Semolina cake with bananas and coconut milk (and banana-pear chocolate chip bread)

Semolina banana cake

The first film I ever made was called The Real World. It was about seven hot strangers living together in one house – O! the drama that ensued! I’m joking of course. My first film hit the streets several years before MTV’s seminal reality show. It was, in point of fact, a three-minute in-camera-edited powerhouse of a film. A young man walks down a long, brick path, holding a blue jay feather. He’s obviously delighted with it! He encounters a very tall couple dressed in evening clothes – dressed all in black, and wearing top hats and veils. He shows them the feather. They laugh and point. He feels foolish and drops the feather. And that’s pretty much it. Exeunt omnes! To this day, I find it heartbreaking when somebody is happy about something or proud of an achievement, and they’re teased or belittled. Nothing so sad as deflated enthusiasm! Last night we started watching the documentary Marley with the boys. (So far so good). Malcolm was very impressed and he wanted to wear my Bob Marley shirt to school today. He was so excited about it that he wore it even though it was picture day, and he wore a button-down shirt over it, which he planned to remove with a flourish once picture-taking had ended. I met them after school on this grey and drizzly day. Malcolm looked as dapper as ever in his tweed cap and plaid skater’s jacket. After about half a block he said, “I’m never wearing this shirt to school ever again! Everybody teased me! They said it was a girl’s shirt!!” Ouch. He didn’t seem that upset, but I felt like crying. We caught up to some friends of theirs. Isaac said, “Everybody teased Malcolm’s shirt.” Their friend said, “What! That’s Bob Marley, he’s the coolest guy ever. He wanted peace! Anybody who teases you for wearing a Bob Marley shirt is an idiot!!” Huzzah! I felt like crying all over again, and giving their little friend a big hug! I think we should invent a super hero that travels around the world being glad to see people, and noticing when they’re proud, and giving them little pats on the back for their achievements, and admiring their treasures.

So…we had some overripe bananas. I’d just made a sort of traditional banana bread last week, with pears and chocolate chips. It was delicious! I don’t have a picture, but I’ll give you the recipe anyway. I wanted to try something different this time. So I mixed semolina flour into the batter, which gave it a lovely texture – large crumbed and dense, but light and delicate at the same time. And I flavored it with cardamom and ginger. And I added a half cup of coconut milk, which gave it a lovely creaminess and flavor. There’s no actual coconut in the cake, so it’s quite a mysterious and subtle flavor.

Here’s Bob Marley with Rastaman Live Up! Don’t be afraid of the wolf pack!
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Ginger cookies with white chocolate-cassis glaze

Ginger cookies with white chocolate glaze

It has come to our attention, Here at The Ordinary, that there are, literally, a gazillion food blogs in the world. This is a precise number, tabulated in our statistics division. A gazillion. When the field is saturated to such a degree, questions of sustainability arise. In order to “stand out from the crowd,” we have decided to rebrand ourselves. A careful review of the trending of recent posts out of The Ordinary, suggests that “the time is now” for a blog devoted entirely to the analysis of bird gestures. Henceforth, we will conduct a definitive exploration of birdy gestures, from both the scientifical and the poetical angles. If any bird in the tri-state area (any tri-state area!) should snap a beak, pump a tail, flap a wing or move so much as a feather…we will be there. We will head out into the field to become leaders of the field. We will provide in-depth-studies, detailed technical drawings, DIY guides, celebrity interviews, step-by-step instructions, virtual 3-D models, and printable paper cutouts.

I’m joking, of course! Rest assured we will still be firing a recipe at you (almost) each and every day! In the meantime, though, I have been thinking about birds a lot lately. Some time ago, I compiled a list in my head of my favorite bird related movies, birds and movies seem so perfect together – a movie is about capturing light and shadow and movement, and a bird’s whole life seems to be beautifully made of those things! I’d like to share my top four with you now. So, here we go, yo…

Le Poulet, Claude Berri’s ridiculously beautiful short film about a boy and his rooster. It’s joyful and simple, but it’s also incredibly thoughtful – it makes you think! It makes you think, specifically, about how it is harder to be cruel to somebody that you know, that has a name, than to a generic, unknown being. Once somebody (be they chicken or otherwise) goes from being a random, unnamed individual to being a friend – you have to treat them differently.

