“Mediterranean” white bean “chili” with avocado corn salsa and pesto

White bean chili with pesto and avocado corn salsa

White bean chili with pesto and avocado corn salsa

Godard’s 1967 film La Chinoise is full of words. The characters talk constantly, the walls of their apartment are painted with giant phrases and mottos, and the screen flashes with intertitles in a strange and jarring rhythm. And, of course, we don’t speak French, so we were also reading subtitles, as all of the dizzying layers of text were translated for us in rapid succession. The film is a loose adaption of Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed, and it tells the story of five university students intent on violent revolution. They discuss ideology, they discuss art, they’re very well-read, and they talk about literature and theater and music. They discuss their plans, and for most of the film we suspect they’ll be all talk and little action. They discuss their love for one another, or their lack of love. They talk about class struggle, they talk about the workers, but they never work. Except for Yvonne, one of two women in the group, who is constantly cleaning, and tells of her part-time work as a prostitute so that she can afford things. The film is shot mostly in the claustrophobic world of their apartment and their minds, both teeming with ideas and words so beautifully layered and confused and constant that they start to make a strange sort of sense. I think the film must have been one of Godard’s first color films, and he’s beautifully aware of color. Everything is red, white and blue, with Mao’s Little Red Book appearing in shifting stacks and patterns, becoming almost a character. The film is full of humor, it’s an affectionate satire. The students are foolish, even frighteningly so at times, but Godard loves them even as he disparages them. In one long beautiful scene, which finally breaks out into the world beyond the apartment, Veronique meets her old philosophy professor, a former revolutionary for the Algerian national liberation movement. She talks about her deeply-held political beliefs and she sounds like a child: she wants to close the universities, but she talks about how her one summer of actual work caused her to do really well on her exams. She talks about using bombs, and she says the word like a child would. As in Masculin/Feminin, the violence is off-screen, botched, dreamlike. It’s hard to know if it really happened or if it’s all in their heads. The whole film is like a dream, floating away with humor and words and sixties pop style, but grounded with the idea that these students are discussing real people and real problems that continue to affect people around the world.

avocado corn salsa and pesto

avocado corn salsa and pesto

Do you like all the quotation marks in the title?!? It’s because this isn’t really mediterranean, and it’s not really chili. It seemed mediterranean because it has olives and beans and rosemary and pesto and harissa. It’s like chili because it has chili paste and beans and it’s a spicy sort of stew. Whatever you call it, it was very tasty. The chili is warm and rich and savory, and the salsa is light and sweet, and the pesto adds a real kick of flavor. We ate this with zucchini corn bread, but you could warm up some tortillas and eat it as tacos instead.
White bean chili

White bean chili

Here’s Mao Mao, a poppy punky song by Claude Channes from La Chinoise, which pretty much sums up the whole film.

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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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Cashew-almond tamari sauce

Cashew tamari sauce

Cashew tamari sauce

Seibei Iguchi is a low-ranking samurai in mid-nineteenth century Japan, in an era when the notion of Samurai as a way of life is fading, confused, dying out. He’s employed as a bureaucrat in a grain warehouse, literally counting beans. His co-workers call him “twilight Seibei” because each evening at the close of the working day, when they go out and drink and consort with geishas, he rejects their invitation to join them and returns home instead. He’s a widower with a senile mother and two young daughters and he needs to be home to care for them, he can’t afford to go out. But this is not a hardship for him: he loves to be with his family, he loves to watch his daughters grow. He is content. This is Twilight Samurai, by Yôji Yamada, and it is a beautiful movie, and it is a very Ordinary movie! It’s not unique in showing samurai as displaced or unglamorous–Kurosawa’s nameless Samurai in Yojimbo is hungry and lousy. But I believe it is the first film I’ve seen to show a Samurai so quietly and contentedly engaged in ordinary everyday activities, going from day to day feeding his daughters, showing them how to make cricket cages, leaving for work and returning home, and noticing that the azaleas are in bloom. This is a quiet samurai movie with little (though beautifully filmed) fighting. Seibei Iguchi doesn’t hunger for glory or political advancement or financial gain. He’s full to bursting with the business of everyday life, with its pleasures and its responsibilities. Because twilight is more than just closing time, it’s the time of day when we become acutely aware of time passing, of the poignance and value of each moment, and we sense that Seibei Iguchi feels this aching beauty at all times.

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.

