Potatoes poached with lemon and bay leaves

A PASTORAL
(With photographs)

We’re heading into the dark season. Last winter was a particularly long, cold, brutal one, in this part of the world, and it’s hard not to feel a mounting anxiety as the days grow shorter. I think everybody feels a little twinge of melancholy this time of year. Even the impending holiday can make a person anxious.

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When you feel seasonally challenged, you should take a walk on the towpath by my house. Most of the green is gone, but there are a few vines and mossy trunks, and they stand out against a background of rich rusts and umbers and golds, a strange warm quiet beauty on a cold day. And after about a mile you’ll come to my favorite field in the world. You’ve just emerged from a tunnel of trees, and now the world opens up and you’re looking out onto a field stretching away under a bright sky, sloping down like a saucer into a line of trees and running down to a beautiful railway bridge that stretches over a creek.

Summer

Summer

Winter

Winter

The light under this bridge is always strangely glowing, even on grey days, perhaps with the memories of summer afternoons spent swimming in the creek.
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This morning when Clio and I scrambled out this way, we came upon a pine tree festooned with blue birds, like the prettiest Christmas tree you have ever seen.

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One of them sat a little distance from the others, on a branch above our heads, and looked down on us like he wanted to tell us something. I nearly cried. They were still there on our way back, but after we walked by they flew off together along the bed of the creek. There is no more hopeful sight on earth than a bluebird, particularly in winter!
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It fills you with a strange glow. Even these leafless plants we saw, with a strange light purple hue seemed oddly hopeful.
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I know I write about hope a lot, but it’s such a mysterious emotion. I’m always a little impatient when people say you can make good things happen just by thinking about it, that if you have a positive attitude the world will reward you with gifts, that if you stop worrying about not having enough money and just feel happy, you’ll suddenly have enough money. (Usually the people who tell you these things have plenty of money, or happen to be paying you poorly for your work.) And yet–it’s not the strange bright branches or the light under the bridge or even the rare and beautiful birds that make you hopeful, it’s something in you that responds to them. Which is an even more hopeful thought somehow. Who can explain it? Not me.

Potatoes poached with lemon and bay leaves

Potatoes poached with lemon and bay leaves

I had a hankering for potatoes, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted them boiled and soft and comforting or broiled and crispy. Then I thought I’d try something new, and see if I could have the best of both worlds. I think they turned out really well. They’re mostly soft, not crispy, but they have a more interesting texture than plain boiled potatoes. Lemon and bay are lovely together, and go very nicely with the mild, pleasing flavor of potatoes.

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Greensleeves from the phenomenal Christmas Cooking album.

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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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Chickpea and sweet potato tacos

Sweet potato chickpea tacos

Sweet potato chickpea tacos


I’ve been thinking lately that hope is some sort of involuntary muscle. We have absolutely no control over it. You can tell yourself not to get your hopes up. You can believe that you’re not getting your hopes up. You can lie to yourself about it so cleverly that you don’t know you’re doing it. But when you’re disappointed, and you feel your hopes crashing to great depths, you realize that you’d been hopeful all along, despite your best intentions. And when your hopes come to rest, down there in the deep depths, you can tell yourself that you’ll keep them down this time, you’ll suppress them and block their every attempt to rise again. But it won’t work. You can’t keep them down any more than you can stop your heart beating just by thinking about it. Your hopes will rise again all around you, though you can’t see them and maybe even can’t feel them, and before you know it you’ll be working on something again. You’ll forget the rejection and disappointment, and you’ll try to make connections. You’ll try to give your hope something solid and substantial to float on, something not so easily dashed and capsized. This must be true for everybody, however cynical they are, however much success and riches and love they have. They must feel the same cycle of hopes rising and falling and rising again, for all things big and little in their life. It must be involuntary for everyone. Doesn’t it seem sometimes that hope is necessary for survival, as necessary as air?

