“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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Pistachio tart with goat cheese, brie, fresh mozzarella and smoked paprika crust

Pistachio tart

Pistachio tart

I’ve been attempting to write query letters of late. I’m not very good at it. I’m not good at selling anything, especially if it’s something I made myself. I read a few rules for how to write a perfect query letter, and I’ve tried to follow them, but I just don’t know. I just don’t know. So I was imagining the letter I would write if I was trying to be more honest, and here it is.

Dear Literary Agent (I know I’m supposed to address this to a specific person, by name, and try to establish some sort of personal relationship or pretend that I know you, but I don’t know you, and you know I don’t know you. I’ve read about the things you like and don’t like, and they’re some of the things I like and don’t like. Maybe you’d like my novel. Maybe we could be friends.)

I’ll start by telling you that I know I can’t write a very good query letter. If I could, if I could sell my work, I wouldn’t really need an agent. Although of course I would, I know I would. I know enough about how the world works. I wish I could tell you that I’m always euphorically happy with my novel and sure that it’s great and enduring literature and that everybody should read it. But half the time I have the sinking horrible feeling that it’s dull or silly or even embarrassing. I can tell you that I always feel a warm sort of love for it, for the characters and the world they live in. I think about them sometimes as if they’re real, and thinking about them that way makes me happy. I can tell you that I have a million ideas, a million beautiful things in my head, and I will write them down with the most beautiful words I can find.

I can’t pretend that I’m familiar with the market. I read all the time, but I don’t read too much contemporary fiction. There’s a voice I don’t like, that I encounter often. A smug, clever well-wikipedia-researched voice. Or a coldness that I find unbeautiful. Of course I’ve read some modern novels that touched me very deeply, and I’ll tell you what those are, if you like.

I would love to say that I met you at a literary convention of some sort and that we discussed my work and you seemed very interested, but it’s not true, and you know it. I’ve never been to a literary convention, I’ve never been in an MFA program. I took part in some sort of novel-writing workshop once, but that was years ago, a lifetime ago, and I’m not sure the whole thing wasn’t some sort of scan. I’m not in any literary salon. You don’t know me, you don’t know my work. I guess I’m something of an outsider, but, as I’m sure you know, William Faulkner was an outsider, “[N]ow I realise for the first time what an amazing gift I had: uneducated in every formal sense, without even very literate, let alone literary, companions, yet to have made the things I made. I don’t know where it came from.” and yet, he says, “I am the best in America, by God.” Am I saying I’m as good as Faulkner? Am I saying I’m the best in America? Of course not, of course not.

I wish I knew some famous authors and they’d read my novel and had nice things to say about it. Or they hadn’t read it but said I could tell you I know them. But that’s not true either. But here’s what I imagine some famous writers might say. John Donne would say, “She stole my words for the title of her book!” And then he would say, “Of course she took them from my meditations on humans and sickness and religion, and that’s sort of what her book is about, so that’s okay.” And then TS Eliot would say, “You brat! You stole my source! You quoted the Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich, word for word! That’s not okay! Only I can do that.” And Zola would say, “Don’t think I didn’t notice you modeled a character on one of my characters, and you have him read my words aloud!” And Dostoyevsky would say, “Sure, go ahead and quote whole passages from one of my books. There’s not much I can do about it now, is there?” And Reverend Gary Davis would say, “I’m glad you like my songs enough put entire lines from them in someone else’s mouth.” And Ezra Pound would wander into the room and say, “Claire, sit on your knees to write and seal your query, And send it a thousand miles, thinking.”

Yeah. My novel is weird, but not in a clever or calculated way. I know that you receive millions of queries and many of them are from crazy people, and you must read such an odd assortment of nonsense that everything starts to sound like nonsense. I’m sure I sound crazy and awkward you’re going to read a few lines and toss me aside. I know I’ll never hear from you again, or I’ll get a polite e-mail telling me (and everybody else) that you wish us the best of luck with our project and our career. I understand that. And yet I’m hanging on to the small glimmer of hope that glows brighter every time I send a sample chapter out, that’s so hard to extinguish no matter how many rejections I receive, or how much blinding silence my words are greeted with.

So thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely in hope and promise,

Claire

Pistachio and goat cheese tart with brie and fresh mozzarella

Pistachio and goat cheese tart with brie and fresh mozzarella

Who is making lots of tarts lately? Who is? ME! I am! I did a ridiculously splurgy grocery shop before my birthday and got brie and pistachios and smoked mozzarella and pine nuts. Phew. So I combined them all in a tart. The crust has smoked paprika in it. The custard has pistachios and goat cheese and bronze fennel leaves. You could use regular fennel leaves of even tarragon, if you’d like to have that lovely anise-lemon flavor. The whole thing is topped with bits of brie, slices of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, casetlvetrano olives, pine nuts, fresh basil, and these beautiful little spicy shoots that make every picture prettier.

Here’s Please Please Please by James Brown.
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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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Savory puffy pancake with chickpeas, tomatoes and chard

Savory chickpea pancake with chard, tomatoes and chickpeas

Savory chickpea pancake with chard, tomatoes and chickpeas

Some faces are more symmetrical than others. Some lips are fuller, some eyes are bigger, some skin is smoother or paler or tanner. (And, yes, some girls are bigger than others, and some girls’ mothers are bigger than other girls’ mothers.) And in some decades or some centuries paleness or tan-ness is valued, sometimes society dictates that full lips are aesthetically pleasing, sometimes it’s rosebud lips, sometimes it’s plumpness, sometimes it’s skinniness. Fashion is fickle, society is fickle, and as individuals our ideas about human beauty are mysteriously linked to the aesthetic preferences of society-as-a-whole. And of course everybody knows about inner beauty. Intelligence, humor, kindness, compassion, all shine in a person’s face and make them more beautiful; it’s (probably) a scientifically proven fact. But somehow this notion still implies a judgement from without, and it removes the spirit from the body, it sets aside the physical. I’ve been thinking about a different definition of beauty that’s both physical and even more deeply inner than the cliché that the phrase “inner beauty” has become. It’s a definition of beauty that we own, ourselves. I think our bodies are beautiful because of the pleasure that they give us. And this pleasure comes in many forms: it could be in tasting food, or hearing music, or making something with our hands. It could be in running or dancing or feeling the strength of our muscles. The mind is part of the body, too, so we can take pleasure in thinking, even in something as simple as that. And, of course, it could be in “the great joy that they had expected, and countless little joys of which they had never dreamt,” to borrow a phrase from EM Forster that I’ve always thought and hoped was a euphemism for physical love. Your body is beautiful because it is capable of doing these things and feeling these things, and you can walk through this world glowing with this knowledge. And the real beauty of this definition of beauty, is that though it comes from inside of you, and it is yours, all of these things are more pleasurable and more beautiful and more glowing when they are shared with somebody else.

This beauty doesn’t change with the seasons and the fads. This beauty is strength against insecurity bred by cruel comments and the constant bombardment of images of people who look different and supposedly better than you. Certainly your body changes as you age, but you will find new ways that it brings you pleasure. You will be beautiful forever, and your beauty is yours.

Savory pancake with chickpeas, tomatoes and chard

Savory pancake with chickpeas, tomatoes and chard

My oven is broken! It’s the strangest thing. It gets to a certain temperature, and then it just stops. It decides that’s quite hot enough, thank you. So I’ve had a nice time the last few days thinking of ways to cook things without it. The stovetop still works, and the broiler. So I decided to make this sort of puffy savory pancake to cook over sautéed vegetables. I cooked it first in the skillet, with the lid on, and then I put it under the broiler for a minute or two to brown up. I suppose it’s not all that different from a yorkshire pudding, except that it’s not baked at all. And it’s similar to socca, because it has a bit of chickpea flour in it. We had some beautiful chard from the farm, and I love chard, tomatoes and chickpeas, so that seemed like a nice under layer for the whole project. You could add olives or capers, I think they’d be nice here, but I’ve been putting them in everything lately, so I left them out.

