Beet and sorrel tart

Beet and sorrel tart

Beet and sorrel tart

Bruno is brash, buoyant, impulsive. He leaps into everything without thinking, he’s cheerful, likable, obnoxious. When we first meet him he’s zooming around a silent shuttered Rome in August; it’s a ghost town, everyone is gone already on vacation. He drives a sporty lancia aurelia, he drives fast and carelessly, even his horn is cheerful and obnoxious. He sees Roberto staring out his window and he calls up to ask a favor–will he make a phone call for him? Roberto invites him up to make the call himself. With the anxious self doubt of a man who spends a lot of time alone, he second guesses his decision to help, but assures himself that it will be okay. Next to Bruno, Roberto seems small, pale, quiet and serious, but somehow they hit it off, and Bruno persuades Roberto to go for a drink with him so that he can repay his kindness. What follows is the road trip at the center of Il Sorpasso, Dino Riso’s beautiful Commedie all’italiana starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vittorio Gassman. The heart of the film is the unlikely friendship between Bruno and Roberto. On the surface it seems like a morality tale: light and dark, angel and devil, the moral man tempted by the immoral man. But it’s far more complicated than that, and this is what makes it more honest and beautiful. Bruno, affable and social, has an easy way with people. He’s friendly and flirtatious, and he impresses Roberto with his schemes to seduce many of the women they meet. But he always fails to do so. He’s alone at the beginning of the film, and alone again at the end. And he’s surprised by Roberto’s flashes of humor and insight, by the strength of his personality, though it be quietly expressed. As the story of their friendship unfolds, through the streets and cafes and nightclubs of 1960s Italy, the camera lingers on other people all around them. Not fleetingly but thoughtfully, a real wondering pause that treats the characters not as extras but as people with fascinating stories of their own, which we could discover if only we chose to follow them instead of Bruno and Roberto. Many times throughout the film Roberto nearly leaves Bruno, to make his own way back to Rome. But he always stays in the end, and they develop almost a brotherly relationship. They talk about keeping in touch when they return to Rome, and you wonder if it would actually happen. Bruno plays and talks and sings, Roberto watches and thinks, and they speed along the Via Aurelia, passing everyone in their way.

Beet and sorrel tart

Beet and sorrel tart

Beets and sorrel! They just make sense! One is tart and bright, one is sweet and earthy. I decided to combine them in this tart, which also uses the beet greens and a handful of other fresh herbs. The beets (from Sandbrook Meadow farm) are so pretty, I just sliced them and roasted them and scattered them on top of the tart. The crust has a little cornmeal in it for extra crispiness. My oven is still broken, so I actually cooked this in the toaster oven on the toaster tray!!

Here’s Peppino di Capri’s Per Un Attimo.

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Empanadas with roasted golden beets, pistachios, raisins and greens

Golden beet, pistachio and golden raisin empanadas

Golden beet, pistachio and golden raisin empanadas

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

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

Roasted golden beet, raisin and pistachio empanadas

Roasted golden beet, raisin and pistachio empanadas

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

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

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Ring-shaped pie with french lentils, chard, walnuts, and butternut squash

