Pizza with chard, golden raisins and pine nuts

IMG_3452“O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!”

“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.”

I love this exchange. It is, of course, spoken by Hamlet and his friend Horatio, and it is, of course, followed by “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I love the idea that a “stranger” is not just a new or unfamiliar person, but a wondrous strange person as well, and I love the implication that we’re all strangers. We’re all full of wondrously inexplicable ideas and emotions and inspiration. We’re all new somewhere, we’re all unusual to someone. And therefore we should welcome strangeness in others, even if they happen to be ghosts yelling at us from underneath the stage. Hamlet and Horatio are students of Wittenberg University, and are presumably deep in the study of rational thought, they probably both believe, as most students do, that it’s their job to understand everything and explain everything. But the ghostly visit teaches them that this isn’t possible for anyone. Nobody’s ideology is broad enough to hold everything on heaven and earth, nor even to hold dreams of everything. And this is why it’s important to welcome what you don’t understand, and make room for dreams of it in your own philosophy, because you’re asking others to make room for you in theirs.

Pizza with chard, pine nuts and golden raisins

Pizza with chard, pine nuts and golden raisins

This is my all-time favorite pizza! Why? Because chard, raisins and pine nuts is my favorite meal, and the only thing that can make it better is the addition of some melty cheese and a thin crispy crust, that’s why!

Here’s Stranger Blues by Elmore James

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Cannellini with kale, fennel and yellow peppers

Penne with chard, fennel and yellow peppers

Penne with chard, fennel and yellow peppers

    All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.
    Albert Camus
    At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.
    Albert Camus
    Don’t you stay at home of evenings? Don’t you love a cushioned seat in a corner, by the fireside, with your slippers on your feet?
    Oliver Wendell Holmes
    If you leave the smallest corner of your head vacant for a moment, other people’s opinions will rush in from all quarters.
    George Bernard Shaw

Maybe success is just around the corner. Maybe you’re sick of being stuck in a corner. Maybe you like being stuck in a corner, because your little corner of the world is your favorite place. Maybe you’re standing on the corner like just-got-in-town-Jasper, and you’re deciding which way to turn next. Maybe you’ll stop in at the corner shop for directions and gossip. Maybe you’re just standing on the corner, watching the world go by. Whether the corner is the center of all the action or a dusty forgotten place, today’s Sunday interactive playlist is songs about corners. Add your song to the list, or leave a comment and I’ll try to remember to add it through the week.

This is a quick meal! But it has lots of flavor and good textures. Anise-y fennel, earthy beans and kale, sweet peppers and raisins, tart goat cheese. The boys ate it with penne, but I ate it with arugula and pecans, as you see in the picture.

Here’s a link to the playlist.
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Greens with pine nuts and roasted beets

Greens with beets and pine nuts

Greens with beets and pine nuts

“In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.” – Albert Camus.

Today was a sad day for justice in America, a heartbreaking leap backwards. I’m sure that wiser and more articulate people than me will discuss it at great lengths, and I hope that before long a change will be made, we will have a new verdict, and we will have the kind of peace that can only come with justice. So today’s Sunday interactive playlist is on the subject of justice. Cries for justice such as Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights or stories of justice gone awry, such as Bob Dylan’s Seven Curses. If you can think of songs about justice being correctly meted out, those would be more than welcome, but I declare that I’m too saddened and discouraged to think of any at the moment!

And a recipe to go with our playlist, because even on a day such as this, we need to keep our strength up and nourish one another. Beets and greens, beets and greens. It’s been that kind of spring. This is a variation on my favorite dish, which is greens with raisins and pine nuts. Instead of raisins, we have lovely little sweet morsels of roasted beets. I used garlic scapes because I had them, but you could use regular garlic. I flavored this with fresh sage and rosemary from the farm. And I used chard and beet greens, but you could use spinach, kale, or even collards, if that’s what you’ve got. If you use kale or collards, you’ll want to parboil them for five or ten minutes to soften them up.

