Here’s Mao Mao, a poppy punky song by Claude Channes from La Chinoise, which pretty much sums up the whole film.
I haven’t had much time to write lately. It’s strange how summer days can fill up with delightful clusters of nothing-too-important but something you wouldn’t miss. Of course I’ve been thinking of writing, and I’ve saved up a million small summery ideas, and I’m going to share them with you now, summer-journal style. This morning I saw the baby eagle fly! As you’ll no doubt recall, his nest is at the top of a giant metal tower. He’s a hulking baby, nearly as big as his parents. For weeks now He’ll stand in his nest, testing his wings. This morning he stretched them out, and then he flapped them, and he flew! Only a few feet, he landed again in his nest. It was so beautiful my eyes filled with tears and I was trying not to foolishly cry outright in front of two men who had stopped in their bike ride to discuss features that all raptors wings have in common. I had told them minutes before that this was a bald eagle, they thought it was “some sort of hawk.” One of them was wearing a shirt for the Eagle Diner, and it had a nicely drawn picture of an eagle as its logo.
I’ve been having a hard time staying away from the local ice cream parlor. One day, after an especially hard day of work, Malcolm and I walked down. I waited outside with Clio and Malcolm went in. I told him I didn’t want any ice cream, and I almost believed myself. Luckily he didn’t and he walked out with the exact ice cream cone I would have ordered myself. We walked home in the warmsummerevening air, and when he got to the last half inch of his cone he gave it to me, as he always does, because he knows it’s my favorite part. It’s the part that makes you want more ice cream. And I always eat it, even though he has summer boy hands, which have handled frogs and toads and plenty of dirt, and probably haven’t been washed all day.
I love fireflies. I love their gentleness and their seeming modesty in the face of their own beauty. I love their seeming patience in the face of human hands reaching out to give them a place to land, over and over again. The other night we sat out in the yard and watched them fly all around us and I saw one lying in the grass, glowing. David says this is a thing they do. Some of them sit in the grass and glow, and some of them fly around looking for their glowing friends in the grass. Maybe I’d seen it before, but at that moment I thought I was seeing it for the first time and it struck me as a wonderful thing to be forty-five and see a firefly glowing in the grass for the first time. We imagined a scenario in which fireflies somehow bite you the way mosquitoes do, although of course it would be much gentler and completely painless. We imagined that instead of swelling and itching, the place where they bit you would glow. And then we thought that people would probably devise a way to get fireflies to bite them in patterns all along their skin, to make a glowing tattoo.
I love the fact that Malcolm will jump into any body of water we encounter, fully clothed, and instantly submerge himself. But Isaac, even for a water gun fight, likes to have a swim shirt and swim shoes and swim suit and goggles. I love that they’re different that way. We’ve been creeking a few times now, of course, because that’s what summer is all about. Malcolm’s in the middle of the creek in a moment, but Isaac hangs by the edge looking for frogs and toads. The other day he asked David, “What’s the biggest toad you’ve never caught?” Which I think is a beautiful question.We’ve had a couple of blisteringly hot days, the kind when you don’t want to cook at all, and inspired by my new Ordinary friend Tom, I made these cool tacos. Tom makes his into quesadillas, which are vegan because he uses hummus instead of cheese to hold the quesadillas together. I think this is genius! It was too hot even to turn the stove top on, so we made them into soft tacos instead. I warmed the tortillas in the toaster and I made some rice for the boys, but other than that no heat was required to make these tacos. We’ve had them several times now. Once with black beans, peppers (hot and sweet) and avocado, once with red beans, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olives, and lots of herbs. You can make them vegan without cheese, or add feta or cheddar or goat or any cheese you like. I made a lemony herb hummus to go with them,
as well as a smoky toasted pumpkinseed sauce. All vegan if you leave the cheese out!
Here’s Jimmy Smith with Summertime.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love the combination of chard, pine nuts and raisins. And I’ll find anyway I can to combine them. Here they are in a sort of tart. I made a jam of shallots and raisins and garlic, and I spread this on a yeasted crust. Then I topped that with a custard made with chard, fresh mozzarella and pine nuts, and of course lots of fresh basil, which is one of the best things about summer. And I put some slices of fresh mozzarella and more pine nuts on top.
