Summer squash “jam” with olives and pine nuts

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

Well alright! Wh’apen? Hey ya! Gabba gabba hey! I’m not sure what you’d call these sayings…catch phrases, maybe? But they’re all the titles to some very good songs, and they’re the subject of this week’s playlist. The rules are quite flexible, but what we’re looking for is some collection of words that stands on it’s own in a conversation or greeting, that’s more than just the title of a song. Here’s the start of the playlist. I’m sure there are a million more, but I’m late for work!

This is a good dish for people who are looking for something different to do with summer squash. It’s not just sliced and sautéed, it’s grated first, and then cooked for a while with scallions and fresh herbs, so that it turns soft and saucy, almost like a jam. Then olives and tomatoes and pine nuts are added for a bit of texture and a kick of flavor. This would be nice on the side like a condiment, almost, but I think it’s best on toasts or crackers or spread on crusty bread.

Here’s that playlist again.

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Spicy zucchini-corn risotto with toasted pumpkinseeds, and Risotto burgers

Zucchini corn risotto

Happy labor day! It strikes me as funny that many of the laborers in our workforce don’t actually get to call labor day a holiday, so I’d like to take a minute to thank the doctors, nurses, waitresses, cooks, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, shop clerks…anybody working this rainy monday. I’ve been thinking a lot about work lately, because I’m looking for a job. Oh, I have a job, of course, but I need what they call a “real” job, because, as everybody knows, waiting tables is a completely surreal job. And everybody also knows that raising children doesn’t count as work, it’s more of a walk in the park, really. I’ve been thinking about what defines something as “work,” and it seems to be money. If you get paid to do something, it becomes work. And the more the work is valued, the more money you’re paid to do it. Some things that certain people do for fun, like playing baseball, making music, painting pictures, or writing, other people get paid to do, it’s their job. Some of them get paid quite a lot to do it. They’re very lucky! Sometimes I imagine an alien race drifting down to observe humans as we labor away in our wide array of jobs. I wonder if they would be puzzled to see that certain jobs are rewarded over others. If they’d scratch their bright green heads with their long frog-like fingers to see that, say, the CEO of a company that makes weapons that kill people is given much more money than the nurse that cares for us when we’re at our most vulnerable, scared and, probably fairly sickening, in our time of sickness. I videotaped a remarkable lecture, once. (I was paid to do it! It was a job of work!) The man speaking, and I regret that I can’t remember his name, said that the idea that there aren’t enough jobs, and there isn’t enough money to go around is a myth. If everybody worked the same hours – not a forty-hour work week, but a shorter one – and if we were all paid a more balanced amount for the work that we did…well, we could all live comfortably. Everybody could. That sounds nice to me. I wish it was possible. America has always been a country that values hard work, it’s part of our myth of who we are as a people. We work hard, we’re proud, self-sufficient, we are entitled to certain things, but only if we work hard enough to deserve them. The problem, of course, is that plenty of people work incredibly hard and still don’t get those things. Many of the jobs that require long, unforgiving hours doing work nobody else wants to do aren’t well-paid, don’t come with health insurance, paid vacations, job security, or any benefits at all.

Risotto burgers

Here’s a kind of work I call fun! Making risotto. It’s just the right amount of hands-on stirring and mixing. You feel involved! But it’s not finicky or incredibly time-consuming. You stir a bit, you wander away, you stir a bit more. My pet name for this particular risotto is “taco risotto.” It’s got oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, sage, and jalapenos – so it’s a bit smoky, a bit spicy. The zucchini is grated, so it blends in with the rice. The corn retains its bright sweet qualities. Risottos are soft by nature, so I thought it would be nice to add a bit of crunch in the from of toasted pumpkinseeds, which also bring their lovely and mysterious flavor. And I made some crispy toasted tortilla strips to scoop up the risotto.

The next day I turned the ample leftovers into big juicy burgers, which we ate on buns with tomatoes and lettuce. If I’d had an avocado, I would have sliced that to go along with it.

