Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

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

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

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

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

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

THE CRUST

(enough for two largish pies. I generally make one with red sauce and mozzarella for the boys, and a “fancy” one for us)

1 t yeast
1 t sugar
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups flour
lots of freshly ground black pepper
1 t salt
1/3 cup olive oil

Combine the yeast, sugar and half a cup warm water in a small bowl, and leave in a warm place for about ten minutes to get foamy.

In a large bowl combine the flour, pepper, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture and the olive oil. Stir well, and add enough warm water to form a soft dough. You want it to be as wet as it can that you can still comfortably knead it. Knead for about 5 minutes until soft and elastic. Put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl. Roll the dough in this so that it’s evenly coated. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and set aside for two to five hours, till it’s doubled in size.

THE PESTO

1/2 cup pistachios,lightly toasted
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1 garlic clove, roasted or toasted
2 T fresh tarragon leaves
1/3 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 t lemon juice
salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

Combine the nuts, garlic, tarragon and cheese in a food processor and process until well chopped. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and process until smooth. Add enough water to make it a little thinner and completely smooth, maybe 1/4 cup. Season well with salt and pepper.

TO ASSEMBLE

2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup (++) tarragon pesto
1 small bunch of asparagus
about 1 cup of salsify or a couple of medium-sized parsnips
1 T butter
small handful of chopped pistachio kernels

In a food processor combine the eggs, milk, cheddar and pesto and process until smooth.

Trim the asparagus about 1/2way down, so you have only very thin stalks. Clean and peel the salsify or parsnips and cut into pieces about as thick as the asparagus and a few inches long. Put them in a small pot, cover with water, and boil until tender, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the root you’re using. As it’s boiling, steam the asparagus in a strainer over the top for a few minutes, until bright and tender. Drain the salsify well. Melt the butter in a small frying pan, add the salsify, asparagus and pistachios and fry over medium heat for a minute or two until the salsify starts to brown.

Preheat the oven to 450. Break the pizza dough in two and with your hands spread it in two lightly oiled baking sheets. I like a very thin crust, so I use two fairly big cookie sheets. Try to build up the edges of the pizza to make a nice crust. Prebake the crust for about five minutes till it loses its shine. Cover one with red sauce and mozzarella, or anything else you like. Or save half the dough for another pizza another day.

Pour the tarragon and egg mixture into the pre-baked crust. Scatter the mozzarella over, and then arrange the asparagus, salsify and pistachios on top.

Bake for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until puffed and golden. Let cool slightly, slice and serve.

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Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Today, friends, we interrupt our series of American Mythologies to bring you a tangential installment of our Films-of-1967 series. As you no doubt recall, David and I arewatching every film ever made in 1967. Every one! We’re making very slow progress. The other month we watched The Fireman’s Ball by Milos Forman. It was a brilliant and beautiful film, and I read it as a sly and subtle comedy about the foibles of human nature, and how within a community the best and worst in all of us is greatly magnified. Our hypocrisy, our desires, our fears and suspicions. I could tell it was about something more, though, I felt I was probably missing something, and it turns out the film was a satire of the Eastern European communist system. It was banned, and Forman left Czechoslovakia for America, where he made One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among other films. Obviously the fact that the true nature of Fireman’s Ball escaped me means that I’m not qualified to tell you a thing about it, other than that you should watch it as soon as you can. Instead I’ll tell you about the film we saw last week, also by Forman, called Loves of a Blonde. What a beautiful, funny, heartbreaking film! Like Fireman’s Ball, this film is about ordinary people and their desires and hypocrisies. And it is also a political film, though more subtly so, as is often the case with films with female protagonists. Andula is a very young woman who works at a shoe factory in a small Czech town. She lives in a dormitory with other shoe factory workers, and her life is stagnant and stilted, trapped as she is on the edge of nowhere, with little to do but work. The population of the town has a 16 to 1 ratio of women to men, so there’s little hope of romantic escape. The kindly owner of the shoe factory asks army officials to place a regiment in the town, saying of the women, “They need what we needed when we were young.” The regiment arrives to the disappointment of the young factory workers, who find it composed of middle-aged reservists. At a dance these men encourage each other to try their luck with the young ladies, clumsily sending a bottle of wine to the wrong table and dropping a wedding ring which leads them in an awkward chase across the dance floor. The women wonder if they’re just desperate enough to follow these unappealing men into the woods. Andula seems to be saved from this fate by young Milda, a pianist from Prague who played in the band at the dance. She wants to trust him, because he’s attentive and kind, though not very subtle in his advances. They spend the night together, and then he’s gone. After a few weeks, she hitchhikes to Prague with a small suitcase. She arrives at Milda’s apartment to find him out at a gig, though his mother and father are home and in an uproar over her appearance. And that’s it, that’s the story. But it’s told with such style and warmth and humor that it’s ridiculously compelling. Forman used a mixture of actors and non-actors. In the dance, the camera rests on the faces of people sitting and waiting to dance, and you feel that any of them have a story worth telling, they’re so real and expressive. The scenes in Milda’s bedroom are so perfectly filmed, beautiful and simple. You know he’s a scoundrel, she knows he’s a scoundrel, but he’s such an unlikely lothario, and he’s so funny and unlike everybody else in town that she decides it’s worth it to trust him, if only for this night of human connection, and the faint promise of more to come. Milda’s parents are comically strident, a sort of Archie and Edith of the Czech new wave. But it’s desperately sad, too, to think that all of their squabbling will only make it easier for Milda to send Andula back to her life of loneliness and exile. The movie is stylie, it features moments Wes Anderson would aspire to, or Godard would admire, but it’s so much more honest and human than those hipsters’ films. (I love those hipsters, too!) It’s a sweetly sad poem of human desire, hope, and loneliness.