Here’s Summertime by Billy Stewart.
It feels so hopeful, to look out at it and imagine the days unfolding and the vegetables ripening. Herbs to eat now, in large quantities, tomatoes and eggplant to ripen with the full roundness of the summer days, salsify and scorzonera to eat in the fall. I love our garden! And because I’m a lunatic, I think of the vegetables almost as people, with separate personalities of their own. We planted fava beans, and David made a trellis of twine for them to wind around. We don’t know how tall they’ll get, and we wanted to give them plenty of distance to travel, plenty of encouragement, our full faith that they’ll reach all the way to the top, but we didn’t want to set up unrealistic expectations for them. The salsify and scorzonera seem very social, standing together in long graceful lines, sharing the light that glows through them. The cilantro started sad and timid, but now it’s just taken off, it’s bolted into tall, feathery, beautiful flowers, and maybe in the fall we’ll figure out what to do with the coriander seeds. The pepper plants seem like underachievers; they haven’t grown much since we’ve gotten them, but they’re working so hard on making beautiful vivid little peppers. They’re concentrating on their art. The eggplants generously share they broad leaves with some little bug that repays the favor by turning them into lace. The tomatoes are full and frank and happy standing together in the sun.
And then there’s the tarragon. I love the way tarragon grows. It spreads along the ground in a pretty fragrant sprawl. If you weigh down a sprig so that it touches the earth, it will take root and form a new plant attached to the original. It moves and travels, it has an unruly wildness to it, but it sets down roots everywhere it goes, it makes a new place to start from, and it stays connected to its roots as well. We got some more beautiful beets from our CSA. I thought I’d make them into a pretty salad, with their best friend arugula, and some mildly delicious French feta I splurged on at a local market. I also added half an avocado, because I’m putting avocado in everything this summer, and a scattering of pine nuts. I made a tarator sauce to drizzle over the top, with lemon and rosemary, a bit of dijon, a few capers. You could use any herbs you like in this. Tarragon would be nice!!
Here’s Jimmy Smith with Root Down (and get it)
Dear Literary Agent (I know I’m supposed to address this to a specific person, by name, and try to establish some sort of personal relationship or pretend that I know you, but I don’t know you, and you know I don’t know you. I’ve read about the things you like and don’t like, and they’re some of the things I like and don’t like. Maybe you’d like my novel. Maybe we could be friends.)
I’ll start by telling you that I know I can’t write a very good query letter. If I could, if I could sell my work, I wouldn’t really need an agent. Although of course I would, I know I would. I know enough about how the world works. I wish I could tell you that I’m always euphorically happy with my novel and sure that it’s great and enduring literature and that everybody should read it. But half the time I have the sinking horrible feeling that it’s dull or silly or even embarrassing. I can tell you that I always feel a warm sort of love for it, for the characters and the world they live in. I think about them sometimes as if they’re real, and thinking about them that way makes me happy. I can tell you that I have a million ideas, a million beautiful things in my head, and I will write them down with the most beautiful words I can find.
I can’t pretend that I’m familiar with the market. I read all the time, but I don’t read too much contemporary fiction. There’s a voice I don’t like, that I encounter often. A smug, clever well-wikipedia-researched voice. Or a coldness that I find unbeautiful. Of course I’ve read some modern novels that touched me very deeply, and I’ll tell you what those are, if you like.
I would love to say that I met you at a literary convention of some sort and that we discussed my work and you seemed very interested, but it’s not true, and you know it. I’ve never been to a literary convention, I’ve never been in an MFA program. I took part in some sort of novel-writing workshop once, but that was years ago, a lifetime ago, and I’m not sure the whole thing wasn’t some sort of scan. I’m not in any literary salon. You don’t know me, you don’t know my work. I guess I’m something of an outsider, but, as I’m sure you know, William Faulkner was an outsider, “[N]ow I realise for the first time what an amazing gift I had: uneducated in every formal sense, without even very literate, let alone literary, companions, yet to have made the things I made. I don’t know where it came from.” and yet, he says, “I am the best in America, by God.” Am I saying I’m as good as Faulkner? Am I saying I’m the best in America? Of course not, of course not.
