Roasted radish and beet salad

Roasted radish and beet salad

Whenever I hear the word “radish” I think of the Simpsons. Other things that make me think of the Simpsons: oregano, doughnuts, convenience store hot dogs, very long sandwiches, skateboards, saxophones, tramampamolines, clouds in a blue sky, Mitt Romney, and, of course, 3 foot high blue hair. I used to love the Simpsons! I haven’t watched for about a decade, maybe. It all went downhill, for me, when they started having celebrity guests in most episodes. Luke Perry was the beginning of the end. But I’ve watched every episode from before that time about a billion times each, so I’m covered, Simpsons-wise. It’s funny how many situations in life call to mind a scene from the Simpsons. We rented the second season on DVD for the boys. They’ve seen some pretty dark shows – Star Wars, Harry Potter, Coraline – they all have some actually scary moments, and my boys are usually fine with it. But they found the Simpsons very unsettling. Despite the tall blue hair and the absurd humor, the Simpsons are very real. The problems they face each episode are very real human problems. And problems that my boys could relate to, and felt uneasy about – getting in trouble, problems with bullies, realizing that your parents don’t have the answer to every question. I think, despite being cartoons, and very cartoonish, the characters in this odd yellow family are well-rounded and subtle. I like when Lisa is little girlish, I like when she’s Simpsonish. I love Marge’s gentle nature – I need to be more like her!

When we got two big bunches of radishes from the CSA, I was tempted to carve them all into radish rosettes, like Marge’s impressive aliens. Instead, I decided to roast them with beets. Both pink, both root vegetables, but one is sharp and spicy and one is sweet and earthy. I thought they’d be perfect together! I’ve never eaten roasted radishes before, so I tried to keep the salad very simple so I could really taste them. I added almonds and fresh basil. I think it would be good with feta or goat cheese as well – maybe next time. We ate this with some fresh arugula from the farm, and it was very good indeed!

Here’s Mikey Dread with Roots and Culture
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Beet carpaccio with warm goat cheese, pecans and sage

Remember the Chekhov play The Three Sisters, in which one of the sisters longs to go to Moscow? It’s a theme! Well, here at The Ordinary, for the past few days, our Moscow has been the secret path that leads to the secret path on the other other side of the towpath. If you think I’ve mentioned it before, it’s because I have, and that’s because IT’S ALL I’VE HEARD ABOUT FOR DAYS NOW!! When will we go? Why can’t we go? Why shouldn’t we go just because a storm is raging around our house? On the very first day of summer vacation, way back in the glowing, hopeful, anticipatory month of June, Malcolm and I happened upon a small winding path that branched away from the towpath. He was ecstatic! We ran through it, leaping fallen logs, stooping under trees, racing through light and shadow. He’s wanted to return ever since, but with one thing and another, we’ve never made it back. Lately his yearning has reached a fever pitch, so today we braved spiders, ticks, stinging nettles, poison ivy, mosquitos and impending thunderstorms, and set out on our journey. (Who is an anxious mom? Who is?) It’s quite a long journey, as the Isaac walks, but it was worth it to see how happy the boys were. After a night of rain the ground was muddy, the leaves sodden and fragrant, the creeks fast-flowing. In June all the green things were small and pale and bright, but today they’re lush and dark and overtaking all the paths.

Secret path

Tree climbing

The way home

Malcolm looked for the spider sitting on a milk jug, that he’d seen in June, and was surprised to find the jug buried in weeds, and the spider gone. Isaac had heard of this milk jug! He was excited to see it. Isaac jumped off of a huge log, and said, “Mom, did I hop like a toad?” Yes, you did. “I toad-hopped it!” They climbed a tree in the strange wet palely glowing light, they hid in a hollow of vines and branches. Isaac asked about each thing Malcolm had described to him – the vine to swing on, the stump to jump off of, the dead tree to crawl under, and Isaac could never be disappointed by any thing that Malcolm showed him. The late-summer smell of wet steaming earth was all around us, and I can’t smell that lately without craving beets. I know that’s odd, but there it is!

