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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French lentil crepes with roasted butternut and chard

French lentil crepes

French lentil crepes

Malcolm has a little pile of worksheets on “the apostrophe;” laying down the rules, telling you when and how to use an apostrophe. Like all good grammar packets, it has sentences to illustrate the possible applications of this particular punctuation mark. These sentences aren’t supposed to be interesting or memorable, they just have to be informative and correct. You can imagine somebody straining their brain to come up with something dull and appropriate, trying to think of a name they haven’t used yet for an imaginary possessor or omitter of letters and numbers. Well! The sentences in this particular package are a little strange, they’re even almost funny. Viz: “the girls’ logrolling team.” (Is that even a thing?) And “Lucas’ hobby is collecting pencil stubs.” I love this one! I can just see Lucas, walking along, brow furrowed, searching the hallways for discarded pencil stubs. He’s probably collected about 547 so far, and he used to keep them in a box in his room, but then he had so many that they spilled out of the box and fell to the floor. Maybe he stepped on them one night when he was half-awake in the dark, and he rolled on them like they were tiny logs, until he found himself splashing around on the floor in a pile of blankets and toys. So he decided to move them to the garage. He liked the garage, because it was quiet and private and full of interesting and possibly dangerous objects. It felt rain-washed and dusty. It smelled like fertilizer and gasoline and dried cut grass. And now it smelled like pencils, which was his favorite smell in the world. He separated his pencil stubs by color, of course, and of course he had more yellow pencils than pencils of any other hue, so he put these in a big green rusting metal box with a broken latch. And the rest of the pencils, the green, blue, red and black ones, he organized in little drawers of a plastic case designed to hold screws and nails and nuts. He dumped all the nails into a clanking pile on the floor, and he lovingly separated his pencils of many colors. The pencils with designs: covered with hearts or rainbows or foil stars or slogans like “reading is my superpower!” these pencils he kept in some old cardboard box. He wasn’t too crazy about them. He was a pencil purist. He liked the plain bright colors, the perfect lettering in black or metallic green. He was a true collector, an enthusiast.He would take note of each pencil’s condition in a special notebook (he wrote in ink): did it have an eraser, or had it been rubbed down or pulled off? A perfect eraser on a stump of pencil was a rare and wonderful find, a prized possession. Did the pencil still have a point? Was it a sharp point, or a stubby point with the wood of the pencil frustratingly longer than the lead? Did the pencil have teeth marks? He’d chewed on a few pencils himself, and he understood the appeal, the feeling of wood yielding to his teeth, the flecks of paint like tiny inconsequential shards of glass. He liked to think about all of the words that had been written with each pencil. Lots of homework assignments, sure, but what else? Stories? Love notes? In the art room he’d collected quite a few drawing pencils, black or green with a rounded white end instead of an eraser. Soft, thick leads. These were his favorite of all. If he stared at them long enough he could almost see all the pictures they had drawn: still-lives, self-portraits, dream scenes. He felt bad for the pencils. It made him sad that they’d worked so hard, and then been cast aside. Did they not still contain lead? Yes they did! (Well, most of them did) Could they not still write? Of course they could, if you didn’t mind a little hand-cramping. He himself didn’t write with them, ever. They were too perfect, too special, and so little of them remained–they would be gone so soon. What could he possibly write that would be worthy of these little stubs of possibility, these small stumps of potential? What picture could he draw that would justify using up the small store of unused lead? He lay awake thinking about it. Someday he’d write the most perfectly beautiful story ever written, and he’d use one pencil for each word, and then he’d put each pencil back in its chipped plastic drawer until the next time. Some day.

French lentil crepes

French lentil crepes

What? Crepes made with french lentils? French lentils in the crepes? That’s right! Inspired by the Indian black eyed pea pancakes, I thought to myself, “Why not try this with french lentils, which are probably my favorite legume in the world?!?! I soaked them for a shorter time than the black eyed peas, because they don’t need to soak before cooking and they cook quite quickly. I added warm milk and eggs rather than water, and I seasoned them very simply, with rosemary and black pepper. They turned out good, I think! They’re denser than a regular crepe, and they have a lovely earthy flavor. We piled them with sautéed chard and roasted butternut squash, and we topped it all off with a mixture of grated mozzarella and smoked gouda and some leftover pistachio-pumpkinseed sauce. Very tasty, very satisfying, and very fun to eat.

