re just watching the world from Daniel’s point of view. The camera catches the expressions of the people around him, and though the adults are almost grotesque, often cruel, and never capable of the clarity of thought that the children achieve, we still feel a certain affection for all of them. But why must they complicate everything? Why can’t they see how it should be? And though the film is sweet, it’s also anarchic, almost surreally so towards the end, in a scene that reminded me of Vigo’s Zero for Conduct. I think part of the reason that Melody made me so happy is that I’d never heard of it before about a week ago. It’s been around since 1971, and I had no idea it existed. It feels like a discovery! I found it because I’ve been obsessed with Nina Simone’s version of the song In the Morning. It turns out the original is by the Bee Gees (the Bee Gees!) and is just part of the ridiculously addictive soundtrack to this film. I love all the songs! Who would have thought? I love it all! I wonder which other films are out there, waiting to be discovered?

Strawberry chocolate almond tart

Strawberry chocolate almond tart

Here at The Ordinary, we call these tarts “Dormouse pies.” Because they contain dormice? Certainly not! Because they were inspired by the hazelnut and blackberry diet of a dormouse. They have a shortbread crust, a layer of jam, and a crunchy top layer of nuts and chocolate. I made two small tarts, one with blackberry jam, fresh ripe pears, hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate and one with strawberry jam, almonds and bittersweet chocolate. They’re both very good. Very very, dangerously good. I made two 6 inch tarts, but you could easily make one 10 or 11 inch tart with these ingredients, I think.

Here’s To Love Somebody from Melody, and a passage from the movie demonstrating all the beauty, humor, and affection contained therein.
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Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake

On the way to school we passed a tree full of crows. When we startled them they took to the air, bright and noisy. More crows than would seem to fit in the tree, more crows than I’ve seen together at one time. Black and significant and beautiful. They flew over the rooftops and settled in a tree on the next block, and I scared them up again on the way home. I thought I might spend the day following a flock of crows and setting them off, into the cold clear air: a hoarse and raucous ruckus. What were the crows talking about? The weather, I expect. Like everyone else in this part of the world, they were discussing the cold. It’s cold. Not unseasonably, not unprecedentedly, not unexpectedly, to be true. But remarkably cold, and we’re all talking about it. I don’t mind it so much, because it feels clean and pure, it feels like a way to start anew when things come back to life. I don’t mind it so much because I’m lucky enough to have shelter and warmth, and I’m not sorry for an excuse to stay inside, sheltered and warm, baking and writing, if only for a day or two. And this brings us to your Ordinary phrase for the day. That phrase is “tuck in.” As you may recall, Isaac wanted to try taking care of somebody a week or two ago, and as part of the game he tucked me in with two pillows and two blankets. I’ve been thinking ever since about how good it is to be tucked in by gentle hands, how nice it is to be made warm and safe. Such a simple gesture, but such a rare feeling of comfort and happiness, such a memory of childhood, such a dreamy feeling that everything will be okay. Of course, “tuck in” has another meaning that appeals to me as well, especially in this weather, and that is to eat a meal. I always imagine it to be a big, hearty, warm, festive meal, in a scenario that involves tucking in. According to my beloved OED, “tuck” also describes the food itself, as well as the appetite one needs to eat it. You might find, “ten or twelve of these little bowls on the table, each with a different kind of ‘tuck’ in it.” You might have a friend who “being inclined for a tuck out, repaired where he was likely to meet with oysters.” We might “have a solid, staunch tuck-in,” all together. You might, “steal out at night from your dormitory and take tins of sardines from your tuck-box.” (I want a tuck-box!) And finally and best-of-all, you might aspire to the earn the label “tuck hunter,” so that it can be said of you that “Nothing can stop the mouth of a tuck-hunter.” And so it is my hope for all of my Ordinary friends, far and near, that however cold it may be outside, it is warm and cheerful inside, and that we all have some fine warm tuck to tuck into, or some gentle warm hands to tuck us in.

Quinces! I love them! The smell of them, the taste of them, the very idea of them. They’re quite rare around here, and a little pricey, so I always buy very few of them and then save them up till they’re almost past-it, while I wait to think of something special to do with them. This time I decided to make a cake. I cooked the quinces until they were soft. Then I cooked them with sugar, and a bit of clementine zest and juice and some vanilla extract. until they were thick and jammy. I used this, in concert with some bittersweet chocolate chips, as the central layer of a cake with hazelnuts and a bit of sherry. It’s almost like a gateau basque, except that the cake itself is a little different, a little thinner and softer.

Here’s Tom Waits with Cold Cold Ground. God I love this song.
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