We had some leftover mashed potatoes, so this is what I made. I lined a cake pan with butter, then bread crumbs and chopped pecans, then a layer of mashed potatoes. I molded this into a crust. Then I poured in a mixture of eggs, cheese and greens. It bakes together quite nicely. Soft and satisfying, but with a crispiness on the outside from the nuts and breadcrumbs. If you’re trying to go gluten free, leave out the bread crumbs, and add a few more pecans. And that’s that! This was nice with a spicy red sauce.

Here’s a song from the opening credits of Loves of a Blonde sung by one of Andula’s fellow factory workers. If you don’t fall in love with this film from the first second, you’re crazy, crazy I tell you!
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Pizza with pecan sage pesto and roasted mushrooms and potatoes

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’m feeling a little foggy in my brain lately, and if I’m being honest I’ve been in a bad mood. A terrible bad mood. (As opposed to my usual wonderful bad mood.) I’ve been epically discouraged, and I don’t really feel like doing anything. Blame it on the hibernating weather, if you like. So today I sat down to do nothing in the form of watching the supplementary material on a DVD we watched a week or so ago. Interviews with the director and the stars. This wasn’t the usual Hollywood miasma of self-congratulatory celebrities recounting hijinks with forced jollity. This was people remembering a film they worked on fifty-two years ago, reflecting on their lives at that time and on what they had become. And I swear to god the director had a message for me. It’s an odd story. Serge Bourguignon made Sundays and Cybele in 1962. It was his first feature and he was thirty-three years old. It didn’t do very well in France, it didn’t get distribution, but it got rave reviews at the Venice film festival, a New York Times reporter called it a masterpiece, and it won the oscar for best foreign language film. Needless to say, all this attention and affection from critics and Americans meant that the film got distribution in France, and also that it earned scorn from the other French filmmakers of the New Wave. Their films were fast, unplanned, edgy. Sundays and Cybele is slow and dreamlike, and it’s finely made. I’ve always admired the collaborative nature of the French New Wave, how they made films together and talked about films together and wrote about films together. It’s always seemed like it would be fun to live in such a time, to have friends like that. Bourguignon describes the new wavers as a club of cool kids, which he wasn’t part of, and I’d never really thought of it in that light. And then I read a modern scholarly essay on the film, and the author talked about how differently the film would be received now than it was then, because we’re all so jaded and cynical now and people grow up so fast. But to hear the people talking, people were always jaded and cynical and even in 1962 they watched the film with doubt and suspicion. The film tells the story of a thirty-year-old soldier, scarred by his experiences in Vietnam, who has trouble remembering, trouble fitting in. He meets a twelve-year-old girl, abandoned by her parents, who develops a strong attachment to him. They love each other, they’re good friends, and that is all. They’re children together, and she helps him as much as he helps her. Complicated, of course, but beautiful, like most human relationships. The director and the stars describe the filmmaking process as a wonderfully serendipitous time. Everything happened exactly as it should, everyone was happy, every moment was perfectly captured just as it should be. And the film is ridiculously beautiful, gorgeously filmed, so perfectly acted it doesn’t feel like acting, with a wonderful score, and a strangely dizzyingly clear feeling of looking at the world through patterns in glass or water.