chard-french-lentil,-butterWe had a lovely snow on Christmas eve, light and soft, the kind that makes the whole world seem clean and quiet. Snow makes Clio crazy, it brings out one of the “four formes of canine madnesse, the frantic or crazed madnesse.” She leaps about the yard, and then races in with icy snow in her pink paw pads, and leaps off of the furniture with mad abandon. I watched her on Christmas eve, and thought of Steenbeck, our old dog, buried in the yard under Clio’s frenetic paws, sleeping beneath a blanket of silent snow. I felt a sudden sadness, but it was a comforting sadness, in some inexplicable way. And on New Year’s Day we went to a party at a friend’s house, up on the hill above our small city. We walked up, it being a clear, cold day, and it felt good to shake some of the holiday-induced torpor from my mind. The party was lovely, with many children instantly interacting, as they so delightfully do, making things, and sharing things, and giggling. And we drank some good red wine, and talked to friends from town and just out of town – some we see nearly every day, some we see once or twice a year. It felt social, and cheerful, and just right for a New Year’s day. We left at dusk, which still comes early though the days are getting longer, and we walked home through the big old cemetery that over-looks our town. The stones were centuries old, but the names were familiar – the names of families that still live in our community. We read the name of the man who built our house in the 1850s, the name of the man we bought our house from ten years ago, the names of the people that own businesses in town, of families that our children go to school with. My boys raced along the paths, pelting each other with snowballs and laughing. And we walked down into town back to our old house, sleepy from the wine but sober from my thoughts, and made a warm meal, and watched a Buster Keaton movie, cuddled on the couch. It sounds idiotic, but I’d been thinking the night before about all the people that have ever lived. All of the humans that have walked on this earth, and lived, and loved, and wanted, and worked. Some in good fortune and freedom and wealth; most, probably, in poverty and servitude. But all wanting the same things, surely: affection, friendship, some degree of comfort, a kind hand, a warm meal. And I thought about it again, up on the hill, covered in a blanket of melting snow…”falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” I felt, again, that sort of comforting sadness, looking out on our beautiful town, on all of the houses lit up and ringing with laughter, with people crying, “happy new year!” Which brings us to my resolution, if I have one, and, I think I do, but in true Clairish style, it’s vague and muddled, so I hope you’ll forgive this ramble. I don’t make resolutions to lose weight, or be healthy, or give up bad habits. I’ve said before that I believe in finding a balance in everyday life, and that those things are built into the fabric of that balance, cycling continually day-to-day, working against each other. Everybody gains a bit of winter weight, but we’ll eat soup meagre for a week, run up and down the towpath with Clio a few times, and be fighting-fit come spring! To me, “resolve” doesn’t mean to give something up, but to come into focus, to become harmonious, to be solved, or healed. So I hope to bring things into focus and harmony in this new year, moment-to-moment and day-to-day. To notice everything, to recognize how vivid and poignant every moment is, how completely alive each person that I meet – how like me and how completely unique. I hope not to let fatigue, crankiness, or laziness cloud my senses or lessen my appreciation of time spent with my children and David; of strong flavors, good sounds, beautiful sights. Not to be crippled by the sense that time is passing, but to let that awareness help me to feel more keenly. Not to be distracted by our fast, cold, cluttered, cynical world from clarity, light and warmth.

Well, this is my grand ambition for the new year, and this was the pie I made for New Year’s eve and New Year’s day. To eat leftovers on New Year’s day feels like striking out in the direction of frugality and good sense! I made the pie in a ring, because I’d read that ring-shaped foods are considered lucky. I made the crust rosy-golden with cornmeal and smoked paprika, because it seems like a fortuitous color. I filled it with lentils and greens, for luck, walnuts for crunch, and roasted butternut squash for flavor and sweetness, and capers for their flavor-dynamite explosion, so that our life will be sweet, flavorful, tangy, and substantial. Or, you know, whatever…who believes these old superstitions anyway?Ring-shaped pie Ring-shaped pie[/caption]

Here’s a whole album for you. It’s Jordi Savall playing Francois Couperin’s Pièces de Violes, we bought it for ourselves for Christmas, and it’s meltingly beautiful. Full of light and warmth and generosity, like a good life should be!
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Collard, black-eyed pea and pepperjack dumplings