Glowing beet

Funnily enough, we’d eaten this beet carpaccio the night before, and I’d remarked that prepared this way, beets didn’t taste like dirt. Huh? Asked Isaac (he’s a small boy, dirt is his medium). I’d replied that beets grow in dirt, so they taste like dirt, but in a pleasant way. In this carpaccio, however, they were juicy and sweet. This couldn’t be easier to make, and it’s very delicious. The boys loved it!! I love goat cheese with beets – sweet and juicy meets a bit of creamy tartness. The pecans added crunch, and the sage added depth.

beet carpaccio

And here’s Modest Mouse with So Much Beauty in Dirt.
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Goat cheese & caramelized onion tart with arugula & pine nuts

Tall crust goat cheese and arugula tart

Some days feel like time-outs. If life is like a giant game of tag, and “it” is pursuing you relentlessly, and you’re giggling, breathless, with that small edge of real fear that tag-playing elicits, and you’re miles from base: sometimes you have to call time-out. The last couple of days have felt like that. Isaac and I have been on a team, and we’re taking a little time out together. He’s under the weather. Monday we spent a couple of useless hours at the doctors’ office, and I got antsy, and thought, “Dammit, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” Yesterday he had a fever, and the whole house was hot as hell except for his air-conditioned room. He didn’t want to be alone, so I lay on his bed next to him, and thought, “Oh dear, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” And then I realized that I really don’t. It’s an interesting fact about a time-out, that sometimes from this point of view you see the game more clearly – everybody else running around frantically, in a red-faced tizzy. As I lay there besides Isaac, with his hot little head touching mine, I realized that I don’t really have anything important to do. The realization was a little sobering, a little liberating. I was very tired, because I don’t sleep much when there’s a fever in the house, and for the moment it felt good to lie next to Isaac, and listen to him explain Isaac-y things to me in his sweet serious way. Their room is bright, with sea-green trim and pale curtains that hold the light. It felt a little like floating in cool water for a short while. And, of course, this little glowing ripple of a moment is the most important thing I need to be doing.

Tall crust tart

I’m always a little crazy when the boys aren’t feeling well. I don’t sleep much, I get that weird tired-nervous energy. It makes me want to bake! In the winter time I’ll bake cookies with the boys. It was, frankly, a little hot for baking yesterday, even for me! But I’d had this thought in my head for a while of a tart that would be fun to make and fun to eat. I’m very excited about this one! I think it turned out really well. Really perfect combination of tastes and textures. I’ll tell you all about it. It’s a peppery hazelnut crust, and it’s a very tall crispy crust. Inside of that, we have a thin layer of goat cheese custard with thyme and caramelized onions. Simple. The whole thing is served slightly warm and inside is a mess of cool, lightly dressed baby arugula with pine nuts and fresh tomatoes! It’s like a salad tart! Perfect for a hot day, cause you can make the whole thing in advance. I love goat cheese with arugula. I love hazelnuts with arugula. (If you don’t have pine nuts, you can use toasted chopped hazelnuts instead.) This is a nice thing to eat when you’re taking a time out. Be it a summer-day time out, or a stop-and-enjoy-your-nice-dinner-and-glass-of-wine time out.

Here’s Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.
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Arugula salad with apricots, pecans and french feta

As you are no doubt aware, I am the esteemed authoress of a wildly popular series of books about the marked similarities to be found in the writings of Tolstoy and the rappings of many rappers. Weighty volumes. I am, of course, also the producer of the soon-to-be-a-smash hip hopera version of War and Peace (would you look at the date on that? I’m making very…slow…progress on this novel!) Okay, I’m prepared to admit that none of that is true. However, ever since I spoke of Dostoyevsky and Talib Kweli yesterday, I’ve had a yen to chat about these same similarities. Which I will do after the jump. You’ve been warned!
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Spring herbs & greens tart


Garden

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot–
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.
-Thomas Edward Brown

I used to love this poem, when I was little. I know … it’s overblown, it’s stilted, it’s very Victorian, but I thought it was great. I learned recently that the poem spawned a word, “godwottery.” Godwattery refers to a) gardening in an elaborate and affected style, or, b) affected use of archaic language. I love that! I love the word, I love the idea, and the gentle teasing quality of the whole arrangement.