Bourguignon talks about his career after Sundays and Cybele, which went really nowhere. He doesn’t sound bitter. And he says, I have written films since, I have dreamed films, and maybe someday another little miracle will happen, and I will make another film. Well! I have dreamed films! I have written films! And the film I have written, which on my good days I know that I will make someday, has almost exactly the same plot as Sundays and Cybele. That’s why I first noticed the film! That’s why I watched the DVD as soon as it became available on DVD! It’s the strangest thing, I tell you, the strangest thing, to sit here feeling old and discouraged and watch Bourguignon, who by any account has had remarkable success in his life, sounding old and discouraged. And then sounding so hopeful! It’s discombobulating. Well, I will make my film one day, and I look forward to watching Bourguignon’s next small miracle of a film as well.

pizza with pecan sage pesto

pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’ve been making lots of cheesy crusty things lately, to set myself up for hibernation, and this was no exception. Very autumnal! It’s smoky and flavorful. It’s more of a custard than a pesto, I guess, but either way…

Here’s Marisa Anderson in a tiny desk concert for NPR. I think she’s remarkable.

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Roasted turnip, spinach and walnut pie

Turnip, spinach and walnut pie

Turnip, spinach and walnut pie

Well, time is folding in on itself again. The boys had two days off school, and we went for a long walk to my favorite field, and I realized that this was the same weekend that we went last year, except last time they were dressed as an owl and a ghost bat. We’re all a little older and more serious now, it seems. The boys were dressed in normal civilian attire and I wouldn’t let Clio off-leash because now I know how it feels to lose her for a while. I just woke up and noticed that all the trees are nearly bare, and last time I looked summer was just ending. But there we were walking to my favorite field again, we had the sun on our faces and the wind blowing the cobwebs from our minds. And Malcolm told me the story of a remarkable new superhero he invented. His name is an inversion of Dr. Doom’s–that’s how it all started. So he’s Mr. Mood. And his power is that he can control his moods, and when he does, it gives him super powers. So when he’s happy (and he can make himself happy) he can fly and shoot lightening. And when he’s sad he’s heavy, and he sinks down, down into the water, where he can breathe easily. And when he’s scared, he turns into something scary–whatever his adversary is afraid of. When he’s angry he turns into an adult, and he can drive, and he can shoot fire. Yeah. And here’s his backstory. He’s thirteen years old (one year older than Malcolm now.) Where does he live? Not in New York, because too many super heroes live in New York. He lives in Trenton, because his last name is Trent, and he thought he might find his parents there. He lives in an abandoned building. I love Mr. Mood! I love asking Malcolm questions about his backstory and hearing his thoughtful unexpected answers. If there’s one parenting skill I’ve always lacked (of course there are a million parenting skills I lack, but it’s no good dwelling on this too much, listing them and trying to choose the biggest and best), so if there’s one parenting skill I lack, it’s the ability to control my mood; to be fun when I’m feeling down, to be patient when I’m angry, to not curse when I hurt myself. Malcolm’s always been a little short-tempered himself, but I’ve watched with great joy this year as he’s worked very hard to change that. I’ve watched him get so angry he obviously wanted to punch something, and then stop, and turn it off, and sit down and do his homework. I’m going to work on it, too, at my ripe old age. I’m going to work on controlling my mood, too, and I’m looking forward to the super powers that ensue.

Turnip and spinach pie

Turnip and spinach pie

It’s funny how all the vegetables seem to be a little more bitter in the fall. A little more strongly-flavored. Greens, lettuces, turnips. These turnips are just about the last of the produce we had from our CSA for the season. They’re pretty, but they have an edge to them. So I roasted them with a little brown sugar, to mellow them out somewhat. And then I combined them with spinach, walnuts, thyme and sharp cheddar and put them in a crispy soft brioche-style crust. And that’s that!

