Beets glazed with tamari, lime, and hot pepper

Beets glazed with tamari

Beets glazed with tamari

On the local news they were running a story about the demolition of an old hotel…a historical landmark. A fresh-faced local reporter informed us of the traffic problems we might expect, and about proposed plans for the site. Then they told us our “backyard” weather report, before returning to the national morning program, on which a group of plastic-faced plastic-haired individuals cheerfully and ignorantly speculated on the murder of a sad-seeming “reality” TV star. Later we drove home through miles of winding mountain roads covered with pine forests. We passed small towns and farms, and almost more churches than houses. I always feel a little lonely driving through strange neighborhoods, getting small glimpses of people’s lives there…a couple of kids playing volleyball without a net, a line of people waiting for a bus (where are they going?), an unchained dog ambling back to his place in a service station. Something about the pines and the veering hills makes this part of the world seem unusually wild, and it’s obviously a place people have travelled to for some time to escape the cares of the world. It’s beautiful, silent, pitch black at night, and desolate. We passed by huge strange buildings from the last century–giant resort hotels and spas, in crumbling disrepair or transformed into apartments. We passed abandoned resort towns from the sixties and seventies, where trees grow out of the tennis court, and the bright groovy colors welcome the ghosts. We passed colonies of small houses–cabins or shacks, really–they must have been for families roughing it for a week or two, or for artists’ gatherings or religious retreats. And now they’re dilapidated, missing doors and windows and crumbling apart, but judging from the possessions strewn over the front lawn, there are people living there, people with dogs and children and worries just like mine. It’s so strange to think about the people who have come here for vacation, maybe year after year, until the buildings were boarded up and the business closed down. It’s strange to think about the people who live here now, in these small towns and old cities and ex-resorts, all connected by the morning show piped into their televisions, with its gruesomely breezy jolliness, its forced fake stories that have nothing real about them, nothing that touches anybody’s life, not enough substance to even crumble and decay. Humans are so strange, sometimes.

Beets glazed with tamari

Beets glazed with tamari

Almost everything in this dish came from the farm! The beets, scallions, garlic, hot pepper, basil, cilantro. It’s simple, but with nice strong flavors, sweet, salty, hot and tangy. You could toss it with rice or pasta to make a meal, or eat it on the side with all the other good summer vegetables.

Here’s Who Cares, Michelle Shocked’s ghost town song.

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Saucy summer vegetables with lemon, basil, and ginger

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

We’re having a heatwave! It’s been one scorcher after another, with little relief even at night. I don’t mind it so much. I like to hole up in our one air-conditioned room and read or write, and then strike out in search of water for the boys to swim in. But it does make you feel a little weary, after a while, and leave you longing for crisp, energizing weather. You might expect this week’s Sunday interactive playlist to be about hot songs, right? But no! We’re going to cool it down with songs about coldness, winter, ice and snow. What’s cooler than cool? Our ice cold playlist to chill out to.

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

This is a light, bright way to use up some vegetables from the farm without heating up the kitchen too much. I used golden beets, pattypan squash, golden and red tomatoes and fennel, because I like the combination of flavors and that’s what we had, but you can use what you like. It’s very flavorful, with ginger, coriander, basil, cilantro and lemon. We ate it with soba noodles, and it looked very nice and colorful against their slate grey background, but you could eat it with rice, or over greens, or as a sort of side dish.

Here’s a link to the ice cold playlist. Add what you like, or leave a comment and I’ll add it for you.

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Pumpkinseed, green vegetable, and cheddar soup