My parents gave me a small part of the yard to make a garden in. I used to plan it furiously. I had a little garden book. I drew pictures, I researched seeds. I visited the Cloisters in New York. I read overwrought victorian poetry about gardens. I was never quite as good at actually planting the garden, though, or weeding it, or taking care of it. I did make a nice little space, for a while. Where we live now, we have a tiny yard, and an even tinier space set aside for a garden. We grew tomatoes for a few years, but we’re giving the soil a break, and this year we’re planting herbs and small greens. I’m thrilled! I’ve always loved a tangled combination of greens and herbs in any food. Not carefully planned out, but all thrown wildly together, so you get a small taste of each, and it forms a beautiful, complicated whole. I love the way this works year round. In winter you have kale and spinach, winter savory and rosemary. In summer chard, more spinach, basil and thyme. In fall, small, bitter greens, sorrel and sage. In the spring – you have a big jumble of small spicy sassy plants. Chervil and tarragon, tiny beet greens, arugula, lovage, summer savory. (I was never the most organized farmer – this is more my bright idea about how things might fit togehter! The names are a pretty part of the plan!)

I love recipes that combine a wild mix of herbs and greens. Soup meagre, or small salads that combine a few herbs and greens. You can mix them with butter, or toss them with pasta or mashed potatoes. Or bake them into a tart! Which is what I did! I combined baby arugula, baby spinach, basil, summer savory, tarragon, chervil, parsley, bull’s blood beet leaves, lovage, and chives. Most of these things we’re growing; some I bought. It doesn’t matter! It all tastes good! You can use whatever you like – whatever you can find. The only other flavoring I used was a clove of roasted garlic. And the crust has some ground pecans – a nice nutty combination with the herbs. I think it turned out very nice – every bite has a new combination of flavors. It’s possible to distinguish one or two, now and again, or just to enjoy them as they come.

Here’s footage of Louis Armstrong with Royal Garden Blues
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Honey roasted potato salad with arugula and pecans

Honey roasted potato salad

I had the strangest moment yesterday. I went to buy a loaf of bread on a balmy spring evening. A time of year and a time of day that you can feel things changing all around you. I saw a boy walking toward me on the street. He’s very tall, taller than me, and I was hit by a powerful memory of seeing him asleep in a crib ten years ago. We were living in Boston, but planned to move to this town, and his mother was showing us around the apartment that would be our home for two years – all through my first pregnancy and the first year of Malcolm’s life. I thought of how hopeful we were then, and how different. I thought of how happy we’d have been to know we’d be living here now, and to know about our boys. I imagined myself then, seeing myself walking down the street on a spring evening, feeling so at home. And I thought about my dog, who had been such a good friend to me at that time, and who had been very well-behaved when we met our future landlady, and who died a month ago. It was such an odd, slowly-passing moment, which combined the past and the present, the present as the future. It hit me hard!

That moment of tension, the feeling of things changing, is what makes spring and fall so exciting – why they make you feel alive. And now, you’re wondering, how is she going to make this about potato salad? Well, friends, this potato salad is like an edible little mix of contradicting factors that work well together. Roasted potatoes are such a cool weather food, arugula salads so warm weather. The warmth of the potatoes contrasts with the coolness of the arugula, and even wilts it slightly. The potatoes are pleasantly soft, the pecans and roasted lentils delightfully crispy. And the mellow sweetness of roasted honey and balsamic plays against the peppery sharpness of arugula and water cress. Ta da!!

Here’s Cymande with Changes. A remarkable song!

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Baked asparagus custard with arugula and tarragon

baked asparagus custard

Yesterday morning I was feeling a little tired and discouraged. I decided to tag along with David on a bike ride up the towpath that runs between the river and the canal. I pedaled along, looking at the pebbly path, because going over the big ruts makes my back hurt. Which makes me feel old. Then I looked up. The late morning light glowed in the early spring leaves so beautifully it almost hurt. Against the dark tangle of branches, the small leaves hummed with a bright hopeful light. A light that’s only there this time of year, and doesn’t last very long. Well!