Here’s a playlist of work songs for labor day.
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Zucchini, hazelnut, and millet croquettes

Millet croquettes

So my dog, Steenbeck, was a german shorthaired pointer. Not a dog you see very often! But these days, when I do see one, I can’t not pet it! Today, I saw an unmistakable brown-spotty-tailed-pointer-butt saunter by. I flew out the door! I’d met the dog before – he’s a handsome boy. He looked at me with fear! He positively cowered away from me! Well, my goodness, most irregular! I laughed to David that I must have seemed too needy, and David said there’s probably a warning out about me, on german shorthaired twitter networks. It’s funny, if you know pointers, because they’re twittery. They’re naturally nervous nellies, which is why I didn’t take it personally that this handsome boy didn’t feel like socializing. I’ve been dreaming a lot about Steenbeck, lately, and it’s nice to spend time with her in my dreams, even if the dreams are sometimes anxious, and I miss her all over again upon waking. I live in a town full of dogs, and it’s good to have them around. And, as I said the other day, I see dogs everywhere – in knots in wood, in branches of trees, in rocks and stones. (Where is she going with this? You’re asking yourself. Well, I’m glad you asked!) The other day, in the mountains, the boys were fishing. I’m not a big fan of fishing. Not a big fan of the inevitable cruelty to worm-and-fish. But it’s a summery thing for a boy to do, once in a while, I get that. I had to sit with them, because Isaac can’t swim as well as he thinks he can. I had my blank notebook and a ball point pen with me. I carry them everywhere, because I like to pretend that I might write something important at any moment! When you least expect it! I sat at a weather-greyed splintery picnic table, which was only lightly coated with worm poop and fish guts. And this is how I happened to embark upon my new, slightly vandalistic, bench-and-picnic-table improving project of the summer! I was very happy, drawing dogs in knots in wood. I have an odd idea of fun, and this is it! Of course it’s not permanent, but surely the transitory nature of the drawings makes them more poignant! I’d like to travel the world spreading wood dog spirits!!

Maybe someday. In the meantime, let’s cook some good meals! I had some leftover millet from this dinner, and I decided to combine it with zucchini to make croquettes. I made them quite simple, so the flavor of the millet could shine through. I added some hazelnuts for flavor and crunch, and fresh basil (of course!). Millet makes lovely croquettes – crispy, lacy, and flavorful. We ate them almost like falafel, but with tortillas instead of pita. Pita would work well, too! We ate baby arugula and chopped tomatoes to wrap up as well. Some sort of sauce would have been nice, but I was tired after work, so I never got around to it. Almond aioli would have been perfect, and quick and easy! Next time. We ate them the next day as kofta balls in a red lentil curry, which I’ll tell you about soon.

Here’s one dog, and the rest are after the jump.

Wood dog spirit

And here’s Maga Dog, by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Love this!
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Crispy cornmeal crusted eggplant and chickpea ratatouille

I love gestures. I love that we can convey meaning without words. I like carefully planned and highly stylized gestures – the kind you see in old movies or certain ceremonies. I like gestures unwittingly made – graceful movements of the hand or head that say things we don’t even know we’re saying. I try to pay attention to gestures, but it’s difficult because there’s so much noise. It’s the words that you notice. And sometimes, of course, we misread people’s movements. The other day I took Malcolm down to the river to swim. A couple floated by, each in their own giant tube. They were floating next to each other, and I watched curiously as they touched each others hands, and then their own lips. Touched hands and then lips, touched hands and then lips. They seemed very happy, and it struck me as odd and beautiful. And then it dawned on me that they were sharing a smoke of some sort of other. Heh heh. We were at the shore the other day, and I spied a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are beautiful, clever-looking, sweet, flashy birds, with white-patched-wings and long tails. This particular mockingbird landed not far from us. He raised his wings, half open, in a precise and snappy fashion, and then he opened them further and held them in a sort of arc away from his body, then opened them fully and held them stretched, then closed them. Four jerky, careful steps. Then he turned and faced a new direction and did the same thing. He flew from place to place – fence post to ground to rooftop – performing the same series of gestures, turning in a different direction each time. It was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I followed him for a while, watching him show off his lovely white wing patches. When I tried to film him, he flew to a wire, pumped his tail a few times and left. I’m so enamored of this mockingbird and his beautiful gestures! I read a bit about mockingbirds. Did you know that they’re very social, and they’ll play with birds of a different species? They play with their young. And, apparently, this series of gestures is a display to attract a mate. I didn’t see any other mockingbirds around, though. Maybe he was practicing. Maybe, like me, he just likes the feeling of stretching out his wings. Maybe he’s sharing his beauty with the world. I’ve been feeling a little discouraged lately. I feel overwhelmed, sometimes, when I think about everyone trying so hard, working so hard to say something to people, or show people something they think is worth seeing. But everybody’s talking so loudly we can’t hear what anyone is saying. Or maybe we hear but we miss the gestures. When I think about all of the words in all of the books in all of the world, and all of the work and passion that went into recording them, I become completely exhausted. One could almost ask oneself, “why bother?” But now I think, when I feel that way, I’ll think about the mockingbird, and his perfect dance for no bird audience.