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist. Please add what you’d like, or leave a comment and I’ll add the song.

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Tacos with broccoli, chard, and kidney beans in chipotle-coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

I got an iPhone four years ago. In the time since I’ve developed a nervous habit of checking my e-mail every few minutes. I don’t do it while I’m talking to people, of course, or at a meal or a gathering of any kind, but if I’m waiting on line, walking the dog, trying to write, if I’m actually just trying to check the time, I’ll always check my e-mail, too. It feels sort of hopeful and foolish. Any minute now, somebody is going to tell me they’d like to offer me a big advance to write a novel or make a feature film, and obviously they’re going to do it via e-mail, and it’s going to be totally legitimate, and if I don’t respond immediately I’ll lose the opportunity. Yeah. We got new phones, the other night, and now I get a gentle little chime each time I get a new e-mail. This means I don’t need to check!! This means that I know immediately that I got an important message from staples or toys r us or astrocenter (what the hell is astrocenter? Why are they bothering me?). Well, it feels strange. It’s vaguely disappointing, somehow. I no longer have the feeling that I could be getting good news at any time, because I know I’m not. Now I feel much more foolish than hopeful. And all of this got me thinking about mail, and how nice it used to be to wait for real mail from the mailman, and to write real letters, that required time and thought. And then I started thinking about photos, and how precious they used to be. People used to have special ways to keep photographs, little frames and boxes they would carry their one or two precious pictures in. Now we have phones loaded with snapshots. It used to require time and patience to take a photograph. The process was half skill, half luck in capturing the perfect moment. Now it’s all luck, the camera takes care of all the rest, and we can snap a billion shots a day. We have a much higher chance of capturing a randomly beautiful moment. I’ve been thinking about this quote I scribbled in my notebook a few years ago. It’s from René Claire, a filmmaker and writer who worked at the very beginning of cinema. He wrote essays about this miraculous new art form describing how passionately he felt about the direction it should take. He held it as a great responsibility to make films a certain way that would ensure that cinema lived up to its potential. Here’s the quote…

    In this era, when verbal poetry is losing the charm it exerted on the masses … a new form of poetic expression has arisen and can reach every beating heart on earth … a poetry of the people is there, seeking its way.

It’s easy to feel down and discouraged about the overwhelming barrage of messages and photos and news and information that we receive every single day, whether we like it or not. It’s easy to regret the days when a letter or a photograph was a rare and precious thing. It’s easy to be sad about the bloated, disappointing state of American film. But maybe it’s better to think about this new endless procession of snapshots, which capture an instant, are taken in an instant, and are shared in an instant, as a form of poetic expression available to most, and capable of reaching every beating heart on earth. Equal parts hopeful and foolish.
We have tons of chard from the farm, which makes me very very happy, because I love chard. I decided to try something different with it, and cook it in a chipotle coconut milk sauce. It turned out really tasty! I added broccoli and kidney beans for substance, and lime and spices for flavor and brightness. We ate this with basmati rice, warm wheat tortillas, and a fresh salad made of avocado, cucumber and tomatoes, but you could eat it just with rice or any other grain you like.

Here’s Photo Jenny by Belle and Sebastian

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Chard and white beans with raisins, walnuts and smoked gouda

