Isaac’s birthday! and Curried carrot, cauliflower and cashew bisque and seeded biscuits

It’s Isaac’s birthday! He was born seven years ago on a golden glowing fall day, just like this one. I felt such a surge of joy and love when he was born, and it hasn’t really abated in these last seven years. My sweet, small, jolly Isaac is getting tall and thin. It’s hard, with the second one, to notice all the changes – he’s always the little one. He’s so excited about his birthday. He was sad that halloween was cancelled, and needed assurance that nobody could cancel his birthday, not even the mayor. He was a robot for halloween, the cutest robot you’ve ever seen. I walked him to the consolation party at the school, and he looked out of his toilet-paper tube eye-holes at all his friends running around to the dance music. He sat on a metal folding chair against the wall, because it’s actually hard to do the robot, when you are a robot. He sat and waited for the faux trick-or-treeting. I wonder what goes on in his busy mind, at times like this. I want to tell him to run around with his friends, because I worry about him feeling lonely, but I’m glad that he doesn’t need to. He’s always been very self-sufficient and content with his own company. He’ll sit for long periods of time drawing and singing. Inventing worlds and creatures to live in them. He’s compelled to draw, and he’s almost always happy with the results. He sings constantly, about everything going on in his life. He sings his life, with sweet, pretty songs that get stuck in your head. He talks a lot, too. He’s always had a lot to say, and a smart, clear, peculiar way of saying it. He talks faster and louder and in a higher pitch when he’s nervous or angry, until only dogs can hear him. He likes to talk to everybody he meets, telling them things I sometimes wish he wouldn’t. (“Mom, isn’t that the boss you don’t like?” Heh heh, noooo, that’s some other boss…) You can’t really look at Isaac without wanting to snuggle him, and he’s a natural cuddler, he’ll cuddle you right out of bed. He’s a man who has invented an entire vocabulary around cuddling. There’s the circle cuddle, the tent cuddle, the birthday cuddle, the super-fast, intense, concentrated cuddle (actually I invented that one.) He’ll tell you that he loves you and you’re fun to be with, just because he feels it. (For now!) He’s frustratingly vague and flighty. He doesn’t understand the concept of walking in a straight line. He floats and spins and stops and goes. He won’t tell you he wants something till after it’s gone. He’ll walk right by a brand new bike on his birthday, back and forth many times, and you’ll have to tell him that it’s there. (Whereas Malcolm could sense a brand new bike in the house, if it was hidden behind closed doors several floors away.) He’s got pale golden hair, and pale soft skin, and he glows with all of the radiance of his bright cheerful sweetness.

I’m going to tell you something shocking. Isaac doesn’t generally like my cooking. It’s true! Hard to believe, I know. It’s tempting to say that Isaac only likes pale foods with butter, but the truth is he loves sharp, spicy strong-flavored food. He loves olives, and capers. And his favorite food is Indian food. Which is why he liked this soup. He refused to taste it, at first, but I gave him a small bite with basmati rice, and he went on to eat a whole bowl. He really liked it!! I was so proud. Everybody liked it, actually. It’s simple and flavorful, and smooth, and nice with the biscuits, which have a bit of texture from the seeds. I used nigella seeds, black sesame seeds and mustard seeds, but use what you have!

Here’s Memphis Minnie with I’m Gonna Bake My Biscuits. I’ll let Isaac choose the song when I tell you about his birthday cake!

