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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Steamed dumplings with beets, black beans and lime

Beet dumplings (these have been toasted, on day 2, so they’re a little browned on top!)

As Oscar Wilde famously said, “When a person remakes beet dumplings after having ruined the first batch by dropping the entire thing on the ground, this illustrates the triumph of hope over experience.” Well, he may not have used those exact words, but the sentiment was there. Can’t you just see him in a beet-red velvet suit? Maybe not on a day as hot as this one!! Anyway, here at The Ordinary, we believe in second chances. If, at first, you ruin your entire dinner and waste a bunch of ingredients, try try again, but this time let somebody else carry the food out to the table. That’s our motto. So David cleverly fixed the broken bamboo steamer, and we decided to spend one of the warmest days of the year standing over a steaming wok. Actually – you don’t need to spend much time over the stove at all, making this. You just leave the steamer on the wok for twenty minutes, and that’s that! Ever since The Dinner of Disaster, I’ve been wanting to try the combination of beets, black beans, tamari, lime and basil. It sounded like such a nice earthy/sweet/tart/salty combination. And it seemed like it might turn out quite pretty, judging from the mess of innards we cleaned off the ground.

Tamari – lime – basil dipping sauce

It turned out very delicious! The dumplings are plump and juicy, pleasingly soft, but with a bit of crunch from the pine nuts. The star of the show, for the boys, was the tamari dipping sauce, which we made with balsamic, brown sugar, lime, basil and hot red pepper flakes. They’ve been eating it on everything – rice, long noodles, green peas. The dumplings were very pretty, too! Dark, rosy, and with a hint of green. If you don’t have a steamer, you can make these in a regular vegetable steamer, of even bake them in the oven. They come out a little crisper that way.

Inside a beet dumpling

Here’s Byron Lee and the Dragonaires with Scorcher.
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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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Zucchini fritters with goat cheese and pine nuts

Zucchini Fritters

With a ringing of bells, a man entered our store. He was slim and elegant and quite dapper in an understated 60s Greenwich Village way. He wore some of the coolest sneakers I’ve seen in a while. He walked straight to me, without looking around, and he clutched something under his arm. My heart sank. We have more people come into our store trying to sell things than the other way around, sadly. I was late to meet someone, we can’t afford to buy anything at the moment – but he held a book of photographs, and I took the time to look. They were beautiful – black and white, quite dark in tone and mood. He explained that they were of Bosnia, his home country, during the 70s and 80s. I told him we weren’t in the financial position to buy anything, however much we liked it. He turned to leave, but halfway along, he stopped. He told me he loved the store. He said that “they” were trying to squash craft and art and creativity, but that a wave was coming that they couldn’t stop. He said it would wash right over the bunkers that they build out of all the crap that they make us watch and eat and read. He was very eloquent. He said we would be okay because of a good way of life (he rubbed his belly) and a pure soul (he put his hand on his heart). It was like a strange benediction. When he left I felt a slight trace of regret – that I didn’t have more time to talk to him, maybe, or that I couldn’t help him by buying his prints.

My favorite cooking utensil – the one I use for absolutely every meal I make, is a wooden stirrer-scraper that David made. It’s made from curly maple, and it’s the perfect combination of beauty and function. It’s long-handled, but the handle is tapered, so it doesn’t fall into your pot, or fall out of your pot and clatter in a big mess on the floor. Its straight beveled edge is absolutely perfect for scraping the bottom of the pan when you add white wine, to get all the lovely caramely tasty bits mixed into the sauce. I love that David made it, and that I use it to make meals for the family. I love that it takes on the colors of the food I cook, and that, as it does, its beautiful, rippled grain becomes more visible.

Of course I used it to make these zucchini fritters!! They’re fairly simple – crispy outside, soft in, melty with goat cheese and crunchy with pine nuts. (My god they’re good! I haven’t splurged on them in a while and I’d forgotten how delicious they are!!) The fritters are lightly flavored with fennel, lemon, and basil – summery! Malcolm invented the dipping sauce. We’d been eating salted limes, and he thought that if limes were good with salt, they’d be good with tamari. The sauce is full of flavor – ginger, garlic, lime, tamari and hot pepper. It’s unusual with the fritters, but really lovely. You could, of course, make any other sort of sauce you like with them.