In Le Samourai, Alain Delon’s pet bird is, oddly, the most endearing character in the film. The title character is so cold and mechanical, he’d be a lesser man without this bird, who seems to represent his soul. I honestly felt more anxious about the bird than any of the other characters.

Ghost Dog. Inspired by Le Samurai. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. Ghost Dog’s pigeons…his home is in their coup, he’s closer to them than any human, and they’re his only contact with people. Beautiful, fragile, and accompanied by some of the best movie music ever.

Kes is surely one of the most beautiful saddest movies ever. The bird is his refuge and his friend. I can’t even watch the trailer without getting weepy!

What are some of your favorite bird-related film scenes?

And your recipe for the day is ginger cookies with a white chocolate cassis glaze. I had a small amount of white chocolate chips left in the cupboard, and I wanted to bake something with them. I thought to myself…white chocolate is very sweet, let’s combine it with something with some bite – ginger! These aren’t like ginger snaps, though…they’re pale and simple, and quite elegant. I decided to mix a bit of cassis in with the white chocolate, because I thought its tartness would be pleasant with the spiciness and the sweetness. You could leave it out, or add the liquor of your choice. Rum goes nicely with ginger! So does orange! The flavors are very nice together. Strangely lemony, despite the fact that there’s no lemon!

Here’s Patti Smith’s remarkably ecstatic birdland
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Isaac’s sweet and spicy ice cream

sweet and spicy ice cream

“What kind of ice cream shall we make?” I asked Isaac. “Carrot ice cream!” He said with a giggle. Little does he know that I actually plan to make carrot ice cream some day! Watch this space! In the end, after considering the fragrances of lots of jars from the spice cabinet, he decided on a few sweet spices, plus some chocolate chips. Cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg, and a touch of ginger. And we ground up the chocolate chips a bit, so they’d be nice and melty in the ice cream. Delicious! The words “ice cream” always makes me think of this scene from Down by Law. Jarmusch is probably my favorite American independent filmmaker, for reasons that should be obvious when you watch the clip. I could go on and on about why I like his filmmaking, but I’m late for work, so I’ll tell you instead about the music. In each of his films, I’ve discovered music that has become some of my favorite music ever. From Tom Waits in Down by Law, to RZA in Ghost Dog, to Mulate Astatke in Broken Flowers, watching Jarmusch’s films has added immeasurably to my musical library. So here’s a short playlist of songs I’ve discovered from his films, to listen to while you wait for your ice cream to freeze!

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Summery almond sauce with lime, mint, basil, and tamari

Summery almond sauce

I’ve decided to write an opera. Follow along, gentle reader, as we set the scene for our drama. It’s the tale of two brothers. It all begins on a balmy summer evening. The older brother discovers a magical island in the middle of the river. It’s an enchanted island that only the dogs know about. But the boy is partly wild water dog himself, and they let him swim. The boy sings a happy song, in which he promises to bring his little brother the very next day, as soon as he’s done with summer rec camp. But the next day dawns, and the little brother is tired and contrary. (Perhaps because he kept his mother up half the night claiming to be scared of Tintin. As if Tintin had ever scared anybody!) Little brother won’t go to the river! And this is the dramatic heart of the opera – it gets louder and louder! The orchestra rages! The brothers threaten to hurt themselves and each other. They slam doors! THey run up and down stairs! They cry and they wail! They threaten not to invite each other to their birthday parties EVER AGAIN!! In one touching aside, the mother (a comic character – a buffoon, if you will…) foolishly promises the younger son all sorts of things she can’t really give him if he’ll just walk down to the goddamn river and sit on the bank for half an hour. But he’s deaf to her promises. HE WILL NOT GO! And then, inexplicably, for no apparent reason, he decides to go after all. The dogs of the island welcome him as one of their own. The brothers swim, they have fun, they sing a reprise of the older brother’s happy song, but as a duet this time. The mother stands with her feet in the cool water, feeling like an idiot because she always forgets sunscreen, and they all go home when the little brother has to pee. EXEUNT OMNES!!

