Crepes with chard, olives and tarragon-almond “ricotta”

Crepes with chard, olives, and tarragon almond "ricotta"

Crepes with chard, olives, and tarragon almond “ricotta”

Apparently it’s National Book Day! In keeping with the situation, we’re going to have another installment of our award-winning series, Minor Characters from Major Works of Literature. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Pierre Bezukhov. Needless to say, this is a character I love. Flawed, thoughtful, questing. I love the way his world and everything he believes is constantly falling apart around him, only to be rebuilt again. Later in the novel, after he’s captured by the French, after he’s witnessed acts of unspeakable cruelty and violence, this happens once again, “Sounds of crying and screaming came from somewhere in the distance outside, and flames were visible through the cracks of the shed, but inside it was quiet and dark. For a long time Pierre did not sleep, but lay with eyes open in the darkness, listening to the regular snoring of Platon who lay beside him, and he felt that the world that had been shattered was once more stirring in his soul with a new beauty and on new and unshakable foundations.” And this Platon, this snoring man, helps him to build a strong and lasting peace of mind upon which to rebuild his world.Platon Karataev is a peasant who has been sent to war as a punishment for stealing wood. I think he’s a beautiful character, and I’ll share a selection of my favorite quotes about him. Ready? Begin.
    “He would often say the exact opposite of what he had said on a previous occasion, yet both would be right. He liked to talk and he talked well, adorning his speech with terms of endearment and with folk sayings which Pierre thought he invented himself, but the chief charm of his talk lay in the fact that the commonest events—sometimes just such as Pierre had witnessed without taking notice of them—assumed in Karataev’s a character of solemn fitness. He liked to hear the folk tales one of the soldiers used to tell of an evening (they were always the same), but most of all he liked to hear stories of real life. He would smile joyfully when listening to such stories, now and then putting in a word or asking a question to make the moral beauty of what he was told clear to himself. Karataev had no attachments, friendships, or love, as Pierre understood them, but loved and lived affectionately with everything life brought him in contact with, particularly with man—not any particular man, but those with whom he happened to be. He loved his dog, his comrades, the French, and Pierre who was his neighbor…”
    “Sometimes Pierre, struck by the meaning of his words, would ask him to repeat them, but Platon could never recall what he had said a moment before, just as he never could repeat to Pierre the words of his favorite song: native and birch tree and my heart is sick occurred in it, but when spoken and not sung, no meaning could be got out of it. He did not, and could not, understand the meaning of words apart from their context. Every word and action of his was the manifestation of an activity unknown to him, which was his life. But his life, as he regarded it, had no meaning as a separate thing. It had meaning only as part of a whole of which he was always conscious. His words and actions flowed from him as evenly, inevitably, and spontaneously as fragrance exhales from a flower. He could not understand the value or significance of any word or deed taken separately.”

To Pierre, Platon Karataev is “an unfathomable, rounded, eternal personification of the spirit of simplicity and truth,” and he helps Pierre to find the tranquility he has been seeking for years.

    “In burned and devastated Moscow Pierre experienced almost the extreme limits of privation a man can endure; but thanks to his physical strength and health, of which he had till then been unconscious, and thanks especially to the fact that the privations came so gradually that it was impossible to say when they began, he endured his position not only lightly but joyfully. And just at this time he obtained the tranquillity and ease of mind he had formerly striven in vain to reach. He had long sought in different ways that tranquillity of mind, that inner harmony which had so impressed him in the soldiers at the battle of Borodino. He had sought it in philanthropy, in Freemasonry, in the dissipations of town life, in wine, in heroic feats of self-sacrifice, and in romantic love for Natasha; he had sought it by reasoning—and all these quests and experiments had failed him. And now without thinking about it he had found that peace and inner harmony only through the horror of death, through privation, and through what he recognized in Karataev.”

Karataev helps Pierre to appreciate the taste of a simple potato, and in honor of that scene I made some potatoes simply boiled with butter, salt and pepper. But that’s not a very interesting recipe to tell you about, so Instead I’ll share the recipe of what we ate them with. For our Mardi Gras meal we had crepes stuffed with sautéed chard, castelvetrano olives, tomatoes and mozzarella and a sort of “ricotta” made from almonds, tarragon, and capers. Delicious!