Collard and black-eyed pea dumplings with pepper jack

At the beginning of the year Malcolm had to fill out some sort of worksheet to introduce himself to his new teacher. What does he want to be when he grows up? A mailman! Wot? I thought, not famous artist or rock star or astronaut? “Mailman” seemed like such an unlikely answer for a ten-year-old. Obviously, it’s a good, solid job, with benefits, and one anybody should be proud to hold. But our Malcolm is not a practical man. He’s zany and disorganized and fantastically impulsive. Sometimes it seems as though he’s got more physical and creative energy than can be safely contained in one human being. The more I think about it, though, the more I love his answer. I like the idea of having a sort of regular, down-to-earth, ordinary job (like, ahem, waitressing, say), and having the rest of your life be the outlet for your creative energy. I believe that it’s grounding. I believe that working with people and serving people is inspiring and that anything you do, creatively, benefits from the sort of warmth of understanding you achieve when you feed a person or ring up their groceries or deliver their mail. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that artists are a refined class unto themselves, with supersensitive souls and a delicate constitutions. Everybody, human and animal alike (I believe) is possessed of a potentially rich and receptive sensibility, if they take the trouble to open themselves up, and the time to notice. And plenty of well-known artists have had very ordinary jobs. T.S. Eliot worked as a teacher and a banker, and apparently scribbled his poems on matchbook covers. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. (And I’m sure there are plenty of other examples, if anybody else would like to chime in, here.) Obviously, it would be wonderful to have a rewarding career, creatively and financially, and find everything you need in one package. But that’s not a reality for many people. For me, the important thing is not what you do for a living, or how much money you make, but how you occupy your mind while you’re doing your job. I can just see Malcolm, walking from house-to-house, his mind a-buzz with crazy schemes and inventions. (In fact, he once described a scenario in which he worked as a mailman, and as well as people’s mail, he’d deliver trash from house to house. He’s a big fan of trash, and likes to make new things out of it. So he’d deliver one person’s cool garbage to somebody else who could use it to make something they need. One person’s trash is another person’s inspiration.) I believe this applies to motherhood as well. It’s so hard to be a mom sometimes – you’re criticized for working, criticized for giving up work to stay home. It can lead to real feelings of failure! (Which, in turn, makes you a worse mother, which makes you feel like more of a failure, and on and on…) Whether you stay at home or you’re out of the house building a career, you can always have something that you’re working on, in your head or on paper or on canvas or on film. You can delight in your children as your creation, and celebrate their imagination.

The very act of cooking dinner in the evening can be an expression of your artistry! And you’re sustaining your family! Double plus bonus points!! This weekend at work I didn’t make very much money, but I was allowed to take home some leftover cubes of pepper jack cheese. Score! And we got some collards from the farm. I’ve been dreaming about making some sort of savory pastry – crunchy outside, soft and warm inside, with lots of melting cheese (it’s started to get very cold here!). I love secret melted cheese! So I decided to make a cornbread crust, and inside have a layer of collards and black-eyed peas surrounding a big soft melty bit of spicy cheese. I thought these were so delicious, I was quite proud of them, and gobbled them up. They were fun to make, too. And as David pointed out – black-eyed peas and collards are both considered lucky foods!

Here’s a song David discovered that’s been stuck in my head (in a good way) ever since he played it for me. I find it quite moving! It’s Neneh Cherry and the Thing with Dream Baby Dream.

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Chard and french lentil empanadas

Chard & french lentil empanada

“People talk of natural sympathies,” said Mr. Rochester. And we all know that he was just trying to seduce Jane Eyre, but he wasn’t wrong – people do talk of natural sympathies. Not just between people, but between colors, and musical notes as well. Certain things just look or sound pleasing when they’re combined. The boys have a book on the history of perspective in art, and I find it so fascinating! Artists through the ages have tried so hard to understand the world through mathematical rules – they understood it in order to draw it, and they understood it by drawing it. (Which is what little Isaac does, it seems – when something interests him he has to draw it, and he’s always pleased with what he draws) Apparently Paolo Uccello would stay awake at night after his wife had gone to bed, searching for vanishing points, and he’d say, “Oh, what a a sweet thing this perspective is!” And Piero della Fransesca believed in a perfect geometry underlying God’s creation. He saw everything as defined by measurements and numbers, which had mystical properties. Everything was carefully planned, in his art and in the world around him to be pleasantly harmonious. David, who is a painter, will point out how certain colors “hum” when they’re next to each other. Some even create a beat when placed in proximity – almost a flashing in your vision. My piano teacher, who was also a painter, used to say that each painting should have one “key note” color, which stood out from all the other, and didn’t harmonize with the rest of the picture. I think it’s interesting that the visual world is spoken of in musical terms, what with all the humming and the beats! I asked my mom, who is a professor of music history, if people believed certain chords together had magical powers. Oh yes! She said. People used to believe that you are what you listen to, and that you could be driven to certain actions – saintly or diabolical – according to what you heard. Octaves and fifths were pure and safe, but the tritone was the devil in music, and could cause terrible unrest. She said that if you took perfect fifths, and sang them perfectly in tune, by the time you got four octaves up, you’d be a half-step flat. People used to develop all sorts of tunings to solve the problem (well-tempered tuning) and now we use equal temperament tuning, in which we adjust by making everything equally out of tune. “In order to end up on pitch you have to compromise everything else,” Says my mother, “Just like in life.”

