Yeasted cornmeal crepe

IMG_0572.jpg“I’m not worried!”

“You’re mom, Mom.” said Isaac.

“It’s like you have a dog with you at all times you have to worry about.” Said Malcolm.

“An imaginary worry dog!” I cried, loving the idea. (Our very real dog and actual perpetual source of worry had been left home for this trip.)

Isaac said, “Mom always has to worry because she’s always with Clio or us, for her to not worry she’d have to go on a walk all by herself.”

Last time I wrote it was blizzarding, and now it’s snowing pale petals and golden sycamore seeds. After a slow start, we’ve had a rare spate of perfect spring days, and the boys and I are going on an adventure. Usually David is their man for adventures and I drive the getaway car. But David is too tall for this adventure, and though it’s my lack-of-height that gets me invited, I’m still honored that they want me along. They discovered a special secret place and they want to show it to me. Am I going through a list of possible dangers in my head? Of course I am. Malcolm assures me, “Really, mom, the hazards are few.”

It’s a pair of tunnels that run off the canal under the path on the other-side-of-the-canal to a strange sort of pond in the-secret-passage. It’s a new place they’ve discovered under a familiar place. An unknown hollow under ground we’ve walked hundreds of times. The entrance is a strangely pretty concrete ditch, and the tunnels themselves are dull concrete and lined with a trough of dark boggy mud. But there are small seedlings growing in the muck, spindly and skinny and stretched towards the light. And the light on the other side of the tunnel is spring distilled–glowing and green. To me the tunnels could lead to a magical world, and to the boys they’re  a good place to hide in a post-apocalyptic world-at-war scenario. Which tells you all you need to know about how children’s literature has changed in the last few decades.

They show me how to walk with your feet on either side of the tunnel walls, so that you don’t fall in the bog; they point out impressive spider webs above our heads; they adorn the walls with their own graffiti tag in white crayon. They cut away the thorn bushes from the far entrances of the tunnels so we can stand on the edge of the pond, and they’re sad that it’s filmed with gasoline. People think they’re so powerful, Malcolm says, but they make garbage and coca cola and guns. Malcolm wants to stay for hours and eat sandwiches perched over black mud and garlanded with spider webs. But I’m ready to go home.

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While we’re walking home I worry about worrying too much and worry about the boys knowing that I worry too much. Popular knowledge dictates that we should emulate the good old days, when parents stayed indoors smoking and day-drinking while their children ran wild on train tracks and super-highways and incurred character-building injuries. But surely, as in all things, there has to be a balance. I don’t lock my boys indoors; they’re not terrified of the world. They’re curious and adventurous and scared of most scary things and scared of a few not-very-threatening things, like everyone else on the planet. They roam our town. That very day they went back to sit in the tunnel and watch birds and spy on people walking on the path above. They sat until the thrill wore off and a savage goose chased them away, then they went for a ramble in the secret passage. They were gone a while. The fact that they knew I worried made me worry less. They came home safe and told us stories.

And isn’t that how it should be? We walk the path together or we walk the path alone, we explore the secret places all around the path. We’re never free of worry because we’re never free of love. We know there’s someone glad to see us when we get home, waiting to hear our stories.

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These were a sort of cross between a flatbread and a crepe. Easy and fun to make, and very tasty. Everybody liked them. We ate them like pita bread, with croquettes, lettuce, tomatoes and sauce inside. And the next day Malcolm wrapped them around scrambled eggs.

 

Here’s Tunnels by Johnny Flynn

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French lentil and wild rice soup

