Roasted mushroom, pine nut and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Roasted mushroom and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Roasted mushroom and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Sleepy John Estes had a “…tendency to withdraw from his surroundings into drowsiness whenever life was too cruel or too boring to warrant full attention,” according to blues historian Bob Koester. In a strange way, when I read this I thought, “I know what that feels like!” I’ve always gotten very tired when I feel nervous or confused, and I sometimes I think I feel tired all the time because I don’t sleep very well…I’m half-awake all night and half-asleep all day. I wonder if Sleepy John Estes felt that way, too, because he sings, “You know I worried last night and all night before/ You know by that I won’t be worried no more/ I was worried for you, I was worried for me/ You know by that I’m gon’ let it be.” It’s a beautiful song with a kazoo, and I love to hear him say that he’s not going to worry any more, but we all know that’s easier said than done. There’s something about Sleepy John Estes songs that makes them easy to relate to, that makes them very powerful though they’re often quite simple. He talks about his life, he talks about the people he meets, and the events that effect him from day to day, and though the subject is quotidian, his language is resonant and the music is perfect. He’s another patron saint of The Ordinary.
By R. Crumb

By R. Crumb


He talks about waiting for the mailman, hoping for some good news. “Now I been waiting on the mailman : he usually come around about eleven o’clock/ Now I guess he must have had car trouble : or either the road must be blocked/ Mailman : please don’t you lose your head/ You know I’m looking for a letter from my babe : some of my people might be dead.” He tells the story of a fire in his town,”When you see the chief : boys please clear the street/ Because you know he’s going down : save little Martha Hardin’s house for me/ She’s a hard‑working woman : you know her salary is very small/ Then when she pay up her house rent : that don’t leave anything for insurance at all./ Now I wrote little Martha a letter : five days it returned back to me/ You know little Martha Hardin’s house done burnt down : she done moved on Bathurst Street.” It’s almost as though he’s reporting on the local news, but though the details are small and specific, the words and imagery are so urgent the tale becomes more universal. In Floating Bridge, Estes tells of a time he nearly drowned during a flood. It feels dreamlike and mythological, he talks of the flood and of drowning and rebirth. “Now I never will forget that floating bridge/ Tell me five minutes time under the water I was hid/ When I was going down I thowed up my hands/ Now they carried me in the house and they laid me ‘cross the bank/ “Bout a gallon-and-half muddy water I had drank/ Now they dried me off and they laid me in the bed/ Couldn’t hear nothin’ but muddy water runnnin’ through my head/ Now, people standin’ on the bridge, screamin’ and cry in’ People on the bridge was screamin’ and cry in’” It’s so beautiful and wild and surreally real. One of my favorite songs is Clean Up at Home. It’s a rare sentiment in any kind of music. It really is about cleaning up your home, but it’s also about taking care of yourself and what you have and who you have, it’s about tending your own garden.

I wash my clothes, I hang ‘em by the fire
Get up in the mornin’ they be thoroughly dry
CHORUS: Clean up at home, clean up at home
Clean up at home, I ‘clare you can’t go wrong

I went to the beer tavern, tryin’ to make me a dime
Said, “Go ‘way, boy, clean up and git on some time.”
CHORUS

Five cents cap and ten cent suit
Then y’all think I’m tryin’ to act cute, I want to
CHORUS

I was doin’ somethin’ that you can’t do
Go ’round on State Street, get a woman for a pot of stew, you have to
CHORUS: Clean up at home, you have to clean up at home,
Clean up at home, I ‘clare you can’t go wrong

I played for the colored, I played for the white
All you got to do, act kinda nice, you got to
CHORUS: Clean up at home, you got to clean up at home
Clean up at home, ‘clare you can’t go wrong

Yeah. I was worried last night and the night before, but I ain’t gonna be worried no more.

THE PIZZA:
I was feeling sort of wobbly all week last week, so I kept making bread, comforting foods. Here’s one! It’s a sort of pizza, but it has a mashed potato crust. This makes the crust quite soft, it’s more of a knife-and-fork pizza. The crust is comforting, but the topping is quite flavorful–roasted mushrooms, olives, and a mixture of sharp cheddar, mozzarella and smoked gouda. A nice meal for a reluctant spring.

