Cool tacos for a hot day

Black bean, pepper and avocado

Black bean, pepper and avocado

SUMMER JOURNAL

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.

Red beans, olives and tomatoes

Red beans, olives and tomatoes

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,
lemony herb hummus

lemony herb hummus

smoky pumpinseed sauce

smoky pumpinseed sauce


as well as a smoky toasted pumpkinseed sauce. All vegan if you leave the cheese out!

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Summertime.

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Coconut-black pepper-rice flour pancakes

Coconut and black pepper roti

Coconut and black pepper roti

My favorite word at the moment is “perplex.” I like the sound of it–I think it has just a few more consonants than it needs, in just the right order, to make it perplexing to pronounce. And I like the idea of it, it’s not as dire as confusion or as final as bafflement. I find it pleasant to be perplexed, to puzzle over something that I don’t quite understand. It makes me feel awake and alive, although of course sleep and dreams are perplexing as well. Unpleasant things are confusing, like calculus tests and taxes, but perplexing things can be pleasant or even beautiful, like love or a poem with many layers of meaning. Something perplexing doesn’t need to be solved or fixed, but can linger raising questions, indefinitely. I love this quote from the Hagakure, “There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.” I love the idea that rain is perplexing, because of course it is. Water falling from the sky! The very smell is unsettling and stirring, because it signals a change. It reminds me of an interview with Tom Waits in which he said he named his album Rain Dogs because he liked to think about how perplexed dogs must be after a rainstorm, when everything smelled different to them. He imagined them saying, “Hey, who moved all the furniture.” I love the perplexing phrase, “I don’t want no woman got hair like drops a-rain.” What does it mean? I like the etymology of the word “perplex,” it means entangled, intricate, or braided. I believe that everything is interwoven, and this is both what makes the world so perplexing, and what makes it worth puzzling over. I believe this to be a beautiful summation of the complicated fact that words will never be adequate to describe our perplexities, but they’re all we have. “I am perplext, and know not what to say.” “What canst thou say, but will perplex thee more?” Indeed. And with that, I’ll wish everybody a pleasantly perplexing day, and get on with my work!

IMG_3666I found these cakes perplexing to name. They’re loosely based on Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for rice flour dosas, but they’re almost like crepes or just pancakes. They’re sweetish, but I thought of them as part of a savory meal, and we ate them with a curry of pigeon peas and raisins in cashew sauce, which I might tell you about some day. They’re quite easy to make, light and tender, and the boys liked them, too. I actually used plain old sweetened flaked coconut, but they’d probably be better with unsweetened.

Here’s Skip James with Look Down the Road.

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Blackeyed pea pancakes and Chickpea & spinach in cauliflower cashew curry sauce

Chickpea and spinach in cauliflower cashew curry sauce

Chickpea and spinach in cauliflower cashew curry sauce

It may well be that you reach an age when you’re too old to say, “When I grow up.” And I undboubtedly passed that age many years ago. But I believe that I’ll never outgrow the feeling of “when I grow up.” I’ll never outgrow the idea that someday I’ll finish a novel or make another movie or have a career or even a steady well-paying job. I love when the boys talk about what they’ll be when they grow up. It’s so hopeful and nonsensical, sometimes, but possible and practical too. They can be whatever they want to be. Isaac might be an inventor who makes robots and toys and Halloween decorations, and Malcolm might be a mechanic who develops a floating car that doesn’t hurt the environment. There’s no reason in the world these things won’t happen if they really want it too. And I know they have time to figure it all out, and I look forward to watching them puzzle through it all. Of course at my advanced age the possibilities are much more limited. I’ll never invent a floating car. Sigh. I’ve come to terms with that fact. I have a long path behind me with turnings I didn’t follow. I have a recurring dream about clothes. In the dream I discover that I have closets or cupboards full of clothes that I’ve never worn or that I haven’t worn in ages. I’m excited at first to have new clothes to wear, but upon closer inspection I find that they’re dusty and filled with moths and weevils. They’re unwearable. I think this dream is about my career, or lack of one. It’s about foolish decisions and wasted opportunities and squandered potential. It’s about waking up to discover that you’re forty-four, and things haven’t worked out the way they were supposed to. But I have another recurring dream and in this dream I make a film. Sometimes I shoot the film in the dream, and it all falls together with the ease and oddness of dream logic. Sometimes I find footage I shot at an earlier time, and it’s perfect, beautiful footage, and in my dream I have a revelation of how to edit it all together, I know exactly what I need to add to complete the film. I had this dream twice in one night this week, and I woke up feeling so happy and hopeful. The line between films and dreams is so slight and easily blurred. And maybe this means that I’m working on something good. Maybe it means I have beautiful ideas in my head that have been there all along, and I just need to discover them and put them together. The memory of dreams can shade your life for days, but maybe it’s time to step out of these dreaming shadows, maybe it’s time to wake up and live! When I grow up…