The opera will last about five hours, and in the interval we’ll serve this sauce in chilled champagne glasses. I liked this sauce quite a bit! It’s one in a long line of creamy nut-based sauces I’ve made, I’m a nut-sauce fan!! I like this one because it seems like a concentration of a lot of flavors I’ve been using lately. I’ve been putting lime in everything. I’ve been putting basil in everything. The boys have been eating tamari like it’s going out of style. And every once in a while David and I will treat ourselves to dark-and-stormy-mojitos. That’s ginger beer, rum, lime, ice and fresh mint leaves. Oh yum. So this has a lot of those flavors in it. And they’re all really nice together. I’ve eaten it with roasted vegetables (it’s nice with earthy beets and potatoes!) I’ve eaten it on green salads. And I made a nice, fresh and juicy salad of cucumbers, carrots and basil, that I coated with this. Very refreshing!

Cucumber carrot salad

Here’s Marvin Gaye with What’s Happening, Brother?

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Banana, lime & coconut bread

Banana, lime, and coconut bread

In which Claire goes on and on about a word she has a crush on.
Today, friends, we’ll be extraordinarily etymological. I love this word: “selah.” It’s a word of ambiguous history and meaning, and the mystery only adds to its beauty. It’s a Hebrew word found frequently in the psalms, but it’s also a word in modern Arabic and Syrian Aramaic, and I’m fascinated by all of the ideas about what it might mean. (I haven’t done very scholarly research on this, but when you’re dealing with ambiguous words, precise meanings and careful citations are not desirable, I think, and in my case, they’re just not possible, because my brain is a vague and muddled place!) The psalms (also a lovely word!) were apparently sung and accompanied by music, and it’s possible that the word “selah” was a notation to the choir master, possibly to take a break in the music, to pause and reflect on what’s been said, to change the rhythm to signal a change in thought or theme. It also means to lift up, or hang, or to measure. So perhaps it means the person singing the psalms should lift up their voice, in pitch or volume. Of course, things were measured by being lifted and weighed against something else, so that’s part of the meaning, as well. (I wish I could express my thoughts more clearly – Isaac is having a distracting and inexplicable melt-down about strawberry chewing gum. He never gets to do what he wants! Never!) Back in the day, when I was in school, I read a lot of feminist film theory, and I found it very thrilling. It was difficult to understand, but it was frequently about language, about the language of film, and the language of vision, as well as the language we speak with. I think the authors used purposely obscure language, but I found this funny, it was a sort of joke, and it was a pleasure trying to decipher their meaning. Many writers spoke of the necessity of using the spaces between words or between shots to tell the story. To inhabit the silent moments to tell a more interesting story than the words or actions could tell. That’s what “selah” reminds me of – at least as I understand it. It’s about the words that have come before – it gives them more meaning and value, because you’re measuring them, and pausing to think about them. But it’s about the pause itself as well. I can picture meaning hanging in the air, floating just above our grasp, before it’s set down again and we can reach it. Apparently in Arabic and Syrian Aramaic, the word means “praise,” and specifically praise beyond expression or understanding. It’s a word to describe what can’t be described in words!!

Of course, I came to the word through The Ethiopians’ song The Selah. Because “selah” is also a word used by rastafarians. It gives weight and importance to the words that have come before, and it “seals them up.” I love the Ethiopians for their sweet voices and sweet melodies, and I love that I can’t always understand what they’re saying, which makes them mysterious and full of meaning. It’s funny how when the meaning is obscure or indefinable, it feels more like somebody is talking to you, or expressing your thoughts. Selah!

If you’re like us, and you’re having a hot patch of summer, all of your fruit is ripening faster than you can eat it. So you have some extra mushy bananas. Here’s a banana bread with tropical overtones for our tropical heat wave. It’s flavored with ginger, lime, and coconut. It’s very subtly sweet, and the ginger and lime add a little zing. Yes, it’s too hot to bake, but we’re baking anyway, because we can’t not!

