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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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!
113BluebirdInternet
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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Roasted mushroom and white bean soup (with smoked basmati rice, of course!)

Smoky roasted mushroom and white bean soup

Smoky roasted mushroom and white bean soup

American mythologies #3: The end is nigh. In America everybody will try to sell you something. That’s how the system works. Your waiter wants you to buy another drink, at the food store they want you to buy a lot of snacks you don’t need, at the clothing store they want you to buy more clothes than you’ll ever wear, at the big big stores they want you to buy all kinds of crap you never needed to know existed, your kids want you to buy cheese-stuffed pretzels and wrapping paper for some club or other, the nice artist next door wants you to buy his paintings, the failed novelist wants some publisher to buy her stupid novel, the pharmacists want you to believe you’ll die without their medicines, the people on the news want you to buy their lies about how everything is going to hell, so that you’ll watch more news and buy all the products their sponsors advertise. If you’re an American, chances are you, yourself, are trying to sell something to someone much of the time, whether you want to or not. All year long, but this time of year most of all, every bit of mail I get, either from the postman or my computer, every message I receive, is a frantic alert that I’m about to miss an opportunity! Time is running out! Everything ends in two days! Or ten hours! Or by the time you finish reading the message! Act now! Act now! Act now! Don’t delay or the moment will be gone. You will have missed it, and it will never ever come back.The sale will be over, and you won’t have bought the thing you never knew you needed at a slightly reduced inflated price, and you might as well just off yourself. And then you watch the news, which ignores anything of actual significance to warn you of deadly terrors that, well, they’re unlikely to touch your life, but YOU NEVER KNOW! And when you’re in a constant state of near-panic, a never-ending ferment of knotty anxiety, the last thing you want to hear is that this is your last chance! YOUR LAST CHANCE for an exclusive special offer! Beat the clock! Before midnight! Only hours to go! Limited time hot deal! TODAY ONLY!! FINAL HOURS!! FINAL HOURS!! * Your absolute very last final last chance! Until the next time, of course, because as soon as you delete that one email, or recycle that one flyer, another will appear in your mailbox, offering a different sale for the same product. And when you ignore that one another will come along. And another and another. Until it’s all just noise, the words have no meaning, time has no meaning, it’s not really passing, it’s in some strange cycle from day to day till the last syllable of the next dozen emails you open. The truth, children, is this: Time is passing at an alarming rate. It’s running and passing, and flying by more quickly with each unfolding day. So don’t waste it buying things. Don’t waste it in stores or online shopping carts. You will never regret not buying that one thing you probably don’t need, but you might regret time you don’t spend with people you love, doing things that you love. Act now! To make something you feel good about…a picture, a story, a meal. And when you do buy something, because you must eventually, try to buy it from somebody who, in making it, was doing something that they love. If time is running out, spend it well, it’s the most important thing you have to spend.

I told you I was going to put smoked basmati rice in everything I made from now on, and this soup is no exception! (You could make this with regular basmati rice or even white rice. It will still be smoky from the roastedness and the smoked paprika.) This is a really meaty, umami-isn soup. You could make it even more so by adding a dash of tamari, a smidgen of marmite, or a spoonful of miso paste. I didn’t think it needed that, though. It’s plenty flavorful as it is. It’s also pretty easy to make. It doesn’t take long to roast the mushrooms, and don’t be afraid to cook them till they’re quite well-browned, it will deepen the flavor. This soup will still be creamy, and it will be vegan if you leave the small bit of butter out.

Here’s Big Youth with Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Spot the sample!

    Time is running and passing and passing and running, so you all better get it right this time, because there might be no next time.

* actual messages from my deleted folder!
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Black rice, french lentil, roasted mushroom croquettes

IMG_5008I like the idea of Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. Have I read them? I have not, not even a smicker of them, as our Malcolm used to say. Will that stop me talking about them? It will not! According to my understanding, Barthes examines certain aspects of modern life that have become accepted as fact and shows how they are, in truth, myths: stories that we use to define ourselves and our place in the world. Barthes was writing in France in the 1950s, and it seems that now, here, in America in 2014, we’ve woven such an insane tangle of stories to explain ourselves to ourselves and the rest of the world that it’s almost overwhelming. It seems important, though, to take a step back from time to time, and to try to unravel them to arrive at some truth. Some ever-shifting never-reachable truth. Here’s one I’ve been thinking about lately. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” It all starts in pre-school, when they’re handing out crayons or cookies. The fundamental idea, of course, is to be content with what you’re given, and to shut up and stop whining! At its most basic, it’s toddler crowd control. At its most basic, I like the idea. I would like my children to be capable of contentment, a difficult state to achieve. I would like them to be grateful to get anything at all. I would like them to be even-tempered and agreeable rather than whiny and difficult. Of course I would. And I would like to live in a world where these qualities are rewarded. But the truth is that we don’t live in that world. We can send an army of five-year-olds home chanting the catchy little rhyme, but if they absorb the lesson too completely how will they ever become successful modern Americans? We’re not supposed to be happy with what we have! We’re supposed to want more! Too much is never enough! We’re supposed to want whatever other people have. It’s one of our older myths, as Americans, that if we work hard and strive for more, for better, we can achieve success and riches. How would advertising work if people were content with what they had and who they are? It wouldn’t! It wouldn’t work, and billions of advertising dollars would be wasted trying to manipulate people based on desires and insecurities they didn’t really feel. In America we award the loud people, the talkers, the salesmen, the people who want what they get and want what everyone around them gets, too. We don’t admire people who settle. We’re scornful of people who don’t strive to better themselves, even if they face insurmountable odds such as we can’t even dream of. I believe there are countries where ambition is looked upon as a negative quality, as a vice, but we don’t live in such a country. As long as we’re telling stories about the world we inhabit, I’d like to tell this one: You get what you get, and you change it to make exactly what you need. And if you don’t get the right parts to make what you need, you share with your neighbor. You trade them the parts they need for the parts you need, and everybody creates exactly what they want. Obviously, if everyone makes a picture with the one crayon they’re given, which might not even be a color they like, it won’t be as satisfying as if everybody shares all the colors to make their pictures. Everybody makes something beautiful. And still, nobody gets upset.

