Here’s Feeling Good, by Nina Simone.
We 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[/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!
Since the food we put on our table is an important issue, i’m going to tell you about this handsome tart! It’s actually quite simple. It’s a standard flaky pate brisee crust, with rosemary and black pepper added for deliciousness. On top of that we have a layer of french lentils sauteed in port wine and balsamic vinegar. Lentils might seem like an odd ingredient in a tart, but they add real substance and texture, and their lovely meaty flavor. And the mushrooms are chopped chunkily and roasted, so that when the savory almond custard is baked all around them, it’s almost like a savory clafouti or toad-in-the-hole. If I do say so myself, and I do, the whole thing turned out super-tasty. David liked it a lot, and said it’s a “birthday meal.”
Here’s Women’s Realm by Belle and Sebastian
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.
Here’s LL Cool J (and Adam Horowitz!) with I Need a Beet
It’s a discombobulating experience, visiting Monticello. So much beauty, and cleverness – so many good ideas being exchanged, and important work being done. And literally hidden beneath all of it, so much pain and suffering.
Sorry to go on about it! It’s on my mind. I did buy some seeds in the gift shop, to plant in our garden. I’m very excited about our garden this year. We have about 8 kinds of basil, and that’s what I used to make this dish! Back in the Ye Olde Days, they used to have “potage gardens,” and the fruits and vegetables grown there would be used to make potage, a thick stew or porridge. The potage combined all of the different elements of a meal in one bowl, and was a staple in the diet of peasants. This particular potage contains 4 kinds of lentils – beluga, french, red, and split moong. The beauty of this, is that when they’re all cooked together, the quick-cooking varieties (I’m talking to you, moong & red!) melt into a creamy background, while the slower-cooking types (french and beluga) remain a bit al dente. So you have a nice mix of textures. If you can’t find beluga lentils or split moong dal, you could make this with french and red, which are both fairly easy to locate. I roasted the cauliflower separately, because I like that smoky flavor, and then pureed half with broth, and added half whole. This is quite a thick, satisfying dish, and it’s flavorful as well – seasoned with ginger, smoked paprika and tons of fresh basil. It’s funny, though – lentils are so pretty when they’re raw, and so drab when cooked. They make up for it with supreme tastiness, though!
Did I mention that we recently watched the Claude Berri film, The Two of Us? Oh, I did? I’ve told you that I loved the film, and some of the reasons why. But there was more to it than that. The film spoke to me, about things I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks. I saw myself in some of the characters in a way I don’t usually with most films. I wonder if everybody feels that way when they watch The Two of Us, because the film is so human and honest that it feels universal? Such specific things resonated, though. An old, old dog, loved more than anything in the world. A bright, energetic 8-year-old boy, who doesn’t quite understand why you’re upset by the way he acts. The father’s anxious-angry-loving face was so dear and familiar. And then there were the animals. Pepe is a vegetarian. Not a common or popular position in the French countryside at the time, it would seem. The rest of the populace was trying to find a way to scrounge some meat during the deprivations of WWII, but he proudly announced that he only ate vegetables. By choice. Not because that’s all the rations allowed. His wife raised, killed, and cooked rabbits. But to Pepe, that wasn’t an option, because he knew the rabbits. He loved the rabbits. Exactly in the way he loved Claude, though he was a jew, because he knew him. It reminded me of the film The Shooting Party, in which a parallel is made between children who save their pet duck from a duck hunt, as though she’s the only duck that matters, because she’s their duck, and the fact that the accidental shooting of an old man is only important because they know him. All this in the context of WWI, in which surely it was only possible to kill other humans in fear and ignorance, because you didn’t know them, and they were the enemy. In the way Claude, the little boy, would have been to Pepe, before he knew him.
Anyway…I wanted to make something to go with my couronne bread, and I decided to make something Pepe might eat. So I made a ragout, which as I understand it is a stew substantial enough to be a meal. This was hearty, because of the potatoes and french lentils, but they weren’t the stars of the show. We also had zucchini, broccoli rabe and tomatoes, and white wine and capers for brightness. So it had a certain lightness, despite being completely satisfying. Not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but right up their with the tastiest.
Here’s Nina Simone with Turning Point. A devastating, complex song, told with the simplicity of a child’s voice. A revelation of prejudice that makes it all seem so idiotic and unnecessary.