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The other day Isaac wrote some sentences. It was for school. Usually he hates writing sentences, he hems and haws and procrastinates and eventually scrawls out a few lines with little thought for legibility or the rules of spelling. But on this occasion he took his time, he enjoyed himself. He told us what he was writing about, he looked pleased, he looked happy. He read us his favorite sentence a few times, “The children were babbling like mad to hear their voices echoing off the canyon walls.” I love this! I love to see him happy with his words, happy with something he’s created. And I love the sentence itself. Sometimes it seems like we’re all children babbling like mad to hear our voices echoing off the canyon walls. We’re all talking and talking, and posting things all over the place, everything we feel and think and notice, everything that annoys us or makes us feel thankful or blessed. We’re sharing our observations and our pictures of ourselves and everyone we love, in all our moods and various flattering lightings. And we’re waiting to hear the echoes back of people liking everything we’ve posted, noticing everything we say. It’s easy to be cynical about this, but if I think about it long enough, I think this is all good, I love all of this. I love people sharing their moments and marking them as blessed or thankful moments. It’s good to notice, it’s good to feel grateful. It can’t be a new thing–people must have always felt this way, wanting to get their thoughts and feelings out, though it wasn’t so easy to share everything so quickly. And maybe it was all better when you had to take your time and think more carefully about everything you said. Maybe words are more precious when they’re not more easily shared, when you have to work and work at it till you get that wonderful buzz from getting it just right. But then I think about how easily and strangely words come to my boys when they’re not thinking about it at all. They’re not even worried about sharing it, they’re not even concerned about the reaction they get. They’re just saying what they think in all of their unselfconscious oddly perfect glory. Malcolm’s favorite adjective is “dancing,” and he uses it in the most unlikely most wonderful places. It throws you off guard with how much sense it makes. And our Isaac always has the right weird words at the right weird time. He was feeling down the other night after it got dark and we sent him to bed, and he said everything felt “damp and broken.” If you’ve ever felt down, which means if you’re human, you know that he got it exactly right. And Isaac likes to share his philosophies. Here’s one: Nobody can do everything, but everyone can try. And here’s another: It’s not done until you do it. And last night he actually spent a lot of time and effort perfecting this ridiculously beautiful tongue twister: I think I thought a thousand thoughts that no-one else could think. And isn’t that the crux of it all! When you’re having trouble getting the words out, or making something that you need to make, or doing something the you need to do…think about the billions of thoughts you’ve thought that no-one else could think. And then think about how important that makes them. And then, children, babble them like mad, until they echo off the canyon walls.

David said this soup was “perfect” and that made me happy! It’s a meaty vegetarian soup. (Vegan if you leave the butter out.) I put a lot of things in it that you certainly don’t need to add if you don’t have them. Honestly, the rice and lentils will give it favor enough. Miso and tamari give it a deeper, more savory flavor, but if you happen not to have them, no worries! If you have marmite, you could add a teaspoon of the instead or as well. I used the herbs that are still in my garden, and I think there’s a perfect balance if you use rosemary, sage, and lemon thyme. If you don’t have those, though, use what you do have! It’s a very adaptable soup. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Twilight Echoes by Roy Smeck.
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Roasted beet “relish” with olives and feta

roasted beets, feta, olives, pine nuts

roasted beets, feta, olives, pine nuts

Desk Set is one of my favorite movies of all time. All Time! That’s a very decisive statement for someone as indecisive as myself! It’s so well-written. It’s witty all of the time, and downright funny in flashes. It’s incredibly generous to the characters–the writers love all of them, even the extra-quirky ones. And the characters love each other. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, obviously, glow in each other’s presence. That’s a given. But one of my favorite aspects of the film is the friendship between Katherine Hepburn’s Bunny, and her friend Peg Costello, played by Joan Blondell. They have a history, they look after each other, they make each other laugh. One of the best passages in the history of film is the office christmas party. Peg and Bunny drink champagne and scotch and  martinis and lord knows what else (“they’re all the same base–alcohol!”) They become giddy, and you feel giddy watching them. At one point, they’re reminiscing about New Year’s Eves through the years, about being lonely, and Peg tells a story about a missed opportunity with a well-dressed man. Katherine Hepburn raises her paper cup of champagne in the air and says “More power to you!”

This is a line and a delivery that has been stuck in my head a lot lately. And I want to keep it there. I happen to have a snarky voice in my head from time-to-time. When I was a teenager they called me Miss Snide–in the minefield of high school, sarcasm is sometimes the best defense. And this voice lingers in my head, right into middle age. It’s a sarcastic, and often, sadly, a judgmental voice. Society is to blame! We live in a world full of petty criticisms, mean anonymous comments, articles that rate people and compare people and criticize their every move. I try to hold the voice in check. I don’t want to waste my time in being critical of trivial things. I believe that people should be able to wear what they want to wear, say what they want to say, and act how they want to act, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. I want to be generous and affectionate all the time. But I’m not, I’m just not. So, lately, when I feel myself being snidely critical of some small thing a person does or says or wears, I imagine Katherine Hepburn, paper cup of champagne in the air, declaring, “More power to you!” If every single cruel and acidic comment on the old internet could be replaced with “More power to you!” Well, that wouldn’t be so bad. More power to you! More power to each and every one of you!