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Peachy guacamole

Peachy guacamole

Peachy guacamole

Malcolm graduated from elementary school yesterday. Honestly, up until a couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have thought this was such a momentous occasion. A minor transition, maybe. But right now it feels like a huge big deal. I’ve gotten all emotional about it. Last night at graduation they had a slide show with pictures of all the kids, from kindergarten till now. My god, they change so much between five and twelve! It all went so fast! They’ll change so much between twelve and eighteen, and that will fly by, too. My head is spinning! The whole world is in a whirl! Even the yearbook makes me weepy. They ask all the sixth graders a set of questions about what they like and what they hope for their future, and, of course, I love Malcolm’s answers. His favorite place to be is “anywhere.” How wonderful is that? Anywhere is his favorite place to be! I’m going to put that on a t-shirt and I’m going to remember it next time I’m cranky about being somewhere I don’t want to be. And what does he want to be when he grows up? A famous adventurer!! I think that’s the best answer an eleven year old could give. I want him to be a famous adventurer! I worry sometimes that I’ll pass on all of my worries to the boys. My fears of this and of that. I want to be a famous adventurer, too, I really, do, but I’m Moley at heart. I like to write and read and go for walks and eventually make dinner and drink some wine and then go for another walk. I like to be with my family in my house in my town. I like to travel, too, and we will when we have the means, but I’m an easily contented person. And it’s not just settling, these things make me truly, actively happy. But Malcolm could do anything! He could go anywhere! And whatever he does he could do as an adventurer. He could be an adventurer architect or fireman or astronaut or mechanic. He could be an adventurer dad or artist or musician or accountant. I suppose he could even be an adventure who likes to write and read and go for walks and eventually drink some wine and make dinner! Whatever he does, wherever he goes, I hope he goes there adventurously, and happily, and I hope anywhere is always his favorite place to be.

Peachy guacamole

Peachy guacamole

Another avocado recipe?!?! That’s right. I’m avocado obsessed at the moment, and my oven is broken so I can’t tell you about the cakes or bread or pies that I’m making because I’m not making them!! This was really nice, I thought. Sweet, tart, spicy, full of fresh chives and cilantro from our garden. We just ate it with chips, but it would be nice to add to bean tacos or with croquettes.

Here’s Owl City with When Can I See You Again, which Malcolm’s class sang at graduation. I swear there’s nothing like these pop songs they play at dances and choir concerts to get you all choked up when you’re feeling stupidly emotional.
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chickpea guacosalsa or salsamole

Chickpea saslamole

Chickpea saslamole

This afternoon Clio and I walked to school to pick up the boys, as we always do. I looked down at her, and she seemed very serious, head down, ears bobbing as earnestly as ears can bob. Yes, she has a light elegant gait and shiny white socks, but at this moment her pace was very businesslike. She had somewhere to be, and she was determined to get there. Dogged, I thought, Clio is demonstrating the definition of dogged.
Clio

Clio


I know that Clio considers walking the boys to and from school her job. She knows by some mysterious internal clock when it’s time to get them, and if I make any move around that time, she follows me frantically, worried that she’ll be left behind. What a wonderful work ethic she has! She knows where she’s going and she heads there at a relatively steady pace. If you were, oh, I don’t know, writing a novel, say, this would be the equivalent of writing a little bit every day, forcing yourself to write a few pages so that you will get where you’re going in a timely manner. We don’t take the same route every time, but we always arrive in the same place. She’s happy to let the walk take her where it will as long as we’re headed towards the school, but if I try to turn in the wrong direction she stops. She looks at me with serious, wondering eyes, she won’t move. She’s goal-oriented, but she’s willing to explore different options in achieving that goal. She’s willing to let herself get distracted by important things, like squirrels or sparrows, she’ll gladly stop to greet a friend, but she always has one paw back on the path, ready to continue the journey. Most of all, Clio’s work is full of the weighty buoyant responsibility of love. She enjoys the walk, sure, and she doesn’t mind the wait at the other end, as long as she has a few sticks to chew on. But the real reward is leaping happily on the boys when they finally emerge from the school. Her love for them has brought her out, in every kind of weather, when the sidewalks were slick with rain or treacherous with slush and ice. She’s joyfully, bouncingly dogged. She’s a true amateur.

Chickpea salsamole

Chickpea salsamole

This is so easy, so delicious, and so versatile. It’s a little like guacamole, a little like salsa, and a little like a cool chickpea salad. You could add anything you want to this! Garlic, raw or roasted, onions or chives, jalapeños, olives, capers, hot sauce, cheese…anything! I used cilantro from our garden and beautiful golden oregano from the CSA that we belong to. I like this to stuff inside a pita or tortilla with some croquettes or beans and rice.