Here is, of course, The Smiths with Some Girls are Bigger than Others.

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Thin sliced roasted potatoes topped with goat cheese, pistachios, olives and capers

Potatoes with goat cheese, olives and capers

Potatoes with goat cheese, olives and capers

We’re having a sleepy sort of day here at The Ordinary. It’s drizzly and cold and Isaac is home sick from school. He’s mostly feeling better, but he’s subdued and quiet. I found him lying on his brother’s bed, feet up against the wall, playing with a Star Wars toy and singing. He’s eaten nothing all day but three pieces of toast, but this is a perfect day for toast. He had a stomach bug, and he suffered from terrible queasiness for a few days, and it’s one of those things that makes itself worse, that festers and feeds on itself: the more you worry about being sick, the more sick you feel. It’s like middle-of-the-night worries, being anxious makes you more anxious. I was talking to a fellow-insomniac about this conundrum, and he said that once, whilst going through a rough time that resulted in many sleepless nights, he developed the habit of saying, “I’m okay right now.” He would lie in bed and say, right now at this moment I’m healthy and have a warm house and my family is safe, and the thought of present security would help him to chase away anxieties about the past and the future. I love this idea. And so remarkable is the human brain and imagination that if your present is not happy or healthy or secure, you can do as Pierre Behuzov did, and dream about a different, but maybe no less real, reality, “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.” Funnily enough I’ve spent the day reading a book by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew called On Superstitions Connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery. The book, published in 1844 deals with medical superstitions from throughout recorded human history. And many of these involve amulets and charms that work because the patient believes they’ll work. It’s not the moss you take from the skull of a deceased thief, dry to a powder and then take like snuff that cures your headache, it’s your belief that it will. It’s not the three spiders that you hang around your neck that cure your ague, it’s your faith in their power. He talks about “sympathetical cures,” in which the doctor treats the weapon, not the wound. “If the superstitious person be wounded by any chance, he applies the salve, not to the wound, but, what is more effectual, to the weapon by which he received it. By a new kind of art, he will transplant his disease, like a scion, and graft it into what tree he pleases.” But as Pettigrew points out, when a doctor cleans a wound, and then takes the knife that caused it, wraps it cloth, confines it to a closet and tells the patient not to move until the wound heals, his method is not all that different from a doctor who cleans the wound and tells the patient not to move until it heals. Maybe he’s just transferred the worry from the wound to an unfeeling object. After all, he says, the physician and surgeon do all their services by observing the properties of the living body,”…where the living principle is so strong and active in every part that by that energy alone it regenerates any lost substance, or reunites in a more immediate way the more simple wounds.” Pettigrew talks about quacks and charlatans, and their methods of controlling a patient through their fears and worries. And he shows that in most cases it’s only the faith and hope that a patient feels–in the doctor, in the medicine–that allows them to heal. Sometimes it seems our bodies know what they need, and it’s our busy minds that get in the way, and sometimes it’s the power or our imaginations that heal us. Either way, it would seem the best cure is to build a wealth of thoughts to make us happy and alive, to turn to in times of sickness and worry, to have hope and faith not in the amulet or charm, but in the strength of our own minds and bodies.

Thinly sliced potatoes with goat cheese, olives and tomatoes

Thinly sliced potatoes with goat cheese, olives and tomatoes

This was easy to make and I thought it was very delicious. It’s kind of like nachos, with potatoes instead of chips. I used castelvetrano olives, but you could use any kind of olives you like. I chopped them in the food processor with some cherry tomatoes, and then mixed them with goat cheese, mozzarella and capers. I spread this over roasted potatoes, and then returned it to the oven briefly until everything was melted. Comforting but very flavorful.