And, thus, I’ll keep on telling you about these crazy recipes. This one was gooooood. Everybody liked it, even little Isaac, our toughest food critic here at The Ordinary. It’s very simple and summery. It’s not ratatouille exactly, I know that. But it’s a sort of take-off on ratatouille, in that it involves eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs like thyme and rosemary. I’ve kept the eggplant separate, and coated it with a crispy cornmeal coating, and roasted it till it’s like a crispy chip. And I’ve added chickpeas and olives, which are really lovely together, really lovely with eggplant and olives. Isaac used the eggplant slices like little taco shells, picking out a few chickpeas and olives to stuff inside. David made little stacks of eggplant and ratatouille. I put the eggplant chips on top, like a sort of crispy topping. However you do it, you can’t go wrong!

Chickpea ratatouille

Here’s a blurry sort of video of a mockingbird doing his displaying dance.

And here’s Aretha Franklin singing Mockingbird. Happy song!

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Spicy smoky zucchini & tomato tart

Smoky zucchini and tomato tart

Here at The Ordinary, we have acquired our first real food processor. It didn’t come with instructions, but we are performing exhaustive experiments in our extensive underground kitchen-laboratories to determine its function and capabilities. We have puréed paper, grated legos, and julienned our entire DVD collection. We would like to inform you that from this point onward, every thing we cook will be diced and sliced to within an inch of its life. You have been warned!! I’m joking, of course, but I’m very excited to finally have a food processor. My friend Jenny gave me her old cuisinart. I brought it into the house and Malcolm said, “Oooooh, what’s that?” And then he and I gathered around our new toy, and tried to figure out how to use it. Did you know that every little piece has to be locked into place, in a certain order, or it won’t work? I didn’t! I kept loading it up, pressing the button, expecting a huge loud noise, and then….nothing! We finally got it all figured out, though. And before I knew it Malcolm had grated two large zucchinis. And then I had to try the knife-type blade, so we chopped up some basil, cilantro, tomatoes, almonds and hazelnuts. We made a chunky sort of sauce. Very smoky and flavorful, because I’d put every smoky thing I could find in … black cardamom, nigella seeds, smoked paprika. We ate it with saltine crackers, and it was very tasty! The next day, I decided to further test the abilities of my processor, and I pureed this chunky sauce till quite smooth, then added some eggs and milk, put it all in a biscuit-like crust with smoked paprika in it, added some fresh cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and made a tart! What with the nuts and all, it’s almost like a savory frangipane. We ate it with potatoes roasted with tomatoes and shallots, which were sort of saucy, and everything went well together. You could make this with a blender and a regular grater, if you don’t happen to have a food processor.

