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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Mushrooms stuffed with pecans, black beans and smoked gouda

Black bean and pecan stuffed mushrooms

Black bean and pecan stuffed mushrooms

I took the day off work yesterday, not because I’m sick, although I am, but because somebody asked for my shift and I thought, “Why not?” But I felt vaguely guilty all day. I only work two days a week, so it’s absurd to take one of them off. I had the mildly panicky feeling that we had to have a really wonderful day to justify my idleness. We had to do important things, and get a lot done, and have a remarkably good time. We had to have a hundred-dollar-day, because that’s what I might have hoped to make at work. Well, we didn’t get much done, we didn’t have any great adventures or go anywhere exciting. Isaac never even got out of his pjs, and yet I wouldn’t have traded this day or the memory of this day for any amount of money. We don’t have many days off together, because I work on the weekends and our store is open and the boys are in school all week. So David took Malcolm up to the shop, and they learned how to use Malcolm’s new airbrush. And Isaac and I didn’t do much of anything. We built a lego tower. We sketched: he drew sea monsters, “in the mom style,” and I sketched him sketching. We shared a sliced pear and played a game with strange cards and shifting rules. And then he asked me if I like being a mom. “It is a home question.” I replied, “I shall have to lay myself open to such a catechist, and I am not sure that I am prepared to do it.” Of course I didn’t say that! I don’t even fully understand the meaning of the word catechist. But it is a home question, it gets to the very heart of everything, of me, of our home, of my life. Mr. Thornton’s answer is to the question “You are all striving for money. What do you want it for?” And Mr. Thornton was silent. Then he said, “I really don’t know. But money is not what I strive for.” “And what then?” And what then? Well, I told Isaac that I like being his mother, it’s the best thing in the world. And then he said he wanted to see what it felt like to take care of someone. He made me lie on the couch, close enough to Clio that I could pet her, which was an important part of the process. He got me two pillows and a glass of water. He tucked me in with two of the softest blankets imaginable. Then he “unbundled” my hair so I could sleep better. And he read to me from a book of strange facts, about a walrus that plays the flute, and an upside-down house, and a teddy bear made of gold with diamond eyes. He said, “Are you entertained? Are you entertained?” And then he was very quiet so that I would fall asleep. I didn’t sleep, but it seems as though I dreamed in flashes. And that was our afternoon. I suppose everybody needs to be taken care of sometimes, and often you don’t realize it until it comes from an unexpected place, until somebody makes you sit still for a moment. People raced by our house in the cold endless rain, and Clio sighed and groaned and refused to go into the yard. Towards evening when the rain slowed a pale greenish glow filled the sky and as the day ebbed it was as bright as it had been since morning. David and Malcolm came home. We made a good dinner, we went to a movie in the movie theater for the first time in ages. It was a good day, it was a home day, it’s what we strive for.

I like after holidays when giant mushrooms go on sale. I used giant white mushrooms–stuffing mushrooms they call them, but you could easily use portobella instead. I stuffed them with a mixture of chopped pecans, chopped mushroom stems, chopped black beans, and grated smoked gouda and sharp cheddar. I got a new food processor for Christmas, and I’m chopping everything in sight! Watch out!! They were flavored with sage, thyme, and nutmeg. They took on a nice savory-sweet almost praline-y flavor once the pecans browned.

Here’s My Baby Just Cares For Me, by Nina Simone.
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Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes, and butter-fried croquettes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