pumpkinseed vegetable soup

pumpkinseed vegetable soup

I spent the morning cleaning. Let me tell you why that’s interesting. It’s not! It’s not interesting at all, to anyone! Cleaning is dull and tedious and repetitive, and it’s only satisfying if you’re good at it, which I’m not. You wouldn’t walk into my house and say, “This place looks great, Claire must have cleaned for hours this morning!” You’d more likely say, “Jesus, what a dump! How can they live in such squalor?” Cleaning is the most sisyphean of tasks, you clean, it gets messy again, you clean, it gets even messier. Especially if you have children or dogs. Honestly, I think cleaning a house with two little boys in it is the definition of insanity. They stand in the yard and throw dirt at things because it’s fun. They throw paint (and other substances) at the walls and the floor. Of course they do! Who wouldn’t? I’m a good mom for little boys, because I like dirt, as long as it’s good clean dirt. If they eat some soil in their lives, it can only be good for them, to take a bit of the earth into their bodies, right? But I don’t necessarily like dirt on my windowsills, and that’s what we had, in large quantities. I could have planted some seeds in there and they would have grown. Today I cleaned the windows and cleared out some cobwebs (literally–We share our home with many spiders). And that does feel good in springtime. To have a clear and unobstructed view of the world coming to life outside your windows. To remove some of the clutter that confuses your picture of the world. I don’t enjoy cleaning, but there are things I like about it. I like the fact that we all have to do it (or hire somebody to do it). There’s something comforting in that–cleaning connects us and it’s humbling and grounding for everyone. I like the clarity that it can bring, and the sense of renewal. My mind feels fuzzy and confused, sometimes, as though it is actually wrapped in spider webs, and cleaning my physical space can feel like opening a window in my brain, and blowing away some of that dust. Because cleaning is very good for freeing the mind. I have some of my best thoughts while sweeping the floor or scrubbing the tub, and if I get stuck on something I’m trying to write, cleaning is more than a way of procrastinating, it’s a way to keep thinking about something without consciously thinking about it. You shift the focus and alter the angle of the shot, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Sometimes when you clean you find a toy that you forgot you had, and you can stop and play with it for a while. And I like to think about spirits everywhere – angry pee spirits, mischievous dust spirits, the ghosts of little boy hand smudges, or phantom dog nose prints on glass–they all hold a little of the history or their happening. Even the clever spiders and their fantastical mysterious webs seem other-worldly at times. I feel that I make a deal with them when I clean. I’ll disturb them only so much, and then let them be. I’ll stir them up and make them dance around in a flurry, but I’ll understand that they’ll settle again, that they’re part of this house and have probably lived here longer than I have. So I spent the morning cleaning windows and clearing clutter, and my mind and my eyes are a little clearer, a little more ready for spring, and already the dust is softly settling around me once again.

This soup felt a little like spring cleaning the vegetable drawer. I had a lot of green vegetables and some were past the first blush of youth, because I wasn’t around much last week, so I decided to make them into a soup. I used broccoli, spinach, kale and cauliflower (not green, I know! But it doesn’t look ugly with green vegetables, and it makes such a smoooooth purée). YOu could use any vegetables you have on hand that you like together. First I toasted some pumpkinseeds, because I love their flavor, and they make the soup nice and creamy. And I finished it by melting in some cheddar, which added flavor and substantiality. I seasoned it with cumin, sage, oregano and cilantro, because I wanted it to go well with our leftover kale and black bean cornmeal cakes, but you could use any herbs and spices you like!

Here’s Van Morrison. He’s happy Cleaning Windows.
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Spicy thin-sliced potatoes with cilantro, jalapenos, and olives

I hope everybody had a happy dragon day on Saturday! What’s that? You didn’t know it was dragon day? Didn’t you get the card? Oh, well I’ll share mine with you…

Happy Dragon Day!

Isaac drew these pictures! It’s two sides of the dragon’s day card. They kill me! I love the technique of course. I love the way he fills the page with his imagination. I love the way he did a little dotted-line arrangement for his writing. I love the little pile of knight stuff – shield, chain mail, helmet – that the dragon has dispatched. I love the idea of dragon day – you have to play dragons, draw dragons, pretend to be a dragon, talk about dragons or think about dragons – as if we didn’t all do that every day already! But most of all, I love the fact that Isaac asked me to write the date on it. So I did. Then he said, and the day, what day is it? Saturday. And then he wanted the exact time of day. So I wrote that. And then he said, but what day is it? I’m not sure what you mean. Is it the last Saturday of summer? Well, I checked the calendar, and I’m fairly sure it was the last Saturday of summer. Isaac said…write that on there, too. The boys seem so blissfully unaware of time passing – except that when they’re doing something fun it goes too fast, and bedtime comes too early. Something about Isaac asking to record this exact moment, at the end of the summer, and the beginning of the school year…I tell you, it killed me!

