White bean, roasted red pepper, tomato risotto

White bean tomato risotto

Yesterday, for no reason in particular, I started singing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend while I was making dinner. I get stupid songs in my head all the time, and I usually can’t stop myself from singing them. Isaac was very upset! I was surprised by his reaction, and tried to laugh it off. I told him what a silly song it was. Or that it was about David’s childhood dog, named Diamond. And then we talked about other things, and I thought he’d forgotten. On the way to school on this drizzly fall morning Isaac said, “Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend!” Very emphatically. No, they’re not, I said. And then he said, “A girl’s best friend is a son!” And I laughed and said, sure it is! And then he started singing a song, “A Claire’s best friend is an Isaac, and a dog, and a Malcolm, and a daddy, and her house, and her land.” (Heh heh, my land! My acres and acres of land!) He’s right, of course! Being a crazy mom, a little whirlwind of reactions spiraled around my head. I’m glad he believes that! I like his anti-capitalist leanings (quite out of proportion with his acquisitive instinct around a toy aisle). I’m worried that he’s worried about money. Have we told him one-too-many times that we can’t afford a certain toy? Mostly I’m proud that he’s such a wise six-year-old, and grateful that he cheered me up. I’ve been in a blue funk lately about my inability to contribute much to the constant struggle to keep our heads above water, financially. It’s David’s birthday today, and I’m sad that I can’t give him something nice. But I’m making him dinner, and I hope he’ll like it, and I’m happy to be doing it! Happy to be thinking about foods he likes, happy to be thinking how lucky I am that he’ll try all my crazy meals, happy to be thinking about all the meals we’ve had together over the years, and the way our tastes have evolved together. Happy to spend a rainy day in a warm and fragrant kitchen, making food to feed someone I love.

Last night, on David’s Birthday Eve, we had this risotto. It’s a nice meal for a chilly fall day, when you still have piles of tomatoes tumbling off your counter. I realized, yesterday, that I’ve never had a risotto with beans in it. Which seems surprising, because rice and beans are so perfect together. I think of tomatoes, roasted reds, olives and white beans as being something of a classic combination. So I cooked it with arborio rice, and left it nice and warm and brothy.

Here’s Louis Armstrong with I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
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Eggplant-french lentil burgers and rosemary buttermilk buns

Eggplant-french lentil burger

I’ve been so distracted lately! I just can’t sit still! I just can’t focus. I’m an important person, dammit, I’ve got a busy schedule, I’ve got important things to attend to! There’s work to be done. Important work. And only I can do it! And it’s not getting done. Today I’ll gladly blame the boys, because they’re home from school. But yesterday…there’s really no excuse! I literally sat and read in Malcolm’s science almanac about endangered animals. For quite some time. Did you know that when sailors found dodos, they ate the birds, cut down their habitat, and released cats and other animals that destroyed their nests? What is wrong with people? I looked at pictures of baby okapi and baby tapirs. I looked at pictures of puppies (on rescue sites) that I can’t afford at the moment. Sigh. Today, though, after a staggeringly unproductive morning and cranky boys and lots of messes and more crankiness and unproductivity, we went to the Princeton art museum, which is one of our favorite places to go. There’s something heartening about all of the animal-figure art, from all over the world and all through the ages. Dogs, deer, opossums, pigs, cows, lizards, frogs. They all show up somewhere. When we go to an art museum, each person in the family picks an animal before we enter, and then we count how many we see. It really makes you look at all the little corners of the paintings, and at each little sculpture!

Buttermilk rosemary rolls

Of course I don’t really have any important work to do, I was just kidding. But I have made a lot of food lately I’d like to tell you about. Let’s start with these eggplant-french lentil burgers and buttermilk rosemary buns. We’ve gotten a lot of eggplant from the farm, and I’m trying not to bread and roast all of it. So I roasted a whole eggplant, pureed the flesh, mixed it with toasted ground oats and walnuts and some yummy french lentils, and made big juicy burgers. While I was making them, David tried to decide if he should use the crusts of bread for his sandwich, or save them for burger buns. I said, “Don’t be silly, I’m making burger buns. Who do you think I am?” And he said, “A crazy person!” And, of course, he’s right. But these buns were very tasty. They’re yeasted, but they have buttermilk in them. Very tender and delicious.