Blackeyed pea cakes

Blackeyed pea cakes

This savory pancake recipe is loosely based on one I found in Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. I added a few things to make it easier to cook the pancakes, and I added different spices. These weren’t hard to make at all, although you have to plan ahead and soak the peas. Malcolm loved them, and Isaac thought they were a little strange, (which, admittedly, they are) but he ate them anyway. They seem like they must be full of protein! They have a nice, unusual earthy taste. Everybody liked the curry, which is smooth and full of flavor.

Here’s Bob Marley with Wake Up and Live.
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Spicy smoky black-eyed peas and rice

Spicy smoky black-eyed peas and rice

Spicy smoky black-eyed peas and rice

On New Year’s day we lost and found Clio. It all started because we all had a thick layer of wintery cobwebs clouding our vision and our brains, and they needed clearing, so we went to a big field by the towpath for a scamper. The boys and the dog raced ahead, buoyant and bright-eyed. The field was golden, the sky was pale and glowing, the bare trees dark and stark and beautiful. I thought, “We needed this!” and imagined how nice it would be to go home later and be warm and cozy.

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Then Clio ran into the trees. We heard her crying and then nothing. Malcolm and David went searching through the thorns and brambles and frozen marsh, and Isaac and I stayed on the path. For ten minutes, fifteen minutes, no sound, no sign of Clio. I tried not to think about finding her hurt or worse, I tried not to think about not finding her, I tried not to think at all. When we finally found her she was on the other side of the woods, the other side of the towpath, the other side of the canal, up a hill on route 29. A grey dog on a grey shoulder-less road on a grey day. She ran down the hill crying, and swam across the icy canal to reach us. And we had her back again, the stupid beautiful dog. The boys now understand what it means to be so worried about someone that you’re angry with them. They talked about it for the rest of the day, describing how they felt every step of the way. So we were all safe and warm with a story to tell: the losing and finding of Clio the dog. And today’s Sunday interactive playlist is on the subject of losing and finding things. You might lose your baby or your reason or your dog or your keys or your heart or your mind. You might find your soul or your voice or a pot of gold. Add your songs to the list, or leave a note in the comments and I’ll try to remember to add it through the week.

IMG_2007Of course we had black-eyed peas and ring-shaped bread on New Year’s day! We made the peas spicy and smoky, with ginger, jalapeños, garlic, black cardamom, cumin, cilantro and smoked paprika. I used black-eyed peas from a can, because I’m lazy like that, but you could cook them up from scratch and add them just as easily. We ate theme with basmati rice and stewed collards and potatoes. Yet another way to clear the cobwebs!!

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist.

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Basmati risotto with french lentils, roasted mushrooms and spinach

Basmati and french lentil risotto

Basmati and french lentil risotto

For as long as I can remember, Isaac has asked for one thing (well, he’s asked for lots of things–this boy loves toys!). But his highly detailed and elaborately illustrated wish lists for birthdays and christmas have always included one particular toy: a caped Boba Fett. Did he see one, once, when he was very little, a vision of the perfect Star Wars guy, the very model of a model of a modern masked intergalactic bounty hunter, who will live in his memory forever? I don’t know. The point is that he’s never gotten one, but he never stops asking for it. It’s become a sort of quest, the elusive image of a perfect toy. A guy who can move his arms and legs, and has armor, and has a jet pack and has a cape. (A jet pack and a cape? Kids, don’t try this at home.) Isaac’s not an easily disappointed boy, he’s always happy with whatever presents he does get. The whole thing isn’t ruined because he didn’t get a caped Boba Fett. But he keeps asking. And if we ever saw a caped Boba Fett, we’d get it for him, and we’d be happy that he’s happy. But for now, I like the idea of Isaac not having caped Boba Fett. I like the idea that he could get it someday, it’s an event to anticipate, it’s a happy possibility. Maybe we all need a caped Boba Fett in our lives. Some pleasant perfect thing we’d really like, though can live without. Something to look for in our travels, to daydream about, to look forward to having some day. By the time we find caped Boba Fett, we might all actually have jet packs and morally-ambiguous grey green armor, but until then, we can dream, and Isaac will keep asking, he’ll keep putting caped Boba Fett on his list.