Smoky zucchini/tomato/nut sauce

Here’s Sly and the Family Stone with Thank You Fallettin Me Be Mice Elf Again to dance to while you puree, grate and julienne. Thanks for the food processor, Jenny!!
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Creamy zucchini, walnut, and white bean sauce (with sage)

Zucchini walnut sauce

One of my favorite lines from any movie is spoken by Ballou the bear in Jungle Book. “Fall apart in my back yard,” he says. It’s always seemed like such a tempting invitation. I’ve had a stressful week of cut fingers and a sick boy, making hard decisions about cut fingers and a sick boy (hard for me, anyway, indecision is my m.o.) trying to pretend I’m strong and that I’m not freaking out about everything when inside I’m a mess, and not sleeping much. Silly, I know, when taken individually, but it all added up to wear me out a little bit. So last night I spent a little time in my own backyard, in the the dark, cool evening, just enjoying the soft sounds of summer-night bug flights and the smell of the herb garden and yesterday’s fire. And then I saw a face in the witch hazel bush! Not as if somebody was standing there, but as if the witch hazel itself had a face. Two kind, softly glowing eyes in a dog-like face. I sat and stared at it a long while. I moved to another seat, and it was still there. I like to think about spirits all around me. When I clean the bathrooms (remember that I have two little boys!!) I always imagine a pee spirit living behind the toilets. A mischievous noisome yellow blob of a spirit, that I angry up when I bleach his home. I’ve always seen faces in tree trunks, and in stones, I see dog’s eyes and noses in knots in planks of wood. I swear it sometimes seems like everything has a message to tell me. And then, of course, there are the fireflies. (Fireflies and zucchini, again!?! Yup.) I love our witch hazel bush, with its wintertime flowers like fragrant fireworks. I felt oddly comforted by the idea of a witch hazel spirit. I sat for a long while, reluctant to go up to bed despite being exhausted, and thought about spirits. I finally went inside and locked everything up, and turned out all the lights, and through the window I could still see softly glowing eyes in the witch hazel.

If there was a spirit in our back yard, I imagine it would eat the sage in our vegetable garden, because sage seems like good spirit food. Well, I harvested some myself to make this pasta sauce. This is a good quick-meal-after-work sauce, and it’s a good way to use up some of my over-abundance of zucchini. The zucchini is blended with white beans, walnuts, and broth to make a thick and creamy, though cream-free sauce. I used the broth from the millet stew I’d made, and it was very flavorful with sage and bay leaves, but you could use any broth you have on hand, or even water. I also used caramelized onions, because I’d made a huge batch over the weekend (and cut my finger!) but if you don’t happen to have them lying around, a shallot or a regular onion would be fine. And that’s all I can say about that at the moment because Malcolm is desperate for the computer.

Here’s Aretha Franklin’s remarkable Spirit in the Dark, live in Philly.
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GInger beer-battered zucchini & artichoke fritters

GInger beer-battered fritters

We had a family joke when I was growing up that whenever my brother was ill, my mom would make enchiladas. Delicious, yes, but maybe not an ideal comfort food. It probably only happened once or twice, but it became the stuff of family legend. Yesterday Isaac wasn’t feeling well, and I made these. Sigh. I thought it would be fun for him, because he likes food you can eat with your fingers and dip in sauce (as who doesn’t!). In my defense, his fever didn’t start till after dinner, but when you’re feverish, battered vegetables probably aren’t your first choice of meal. Malcolm loved them, though, and the dipping sauce they went out in (which had tamari, balsamic, lime, red pepper flakes, and basil.) I thought it would be fun to make a beer batter, but with ginger beer, because I LOVE GINGER BEER! I flavored the filling with a touch of ginger and lots of fresh basil, and added goat cheese for taste and texture. So, crispy on the outside, soft and melty inside, tasty and fun to eat.

A while back I wrote an essay on food, music, childhood, comfort, memory and the soul. I sent it around to a few places, but, strange to say, there’s not a huge market for essays about Proust, Memphis Minnie, and RZA! Who knew! Well, guess what, today we’re going to have a guest speaker in the form of my own self. Most if it will be after the jump, because the authoress goes on and on and on.

And here’s a short playlist of the songs mentioned.

The Taste of Memory

We all know about Proust’s Madeleine. After a dreary day, the prospect of a depressing morrow left the narrator dispirited, until one bite of Madeleine, dipped in tea, filled him with an overwhelming joy. The taste of the food, and the memory of childhood happiness acted as a powerful tonic. He describes taste and smell as souls, persistent, faithful, bearing the weight of the vast structure of recollection in their tiny, fragile essence. Most adults have probably experienced this – when you’re feeling unwell or depressed, you crave some food you ate when sick as a child. It’s not the food that makes you feel better, it’s the memory of being cared for, of a time when you were not isolated by your maturity, not relied on to make decisions, not expected to take care of yourself and protect others.