Here’s Uncle Tupelo with I Want to be your Dog. I LOVE this cover!
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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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Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded mushrooms and eggplant

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded mushrooms and eggplant

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded mushrooms and eggplant

Yesterday we had torrential rain on and off all day. In the middle of the grey morning, Malcolm came home sick from school. We sat on the couch with his soft blanket and soft grey dog, and he ate a warm blueberry bagel, and asked if I’d read aloud to him from Go Saddle the Sea, one of my favorite books when I was his age. It’s the tale of a boy named Felix traveling through Spain on a beloved, bad-tempered mule. The boy is about Malcolm’s age, and he’s fair and strong and smart and resourceful, like my Malcolm is. It felt so perfect to sit with Malcolm on this icy wet day, warm and dry, reading this book, thinking about how, when I first read it and loved it, I could never have guessed about Malcolm, never have guessed that someday I’d have a boy so sweet and clever and complex. Malcolm is so strong and capable and level-headed that I’ve come to rely on him to help me with so many things, and it seemed so strange to see him miserable and sick, lying on the couch “crying without even trying.” I’ve probably mentioned it before, but one of my favorite quotes of all time is this one, “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.” It’s Alyosha from Brother’s Karmazov, who is kind and thoughtful to everybody that he meets. It might sound condescending, but I think the point is that we were all children once, and everybody gets sick sometimes. We’re all in it together, we’re all here to care for each other. I think about this passage sometimes when I’m waiting on tables, or talking to co-workers or teachers or total strangers, when I’m feeling bitter and ill-used, when somebody is rude to me. It’s hard sometimes, but with an effort I can remember that they were children once, they’re still somebody’s children, somebody cared for them as I care for my boys. I can remember that they have been sick, or imagine that they’re even in present pain, that they certainly have cares and worries that I’ll never know about. Yesterday I was thinking that being sick makes us into children again. It makes us needy and vulnerable. Everybody wants to be taken care of when they’re not feeling well, no matter how old and important they may be. Malcolm’s so strong and capable, he’s growing up so fast, he does everything so fast, he never stands still. It felt like a rare gift to have this rainy day with him, though I’m sorry he was so miserable. It’s like a rare chance to slow things down a little, to travel back in time to his (younger) childhood, to my childhood. It seems like a reminder that though we’re always looking forward, always looking inward, everything goes in cycles and turns in circles, and we can take an afternoon to sit under blankets and read an old book, watch cartoons, eat crackers and ginger beer, doze and wake. A day well-spent.

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded eggplant and mushrooms

Pizza with olive-pistachio tapenade and breaded eggplant and mushrooms

This was really two meals. The first night I marinated and breaded some mushrooms and slices of eggplant until they were tender and crispy. We ate these over couscous, with a sauce of pistachios and castelvetrano olives. The second night, I made some pizza dough, spread the sauce over, topped it with a mixture of smoked gouda, sharp cheddar and mozzarella, and then scattered the leftover mushrooms and eggplant over that. Delicious!

Here’s A Tribe Called Quest with Excursions, “I said, well daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles”

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Roasted butternut, mushroom and white bean tostada with pecan chipotle sauce

Buuternut, mushroom and white bean tostadas

Buuternut, mushroom and white bean tostadas

weathered bones
just thinking of the wind
it pierces my body
- Basho

All night long the wind seemed to shake the house. It sounded as though it was rushing through the neighborhood, rattling chains and knocking things over. It sounded like somebody drumming on empty barrels, and then racing away up the street. I lay awake for a while, worrying. Not about the wind, but about getting older and about disease and decay. It sounds foolish, it is foolish, and yet I lay awake letting my thoughts move from one thing to another, just like a visit to the doctor at a certain age results in one test that leads to another and another. I had no concrete cause for concern, I don’t know where the worry came from. I finally fell asleep and dreamt about owls and woke up confused. The wind was still wild this morning, blowing through us like icy knives on the way to school. When Clio and I walked home, empty garbage cans rolled around the streets, and made Clio crazy. She stopped and startled and then took off like a shot. Her hackles were raised, she refused to go down certain streets and she barked down others. She was in a panic. It struck me as strange that it’s so easy for us to recognize when somebody else’s fears are ungrounded or misplaced. It’s so easy for me to see that Clio is not going to be attacked by a garbage can, and I know that cars are dangerous for her, though she does not. It must be like that with my own worries as well. I’m barking down alleys at shadows, losing sleep over empty cans.