“He wouldn’t listen to her, and he clasped her desperately, his heart drowning in an immense sadness. A need for peace and an uncontrollable need for happiness invaded him; and he pictured himself married, in a nice clean little house, with no other ambition than for the two of them to live and die together inside it. They would only need a little bread to eat; and even if there was only enough for one of them, he would give her the whole piece. What was the point of wanting anything else? Was there anything in life worth more than that?” Indeed! Well, I haven’t finished the book yet, but I know how things turn out. I always read ahead, I read a few pages here and there in the middle, and I read the end. I always have, somehow knowing how it will end makes the story more compelling for me, even if it ends sadly, as this one does, I’m sorry to say. They are, of course, Etienne and Catherine from Germinal. They’re sitting on the edge of the bed in icy darkness, preparing to go back down the pit. After a winter of sickness and strife, starvation and deprivation, after months of physical and emotional abuse from her cruel lover, after ages of liking and loving and longing for each other, all unspoken, they’re at a crossroads. “Don’t do it!” You want to yell at them. “Don’t go down the mine. Run away!!” When I was little I used to imagine an island people could go to when things weren’t going well for them in plays or books or movies. An island for star-crossed lovers where everything aligned a little more benevolently, and all of the outside forces that kept them apart were nowhere to be found. It would be a place you could go despite your obstacles–money troubles couldn’t keep you away, and neither could overbearing relatives or jealous lovers or fickle fortune. And once you got there you’d be free to live out your days with your lover, just as you choose. You would grow old together. And maybe this would be hard for some of the couples that wind up on the island, because they hadn’t known each other very long in the old world, but I think they’d be glad to have the chance. After all, we each have to grow old, and it’s nice to have somebody to do it with. Romeo and Juliet were so young when they died. Juliet is thirteen. So maybe on this island they would grow up together, they would become adults together and be good friends. Catherine and Heathcliff–well, I just don’t know. They started as friends, they did grow up together, but weren’t they disappointingly cruel to each other and themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think even a magical island could provide them with a cheery future. Catherine and Etienne, though, I think they’d be okay. They’ve both suffered so much and worked so hard that they’d be glad of the peace and freedom to be kind to one another, to really love each other. They’d delight in any small warmth that they could find, and they’d kindle such a bonfire of pent-up affection they’d be able to light up a whole wintery mining village. And they wouldn’t be ignorant but happy, either. I think about Catherine a lot, about how bright and interested she is, and about how her only hope in life is to earn enough money to survive, and that her cruel man won’t be too cruel to her. I like to think about her writing stories in her head, down in the pit. But Etienne has taken such pleasure in learning, and in educating himself, and you know he’d love to teach her, too, and that he’d take pleasure in doing it, and be proud of all she learned. I like to think about what she might do, if she had some knowledge. I like to imagine them happy. They don’t expect much, and they deserve the world.

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Here we have another meal that started as a bean and vegetable stew and ended up as croquettes. THe first night we had a bright, sweet, tart stew made of navy beans, fennel, and roasted sweet potatoes. It also had lemon thyme, lemon, caper, and a handful of raisins. Very delicious! And we ate it with bulgur. The next night I smashed all the leftovers together with bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, and smoked paprika, and baked it in a loaf pan. Then I sliced it (or tried to, it fell apart a bit) and fried it all in butter. The boys said it was like hotdogs, and it kinda was! Very good, though!

Here’s Louis Armstrong with Song of the Islands

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Mashed potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

Potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

Potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

People at work have been giving me grief about my handwriting. Sometimes they’re joking, sometimes they’re exasperated and angry, but it’s always the same cry, “You have to write more neatly.” The odd thing is that in my 44 years, most of which I’ve spent a lot of time writing, nobody has ever said a negative word about my handwriting. It’s not pretty, I’m no calligrapher, but it’s always been legible. I get my point across. I’m tempted to say, “Don’t worry, my seven-year-old has a hard time reading cursive, too. You’ll get it eventually.” But I don’t. The other odd thing is that it’s surprisingly hurtful to be teased about your handwriting. It feels bad to be scolded. It feels bad for about a minute, because this is just my extremely part-time job, and I don’t really care enough to care, and when you work in a restaurant if you can’t weather some criticism barked at you by stressed-out cooks you won’t last very long. The other day we were trying to sort through the mess of papers in Malcolm’s backpack, and most of them said, “Write more neatly!!” Well! I had such a surge of sympathy for my Malcolm! He hears it all the time. The teachers are only doing their job, and I’m sure they’re kinder than my co-workers (they’d better be!!). But I’m sure it’s not just the handwriting, it’s everything. I’m sure he’s constantly told to sit still, focus, be organized, pay attention. And that’s just the school part, just the educational side. He’s got a million other things to figure out, too. The other day he needed his tiger hat. With classic Malcolmish single-mindedness and urgency, he wouldn’t even eat breakfast until he found it. He was sure all the other kids would be wearing their animal hats (last year his class was like a strange sort of zoo.) Well, they weren’t. It’s just Malcolm and his tiger hat. But he didn’t care, he’s still happy to wear it, as cool as ever a kid could be. Yesterday Malcolm was worried about a grade he got on a math test. So worried that he wouldn’t look at me or talk to me. He wouldn’t lift his head, and I found myself talking to the blankly staring, slightly surprised button eyes on the tiger’s hat, pushed back to the top of Malcolm’s head. It’s overwhelming! There’s so much for Malcolm to be responsible for, to keep track of, to figure out! He’s so bright and sweet and smart and practical, but it seems like so much. We can’t do it for him, we can’t even be there with him most of the time while he’s holding all the pieces together. It’s just so strange to be a parent, sometimes. It’s my job to show Malcolm that all of this is important: that grades are important, and neatness, and showing your work,and points, there are always points to keep track of, to be lost and never regained. It’s my job to make this matter to Malcolm, when part of me wants to shout, “Who cares what your handwriting looks like if the words you write with it are as imaginative and clever and funny as you are? Who cares if your spelling is erratic as long as your stories are so brilliant and creative? And who cares about math at all?!” But of course I would never say that, because I do care, and I know that he should, too. I know he can manage all of this, I know he can. He’s a strong swimmer, I know he can carry himself over this sea of worries and responsibilities. His mind is a vivid, teeming, beautiful place, and I know his head hurts sometimes with trying to see his way through clearly, trying to rein it all in, and trying to get it all out–trying to organize all this brilliance and show his work, and write more neatly so other people can share it, too. I understand that sometimes a person might need to lie on the floor and hide behind his tiger hat before he wades in again, I might try it myself sometime.