Here’s Dr. Doom with Charnushka.
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Eggplant and sweet potato tart with pistachios and pine nuts

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Last night I had trouble sleeping, as I often do, and I started thinking about thoughts. I thought specifically about how some thoughts are like mosquitoes. They buzz around your head, flying with sudden noise into your ears and eyes. You know they don’t do anybody any good. They’re impossible to ignore, and just when you think you’ve shooed them away, they’re in your ears again. And if you let them land, if they’re with you any time at all, they’ll leave angry welts, which will fester and grow the more you scratch at them. You can tear at them with your nails until you bleed, and they’ll only plague you more, with their fiendish itching. It’s best to leave them alone, to ignore them, but it’s so damned hard. There’s nothing valuable about these thoughts; they’re not worth pondering. You won’t figure anything out, you won’t arrive at any truths. They’re the lesser of Pandora’s evils, rising insubstantial and weightless in lazy persistent circles from her box, they’re lies, deceit, scolding, accusation, envy, gossip, scheming, self-doubt. They arrive in the evening, particularly this time of year, when the light fades and the chill steals in, the darker it grows the more they swarm. And these prickly devils, like mosquitoes, breed in stagnant water, in the festering ooze of a lazy mind. So the thing to do, of course, is to keep the waters running clear and cool, to keep your brain full of things worth thinking about, which will feed on the larvae of your mosquito-thoughts. Of course this is hard sometimes, in the middle of the night. It’s hard to steer your mind away from the angry buzzing, but it can be done, and it’s important to stock the waters with a ready supply of thoughts that can dart through the moving current, or hang rippling in pools of sunlight. You can think of a story you’re writing, a poem you can almost remember, a film you once enjoyed, a long ago conversation that made you happy once. When you finally sleep, these thing will weave through your dreams and become something new, something alive. If thoughts are going to keep you up all night, they should at least be worth thinking about.

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Of course, if you’re me, you’ll spend some of your ample insomnia hours thinking about how to cook the eggplants you picked from your garden, and how to use up all of the sweet potatoes from the farm. And eventually you’ll make this tart, which I thought was really delicious! Perfect for this time of year. I made eggplant the way I generally do, marinating, dipping in egg, breading and baking in olive oil. This is a good recipe to use up leftover eggplant that you’ve made this way a day or so before. I have very thin sweet potatoes from the farm, and I liked the idea of them looking like pepperoni, so I roasted them with a little tamari and smoked paprika. And I topped everything with some lovely crunchy pistachios and pine nuts.

Here’s Benjamin Booker with Have You Seen My Son, because I’m obsessed with this album at the moment.

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Pesto, lentil and tomato tart

Tomato, pesto, french lentil tart

Tomato, pesto, french lentil tart

This is the 900th post to come at you from The Ordinary. Nine hundred recipes and songs, 900 confused and meaningless meandering rambling essays. It’s crazy, I tell you. Crazy. It’s a crazy amount of words. The other night, whilst half-awake, I found myself composing an Ordinary post in my head, and I realized that I hadn’t done it in a while. And I realized that I missed it. I’ve always had words running through my head–does everybody? And I’ve always arranged them into phrases, and imagined them written. When I was little, I narrated my life in the third person. And then maybe everything was silent for a while. I can’t remember. Maybe I thought in pictures instead, and music, maybe I thought about movie scenes. But when I started writing posts from The Ordinary, when I really started writing essays, and not just providing tepid descriptions of food I’d cooked, I started to write in my head again. I was always thinking of things I could write about. Everything I saw or watched or heard or read seemed to filter itself into an Ordinary post. The world became reorganized in this way, reimagined, seen through Ordinary eyes. Everything seemed worth talking about. And then it was the novel, it took over my thoughts, and the characters spoke to each other in my head, and that was the best feeling of all. And then I fell out of the habit, and suddenly nothing seemed worth talking about, even everything I’d already written. The more you do something, the more you do something, and I think that’s good, and important to remember. If you’re feeling listless and detached, if you’re feeling whybotherish, start to do something you once enjoyed: draw, make music, cook, write. It might be hard at first, it might not come out like you’d planned, but the more you do it, the better it will feel, the more you’ll think about it when you’re not thinking about it, the more you’ll come back to it as your natural resting place. The very act of doing it will give it meaning and value, if you persevere. And that’s where I am now, coming out of the hazy lazy listless summer slump to sharpen my thoughts again, to point them in a certain direction and then follow wherever they lead. I’ll take all the splinters of words and images that have slept in my head all summer, and string them together, so that the words chasing each other around my head in the middle of the night become worth writing down in the morning, so that they become worth sharing.

