French lentil and farro soup with spinach

French lentil farro soup

French lentil farro soup

    “He was standing by the edge of a small pool – no more than ten feet from side to side – in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others – a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking up the water with their roots. This wood was very much alive. When he tried to describe it afterward Digory always said, “It was a rich place: as rich as plumcake.”

    The strangest thing was that almost before he had looked about him, Digory had half forgotten how he had come there. …If anyone has asked his “Where did you come from?” he would probably have said, “Ive always been here.” That was what it felt like – as if one had always been in that place and never been bored although nothing had ever happened. As he said afterward, “It’s not the sort of place things happen. The trees go on growing, that’s all.”

This, of course, is a passage from The Magician’s Nephew, by CS Lewis. He’s describing “the wood between the worlds,” a strange, lazy, dreamy green-lit place. It’s a place I think about a lot. We used to love The Chronicles of Narnia when we were little, my brother and I. Who wouldn’t like to imagine a magical world you could escape to at any time, where you could (safely) go on adventures and talk to animals? Your dog could finally tell you what she’d been thinking about all this time! We had a world of our own, in which we were talking animals, and the world had a history, a geography, a morality all its own. I’d tell you all about it, but it’s top secret! This world was almost like a religion for us, and it shaped our outlook on life to a remarkable extent. I’ve been looking forward to sharing Narnia with the boys, but I’ve been reading through parts of the books lately, and I feel a little disappointed! I’d forgotten about that whole, “Buck up, old chap, and stop your blubbering or we’ll despise you for the rest of the book” mentality. One of my favorite books was always The Horse and His Boy. I love the idea of stories that take place between the major conflicts. My idea of a good book would be a story of life when Peter was high king in which absolutely nothing happened. No drama, no evildoers to overthrow, just a tale of what day-to-day was like in this happy golden time. Well, I went back and read a bit of Horse and His Boy. It’s the story of light-haired, light-skinned noble well-intentioned people from the north fighting against swarthy-skinned, dark-haired, backwards and mean-spirited people from the South. Ugh! It’s still a good story, but I feel a little queasy when I imagine Malcolm reading it. Maybe I’m crazy. Anyway…I’ve always loved the idea of the wood between the worlds. So many times in my life I’ve felt like I’m there, I’m in this tranquil in-between place, trying to decide which pool to jump in next. Because each pool is a world, and you don’t know what you’ll find there, when you jump in. Here in the green wood, you’re safe, all you have to do is sit still, and your memories are vague and dreamlike, and you can almost feel yourself growing. You don’t have to act, or interact with anyone. But you can’t stay forever. As Polly says, “This place is too quiet. It’s so – so dreamy. You’re almost asleep. If we once give in to it we shall just lie down and drowse for ever and ever.” So you have to exert yourself and pick a pool (or a school, or a job, or a place to live …) You have to wake up and exert yourself and engage with your life, and let the wood between the worlds become your dream. Since the boys were born, I feel like I’m having an extended stay in the wood between the worlds. I can feel the boys growing, at the incessant imperceptible rate that people grow, but how it all happened, how they got to be the boys they are now, on their way to being the boys they will someday be, is a jumble of memories and expectations and anxieties, all swathed in a glowing green light – a hopeful light, a healthy growing light. Sometimes I rouse myself from my pleasant drowse and I think about jumping into one of the pools – I apply for a job, I contact people about shooting a film – but I never seem to do much more than get my ankles wet in the wrong pool before I’m lying on the soft green grass again, wondering how I got there, listening to the boys grow, watching them get ready to choose which pool to jump into. Some day, in the glowing green future. There’s no hurry, it’s very nice here.

Well, I’ve mentioned that we’re all feeling a bit under the weather, here at The Ordinary. So I wanted to make a rich, comforting soup that would have a bit of spiciness to cut through the lurgy. So I made this soup, with french lentils and farro, for sustenance, spinach for all-around wonderfulness, and cayenne, ginger, and lemon, for salubriousness. It was very good! We floated green toast in it, made from the colcannon bread, which was lovely. This is a very hearty, meal-in-itself soup, but it wasn’t heavy at all – it had a nice warm smoky broth, and the ginger and lemon helped to brighten it.

Here’s This is Your World by Sam and Dave. What a good song!