I think there’s nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes! They smell like a holiday while they’re cooking, and they’re so pleasing and soft and gently flavorful. I had some left over, and I wanted to make something that accentuated their comfortingness, so I made these little croquettes. I kept them very simple, but they’re not bland. It’s just mashed potatoes mixed with smushed white beans, eggs, white sharp cheddar, and rosemary and sage. Quick and easy. I made a red sauce to go with them, with some balsamic and garlic and shallots, so it’s got stronger sharper flavors which were nice against the simplicity of the croquettes.

Here’s James Brown with Mashed Potato
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Sweet potato gnocchi and spicy spinach sauce

Sweet potato gnocchi

Sweet potato gnocchi

    “And because the breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air (where it comes and goes like the warbling of music) than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for that delight, than to know what be the flowers and plants that do best perfume the air. Roses, damask and red, are fast flowers of their smells; so that you may walk by a whole row of them, and find nothing of their sweetness; yea though it be in a morning’s dew. Bays likewise yield no smell as they grow. Rosemary little; nor sweet marjoram. That which above all others yields the sweetest smell in the air is the violet, specially the white double violet, which comes twice a year; about the middle of April, and about Bartholomew-tide. Next to that is the musk rose. Then the strawberry-leaves, dying, which yield a most excellent cordial smell. Then the flower of vines; it is a little dust, like the dust of a bent, which grows upon the cluster in the first coming forth. Then sweet-briar. Then wall-flowers, which are very delightful to be set under a parlor or lower chamber window. Then pinks and gilliflowers, especially the matted pink and clove gilliflower. Then the flowers of the lime-tree. Then the honey-suckles, so they be somewhat afar off. Of bean-flowers I speak not, because they are field flowers. But those which perfume the air most delightfully, not passed by as the rest, but being trodden upon and crushed, are three; that is, burnet, wild-thyme, and watermints. Therefore you are to set whole alleys of them, to have the pleasure when you walk or tread.”

Francis Bacon on gardens. It’s an essay in the middle of The Essays or Counsels, civil and moral, of Francis Ld. Verulam Viscount St Albans. In between essays on religion, judicature, faction and ambition, lies a beautiful little essay about gardens. It’s civil and moral discourse, because he believes it’s important to have a garden, and to attend carefully to the arrangement of it. He names every flower that will bloom every season of the year in London where he lives, and he suggests that you discover what will grow year round where you live. And then he has this lovely little section on the scent of flowers, which has such odd and particular language it reads like a poem. Secret roses that hold their smells fast? Strawberry leaves when they’re dying? Honeysuckle though it be somewhat far off? What is a little dust? What is the dust of a bent? But let us not speak of bean-flowers, because they are field flowers.

Spinach and jalapeno sauce

Spinach and jalapeno sauce

We got some sweet potatoes from the farm, and I decided to make these little baked gnocchi with them, and then some spinach sauce to dip them in. The gnocchi are based on a choux pastry batter. They’re somewhat denser than regular choux pastry, because of the sweet potatoes, but pleasantly so. I flavored them with sharp cheddar and sage, and the sauce is flavored with jalapenos, almonds and lemon.

Here’s Tom Waits with Trampled Rose.

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Chard, raisins, pine nuts and butterbeans; tender rolls; chard & bulgur burgers

Tender rolls

Tender rolls

When I was younger I used to think a lot about how I could justify my existence. The phrase was frequently in my head , and I probably subjected my brother and other friends to heated discussions on the subject over Jamaican food. I think I used to believe that a person could justify their existence by creating an enduring work of something…literature, art, film, music. I don’t know, it was a long time ago and a muddle in my head. I don’t think about it too much any more. Maybe because everything is going so fast, maybe because I have the boys, which in some strange biological way settles the question. Partly, it seems a little arrogant and foolish to even think about trying to justify our existence. Somehow it seems unnecessary, ungrateful, impossible. We just keep going, as the lady at the food pantry said yesterday. But I’m still thinking about Michel Navratil, who survived the crash of the Titanic as a young boy. He was only a child, three or four years old, he didn’t understand what was happening, he didn’t choose to be saved. And later he said the he felt that he died that day, that he was “a fare dodger of life.” He was so separate from existence as the rest of us understand it that he was spared the burden of justifying himself. And those other people, that fought for a place on the boat, he doesn’t remember them very fondly: “The people who came out alive often cheated and were aggressive, the honest didn’t stand a chance.” I think I would have been one of those people, especially if my boys were on a boat. I think I would have fought like a lunatic to be with them. And I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like for a person who had gotten a place on a boat, by whatever means, from that point on. They must have felt that every moment should be treasured, every moment they should be making something, working towards something, helping someone. They have the heavy burden of having survived, and what a strange thing it must be to carry that from day to day. Or do we all have that? If we’re walking around the world today. Do we all have that?
Chard and bulgur burgers