Here’s This Pencil Won’t Write No More by Bo Carter

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Butternut ricotta kofta with pistachio-pumpkinseed sauce

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

Here at The Ordinary we’ve had two snow days and two delayed opening in one week. This means lots of stir-craziness, an increasing amount of crankiness, and a lot of legos. We decided that life is like a box of legos. (I’m not saying it’s not like a box of chocolates, but I’m not a fan of the “You never know what you’re going to get,” part of that statement. I think you’ll find that you have a fairly good idea of what you’re going to get with a box of chocolates. It’s going to be sweet and chocolate covered, you might not know the specific filling, but there are only so many options. Often there’s a diagram, telling you exactly what you’re going to get.) Anyway, life is like a a box of legos. You can never quite find the piece you’re looking for, but you’ll find a similar piece that you’ll throw back into the box, only to realize that it’s exactly what you wanted all along. You can never find the piece you’re looking for, but you might find something totally unexpected, which works even better and sends you off in a new and wonderful direction. Some people need to open the box right away and put it together all in a rush, others take their time, and do it as the mood strikes them. Some people need to follow the directions to the letter, and go carefully to make it look just like the picture. Others throw the rules away, and put together something nobody has ever made before. Some people have a plan, they know what they want it to look like in the end, and others make make it up as they go along. This week Malcolm instructed us all to make “habitats,” and they were trying to make theirs as full of nature as possible. In the end they had a treehouse, the ruins of a castle, and lots of little storm troopers milling about. If life is like a box of legos, I have high hopes for the way theirs will turn out! Full of imagination and creativity. Unexpected but inspired.

As poet R. Lee Sharpe tells us, we’re all give the tools to work with, we’re all given the lego starter set, and what we do with it is up to us…

R. Lee Sharpe
“A Bag of Tools”

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people like you and me,
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, a book of rules;
And each must make- ere life is flown-
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

Butternut ricotta kofta and pistachio pumpkinseed sauce

This is my idea of a fun meal! While we were eating I gave myself a little pat on the back, because I don’t think anyone else would think of combining these particular ingredients in this particular way. Grated roasted butternut squash, ricotta cheese, chickpea flour, raisins and sharp cheddar? Delicious! The kofta were plump and pleasant and sweet, and the sauce earthy and a little tart-sweet. We ate these with warm tortillas, lightly cooked kale and spinach and chopped tomatoes and olives. You could eat them with pita bread, or just as they are, dipped in the sauce. They’re gluten-free, too, if you leave out the tortillas.

Here’s The Heptones with Book of Rules, based on R. Lee Sharpe’s poem.

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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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Semolina, artichoke and mozzarella croquettes (with romesco sauce)

Semolina artichoke croquettes

Semolina artichoke croquettes

I spent the morning cleaning and thinking about James Baldwin. I’m reading Go Tell it on the Mountain, and it’s such a strange combination of instantly powerful and hauntingly beautiful. The scenes and sentences that stay in my head aren’t the ones I expect, the passages I find myself instantly re-reading and then reading again are not the most dramatic passages. They describe in-between times, times of working and waiting, and they’re so thoughtfully observed and beautifully expressed that they make the book human and honest and real, and make it something greater than that as well. And I spent the morning cleaning, as I spend most mornings cleaning, to try to fight the creeping dust and dirt and chaos. But you can’t tell that I’ve been cleaning, you could never tell, because I’m not very good at it and for whatever small part I clean, the rest of the house is conspiring to coat itself in dust and clutter all around me. And it does feel like a waste of time, sometimes, except that you can think about James Baldwin while you do it, and even think that he’s had the same feelings about it.