Sweet potato and chickpea tacos

Sweet potato and chickpea tacos

These tacos are very autumnal! Warm colors, warm flavors, smoky sweet and spicy. Quick and easy to make, too. We ate them with warm tortillas, grated sharp cheddar, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced avocado. All the usual suspects! And basmati rice of course. You could just eat it over rice, as is. Or you could add some broth and make it saucier, and eat it as a soup or stew with crusty bread. Vegan if you leave the butter out!

Here is Jordil Saval with Good Again by Tobias Hume, which comes after a song called “My hope is decayed.”

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Ratatouille-style ratatouille (With potatoes and roasted beets)

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

We’ve decided to watch every movie made in 1967. It is for fun! We chose 1967 at random, after watching La Chinoise a week or so ago. We’re obviously not going to watch every movie made that year, but we’re going to do our best. Some we’ve already seen and loved: Le Samourai, The Two of Us, Cool Hand Luke. Some aren’t available on DVD yet. But we’ll do the best we can, and I’ll probably tell you all about each and every film. As I said, we picked the year at random, but upon reflection it seems like an interesting time. (And wikipedia agrees, “The year 1967 in film involved some significant events. It is widely considered as one of the most ground-breaking years in film.”) On the cusp of a new decade, at the end of a decade of great change and tension and upheaval. People have new ideas, and they’re finding new ways to tell their new stories, new ways to capture the images, new ways to arrange their narratives. Many directors are working in color for the first time, and we’re moving from the cool black-and-white stylishness of the sixties to the polyester polychrome neon of the seventies. And the French are still driving enviably cool cars. (Have you seen Le Samourai?) Some films deal with shifting ideas about marriage and family. Some films are experimenting with the shockingly entertaining qualities of violence, from Bonnie and Clyde to Godard’s Weekend. We have films to distract you from your troubles–The Jungle Book, Elvis Presley movies, James Bond Movies, and films that tackle the issues head-on, like the Best Picture-winning In the Heat of the Night. Some people are looking back, and others are looking forward to a new world when anything is possible and everything is allowed. The new wave isn’t so new anymore, and the rebellious exploits of the early sixties seem quite tame and adolescent compared to what’s to come. It’s the year my parent’s got married, and two years before the summer of ’69, when men walked on the moon and I was born. I was going to tell you about the first movie we watched, La Collectionneuse, but this introduction has gone on so long that I’ll save it for another post. Watch this space!

IMG_4059It’s squash, eggplant and tomato season, and we all know what that means! It means ratatouille! We thought it would be fun to try to make it like they make it in the movie of the same name. Lots of other people have already recreated that recipe as closely as possible, so we thought we’d mix it up a bit. We decided to pre-cook everything, so that it got a little crispy. We decided to add potatoes and beets, because they’re nice thinly sliced and roasted, and because we’ve had them in abundance from the farm as well. And I cooked the eggplant separately, because I like it best crispy and roasted breadcrumbs, nuts and herbs. I cut the eggplant in large rounds, and we used it as a sort of plate for the ratatouille. Delicious!

Here’s Lulu’s To Sir with Love, the top song from 1967 from the movie released in 1967.

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Warm salad with potatoes, butter beans, spring rage, fresh mozzarella and herbs

Warm salad with potatoes, butter beans and greens.

Warm salad with potatoes, butter beans and greens.