Well, I believe that there are certain flavors that go together perfectly, as well. When you taste them they just make sense, and they hum in your mouth. Frequently they grow together and ripen together, which almost makes you agree with Piero della Francesca’s assessment that there’s some divine pattern accounting for all of the harmonies in the world. Tomatoes and basil, for example. Perfect. And I like to think about my piano teacher’s idea of introducing one element of flavor that’s surprising and unexpected, and makes all of the other happily harmonizing flavors more exciting. Some flavors hum along together, some contrast pleasantly, to create a beat. Personally, I love chard and french lentils together. And I love chard and some sweet and tangy fruit. And I love them all together in a crispy crust. I really liked these empanadas! It’s one of my favorite meals I’ve made in a while. I combined chard, which had been sauteed with a bit of garlic and hot red pepper, with lentils, which had been cooked with nigella seeds and sage. I added some caramelized onions, for sweetness. And I added a spoonful of quince jam. I used queso blanco & mozzarella to make everything nice and melty, and bring it all together. I’d read that in argentina they make empanadas with quince paste and salty white cheese, and I guess this is my version of that. We ate these with my version of patatas bravas, which I’ll tell you about in a little while, and, I’m not saying it was a masterpiece, or anything, but it was very pleasing meal to have in out little green backyard on a cool summer evening.

Chard and lentil empanadas

Here’s Leonard Cohen with Hallelujah. Is he talking about a chord with divine and magical powers? I’m never sure. I like the word “hallelujah.”
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Cornmeal crusted pies with roasted chickpeas

Roasted chickpea pies with cornmeal crust

I had a dream the other night about chickpeas roasted with thyme. I could pretend that this represented something else. Say the chickpeas represent my sons (in truth, when they were born we called them chickpea-head, because they had such lumpy little bald heads they looked like chickpeas!) and thyme represents time, which is running and passing, running and passing. But let’s face it, in reality I just dream about food! The nice thing about dreaming about food, is that if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, you can think about how you’d make the food in your dream. A good way to take your mind off the more stressful goblins you can’t help chasing down dark and winding alleys at three in the morning. So I thought about chickpeas roasted with thyme, and thyme is part of the jerk spice family, so I thought I’d add some allspice and cayenne (don’t have scotch bonnet peppers!) And then I thought I’d add something green, like spinach, and something fresh, like parsley, and put it all in a cornmeal crust. (I had to resist the urge to use masa harina again! I can’t use it every day, can I?) Not hard to make, and tasty and fun to eat. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, because I have to be at work soon.

Here’s The Clash with Long Time Jerk, to go with the jerk seasoning. It’s strange, I’d never really listened to the lyrics to this before, but I just did the afternoon before I made this dinner. They seemed so strange and beautiful to me! About memory and desire and time passing.
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Empanadas with chipotle and butternut squash

Red bean and butternut squash empanadas

These empanadas are like an evening in autumn – the leaves are all golden, red, and orange, and the smoke from somebody’s fireplace fills the air. Made with yellow corn, red beans, roasted butternut squash, and smoky paprika and chipotle puree, they’re pretty and delicious. They go well with artichoke heart salsa, which brings coolness to their smoky warmth. I baked mine, but you could fry them if you wanted.

Here’s Red Beans by Coleman Hawkins with the Red Garland Trio
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