Here’s The Ethiopians’ The Selah

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Red velvet apricot & cherry upside-down cake

“ONLY CONNECT”

E.M. Forster

Apricot cherry upside down cake

Following on this morning’s post of quotes, (yes, it will be on the test, children!) I’ve been thinking about how the quotes connect in my head, when I think about them all together. I think about how they relate to each other in unexpected ways. And then I think about how it’s in our nature, as humans, to make connections. If you give us 3 random facts, we’ll put them together to make a story. That’s how we watch films – we connect still pictures (somewhere in the upside-down back of our brain) to make a coherent, fluid movement. And then we’ll connect those images to make a narrative, to give them meaning. Of course, Forster was talking about connections between people, and I love that idea as well. But I’ve been thinking lately about how a connection with a person becomes more solid when we share some random connection of ideas or images, and when they make sense to both of us. For instance…the other day we were listening to the Pogues in the car, and Malcolm asked if they’d written the theme to Sponge bob. (Which my boys don’t actually watch, as it happens.) I had a chuckle, thought “Who lives in a feckin pineapple under the sea, boys?” We came home, I told David about it, as a cute things the boys said. Then, days later, David took that funny connection, drew this picture… And I felt really grateful to have somebody to share silly things with.

So, when I showed David this cake, and he said, “bloody stumps,” I knew exactly what he was talking about! There was a show called Home Movies. We loved it!! It was about an eight-year-old that made art house films. Classic! One of the characters, McGurk, is possibly the worst soccer coach ever. When one of the children on the soccer team won’t run down the field, he threatens to cut his legs off. “Bloody stumps!” he yells. (It’s not a kid’s show!) Well, one night, after the boys were a-bed, we had a chuckle about McGurk witnessing the hand-cutting-off-scene in Star Wars, and yelling… (tee hee hee) “bloody stumps, Anakin!” The point is…this might not make sense if I explain it in this long and tedious fashion, but sharing some odd connection that makes you laugh, with another human being, is the best way to connect. And we’re passing the craziness along to our boys!

Another nice way to connect is to share food. I have a friend-mom at school named Jamie. She had a son in Isaac’s class. She’s a vegetarian, too! She gave me these beautiful red velvet apricots, and I thought they were so pretty, I’d bake them upside-down. I put them in a cake with cherries. And I’d read that they were apricots crossed with plums, which made me think about plum pudding, which made me think about cinnamon and ginger and spicy black pepper. So I put those in the cake. And I love cherries and chocolate, and apricots and chocolate, and sweet spices and chocolate, so I thought I’d throw some chocolate chips in as well. And these apricots are known for “bleeding” red into gold. And then…well, I’m going to stop talking now or nobody is ever going to want to make this cake.

Here’s Niney the Observer with Blood & Fire I love the surname “the observer.”
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Zucchini, pumpkinseed & red bean galette

Zucchini & red bean galette

I was going on and on (and on) the other day about Konstantin Levin from Anna Karenina, and it reminded me of an unanswered question floating about in my head for a few years. In Franny and Zooey, by JD Salinger, there’s a scene in which Zooey wanders into his elder brothers’ bedroom and sees a white beaver board that they (the brothers) have filled with hand-written quotes from various sources. (At least that’s how I remember it – it’s been a while since I read it!) One of the quotes was from Anna Karenina, and since I’ve read Anna Karenina, I’ve meant to go back and see which it was. Well! We’re going through old boxes of books in our attic, and I pulled out a dusty copy of Franny and Zooey. Then I forgot about going through boxes of old stuff that was making me feel alittle queasy about time passing and trying to remember who this crazy person was who had saved all the old stuff, and sat down to read about Zooey going through old stuff that brought back his own strange memories. (I like Salinger a lot. I feel mildly embarrassed by this, and I’m not sure why. I think some people might think he’s sophomoric, but I love his evocative small details, and, of course, I love his questing quality. And that’s all I’ll say about that!)

I like the idea of a collection of quotes all in the same place. Quotes that have nothing to do with each other, but that might give each other new meanings from being next to each other. So I’m going to put a few (completely random) quotes here, just for kicks, baby! Ready, begin…

To get straight to the worst, what I’m about to offer isn’t really a short story at all but a sort of prose home movie, and those who have seen the footage have strongly advised me against nurturing any elaborate distribution plans for it.