Here’s Sir Lord Comic with Doctor Feelgood

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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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Crepes with chard, olives and tarragon-almond “ricotta”

Crepes with chard, olives, and tarragon almond "ricotta"

Crepes with chard, olives, and tarragon almond “ricotta”

Apparently it’s National Book Day! In keeping with the situation, we’re going to have another installment of our award-winning series, Minor Characters from Major Works of Literature. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Pierre Bezukhov. Needless to say, this is a character I love. Flawed, thoughtful, questing. I love the way his world and everything he believes is constantly falling apart around him, only to be rebuilt again. Later in the novel, after he’s captured by the French, after he’s witnessed acts of unspeakable cruelty and violence, this happens once again, “Sounds of crying and screaming came from somewhere in the distance outside, and flames were visible through the cracks of the shed, but inside it was quiet and dark. For a long time Pierre did not sleep, but lay with eyes open in the darkness, listening to the regular snoring of Platon who lay beside him, and he felt that the world that had been shattered was once more stirring in his soul with a new beauty and on new and unshakable foundations.” And this Platon, this snoring man, helps him to build a strong and lasting peace of mind upon which to rebuild his world.Platon Karataev is a peasant who has been sent to war as a punishment for stealing wood. I think he’s a beautiful character, and I’ll share a selection of my favorite quotes about him. Ready? Begin.
    “He would often say the exact opposite of what he had said on a previous occasion, yet both would be right. He liked to talk and he talked well, adorning his speech with terms of endearment and with folk sayings which Pierre thought he invented himself, but the chief charm of his talk lay in the fact that the commonest events—sometimes just such as Pierre had witnessed without taking notice of them—assumed in Karataev’s a character of solemn fitness. He liked to hear the folk tales one of the soldiers used to tell of an evening (they were always the same), but most of all he liked to hear stories of real life. He would smile joyfully when listening to such stories, now and then putting in a word or asking a question to make the moral beauty of what he was told clear to himself. Karataev had no attachments, friendships, or love, as Pierre understood them, but loved and lived affectionately with everything life brought him in contact with, particularly with man—not any particular man, but those with whom he happened to be. He loved his dog, his comrades, the French, and Pierre who was his neighbor…”
    “Sometimes Pierre, struck by the meaning of his words, would ask him to repeat them, but Platon could never recall what he had said a moment before, just as he never could repeat to Pierre the words of his favorite song: native and birch tree and my heart is sick occurred in it, but when spoken and not sung, no meaning could be got out of it. He did not, and could not, understand the meaning of words apart from their context. Every word and action of his was the manifestation of an activity unknown to him, which was his life. But his life, as he regarded it, had no meaning as a separate thing. It had meaning only as part of a whole of which he was always conscious. His words and actions flowed from him as evenly, inevitably, and spontaneously as fragrance exhales from a flower. He could not understand the value or significance of any word or deed taken separately.”

To Pierre, Platon Karataev is “an unfathomable, rounded, eternal personification of the spirit of simplicity and truth,” and he helps Pierre to find the tranquility he has been seeking for years.

    “In burned and devastated Moscow Pierre experienced almost the extreme limits of privation a man can endure; but thanks to his physical strength and health, of which he had till then been unconscious, and thanks especially to the fact that the privations came so gradually that it was impossible to say when they began, he endured his position not only lightly but joyfully. And just at this time he obtained the tranquillity and ease of mind he had formerly striven in vain to reach. He had long sought in different ways that tranquillity of mind, that inner harmony which had so impressed him in the soldiers at the battle of Borodino. He had sought it in philanthropy, in Freemasonry, in the dissipations of town life, in wine, in heroic feats of self-sacrifice, and in romantic love for Natasha; he had sought it by reasoning—and all these quests and experiments had failed him. And now without thinking about it he had found that peace and inner harmony only through the horror of death, through privation, and through what he recognized in Karataev.”