It’s movie week here at The Ordinary! I seem to be talking about a different film every day, and today will be no different. Today’s installment features Le Corbeau made by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1943. The film is about a small town plagued by anonymous poison pen letters, which threaten to tear the very fabric of the town to pieces. Everybody feels guilty about something, everybody tries to blame somebody else, everybody becomes plagued with fear and suspicion. It’s a fine film, in many ways, beautifully shot in black blacks and white whites. It’s suspenseful and mysterious, almost Hitchcockian. It’s still oddly relevant considering that the internets are full of anonymous trolls. But the thing that really stuck with me, strangely, is the way the setting is described in the very beginning. A small town, “ici ou ailleurs.” Ici ou ailleurs! Here or elsewhere! This phrase has been stuck in my head for days. I love the sound of it and the meaning of it. It makes any story into a fable or a myth, showing how our fears and hopes and passions are the same no matter where or when we live. It makes the story Ordinary by showing that it could happen to anyone, anywhere. Ici ou ailleurs. Of course Jean-luc Godard beat me to it, he made a film called Ici et Ailleurs. He made it with Anne-Marie Mieville, and it’s a reworking of footage they shot for Jusqu’à la victoire, a 1970 pro-Palestinian film. I haven’t seen it yet, but the trailer juxtaposes “simple images” of French children watching television with shots of Palestinians, and a woman’s voice tells us, “We should learn how to see here in order to be able to hear elsewhere. Learn how to hear yourself speaking in order to see what the others are doing. The Others, the elsewhere of our here.” Godard! Ici ou ailleur.

Warm sa;ad with potatoes, butter beans and greens

Warm sa;ad with potatoes, butter beans and greens

It’s so much fun to make dinner when you just return from a CSA with your arms full of fresh vegetables! Yesterday I made them into this sort of warm salad with potatoes and butter beans for substance. The potatoes, beans, and broccoli rabe were warm, the tomatoes, mozzarella and herbs were cool, and they all melted together when combined. I picked some bronze fennel, which was new to me and very lovely, and I minced that and added it for a nice mellow anise-y flavor. We ate it with a loaf of crusty bread, and Malcolm made it into a big sandwich.

Here’s Eddie Harris with Listen Here.
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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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White beans with sorrel and chard

White beans with sorrel and chard

White beans with sorrel and chard

It’s so strange sometimes to be an American. In many ways we’re taught that we’re the center of the universe, the richest, smartest, most advanced, most imitated, most moral country in the world. With the biggest, best-prepared military. No amount of statistics will prove otherwise, because this is just something we know, it’s a gut feeling. And although we’re proud of the fact that America was founded by a bunch of rebellious forward-thinking intellectuals, we seem to have arrived to a point where it’s treasonous to question anything. These last few days I’ve found myself unaccountably moved by the story of Bowe Bergdahl and his father, Robert. I suppose, on one level, it’s not that surprising that as the mother of two boys I sympathize with a man saddened and anxious that his son is a prisoner in another country. And admittedly I don’t know many of the facts of the case, but nobody else seems to, either, and that doesn’t seem to stop them speaking with self-righteous idiocy about it. I believe that, in part, I’m reacting so strongly because the whole affair seems to demonstrate how skewed our values have become, or at least how different from my own. How can we accuse a young man of cowardice for questioning the legitimacy of a war we know we know we should never have started in the first place? How can we question his morals and judgement instead of jailing members of the administration that cynically lied to us to persuade us to enter an unnecessary conflict that would result in the deaths of thousands of Americans? I’ve heard Bergdahl criticized for saying that he’s ashamed to be American, but sometimes it seems impossible not to be. I’m ashamed to be American every time someone on Fox News claims to speak for all Americans. This passage is (supposedly) from en e-mail Bergdahl sent to his parents, “I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live. We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks…We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them…I am sorry for everything.” Who would tell their child to shut up and carry on in this situation? Who would tell them to stay put and not to question anything? Who would tell them that it would be cowardly to leave? The same people who criticize him now as a traitor and a coward, the same people who have never lost a child or witnessed the nightmarish chaos of war. I suppose it’s easy to have clear-cut answers to questions you don’t let yourself ask. Robert Bergdahl describes this decade of war and what led to it and what we’ve taken away from it as “the darkening of the American soul.” Right now it feels that he is not wrong.

