This is the dinner I made for David’s birthday. It’s a very fancy Ordinary dinner. It employs some Ordinary staples, such as french lentils and roasted mushrooms. It’s autumnal, because it also has roasted butternut squash, smoked gouda, and pecans. I made it in big muffin tins, with large holes in them, but if you don’t have those, you could make little free-form galettes and they’d be just as tasty.
I love collard greens. I love their substantial texture, and their mildly assertive taste. I like to pair them with smoky crispy things. I thought of the crust in this as being almost like bacon – crunchy and smoky with smoked paprika. The pecans added a nice crunch, and the roasted mushrooms brought their lovely savory, meaty flavor.
Here’s Fox in the Snow by Belle and Sebastian.
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.
I love the idea of community gardens and alotments – shared patches of land that people work together to grow food. Eating is such a communal activity, it seems right that growing food should be as well. We get a box of vegetables delivered to us each saturday, and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning as I lift out all of our treasures. And then through the week we visit the farm to pick certain crops that are in season. The boys like to come, too (especially when it’s raspberry season) and they’re a big help in filling up my baskets. It’s a joy to watch them meander through glowing green rows of sweet peas and tomatoes, following the dizzy paths of bees buzzed on sunshine; so pleased with themselves when they find plump, warm vegetables. It’s wonderful to get vegetables I know we love, of course, but it’s a fun challenge to get some we’re not as familiar with, as well. I love dreaming up recipes that will make any vegetable taste good.
This first week wasn’t a challenge at all! I love everything we got – spinach, chard, kale, leeks and … turnips!! Turnips are among my favorite vegetables. And these were beautiful little spring turnips, creamy white and sweet. They didn’t need to be peeled. And their greens were in great shape, as well, which is something I almost never find at the grocery store. I think that turnips, thyme and sharp cheddar are a nearly perfect combination, and I decided to bake that combination into a pie. I like leeks with thyme and cheddar, too, so of course I added those. I wanted to cook the turnip greens into the pie, and I added a big helping of spinach, to soften their sharp flavor. I decided to make a buttermilk crust, just for a change, but you could easily use a regular pate brisée crust, if you wanted something flakier.
We don’t have a lot of chances to go bird watching any more, what with children and real life and all of their demands. But we went on a lovely bike ride this morning, and it makes me happy to know they’re all still there. We can still catch a glimpse of a bird and know what we’re seeing. We’ll hear a sweet little song, or a hoarse call, and we know what we’re hearing. We’re still part of their world, and they’re still part of ours.
So! Eggplant pie! It’s got thin layers of crispy rosemary/balsamic-marinated breaded eggplant. It’s got layers of chard and spinach, sauteed with garlic and red pepper and mixed with quince jam. It’s got layers of crispy toasted hazelnuts, and it’s got layers of melted cheese. Odd combination, you say? Oddly perfect together!! All in a crispy crust. If I do say so myself (when have I not, eh?) it turned out really delicious. I think this would be nice for a party or a picnic, because it tastes good even when it’s not hot out of the oven, and it holds together well for carrying around with you. So you can take it for an evening-time picnic, and walk around with it as you look for all the birds that come out at in the gloaming!
Warka is a paper-thin dough, somewhat like phyllo but even thinner. It’s one of those things you don’t imagine anybody can actually make in real life. But it can be done! It’s not difficult, and it’s actually kinda fun. Here’s how it all began. I’ve been dreaming of making a vegetarian version of a moroccan pastilla for months. The combination of sweet & savory sounded so intriguing to me. The idea of eating pigeon did not! Well, the other day we had a street festival in town. As festivities were winding down and people were packing up, my two young children began playing with the children of the woman running a stall across the street. I started talking to their mom. She’s from Morocco. Being a crazy person, I (almost) immediately said, “Do you know how to make pastilla?” Of course she did! I told her I was vegetarian, and she advised me on the vegetables to use, and how to prepare them, and how to arrange all the layers. She suggested phyllo dough. But can’t I make my own? I asked. Ah yes, she said, and she told me how.
She suggested equal parts flour and water. I ended up using a bit more water, and added a bit of lemon juice and oil. I’d seen this post on making warka, and I tried to incorporate some of the methods contained therein with the advice of my new friend. I used a non-stick griddle. I put it right on the burners, though. The first one came out a little messy, but I got better as I went along. It doesn’t matter if they turn out super flaky, because after you pile enough of them on top of each other, they make a more cohesive whole.
The pastilla itself was very delicious, but there was a bit of a disconnect between my expectations of when you eat cinnamon sugar almonds, and when you eat garlic, turnips and shallots. The more I ate, the more I got used to it, and the better it tasted!