Basmatto

Basmatto

I had some leftover cooked french lentils and french lentil-cooking broth. I thought it would be nice to make risotto, sort of a comforting mujadara-type rice and lentil dish. Well, I didn’t have arborio rice, so I thought I’d try it with basmati instead, fully aware that it would never be as creamy and soft as the traditional type. I made basmatto. I used a combination of lentil-cooking broth and water blended with baby spinach as broth. I roasted mushrooms separately, and tossed them in at the end, so they didn’t become mushy and slimy. This was a very savory, tasty, meaty, satisfying meal. Good comfort on a cold day, and easy to make, too.

Here’s Boba Fett’s theme from the Star Wars soundtrack. Described by Wikipedia as “not music, exactly” … but “more of a gurgly, viola-and-bassoon thing aurally cross-pollinated with some obscure static sounds.” Yeah.

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Red lentil, red bean and yellow split pea curry (with sweet potatoes, red peppers and kale)

Red bean, red lentil and yellow split pea curry

Red bean, red lentil and yellow split pea curry

Isaac likes to ask questions he knows the answers to. He’ll ask them again and again, and there must be something reassuring in getting the same answer every time. Of course this is dangerous when you have a mother who earned the name “Miss Snide” in her youth because of her snarky response to every question with an obvious answer, and who can’t give the same answer twice. So frequently our walks to school go a little something like this. “Mom, do you think Clio is cute?” “No, I think she’s a hideous beast.” “Mom, do you think Clio is cute?” “No, I think she’s foulfiendish.” “Mom, do you think Clio is cute?” On and on until I finally break and yell, “Of course I think Clio is cute, I only tell her so ten thousand times a day!” Last night when we were reading before bed it was, “Mom, what’s your favorite color?” “You know the answer, you tell me.” “GREEN! What’s your other favorite color?” “You tell me again,” “Blue!” And then Isaac recalled a time when one friend, who is a girl, said that her favorite colors are pink and red, and another friend, who is a boy, said she couldn’t like red because it’s a boy’s color. And then both Malcolm and Isaac said “There’s no such thing as boy colors and girl colors! Any body can like any color!” Isaac said it’s a made up myth. And Malcolm said that it sucks for girls, though, because they only get two colors, but boys get every other color there is. Well! It seemed like such a wise thing to say. It seemed like such a perfect metaphor for so much else in life, and I’d never thought about it before in that way. Pink and purple. I mean of course I’d realized how ridiculous it was to think of these as girlie colors, or let colors be so defining, and I’d always been proud of my boys for liking pink and purple in defiant solidarity. But I’d never realized how imbalanced it was. I’d never really thought about how every single other color belongs mostly to the boys. I had a funny sort of flash of “What else do we just live with and take for granted that I need my eleven-year-old to state with brilliant matter-of-fact clarity?” This week Isaac had to fill in a big poster about himself, and in the box for favorite color he drew just about every color known to magic markerdom. I love to think about my boys refining the light of the entire spectrum through the perfect prism of their ridiculously lovely combination of imagination and good sense. I love to think about them glowing with all the colors, with every color in the world.

Red lentil, red bean, and yellow split pea curry

Red lentil, red bean, and yellow split pea curry

Speaking of color! This dal had red lentils, yellow split peas and red beans. So it was very warm and autumnal. It also had red peppers and sweet potatoes, to add to the warmth and autumnalness. It was tasty, too, and satisfying. If you cook if for a nice long time, the red lentils will break down into a sort of background creaminess, but the split peas and red beans will retain their texture. We ate this with basmati rice and some Ooto flatbreads.