Here’s Dig It, by the Coup. I’m not sure why, but it just seems to fit. And I love it.
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Pistachio and tarragon tart with castelvetrano olives and asparagus

Asparagus, pistachio, castelvetrano tart

Asparagus, pistachio, castelvetrano tart

If The Ordinary was a TV program, (and it’s only a matter of time, really, when you think about it) this would be the moment when we’d saunter, smiling and chatting, over to a book so large it’s printed in dozens of volumes. Everyone in the audience would jump from their seats, screaming, “The OED! Yay! Tell us how some random word was used in the 13th century! And the 15th century and the 18th, and, if possible, give us an example from only a few years ago!! Yay!!” Yes, it’s OED time! Your word for today is “sigh.” Why? Because for some reason I found myself sighing a lot this weekend. And sometimes I would just say, “sigh,” instead of sighing. And then I wrote a story about a ghost who always has a sigh in his voice, and who can shake the whole room with his sigh. Strange, very strange. So on Monday I did the obvious thing and looked the word up in the OED. Turns out its meaning hasn’t changed dramatically over the years. It’s always meant something close to “A sudden, prolonged, deep and more or less audible respiration, following on a deep-drawn breath, and esp. indicating or expressing dejection, weariness, longing, pain, or relief.” It was oft used, ere this, by the supersensitive overwrought poets and lady novelists. And yet, I find it a very fascinating word! Because it’s not a word at all. It’s a space between words. Like the grunts I found so remarkable in Ozu’s Tokyo story, which rise or fall and contain a million different easily readable meanings in one small sound, it’s almost more expressive than any actual word. And a sigh is so full of variations and possibilities! A sigh can indicate exasperation, sadness, fatigue, resignation, comfort, satisfaction. One small sound, barely a sound! Just a breath, quieter than a whisper. And everybody sighs, often without meaning to or even being aware of it. It’s a universal language. My favorite sigher at the moment is Clio. She’ll make herself perfectly comfortable, and then she’ll settle her head on her paws and heave a great sigh, as though she’s just taken care of some very important business and now she can rest for a moment. Even the leaves and the grass and the wind sigh, especially in poems. “Whenever a March-wind sighs He sets the jewel-print of your feet In violets.” A sigh can express longing, you can sigh for something or someone. You can sigh something away…even your life, “Sapores..sighed out his affrighted ghost, at the age..of seventy one,” or your soul, “Hundreds of martyrs sighed away their souls amid the flames.” Maybe your sadnesse is sigh-swolne, your age is sigh-blown, or your tone is sigh-deepened. I love the idea of communicating without words, with something only slightly more audible than a gesture or an expression, with something as vital and intimate as our breath. I love the fact that “Some sighes out their woordes. Some synges their sentences.”

Asparagus pistachio castelvetrano tart

Asparagus pistachio castelvetrano tart

I think of this as my splurge tart. I spent more money than I should on castelvetrano olives and pistachio kernels, (yes, I’m a lazy spendthrift) and asparagus, which doesn’t seem to be getting any cheaper no matter how far into spring we get. So I decided to put them all together in one tart. I made a sort of frangipane of pistachio kernels, but I added asparagus and spinach, too. I wanted it to taste very green. And asparagus and castelvetrano olives are lovely together, juicy and fresh.

Here’s Dolcissimo Sospiro (I think it means “sweet sighs”) sung by the remarkable Montserrat Figueras
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Tarragon and walnut pesto

tarragon and walnut pesto

tarragon and walnut pesto

Hey, kids! It’s Saturday storytelling time! As I’m sure you recall, this means that along with your daily recipe and song, you’ll get a story, too! Each week, everybody in our small salon of auteurs (well, generally me and one or two other people) writes a story based on a found photograph. If you’d like to write a story about it, and I hope you do, send me a copy and I’ll post it here, or send me a link if you have somewhere of your own to post it. Who are these men? Where are they? What are they reading?
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I bought a bunch of tarragon. I put some in a tart, and I had a lot left. I love tarragon, but I can’t put it in every single meal! So I decided to use it all in this pesto. We ate it with flatbread, beans and greens. You could toss it with pasta, or spread it on a pizza, or even serve it as a dip with chips or crackers. Strangely, Malcolm has said in the past that he doesn’t like tarragon, but he loved this, an gobbled it right down. It is very tarragon-y. This is vegan, but if you wanted it to be more like a traditional pesto, you could add parmesan, if you liked.

