So, kale and artichoke hearts and tarragon pesto layered with sharp cheddar and thinly slice potatoes. A meal in a dish. I suppose it’s a little like lasagna with potatoes instead of pasta. It was very comforting and warm, but tarragon, artichoke hearts and sharp cheddar added some brightness. If you don’t have tarragon pesto, you can use regular old basil pesto, or you can just add some herbs as you like them to the ricotta.
Here’s Hey Hey by Big BIll Broonzy, my new favorite.
EXACT FARE PLEASE
I left first thing, before he even opened his eyes. I knew it was the right time to go cause I could feel it was right. Plus as I lay there watching the light turn grey around the blinds, grey like dirty water, I heard the church bells chime. First it played Bringing in the Sheaves, which is surely the creepiest song I ever heard. “Going forth with weeping, sowing for the master.” What the hell is that? That’s creepy as hell, that’s what. It made me feel scareder even than I felt all night. Scared down to my belly. And then the bells rang out the time. When bells ring out the time, the time passes strangely. The space between them seems impossible, like it’s hanging, just hanging, waiting for something. For the moment to be ripe, I suppose. So I waited for the bells, and I counted, and I said to myself, if he rolls over or snores or opens his damn dark eyes, if he makes any movement at all before the last bell chimes, then I will lie here and wait. I will wait and see what happens. But if he is as still and quiet as a dumb stone, then I will leave his sorry skinny ass forever. And lying there beside him, not knowing when the bell would stop tolling, with its strange, slow impossible pace—well, I knew what I was waiting and wishing for. So I had to leave. And of course he lay like an idiot rock, barely breathing.
So the bells rang five times. I waited for another but it never came. I moved his arm off me. And for a minute, yeah, I missed him before I left him. His damn wiry arm, soft and hard at the same time, with that smell of his that’s sort of fierce but sweet. I missed him already as I shifted his stupid arm and moved out from under it. I didn’t have much but I put it all in a bag. I took five dollars from his wallet. I thought he owed me that. Not that I’m a hooker or anything, but I couldn’t leave him without it cause I had nothing of my own. And I thought, at least he owes me the price of escape.
My shoes were facing the door, when I found them. They were pointed to the door, so I knew I was doing the right thing. At the first landing of the stair was a window. It was open part way, and it only let in a pale dusty breeze, but it smelled like grease and coffee and yesterday’s rain. It smelled new and good, like waking up.
When I hit the street I waited for a sign to tell me which way to go. There’s always something if you look hard enough and notice everything. The people on the street at this hour were in a daze, and you didn’t trust them if they weren’t. They looked weird as hell, they looked dodgy, if they knew where they were going at this hour. Some had been up all night. Some were stumbling to an early job of work. Some were just stumbling, all the time.
But the pigeons were all right. They looked like they knew a thing or two, but they’d never just come out and tell you. You had to watch them, hard. So I did. I stood for a while and watched the pigeons—purply grey and gold, strutting and cooing. The smell of pancakes from somewhere was killing me, but I focused on the pigeons, on their dark surprised eyes rimmed in white. Oh yeah, sure enough. They showed me the way. Two of them, three times in a row, pointed to the south, down the street running to the south. So that’s the way I went. I went down.
Of course the pigeons were right, like I knew they would be. The street was dark and light in patches—like dawn and dusk at the same time, but mostly cause of the scaffolding on and off along its length. Finally I came out on the corner in bright real sunlight, real morning sunlight, and that’s how I knew I’d come the right way. When the sunspots cleared from my eyes I saw the bus stop. Yeah.
There were some pigeons here, too, to tell me I’d come to the right spot and they all flew up in a flurry, in a celebration, when the big yellow bus lit up that early morning street.
I pulled myself onto the bus, the crumpled five dollars burning in my hand. The driver shook his old head and said, “Sorry, miss, exact fare, please. It says so right there on the bus.”
And I said, “I read that sign, but I didn’t think it was talking to me.”
And he said, “Sorry, miss, it means everybody. The signs are for everybody.”
I said, “Can’t I go somewhere that costs exactly five dollars?”
And he laughed and said, “No where on this route costs five dollars. You go and find some change, miss, and you catch the next one.”
So I climbed down. It felt as though from a great height. The bus felt like flying away and my feet were heavy, walking down those steps. I didn’t wait for the pigeons this time cause they were damn wrong last time, damn birds. Wasting my time. I just walked. I walked till I came to a small shop that sold newspapers and candy. It was cool and dark inside and it smelled like mint and bubblegum, ink and cigarettes.
The man sat in a chair in the corner. He must have been about one hundred years old. He had a short-sleeved shirt on, that buttoned down, with a collar and all. He had big hands, which he fluttered around his face, and glasses about an inch thick. He peeped up at me, he looked like some old mole, looking up out of a hole made of magazines and soda pop.
He looked hard at my face, and his eyes were all watery and sad behind his thick yellow lenses. “Oh dear, girl.” He said in a weird low voice, strangely deep for such an old guy. “Oh dear. What do you need, child?”