Here’s Jungle Brothers with Sounds of the Safari. It has lots of animal sounds. I don’t think tapirs or okapi make much noise, though.
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Chickpea flour chard frittata-cake (with olive sofrito)

Chard & chickpea flour cake

I’m not very good at sitting still. I’ve tried doing yoga or meditating once or twice, but as soon as I try to clear my head, it fills with silly thoughts and petty anxieties. When I try to sit and write, I find myself jumping up every few minutes to do something that doesn’t actually need to be done. Yesterday, I attempted to master the art of being still. I’ve written the underdog’s theme song, and absolved lack of competitive instinct and lack of ambition everywhere. At the moment I’d like to champion a brief spell of staring into space. It’s been a spate of immaculate weather. We were trying to think of the perfect thing to do after dinner – homework all done, but still a school night. We weren’t organized enough for a walk of any kind. Maybe we’d sit around a fire in the backyard. But I found myself sitting in a chair by the front door. The sky was bright as day, but the room was filling with darkening blue light at an autumn pace – always surprising and even slightly worrying. The boys were playing kickball in the backyard. They were giggling maniacally – beautiful, but I’m sure they were hitting the window and the recycling bins on purpose. David was in the kitchen sneezing, and covering Malcolm’s text book with a brown paper bag, the way humans have covered textbooks for all eternity. The boys ran in and out of their showers, cool, pale and giggling. They disappeared into the backyard, as the sky finally deepened outside the window, and in the room it became too dark to write. The smell of smoke and the sound of loved voices pulled me into the backyard, where the sky was still palely glowing.

Chard and chickpea flour frittata

And before all of this activity? I made the best meal! I’m really proud of it! I think I may have invented it! I’m not even sure what to call it! It’s like a frittata, but it has chickpea flour in it, which gives it a lovely substantiality and flavor. It’s also got sauteed chard, mozzarella, some garlic, some rosemary, and some basil. We cut it into thick wedges, and ate it with sofrito (spanish style). I’d made a big batch with all of the paste tomatoes I picked last week. I froze some of it for winter, and I set some aside, and added olives and a roasted red pepper (also from the farm!) You could make a simple tomato sauce instead, though. (Both recipes below) And we had a nice, simple heirloom tomato salad as well.

Olive & red pepper sofrito

The cool, blue sounds of Jackie Mittoo’s Evening Time.
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Roasted rosemary fries and spicy tomato hummus

Roasted fries & tomato hummus

When I was in high school, I used to come home from school, heat up some frozen french fries and read Tintin. The bright, beautifully drawn world was such a perfect escape from the confusion of reality. I loved those books, from when I was little, with a sort of attachment I don’t feel for inanimate objects any more. I loved the perfect ink-lines – they’re so pleasingly precise – exactly where they should be. I love the colors – the various blues that Hergé uses resonate like few other colors in my memory. I loved the way Tintin dresses. I’m ashamed to think how much time I’ve spent trying to decide if I prefer the short-sleeved yellow shirt and black sock combination, or the one with blue sweater and white socks. I love Snowy – so smart and funny – the perfect comic foil to Tintin’s earnestness. I like Tintin himself, and his little pale apartment. He’s a boy, but he has his own place, his own job (he’s a journalist, but he never writes anything, does he?) He’s so calm, and kind, and curious, and fearless, and surprisingly strong! He’s such a rational, average sort of person in many ways, but he’s surrounded by a universe of eccentric friends. The disappointingly racist and xenophobic books weren’t available when I was younger (or maybe my parents wouldn’t let us have them) so that didn’t cloud the lovely clarity of the pictures and stories. I love the light, deft style and subtle humor, so thoroughly stomped on by Spielburg’s gruesomely heavy-handed, Hollywood platitude-laden mess. He shouldn’t have done it!

Well! I have to get to work, so I’ll stop chattering on about my lifelong affection for the boy reporter and his best canine friend. This is my sort of version of french fries and catsup, except that it’s a sweet and spicy and smoky hummus instead of catsup. Fear not! If you don’t like catsup, you’ll still like this (at least David did, and he won’t eat catsup!) It’s a little sweet, and it has some sweet spices (cinnamon & allspice) but it also has smoky savory smoked paprika, and garlic and shallots. Hummus and french fries is one of our favorite simple meals, with a big green salad. It’s sort of a tradition that when we’re out for the day, and we start to feel our energy lag, we’ll stop for a glass of red wine, and a plate of french fries and hummus!