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Red quinoa with chard, sweet potatoes and white beans

red-quinoa-white-beanYesterday was Nina Simone’s birthday. Today I want to write about her, but I don’t know where to begin. It’s hard to talk about something that you love as much as I love her music, it’s hard to talk about something that means so much to you. I suppose everybody is familiar with the autobiographical facts, so I’ll keep it brief. She was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933. Her mother was a methodist preacher and a housemaid, her father was a handyman. From a very early age, she was determined to be a concert pianist. Her mother’s employer provided funds for piano lessons. After high school, she applied to the Curtis Institute, in Philadelphia, but was rejected. She moved to New York and studied at Juliard, supporting herself by playing piano in a bar, where she took the name Nina Simone to hide her profession from her mother. She was discovered, had a hit with I Loves You Porgy, and continued to record and play, jumping from one record company to another for most of the rest of her life. Her friendship with Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and others helped to focus her fire, and she worked for civil rights with characteristic passion. She wrote the blistering song Mississippi Goddam (which has come to mind more than once this week!) in response the the murder of Medgar Evers and to the death of 4 black children after the bombing of a church. She eventually grew disillusioned in America, and moved abroad. She would live in Barbados, Liberia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, London, and finally the South of France, where she felt peaceful and free, and grew grapes, peaches, strawberries and raspberries. She was known to be temperamental, moody and volatile. She was a hypnotic performer, but an unpredictable one, and on more than one occasion she would berate the audience for talking. “My original plan was to be the first black concert pianist–not a singer–and it never occurred to me that I’d be playing to audiences that were talking and drinking and carrying on when I played the piano. So I felt that if they didn’t want to listen, they could go the hell home.” She defied labels, combining jazz, pop, blues, classical, gospel. She disliked the term “jazz,” which she saw as a way for white people to define black people, and she preferred to think of the genre as black classical music. Her voice is unmistakable and indefinable, deep, rich but light, raw and full of emotion, but with an odd, edgy coolness that cuts right to the most vulnerable part of you. She can take the sappiest song and make it speak to you about the human condition in such an intensely honest way that you feel she understands. She brings a magnetic dignity and gravity to everything she does, but she’s funny as hell, too, and light-hearted and surprising. After I’d had Isaac, Malcolm got very sick, and I was struggling with some poisonous combination of anxiety, postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. I felt down. I listened to Nina Simone sing Ooh Child, her voice full of compassion and gentle triumph, over and over, and I believed her, I believed things would get better. I knew that she’d been down, too, and she knew what she was talking about. “I feel what they feel. And people who listen to me know that, and it makes them feel like they’re not alone.” Langston Hughes, who wrote her song Backlash Blues wrote of Simone, “She is strange. So are the plays of Brendan Behan, Jean Genet and Bertolt Brecht. She is far out, and at the same time common. So are raw eggs in Worcestershire. She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl, so is Ernie Banks. You either like her or you don’t. If you don’t, you won’t. If you do — wheee-ouuueu! You do!” Well that’s it! Whee-ouuuueu! She’s strange in a way that makes it good to be strange, for all of us to be strange, and in a way that feels so perfect and necessary that it almost seems normal. Or what normal should be – with that much inspiration, intelligence, intensity, wit, and passion. Nina travelled the world looking for freedom – freedom from oppression and greed, maybe freedom from her demons. In a remarkable performance of I Wish I Knew How it Feels to Be Free (which I’ve talked about before), she defines freedom as freedom from fear, as a new way of seeing, as a chance to be a “little less like me.” She’d learn to fly, and she’d look down and see herself, and she wouldn’t know herself – she’d have new hands, new vision. She tells us that the Bible says be transformed by the renewal of your mind. And her songs create a world with their intensely honest eccentricity, a world where you feel moved to your soul, and inspired to renew your mind, and be brave enough to see things anew, as they really are, or as they could be.

I’ve made a small playlist of some of my favorite songs. Including House of the Rising Sun, which she did before Dylan or the animals or Von Ronk; and Feeling Good, which is the best invocation of spring I know; and Nina’s Blues (two versions!) which is my favorite song of all. Beautiful, sad, and triumphant.

Oh yes, and here’s a recipe for red quinoa, chard, white beans and sweet potatoes. A nice combination of sweet, savory, earthy and bright. The boys liked it, which was all part of my evil plan, because I want them to eat more protein. I used great northern beans, because they’re nice and meaty, but you could use any manner of white beans you like. I made this like a thick stew, but you could add a bit more water and have a brothy soup, or add less water and have a nice side dish. We ate it with cheese toasts!

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