Here’s Louis Armstrong with What a Wonderful World.
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Saucy summer vegetables with lemon, basil, and ginger

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

We’re having a heatwave! It’s been one scorcher after another, with little relief even at night. I don’t mind it so much. I like to hole up in our one air-conditioned room and read or write, and then strike out in search of water for the boys to swim in. But it does make you feel a little weary, after a while, and leave you longing for crisp, energizing weather. You might expect this week’s Sunday interactive playlist to be about hot songs, right? But no! We’re going to cool it down with songs about coldness, winter, ice and snow. What’s cooler than cool? Our ice cold playlist to chill out to.

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

This is a light, bright way to use up some vegetables from the farm without heating up the kitchen too much. I used golden beets, pattypan squash, golden and red tomatoes and fennel, because I like the combination of flavors and that’s what we had, but you can use what you like. It’s very flavorful, with ginger, coriander, basil, cilantro and lemon. We ate it with soba noodles, and it looked very nice and colorful against their slate grey background, but you could eat it with rice, or over greens, or as a sort of side dish.

Here’s a link to the ice cold playlist. Add what you like, or leave a comment and I’ll add it for you.

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Tacos with broccoli, chard, and kidney beans in chipotle-coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

I got an iPhone four years ago. In the time since I’ve developed a nervous habit of checking my e-mail every few minutes. I don’t do it while I’m talking to people, of course, or at a meal or a gathering of any kind, but if I’m waiting on line, walking the dog, trying to write, if I’m actually just trying to check the time, I’ll always check my e-mail, too. It feels sort of hopeful and foolish. Any minute now, somebody is going to tell me they’d like to offer me a big advance to write a novel or make a feature film, and obviously they’re going to do it via e-mail, and it’s going to be totally legitimate, and if I don’t respond immediately I’ll lose the opportunity. Yeah. We got new phones, the other night, and now I get a gentle little chime each time I get a new e-mail. This means I don’t need to check!! This means that I know immediately that I got an important message from staples or toys r us or astrocenter (what the hell is astrocenter? Why are they bothering me?). Well, it feels strange. It’s vaguely disappointing, somehow. I no longer have the feeling that I could be getting good news at any time, because I know I’m not. Now I feel much more foolish than hopeful. And all of this got me thinking about mail, and how nice it used to be to wait for real mail from the mailman, and to write real letters, that required time and thought. And then I started thinking about photos, and how precious they used to be. People used to have special ways to keep photographs, little frames and boxes they would carry their one or two precious pictures in. Now we have phones loaded with snapshots. It used to require time and patience to take a photograph. The process was half skill, half luck in capturing the perfect moment. Now it’s all luck, the camera takes care of all the rest, and we can snap a billion shots a day. We have a much higher chance of capturing a randomly beautiful moment. I’ve been thinking about this quote I scribbled in my notebook a few years ago. It’s from René Claire, a filmmaker and writer who worked at the very beginning of cinema. He wrote essays about this miraculous new art form describing how passionately he felt about the direction it should take. He held it as a great responsibility to make films a certain way that would ensure that cinema lived up to its potential. Here’s the quote…

    In this era, when verbal poetry is losing the charm it exerted on the masses … a new form of poetic expression has arisen and can reach every beating heart on earth … a poetry of the people is there, seeking its way.

It’s easy to feel down and discouraged about the overwhelming barrage of messages and photos and news and information that we receive every single day, whether we like it or not. It’s easy to regret the days when a letter or a photograph was a rare and precious thing. It’s easy to be sad about the bloated, disappointing state of American film. But maybe it’s better to think about this new endless procession of snapshots, which capture an instant, are taken in an instant, and are shared in an instant, as a form of poetic expression available to most, and capable of reaching every beating heart on earth. Equal parts hopeful and foolish.
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We have tons of chard from the farm, which makes me very very happy, because I love chard. I decided to try something different with it, and cook it in a chipotle coconut milk sauce. It turned out really tasty! I added broccoli and kidney beans for substance, and lime and spices for flavor and brightness. We ate this with basmati rice, warm wheat tortillas, and a fresh salad made of avocado, cucumber and tomatoes, but you could eat it just with rice or any other grain you like.