Well, I didn’t want to talk about it. I could feel that I might fall apart all over the place if he talked to me in that way again. I bought a bottle of ginger ale and a roll of peppermints and I beat it out onto the street. He yelled after me, “Have a nice day!” And it made me want to cry, because I thought he meant it, and I didn’t see how I could have a nice day, starting from where it did.
Everything was heating up all around me, you could smell the rain steaming out of the damp streets. I was suddenly thirsty as hell, so I drank the ginger ale so fast it burned my throat and filled me with bubbles. I coulda floated away. If only. I ate a peppermint after that, and that was a bad idea, cause it reminded me of my boyfriend. I go through stages with these things. Sometimes it’s peppermints, sometimes it’s lemon drops, sometimes it’s butterscotch. I was firmly in a peppermint stage when I met my boyfriend. I was nervous as hell so I offered him a peppermint and he said that was very cheeky, and while my brain was scrambling to figure out how, how was that cheeky? he kissed me just like that, tasting like peppermint and feeling more right than anything had ever felt in my life. More ripe. I thought about his thin hard body, so strange and new and I knew I could have touched it anywhere but I was scared. He wasn’t scared, and then I thought about his hands and then I grew very cold and turned and walked the other direction. I looked at my hands and saw the crumpled dollars there. Four damn dollars. Well, shit, I hadn’t even gotten the change for my exact fare, I hadn’t even done that.
All of a sudden I had to pee like hell. Damn ginger ale. Things go right through me like that. Everything does. And then I smelled those pancakes again, and I figured that was the sign that I’d missed. I was supposed to stop for pancakes to get change. So I’d go back and see if I could get back on the right path, if I could get myself going in the right direction again.
It was a coffee shop. Of course I didn’t have money for pancakes now, cause of the dumb peppermints, so I got a donut. I sat at the counter and got a donut and a waxy glass of water that tasted like soap. I sat down next to a girl, a young girl, younger than me, even. She was a mess, and she was frowning into a bowl of cereal.
“What did those cheerios ever do to you?” I asked her. “You look as though you could murder them.”
She turned to me with a scowl, but when she saw my face she laughed, with a hard raucous laugh. “Speaking of murder, girl!” She yelled. “Somebody did for you, girl! They got you good! They got you bad. Aw, right in the pretty eye. That is not fair. That is just exactly not fair. Poor kid.”
I said “Yeah yeah yeah,” and turned away from her, but she just kept staring and laughing like a little kid. I didn’t want my donut much anymore, and I remembered about having to pee. I followed the signs to the ladies room. The room was yellow, like my bus, but it had a weird underwater light. It smelled like bleach and pink soap and pee. I chose the booth on the right, cause I like the number three, but there was no toilet paper, so I had to go in the middle one.
Then I looked in the mirror cause I couldn’t not any longer. The mirror was bright and beveled and a little fancy and the slanting light hurt my eye. My eye was purple and grey and gold like a pigeon, and maybe that’s why they steered me wrong, damn birds. I touched it and it hurt. Why is that? When you see a bruise you have to touch it, even though you know it’s going to hurt, of course it is. Why is that? Or maybe it’s just me.
I went back to the counter and the girl had eaten my donut, but I didn’t care. She had crumbs on her face, and she looked very serious now. She looked at me with dark eyes, dark messy eyes. She said, “Well, what are you going to do?” I didn’t know. I was hoping she would tell me. I was waiting for her to tell me. She sighed and shrugged her skinny shoulders. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know. I paid for my donut, and the waitress gave me my change. My exact fare. I looked at the coins in my hand. Somebody put a song on the jukebox and I thought, this will tell me, whatever this song says, that’s what I’ll do. But it didn’t really have any words, just a guy saying “hey,” and I didn’t know what that meant.
I went out into the bright hot street with my exact fare hard in my hand, cutting into my hand. I walked back to the bus and I stood and waited. The bus came, bright and yellow barreling down my street. In the window on the door I saw a bright red car, my boyfriend’s bright red car. The door to the bus opened with a whine, and I saw my face for a moment in the reflection. My boyfriend yelled, “Hey,” and opened his door, too. The birds all flew away like fireworks and the church bell chimed.
2 packed cups kale, washed, stems removed, chopped
4 or 5 medium-sized potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/8th inch slices
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup pesto (I used tarragon-walnut pesto)
1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts (I use canned in brine)
handful of olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup grated or thinly sliced sharp cheddar
Bring two medium-sized pots of salted water to boil on high heat. Drop the potato slices in one and the kale in the other. Boil each till tender but still with a bit of texture. The kale will take 5 to 10 minutes, and the potatoes slightly longer. Drain each very well. Wring as much water as possible out of the kale, and chop it coarsely.
Preheat the oven to 400. Lightly oil a deep baking dish.
In a medium-size bowl, beat together the ricotta and eggs. Stir in the pesto and artichoke hearts.
Layer the potatoes, cheese and ricotta mixture in the dish. Start with a layer of potatoes, then a layer of cheese, a scattering of olives, a layer of ricotta mixture, then potatoes, olives, ricotta mixture, cheese and finally a layer of potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake for about half an hour, till the cheese is golden and bubbly, and the potatoes are brown and crispy. Let cool slightly and serve.
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