Tintin catches a train

I don’t really know of any songs about Tintin, but one of the things I love about the books is the effortlessness with which he travels all over the world, so here’s Donald Byrd with Places and Spaces.
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French lentil, roasted mushroom tart with savory almond topping

French lentil mushroom tart

I feel strangely excited, and of course I’m going to tell you why. It has to do with the election. Wait! Wait! Don’t tune out! I’m not going to tell you about my humble beginnings and how I love America more than anybody else does, and I’m not going to ask for a small donation. It’s a little hard to articulate, but I feel genuinely hopeful about this. It seems to me that, in some way, the needs of the people – the very human needs of all the people – is shaping the rhetoric of the election in a way that I don’t remember happening before on this level. (Of course that might be because my memory is full of holes and I’m politically dumb as a bag of flour.) Feminists have talked for decades about the personal being political, which is an idea that I embrace. This election cycle, (as they call it, which also makes it seem human and part of nature, somehow) it seems as though all of the politicians are struggling to connect with us by making the political personal. Maybe it’s the healthcare debate. Whatever your feelings on the subject, I think everybody agrees that healthcare is about us at our most human and most vulnerable. Of course it’s also about insurance companies and corporations, but at its most crucial, it’s about our life and our death, our bodies and our well-being. I think it’s hard not to become emotional when we consider this issue, which makes it difficult to discuss rationally, perhaps, but it’s important for us to learn this form of discourse – to learn to talk about personal emotional subjects. Maybe it’s because times have been so hard for all of us. We’re all hurting, and it makes us more insular, for better or for worse. We’re anxious about our homes, and our ability to keep them. We’re thinking about the food we put on our table. And this election is about women. We’re told over and over that the women are going to decide this election, and that’s forced a (sometimes uncomfortable) discussion about women’s bodies, and women’s work, and the value of that work. Of course, everything’s intimately connected. The “serious” issues of war, taxes, foreign policy – they’re all ultimately personal, they’re about our daily lives, our loves, our families, the chance to follow the path to old age that we all travel together. I always have this feeling, when I listen to politicians talk, that there’s a truth and sense that they can’t tell us with their words, that we hear anyway. Sometimes they try to hide it – when they tell us we need to go to war, with a barrage of words and falsified facts, I feel like most people understand the truth anyway – we know their motives. This year I feel the sense is closer to the surface under the muddle of words – the sense that we’re all in it together, and we’ll learn a way to talk about that.

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

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Rosemary roasted potatoes, tomatoes, and shallots

Roasted potatoes, tomatoes, and shallots

We went for a family bike ride this morning. David went on ahead with Malcolm, and I stayed behind with Isaac. He’s got short legs and a small bike, and he peddles four times for every one of mine. As exercise for me, this was a failure. The heart rate was not elevated, what with all the coasting and standing and waiting. As a ride to get somewhere, it was a failure. Isaac decided at one point that he had to stop to renew his energy. And that was as far as we got. As a chance to stand in a place that you love with somebody that you love, and notice everything going on around you, it was a huge success. The towpath is lush and green this time of year, and the trees meet overhead, sewn together with vines, so that you find yourself in a green tunnel, punctuated by spaces of shadow and spaces of bright light. As we stood surrounded by smells of lavender and lemon and wet earth, the clouds rolled by, making shadows that drifted through the tunnel like slow trains. The difference between light and dark evened as they passed overhead, and then jumped into sharp relief when they’d gone by. It was a giddy feeling of moving and standing still at the same time. Isaac said it must be the end of summer, because yellow leaves were slowly falling all around us. He asked, “Do you remember that time that you weren’t there…?” (I love the logic of this question) And he told the story of how they’d gone for a walk, and gotten lost, and climbed over a tree in the river. He said that day they’d eaten a breakfast of eggs, and then right away they ate dinner. A small moth landed on my knee, it felt like a blessing. Golden and dusky. It looked up at me with its sweet, speaking face, and slowly showed me how its wings opened in a strange and beautiful fashion. It held them open, it held them closed. Isaac wanted to catch him, but I wouldn’t let him. He said I liked the moth more than him, and he threw his bike on the ground and ran down the path, his bright yellow helmet bobbing up and down in the light and the shadows. I caught up to him and he said he was too tired. One tear rolled down each of his perfect cheeks. With a beautiful gesture, he reached up two fingers of one hand, and touched each tear with one finger. A tiger swallowtail flew circles around us, dappled like the day, and Isaac said that it flew the way we ride our bikes, flapping then floating, flapping then floating. Malcolm and David, who had made it to the next town and back again, overtook us. David went home at Isaac’s slow pace, and I got to ride home with Malcolm, who chattered merry nonsense, and darted through waves of sunlight like a little minnow, resplendent in bright red and bright green, on his bright Tintin blue bike.