Roasted beets, olives, feta and pine nuts

Roasted beets, olives, feta and pine nuts

I made this earlier in the summer, but since beets are making a come back at the farm, I’m posting the recipe now. More power to me! It’s an easy recipe, with lots of strong flavors, but most of the children I fed it to liked it. It’s almost like a relish, because the beets are chopped so finely, so you can have it on the side of anything, or on some good bread, or however you like to eat it.

Here’s Go Where You Wanna Go by the Mamas and Papas

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Pumpkinseed oil! (in a sauce with pumpkinseeds, almonds and lime)

IMG_5763The other day I went on and on about superheroes, and I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. But it’s not my fault, I’ve been conditioned by society: Society is to blame. One day in the winter, Malcolm and I went for a walk on yet another snowy day, which is almost hard to imagine, on a day as warm and jewel-bright as this one. Malcolm started telling stories, as he does, and he came up with one of my favorite superheroes ever. This superhero, this guy, can only exercise his super power after he’s walked a mile! How perfect is that?! Inconvenient, maybe, but perfect. Malcolm came up with this idea because all of his best stories come to him when he’s out walking, which is a thing I’ve noticed too, for myself. If I go for a walk or a bike ride and don’t actively try to think about something I’m working on, sometimes that’s when the best ideas surface. But it also seems like a good idea to step away from the conflict, to take a walk and think about it, so you can respond rationally to the situation and not just wield your super power in the heat of the moment. How many super heroes have responded with excessive violence in violation of their self-imposed code, only to regret it later during long hours of heartfelt introspection? If you’re going to take justice into your own hands, you should probably be cool and collected about it. Maybe while you’re out walking you’ll come up with another way to resolve the situation, without using your super strength or weaponized tech or kung fu skills, or whatever your super power happens to entail. Perhaps you’ll think of a different way to end the story. Presumably you also get to freeze the moment when you’re out walking, which is a nice idea, too. You can take a moment of passion and urgency and hold it for a time–it’s almost like taking a photograph of the emotions. I also like this idea because the way Malcolm framed it, it almost sounded like his super power is telling stories. That’s a super power I would like to have! Especially if I needed to walk a mile before using it. While I’m on this meandering tale of superheroes, I’ll tell you about another super power I’d like to have. I thought of it this morning, when I sat on the couch and absentmindedly patted the cushion beside me. Clio heard it, wherever she was, and raced into the room and squashed herself next to me. It’s a super pat! Yes, that universal gesture that calls dogs and people to your side! You can wield it from miles away, to draw people to come and sit next to you, wherever you may be. The applications of this practical ability are endless!

My friend Neil, who lives in Germany, sent me a bottle of pumpkinseed oil. I’d never tried it before, but now I’m completely addicted! It’s so delicious, mild and nutty, with a kind of warmth. I’ve eaten some every day. Mostly on a salad of arugula and avocado, with a little balsamic and salt and pepper. But it’s good drizzled on warm greens, too. And I combined it with actual pumpkin seeds as well as some almonds and a little chipotle puree to make this pretty sauce. We ate it with tacos one night and empanadas the next. You could use it as a dip, too, or a salad dressing. You can’t really tell in the picture, but it was bright green. One of the most magical things about pumpkinseed oil is that in a thin layer it’s bright bright green, but when it’s thicker it’s a beautiful rusty red. Lovely!

Here’s Make the Road by Walking by the Menahan String Band

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Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée (and croquettes)