Spicy potatoes and olives

And this dish of spicy potatoes – I was unexpectedly smitten with this as well. I was inspired by vague ideas about Peruvian presentations of potatoes, and vague ideas of spicy Peruvian sauces. Basically, it’s potatoes, thinly sliced by the food processor, baked in layers with a spicy sauce of tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos, cilantro, a touch of lemon and a touch of sugar. I’m not kidding – I couldn’t stop eating it! It’s weirdly addictive! Malcom liked it too!

Here’s Flight of the Conchords with Friends, because it’s stuck in my head, because I wish I could watch all of this show again without having seen it, and because Isaac is such a good friend to have.
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Gorditas with roasted salsa and pigeon peas


So it’s the first week of school. I ventured to the CSA this morning to pick some vegetables – easier, quicker, and much less fun without my boyish entourage. On the way home, I heard a man on the radio talking about raising successful children by teaching them grit and character. (I realize that I am very badly paraphrasing the words of this man who sounded both reasonable and intelligent, and I apologize.) His words really struck home, as we send the boys back into the uncertain waters of a new school year – by turns bright and clear and uplifting, and dark and murky, full of fascinating silt and weeds. They learn from it all, of course! I think it must be impossible for a parent to hear somebody talk about this subject without turning it back on themselves. Am I doing enough to teach them grit and character? How do you even do that? What the heck is grit? What’s character? Secretly, part of you thinks, “Of course I’m doing a good job! Just look at my brilliant boys!” And part of you thinks, “My god, I’m failing completely, they’ll be gritless and lacking in character and scarred for life!” Somebody phoned in a question about I.Q. and academic success – assuming a correlation between the two, and the man said that in fact self-control was more important than I.Q. in determining academic success. Oh dear! I thought…parent-teacher conferences for both boys tend to run, “Your son is so smart and creative, but he’s just got too much energy/he calls out too much/he can’t focus on the assignment…” Sigh. We hit a strange patch last year with Malcolm, when his first “real grades” report card came out, and it was very different from the straight s+ report cards of years gone by. Oh dear! Well, this is when it always helps to take a step back and widen the picture for yourself, and think about the meaning of “success” and how varied and subjective it is. (Of course I want my boys to be successful in every accepted conventional sense, of course I do – life is so much easier that way!) But when you ask the boys what they’re good at, what achievements they’re proud of, they’ll say: jumping off of things, finding an antique bottle in a creek, drawing dragons and robots, running very fast, climbing steep hills. They feel good about these things! And, honestly, any of them can lead to every kind of success, if they’re not discouraged. And I’m glad that they like writing and reading, too, and that Malcolm’s favorite subject is math. They both love school, and that makes me feel very lucky and very happy.

Roasted salsa

And, of course, they’re good little cooks!! These gorditas were very fun to make, and even more fun to eat! I have to thank the proprietess of Hot Spicy and Skinny for drawing them to my attention, when she read of my struggles making tortillas without a press. I’m not sure if I made them authentically. I sort of combined a bunch of different recipes that I saw, and I used a combination of butter and olive oil rather than lard. They turned out so tasty! Crispy, chewy, flavorful. We split them in the middle, but it might have been easier to pile the peas on top, or even break off pieces and use them like naan. The salsa is the result of my preference for roasted garlic, onions and peppers over raw. I decided to roast everything (well, broil, really) and then mix it all together. It’s yummy! Smoky, a little sweet, a little spicy. You can use any combination of sweet peppers and hot peppers that you happen to have on hand, and you could easily use onion instead of shallot. And the pigeon peas match their earthy meatiness with bright sweet corn, tomatoes and cilantro. We ate everything mixed together, with basmati rice and grated sharp cheddar.

Pigeon peas and corn

Here’s Expectations by Belle and Sebastian.