To be continued…. (the recipe is after the jump as well, just like it always is!)
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Millet and summer stew with black beans and hominy

Summer stew and millet

First we see a beautiful black and white shot of majestic mountains. Into the frame come the head and shoulders of a samurai, his back to us. He stands and looks up at the mountains for a few moments. And then he hunches his shoulders and scratches his head. He’s got fleas! We follow the back of his shaggy head as he walks, and without even seeing his face, we learn so much about him, from his posture and his gait. It’s Toshiro Mifune, baby! Surely one of the most charismatic actors of all time! As he walks, he comes across a farmer berating his son. The son wants to go off and join a gang of gamblers because, as he says, it’s better than a long life eating gruel. The film, of course, is Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa. It’s an action-packed film, with plenty of sword fights and intrigue, but, as with many of Kurosawa’s films, the real struggle concerns extreme poverty and deprivation. In this film, as in Seven Samurai, the inhabitants of a small rural town literally have nothing to eat but rice or millet, and they’re in danger of losing that. The samurai that fight for their lives and often to their deaths, are fighting for grain, fighting so that the son of a farmer can have a long life eating gruel. As with all of my favorite films, it’s the humanity and humor mixed with the drama that resonates. We love the samurai as much because he’s rootless, confused, and has fleas as we do because he’s charming and a brilliant swordsman. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m a peaceful person of low ambition, and I think I could enjoy a long life eating gruel, if the gruel was as tasty as I could possibly make it!

It was partially because of Kurosawa that I went out and bought some millet. I’ve made it in the past, but not very well. I wanted to try again. I used a basic technique, described by Madhur Jaffrey, of toasting and then steaming the grains. But I cooked them in broth instead of water. It turned out delicious!! Everyone in the family liked it! Soft, but fluffy and flavorful. I’m a millet fan! I also made a sort of summery stew of lots of vegetables mixed with black beans and golden hominy. (You could easily substitute white hominy!) You could call it CSA stew, because I used up a lot of the veg we got this week. I seasoned it with smoked paprika, sage, and chipotle, and we ate it with toasted strips of tortilla. Everybody liked everything!!

One of the absolute best things about Yojimbo is the soundtrack. It reminds me of RZA’s soundtrack for Ghost Dog. (High praise indeed!!) Here’s Big Trouble, from the sound track.
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Zucchini, walnut and raisin pastries

Zucchini walnut pastries

A few months ago, my friend Tony described something I’d written in these virtual pages as an “essay.” That idea was so pleasing to me, and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about since. I like the idea of writing essays. In school I used to love essay tests. I felt like I didn’t really understand whatever I was writing about until I started writing about it, and then connections would come flying out at me. I found it quite exciting (I was a weird kid). On the one hand, essays feel so substantial and victorian. Move over, John Stewart Mill, and make room for my landmark essay, “On beets.” Today’s essayists are serious people who write important words for the New York Times. Which obviously isn’t me (although, NYT, if you’re looking for somebody to write about zucchini, fireflies and hip hop versions of War and Peace, I’m your woman!) On the other hand – the smiling side of the janus face, if you will – is the fact that “essay” comes from the word “to try.” How lovely is that! You’re not succeeding (or failing). You’re not even worried about that! You’re just giving it a go. It’s all about the journey, man – process not product, man. According to the highly reliable dictionary that pops up on my computer when I press a button (definitive source!) the “try” in “essay” doesn’t just mean “attempt.” It also means “test,” or “weigh.” As in “I tried the strength of the rope bridge that crossed over the fiery ravine before I commenced my journey upon it.” Interesting! If you’re following along at home, you’ll recall my infatuation with the word Selah, which also meant “to weigh.” I think of selah as being about feeling the weight of the words, and valuing that, and essay as being about testing the weight of the words by sending them out there and watching whether they sink or swim. (“What is she going on about?!” you’re asking yourself. It’s 97 degrees here! My brain is all melting and wobbly!) One thing I’ve been thinking about essays, as it directly relates to this collection of recipes, is that cooking is like writing essays. You have an idea, you try it. You weigh the possibilities, you weigh the ingredients. (I’m almost done, I promise! I’ve nearly followed this unravelling line of thought to its illogical conclusion.) You don’t know how it will turn out, and that’s why it’s fun to try. If you think that it might not come out well, you’ll won’t make the attempt. And there’s so much joy in trying!