Here’s Duppy Conqueror by Bob Marley. It’s about ghosts, you know.
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Spinach, chickpea and tarragon galette with a pecan crust

Spinach chickpea and tarragon tart

Spinach chickpea and tarragon tart

I had a discussion about film this weekend with some kids at work. They mentioned Tarantino, and, of course, being the bitter old lady that I am, I launched into a diatribe about how much I despise his films. (They love me at work! I’m a bright ray of sunshine!) The kids I was talking to probably thought I was some lame older person who just didn’t get it, man. That’s the whole point of cool films like Tarantino’s, they piss off the humorless missish squares and the easily offended. Well! Obviously I couldn’t leave it at that, so I calmly explained that I’d made a few films myself, and I’d had a lot of respect and hope for the American independent film movement, when I was the same age as these kids, and that Tarantino SINGLE HANDEDLY KILLED IT DEAD!! And that although I haven’t actually seen any of his films since Pulp Fiction, I HATE THEM ALL!! And I quietly assured them that my films weren’t failures due to any flaws that they (obviously) don’t have, but that it was, in fact, ALL QUENTIN TARANTINO’S FAULT!! Well, not just his fault, there are a couple of other people I blame, too. The kids said, “Well, his films are very violent.” And I replied serenely, “IT’S NOT THE VIOLENCE I OBJECT TO!! IT’S THE CLEVER SOULLESS INSINCERITY!! It’s the violence for no reason other than to shock. And we eat it up!” I’ve been thinking about it a lot, since, wandering through the week in the heavy fog of news of shocking violence. I keep returning to the same place, the place I always come back to. It’s so easy to shock. It’s so easy to make people sad or scared. Combine this with a little cleverness, an exploitative knowledge of some cool films other people have made and a good soundtrack, and you’ve got a hit. Obviously this doesn’t just apply to American independent film. It applies to all art, it applies to life. Acts of shocking violence get attention in a way that acts of kindness and generosity rarely do. We have odd values, here in the USA. We pay more attention to petty dramas and insipid squabbles than to anything with complicated depth of emotion. It’s not just Tarantino or independent film, it’s everything–our news, our (sur)reality shows, our politics. It’s difficult to create something that’s quiet and thoughtful and beautiful. It’s difficult to bare your soul, it’s difficult to make something sincere. It’s difficult to make a film about violence as violence actually is–messy and anguished and disjointed. Without honesty, soul, and love, a film isn’t worth watching, a song isn’t worth listening to, life isn’t worth living. This is my diatribe and I’m sticking to it!

I like a rustic galette in the springtime. It’s a nice transition between the solid, nutty, beany double-crusted pies of winter and the light vegetabley open tarts of summer. You’ve got your greens and your fresh herbs, but they’re sheltered from the cool spring breezes by a touch of crust. A light jacket of crust, a shawl, maybe. This particular crust was nice and crunchy with pecans. And I flavored the filling of spinach and chickpeas with tarragon and fenugreek, because I wanted to do something different. THey’re nice together–they both have mysterious flavors, a little sweet, a little bitter. Don’t use too much fenugreek or it will take over the flavor. A pinch will do it.

Here’s I Know it’s Over, by The Smiths. It’s so easy to laugh, It’s so easy to hate, It takes guts to be gentle and kind.
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Almond tarragon sauce