Chard and white beans with walnuts and smoked gouda

Chard and white beans with walnuts and smoked gouda

If you’re following along at home, you’ll recall that yesterday found us, here at The Ordinary, seeking some solace from our busy thoughts in the form of quiet film scenes. David mentioned a film we’d watched last week, Le gamin au vélo, and I thought “ah, yes, of course.” I was going to add a scene from the movie to yesterday’s post, but in watching the scene, I realized that this was one I want to go on an on about, so that’s where we find ourselves today. The film is by the Dardenne brothers of Belgium, renowned for making emotionally and stylistically bleak and austere films, most notably La Promesse in 1996. They almost never use non-diegetic music–they don’t have a soundtrack. The sounds of the film are those that people make going about their day, and these sounds become oddly compelling as we become immersed in the rhythms of the character’s lives, as we learn their routine and become alert for any small change in the patterns. All of their films are quiet, they’re a succession of silent moments. And that’s why this scene is disarmingly beautiful. We’re given music! We’re given, specifically, a small, moving swell of music, like a warm gentle wave; a few notes from the second movement of Beethoven’s Emperor piano concerto. And then we return to the quiet world of this ridiculously beautiful expressive boy, to the sound of his breath, and of his madly pedaling feet. Throughout the film, in certain scenes, this music washes over us, just a few notes, and then recedes. You feel that you need to hear the rest, you want the notes to resolve themselves. You want the boy’s life to resolve itself, you want him to care for himself, you want him to let somebody take care of him. The Dardenne brothers’ films, though beautiful, are often hard for me to watch. The very honesty and rawness that makes them wonderful makes them painful. Their characters are battered by life, conflicted and rejected, and they spend a lot of time alone. We’re compelled to watch them in their solitude, drowning in the silence of their own company, facing rotten choices and making regrettable decisions. They raise all sorts of questions for me, as a film viewer, and as somebody that hopes to one day call herself a filmmaker again. You could make a film this revelatory of human nature as it actually is–you could, and you probably should, but why would you? Why watch something so depressing? The older I get, I find I have less tolerance for unrelentingly grim movies. When I was younger I could watch anything, but now that I have children, I just can’t–particularly if the movie involves kids the age of my boys, as this film does. I don’t need a happy ending. I don’t want to watch sickeningly sweet saccharine feel-good movies, but I do need some small hopeful sign. So I will admit to you that when we watched this film, we stopped halfway through, and I read about how the film ended, and only then did we watch the rest. But we did watch the rest. Because in being entirely honest about human nature, you have to include moments of warmth and generosity and connection, and that’s what this film does, quietly, slowly, without melodrama or judgement. The few notes of Beethoven that we hear throughout the film are full of sweet sadness, the music veers between hope and despair, light and darkness, but it’s so beautiful that we need to follow it to the end, which they finally allow us to do during the credits. And that is why you watch a movie like this one.

Chard and white beans with walnuts, raisins and smoked gouda

Chard and white beans with walnuts, raisins and smoked gouda

Greens are my favorite! This time of year is the best! We’re getting greens by the armful from our CSA–chard, kale, spinach, broccoli rabe. I love to come up with new ways to prepare greens, and this one turned out really good. It’s a twist on the old chard/raisin/pine nut combination that I love so much. This one adds white beans and smoked gouda, for extra substance and flavor. We ate this with whole wheat pearled couscous, which I prepared “according to the package instructions,” except that I cooked the couscous in olive oil and herbs at first. You could eat it with pasta, rice, millet, farro, a big bed of lettuces, or as a vegetable side dish. You could eat it in a box, you could eat it with a fox.

Here’s the second movement of Beethoven’s Emperor piano concerto.

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Butter beans with chard, asparagus, fennel, and castelvetrano olives

Butterbean and spring vegetables

Butterbean and spring vegetables

I’m always in a hurry when Isaac and I walk to school. He’s an ambler, and he’s not concerned at all about the dire consequences of tardiness. One of us has to be! As a mother, I think the responsibility falls to me. So I’m always rushing him along, yelling, “With me!” as if he’s a dog I’m teaching to heel. Not this week, though. It’s the last week of school. Monday morning the air was just right, like water of a perfect temperature. In a sleep-deprived daze following a weekend of insomnia, it seemed as though we were swimming serenely through the air. It felt perfect to walk along, holding Isaac’s hand, answering true and false questions about matters big and small. I didn’t want the walk to end.
“True or false, the universe has a universe.” True!
“True or false, all bats are scaly and rough.” Well, that’s complicated, because all bats are different. “Wrong! It’s false, all bats are incredibly soft and furry.” Wait a minute, just because your brother touched one bat and it was incredibly soft and furry does not mean that every bat in the whole world is soft and furry. That’s faulty reasoning. “Nope, Malcolm said so. All bats are soft and furry.”
“True or false, when a bat flaps its wings, the vibrations can be felt on the other side of the world.” Um, true? Short pause. “Dad said it was false.” Well, where did you hear it was true? Longer pause. “Batman. Why are you laughing?”