Here’s The Specials with Too Hot, because it’s close to 100 degrees here, and we’re melting!
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Chard, chickpea, and olive tart (with a citrus-quince glaze)

Chickpea & olive tart

Well, I was a little cranky yesterday! I had a small tantrum because we couldn’t find some place we used to go bird watching. I yelled at the boys everywhere we went. I yelled at them for making me yell at them. I yelled at them as we bought them giant cookies. And they weren’t being bad! They were happy, and noisy, and getting along with each other. But Isaac has this squeal – it’s very high-pitched, and it goes right through you. He resorts to it whether he’s very happy, indignant, or actually hurt. It signals panic either way. And Malcolm was being sweet and good, but why can’t he just walk? Why must he climb walls, jump off benches, press Isaac’s shriek & giggle buttons? Why! By evening-time I had to sit in the back yard and watch squirrels to try to rid myself of my cranky-induced headache. But I wouldn’t tell anybody about that! I’d talk about the good things – the Savory Spice shop we went to, which was completely wonderful! How sweet it was to see the boys excited about smelling all the spices! The beautiful place we found for a walk! The tart that I made for dinner, which I had literally dreamed of, which was a little odd, and which I might not have made if it wasn’t my birthday! Everybody being together on a beautiful day! How I got a beautiful new golden-amber bakelite watch and some perfectly claire-y pens and a blank notebook, which is the most inspiring thing ever! (From Modern Love)

I started watching a Masterpiece Theater version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray the other day, while I was exercising. (I jump around the living room holding two cans of beans while I catch up with The Daily Show on the computer. Isaac thinks this is hilarious! “You’re holding two cans of beans!!”) I love late Victorian novels – they’re so well-crafted and beautifully novelly. It was pretty well-done. It had Prince Caspian in it, and Mr. Darcy! And some guy named Ben who was familiar. It was a little dark and gloomy for early-morning-exercise-viewing. It had a lot of shocking Victorian nudity. (Masterpiece Theater wasn’t like that when I was a lass! When I was a lass, characters from televised versions of literary classics had the decency to keep their oddly-eighties-looking costumes on, thank you very much!!) When I thought about how cranky I was yesterday, but how I wouldn’t write about that part of the day, I had an idea for a modern version of Dorian Gray. What if there was somebody who had one of those mommy-blogs, or an advice column about parenting. What if they talked about their own lives in glowing, unrealistic terms. And then…all of the bad stuff they don’t write about manifests itself doubly in their real lives, until they all descend into a spiralling vortex of depravity and despair!! Bom bom bommmmmmmmmm.

So! This tart! I was quite excited about it. I had thought of having a tart with a base of chard and goat cheese and fresh basil, all mixed together till smooth and bright green. This would be poured into a crust which contained some zesty lemon zest and white pepper. And it would all be topped with chickpeas and olives, which would become, as it were, roasted, as they cooked. And poured over the whole thing would be a provocative glaze of quince jelly, lemon & lime zest, and lemon and lime juice, for a sweet/tart surprise. It was surprising, and I thought it was quite good – very summery. I mixed some sumac and smoked paprika in with the chickpeas, because I had just bought them at the savory spice store, and I was little-kid-excited about it. Isaac said he tasted three layers of flavor, which I thought was very bright and perceptive for a six-year-old.

I also roasted some potatoes, and we had them with lots of pepper and my new alderwood-smoked sea salt. (SMOKED SEA SALT!!) it was delicious!!

Here’s Bob Marley singing Corner Stone (a rare acoustic version!) I’ve been listening to this a lot lately, driving around, getting lost looking for bird watching places. I love it so much!
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Roasted beet hummus with cumin, paprika & lime

Roasted beet hummus

Quite a few years ago, David and I took a feature film to the Independent Feature Film Market in NYC. Good times! Wandering around the area of New York that surrounds the Angelika, watching strange films during the day. Seeing my film at the Angelika. It’s an ideal week, in a lot of ways. Interesting, exciting, but strangely discouraging as well. I know, it’s a market, it says so right there in the title, but it was depressing that the entire focus of everybody’s frantic energy was selling selling selling. We had very few conversations about the films themselves – about their ideas or aesthetics. It felt like the death of thoughtful American independent film. The quality of the films suffered for it – they were made to be sold. How many knock-off Tarantino films can you sit through (when honestly his films aren’t that original in the first place, are they?) Sorry, I can get very boring and whiny on the subject of American Indies – I’m such a cranky old lady. As I was saying, it was a delightful week, in many ways. Days spent wandering around New York with David are always good days. One evening, physically and emotionally tuckered out, we wandered into a bar that used to be across the street from the Angelika. Match. It was nice inside, warm and glowy. We ordered red wine, hummus and french fries. Rarely has a meal seemed so perfect. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re in the mood for, but when you eat it you feel blissful, and you remember it long afterwards. Since then, it’s become a tradition, when we spend a day in the city, we do a lot of wandering and walking, and we always find a place to have red wine, hummus, and french fries.

Yesterday I got home from work quite tired, and we decided to have a simple meal – so I oven roasted some fries, and made some roasted beet hummus with smoked paprika, cumin, lime and fresh basil, and we had a big salad of farm greens, apples, hazelnuts and goat cheese. Perfect.

Here’s The Selecter and Dave Barker with What a Confusion.