Almond tarragon sauce

Yesterday we had a rare day off, all together, and it was the only sunny day in recent memory. So we went for a hike in the woods. It felt good to clear the cobwebs and feel the sun on our heads. At one point, a big golden leaf fell behind me – I could sense it as a sort of glowing shadow. It seemed so slow and quick all at once. It almost made me wish I was someone else. Somebody who could wander around in the woods thinking about things and noticing things – like Basho or Thoreau, instead of just some idiot who forgot to pay the credit card bill (god I hate that!). Of course I was somebody wandering around in the woods, thinking things, and watching my little ones glowing with high finally-out-of-the-house spirits, as well as being the non-bill-paying idiot. And on the way home I had the strangest sensation of time travel. The sun was very bright and warm on my face, so I closed my eyes. I had that peculiar feeling you get in your head when you’re about to get a cold, when it seems like all of your senses are heightened and dulled at the same time. I had such a distinct memory of having this exact experience before – the sun, the onset of a cold, the movement of the car. I could have been any age. I had a flood of memories of myself at different times. With my family growing up. With David when we were younger. With my dog when she was a puppy. I may have fallen asleep for a few moments, because I felt my thoughts taking off, into the air. And then Malcolm said, “Mommy…” and showed me a picture he’d drawn, or told me how much baby bears weigh at birth. Human voices woke me, and I drowned…in the present. Where I forget to pay bills, and can’t keep the house clean, and yell too much at my boys, but I feel so grateful to have them all around me – to have this messy glowing life, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.

This almond tarragon sauce is another version of a tarator sauce. I made it to go with some very pretty dragon’s tongue beans, which I lightly steamed. But I ate it for days afterwards – with every kind of vegetable, with empanadas, on salads. It’s a nice creamy, cream free dressing. Very good with roasted beets!

Here’s Sunshine and Clouds and Everything Proud from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

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Zucchini, green pea, feta, & mint paté and zucchini with tarragon and hazelnuts

Zucchini green pea feta paté

It can be hard to stay cheerful when you’re a waitress. Many restaurant patrons are as needy and particular as toddlers, and they’re not always nice about making their needs known. I slip into horribly bitchy crankiness sometimes, as a mom and as a waitress, and it feels awful. On a good day, however, there’s a real joy in feeding people – even if it’s just the humble job of carrying their food to the table. People can be so endearing when they eat – the way they arrange their food before they put it in their mouth, the gestures they use to share with others at their table, even the particular care they use to get their order exactly correct can be as sweet as it is irksome. I like to see people eating together: some have so much to say they forget to eat, and others are either so comfortable together or so awkward they may not say one word through the meal. This weekend I worked with a very young woman, very quiet, very nice. An older couple came in and sat in her section. The man asked his wife what he wanted to drink – he’d forgotten. His wife knew (we all know! He gets the same thing every time.) The waitress came back to write up the order, and she said, “I love them!” Every little thing they said, the way that they knew each other so well they could finish each others’ sentences, all of it was making her so happy. I know what she means! I’d been feeling cranky about humans, that morning, but her love for this couple made humanity seem pretty wonderful. It reminded me of Alyosha, (still reading The Bros. K! Still reading) who says we should “…care for most people exactly as one would for children…” He’s trying, though he he doesn’t feel he’s altogether ready in himself. Sometimes he’s very impatient, and other times he doesn’t see things. I know what he means, too!

Well! We’re still getting tons of zucchini, and I’m trying to love that, too. Here are two ways to prepare it that both use herbs from our garden. One is simple, one a little more complicated. The paté being the latter, though it’s really not difficult to make. I’m calling it a paté because it’s nice on toast or crackers, but we ate it one night as a side dish, and it was good that way too. Feta, mint and peas seem like such a natural combination – so fresh and sweet and salty, all at the same time. This paté has some almonds in, which gives it a sort of country-paté texture. In the simpler dish, the zucchini is sautéed briskly in butter till it’s nicely browned but still has a bit of crunch. It’s mixed with garlic, tarragon and some toasted hazelnuts. A nice side dish!

Zucchini with tarragon and hazelnuts

Here’s King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Workingman’s Blues

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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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Lettuce – pumpkinseed pesto AND lettuce, hazelnut & white bean bisque

Or, two ways to prepare lettuce that don’t involve the word “salad.”