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Roasted butternut, spinach, raisin and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

I’m writing a novel. If you’ve spent any time with me you know this fact, because I go on and on about it to the point of tedium; ad nauseam, ad infinitum. I talk about it frequently, I think about it constantly, I dream about it every night. What I don’t do all that often is write it. I spent all day yesterday–all day–writing two scenes I’d thought about for ages, and I wrote…a couple of pages, maybe, and I’m not sure they’re any good. I wake up every morning determined to get on with it. I have a picture in my head of myself, in a frenzy of writing, spewing out page after perfect page. This doesn’t happen. I’m so easily distracted and discouraged. I’m so often plagued by saucy doubts and fears. I could write it now, but if I tried, instead, to write it in fifteen minutes, I’d write completely different words! I’d have completely different ideas! How do I know it wouldn’t come out better if I waited an hour, or a day, or a week. Maybe something would happen between now and then that would alter the course of history (in the world of my novel.) Well this morning, when I thought about writing my novel, I kept finding a song in my head, and I’ve decided that this is my new novel-motivational track. It’s Precisely the Right Rhyme, by Gang Starr. It’s about knowing that what you say is the right thing to say, and that you’re saying it at the right time. It’s about confidence. I’ve been thinking about confidence a lot lately. It’s not something I possess great quantities of, it’s not something I’ve passed down to my boys. Instead I’ve got a bizarre mixture of crippling insecurity and bafflingly misplaced arrogance. Confidence is not even something I admire, necessarily. I don’t respect people who are all cockiness and swagger. I’m attracted to humility and moved by human weakness. And yet, and yet…I’m starting to recognize confidence as an essential part of the creative process, if not of life. On Malcolm’s basketball team it was never the tallest or most agile kids that played best, it was the kids who acted like the ball belonged to them, the basket belonged to them, the whole damn court was theirs and everybody else was in their way. So that’s how I’m going to write, with “everybody else” being the twin demons of doubt and distraction who fly at me from every side. This understanding applies to all things. So maybe you’re not trying to write a novel (although, honestly sometimes it seems that most people are!) But whatever you’re trying to do, tell yourself you’re doing it just right, at just the right time. Tell yourself till you believe it! In the words of Troy McClure, “Get confident, stupid!”

And the words of Gang Starr,

    My subject matter and context are blessed
    Vocal inflection connects, it’s a slugfest
    Ladies approach to hear quotes from the spokesman
    Thoughts are like oceans for my lyrics to float in
    I’m absolutely astute so salute

    Just get with the words and the way I command ya
    Cause you’re in the right place, and luckily it’s the right time
    And since I’m inclined, I’ll kick precisely the right rhymes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love greens, pine nuts, raisins and garlic. It’s the perfect combination for me. In this instance I’ve packed all that into a pie with some grated roasted butternut squash and some mozzarella cheese. I made this pie for a bunch of people to eat standing around without plates or utensils, and it worked well in this regard. It would be nice for a party or a picnic, I think, for this reason.

Here’s Gang Starr with Precisely the Right Rhymes.
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The Ordinary on NPR, again!

We’re grateful to NPR for letting us share some of our Ordinary nuttiness! Here’s a piece on recipes for nut sauces. Many of them have appeared in these virtual pages, but some are brand new.

As ever, we celebrate with a dance number. Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers doing Jumpin Jive. So happy and alive, with some of the most remarkable dancing I’ve ever seen. It must be fun to be this good at something, and be able to do it with good friends.