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Greens with lime, honey & fresh basil

Greens with lime and basil

People come up to me on the street all the time, and they say, “Claire, we love to eat greens, but we can’t be bothered to wash them or remove their stupid stems. Should we just popeye them straight from a can into our mouth?” Alright, so this is apocryphal. It’s never happened and it never will. But if it did…I would be ready with an answer. I have a tip. A cooking tip. This is how I wash fresh greens. Even if they’re filthy muddy buggy greens straight from the farm after a horrible storm. It’s not difficult and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. What you do is fill a large bowl with cool water (a salad spinner bowl and basket is ideal – not because you’re going to spin it, but because it’s easier to dump out the dirty water and replace it with clean). You put the greens in and swish them about a bit. Then you let them soak while you go about your business. In my experience, the bugs will float to the surface, and the sand and grit will sink to the bottom. You dump out all the dirty water, rinse the bowl, and soak again. (This is where a salad spinner comes in handy, because you can just lift the greens right out in the built-in basket.) You swish them around a little bit and then let them soak again. How many times you do this depends on the dirtiness of your greens. Once the bottom of the bowl is grit and sand free after a soak, you’re probably clean enough. Now, to remove the stems, and also check each leaf for hidden bugs – you use your fingers. I find this much quicker than trying to chop the stems off. You pick up a leaf, fold it in half lengthwise (they often do this all by themselves) and pull the stem off from the bottom to as far up the leaf as you need to go to remove the unpleasant spiny bits, using your other hand to pinch the leaf so that you don’t lose too much good green stuff. It’s sort of hard to describe, but try it and it will all make sense. This is a surprisingly quick and easy job, even if you have a large batch of greens. Many of the smaller stems can just be snapped off near the bottom. If you have something with giant fat stems like kale, it’s easiest of all – you just grab the stem and pinch the leafy parts right off. It’s that easy!!

I think this is a really nice way to make greens. It’s fresh, sweet and tart. I made it with half broccoli rabe, half chard. So – a little bitter plus a little earthy. I like to pair a more assertive green (broccoli rabe, turnip, beet) with something gentler like spinach or chard. You could use any green you like with this, and just adjust the lime/honey ratio till it’s perfect for you. This is quick and doesn’t make your kitchen too hot on a summer’s day!

Here’s Outkast with So Fresh, So clean, because this tastes fresh, and your greens are so clean!
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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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Coconut-lime-vegetable soup

cocnut lime soup

The elegance of this light, bright soup belies its humble origins. In point of fact, this soup is the result of a very nearly empty vegetable drawer and a half-used can of coconut milk! I tend to save the white, hearty, wintery vegetables till the end of the week, and use the more brightly-colored, more easily-spoiled veg earlier. But I had carrots and peas, man! I could have added those! I made a choice to use only white vegetables! A conscious choice! I think they look nice with the silky tart-sweet coconut lime broth. As it happens, you could really use any vegetables you like in this soup – it’s eminently adaptable. Carrots and peas would have been pretty, actually. So would broccoli, or spinach, or sweet potatoes… You could also add basmati rice, if you wanted a heartier dish, or you could serve it over long, thin pasta, or you could add nuts – cashews or pistachios would be good, here. Or you could add red lentils. Or lots of cilantro. Go crazy, baby! I liked it in this simple manifestation, though – just what I was in the mood for. Sometimes vegetables and broth are all that are needed.

Here’s Louis Armstrong singing about being stranded on a Coconut Island. Now doesn’t that sound nice?
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Toasted beet risotto with lime

Beet Risotto

Holy smoke, I’m excited about this one. Here’s how it all went down…we recently saw the fascinating film Beats, Rhymes and Life about A Tribe Called Quest. I was going on and on about it, and my friend Luke told me that Japanther, a band I like a lot, had just released an album called Beets, Limes and Rice! First of all – what a good name for an album! Second of all, what a good combination of tastes! Sweet, earthy beets and bright tart limes? Genius! So I decided to make a risotto (that’s the rice part) with beets and limes. I like risotto, but after years of encountering risotto as The Vegetarian Option at restaurants, I’ve become slightly disenchanted with it. Making this beet risotto brought all the magic back! For one thing, it’s really pretty. It’s lovely and ruby colored. For another thing, risotto is fun to make. It’s almost therapeutic. It requires attention, but it’s not really demanding, it can’t all go wrong for you. Well, it could, but it’s not likely to. And for yet another thing, risotto can be sort of mushy (I’m sorry, risotto, but it’s true). Which is why I decided to top it with pistachios and serve it with baby arugula, to be mixed in at the last minute, so it wilts slightly but retains its texture and bite. And the goat cheese, beside being a pretty white addition to go with all the scarlet and green, adds a nice touch of tartness to mingle with the lime and offset the beety sweetness.

beets, limes, and rice

And as it happens I’m completely enamored of the Japanther album. Here’s a track called Porcupine.
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