It’s August! Summer is ripe. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the vegetables this time of year. Tomatoes, shallots, potatoes, garlic. I love them all! I love them together! I decided to roast them – the potatoes by themselves till crispy, and the tomatoes, shallots, and garlic together till meltingly soft and starting to caramelize – and then stir them together at the last minute with lots of black pepper. I love how simple this is, and how it all works together.

We have a guest DJ today. My friend SpottedRichard put together an excellent playlist of Latin music, and I’m going to link to that, because it’s bright and sunny, and helping to wake me up. So here it is!
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Cabbage and potato galette with a walnut crust

Cabbage and potato galette

We’re making great leaps in swimming this summer, here at The Ordinary. Isaac learned to swim. It’s a breath-stoppingly cute move. His be-goggled face takes on a look of fiendish glee as he plunges into the water. He squiggles and flounders his little arms and legs until you don’t know if he’s rising or falling, and then he pops up, triumphant and joyful. And Malcolm, who can now do a front flip off the diving-board, invented a new stroke suitable to his sleek water animal status. No splashing, no flailing, just a smooth squiggle move that propels him through the water. We were at a pool in the poconos this week, and I was catching my bubbly little Isaac as he popped out of the water, when I chanced to hear the words “cabbage,” and “beets.” Well! A food conversation. I decided to eavesdrop. Four older men and women were bobbing tranquilly in the water, oblivious to the childish chaos all around them, sharing recipes for stuffed cabbage. They all had very definite ideas about how it should be made. One suggested the importance of making your own lard. He buys a slab. A slab of pig? Exactly. A woman in a purple bathing cap, balancing with odd solidity on a giant purple styrofoam noodle, declared that she doesn’t use lard, because she “doesn’t eat the fat.” Klondike bars, however, she’ll eat five a night! Despite the triglycerides! They decided to get together for dinner. To cook. I’d love to see that! I really would.

I have some cabbage from the CSA. I decided against stuffing it with klondike bars and lard, and opted instead to make a galette. I wanted it to be sweet and cripsyish, but also soft and comforting. I like cabbage when it’s very lightly cooked, so that’s how I approached this galette. I made a walnut crust (surprise!) and threw a few handfuls of toasted walnuts into the filling as well, for crunch. I was determined to add potatoes to the filling, and so I did, after frying them in olive oil. They were lovely! I flavored it with tamari (in a nod to moo shoo vegetable, which is one of the few cabbage dishes I like), white wine, and basil, tarragon, and thyme. I think it turned out really tasty! David liked it, too, and he’s not a fan of cabbage in any form. Score!! It’s not the prettiest thing you’ll ever make, so serve it with something colorful and crunchy, like a crispy salad with lots of fresh tomatoes and basil.

Here’s Goin up the Country, by Barbecue Bob.
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Potatoes, artichoke hearts and chard

Potatoes, artichokes and chard

I feel like I have a mild case of the doldrums. Some combination of time flying too fast and my creative energy running way too slow has me feeling a little meh and blah. There’s so much I want to do and make, but I feel like I’m cabined, cribbed, confined by saucy doubts and fears. And they’re not even important or reasonable doubts and fears, for heaven’s sake! But there’s probably nothing duller than hearing somebody talk about their doldrums, so I’ll talk instead about something bright and inspiring, that can shake a person out of such a state. Bill Traylor, of course! I think his drawings are remarkable – so pure and vital and strange and perfect. I read once that he uses a “high singing blue” in his drawings, and I’m completely enamored of this idea. A high singing blue! I was looking around for some of his drawings, and I’m very excited to find that somebody is making a film about him! Here’s a preview, which also has plenty of examples of his drawings…

Of course I don’t understand the whole story of Bill Traylor’s life, but he had more than his share of cares and worries, and what did he do? He drew! It feels as though he didn’t over-think and fret about finding the right tools, and make a fuss about his grand projects: he sat and drew what he saw, and what was in his mind, and what he drew was beautiful and fervent.

Your song for today is this one about Bill Traylor by French double-bass-and-string-oud-band Off Duo (omg, another double bass and string oud band?). I just love it!