I’ve been feeling like a literary magpie, lately. Or maybe just an airhead. I’ll happen across a small passage that intrigues me, and then I’ll buy the whole book from the magical used book store across the street, which has every book you can ever think of, precisely when you’re thinking of it. Then I’ll read a chapter, be completely charmed by it but understand it not at all. I’ll read a wikipedia entry on the text, feel slightly more informed and slightly guilty, and then some new passage will capture my gnat-like attention, and I’ll chase after that like Clio chases after dried leaves. A bit of Aristotle, a bit of Hobbes, a bit of the Mahabarata…maybe a few pages of Tintin to clear the palate. And of course I want to talk about whatever I’m reading, I want to discuss it and try to understand it, but my lack of comprehension combines with my inability to string words together to form a sentence and I sound like a complete idiot. But I think I’m okay with that. I’m not in school, I don’t have to write an essay or pass a test. I don’t even have to finish a book if I don’t want to! Although I usually do want to, if only for a feeling of completion. I like to read books about other people trying to figure things out, even though I don’t believe it’s possible to do so. I love the language, particularly in the very old books, I like the perfect parallel between my inability to understand a concept and the strangeness of the words themselves. I’m fascinated by the connections between books from around the world and throughout history, by the patterns that form, and the way everybody was influenced by somebody else, their thoughts echo the thoughts of those who wrote before them. In a poem Isaac described himself as “a thinker.” I’m so glad that he is, and that he knows that he is! I like to see Isaac and Malcolm make sense of everything, everything that teachers tell them, and friends tell them, that they tell each other, everything they read, and yes, even all the important scientific facts they learn from a batman cartoon. They’re processing it all, and learning to doubt and to reason, and it’s a beautiful process to watch. There’s a beautiful portrait of young Francis Bacon by Nicholas Hilliard with an inscription that translates as, “If only I could paint his mind.” I know what he means!

UPDATE! This was our conversation on the way home from school, and it seemed relevant, and I want to remember it, so here you go…

Isaac: I frequently think about what was there before space.
Me: Do you frequently think about that?
Isaac: Yes.
Me: And what do you think was there?
Isaac: Well, I get frustrated, because I think there was nothing, but then I think about what color nothing would be.

Butterbeans and spring vegetables

Butterbeans and spring vegetables

This was a green meal! A spring green meal. We kept it fresh and simple, with a saucy sauce of white wine and lemon. We used greens and fresh herbs from the CSA, and a special treat of castelvetrano olives from the market up the road. The boys ate this over gemelli pasta, and I ate it over a mix of lettuces from the farm, and arugula and fresh spinach, as a sort of warm salad. Good either way!

And here’s The Pixies with Where is my Mind??? Which has been stuck in my head, for some reason.
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Greens, olives & pecan tart

Greens olives and pecan tart

Malcolm and Isaac did some free writing in school. Isaac said that he wrote about Clio, our puppy. He wrote that she was mostly housebroken. It’s sweet that he loves her, and he’s “writing what he knows,” which is the oldest advice in the book. He’s writing about something solid and important to him. We asked Malcolm what he wrote about, and I expected something along the same lines. “Tennis ball world!” Yes, a world made entirely of tennis racket strings. We all have tennis balls on our shoes, and we bounce from place to place. And there’s water under the tennis racket strings, and we all have cups that we can dip in the water… I love both answers so much! For some reason it made me think of Thoreau’s quote, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” For Malcolm and Isaac at this moment, imagination is their work. Letting their minds wander, and inventing new worlds and new ways of living in this world is their job. I love to see the earthbound objects that hold their flights of fancy. Everything they see and hear and find and eat, everything is fed into the fire of their imaginations and comes out wonderfully transformed. My mom and dad gave Malcolm my old tennis rackets. Isaac’s new pictures of dragons have Clio’s claws. It’s all connected. I hope as they get older they manage to find a balance between practical and fantastical. I’ve seen their drawings and heard their stories, I know they’ll both make remarkable castles.