Lentil, tomato and pesto tart

Lentil, tomato and pesto tart

In keeping with this august benchmark in Ordinary history, I’ll tell you about this very Ordinaryish tart. I love lentils! Especially French lentils! And I love tarts! And I love all of the abundant produce of summer. The pesto I made from basil from our yard and from the CSA we belong to. The tomatoes are from our yard (and they’re wonderful!) Everything was nice together, I think. Fresh, but earthy and satisfying. The crust is yeasted and has a little chickpea flour in for flavor, the pesto is made with pistachios, almonds and sharp cheddar. The lentils are flavored with a little cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and smoked paprika. Lovely spices for lentils.

Here’s 9th and Hennepin, by Tom Waits, because it’s been in my head all morning, and because it’s one of the best collections of words I’ve ever heard.
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Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and zucchini tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

We went away for a couple of days for a very small vacation. I brought a novel to read and a notebook so that I could start writing a novel. And guess what I did instead? I read a field guide to insects and spiders. I’m completely charmed by the names of the various crawling and winged creatures. And this leads us, Ordinary friends, to another installment of our sporadic series on found poetry: the unconscious poetry of bug names. Who doesn’t want to read about worms and beetles on a food blog? As I read through the guide I thought about the people who had named these bugs. Some seem to have had a very good imagination and a sly sense of humor. Others seem appealingly earnest and literal. But the one thing that they have in common is that they all seem to have a real affection for the creature they’re naming. They’ve studied it and learned all they can about its form and its habits. Maybe they even take credit for discovering this tiny life form, and they’ve named it for themselves, with their own names. They name them for their appearance, they name them for what they once were or what they’ll become, for the way that they were before their great change, or the way they will be after it. They name them for the job that they do. They’re called after what they eat and where they live, their home and their sustenance. We have question marks and painted ladies, phantom midges, predacious diving beetles, darners and diggers and borers and pruners and skimmers and elaters (elaters!!) Cloudywinged aphids, snow fleas cat fleas human fleas, snow lice, hog lice and bird lice. Firebrats and jumping bristletails. Ferocious waterbugs and Eastern toe-biters. Treehoppers, leafhoppers, sharpshooters. You’ve got your eastern cone nose and your jagged ambush bug, your boll, pine, bean, alfalfa, rose and lesser cloverleaf weevils. And the beetles! O, the beetles! Elegant checkered beetles and their coarse cousins rough fungus beetles, spotless nine-spotted ladybugs, willow leaf beetles and harlequin beetles, fire beetles and blister beetles, iron clad beetles and patent leather beetles. You have both dainty tiger beetles and beautiful tiger beetles. Somebody loved tiger beetles! Dragon lubber grasshoppers, differential grasshoppers, toothpick grasshoppers and true katydids. Bearded robber flies, phantom crane flies, march flies, marsh flies, flesh flies. The moths are fairies and gypsies and sweethearts and witches and beauties, and the butterflies are wood nymphs and satyrs and elfin. What a world of characters we have flying around our heads and buzzing in our ears and crawling through the grass at our feet!

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Who is hungry now?!? This has been a summer of beets, squash and tomatoes, as all summers should be. And we’ve made a lot of tarts, as everyone should do! We mix it up though. Sometimes the vegetables are in the custard, sometimes they’re on top. Sometimes we add nuts, and we almost always add cheese, but we mix it up a bit, we use different kinds. This tart had roasted yellow squash and beets mixed up with a pistachio/pine nut custard and topped with pretty multi-colored cherry and grape tomatoes.

Here’s Leadbelly with Boll Weevil.
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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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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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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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