Roasted squash, mushroom and white bean tostadas

Roasted squash, mushroom and white bean tostadas

You know what makes these special? The patented Ordinary method of grating and roasting vegetables. It works for squash, beets, mushrooms, turnips, and many many others. It produces a nice texture and a completely roast flavor. In this recipe mushrooms and butternut squash are grated and roasted and then mixed with white beans, to create a sort of mince. This mixture is layered on top of a crispy tortilla in a cold/warm/cold/warm stack. First cool spinach leaves, then warm beans, then melted cheese, then cool avocado and tomatoes and spicy smoky pecan chipotle sauce. And that’s that!

Here’s Skip James with Worried Blues.

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semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut, butter beans and spinach-almond-asparagus pesto

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

“I doe now publish my Essayes; which, of all my other works, have been most Currant: For that, as it seems, they come home, to Mens Businesse, and Bosomes.” This is how Francis Bacon prefaces The Essays: or Counsels, Civil and Moral. I have a beautiful copy of this book, and I love the form of it. It is, simply, a series of short essays: Of Truth, Of Death, Of Unity in Religion, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Simulation and Dissimulation, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Envy, Of Love and so on and on it goes. And I love the tone of it. It’s quite matter-of-fact, he’s stating truths as he believes them, and he makes the truths sound incontrovertible, but we also feel that he hasn’t arrived at them lightly. He’s thought and thought on these subjects, and considered all of the facets and vagaries of them. And though he sounds sure of himself, he hasn’t sealed his mind on any of these ideas. He’s thinking on them still. We feel that he would agree with James Baldwin and with me that “…all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.” My favorite essay is the first, On Truth. You can tell that he loves truth as a thing, almost as a person. He loves the search for truth, “…yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.” And just as a hope is a place, so is truth, “It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.” He talks about poetry being the shadow of a lie, which adds some beauty to the truth, and he talks about lies such as “vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like,” as saving men’s minds from becoming “poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition.” In just this way he mixes wild, poetical language with the more staid and scholarly, and helps us to see not just the matter of his text, but his passion for it as well. I’d like to write a book of essays like this. I’d like to see everybody do it! We could pick the topics, of course, according to our interests, but we’d keep the essays short and fierce and thoughtful, like these are. We’d look at the world around us and decide what questions are important to ask, and then we’d spend time thinking about these questions, and then we’d write it all down. Not the answers to the questions, because there are no answers, but we’d write all of the ways we’ve been thinking about it, the truths that we have wooed. We’d share our truths with each other, and see that our truths aren’t the only ones, and that would make us seek not just the truth of our own little world, but of the great and common world, the whole round world.

"IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND."

“IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND.”

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Speaking of round! I made this ring of semolina dumplings, which are puffy and soft and comforting. Then I filled the center with butternut squash roasted with herbs, butter beans and mozzarella…all soft and creamy and sweet and roasty. And I topped the whole thing off with a bright, green, vegetal, lemony pesto of spinach, almonds and asparagus. This meal has layers. It didn’t take long to make, and it was a nice complex but comforting winter meal.

Here’s some more Gary Davis for you.

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Pistachio, almond and tarragon “mayonnaise”

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

We have another storm predicted for tonight, with the snowing and the blowing and the icy raining and the cries of near impossible travel conditions! and temperatures well below zero! I suspect they make it sound more dire than it will be because they want you to watch the news, but I feel mildly panicky anyway. I’m scared we’ll lose power, because I didn’t deal with it very well last time, and that was autumn, it wasn’t even all that cold yet. We’ve had a long winter and I’d love to see a few blades of grass, or step out of the house and feel the warm sun on my face. But it hasn’t been so bad. I don’t mind staying inside and writing and baking and reading and snoozing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about accounts I’ve read of storms in the midwest back in the days of pioneers and homesteaders. Letters home of blizzards that last for days and bury entire flocks of cattle, entire houses and towns. Snow that makes its way into houses made of sod or held together with mud or dug into a hillside. They didn’t fear losing power, because they didn’t have it to begin with, and it must have been hard to keep their fire going and their wood dry for days and days on end. I think of The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t read the Little House on the Prairie books until I was an adult, but when I finally came to them I fell for them hard. I read them at a strange point in my life–I was feeling a little lost and lonely and down, and something about the simplicity of the tales appealed to me. Their work was so hard and so endless and they faced it with such energy and thrift and cheerfulness. When they had nothing they found something to be thankful for, they found a way to make themselves what they needed. I love the straightforward language and the detailed descriptions of everyday activities, so fascinating to us now, though they must have seemed dreary and dull enough at the time. I love Laura, so funny and strong and smart and flawed. But mostly I love the unexpected poetry in the stories. I love the moodiness and mystery the sense of some force that comes from nature, but is bigger than anything we understand. I love Laura’s strange thoughts and the beautiful way that she expresses them.

