Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

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

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

Here’s As I Rise by the Decemberists.
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“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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Yellow split pea and freekeh soup

Yellow splt pea and a freekeh soup

Yellow splt pea and a freekeh soup

“After the second day’s march Pierre, having examined his feet by the campfire, thought it would be impossible to walk on them; but when everybody got up he went along, limping, and, when he had warmed up, walked without feeling the pain, though at night his feet were more terrible to look at than before. However, he did not look at them now, but thought of other things.” (Is she still going on about Pierre Bezukhov? She is!) The other day I spoke about Platon Karataev, a relatively minor yet remarkably important character in War and Peace. And today I should talk about something completely different. But I don’t want to, because Mama, this has been on my mind: this whole passage, but this sentence in particular. This sentence about the sorry state of Pierre’s feet. He “thought of other things.” I love this testament to the power of the human mind, the power of thoughts and hopes and imagination. I’ve always said that a person should be able to sit in traffic and not wish the time away, because of the wealth of thoughts in their own head. I fully recognize the difference between the boredom of traffic and the terror of war. I hope never to be tested the way Pierre was. But I love to think about our imaginations and all of the worlds we create in our minds as something that we take with us everywhere we go, something that is uniquely ours and can’t be taken away from us, something that makes us free despite the privations of our physical state. “And now during these last three weeks of the march he had learned still another new, consolatory truth—that nothing in this world is terrible. He had learned that as there is no condition in which man can be happy and entirely free, so there is no condition in which he need be unhappy and lack freedom. He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that those limits are very near together…He did not see and did not hear how they shot the prisoners who lagged behind, though more than a hundred perished in that way. He did not think of Karataev who grew weaker every day and evidently would soon have to share that fate. Still less did Pierre think about himself. The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories, and imaginings that came to him.” Or as Camus wrote, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

Freekeh! Why, it’s delicious! And so good for you, too! This was a light but hearty soup. Yellow split peas and freekeh both have a mysteriously appealing flavor, and they combine well here. I seasoned this with ginger, lemon, rosemary, basil and a touch of cardamom. I added potatoes and spinach, because I seem to be putting them in everything lately. I do love them! And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Bob Marley with Dancing Shoes. It’s a beauty!

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Chickpea and farro soup with spinach and tomatoes

Chickpea and farro soup with spinach and tomatoes

Chickpea and farro soup with spinach and tomatoes

When I was studying film in college, I would make short, strange films. When it came time to show them to the class, I’d stand in back giggling at all of the jokes in my film, looking forward to the beautiful, carefully planned shots. And everybody else would sit and watch with perplexed looks on their faces. The whole thing would end with awkward silence or confused questions. Yeah. And now…now! I may have mentioned that I’m writing a novel! I’m completely obsessed with it! I’m infatuated with my own novel. I lie awake all night writing it in my head. I read passages from it over and over! I scribble ideas for scenes or whole scenes in my notebook, and hours later I can’t read them, because my handwriting is so atrocious! I have ideas while I’m walking Isaac to school, and I can’t remember them by the time I get home! I love my characters, and I want them to go through all of the things they need to go through, but I’m not sure what those things will turn out to be! I know some of the things though, and I can’t wait to write them down, I can’t wait to get through all of the stuff that has to happen first, although I like all of those scenes, too! I want it all to come out at once in a big rush. But the truth is I write quite slowly, in fits and starts, and agonize over every word. And I have massive doubts that the whole thing won’t make sense to anybody else in the world, and if anybody else reads it it will be greeted by perplexed silence and confused questions. But that’s okay, because right now it feels so good to be working on it. I’m building something. I’m working on something big, I’m working on something good, and I might lie awake all night with people running through my head, but it’s worth it. Right now it feels worth it. So today’s Sunday Interactive playlist is songs about people working on something. Not a job of work for a wage, but something big, something good, something they believe in, even if they seem a little crazy. It could be a building, a song, something mysterious, a career, a love, anything!

And today’s recipe is simple but delicious. It’s soup! Because it’s still cold and snowy here, and starting to seem like it always will be! This soup is hearty with farro and potatoes, but bright with tomato and lemon and rosemary. If you have fresh basil, that’s nice with it. If not a dollop of pesto is nice, or some grated mozzarella.

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist. Add whatever song you like, or leave a title in the comments and I’ll add it for you through the week.