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Creamy vegan cole slaw

Vegan cole slaw

The first apartment that David and I rented together was the second floor of a two-story house. The first floor was occupied by our landlady. She was a nice elderly woman who was very very anxious about the well-being of her second-floor apartment. When it rained she would call and tell us to close the windows. When something broke, she would trundle up the back stairs with a big roll of tape and put it back together. “To tape!” she would exclaim, giving us an insight into her home improvement methodology. With admirable regularity, she cooked a dish that, apparently, took the whole day to make. Starting early in the morning, the fragrance would waft up our back stairs and wend its way into our open windows. We called it “rubber glove stew.” The smell got stronger as the day wore on, and it clung to our furniture for days. I’m fairly certain that the stew contained cabbage, and, to this day, the smell of over-boiled cabbage makes me feel a little queasy. Poor stinky brassica! I do like cooked cabbage in certain situations, of course – quickly sauteed and wrapped in moo shoo pancakes is always nice! But when we got a lovely head of cabbage from our CSA, I decided to keep it raw and make (more) coleslaw. I’ve made lightly olive-oil-and-balsamic-dressed slaws recently with various fruits, nuts and cheeses to mix things up a bit. This time I wanted to make something that tasted more like a traditional cole slaw, but with a creamy almond dressing instead of mayonnaise. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I think it came out really well! Nice and sweet and crunchy and tangy and savory. The slaw is something of a prototype, because I kept it very simple. You could easily add any other thing you generally like in coleslaw. You could easily add roasted garlic or herbs to the dressing.

Here’s Cab Calloway & Dizzy Gillespie with Pickin’ the Cabbage. According to the scholars of youTube this is Gillespie’s first composition! He was 22!
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Coleslaw with apples, sharp cheddar and hazelnuts

Coleslaw with apples and cheddar

Hello, my dears! We’ve been in Cape May for a few days. For those not familiar with Cape May, it’s a small town on the very southern tip of New Jersey. It’s a shore shangri-la! Unlike many places at the shore, it had a bit of shade. It has lovely gardens and shady streets, and it also happens to be a place that birds, well, flock to. You have your shore birds, of course, and you busy house wrens, with all of their chattering, sweetly bubbling drama, you have your migratory warblers. And I could swear I saw a magpie! Of course we don’t have magpies in New Jersey, but as the bird books will tell you, birds frequently accidentally or casually visit Cape May. I love the idea of an accidental visitor, especially if the visitor is a bird. We were casual visitors to Cape May, and we had a lovely time. Malcolm is a reckless & graceful water dog. If he sees the water, he must be in it, and he’s a natural at swimming in waves. Isaac, who can’t swim yet, is far more cautious. I worry that he’s absorbing my anxieties, because for some strange reason, for the past few years I’ve had a strange fear of swimming in the ocean. I didn’t used to be this way! I don’t like being turned upside down, and discombobulated. I don’t like my feet pulled one way, and my head the other, and my whole self powerless to keep my bearings. Well…you know what’s more fun than doing something you’re comfortable with? Doing something you’re a little bit scared of, but you know is fun. Malcolm explained how to do it. You watch the waves for a while, to understand their pattern. Then you walk sideways, feeling with your left foot, to the point where the sand drops off a few feet. Then…you…leap! I was so happy! It was a really heart-poundingly ecstatic feeling, being in the waves with Malcolm and David. The water was lovely, cloudy celadon green, the sky round and vast and clear. There were dolphins playing a hundred yards out. We were swimming in the same water as dolphins! If you stood with your arms out, and your toes just touching the ground, the swell of the wave would lift you gently and rock you, and you’d hang suspended and breathless, until it softly set you in the sand again. Sometimes two waves would come in quick succession, and you’d hover in the water, waiting to be set down, but delighted to be lifted up.

I could go on and on about it (and I probably will!) but it’s back to life, back to reality, back to work, so I’ll keep it brief for now.

I’ll tell you about this simple coleslaw. This is a nice summer salad, because it’s supremely easy to prepare, and it’s light and clean, but quite substantial, too. It’s good to take to the shore, because cabbage, apples and carrots all travel well in a cooler. Apples and sharp cheddar are a classic combination, of course, and they’re nice here with the sweet bite of cabbage, and the nutty crunch of hazelnuts. I dressed this really simply, with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and lots of pepper. You could get fancier, with maybe a little dijon or honey or lemon, but I think the grated cheese added enough creaminess that a traditionally creamy dressing would have been too much too much. Isaac called this the “white salad,” and he liked it a lot. First he picked the hazelnuts out. Then, when everybody else had left the table and we were cleaning up, I glanced outside and saw him finishing it up. He cleaned his plate.