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Zucchini-corn-basil soup and herbed semolina biscuits

Zucchini corn soup

When last we’d left our intrepid explorers, Claire was yelling at Malcolm and feeling bad about it. CUT TO…several days later. Claire’s walking home from work. She’s tired, and if we’re being honest, she’s a little cranky and discouraged. Suddenly, through the shifting crowd of tourists, she sees two beaming faces bobbing towards her. It’s her boys! Isaac stops at the corner, and leans cooly against a lamppost; Malcolm charges across the street and nearly knocks her over with the force of his hug. Back in their paint-peeling, disordered, yet charming home, Claire makes a quick and delicious dinner. Then she and Malcolm set out to get a cup of coffee and a quart of milk for their breakfast. The air is cool and sweet, it’s a peach of an evening – a perfectly ripe, sweet, peach of an evening. So they take the long way, they walk down to the tow path. Malcolm says he wants to swim, but the air is like water, and it feels good when he flaps his arms like wings. Claire loves him so much she could cry, at that moment, but they walk along the towpath, both flapping their arms slowly like big strange birds. They meet friends who had a beagle that died the same week Steenbeck did. They have a new beagle puppy, who’s boundingly happy. They all seem happy, and they remark that Malcolm is almost as tall as Claire. “I know!” she replies, “and he’s only ten!” When Malcolm and Claire reach the main street, the shop is closed, so they keep walking. Somehow, Malcolm catches Claire’s hand…and holds it! Claire feels as though she’s caught a rare, sweet toad, that might jump through her fingers. This won’t happen much longer, she knows that. On the way home, they pass a boy they knew when he was Malcolm’s age. Now he’s a teenager, a big, lanky, laughing teenager, walking with his friends. Malcolm eyes them appraisingly. In the house, David and Isaac are playing a game with bug-inscribed tiles. Claire passes through the house to the backyard, because the air is so delicious. She listens to the katydids and the whirring evening insects. David joins her, and they hear a screech owl. He calls to it, and it calls back. They watch the day change into night, they feel the summer change into autumn. The boys come out, and Isaac curls up in Claire’s lap, his smooth cool/warm skin glowing milkily in the dusky light. They don’t want to go inside, they want to listen for the owl. It’s hard to make them go to bed, at this moment. CUT TO…

Herbed semolina biscuits

But wait a moment, you’re asking yourself! What was the quick and delicious dinner that Claire made? Well, I’ll tell you. It was a soup with zucchini, corn, scallions and lots of basil. Malcolm said it tasted like winter, and David said it tasted like something we’d eat in winter to remind ourselves of what summer tasted like. And we had biscuits made partly with semolina flour, with fresh sage, thyme, and oregano, and freshly ground black pepper in them. Isaac loved the biscuits. Everyone else liked everything together.

Here’s A Tribe Called Quest with Excursions. “I said, ‘Daddy, don’t you know that things go in cycles.’”
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Toasted hominy and avocado salad

Toasted hominy salad

It seems to me that we usually have a string of days in June that are perfect. The air is creamy and cool and full of sweet wildflower smells and sharp lemony grassy ferny smells. It’s a little warm in the afternoon, maybe, but in the morning and evening you want to sit and bathe in the sweet air. You want to be aware of how lovely the air is at this moment, because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s so easy to notice when it’s freezing, or broiling, or insufferably humid. But this unsurpassable perfection, this ultimate air, as my boys would say, is easy to overlook. For some reason, when the air is like this, it makes me think about flying. I think about flying a lot, actually. Not with my rational brain (precious little of that!) but in dreams, and now and then through the day. We went on a bike ride this morning, and that feels like flying. We ride on a towpath between the canal and the river. The towpath is raised considerably above the water on either side, in most places, so as you ride birds will swoop along next to you, and you’ll feel like you’re flying with them. This morning we saw a turtle in the glowing brown water – head out, rough, wrinkled legs swirling in the water. It looked like a remarkably pleasant thing to do. That’s what this air feels like! Sometimes, as I’m walking, I’ll sense the weight of the air on my arms, and I’ll swoosh them up slightly, feeling the air move all around them, and I almost feel as though I very nearly know what it might be like to take off in flight. I told David this and he asked if I’d been eating any of the unidentified herbs in the garden. Heh heh. Try it! Here’s a diagram…

1. stand with your arms at your sides, relaxed.
2. Press your hands backwards sllighty – maybe a foot – with a slightly curved motion
3. Swoop them slowly forward – not too far, just like a dog begging, maybe. It’s all about the swoop, I think.