Here’s Photo Jenny by Belle and Sebastian

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Broccoli and cauliflower with tamari, honey, and cashews

Broccoli and cauliflower with honey, tamari and cashews

Broccoli and cauliflower with honey, tamari and cashews

Each morning this weekend, Malcolm and I went running. In reality this involved short bursts of running followed by long spells of lazy meandering. The weather was perfect, the new green leaves glowed with all their tiny might, and Clio raced through the morning mist like a sleek grey dolphin. I was happy to spend time with Malcolm because I had to work most of the day. I was glad to have some of his thoughts to take to work with me, to mull over if things got dreary. He said he thought it would be a good superhero power to be an animal for one day at a time. So you could be a dolphin if you needed to swim in the ocean, you could be a monkey if you needed to swing around in trees, and you could be Clio if you just wanted to have fun.
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I was doing a good job of turning off my anxieties. I wasn’t listening to the little voice that considered the possible perilous pitfalls of every single situation. “Most likely it won’t happen. It could happen, it probably has happened, sometime in history…” Malcolm fell in some nettles and came up crying, holding his head. I thought he’d hit it on a rock. But he hadn’t! We thought we heard a chain saw ahead of us on a secluded path, which conjured all sorts of nervousness. But we hadn’t heard one! There was nobody there! I was anxious about going to work each day because there was a festival in town and David would be busy with the store and my boys might wander off… Probably not, but you never know! But they were fine! And our Clio was off leash, leaping up and down brambly hills, merrily greeting every dog she met, and so happy and joyful it was impossible to feel too apprehensive. And then we saw some dogs up in the distance. They were off leash, too, and getting along with each other. Clio raced towards them, around a small bend in the path. And then I heard cries of pain, and saw a little commotion. Clio came running back to us with a gaping wound in her side. It will turn out to be fine like everything else, I thought! If I pretend it’s not so bad it will go away! But it didn’t, and the poor girl needed stitches, and now she’s all dopey and crying and she has to wear what Malcolm calls the “cone of shame.” She was at the vet all morning! And I was so nervous and separation anxiety-y that David suggested I chew up some of her toys, since it seems to work for her when we’re gone and she’s missing us. And then I picked her up and she seemed subdued and reproachful, she didn’t fall all over herself with glad-to-see-me-ness, like she usually does. Oh what a dark and grey-day mood I found myself in! Because it’s a rainy day, and I kept thinking that this is what I get for letting my guard down! This is what I get for letting myself not be anxious every single second of every day! Because obviously my constant worrying is what keeps everybody safe! I make protective walls around everybody with my unceasing uneasiness! I talked to the vet and told them I think Clio’s mad at me, and they laughed at me and said, “she’s on drugs!” Ohhhhhhh. And she’s got stitches but she’s fine. She’s cuddled with Malcolm and Isaac on the couch and they’re all fine. And now I just have a little voice in my head saying, “Get over yourself, honey, you don’t have that kind of power!” And yes, it’s a gloomy day, but the new life everywhere is bursting with vivid greenness against all the grey. And the next time the sun comes out our whole world will wake up! Our whole world will shine!

This is another of my honey and tamari numbers. The boys loved it! It’s very simple and quick to make. We ate it with rice, but you could eat it as a side dish or with long noodles, or however you like.

Here’s Sleepy John Estes with Ain’t Gonna Worry No More. I’ve got to get a kazoo and learn to play this to chase away the worry demons.
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Carrots and cauliflower in carrot-ginger-lemon sauce with cashews

Coconut ginger lemon sauce

Coconut ginger lemon sauce

It’s Saturday again, and you know what that means! It’s story time! Here’s your picture for the week. Who is this fellow, and how did he end up at Joe’s in 1954? As ever, my story is after the jump, and yours could be, too.
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Here’s a link to the post with the original idea for the series.

This was a delicious sauce. It had a lot of ginger in it, which gave a nice little zing to the tartness of the lemon and the creamy sweetness of the coconut milk. It would be good with other vegetables as well – broccoli would be nice! We ate it with long thin pasta, but it would be good over basmati rice as well.

Here’s Mississippi John Hurt with Joe Turner Blues

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