Here’s Summersong from The Decemberists. And summer arrives with a length of lights!
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Napa cabbage salad with raisins, cashews & capers

Napa cabbage salad

Can cooks concoct comestibles containing cabbage, cucumber, carrots, cashews and capers? Certainly they can! And it will be mother-flippin delicious! And kid-flippin, too as it happens, because my boys both went crazy for this salad. That’s right, my…boys…went…crazy…for…a…salad. (Although, to be honest, after Isaac took his third helping, I noticed he was mining out the cashews, raisins, and “flavor dynamite,” as they call capers.) And, don’t judge me, but I ate the leftovers the next day right out of their little tupperware holding pen, and then I drank the dressing. It’s true, I drank the dressing that was left in the container. Well, I couldn’t just pour it down the drain, when it tasted so good!! And the really shocking thing about this revelation is that Malcolm had wanted to take it for lunch, but I told him it wouldn’t be a good idea because the salad might be mushy by lunchtime. (Which, in fairness, it would have been in his warm little lunchbox.)

I suppose, to be precise, as Thompson and Thomson would say, this is a slaw. But it’s a light slaw, because it involves no mayonnaise. It’s incredibly easy to make, and very versatile. You could add other vegetables that you like, sprouts might be good! Or you could add cilantro leaves or fresh basil. If I’d had fresh basil I would most certainly have added it. This dressing for this salad is a step in my constant journey to find a balance of sweet, spicy, tart and savory flavors.

I’ve realized, recently, that I describe lots of food I make as “bright.” I use the word a lot! I’d better find a new one. In the meantime, here’s Horace Andy using the word in True Love Shines Bright. What a voice!!

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carrot cashew fritters

carrot fritters

Somewhere in the last decade I lost the ability to put a sentence together in such a way that you could start at the beginning of it and find your way to the end with the sense still in tact. See? You’re scratching your head, you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about! I don’t know! Words used to come easily. I could write a 10 page paper on feminist film theory in an afternoon. And it would be good! I don’t know what happened, exactly, but the ability to put words together slowly eroded, leaving me, confused and muttering, trying to explain my thoughts to anyone who would listen.

I feel like it’s been getting better, lately, though, because I’ve been exercising my sentence-forming-ability. Taking it out for short runs every day, and putting it through its paces. Nothing too strenuous or stressful, nothing too complicated. I took two days off, watched a lot of cartoons on cable, and I feel like it’s all gone again! Sheesh.

Anyway – I’m back, and we’re making crazy food here. These carrot cashew fritters were the product of a nearly empty fridge. We had some carrots, we had some tarragon I wanted to use up. We had some fresh ginger. Would that be good with tarragon? Yes! It would! I wanted to use chickpea flour, but either I used it up, or it got lost in some strange nether world of odd flours in my overburdened cupboard. Pushed to the back behind the toasted barley flour and the tapioca flour and the masa harina, it was all like, “I’m out of here! She doesn’t even know I’m around any more!” So I used urad flour, which imparted a nice earthy taste to the sweet bright carrots and ginger. But you could use chickpea flour or even just regular flour, if you don’t happen to have a cupboard spilling over with bags of strange flours. The secret surprise in these fritters is mozzarella cheese! It makes them fun to eat, when it gets all melty and delicious. We ate these with a tamarind-chipotle sauce that I made a little bit too hot, but which Malcolm liked anyway.

Here’s John Buddy Williams Band with Saturday Night Blowout, my absolute favorite song at the moment. Since words have failed me, we’re going with an instrumental. Doesn’t it prove that you don’t really need words to say what you’re feeling? It’s a whole conversation.
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Beer-braised vegetable pie

Beer-braised vegetable pie

I’m not really a fan of St. Patrick’s day. I’m not Irish, and even if I was, I think St Patrick’s day would piss me off, because I’m curmudgeonly like that. Plus I have to work in a pub-like restaurant on St Patrick’s day and I’m scared that they’re going to make me wear a green plastic bowler hat. They wouldn’t do that, would they?