Pizza with olives, capers, caramelized onions and sweet potato mash

Pizza with sweet potatoes, olives, capers, and caramelized onions

Pizza with sweet potatoes, olives, capers, and caramelized onions

Yesterday Malcolm told me that my nickname is “dictionary.” I love it! I more than love it, I’ve decided that I want to be a superhero called “The Dictionary.” I wouldn’t be a snarky sort of superhero who went around telling people they used the wrong form of “their,” or they used “less” when they should have used “fewer.” First of all, that’s a job for the word police. Second of all, Lord knows I make plenty of mistakes myself. And finally, I believe that using words incorrectly and spelling them irregularly might be what keeps language alive and changing and growing. And naturally, as The Dictionary, I’d be like the OED. I wouldn’t tell people what words mean, but what they have meant and how people have used them differently over the centuries, how their meanings vary from year to year and place to place and usage to usage. I’d resolve conflicts by showing the combatants that their words have shades of meanings, and if they only shift their understanding slightly one way or another, everybody could get along. I’d show how “attack” can mean, “To enter upon a work of difficulty, with the intention of conquering and completing it.” So we can decide together that the work of difficulty will be an epic novel or an opera in twelve acts, and we’ll all attack it together. I’ll point out that “take” originally meant, “to put he hand on, to touch, to lay hands upon, to accept what is handed to one, or even to understand.” And it still means, “to take root, to germinate, and to begin to grow.” So we’d all marinate on those meanings for a while, and maybe plant a garden together and watch and wait for the seeds to take, and forget why we were fighting. Because, of course, we could all fight together…we could all fight disease or fight poverty or ignorance instead of each other. And I’d swoop down in classrooms and explain that “essay” means “to try,” and that the important thing is the attempt itself, the process. And before you know it everybody would be as delightfully bewildered by vagaries of meaning as I am, and everybody would agree that nothing is written in stone or immutable, and that everything is open to interpretation and we’d all be expressively unintelligible and unproductive.

I made some caramelized onions last summer and froze them for a wintery day. We’ve had a lot of those lately! I decided to put them on this pizza, which also has capers and black olives. And, it has white sweet potatoes mashed with ricotta cheese! White sweet potatoes have a mildly citrus-y flavor that I like a lot. This whole pizza was a mixture of sharp flavors and comforting textures, and I liked it a lot.

Here’s Words of Love by Buddy Holly.
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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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Mushroom and black bean “meatballs”

Mushroom and pecan "meatballs"

Mushroom and pecan “meatballs”

I have a shocking confession to make. Every morning in the wintertime, when it’s too cold and icy to scamper on the towpath, I exercise by jumping up and down and waving around two cans of beans. As embarrassing as this may seem, it is not the shocking confession. I watch shows on the computer while I jump up and down, to make the time go faster and for my general edification. I catch up on the news of the world with The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I watch some worthy well-written sitcoms. And sometimes I watch insipid trash. That’s my confession! It’s horrible, I know! We only have so many hours in the day and I waste it on some of the worst written, poorly acted, insultingly stupid programming to come across the small screen. One show I watched recently for a few seasons, before it got so bad I couldn’t watch it anymore, dealt with the trials and tribulations of the wealthy youth of the upper east side of Manhattan. They had problems, man, that you just couldn’t understand, but that seemed really glamorous and way more fun and dramatic than your own problems. They were constantly embroiled in a remarkably repetitive chain of idiotic romances with the same people over and over and over again. But here’s a funny thing, all of the characters would stop occasionally, and think about themselves and the world around them and they’d say “I’m Chuck Bass,” or whatever their particular name happened to be, and that would solve all of their problems. Sometimes they’d remind each other who they were, as a friendly way of helping them out of a bad situation. They’d say, “You’re Chuck Bass!” And everything would be resolved and that would be the end of the show. Of course it matters more for them that they are who they are, because the whole point of being who they are is that they have so much money and influence that they actually can change the course of events by saying their names. But they’re really really horrible people. They’re mean and ignorant and fairly useless in the broad scheme of things. They don’t create anything but problems. I was thinking that, on balance, almost everyone else in the world deserves this super power more than they do. All of us, when we face some sort of trouble, should be able to stop and say, “I’m who I am!” and it should make things better. Not because we have wealth and power but because we have ourselves. We have our imagination and our abilities and our affections and our hopes and our memories and our flaws and our souls, whatever those are. Sometimes when you’re being belittled or treated badly and it seems as though nothing is going well or ever will again, it’s easy to lose yourself and to feel worthless or hopeless. I’ve felt it a million times. It’s worse than a feeling of failure, it’s a feeling of nothing, of being nothing and having nothing. Well, the next time that happens, I plan to say my name aloud. I’m going to say, “I’m Claire Adas,” and I’ll ignore the perplexed looks of anyone around me and I’ll think of everything that I have, everything that I’ve made, everyone that I love, the whole round life I’ve made for myself. That’s right, I’m Claire Adas.

Maybe it won’t get me reservations at the newest latest whatever, but who wants to go there anyway, when I’ve got a bottle of cheap wine, shelves full of spices, a drawerful of vegetables, a head full of strange and delicious meals to make, and good friends to eat and drink with. I made these little flavorful “meatballs” out of mushrooms, hazelnuts, pecans, black beans, and smoked gouda. They’re seasoned with sage, rosemary, smoked paprika an nutmeg. The boys ate them with long pasta and red sauce, but you can eat them with any kind of sauce you like! You can dip them, or put them in a sandwich. The possibilities are endless!