White beans with sorrel and chard

White beans with sorrel and chard

I’m sorry to go on and on, by by god, it’s been on my mind. We will turn, instead, Candide-like, to our garden. We have such a lovely garden this year, and it’s a great solace to walk through our tomatoes and peppers and salsify and herbs. We’re growing sorrel. I love the word “Sorrel” and I like the idea of it as an herb. It’s lemony to bitterness when raw, but it mellows when cooked to add a bright tart citrus-y bite. I included it with mellow-flavored potatoes and white beans and earthy chard. I kept the seasoning quite simple–white wine, salt, pepper, and a little rosemary. We ate this over farro, but it’s hearty enough to eat as is. Or you could eat it with rice, couscous, bulgur, anything you like!!

Here’s Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie, which I heard all the way through for the first time just the other day.

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Roasted potatoes and olives with rosemary

Roasted potatoes, olives and rosemary

Roasted potatoes, olives and rosemary

Yesterday I went over to the school to help with a mural. By the time I got there, they were just cleaning up the finishing touches. A classic, “Here let me help you with that…What? You’re all done? Just finished? Well, good job, everybody!” moment. As I stood admiring everybody else’s hard work, Isaac walked by with his class and invited me to lunch. How could I say no? They eat in the gym, at long tables, and it smells like every cafeteria ever: of mushy green beans, something fried, bleach, and kids who have been running around in the sun. And it’s loud! They’re all so excited to be there, and there is decidedly more chattering than eating. Isaac, the boy who won’t eat peanut butter and jelly or bagels or “regular” cheese sandwiches ate his current lunch of choice: goat cheese on pita bread and raw red peppers. The kids who bought lunch dipped their spoons in their macaroni and cheese and smeared it on the trays and tables, but didn’t eat too much. I think nobody ate the green beans. I don’t think they’re meant to be eaten. It was sticker day, and whoever had a sticker on their tray got a prize. The children looked and looked again, sure that this time they’d find a sticker under their paper carton of pasta, though it hadn’t been there seconds before. The winner was announced…Pablo. Isaac’s friend sighed and said, “I wish I could be Pablo just for one day.” When Pablo walked triumphantly back to his seat he was mobbed by kids who wanted to see his prize. A pencil!! A whole pencil! The boy across from me said, “I saw you at the liquor store,” and I wasn’t sure how to reply. Sure, I go to the liquor store from time to time, I mean, I don’t hang out there, but I’ve been known to buy a bottle of wine every once in a while. Isaac, who is famous for his tin foil art, made me a big cuff bracelet out of his sandwich-wrapper. It looked like a swallow. His friend said he could probably sell them, he could probably start a business of making bracelets out of tin foil. I’ve been thinking a lot about Isaac lately, and envying his spontaneous creative spirit. I feel like I work so hard sometimes to find the right words. I’ll spend a whole afternoon writing two sentences. Isaac, he just has an idea and he makes it, be it a tin foil sculpture or a drawing or a poem. He has to write sentences and stories with his spelling words, and because they very often rhyme, there’s always an easy poetry about them.

    I shook it off/I stood there, by the tree/he stood here, in the soot.
    “I rested a knife on my knee. Don’t ask me why there’s a rope with a knot in it. A wren landed on my thumb and pecked at that rope. I owe it a debt fore that. When I was done I read a near letter. It said: Still give the lamb a bath! The end.”

A near letter! I love that.

And here’s a picture Isaac drew on the back of his worksheets. I love this! See how the subway train goes “shhhhh,” just like it does in real life. Outside the city there’s a farm, and beyond the farm is a forest, and standing on the edge of the forest is a man saying, “ahhh.”

Good Town

Good Town

So your lesson for today, children, is that it’s exciting to find a sticker on a tray and win a prize, no matter what that prize may be, and it’s important to dive right in and make what’s in your head, no matter how it may turn out.

This is a really simple dish. Almost too simple to write about, except that it’s so good. It’s just tiny potatoes roasted with olives, in olive oil, with rosemary, salt and lots of pepper. Roasted olives are lovely…tender and flavorful and a little crunchy. Isaac loves them. You could add other herbs, if you liked, or a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon.