However, everywhere I’ve looked lately I’ve been reading about mother-flippin beef stew, with beer in it. And it actually sounds kind of good. And it would make a lovely pie. And I had turnips and carrots and mushrooms whispering to me from my vegetable drawer. So this is what I made… It has a peppery crust made with dark beer. It has balsamic-roasted mushrooms, but cut quite fat and juicy. It has carrots and turnips braised in beer. It has sage, rosemary and thyme. It has sharp cheddar. And it has some toasted oats. It’s my nod to St Patrick’s day, and it is very yummy, as it would be on any day of the year.

Here’s The Pogues with Bottle of Smoke, because I love it and it’s stuck in my head! I like the idea of a bottle of smoke, too.
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Apple & carrot mulligatawny soup

mulligatawny

If you’re like me, and you’re a highly esteemed scholar of food history as it relates to Europeans aggressively roaming the earth and changing their cooking styles and the food-preparing habits of the people they met as they traveled… Okay, obviously I’m not an esteemed scholar of anything. But I am a bit of a buff, when it comes to the role of food in the history of colonialism. As I’ve mentioned before, in relation to savory pastries. Anyway! If this kind of thing interests you at all, than you’ll have some thoughts about Mulligatawny. I think the name means “pepper water,” and as I understand it, the soup came about because somebody was trying to make Indian flavors palatable to Englishmen. But it became hugely popular! And the whole notion of the soup is completely open to interpretation. You could put anything in there and call it mulligatawny! I made this soup thinking about a mulligatawny I ate at an Indian restaurant somewhere just outside of London, when I was about 7 years old. I remember apples. I remember pleasant spices. I remember a tawny color. And that’s about it! But something must have worked on some strange level, because my Isaac, who is 6, and who generally won’t eat much of anything unless it’s pale and has lots of butter on it…asked for 3 helpings of this soup!!

Here’s Dead Milkman Punk Rock Girl, which really has nothing to do with mulligatawny, but it’s so stuck in my head! And it’s a good song for valentine’s day tommorrow!
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Kale, carrots, couscous…

Braised carrots and kale

My nine-year-old son talks in his sleep. (Sometimes he even walks in his sleep, which scares the heck out of me.) He always says the sleepiest, sweetest, most nonsensical things. The other night, he called me, I went into his room, he said, “mommy, how do you cook dinner so fast?” and then he lay back down, asleep. He had no memory of it the next day.

By the harsh light of day, the truth is that I don’t always cook dinner so fast. Sometimes I make dinners that take all day, on and off. But, as it happens, some of the best dinners are dinners that take no time at all. This doesn’t mean they’re dull, it just means that we’re vegetarians, and the best vegetables are frequently lightly cooked vegetables. So, here’s a good meal for a night that you want something quick and tasty. Kale and carrots braised in white wine with thyme and caraway seeds, served with israeli couscous made into a sort of pilaf with apricots and pistachios and goat cheese. Simple.

Israeli couscous with apricots and pistachios

Here’s the Budos Band’s version of Sing a Simple Song, to listen to while you make this simple dinner.
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Chickpea/sweet potato/red wine stew

chickpea stew with rosemary dumplings

We’re still working our way through the sweet potatoes and carrots from the CSA. And I’m still fascinated by star anise. This is a nice way to incorporate both. The pleasing texture of chickpeas goes well with the sweet potatoes and carrots. The mild sweet flavors blend with the slight dryness of the wine to make a rich, unusual broth. Sage and thyme, star anise and cinnamon – delicious together. I made cornmeal dumplings, but lighter and less stodgy than you would expect.

Did you know that Neil Diamond wrote Red Red Wine? It’s true, he did!
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