Here’s I am I Be by De La Soul

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Savory cake with mushrooms, chard, pecans & pistachios

Savory cake with chard, mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

Savory cake with chard, mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

“Mom? Someday? Can we go to a junkyard? And bring home junk? And make sculptures with it? What are those things called?”
“Sculptures?”
“Yeah.”
“Um, they’re called sculptures.”
“Yeah. You know a lot of people think junk is just junk, but it’s not!”
“What is it?”
“Art materials!”
I realize that lately the subtitle of Out of the Ordinary could be “Isaac and Claire talk on the way to school.” And I never intended it to turn out that way, but the truth is, I come home and I think about all of the odd things he’s told me. I think about them for hours, setting off a little chain of loosely connect thoughts which generally lead back to whatever he was talking about in the first place. Today I thought about junkyards, and I thought about the Gleaners and I and Vik Muniz’ Wasteland, and Agbobloshie, and aircraft boneyards. And I thought of the term “rag-and-bone,” which has been in my head for days, although try as I might I can’t remember what put it there in the first place. And of course that made me think of “Rag and bone shop of the heart,” so I had to look up the whole poem. The Circus Animal’s Desertion. What a name for a poem! What a poem! It ends thusly:

    Those masterful images because complete
    Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
    A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
    Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
    Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
    Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
    I must lie down where all the ladders start
    In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

And it’s so strange to think about Yeats lacking inspiration or feeling disappointed. It’s so strange to think about him looking back on his career with any kind of sadness or regret, or looking into his heart and feeling despair or disdain for what he finds there. I want to tell him what Isaac would tell him, that those old kettles and bottles and bones aren’t junk, they’re art materials. He can make himself a new ladder out of old iron and broken cans, a ladder that might be more true and stronger than his old one. But of course he knows that, he knows it all, because he found his inspiration, he wrote this poem, and it’s beautiful and he must have felt that in his deep heart’s core.

Savory cake with chard, roasted mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

Savory cake with chard, roasted mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

I’ll blame it on the weather, on the seemingly endless winter, but I’ve wanted to make warm comforting bready meals lately. Last night it was this savory cake, which is a lot like a pizza with the toppings baked right into the dough. I made the dough rich and tender, with butter, milk and an egg (I think of it as brioche-like). And I filled that with my favorite combination of chard and mushrooms. I used pecans and pistachios, but you could use one or the other, whichever you have. We ate this with leftover asparagus pesto and with a pecan sauce something like this one.

Here’s Rag and Bone by The White Stripes

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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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Empanadas with roasted golden beets, pistachios, raisins and greens

Golden beet, pistachio and golden raisin empanadas

Golden beet, pistachio and golden raisin empanadas

“Did you ever beam in Clio’s eyes?”
“Beam in her eyes? You mean shine a light in them?”
“No, you know, beam in them, you just look right in her face.”
“I suppose…”
“Hagrid and Dumbledore do it all the time.”
“They beam in people’s faces?”
“No, they just beam around. They’re always beaming around.”

At this point in the conversation it became obvious that Isaac was talking about a word Rowling frequently uses to describe an affectionate smile. But before that moment of comprehension, when I was in my early morning daze and enjoying the feeling of charmed confusion that Isaac’s observations often provoke, I had such a different picture of beaming. Just last week I wrote this sentence in these very virtual pages,
“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.” So as I pictured it in my mind, if you beam in someone’s eyes, you shed all the light and warmth of your love and spirit in their direction. You send all the glow of your hope and grace towards them. And probably they’re ignited by your beam, you help to kindle their beam, and then you have mingling beams, which flame higher and brighter than one beam alone. You’re a beamer, and now they’re a beamer, too. If ever I met a beamer, it’s our Isaac. From when he was very tiny, he would smile at people, even at complete strangers, and you could tell that their whole world had brightened perceptibly. He’s always beaming around, that Isaac. I’ve been feeling discouraged today, but I keep thinking about beaming. I keep thinking about people all over the world working so hard and hopefully, just to stay alive, to get by, to get ahead, to make something good; and about all of the rejection and discouragement that casts a dark shadow over everybody. And then I think about all of the beaming going on, all of the beamers in the world, spreading their lights around, breaking through the clouds with great rays and flashes of light. “For beamers came from around and counforted her, beaming that place of darkenesse wyth unspeakable cleernesse.” After all, we all have our own light, we’re all beamers.