Anyway – you don’t want to be inside too long cooking on a day like this, so you want to make a quick and delicious and substantial salad, such as this one. A perfectly ripe avocado is a thing of wonder, too. In this dish, we find such an avocado combined with tomatoes, cilantro, basil, salad burnet (which tastes like cucumbers – fresh!), hominy that’s been toasted with sage and oregano, and a chipotle balsamic sort of dressing. Toasted hominy is nice – it doesn’t get puffy or crispy, but it crackles and pops while it cooks. The warmth of it makes the tomatoes and olive oil lovely and fragrant and just a little soft. We ate this with basmati rice, fresh farm lettuce, and homemade tortilla chips (that’s a flour tortilla sliced in triangles and lightly fried in olive oil). But you could easily eat it with warm soft tortillas.

Here’s Flying Birds by RZA. It sounds like wings pulling through the weight of the air!
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Red lentil cashew curry

Red lentil cashew curry

We saw a movie last night that was such a good surprise. I didn’t know anything about it beforehand. Guess what? Madhur Jaffrey was in it! She was amazing! And Aasif Mandvi was in it, too. He wrote it! He was wonderful, too. The movie, Today’s Special was about learning to cook (and live) with your head, your heart, and your belly. It had many inspiring scenes in the kitchen. Including one in which the characters mix a masala, or spice mix. I’ve said it before, I love this idea! I wasn’t thinking very clearly about the spices I put in here, but I like the mix I came up with. Mustard seed, sesame seed, a touch of cumin, coriander and cardamom. Lordy, I love the very names of spices!

Red lentils, you say? Why is it green? Why? It’s a funny thing about red lentils. They’re such a pretty salmon color before you cook them, but they turn yellowish after. Still pretty, though, I think! And this is green because it has zucchini and spinach and cilantro. I like to make a red lentil dal that you cook for a very long time, until it separates into cooked lentils, and a delicate, flavorful broth. This isn’t like that! It’s more substantial and thick. It reminded me of oatmeal, a bit, as I was making it. The ground cashews add a sweet nutty creaminess that I find quite pleasant. This would be nice with basmati rice and naan or paratha, but we ate it with grit cakes, which was very good, too!

Here’s a song which is used to wonderful effect in the film, Eena Meena Deeka. The video is wonderful, too!
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Guacamole soup

guacamole soup

Coriander is an interesting herb, isn’t it? It shows up in so many different cuisines throughout the world. You can use every part of the plant, and the leaves and fruits taste quite different from each other. I’ve never encountered the root, but I’ll keep an eye out for it, because it sounds intriguing. Apparently, coriander was cultivated by ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They’ve found traces it at various archeological sites. It’s hard to get my mind around that, in so many ways! Coriander is also fascinating, I think, because the leaves taste so different to different people. To some they have a lovely herby, slightly citrus-y flavor. To others they taste like soap or stink bugs. (I love stink bugs, I really do, I think they’re adorable, but I wouldn’t want to eat them. I’m a vegetarian for heaven’s sake!) It’s such distinct proof that humans experience the world differently.

This soup came about because I bought a job lot (as Thompson and Thomson would say) of avocados. Avocadoes? Avocadi? They were at that moment of perfect ripeness. The first night we had one on a salad, but I continue to be bitterly disappointed by lettuce and tomatoes this time of year. So the next day, whilst whiling away the hours at work, I had the idea to use them in a soup (the avocados, not the whiled-away hours. I wonder how whiled-away-hour soup would taste?). When I considered the various flavor combinations I could use, I kept returning to the seasonings I use for quacamole (I make a mean guacamole). Viz: Cilantro, cumin, chile, lime and honey. So that’s how we did it. I added cauliflower, because I seem to be incapable of making soup without cauliflower lately, and because I thought the puréed cauliflower would save the soup from a certain slimy texture that puréed avocados sometimes attain. (I’m sorry, avocado, but it’s true) Well, the soup came out very nice. A little of the warmth of summery flavors combined with the warmth of a wintery soup.

Here’s MF DOOM’s Coriander.
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Artichoke Heart Salsa

Artichoke heart salsa

Or further adventures in my search for the perfect tart/sweet/salty/spicy food. This combines the briny saltiness of artichoke hearts (from a can, I’m afraid, but there’s nowt wrong with canned artichokes, lad!), the tartness of lime, the sweetness of tomatoes and honey, and the peppery bite of cayenne. It’s very quick to make, and it goes well with emapanadas, chips, crackers…my son liked it so much he pulled the whole bowl over and practically ate it with a spoon.

Here’s Salsa by Johnny Pacheco.
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