This tart has layers. It has lots of greens. It’s very densely greeny. The crust is tall and thin and crispy, to provide some crunch for all the greeniness. We got bags of small fall lettuces from the CSA. They’re a little bitter, and very delicate. Not to everyone’s taste in a salad. But if you sautee them lightly, and then combine them with eggs and cheese, their sharpness provides just the right kick. If you can’t find little fall lettuces, you can use arugula. The second layer also involves greens. It’s chard, not pureed, but chopped, so it retains some of it’s lovely texture. It’s combined with olives and garlic. And the top layer is a sort of pecan frangipane – another custard, that has the sweet nutty taste of pecans whirled right in.

Here’s one of my all time favorites…Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with Mama Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the air Burning?
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Chickpea stew with tomatoes, chard and castelvetrano olives

Chickpea, chard, castelvetrano stew

Isaac wants a baby orangutan for a pet, and so do I. Actually he just asked if I’d rather have an elephant, and I think I might rather. He’ll get the orangutan, and I’ll get the elephant. So we’re going to head down to the local animal shelter and see if we can find one of each. He’s home sort-of-sick from school, and watching a show about orphaned orangutans and elephants. They’re raised by humans and then returned to the wild. They’re all so beautiful you could cry! The shot of a herd of baby elephants, red with the dusty earth, running, eager, giant ears held high, following people with soccer balls, threw me for a loop. A loop, I tell you! The film centers on the two women that run the retreats. Rightfully so, I suppose, they’ve given their lives and probably lots of their money to these animals. David and I were thinking it would be interesting to see a movie about the people that work there, and care for the animals every day, as well. Orphaned animals can’t sleep alone. In the wild they cuddle with their mothers, and in this strange environment they have too many bad memories of why they became orphaned animals. There’s a shot of a man trying to sleep, with a baby elephant cavorting all around him. I well remember days of trying to cuddle a toddler to sleep. Can you imagine if the toddler weighed several hundred pounds?! And a scene with a woman cuddling a tiny baby orangutan, singing to him, and rubbing his tummy, as he frowns and struggles to keep his eyes open – well it kills me. I wonder what the lives of these people are like. Do they have children of their own? What strange hours they must work. What a demanding but rewarding job it must be! What kind of dreams do you have when you care for orphaned animals all day and night?

We’re back to stew season, here at The Ordinary! The evenings are drawing in, and it’s time for warm saucy meals. This particular stew extends the bridge between summer and fall. It’s full of fresh tomatoes and basil, chard from the farm, and a sweet roasted red pepper. And it has castelvetrano olives, which I love so much. They’re lovely and bright and juicy, and they’re very pretty with the tomatoes. I had mine with bulgarian feta crumbled on top, but if you leave that (and the bit of butter) out, you have a good vegan meal. Serve it with a salad and a loaf of crispy bread, and you’re golden.

Here’s Elephant Gun by Beirut. It’s a beautiful song, but it’s a sad story of elephant hunting, and it’s why these baby elephants are orphans.