    Outdoors the sun-glitter hurt her eyes. She breathed a deep breath of the tingling cold and squinted her eyes to look around her. The sky was hugely blue and all the land was blowing white. The straight, strong wind did not lift the snow, but drove it scudding across the prairie.

    The cattle were standing in sunshine and shadow by the haystacks—red and brown and spotted cattle and one thin black one. They stood perfectly still, every head bowed down to the ground. The hairy red
    necks and brown necks all stretched down from bony-gaunt shoulders to monstrous, swollen white heads.
    “Pa!” Laura screamed. Pa motioned to her to stay where she was. He went on trudging, through the low- flying snow, toward those creatures.

    They did not seem like real cattle. They stood so terribly still. In the whole herd there was not the least movement. Only their breathing sucked their hairy sides in between the rib bones and pushed them out again. Their hip bones and their shoulder bones stood up sharply. Their legs were braced out, stiff and still. And where their heads should be, swollen white lumps seemed fast to the ground under the blowing snow.

    On Laura’s head the hair prickled up and a horror went down her backbone. Tears from the sun and the wind swelled out her staring eyes and ran cold on her cheeks. Pa went on slowly against the wind. He walked up to the herd. Not one of the cattle moved.

    For a moment Pa stood looking. Then he stooped and quickly did something. Laura heard a bellow and a red steer’s back humped and jumped. The red steer ran staggering and bawling. It had an ordinary head with eyes and nose and open mouth bawling out steam on the wind.

    Another one bellowed and ran a short, staggering run. Then another. Pa was doing the same thing to them all, one by one. Their bawling rose up to the cold sky. At last they all drifted away together. They went silently now in the knee-deep spray of blowing snow. Pa waved to Laura to go back to the shanty, while he inspected the haystacks.
    “Whatever kept you so long, Laura?” Ma asked.
    “Did the cattle get into the haystacks?”
    “No, Ma,” she answered. “Their heads were . . . I guess their heads were frozen to the ground.”
    “That can’t be!” Ma exclaimed.
    “It must be one of Laura’s queer notions,” Mary said, busily knitting in her chair by the stove. “How could cattle’s heads freeze to the ground, Laura? It’s really worrying, the way you talk sometimes.”
    “Well, ask Pa then!” Laura said shortly. She was not able to tell Ma and Mary what she felt. She felt that somehow, in the wild night and storm, the still-ness that was underneath all sounds on the prairie had seized the cattle.

    Laura’s future husband Almanzo also sees the world around them as almost a living thing,

    “But he had a feeling colder than the wind. He felt that he was the only life on the cold earth under the cold sky; he and his horse alone in an enormous coldness.

    “Hi-yup, Prince!” he said, but the wind carried away the sound in the ceaseless rush of its blowing. Then he was afraid of being afraid. He said to himself, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He thought, “I won’t turn back now. I’ll turn back from the top of that next slope,” and he tightened the reins ever so little to hold the rhythm of Prince’s galloping.

    From the top of that slope he saw a low edge of cloud on the northwestern sky line. Then suddenly the whole great prairie seemed to be a trap that knew it had caught him.”

And Laura’s father is the same way, he hears the strange voices, too, and he sees the sign. And he works hard to keep the darkness away from his family. Pa rose with a deep breath. “Well, here it is again.”
Then suddenly he shook his clenched fist at the northwest. “Howl! blast you! howl!” he shouted. “We’re all here safe! You can’t get at us! You’ve tried all winter but we’ll beat you yet! We’ll be right here when spring comes!” And there you have it…it’s been a long winter, but we’ll be right here when spring comes.

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

Speaking of spring, David said that this tasted like spring. And it does, it’s delicious, I could eat it with a spoon. It’s a little like mayonnaise, but it’s vegan. It’s only got pistachios, almonds, tarragon, capers, lemon juice and olive oil, but it’s creamy and flavorful and quite lovely. We ate it with asparagus, but you could have it with potatoes, or spread on a sandwich, you could dip chips in it or use it as a salad dressing. Pretty and green and tasty.

Here’s Footprints in the Snow by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
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