Yesterday as we were walking home from school, Malcolm told me that he sometimes feels as though he has lots of different people inside of him. He’s not bound to this world or this time or the narrow point of view of one individual person, and he can close his eyes and be somewhere else, in a different world. I thought this was such a beautiful idea, and he spoke about it so beautifully, that of course I wanted to hear more, I wanted to ask him who he became and where he went, and I wanted to tell him he should write about it. Instead, instead
, I said, “Oh, and is that when you get distracted and stop paying attention?” Because we’d just come from a conference with his teachers, all
of his teachers. The poor boy was sitting at a tiny table with his long legs wrapped around a tiny chair, and he was surrounded by six adults, and we were all talking about him. It’s a familiar story, Malcolm is bright and creative and imaginative (or so say all of his teachers) but he has trouble focussing, and showing his work, and listening and following directions. I know that all of his teachers only want the best for him, and its their job to prepare him to take these epic standardized tests, but I had such a raw feeling of heartache, sitting next to Malcolm, looking out the window at the moody changing weather, listening to him trying to explain himself in his slightly husky voice, which has never really sounded like a small child’s voice. They asked him if he knew what an essay is, and I wanted to tell them all about my understanding of the word “essay,”
which means to try something, and not to be crippled by fear of failure. But he said “it’s something really long,” and that’s the answer they were looking for. And as Colbert told us yesterday
, the essays on standardized tests are soon to be graded by computers, “You see, tech companies have developed an automated reader which can grade 16,000 essays in 20 seconds…these essays are being compu-graded by evaluating critical elements like: How long the average word is; how many words are in the average sentence; and how long is the essay. Because as Shakespeare wrote, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit but splendiferous loquaciousness is paramount to acing your Lit final.’” You like to think about what sort of score Hemingway would get for his Nick Adams stories! And then you want to cry thinking about how little creativity and imagination matter in a world where ideas are graded in this way, and in which children are taught to write essays that will be graded this way. The teachers were talking about the importance of following directions, and they said, “If you were cooking something you’d need to follow the directions exactly, or what would happen?” Hoo, boy. I felt like yelling out, “You’d come up with something potentially a million times better! And it would have flavors you like, that combine in unexpected and wonderful ways, and it would use ingredients that you have, that grew in your garden, maybe, and it would be different from anything anyone had made!” Part of the reason I love cooking with Malcolm is that he’s not tethered to preconceived notions of how to cook or which flavors taste good together. His recipes are always completely fresh and unusual and delicious, and they always makes sense in some perfect, strange way. But I didn’t say anything, because I understand that you have to be able to follow directions before you can change them. You have to understand what’s expected of you before you can make something unexpected. You have to know all the rules, and be able to follow them, before you can allow yourself to break them. And I know Malcolm can do it, because my Malcolm, as I know him, is one of the cleverest, most observant and most capable people I know. He notices everything, and he understands how things work, and what he needs to do to make them work. He might be able to travel to different worlds in his head, he might have mighty castles in the air, but they have strong foundations rooting them to the earth. He might be able to see the world from a lot of different points of view, but he’s very strong in himself, he knows who he is and what he’s good at, with a sort of common-sense coolness that I aspire to, myself. When the teachers asked Malcolm what would happen if you didn’t follow a recipe exactly, he said with a smile, “It depends on the recipe.” I love this boy! He’s got a lot of work to do reining in his energy and imagination, but I know he can do it, and when he gets home we’ll cook up the craziest most unusual meal ever, and eat it with great delight.
I’ve always loved romesco sauce, the smoky, tangy mix of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, hazelnuts and almonds. I decided to try to make it into a sort of soufflé or paté. So I added some milk and eggs and cheese, and baked it in the oven. It puffed up like a souffle, but deflated pretty quickly. It was nice as a sort of side dish, but I think it would be good spread on crackers or toast as well.
Here’s They Might Be Giants, Malcolm’s current favorite band, with We Want a Rock.
2 red peppers, cut in half and de-seeded
1 medium-sized tomato or a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, punctured
1 small hot pepper, cut in half and de-seeded
1 plump clove garlic, still in its skin but punctured
1/3 cup hazelnuts
1/3 cup almonds
2/3 cup milk
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1 t balsamic vinegar
1 t smoked paprika
1 t fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
Arrange the peppers, tomatoes and garlic on a small baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Place under the broiler until smoky and dark in patches. Let cool. Peel the garlic. Peel the peppers as much as possible, but don’t worry if some skin remains.
Preheat the oven to 425 and lightly oil a small pan or baking dish.
In a food processor, process the nuts until coarse and crumbly. Add the vegetables and process again until fairly smooth. Add the milk and eggs and process until as smooth as possible. Add the cheese, balsamic, herbs, spices and seasoning and process again.
Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake until puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. It will deflate instantly, so if you’re trying to impress anyone, have them around when you take it out of the oven.