To sweep the front room meant, principally to sweep the heavy red and green and purple Oriental-style carpet that had once been the room’s glory, but was now so faded that it was all one swimming pool of color, and so frayed in places that it tangled with the broom. John hated sweeping this carpet, for dust rose, clogging his nose and sticking to his sweaty skin, and he felt that should he sweep it forever, the clouds of dust would not diminish, the rug would not be clean. It became in his imagination his impossible, lifelong task, his hard trial, like that of a man he had read about somewhere whose curse it was to push a boulder up a steep hill, only to have the giant who guarded the hill roll hte boulder down again–and so on, forever, throughout eternity; he was still out there, that hapless man, somewhere at the other end of the earth, pushing his boulder up the hill. He had John’s entire sympathy, for the longest and hardest part of his Saturday mornings was his voyage with the broom across this endless rug; and, coming to the French doors that ended the living room and stopped the rug, he felt like an indescribably weary traveler who sees his home at last. Yet, for each dustpan he so laboriously filled at the doorsill demons added to the rug twenty more; he saw in the expanse behind him the dust that he had raised settling again into the carpet; and he gritted his teeth, already on edge because of the dust that filled his mouth, and nearly wept to think that so much labor brought so little reward.
Well, as I scrubbed the bathroom I thought about how I’ve written about dust demons, and I’ve written about cleaning and Sisyphus! And I thought how foolish it is to feel good about having written about the same things in the same way as James Baldwin, how foolish it is to compare myself to James Baldwin at all, except that he makes everything feel so human and at once so specific and so universal that everybody reading him must find revelatory similarities and sympathies. I started reading Baldwin, at this time, because I’m writing a novel (insert laugh-track hilarity here.) And I always believe that if you read well, you’ll write well. I was hoping that some of Baldwin’s fierceness and honesty and fearlessness and poetry would rub off on me. And I happen to be writing about a person who cleans (yes it is going to be as interesting as that sounds!) It’s funny how sometimes something well-done can be inspiring, but if it’s so well-done it might make you think, “Why bother? Give it up, kid!” But I suppose, as in all things, there’s a balance. And for now I’m just grateful that Baldwin made it to the end of the rug and left the room, and found time to write this haunting and beautiful novel, to give this hapless woman something to think about on a dreary January day.I love food you can eat with your fingers and dip in different sauces. I always pretend I make a meal like this for the boys, but it’s really for me. David asked me to make romesco sauce, which I was glad to do. Since romesco sauce is Spanish, I decided to invent tapas to dip in it. I made these croquettes with semolina, artichoke hearts and mozzarella. They’re like little semolina dumplings…soft and dense inside, and crispy and puffy outside. As ever, I used canned artichoke hearts that are packed in brine, but you could use fresh or frozen if you like. I also made oven-roasted fries to dip in the sauce, and I sauteed some kale and spinach with golden raisins, pecans and garlic, which might have been my favorite part of the meal!
Here’s Git up, Git Out by Outkast. Cee Lo Green always helps to shake a person out of discouraged despondence.
1 cup milk
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1/2 t salt
1 cup artichoke hearts, well-drained
about 4 oz mozarella cheese, cut in big chunks
plenty of freshly ground pepper
olive oil to cook
Warm the milk in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add the herbs and salt. When the milk starts to bubble, pour the semolina flour in in a thin stream, beating the whole time. When it’s all mixed (it will be quite thick) transfer to a big bowl and let cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, put the artichoke hearts and mozzarella in a food processor and buzz once or twice, just to chop them up. They should be finely diced, but not pureed. Alternatively, finely dice them by hand.
Beat the eggs into the semolina mixture one at a time. Then stir in the artichokes and mozzarella. Chill while you preheat the oven to 425. Generously coat a big baking sheet with olive oil. Form the batter into “finger” shapes, about 3 inches long and half an inch thick. Place them on the sheet, and roll them over so each side gets coated.
Bake until they’re puffed and golden brown, turning from time to time so that they brown on all sides. I put mine under a broiler at the end, so they’d get nice and brown and crispy, but keep an eye on them if you do this so you don’t burn them.
Serve them with romesco sauce to dip them in.