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Pigeon pea soup with pearled couscous and collards

Pigeon pea soup with pearled couscous and collards

Pigeon pea soup with pearled couscous and collards

“Nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner.” – Oscar Wilde

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” – Mark Twain

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” Martin Luther

“This shalbe the synneplage of Egipte and the synneplage of all people.” – the Bible

“The Sin-score was settled with St. Kentigern in the regular way.” – R. Soutey

“The farther this foul sine-spring flows It still more mud die and more filthie grows.” – J. Sylvester

“To err is human – but it feels divine.” – Mae West

“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.” – Oscar Wilde

Birds cry warning from a hidden branch
Carving out a future with a gun and an axe
I’m way beyond the gavel and the laws of man
Still living in the palm of the grace of your hand
The worlds not easy the blind man said
Turns on nothing but money and dread
Dogs been scratching at the door all nite
Long neck birds flying out of the moon light

I’m gonna take the sins of my father
I’m gonna take the sins of my mother
I”m gonna take the sins of my brother
Down to the pond – Tom Waits

Oh Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Where you gonna run to?
All on that day
Well I run to the rock, please hide me
I run to the rock,please hide me
I run to the rock, please hide me, Lord
All on that day
But the rock cried out, I can’t hide you
The rock cried out, I can’t hide you
The rock cried out, I ain’t gonna hide you guy
All on that day – Nina Simone

He set my sinful soul on fire
He made me laugh and he made me cry
Glory, hallelu

Whoa!
Yeah, glory how happy I am – Gary Davis

Hieronymus_Bosch-_The_Seven_Deadly_Sins_and_the_Four_Last_Things

Today’s Sunday interactive playlist is on the subject of SIN. Add a song yourself or leave a title in the comments and I’ll try to remember to add it through the week.

This soup was very tasty and hearty! It has cumin, cinnamon, ginger and lemon so it’s a nice bright spicy flavor. It feels good on your throat if you have a cold. In contrast, we have the pleasant earthiness of pigeon peas, potatoes, pearled whole wheat couscous and collard greens. It’s good, and good for you, too!

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist

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French lentil and butter bean soup with tarragon and spinach

French lentil and butter bean soup with tarragon

French lentil and butter bean soup with tarragon

Reverend Gary Davis was born in Laurens, South Carolina in 1896. He was born partially blind, and became fully blind as an infant. He was the only one of eight children to survive to adulthood. His father was killed when he was ten, his mother didn’t treat him well, so he went to live with his grandmother. He taught himself guitar, and invented a way of playing with many voices at once. In the twenties and thirties he was active in the Piedmont blues scene, and made some recordings. He became a Baptist minister. He moved to New York City in the forties, and performed as a street musician for a while before being rediscovered during the folk revival and becoming very popular with lots of rock stars of the day. All of these are facts straight from the wikipedia, but what the wikipedia can’t tell you is that his music is phenomenal. Such a perfect combination of exquisite technical skill and deeply sweet soulfulness. Such a perfect balance of heavy darkness, which we recognize as part of everybody’s life, and of the hope and humor that make it bearable. Such strange poetry to describe feelings that we all have. I’m flabbergasted (to use one of Malcolm’s vocabulary words) by his music, and by the fact that I haven’t discovered him earlier. I must have heard a song here or there, but I couldn’t have been paying attention, because I wasn’t stopped in my tracks and incapable of doing anything but listening, as I have been all week, steeped in his music.

I’m so obsessed with Reverend Gary Davis at the moment that I wanted to make this Sunday interactive playlist all about him. But we obviously need a bit of diversity, so I decided to pick something that he’d fit into nicely. As well as many chilling and beautiful songs about death, sin, and the afterlife, he’s got some beauties about life and love. And he has quite a few versions of Candyman. This being valentine’s day weekend, I decided that was the direction to take. So this week’s Sunday interactive playlist is on the subject of sweets. Of course songs about candy are never really about candy, are they?

This soup was perfect for a winter’s night. Flavorful but simple. Hearty but brothy and bright, and with the springlike greenness of tarragon. Not at all hard to make.

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist. Add what you like, or leave a comment and I’ll add it through the week.