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

Back in the summertime, I could, and probably did, start every post with, “Malcolm and I went for a walk after dinner.” We haven’t gone for too many walks lately. He’s in school, now, middle school. He’s a busy boy. And the dark comes early and it’s too chilly to swim in the river. But the other night we went to buy milk in the evening, and we talked about this and that, as we do. I asked Malcolm if I would be the first American to win the Booker prize, which is a perfectly normal thing for a mom to ask her twelve-year-old son. We’ve all been there. He said, “No, no way.” And we walked a few more steps and he said, “Wait, what’s the Booker prize?” And I said it’s a prize for the best novel. And he said, “Oh yeah, you’ll definitely win that.” And I said, “What did you think the Booker prize was for?” And he said, “You know, for someone who books.” And he made the universal gesture for somebody running really fast. I didn’t take offense. I can scamper with the best of them, but I’m no speed demon. I know that, I’m comfortable with that. But Malcolm believes I’ll definitely win the Booker prize! I’ve always wanted to win the Booker prize, never more than when it was a complete impossibility. Until very recent history, it couldn’t be won by an American, and I, improbably and irrevocably, am an American. It also couldn’t be won by somebody who hadn’t written a novel, which is something I hadn’t done until very recently. As I say, I liked the impossibility of me ever winning a Booker prize, and it didn’t make me want to win it any less. It suited my sense of ambition, which is completely absurd and has no practical real-word application. I keep thinking of a conversation I had with my friend Maureen, when we were in Highschool. She said it might seem unlikely but she had no doubt in her mind that she would be a successful musician some day. And I said I felt the same way about being a writer. We had an unerring adolescent sense of inevitability, the glowing nugget of which has turned into a smoldering middle-aged sense of you-never-know. Because now I’ve written a novel. Will it win the Booker prize? Of course not! Will it ever be published? I’m starting to doubt it! Does my son Malcolm believe that of course I’ll be the first American to win the Booker prize? He does! What could be better than that?

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

I made this with some kale from the farm. I love kale, but I’ve been balking at the texture of it lately, for some reason. I always want it to be softer. So I made this puree, with castelvetrano olives and pistachios. It’s green. I thought it was really nice as a sort of side dish, but it would also be good tossed with pasta as a pesto or maybe with some rice and flatbread. The next day I added some eggs, cheese and bread crumbs and made croquettes. Also very easy and very tasty.

Here’s Booker T and the MGs with Time is Tight
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Charred eggplant, pistachio and pine nut dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Yesterday after dinner Malcolm and I went for a walk on the other side of the canal. The last time we’d gone that way, we’d lost Clio. It had only been for a few minutes, but long enough that I got that sinking feeling in my heart, long enough that Malcolm took off in a teary panic, feeling guilty because he’d dropped her leash. Last night I told Malcolm about my dream that Clio ran away, and in my dream I knew my favorite sound in the world was the jingle of Clio’s collar approaching through the fearful silence of having lost her. Malcolm started to think about his favorite sound. First he said it’s the sound of an airplane when it sounds like thunder a few days before your cousins visit. Then he said it’s the sound of a motor boat when your head is under water because it makes you feel…no, that’s not the right word. “What? What word?” I want to know the word for how a motor boat heard under water makes you feel, but he won’t tell me because that’s not his favorite sound anyway. He says, emphatically, it’s Isaac’s laugh. Not his fake laugh, but the laugh that fills up his whole body like it’s helium, so that he could float away on the laughter, the laugh that makes him glow. He said it’s a sound that makes you laugh when you hear it. And it is! And then he said he also likes a certain sound in combination with a certain smell, first thing in the morning. The sound is the bird that goes who who who whoooo. (“A mourning dove?” “Yeah.”) And the smell is water but sweet water. And he said he also likes a certain smell that smells like autumn, when you’re warm inside your coat but your cheeks are cold. I wanted to remember every word, but I knew I wouldn’t, and I made him repeat everything over and over, and it was slightly different every time, and it’s slightly different now when I write it all down. And though it’s changing all the time, I know now that I’ll never forget it.

What’s your favorite sound in the world?

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

On Monday the boys cooked every single meal over a campfire in the back yard. They made veggie sausages and toast for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and potatoes and mushrooms for dinner. My friend Neil had just told me about a Romanian eggplant dip made with charred eggplant, so I decided to make a version of that. I wrapped an eggplant in foil and cooked it right in the fire for about an hour, till it was melting inside and charred outside. I combined it with pistachios, pine nuts, some herbs, some roasted garlic, and I made thick smooth sauce. We ate it with olive bread and fresh tomatoes, but it would be good with pita and salad, or as a dip for roasted vegetables or chips.