-JD Salinger, Franny & Zooey

… moans could be heard, subdued by suffering and broken by sobs.
Hearing those moans Prince Andrew wanted to weep. Whether because he was dying without glory, or because he was sorry to part with life, or because of those memories of a childhood that could not return, or because he was suffering and others were suffering and that man near him was groaning so piteously- he felt like weeping childlike, kindly, and almost happy tears.
The wounded man was shown his amputated leg stained with clotted blood and with the boot still on.

-Tolstoy, War and Peace

Do not let anxiety override good judgement so that the oven door is opened unneccesarily.

-Mrs Beeton on cake baking.

As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.

Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamzov

The most immediately noticeable paradox in Renoir’s style, and the one which almost always trips up the public, is his apparent casualness toward the very elements of the cinema which the public takes most seriously: the scenario and the action.

André Bazin on Jean Renoir

Such field studies are recommended rather than the amassing of large numbers of hapless captives. The animals remain little disturbed in their natural setting. Since they are marked and under study, they appeal in much the same way as one’s pets, yet do not demand care. Information obtained is more likely to be reliable that that procured under artificial conditions, and there is always the excitement of the hunt, and the anticipation of meeting an old friend.

-A field guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians (1966)

Well, that’s it for now! I think I’ll start collecting quotes for another time, because that was my ridiculous idea of fun!!

Now…this galette. It has a yeasted crust with some basil to flavor it. And inside it has grated zucchini, toasted pumpkinseeds and red beans. You can start the crust early in the day, and the filling is actually very easy to put together. I flavored this with fresh basil and fresh marjoram, which are lovely sweetish summery flavors. And I decided to add a little ginger and a touch of cinnamon, which are sweetish wintery flavors, in my mind. I liked the combination a lot! If only because it was different from the spice/herb combinations I seem to return to again and again. And the galette was actually quite pretty – white and red and green.

zucchini & red bean tart

Here’s Coleman Hawkins and the Red Garland Trio with Red Beans.
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Delicious Radish Relish

(Plus reddish salad greens with roasted mushroom & sharp cheddar)

Radish relish

Some phrases just get stuck in your head. When I opened my prize box from the CSA this week, and saw a lovely rosy bunch of radishes, all I could think of was “delicious radish relish.” It’s a line from a poem by Calef Brown, a wonderful poet and illustrator – he’s a very refreshing pickle in the often saccharine and derivative world of children’s books. The poem, Clementown, describes a town where everybody is greenish, and tall and leanish, and the dogs bark loudish. All of the people eat reddish food, like delicious radish relish. You can hear Daniel Pinkwater reading the poem here. Well, I set about to make some delicious radish relish (if you make this, and serve it to friends or family, you’ll be required to refer to it as “delicious” radish relish). I consulted my mennonite cookbook, for tips on pickles, chutneys and relishes. Well! They put up pounds and pounds of vegetables in pickle or relish form. We didn’t have that quantity of radishes, here at The Ordinary. We did observe that every recipe called for sugar and vinegar, so we decided definitively that if we incorporated sugar and vinegar with our radishes, we’d have a relish. We decided to add carrots for sweetness, garlic and scallions for savoriness, ginger and mustard seeds for their gentle bite, red pepper flakes for heat, and fresh basil, because it’s mother-flipping delicious in everything.

When we sat down to eat yesterday, Isaac had a little fit. He didn’t want to eat his chard and olive tart (I’ll tell you about it later!). David, who has heretofore never been a big fan or radishes, told him that he was scared to try delicious radish relish, but he’d done it anyway, and he’d found it … DELICIOUS!!

Salad with cheddar and roasted mushrooms


While I’m at it, I’ll also briefly mention a salad we ate last night, because it was easy, and also delicious. We’d gotten some lovely, thin, flavorful reddish lettuces from the farm. They looked like they might be bitter, but they were actually quite sweet. I put a giant mound of them in a bowl, tossed it lightly with balsamic and olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I grated a fair amount of sharp cheddar on top. I added some still-warm roasted mushrooms, and they melted the cheese and wilted the lettuce just the tiniest bit. I added a ton more freshly ground pepper. Easy and delicious!!