I live in a sleepy little city on the Delaware. I’m no town historian, but our house is from 1850, and it feels as though most of the rest of the town was built up at that time. Lots of brick row houses. Narrow streets and small yards. More antique stores and art galleries than we know what to do with. (Delightfully so!)
One weekend of the year our quiet little town becomes crazy crowded – we have a street festival! Roads are blocked off, booths are erected. Hundreds of people walk by each day. We can watch it all from our store – just on the edge of the action. Our store is small and has a huge window in front, so we feel like we’re in a fishbowl, watching the crowds go by. It’s oddly quiet, despite the sudden population increase. Maybe from the lack of cars. Maybe with the hush that crowds sometimes have, when everybody seems to adjust the volume of their voices to form, all together, a low, incoherent rumble. It’s mesmerizing to watch everybody passing by, at a stately, regular pace. FIrst one way, then crossing back, in tempo, returning the other.
I always find crowds of people strangely moving. I don’t always love humanity in the abstract, but masses of people make me feel oddly affectionate towards us as a species. Small moments of human drama in the sea of people feel so poignant. A child who is over-stimulated and over-tired, with a crumpled, crying face that just happens to be painted like a happy tiger. Eccentric looking couples that seem so happy together, and make you happy that they met each other, even though you don’t know them at all. Straggling groups of teenagers wearing giant 70s sunglasses, who can’t suppress how excited they feel to be wandering without parents at the festival.
Anyway. We had some food in our store, for anybody that was brave enough to come in off the street. I made three kinds of savory pastries. And I’m going to tell you about all of them!! One at a time!! They all turned out really good!! Or so I think!! The nice thing about savory pastries (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) is that although they’re probably best hot out of the oven, they’re also very tasty at room temperature. So they’re nice for parties, or picnics, or art openings, or to offer at street festivals. They’re easy to pick up and carry around, and they combine lots of good flavors in a manageable package.
The first I’ll tell you about is this little galette. It’s got a toasted oatmeal black pepper crust. It’s got fresh baby spinach, ripe pears, bleu cheese and rosemary. It’s very tasty!
I’ve got the Tom Waits song 9th and Hennepin stuck in my head, so I’ll post that here. Not because it describes my town, thank heavens, but because he’s watching people through windows, just like we were, and he’s rambling on to anyone who will listen. Just like I do!
And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen…
And I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen it all
Through the yellow windows of the evening train…
I love the idea of spice mixes. Berbere, zatar, Ras el hanout, garam masala, jerk seasoning. Even the names are wonderful! In the past I’ve tried to recreate some of these using the spices most available around here – but it’s sort of exciting that, when they’re at home, these mixes contain spices that are extremely hard to find where I live. Everything about spices appeals to me – the textures, the fragrances, the colors, and, of course, the taste. It’s no wonder that they were once considered precious.
I realized the other day, as I was typing up a recipe for this very blog, that I tend to use the same spices over and over. I’ve got different combinations I like to use, but there are a few that I use a lot. I decided to embrace that fact, and to try to distill the different spices into one perfect (for me) mix. So I did! And I’m very enamored of it, because I think it’s very pretty and smells very good, too. It’s smokey, a little bit hot…it combines some sweet herbs with some more piquant spices. I test-cooked it first with some roasted cauliflower, and that turned out well, so I decided to use it in these little pies. They’re stuffed with roasted mushrooms, white beans and hazelnuts, and seasoned with my spice mix. Very nice!
Over the summer, my son Malcolm invented a spice mix of his own. So I decided to accompany the pies with sweet potato fries cooked with Malcolm’s supreme spicy spice mix. They went very well with the pies! And we had a fun time putting it all together.
Here’s Mix it Up by the Kingstonians. That’s the way I like it.
When I was in Spain quite a few years ago, I stopped at a place with only one vegetarian thing on the menu – spinach, raisins, and pine nuts. It was such a simple dish, and I had such a heaping mound of spinach on my plate, but somehow it was one of the most memorable and delicious meals I have ever eaten. The filling for this pie is loosely based on that memory. I used chard instead of spinach, because of the added depth of earthy flavor, and because it seems more substantial. And I added pistachios, quite frankly, because I had them! You could just as easily use spinach and pine nuts. The flavor would be different but equally delicious. I added lemon zest to this light yeasted crust, because I think the brightness of lemon zest contrasts nicely with the earthiness of the chard.
Here’s Swiss Chard, by Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, a band we used to listen to when we lived in Boston. I hadn’t thought about them in a while. Thank you, swiss chard, for reminding me!!
Recipe after the jump…