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Bright stew (with tiny potatoes, white beans, castelvetrano olives and meyer lemon) and 3-wheat medley (with farro, bulgur, and freekah)

potato, olive, white bean and meyer lemon stew

potato, olive, white bean and meyer lemon stew

It’s a winter storm! It has a name, and I think it’s Janus, which is fitting, I suppose, this being January. Janus was the god of beginnings and change, of gates, doors, passages, journeys, endings, and time, the future and the past. But sitting here, looking out upon snow upon snow upon snow, I don’t feel inspired to start anything new, to embark on any journeys, to open any doors, be they real or metaphorical, and let the icy winds blow into my home. More arctic cold is predicted for the rest of the week. That’s right, it’s winter and we’re experiencing wintery weather. And everybody is talking about it, which is fine by me because I heartily approve of talking about the weather, I think it’s a weighty and important subject. But I also believe that if people have a problem with this weather, it’s because they made the wrong choice in being human. Obviously, they should have been dormice. I’m dormouse-obsessed at the moment. I saw a picture of a hibernating dormouse in Isaac’s magazine, and I’m completely enamored. Listen to this wisdom. They sleep all of winter and a good part of fall and spring. They don’t scurry around hoarding food, they just eat it! And get (relatively) plump! And then they curl up and sleep very soundly for months. Plus, they’re arboreal. They’re mice who live in trees. They have extravagant whiskers. They have bright dark eyes. They eat hazelnuts and berries. I want to eat hazelnuts and berries! They have little hands and feet and fluffy tails. They sleep so soundly that people can pick them up and record the sound of them snoring, which is apparently a thing that people do…


(look at his little hands and feet tremble!)


This is a juvenile dormouse in a torpid state.

If it’s snowing where you are, or raining, or the least bit cold, you should probably just stay inside and watch these BBC dormouse videos.

Or you could make this nice bright stew. It has tiny potatoes, but you could use larger potatoes and cut them up. It has small white beans, and white wine, and rosemary, thyme and sage. It has spinach and castelvetrano olives, and the juice of a meyer lemon. It’s nice in winter, because it’s savory and satisfying, but vivid and green and juicy as well. It would be nice in spring or summer with fresh new potatoes and baby spinach. I served it over a medley of wheat grains…bulgur, farro, and freekah. I thought they were nice together because they each have a different texture. We had some goat cheese caper toasts, too, which I might tell you about another time.

Your song for today is this whistling dormouse.

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Roasted butternut and tomato soup with butter beans

Roasted butternut and butterbean soup

Roasted butternut and butterbean soup

I’ve said again and again that I don’t accept society’s definition of success. I’ve gone on and on explaining that I don’t always value what we’re supposed to value. I like to try to maintain my own definition of what makes a person successful and therefore happy, of what is worth working for. But let’s face it, sometimes it all comes crashing down around you, sometimes it’s just too much effort to think the happy thoughts that keep you aloft and the pixie dust wears off. And then you feel discouraged. I’m sure it happens to everyone, it comes and it goes. But discouragement is of no interest to anyone, so I’ll give you this instead.
dancing dogs
It’s dancing dogs! It’s from 200 BC! It’s from Jalisco, which is in Mexico! It makes me so happy that somebody took the time to make this. It’s so beautiful and joyful and perfect in every way. You can see the original at the Princeton University Art Museum, which is a wonderful place. And today’s Sunday interactive playlist is an easy one. It’s dancing songs, songs about dancing or songs that make you feel like dancing. It will help us all get through these dull grey January days.

And here’s a roasty juicy soup with nice plump butter beans in it and a good dollop of pesto on top. Not hard to make and very tasty. The boys ate it with pasta, as a sort of sauce.

Here’s a link to your interactive play list. Add what you like or leave a comment and I’ll try to remember to add it for you.
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Sunshine pink soup