Here’s Autumn Sounds by Jackie Mittoo

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Yellow squash and white bean empanadas

IMG_4277There’s a vine that grows outside our front door and along the back fence of our garden. It’s called wild clematis, or devil’s darning needles or old man’s beard. It has beautiful little white flowers, and the most intoxicating fragrance, not too sharp or too sweet, indescribable. Like honeysuckle, it blooms at the beginning and the end of summer, and like honeysuckle, it always comes as a sweetly melancholy reminder of summer’s passing. How fast these lazy days go! You can feel it…you can feel the hours drift away. Yesterday I took a blanket out for Clio, who likes to lie in the sun, but the sunlight moves so quickly these days that I couldn’t keep up. It races across the yard. We’ve had a ridiculous spate of perfect weather, the kind that almost hurts when you step outside, because you know it can’t last, and you feel as though you need to savor every moment of it, you don’t want to spend a second in the house. You want to feel the way the chill leaves the air in the morning and the day warms up but the shadows are so perfect, this time of year, that wherever you walk you move comfortably through sunlight and shadow in equal turns. The very air feels good, you walk out into it as you jump into water of the perfect temperature, it feels good on your skin, it feels good to move through it. This time of year, this kind of weather, you think about all of the summers of your life; when you were little and school started soon, when you’re older and you still have that strange feeling of transition, though you haven’t had a first-day-of-school in years. You think about all of the summers to come. I recently discovered the Portuguese word “saudade,” which is a beautiful thing. A sweet sort of nostalgia, missing something but glad that you knew it, and hoping to know it again some day.

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”

As the poets of wikipedia say, “one feels an interior satisfaction because it is impossible to find something, but one never stops thinking that one is searching for it.”

And doesn’t that sound like late August? Doesn’t that sound like the light shifting fast, and the days dawning cold, and the wild clematis blooming outside your door?

Summer means summer squash! We got three lovely little summer squash from the farm. I decided to make empanadas with them. I combined them with white beans, spinach, cherry tomatoes, small hot peppers, some herbs from the garden and sharp cheddar. They were a nice combination of crispy and tender. Very light, for an empanada. We ate them with a fresh tomato sauce, but you could make it all simpler still by chopping some summer-ripe tomatoes and having that alongside.

Here’s Saudade, by Cesaria Evoria.

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Crostini with roasted red pepper/hazelnut sauce, capers, and olives

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Malcolm yelled “Good luck!” to the bald eagle. Before work on Sunday, the first and only really lovely spring day this year, Malcolm and Clio and I went for a “run.” It was more of a fast walk, because he’d just eaten pancakes, but that suited me exactly. We came to the place where a bald eagle had built a nest across the canal. A big, random-looking pile of sticks on the top of a huge metal tower.
The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?

The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?


I hadn’t actually seen an eagle there, but I stopped to look every time we passed. This time I saw a big hulking bird farther down the tower, and I asked Malcolm if it had a white head, because I couldn’t see that far, and it could have been a vulture. It did! It did have a white head! We walked back on the other side of the canal, to get a closer look. Malcolm was talking cheerfully about his schemes for the future, and I was thinking how good it felt to go for a walk with him again, and hear his zany chatter, after a long, shut-in winter. When we got to the tower, the eagle was gone, but we stood for a moment looking up into the bright blue sky. You could feel the earth getting warmer all around us, waking up and coming to life. And then the eagle flew up out of the river, and landed very low on the tower, where we could see it perfectly. It was a stunning moment, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it felt as if my heart soared up with the eagle. We watched it for a while, sitting there so beautiful and impossibly large and completely cool, and then Malcolm yelled, “Good luck,” and we walked home. It felt so sunny, to hear him say that, to think about Malcolm encouraging this huge unruffled raptor. It seems so precarious to try to raise chicks on the top of a tower that holds power lines, in a world full of people, it feels like such a hopeful thing to do. I’ve been feeling vaguely anxious lately about equally vague events that may-or-may not happen. Worried about the future more than usual, troubled by time passing though I know there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. It feels good to take a walk, and see the eagles and the geese sitting on their nests in the sunshine, everybody is doing what they have to do, getting on with their lives, waking with the spring. Isaac recently showed me the sign for “All you need.” You hold your hands together in front of you, and then spread them to your sides. It’s a beautiful gesture, particularly as performed by a serious eight-year-old. It seems like a good gesture to make when you’re feeling anxious, to remind yourself of what you have, and that all you can do is what you have to do, and try feel good about what you’re working on and where you’re going. It’s a gesture like spreading wings in the sunshine.