I have a lot of zucchini from my CSA, and I’ve been thinking for a while about combining it with raisins, walnuts, goat cheese, cinnamon and basil, in some sort of dish. I thought I’d try (segue!) rolling it into a pastry, because a crispy layer would be so pleasant with the soft zucchini and goat cheese. I put a bit of lemon zest in the pastry dough, for piquancy. And I wanted to have a couple of sauces to dip the pastries in, so I decided to shape the pastry like little christmas crackers, so that when you broke it in half, you have two little tabs to hold onto, while you dip, and then you have a nice, buttery-lemony crispy bite to end with. I think it turned out well! I’m going to make other stuffings for this shape of pastry, because it’s so much fun to eat with your hands and dip things! For dipping sauces I used two leftover from a takeout Indian meal (lazy, I know, but they’re so good you can’t just throw them out!) That’s the sweetish tamarind one, and the cilantro mint one. And then I made some good old-fashioned basil/pine nut/garlic/parmesan pesto. I mellowed it out a bit by adding a teaspoon of honey, and by roasting the garlic.

zucchini walnut pastry

Here’s James Brown’s Try Me, one of my favorite songs ever!

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Beet & zucchini tacos with chipotle & queso blanco

Beet and zucchini tacos

Ever since the last time, I’ve been thinking of quotes to use this time. The last time, I chose the quotes at random, and was curious to see how they made connections with each other. This time, I’ve chosen quotes that have been stuck in my head one way or another over the years. And one from the book I’m currently reading. And one from Isaac, which he said while I was typing this up. Do you have quotes that get stuck in your head, and surface at the strangest times?

Mom, make your hand a fist and pretend it’s the world.”- Isaac.

He ain’t God, man.” – Chili Davis, on Dwight Gooden

Hwaet thu ece God !” – King Alfred

Now, on a Sunday morning, most of the windows
were occupied, men in their shirtsleeves leant out smoking, or carefully
and gently held small children on the sills.
” – Franz Kafka, The Trial

One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her
?” – Shakespeare, Hamlet

It took me like three hours to finish the shading on your upper lip. It’s probably the best drawing I’ve ever done.” – Napoleon Dynamite

The more stupid one is, the closer one is to reality. The more stupid one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Educated no, stupid yes,
And when I say stupid I mean stupid fresh
” – The Beastie Boys

And here are some tacos to use up some of the beets and zucchini you got from your CSA/garden!” – Claire
I was excited all day about making (and eating!) this. I bought some queso blanco at the grocery store. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for ages, but it’s a bit of a splurge. It wasn’t universally popular in my family. I like it – it’s mild, and salty. If you have feta, that would work well, too (it goes nicely with the earthy sweetness of the beets.) And, actually, grated jack or sharp cheddar would be tasty in this as well! I thought this turned out really pretty – the beets go so nicely with the dark kidney beans, and they color everything around them, but there are flashes of green here and there to set them off. The flavors were nice – smoky, spicy, sweet. The recipe calls for cooked rice. I definitely recommend basmati or something else with distinct grains – anything else would make the mixture too sticky. Wild rice or black rice might be even better! I just made a big pot of basmati, mixed some in, and left some separate for the boys, who like a higher rice to bean ratio. I think tacos are the most fun to eat! And the quickest and easiest to cook! I have some leftover beet/zuke/bean mixture, and I think it would make a nice bisque, if puréed with some good broth. Will I try it? I don’t know! It’s very hot, still!

Here’s Trenchtown Rock, from Bob Marley. There was a train bridge in New Brunswick, back in the day. A beautiful old train bridge. And somebody had painted in large white letters, “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” I mother flippin love that bridge, that quote, that song…

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