Sunshine pink soup

Sunshine pink soup

It’s the second anniversary of The Ordinary!! Huzzah huzzah!! Flips and possets and toddies for all my friends! It’s a dark, pouring-down-rain day, and I sit here contemplating The Ordinary and the world at large. Everything feels a little chaotic and out of control, with government shutdowns and debt ceilings and changing climates and wars and near-wars everywhere you look. I’m still reading Zola’s Germinal (I know, I know, I’m slow). Striking miners are banding together, thousands of them, frantic and desperate after months of hunger and deprivation, they’re storming across the countryside, they’re destroying machinery. They’re shouting, “Bread, bread, we want bread!” They don’t want much: they want a home of their own to keep clean and warm; they want enough food to eat; they want some special days of celebration, with fancier meals and more beer; they want to be paid a fair amount for the work that they do; they want some sense of safety and security. They’re not shutting everything down to keep people from something essential, something they need, like access to a doctor when they’re sick. (Oh, how I’d love to have health insurance!) They’re not acting out of pettiness and spite to hurt people who don’t have much, they’re acting out of need, to ask for just enough. It’s a very Ordinary theme. We’d like to write demands for a new Bon Vivantery. Rules whereby every person can live well; not extravagantly, not lazily, but assured of enough. Assured of a chance to be healthy, a chance to know what’s really happening in the world around them and farther afield, a chance to work at what they love, a chance to have food and ideas and energy and materials to create something good every day, and to work towards something better as each day goes by, a chance to feel really alive, to glow amidst the pouring-down-rain and deluge of confusion and nonsense all around us.

Isaac named this sunshine pink soup. And he really loved it! He ate several helpings. In reality, it’s all of the vegetables left from the farm at the end of the week, roasted together and pureed till smooth. The vegetables were very autumnal, winter squash, sweet potatoes and beets, so the soup has a sweet, warm flavor and color. I added ginger, rosemary and lime, for some contrasting bite and zing. I made some nice soft rolls to go with it, and that was that!!

Here’s Art Blakey’s Moanin, live and full of style, grace, beauty and joy.

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Black bean soup with grilled mushrooms and peppers

Black bean soup with grilled mushrooms and red peppers

Black bean soup with grilled mushrooms and red peppers

I have a shocking admission to make…I’ve never read On the Road! Terrible, I know! But now I’ve seen a movie version, so I feel that I can speak about the book with complete authority. It is, of course, the story of young men traveling about (on a road) seeking hipness, wildness, and adventures to write about. In the film, at least, I didn’t really love these guys. They seemed self-absorbed, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing, and humorless. The poor dears were trying so hard to be crazy-cool that they wound up slogging through a heavy luke-warm slurry of their own invention. But I haven’t read the book. In keeping with my Andre Bazinian belief that it’s best for a critic to write about films that they like, I’ll stop talking about On the Road, and tell you instead about something wonderful we discovered because of On the Road. In one scene in the movie (and apparently in the book as well) the boys happen upon a performance of musician Slim Gaillard. Well! David looked him up, and he’s remarkable. He was genuinely hip, wild, and funny, and he not only had more than his share of adventures to write about, he invented his own language with which to write about them! The details of his biography are a bit fuzzy, but he was born in Florida or Cuba, on or around 1916. His father was Greek and his mother was Cuban. He grew up in Cuba cutting sugar cane and picking bananas, maybe. His father, who was a ship’s steward, took him on a tour of the world, but accidentally left him in Crete when he was twelve years old. He eventually moved to Detroit and worked in an abattoir, or at Ford, or as a mortician, or all three. He spoke 8 languages, as well as Vout, his own language, for which he wrote a dictionary. I’m just getting to know his music, but his songs are crazy-wonderful. Lively, contagious, thoughtful, and with a poetry all their own. Yep Roc Heresy, which sounds like nonsense lyrics, is actually a recitation of the names of middle-eastern food, and he does this with food from other nationalities as well. Others, which sound like nonsense syllables are in Vout. And listen to this, Travelin’ Blues, a perfect story with a hot dreamy background. I think Tom Waits heard this! What a discovery! How did I not know about this artist until I was 44 years old? Sigh, if only I’d read On the Road when I was a youngster, like I was supposed to…

We grilled up a lot of mushrooms and red peppers the other night. And it’s been so nice and cool lately, that my thoughts turned to soup. I combined the grilled vegetables with black beans, herbs and a little smoked paprika, and made a smooth, tasty soup. Very easy, very quick. If you don’t have leftover grilled vegetables, you could easily roast the mushrooms and peppers in the oven. I marinated the mushrooms in a little balsamic and herbs, but all of those things are in the soup as well. One of the drawbacks to black bean soup, to me, has always been that it’s a little dull in color. I added a small amount of olive oil steeped with annato seeds, and it brightened the whole thing up.

Here’s a link to some of Slim Gaillard’s music.

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