    To sweep the front room meant, principally to sweep the heavy red and green and purple Oriental-style carpet that had once been the room’s glory, but was now so faded that it was all one swimming pool of color, and so frayed in places that it tangled with the broom. John hated sweeping this carpet, for dust rose, clogging his nose and sticking to his sweaty skin, and he felt that should he sweep it forever, the clouds of dust would not diminish, the rug would not be clean. It became in his imagination his impossible, lifelong task, his hard trial, like that of a man he had read about somewhere whose curse it was to push a boulder up a steep hill, only to have the giant who guarded the hill roll hte boulder down again–and so on, forever, throughout eternity; he was still out there, that hapless man, somewhere at the other end of the earth, pushing his boulder up the hill. He had John’s entire sympathy, for the longest and hardest part of his Saturday mornings was his voyage with the broom across this endless rug; and, coming to the French doors that ended the living room and stopped the rug, he felt like an indescribably weary traveler who sees his home at last. Yet, for each dustpan he so laboriously filled at the doorsill demons added to the rug twenty more; he saw in the expanse behind him the dust that he had raised settling again into the carpet; and he gritted his teeth, already on edge because of the dust that filled his mouth, and nearly wept to think that so much labor brought so little reward.

Well, as I scrubbed the bathroom I thought about how I’ve written about dust demons, and I’ve written about cleaning and Sisyphus! And I thought how foolish it is to feel good about having written about the same things in the same way as James Baldwin, how foolish it is to compare myself to James Baldwin at all, except that he makes everything feel so human and at once so specific and so universal that everybody reading him must find revelatory similarities and sympathies. I started reading Baldwin, at this time, because I’m writing a novel (insert laugh-track hilarity here.) And I always believe that if you read well, you’ll write well. I was hoping that some of Baldwin’s fierceness and honesty and fearlessness and poetry would rub off on me. And I happen to be writing about a person who cleans (yes it is going to be as interesting as that sounds!) It’s funny how sometimes something well-done can be inspiring, but if it’s so well-done it might make you think, “Why bother? Give it up, kid!” But I suppose, as in all things, there’s a balance. And for now I’m just grateful that Baldwin made it to the end of the rug and left the room, and found time to write this haunting and beautiful novel, to give this hapless woman something to think about on a dreary January day.

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

I love food you can eat with your fingers and dip in different sauces. I always pretend I make a meal like this for the boys, but it’s really for me. David asked me to make romesco sauce, which I was glad to do. Since romesco sauce is Spanish, I decided to invent tapas to dip in it. I made these croquettes with semolina, artichoke hearts and mozzarella. They’re like little semolina dumplings…soft and dense inside, and crispy and puffy outside. As ever, I used canned artichoke hearts that are packed in brine, but you could use fresh or frozen if you like. I also made oven-roasted fries to dip in the sauce, and I sauteed some kale and spinach with golden raisins, pecans and garlic, which might have been my favorite part of the meal!

Here’s Git up, Git Out by Outkast. Cee Lo Green always helps to shake a person out of discouraged despondence.
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Beet green and goat cheese timbales with braised golden beets

Beet green and goat cheese timbales

Beet green and goat cheese timbales

In the winter months we all live in much closer proximity to our household spirits. We’re all inside more often, with the doors and windows shut tight. We’re always around, being our clumsy noisy human selves, making messes and dust and unwittingly feeding our spirits. They can’t slip out into the open air for a spell, so they gather in the corners and stick in the cobwebs in the window wells. The dust spirits dance in irked agitation in the chilly sunbeams, tangle in the curtains, and bake behind the radiators, the pee spirits howl from behind the toilets, there’s nowhere for them to go! Nowhere to go! In the kitchen, the more benign food spirits hover in the air smelling like roasted mushrooms and boiled potatoes, lingering like the smell of a holiday. I love our Ordinary spirits, of course I do. They keep me company all day, but I think we’re all looking forward to a time when we can open the windows and doors and let them out for a while, let them fly up to the trees and cling to the bushes, let them explore the neighborhood. I’ve noticed, of late, that the spirits in the kitchen have become so desperate, so brazenly bold, that they’ve started to show their faces. Whenever I run hot water in the sink, or boil water on the stove or in the kettle, a beautiful oval of mist forms on the frosty windows. And in each oval a face appears! They’re funny, happy, mischievous faces, watching us as we cook and eat and talk.