Here’s Do It by the Beastie Boys.

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Thin sliced roasted potatoes topped with goat cheese, pistachios, olives and capers

Potatoes with goat cheese, olives and capers

Potatoes with goat cheese, olives and capers

We’re having a sleepy sort of day here at The Ordinary. It’s drizzly and cold and Isaac is home sick from school. He’s mostly feeling better, but he’s subdued and quiet. I found him lying on his brother’s bed, feet up against the wall, playing with a Star Wars toy and singing. He’s eaten nothing all day but three pieces of toast, but this is a perfect day for toast. He had a stomach bug, and he suffered from terrible queasiness for a few days, and it’s one of those things that makes itself worse, that festers and feeds on itself: the more you worry about being sick, the more sick you feel. It’s like middle-of-the-night worries, being anxious makes you more anxious. I was talking to a fellow-insomniac about this conundrum, and he said that once, whilst going through a rough time that resulted in many sleepless nights, he developed the habit of saying, “I’m okay right now.” He would lie in bed and say, right now at this moment I’m healthy and have a warm house and my family is safe, and the thought of present security would help him to chase away anxieties about the past and the future. I love this idea. And so remarkable is the human brain and imagination that if your present is not happy or healthy or secure, you can do as Pierre Behuzov did, and dream about a different, but maybe no less real, reality, “Still less did Pierre think about himself. The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories, and imaginings that came to him.” Funnily enough I’ve spent the day reading a book by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew called On Superstitions Connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery. The book, published in 1844 deals with medical superstitions from throughout recorded human history. And many of these involve amulets and charms that work because the patient believes they’ll work. It’s not the moss you take from the skull of a deceased thief, dry to a powder and then take like snuff that cures your headache, it’s your belief that it will. It’s not the three spiders that you hang around your neck that cure your ague, it’s your faith in their power. He talks about “sympathetical cures,” in which the doctor treats the weapon, not the wound. “If the superstitious person be wounded by any chance, he applies the salve, not to the wound, but, what is more effectual, to the weapon by which he received it. By a new kind of art, he will transplant his disease, like a scion, and graft it into what tree he pleases.” But as Pettigrew points out, when a doctor cleans a wound, and then takes the knife that caused it, wraps it cloth, confines it to a closet and tells the patient not to move until the wound heals, his method is not all that different from a doctor who cleans the wound and tells the patient not to move until it heals. Maybe he’s just transferred the worry from the wound to an unfeeling object. After all, he says, the physician and surgeon do all their services by observing the properties of the living body,”…where the living principle is so strong and active in every part that by that energy alone it regenerates any lost substance, or reunites in a more immediate way the more simple wounds.” Pettigrew talks about quacks and charlatans, and their methods of controlling a patient through their fears and worries. And he shows that in most cases it’s only the faith and hope that a patient feels–in the doctor, in the medicine–that allows them to heal. Sometimes it seems our bodies know what they need, and it’s our busy minds that get in the way, and sometimes it’s the power or our imaginations that heal us. Either way, it would seem the best cure is to build a wealth of thoughts to make us happy and alive, to turn to in times of sickness and worry, to have hope and faith not in the amulet or charm, but in the strength of our own minds and bodies.

Thinly sliced potatoes with goat cheese, olives and tomatoes

Thinly sliced potatoes with goat cheese, olives and tomatoes

This was easy to make and I thought it was very delicious. It’s kind of like nachos, with potatoes instead of chips. I used castelvetrano olives, but you could use any kind of olives you like. I chopped them in the food processor with some cherry tomatoes, and then mixed them with goat cheese, mozzarella and capers. I spread this over roasted potatoes, and then returned it to the oven briefly until everything was melted. Comforting but very flavorful.

Here’s Sir Lord Comic with Doctor Feelgood

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