I think asparagus is a little like that. It’s so vivid and slender and pretty. It tastes like early spring. You wouldn’t want to eat it all summer, but you do want to eat it now. I like it best lightly steamed with butter and lemon, but you can’t eat it that way every time! So I try different things. I’m not sure what made me think of this, and I’m not sure what it should be called. It’s not a custard, exactly. It reminds me of Stouffer’s Spinach soufflé. When I was a child, that was the special thing to have with our steak. It’s not a soufflé, because there’s no bechamel, and the eggwhites aren’t whipped. But it does feel special. It’s quite light, but substantial enough to serve in slices. It would be nice with a light tomato sauce or red pepper coulis, but it’s flavorful enough to serve as it is. And it’s quick to make!

In Blackalicious’ Green Light – Now Begin, they say,

No more of that sittin’ in a slump and uh
No more of that coulda-woulda-shoulda junk
No more of that waiting for the inspiration, innovation

Or a green light–now begin

That’s right!!
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Pumpkin seed and arugula bisque

Pumpkin seed arugula soup

There’s something wrong with my refrigerator. It freezes the vegetables in my vegetable drawers. I’ve tried adjusting humidity and tampering with the temperature, but to no avail! But it turns out to be another one of those happy accidents, because my malfunctioning veg drawers started a short but winding path that resulted in this soup! I accidentally left a container of baby arugula and a head of red leaf lettuce at the bottom of one of the drawers. They didn’t stand a chance! As I looked at my clump of translucent, wilty greens (strangely pretty, as it happens) I immediately thought of soup meagre. It’s one of our favorite soups here at The Ordinary, and perfect for any damaged green thing you might have in your vegetable drawer.

Earlier in the week, whilst browsing in the bulk food section of the grocery store, as one does, these beautiful shiny green seeds caught my magpie eye. I had to have some! I’ve tried roasting pumpkin seeds every halloween, with the coating on, and they always turn out a little too tough to eat. Here was the tender core! Oh boy. Pepita. So pretty! I vaguely remembered that pepita are used in a certain kind of mole, so I hopped it back to the produce section and bought myself a jalapeno pepper.

Flash forward to the soup meagre. My one rule about soup meagre (and a very flexible rule it is, too!) is that everything that goes in there should be green. Well, guess what! Pepita are green! Jalapenos are green…can you see where this is going?

This turned out to be one of the better soups I’ve ever made. (And I’ve made a lot of soup!) The taste of pumpkin seeds is hard to describe. Nutty, savory, pleasant in every way! And they’re very good for you too, apparently! Full of iron, which is a big concern of vegetarian moms everywhere!

Here’s Pepita by Calexico.
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Arugula salad with asparagus and herbed hazelnut crusted goat cheese

Asparagus Salad

You know how they’re saying now that certain stores secretly monitor your buying habits? I have a suspicion that the grocery store is spying on my vegetable-buying patterns! Last week I just couldn’t bring myself to buy “winter” vegetables. I love you, cauliflower and winter squash, but enough is enough! So I bought summer squash, and eggplant. Well, I went back this week, and asparagus was on sale! Highly supsect, highly suspect! In all seriousness, I try to buy veggies that are somewhat in season. But I’m kidding myself if I think that the winter squash I buy at the grocery store was grown anywhere near here, this time of year. Right? So I bought the asparagus. Lovely, bright green, pencil-thin! I bought some baby arugula, too. What lovely, nutty, green flavors, so nice together! I lightly steamed the asparagus, lightly dressed the arugula with olive oil and balsamic. And then I made these little goat cheese croutons. I flattened little discs of goat cheese, coated them in ground hazelnuts, rosemary and thyme, and I toasted them for a few minutes, till they were brown and bubbly on the edges. Yum! I sprinkled some leftover hazelnut/herb mixture over for a bit more crunch. Threw in some grape tomatoes for color and sweetness, and that was it! A spring fever salad for February. Green and glowing!

Here’s The Carter Family with When Springtime Comes Again. Sweet and yodelly.