Roasted golden beet, raisin and pistachio empanadas

Roasted golden beet, raisin and pistachio empanadas

These empanadas have a sort of golden glowing theme to them. Pretty golden beets, plump golden raisins, warm golden-brown crust. They’re a little sweet because of the raisins and beets, but they have earthy beet greens and spinach and delicious crunchy pistachios to set that off. They’re tender on the inside and nice and crunchy outside, because they have a little cornmeal in their crust. I grated the beets before I roasted them, which gives them a nice soft/crispy texture and a perfect roasty taste. My golden beets were tiny, so I decided to add some grated carrots to the roasting pan, which went nicely with everything.

Here’s Parliament with Flashlight. Everybody’s got a little light under the sun.

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White bean, spinach, and pecan timbales

White bean, spinach, and pecan timbales

White bean, spinach, and pecan timbales

I’ve just discovered that a “hope” is a piece of enclosed land in the midst of fens or marshes or of waste-land generally. (OED) It’s also a small, enclosed valley, or an inlet, a small bay or a haven, you’ll find “wide green holms and deep blind ‘hopes’ or hollows among the mountains.” What a beautiful idea! Hope is a place. A verdant, sheltered, fertile place in a swampy treacherous world. A haven. You can travel to Hope, over the mountains, through the swamps, or across the sea, and find shelter from the winds and waves and quagmires. You may be driven there by “contrarie winds,” after weeks or years adrift and uncertain with no clear course. When the storm calms, you’ll find yourself in a quiet, peaceful place where you can safely come aground and think clearly and make plans for your future. Or maybe you’ve heard stories of Hope, and all your life you’ve thought, “one day I’ll make a journey there.” You live in a cluttered ugly world surrounded by confusion and discouragement, by empty cleverness and petty competition. So you gather your supplies, your favorite foods, your bag of wine, your warm clothes and walking stick, your good friends and your best dog, and you’ll set out for Hope, having adventures along the way that inevitably involve trolls and dragons and giant spiders. Or maybe Hope is closer than you think. Maybe you live in a giant landfill, a wasteland of garbage where nothing good grows, and everything goes to rot and ruin. But somewhere in the middle of it all is a sweet-smelling refuge, a Hope where people are working on good things. And however you get there, once you reach Hope you’ll find what you need to make whatever you’ve been dreaming of. You’ll find rich soil and soft warm rains and abundant sunshine, you’ll plant seeds, and you’ll wait and watch for them to grow. You’ll tend the bright tender seedlings, and wait and plan for their fruits and flowers, which will be beautiful and nourishing. You’ll remember where you came from, and think about where you’re going; you’ll mix desire with memory and expectation. And when the flowers and fruits come, you’ll share them with everybody you know and even with those you don’t. And they’ll plant the seeds and grow more fruits and flowers and share those with everyone they know and even those they don’t…

It’s funny because we live in a very very small town. You could walk one end to the other in under a half hour, probably. But we have a towpath! It goes beyond the town to the North for miles and miles through other towns, and it goes below the town for miles and miles through other towns and cities, along other rivers. I know this because I have seen it with my own eyes! You always have the feeling that you could just walk and walk forever, and discover new places. It’s McElligot’s towpath. Once you travel down it, you never know what you’ll find! But for over a month it’s been hard to walk, because of snow and ice and general treacherousness. It makes the town feel so small. It makes me long for spring, when we can explore again, and find all of the secret fields and valleys that the towpath leads to. All of the Hopes. And David just said he saw a bluebird on the way home from work!

White bean, spinach and pecan timbales

White bean, spinach and pecan timbales

I made these on Valentine’s day for a Special Meal. I wanted something main coursey and steaky but still, obviously, vegetarian. So I made these, and I served them over a sort of pilaf of rice and farro cooked with annatto oil and smoked paprika. And we had cauliflower puree, and some kind of sauce, but I can’t remember which one. And that’s that!

Here’s All the Places by Pete Rock and CL Smooth.

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