Isaac likes crostini. I made these last week after he’d been sick for a few days and eaten nothing but toast. These were like a step up from toast, and Isaac ate quite a few. The sauce itself is inspired by romesco sauce, and it’s sweet smoky nuttiness goes well with the sharp saltiness of capers and olives. It made a nice meal with a big salad.

Here’s All I Need by Radiohead.
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Butterbean and greens dumplings

Butterbean and spinach dumplings

Butterbean and spinach dumplings

Dear Sir and or Madam: I am writing to apply for the job/ the grant/ the fellowship/ or to submit a story for publication. I realize that roughly a million other people are applying for the position and that they’re at least as skilled and qualified as I am, and all just as passionate about attaining the position/grant/fellowship/publication. I realize that I have absolutely no qualities to recommend me over these other million people, and that they’ve probably graduated more recently with higher honors, and have probably worked in the field some time in the past decade, as I have not done. They probably have more powerful friends to recommend them, more scintillating personalities and better networking skills. They’re probably better at ironing their clothes, being team players and using the latest computer programs. They probably smile more often and more convincingly, they’re probably bubbly. They’re probably effervescent. However, I hope you will take the following information into consideration when making your final decision: My dog really likes me. No, she hasn’t told me so in so many words. She hasn’t put it in writing, and I can’t give you her contact information so that you can determine the veracity of my statement. But it’s true, I tell you! You should see how happy she is when I come home from work or even from a walk around the block. She leaps! She sings! She wags her tail so vigorously you’d think it would fall off! If I’m in the house, she’s likely to be near by me, and I’m fairly sure it’s not just because I’m always eating or playing with food. When I sleep, she’s always practically on top of me, and when I wake and come downstairs, she does too! Sure, she likes everyone she meets, and I can’t guarantee that she likes me more than anybody else, but it’s not a contest, is it? Oh, it is. It is a contest. The whole world is a competition. I see. And maybe everybody’s dog loves them as much as I think she loves me. It’s probably true, I understand. I’ve decided not to attach my resumé, because despite a promising beginning and lots of opportunities, it seems to taper off somewhere in the middle and the last decade or so is frankly… Well, instead I’ve attached some pictures of my dog! And proof that she has her license and rabies shot! If you need any more information about her, or would like to set up an interview with her, just let me know! She won’t mind, she loves meeting new people. She’ll tell you all about how good I am at going for walks and napping and putting kibble in her bowl and singing every song ever written as if it was about her. Well, she would tell you if, you know… In summation thank you for your consideration, and I hope you’ll look at this whole process from my dog’s point of view, if only for an hour or two.

butterbean and greens dumplings

butterbean and greens dumplings

We’ve had more icy weather, the boys are home from school for the second time in three days. It’s a long long winter. I felt like eating something plump and savory and comforting, and that’s just what these little dumplings are. They’re fairly simple: kale, spinach, butter beans and cheese baked in a crispy crust. Obviously, they aren’t steamed yeasted dumplings, and they’re probably not officially dumplings in any sense of the word, but that’s the name that their shape suggested to me.

Here’s I Wanna be Your Dog by Uncle Tupelo. I love this version!

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Semolina, artichoke and mozzarella croquettes (with romesco sauce)

Semolina artichoke croquettes

Semolina artichoke croquettes

I spent the morning cleaning and thinking about James Baldwin. I’m reading Go Tell it on the Mountain, and it’s such a strange combination of instantly powerful and hauntingly beautiful. The scenes and sentences that stay in my head aren’t the ones I expect, the passages I find myself instantly re-reading and then reading again are not the most dramatic passages. They describe in-between times, times of working and waiting, and they’re so thoughtfully observed and beautifully expressed that they make the book human and honest and real, and make it something greater than that as well. And I spent the morning cleaning, as I spend most mornings cleaning, to try to fight the creeping dust and dirt and chaos. But you can’t tell that I’ve been cleaning, you could never tell, because I’m not very good at it and for whatever small part I clean, the rest of the house is conspiring to coat itself in dust and clutter all around me. And it does feel like a waste of time, sometimes, except that you can think about James Baldwin while you do it, and even think that he’s had the same feelings about it.

    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.

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

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.
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