Meanwhile, I’ve got to get myself back some balance, some perspective. I love day-to-day life. I love the small things we do every day with the boys. I love watching them play, and draw, and build things. I like the creativity we call upon every day, and – for me – a big part of that is cooking. We eat to live, and we cook crazy things to keep our minds alive! And as dumb as it sounds, I find potatoes inspiring! They’re like a blank canvas, or a blank piece of re-used cardboard. We got some from our CSA, and a bag of dirty potatoes is a source of endless possibilities!! In this dish I wanted to combine the sweet crispiness of fried potatoes with the earthy softness of sautéed chard. The strongest flavoring here is rosemary, which is perfect with potatoes, and seems so summery and mysterious.

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French lentils with roasted beets and walnuts

French lentils and roasted beets

When I was a kid, people used to say, “that was beat.” That meant it was bad. I’m not sure if this was specific to where and when I grew up, or if it was more of universal phraseology, but it was quite prevalent amongst my peers. (When I was even younger, people used to say “feeling crunchy,” when somebody was put down or proven wrong. I’m fairly sure that was specific to my middle school! Ooooooh, feeeeeeling cruuuuuunchyyyyyy…”) So, if something was beat, it was bad. To use it in a sentence, “That party was so beat, because the music was beat, and the people were really beat, too.” I’ve decided to make it my life’s work, my raison d’etre, to bring the phrase back, but as a description of a good thing, and changing it slightly to “beet.” “That party was so beet, man, I never wanted to leave! My job is so great, it’s roasted beet. Awww, they’re my favorite band of all time…they’re golden beet.” Maybe I shouldn’t have been thinking about this before bed, because I had a dream about beet brickle, which I think we can all agree I shouldn’t try to make. I also thought of this recipe, which turned out deeeeeelicious. Totally beet. It’s got french lentils cooked with a little red wine, orange juice and balsamic; it’s got lovely little roasted beets and shallots; it’s got toasted walnuts, for crunch; it’s got fresh basil, sage, and tarragon, for spring-herb-garden-deliciousness; and it’s got tiny cubes of mozzarella, which get nice and melty when they hit the warm lentils.

Crusty bread

We ate it with some fresh black pepper bread, and I’m extremely excited about it. As you know, if you’ve been following along at home, I’ve been trying for some time to make a crispy-crusted bread that doesn’t have a dense crumb. I wanted big airy holes inside. Well…I think I’ve done it! I left the dough very very wet and soft. It was messy to knead, I tell you. And I let it rise the last time, in the pan I baked it in, for well over an hour. Oh boy!! Look at the airy crumb on this baby! It’s soooooo beeeeeeeeeeeeet!

Crusty bread

Here’s LL Cool J (and Adam Horowitz!) with I Need a Beet

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White beans with figs, potatoes, and shallots

White beans with figs and potatoes

David and I had a lovely friend named Madeleine. She was Belgian, and her husband had been Greek. We used to spend afternoons in her teeming garden, drinking Belgian beer and eating Greek rusks and delicious cheese. She had wonderful stories to tell. She’d met Hergé! Hergé!! Madeleine’s daughter, Sandy, lives in Greece, so I don’t see her very often, but since I’ve started this blog, she’s been sending me Greek recipes. They’re wonderful – eggplant, spinach, savory pastries, lemony potatoes! I can’t wait to try them. Recently, she spent some time in Paris, and she sent me a description of her meal, which she called “two non-recipes from Paris.” I love the idea of making a meal based on a description of a special lunch somebody had somewhere. Wouldn’t it be fun to find old letters (even very old letters) from all sorts of people all over the world, and make a cookbook based on meals that they describe? Yes! It would! Anyway, the meal Sandy wrote about sounded like exactly my kind of thing. She’d eaten a dish with meat, figs, potatoes, and little onions, probably shallots. Doesn’t that sound perfect? Of course, I left the meat out, and I decided to replace it with white beans, and cook it into a nice brothy, stewy type of meal. I’m sure the original was far more elegant, and I’ve peasant-ized it, but it just seemed perfect that way to me, yesterday. I bought three plump, ripe little figs, but if these are hard for you to find, you can replace them with dry or even a few tablespoons of fig preserves. I used red-skinned potatoes, and the whole dish had a lovely rosy hue. We ate this with goat cheese toasts plus extra crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

Here’s a Greek song about a fig tree! Nikos Skalkottas, from 16 Songs, AK 80, VIII. Fig Tree. Strange and beautiful!
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