Lettuce, white bean, hazelnut soup

We’re watching Blues Brothers with the boys. It’s rated R, but we can’t remember why, so we’re watching it cautiously, with the remote nearby. Is it the non-stop swearing and the incredibly destructive car chases? Pshaw, my boys are used to that! We drive recklessly through a couple of malls a day around here. Actually, it might be a little rough for them, but I think they’re well aware that they can’t say all of the words that they’re hearing and that they can’t drive cars through store windows. What a pleasure to watch them watch the dancing and the singing, and all of the wonderful, contagiously happy music. It’s such a joyful movie! And I’d forgotten how sweet it is, in parts, and how good it looks. There are a few moments that have such a lovely, quiet grace about them, in the midst of all the raucousness. And, oddly, these moments seem to involve toast. In one scene, Elwood has just toasted a piece of bread in his small room in the home for itinerant men. His brother fell asleep, and he covered him with a blanket, and then sat in the window and looked out at the trains rumbling by in a watery blue light. Beautiful! Now, I love toast. I think it’s such a comforting, restorative food. The very smell of bread toasting can make you feel better. And I happen to have made a meal last night that revolved around toast! And lettuces, lots and lots of lettuces. We got about 7 heads of red leaf lettuce from the CSA, and I’m actually very excited about it. I love salad, as I’ve said many a time, but I also like the challenge of turning lettuce into a non-salad meal. We happened to eat two in the same meal last night, but they were both very tasty, so nobody seemed to mind.

Lettuce pesto

I made a soup with lettuce, hazelnuts and white beans. I seasoned it with tarragon, chervil, and lovage, and it was very flavorful. It was smooth, but not velvety, although you could certainly make it that way if you liked. I floated a small, plain toast in it, and it was delicious. The other non-salad lettuce item on the agenda was a lettuce, pumpkinseed, goatcheese pesto. It turned out very nice! Much milder in flavor than a traditional basil pesto, but it has the lovely, indefinable flavor of toasted pumpkinseeds, and a bit of creamy tang provided by goat cheese. We ate it with toast (again!) and a little bruschetta topping made from tomatoes, basil, french feta, and capers.

Here’s Shake A Tail Feather, with the Blues Brothers and Ray Charles. Doesn’t it make you happy?

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Kale & chickpeas with orange and tarragon

kale chickpeas and tarragon

Today is our anniversary! David and I have been married sixteen years. It’s gone so fast! These years have become such a long, strong part of my memory, of my happiness, of my life – of who we are. I want to make something special for dinner tonight, and I’ve been thinking about memorable meals we’ve had. The first meal we ever ate together, David made for me – ravioli, red sauce, garlic bread and wine pilfered from his roommates. Still one of the pleasantest meals I’ve ever had! In our courting days we used to go on hikes and take picnics. We always brought bread, peanut butter, dark chocolate and fruit – oranges and apples. What an unlikely, perfect combination of flavors! We brought wine hidden in snapple bottles. The first time we’d ever visited the town where we now live, we went out to dinner on my birthday. I told the waiter, “I’m a vegetarian,” and David said, “So am I.” And that was that – no big announcement, he’d just quietly become a vegetarian, and that’s how we’ve continued our lives together. For a long time we’d share the same plate. We’d make a big mess of pasta or rice and beans and vegetables, and pile it on one big deep plate. And these days I feel grateful every night to live with a man who will happily eat all of the strange food I put on the table! Anybody who likes to cook will know that making food to share with people that you love is what it’s all about. I’m so happy to have somebody to share food with, and listen to music with, to watch films with, to look for birds with, to raise children with, to walk with, to talk with.

I’ll make something more special tonight, but in the meantime, here’s a dish that reminds me of a special meal we had on vacation long ago. We used to go to upstate New York every autumn, and we’d eat at a restaurant called The 1819 House. It was just our kind of place. They served something they called vegetarian paella, and we’ve been having different versions of it ever since. Here’s one version, which I call…vegetarian paella. And this new version has kale, chickpeas, artichoke hearts and olives, in a sweet/salty broth made with white wine, orange juice and tarragon. All of the flavors blend nicely, so you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. As David said, you don’t really taste the orange, you just taste a sunny, summery flavor.

Here’s a version of Bob Marley’s Mellow Mood, which is our song!
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Turnip & leek pie

Turnip & greens pie

I like to try to eat local, seasonal vegetables, but I know in the winter it’s just not possible. Oh, sure, I buy winter squash and kale and other cold season veg, but I’m fooling myself if I think it’s grown any where near here. And that’s why I’m absolutely thrilled to belong to a CSA! In the summer I know my vegetables are local and seasonal! Veggies that grow together taste good together!

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.

Turnip pie

Here’s The Coup with Heven Tonite, because he says, “let’s give everybody homes and a garden plot.” I love this song – it’s the prettiest revolutionary rap song ever.
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