I wish I knew some famous authors and they’d read my novel and had nice things to say about it. Or they hadn’t read it but said I could tell you I know them. But that’s not true either. But here’s what I imagine some famous writers might say. John Donne would say, “She stole my words for the title of her book!” And then he would say, “Of course she took them from my meditations on humans and sickness and religion, and that’s sort of what her book is about, so that’s okay.” And then TS Eliot would say, “You brat! You stole my source! You quoted the Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich, word for word! That’s not okay! Only I can do that.” And Zola would say, “Don’t think I didn’t notice you modeled a character on one of my characters, and you have him read my words aloud!” And Dostoyevsky would say, “Sure, go ahead and quote whole passages from one of my books. There’s not much I can do about it now, is there?” And Reverend Gary Davis would say, “I’m glad you like my songs enough put entire lines from them in someone else’s mouth.” And Ezra Pound would wander into the room and say, “Claire, sit on your knees to write and seal your query, And send it a thousand miles, thinking.”
Yeah. My novel is weird, but not in a clever or calculated way. I know that you receive millions of queries and many of them are from crazy people, and you must read such an odd assortment of nonsense that everything starts to sound like nonsense. I’m sure I sound crazy and awkward you’re going to read a few lines and toss me aside. I know I’ll never hear from you again, or I’ll get a polite e-mail telling me (and everybody else) that you wish us the best of luck with our project and our career. I understand that. And yet I’m hanging on to the small glimmer of hope that glows brighter every time I send a sample chapter out, that’s so hard to extinguish no matter how many rejections I receive, or how much blinding silence my words are greeted with.
So thank you for your time.
Yours sincerely in hope and promise,
ClaireWho is making lots of tarts lately? Who is? ME! I am! I did a ridiculously splurgy grocery shop before my birthday and got brie and pistachios and smoked mozzarella and pine nuts. Phew. So I combined them all in a tart. The crust has smoked paprika in it. The custard has pistachios and goat cheese and bronze fennel leaves. You could use regular fennel leaves of even tarragon, if you’d like to have that lovely anise-lemon flavor. The whole thing is topped with bits of brie, slices of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, casetlvetrano olives, pine nuts, fresh basil, and these beautiful little spicy shoots that make every picture prettier.
Second of all, let me tell you about my lunch. I’m very excited about it. It was: a saltine cracker topped with brie, avocado, tomato, castelvetrano olives and lots of black pepper. I don’t usually eat lunch, but I’d been thinking about brie and avocado for a while now, and I had to try it. Everything tastes good on a saltine cracker.
Finally, I’ll admit that this birthday is a hard one. 45. The only good thing you can say about turning 45 is that it’s better than not turning 45. For some irrational reason, birthdays ending in five or zero are harder than any other birthdays. So I’ve been in a blue mood all week. And then one evening after dinner the boys and I walked to the store to buy ice cream novelties. I was feeling heavy and tired and discouraged. We walked through a big open space in town, and Malcolm said, “Mom! Sky Dive!!” He grabbed my hand and flung his other arm out. Slowly, I caught on, and stretched my arm out, and then he took Isaac’s hand and Isaac stretched his arm out. We were flying and buoyant and weightless in the sweet air of a perfect June evening. And I feel alright, I feel grateful for all of it, for everything.Our blackcurrant bush is bonkers. Full of fruit. You pick a bowlful in the morning, and it’s completely laden again in the evening. The berries seem to ripen as you pick them. So I boiled them for a long time with lots of sugar, and then pressed them through a sieve and ended up with a thick beautiful sauce. I added this to a custard one night and made ice cream. And yesterday I made a cake. I made a soft almond cake, and put a layer of blackcurrant sauce, fresh bing cherries and bittersweet chocolate chips. The whole thing is tart/sweet/soft and juicy. You have to eat it with a fork, though, cause it’s delightfully messy.
Here’s Peppino di Capri’s Per Un Attimo.
My boys liked this sauce! It’s got a nice balance of sweet, tart and umami flavors. It’s good with steamed broccoli, with spinach, with carrots. It’s nice with rice or long noodles. And it’s very easy to make! We have quite a few basil plants outside, and this is a nice non-pesto use for the leaves.
Here’s a song from Twilight Samurai by Isao Tomita.