Karataev helps Pierre to appreciate the taste of a simple potato, and in honor of that scene I made some potatoes simply boiled with butter, salt and pepper. But that’s not a very interesting recipe to tell you about, so Instead I’ll share the recipe of what we ate them with. For our Mardi Gras meal we had crepes stuffed with sautéed chard, castelvetrano olives, tomatoes and mozzarella and a sort of “ricotta” made from almonds, tarragon, and capers. Delicious!

Here’s Dig It, by the Coup. I’m not sure why, but it just seems to fit. And I love it.
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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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Castelvetrano pistachio and white bean pizza with a chickpea flour crust

White bean, olive and pistachio pizza

White bean, olive and pistachio pizza

“I am the Light of This World,” is the name of a song by The Reverend Gary Davis that I am currently completely obsessed with. It’s got a surpassingly sweet tune, seemingly simple, but actually a beautiful collection of voices woven around each other. The song rises and falls and goes round and round like water, and it feels good to let yourself get carried along with it. And the lyrics kill me. He doesn’t see the light, he doesn’t have the light, HE IS THE LIGHT OF THIS WORLD! He sings, “I’ve got fiery fingers, I’ve got fiery hands, And when I get up in heaven, Gonna join that fiery band.” I love the hopeful honest triumph of this whole idea. He’s not boasting, he’s stating the truth. I think of him as glowing, he sounds as though he’s glowing, and it must come out his finger tips and all along his hands as he plays his guitar, with so much skill and soul. He spreads the light with his music. I love to think about people having a light inside them, even being that light. I believe that this is something that every creature has, and as we grow and become jaded and mature, we learn to hide our light, we become closed and dark and careful. You can see it in dogs and children, though, everything they feel comes beaming out of them, unfiltered, unshaded, so bright and powerful you can warm yourself in their glow. I found a remarkable excerpt from an interview Gary Davis did with Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold, the wife of Alan Lomax. He’s so wise and funny and poetical. He speaks often of light, of his light, “It takes bitter medicine to do you good. But it’s a fact – I have had greater light on this experience about things, that’s why nothing don’t go hard with me. That’s the light that substantiate me to tell anybody what to weep and cry over and what to laugh over.” The light is knowledge, the light is faith, and the light is kindness and warmth. Again and again, Davis’ spirituality shines through as the strength to overcome sadness and trouble, and as the warmth of kindness, so that “You can know how to treat everybody, you know.” He describes death as a deep dark shower of rain, and lord knows that he’s experienced plenty of loss in his life, but he says, “I want to live as long as I possibly can.” He’s still got a lot of work to do, and as long as he’s in this world, he is the light. “The weakness of man’s strength and the brightness of his knowledge is what makes a man the finest of God’s creatures to walk the earth. I’m all the time studying what I can do for my people. You can’t do nothing for yourself unless you do it for somebody else first. You can’t bake a corncake for yourself unless you bake it for somebody else. It ain’t worth the effort.

In this world we have to talk a little and hush a heap.

Love is just like a vein in a spring:
Keeps you with supplements to cherish up what you have.”

Amen.

White bean, olive and pistachio pizza

White bean, olive and pistachio pizza

I’ve been wanting to put white beans on a pizza for a long time. Why? I DON”‘T KNOW! I just thought it would be good, and it was good! I’ve put chickpeas on pizzas, and that turned out well. I wanted this to be a simple pizza, mostly white and green, with some flashes of red from the tomatoes. So it’s got pretty castelvetrano olives, tasty toasted pistachio kernels, white beans, and just a smattering of cheese. It’s a light and tasty affair. I added some chickpea flour to the dough, making it almost like a socca (except that it also has yeast and white flour in it!) I think this gave the crust a kind of earthy substantiality and crispiness that worked well as a base for all of these bright flavorful toppings.

Here’s I Am The Light of this World.

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