Black rice, french lentil and roasted mushroom croquettes.

Black rice, french lentil and roasted mushroom croquettes.

Croquettes! Or kofta, if you like. Or burgers. These would make great veggie burgers! These are very flavorful, very umami-ish. They have a nice texture-quite crispy. We ate them in warm tortillas with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grated sharp cheddar. Which was delicious! But you could also make them larger and put them on a bun to make burgers. Black rice is not hard to find, I think, but you could make these with any other kind of rice, even rice leftover from your take-out food. All of these things, the lentils, the rice, can be used in other meals, which is good because the recipes given below will give you more than you need.

Here’s Bob Marley with Want More.

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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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Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée (and croquettes)

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

Back in the summertime, I could, and probably did, start every post with, “Malcolm and I went for a walk after dinner.” We haven’t gone for too many walks lately. He’s in school, now, middle school. He’s a busy boy. And the dark comes early and it’s too chilly to swim in the river. But the other night we went to buy milk in the evening, and we talked about this and that, as we do. I asked Malcolm if I would be the first American to win the Booker prize, which is a perfectly normal thing for a mom to ask her twelve-year-old son. We’ve all been there. He said, “No, no way.” And we walked a few more steps and he said, “Wait, what’s the Booker prize?” And I said it’s a prize for the best novel. And he said, “Oh yeah, you’ll definitely win that.” And I said, “What did you think the Booker prize was for?” And he said, “You know, for someone who books.” And he made the universal gesture for somebody running really fast. I didn’t take offense. I can scamper with the best of them, but I’m no speed demon. I know that, I’m comfortable with that. But Malcolm believes I’ll definitely win the Booker prize! I’ve always wanted to win the Booker prize, never more than when it was a complete impossibility. Until very recent history, it couldn’t be won by an American, and I, improbably and irrevocably, am an American. It also couldn’t be won by somebody who hadn’t written a novel, which is something I hadn’t done until very recently. As I say, I liked the impossibility of me ever winning a Booker prize, and it didn’t make me want to win it any less. It suited my sense of ambition, which is completely absurd and has no practical real-word application. I keep thinking of a conversation I had with my friend Maureen, when we were in Highschool. She said it might seem unlikely but she had no doubt in her mind that she would be a successful musician some day. And I said I felt the same way about being a writer. We had an unerring adolescent sense of inevitability, the glowing nugget of which has turned into a smoldering middle-aged sense of you-never-know. Because now I’ve written a novel. Will it win the Booker prize? Of course not! Will it ever be published? I’m starting to doubt it! Does my son Malcolm believe that of course I’ll be the first American to win the Booker prize? He does! What could be better than that?

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

I made this with some kale from the farm. I love kale, but I’ve been balking at the texture of it lately, for some reason. I always want it to be softer. So I made this puree, with castelvetrano olives and pistachios. It’s green. I thought it was really nice as a sort of side dish, but it would also be good tossed with pasta as a pesto or maybe with some rice and flatbread. The next day I added some eggs, cheese and bread crumbs and made croquettes. Also very easy and very tasty.

Here’s Booker T and the MGs with Time is Tight
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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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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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Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

Isaac ends his sentences with an ascension. His voice travels upwards at the end of each thought. Sometimes it trails upwards in a lengthy and leisurely fashion. Sometimes, when he’s indignant, it rises sharply to unhearable heights. It sounds like he’s asking a question, even if he isn’t asking a question. This is not uncommon, I think. I’ve heard other children talk in this fashion. The question is why, and here at The Ordinary’s institute for analysis of vocal inflection, we’ve been looking into it. We’ve been examining data, both quantitative and qualitative, and using the scientific method to posit hypotheses before testing them against focal groups and sample fields. (I’ve been helping Malcolm with his biology homework!) We’ve come up with two possible theories to explain the phenomenon. One is that Isaac’s thoughts are buoyant. They bubble out of him and float up into the atmosphere. They’re not insubstantial, they start with a pleasant weight and depth, but they’re uncontainable, exuberant, they catch the breeze and rise like kites to travel where Isaac’s unusual mind will take them. Like to the lark at break of day arising
from sullen earth, Isaac’s thoughts sing hymns at heaven’s gate. This is one theory. The other, more probably theory, is that he doesn’t believe we’re paying attention, so each statement is a question, a “did you hear these words, are you listening?” question. Well of course we’re listening! We catch his words as they float out of him, and they help to lift us up on even the dreariest of days.

Speaking of dreary days, if you’re experiencing such a thing, make this soup! It’s warm and bright, a little spicy but very comforting. I made it with golden tomatoes from our garden, which gave it a pretty color. You could make it with any kind of tomatoes, though, it would still be good. We ate it almost as dal, over rice. I added some chopped baby spinach to mine. You could eat it just as it is, though, with some nice crusty bread, for a perfect autumn meal.

Here’s As I Rise by the Decemberists.
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