And this was a nice sweet and tart curry of roasted butternut squash, roasted peppers, black beans coconut milk and lime. Earthy and warm and autumnal. Good with basmati rice. Very very versatile…you could add any kind of greens you have, or tomatoes, you could substitute sweet potatoes for butternut squash.
Yesterday 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!
I felt a little silly posting a recipe today, (and doing laundry, and cleaning, and all other trivial chores). But, maybe that’s part of what it’s all about – about the freedom to get on with these things. These chores are trivial to me, but are luxuries for some people. To buy healthy, nourishing food for your family, to cook it up in a way that you feel good about. To have a safe, warm home to serve it in. Everybody deserves these things! In that spirit I present to you a recipe for a warm, comforting stew full of flavor. I bought pomegranate molasses for the first time, and I’m having fun playing with the sweet/tart continuum. I decided to pair it with a tiny bit of mustard, balsamic, sage, red pepper flakes and smoked paprika, to make a spicy, sweet, tart, smoky sauce. And the biscuits are incredibly easy to make, and very tasty, too. They’re butter-free, and the taste of olive oil in a baked good is always surprising and pleasant.
Brothers and sisters
The father of Pan-Africanism
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Says to all black people
All over the world:
“The secret of life is to have no fear”
We all have to understand that
Mos Def’s song isn’t explicitly about Martin Luther King’s Day, but the lyrics have always resonated on this day of all days. He says, “A lot of things have changed, and a lot of things have not.” And there’s no doubt that this is true, for better or for worse. But the song is about courage in the face of danger, courage to work towards something that’s bigger than all of us. And it’s about a universal rhythm that beats through all of us, surely leading us inevitably in the same direction.
All over the world hearts pound with the rhythm
Fear not of men because men must die
Mind over matter and soul before flesh
Angels for the pain keep a record in time
which is passin and runnin like a caravan freighter
The world is overrun with the wealthy and the wicked
But God is sufficient in disposin of affairs
Gunmen and stockholders try to merit your fear
But God is sufficient over plans they prepared.
But for now I’ll leave you with a recipe for the chili I made last Monday before the power went out. It has sweet potatoes from the farm, red beans, yellow split peas, kale, corn, pumpkin ale, sweet spices, spicy spices. I started it early in the afternoon in case the power went out, and it sat on the stove for a few hours, but we could have eaten it sooner. I kept throwing other things in as the day wore on, so it ended up with quite a few ingredients! Use what you have! We ate it with basmati rice and cheesy garlic bread. The next day we spread some inside of tortillas with sharp cheddar, folded them over, wrapped them in foil, and cooked them in a fire in the back yard. Good as well! I didn’t take a picture of the chili, because I was worried about batteries in the camera, and I was just too off-kilter to remember! So you get a picture of Clio lying on Malcolm’s head instead, during the storm. He makes her feel safe, and she was protecting him, too, I think. She fell asleep like that!
And here’s a list of songs about power and electricity. Can you think of any I should add? Some of the songs might be a little sweary. Listen to the first one, at least, though. Curtis Mayfield with the demo version of Power to the People. (Who gave me that? I love it to pieces!!)