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It’s nice to have their company in our warm home on dark cold nights, but I’m sure that they, too, are dreaming of a long late balmy evening, when they can slip from our windows into the sweet summer air.

beet green timbales with braised golden beets

beet green timbales with braised golden beets

I was quite proud of this meal! I bought a bunch of golden beets, which seem at once wintery and summery. I wanted to do something that used the greens and the beets, and this is what I came up with. I made a dense sort of quiche with the greens, using goat cheese and a little corn meal for texture. I seasoned it with rosemary, thyme and garlic. And I baked them in a muffin pan with large, shallow cups. I lined these with crumbs made from toasted pecans, corn meal and whole wheat bread. I didn’t know if they would come out properly, and I feared I’d have a burnt sticky mess, but they came out perfectly…crispy and buttery outside, and tender and tasty within. I made a sort of sauce for them with the beets sliced very thin, braised in white wine and balsamic and then stewed with tomatoes until the beets were tender crisp and the tomatoes were completely broken down and saucy. And that’s that! We ate them with small potatoes roasted with capers and lemon and a simple arugula salad.

Here’s Bob Marley with Put it On. Feel them spirit!
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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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Chickpeas, black beans and spinach with lime, ginger and avocado

Chickpeas, spinach, black beans and avocado

Chickpeas, spinach, black beans and avocado

“We have a mom to cut our pineapple! We have a mom to cut our pineapple!” Malcolm sang as he and Isaac danced around the kitchen in their pajamas. They’d been in their room for an hour, and they’d piled all of their blankets and pillows around the edge of their bed. They were protecting someone from something: they’d drawn a map and some diagrams, they’d written notes. They weren’t Malcolm and Isaac. They weren’t even Malcolm and Isaac’s longtime alter egos Charlie and Harry. They were friends of Charlie and Harry. And they had just decided that whoever they were, they had a mother because they needed her to cut up pineapple for them. And just like that I’d become part of their story. I love their ability to wander through the world making a story of their lives. It’s so raw and fresh and funny when they do it, but I think it’s something everybody does, only we’re so close to it we don’t notice. We all write a story for ourselves as we go along, we make a world for ourselves, we make patterns and meanings from all the small moments of our lives. We could probably take a step back and write scholarly theses about the symbols and metaphors unfolding all around us. We can let other people into our lives as characters just by deciding they’re important and taking the time to learn about them and letting them cut our pineapple. We can decide where we’ll go next when we turn the page, we can choose between a taut drama and a meandering pastoral just by the way we respond to all of the little plot points and conflicts of our lives. It’s a lot of responsibility, really! I’ve been thinking about stories lately, because I’ve decided this is going to be a year of stories. Another year of stories. David gave me three blank books last year and I filled them up! They’re crammed with notes and rambles, words I like, short fiction, recipes, doodles, plans. And he gave me a package of pens, and they’re used up, they’re all dry! He gave me six blank books this year, and a pen that’s meant to last seven years. And I’ve started on them already! I’ve got stories in my head and they’ve got to come out!! And I hope to make these stories and my story as bright and focused and beautiful as it is in my power to do! After all, by my own befuddled logic, I’m the author, I’m writing this story. And that’s my grand plan for a sleepy snowy new year’s eve.

Beans and veg and spices. What could be better than that? I thought of this as a sort of warm salad, but it became more of a sauce as it went along. Because it has ginger and lime, it’s very bright and flavorful. The beans and chickpeas are grounding, the avocado is fresh, and the spinach and tomatoes are warm and saucy.

Here’s Boogie Chillun by John Lee Hooker.
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