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Tomato steaks au poivre; Semolina dumpling baked in tomatoes; roasted red salad stuffed heirloom

Giant heirloom

It’s hard not to become defensive when you grow up in New Jersey. From an early age, you’re aware that you’re the butt of jokes – not just the jokes of snarky Manhattanites, but of pretty much everybody, everywhere. You hear stereotypes about New Jersey accents, New Jersey styles of dress, New Jersey music. You know, of course, that those accents and styles of dress actually originate in certain boroughs of Manhattan, and the attribution is false, but you grow tired of explaining that. People drive from New York to Philly and see the ugliest part of New Jersey – the Strip malls and refineries. You think about telling them that where you live, there’s nothing but vast expanses of beautiful countryside, but you don’t want everybody moving here, so you keep quiet. You know that Jersey is overpopulated, but that population is incredibly diverse, which means that we have a rich culture of languages, art, and food. We have mountains and beaches and meadows. We have a sense of humor about ourselves – we have to – it’s a survival instinct. We’re adaptable and tolerant – living so close to your neighbors (as you do in much of the state) you learn to respect them and care for them.

Baked semolina dumpling tomatoes

And we have tomatoes! Jersey tomatoes – pride of the garden state! At the moment I have a bewildering number of tomatoes! But I’ve had a lot of fun thinking of ways to prepare them. We had some big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I scooped out some of the flesh and replaced it with semolina dumpling batter. I baked the tomatoes, and made the flesh into a sauce with chard and basil.

Tomato chard sauce

The semolina has a lovely, soft texture that absorbs the tomato-y juices. Then I thought about giant slices of tomatoes that feel like steaks, and I decided to coat them in pepper, fry them in a little butter, and then use the juices to make a sauce, with shallots, garlic, and wine. It made a nice side dish, and I think it would be nice over angel hair pasta. Finally, we had an heirloom tomato the size of a small pumpkin. I decided to open it in thick slices, and stuff a flavorful salad into the spaces – roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, capers, olives, and fresh basil. Fresh and delicious!

Tomato steaks au poivre

Here’s Tom Waits with Jersey Girl
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Chickpea flour chard frittata-cake (with olive sofrito)

Chard & chickpea flour cake

I’m not very good at sitting still. I’ve tried doing yoga or meditating once or twice, but as soon as I try to clear my head, it fills with silly thoughts and petty anxieties. When I try to sit and write, I find myself jumping up every few minutes to do something that doesn’t actually need to be done. Yesterday, I attempted to master the art of being still. I’ve written the underdog’s theme song, and absolved lack of competitive instinct and lack of ambition everywhere. At the moment I’d like to champion a brief spell of staring into space. It’s been a spate of immaculate weather. We were trying to think of the perfect thing to do after dinner – homework all done, but still a school night. We weren’t organized enough for a walk of any kind. Maybe we’d sit around a fire in the backyard. But I found myself sitting in a chair by the front door. The sky was bright as day, but the room was filling with darkening blue light at an autumn pace – always surprising and even slightly worrying. The boys were playing kickball in the backyard. They were giggling maniacally – beautiful, but I’m sure they were hitting the window and the recycling bins on purpose. David was in the kitchen sneezing, and covering Malcolm’s text book with a brown paper bag, the way humans have covered textbooks for all eternity. The boys ran in and out of their showers, cool, pale and giggling. They disappeared into the backyard, as the sky finally deepened outside the window, and in the room it became too dark to write. The smell of smoke and the sound of loved voices pulled me into the backyard, where the sky was still palely glowing.

Chard and chickpea flour frittata

And before all of this activity? I made the best meal! I’m really proud of it! I think I may have invented it! I’m not even sure what to call it! It’s like a frittata, but it has chickpea flour in it, which gives it a lovely substantiality and flavor. It’s also got sauteed chard, mozzarella, some garlic, some rosemary, and some basil. We cut it into thick wedges, and ate it with sofrito (spanish style). I’d made a big batch with all of the paste tomatoes I picked last week. I froze some of it for winter, and I set some aside, and added olives and a roasted red pepper (also from the farm!) You could make a simple tomato sauce instead, though. (Both recipes below) And we had a nice, simple heirloom tomato salad as well.

Olive & red pepper sofrito

The cool, blue sounds of Jackie Mittoo’s Evening Time.
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