Here’s a lovely version of Clementown by what appears to be a Calef Brown tribute band called…Clementown!!
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Noodles with broccoli, scallions and black beans

Broccoli, black beans, and scallions

My little Isaac has mastered the art of bicycle riding. It’s not just that he can ride a two-wheeler, but that he rides his bike exactly as a bike should be ridden. It’s all about the journey, with him. Isaac is not a practical man. He’s dreamy and glowy and delightfully meandering, and that’s how he rides his bike. He’s like a little gnat, flying along in dizzy spirals, darting unexpectedly at passersby, weaving happily from side to side. Sometimes he’ll take off at top speed for about half a block, and then he’ll stop to take off his itchy helmet for a moment, and ask me what my favorite dinosaur is, and if it has little yellow eyes. Then he’ll laugh and say, “You couldn’t know that! Nobody could know that.” Then he’ll get himself going again, and sway happily down the street. He has no sense of urgency about getting to school on time. I feel like such a traitor to the world of childhood when I hurry him along, and lecture him about lateness. I feel like the kind of person who would use the word “tardy,” I feel like I’m working for the man.

Isaac is not a very practical eater, either. He seems to live on fruit and sunshine. He’s a vegetarian who doesn’t like many vegetables. He’s not hungry at mealtimes, but he’ll be ravenous fifteen minutes later. He only likes certain shapes of pasta, and swears that every pasta has its own flavor. He does eat a lot of pasta, so maybe he’s preternaturally discerning. As David said, “fifty words for snow…” When Isaac does eat something of a substantial meal-like nature, with vegetables and protein, it’s like seeing a rare and wonderful bird. I’ll point it out to David with quiet gestures, and he’ll gesture back not to disturb the exotic creature at the watering hole, or he’ll bolt, and leave his meal uneaten. Last night I decided to cook up some scallions and broccoli I’d gotten from the CSA. I was extremely tired after a ridiculously busy shift at work. This was quick, and had a nice mix of salty, hot, and sweet. Isaac approached it slowly. First he picked out the broccoli. Then the beans, one at a time, then he began to eat everything together, by the forkful. Huzzah!!

I’ve been waiting to cook with scallions so I could post Booker T’s Green Onions.

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Broccoli rabe with ginger, apricots & cashews

Broccoli rabe & apricots

My poor boys. They have an inexplicable 6-day weekend, and the weather is ridiculous. Round-the-clock thunderstorms. When it’s not actually storming, it’s gloomy and threatening, with thick damp air that sticks to your skin, and heavy glowering clouds that seem to crawl inside your head. There’s a perpetual twilight glow. And they don’t care! They’re in their pjs! They had flat pancakes for breakfast! They have a giant pile of legos dumped on the living room floor, they have Star Wars guys, they have each other. This morning they’ve been dividing the universe alphabetically. Malcolm gets Mondays, magic, and medusa, and Isaac gets iron and imagination.

We seem to be heading into too-hot-to-cook weather. I’m not ready! Luckily, this is our first week of CSA season (oh boy oh boy oh boy!). And we got a box full of greens! Kale, spinach, chard!! I LOVE GREEEEEEEEENS!! And the nice thing about them is that you can cook them quickly, and eat them when they’re not piping hot. As it happens, I’d bought lots of greens last week, from the grocery store. (I didn’t buy lettuce, I was expecting a box full of lots and lots of lettuce. Guess what? No lettuce! Lettuces don’t like hail storms, apparently!) So I have a whole lot of greens to cook my way through. It’s a pleasant sort of anxiety.

I’m on record as saying that my favorite way to eat greens is with garlic, raisins and pine nuts. I’ve made it into pies and tarts, and pesto, using a variety of (cheaper) nuts. Here’s another variation. The apricots provide the tart-sweet fruitiness – they’re more assertive than raisins, and broccoli rabe is more assertive than chard or spinach, so it all works out nicely. Red pepper flakes and ginger add a little heat, and fresh basil adds – well nothing’s better than fresh basil! This is a quick and tasty dish, and it would make a meal, tossed with pasta, or on top of basmati rice.

Here’s Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass with Bittersweet Samba, accompanied by the oddest little film, which, according to the youTube poster, was filmed by Robert Altman!
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