Chard and bulgur burgers

What we have here is a meal in which one night’s dinner becomes the next night’s dinner in a different form. Typical Ordinary leftovers shenanigans. I’m on the record as saying that one of my favorite combinations is chard, pine nuts and raisins. So the first night we had that, with some herbs and butter beans thrown in. We ate it with bulgur which I had made with lentil broth. The next day, I made some very tender buttery rolls or hamburger buns. And I combined the leftover beans, chard and bulgur to make burgers. I added some bread crumbs, some smoked gouda, and an egg, and I made them into patties and fried them in olive oil. Very tasty!! The night after that, I broke the burgers into pieces, mixed them with greens and kidney beans, roasted peppers and tomatoes, and made tacos. And on and on it goes!!
Chard, butterbeans, pine nuts and raisins

Chard, butterbeans, pine nuts and raisins

Here’s Memphis Minnie with Today Today Blues. Just because I like it, today!

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Chickpea & artichoke stew; chickpea semolina dumplings; olive pine nut sauce

olive and pine nut sauce

olive and pine nut sauce

A few years ago I threw my back out. I was just helping our old dog to stand, and she weighed nothing, she was all bones and sunken skin. And yet, somehow, in trying to help her up I pulled something or other and I couldn’t move without pain for a few days. I couldn’t walk, sit, sneeze, laugh, sleep. I felt as old and infirm as our poor dog. A couple of years later I asked a doctor about my back, because it never seemed to get completely better. She said, “You have to strengthen your core! Strengthen your core.” I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot lately, as I struggle to do one normal sit-up. I’ve been feeling a little lost and off-kilter. Partly because the boys are back in school, I suppose. And partly because I’ve been doing something for a long time, believing it was important–at least to me. And now I’m thinking about doing something else, which also seems very important but probably isn’t and now I’m all confused, and maybe nothing seems important, so why try to do anything at all? What does important mean, anyway? What does it mean to be important? Ack. In this scattered and bewildered state, I seem to need to strengthen my core. Not my core values or affections, because those are very unvaried, they’re constant. But the core beliefs that are hard to hold onto. Viz…it’s important to understand that you’re valuable to your children and your dog, even if you don’t feel all that good about yourself. It’s important not to let discouragement paralyze you, because time is flying. Don’t let yourself judge your work by what the world rewards with awards and praise and money (have you seen what the world awards with praise and money?) It’s probably good to take a pause and look at everything from the outside, but don’t let your doubts keep you from getting back into it, when the time is ripe, don’t feel foolish about working hard on something you know you’re good at. Don’t feel foolish about giving yourself meandering pep talks while you struggle to do sit-ups!! Strengthen your core! Strengthen your core!!

Chickpea and semolina flour dumplings

Chickpea and semolina flour dumplings

What we have here is a typical, Ordinary tripartite meal. A stewy sort of mix of vegetables, which becomes croquettes the next day, and a flavorful sauce to go with the croquettes. In this case, the stew has chickpeas, leeks, tomatoes, and artichokes. We ate it with plain couscous. The next day I combined the leftover stew and couscous with semolina flour (which is what couscous is made out of!), and some eggs to make the croquettes. And the sauce has olives, goat cheese, pine nuts, and a little maple syrup. The reason it’s this pretty color is that I made it with olive oil which I had steeped with annato seeds. You don’t need to do this…you can use regular olive oil.
Chickpea, potato, artichoke stew

Chickpea, potato, artichoke stew

And that’s that!

Here’s Hold On Be Strong by Outkast. Short and to the point!

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Leeks, white beans and French feta AND smoked eggplant-couscous croquettes

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Back in the days before cable, when VCRs hadn’t yet been invented, there were a few movies my brother and I would watch every single time they came on television. (Which was maybe twice.) One such movie was Breaking Away. I hadn’t thought about it much in the intervening decades, but the other night we watched it again with the boys. Well! It’s a beautiful film! It’s beautifully filmed! It’s deceptively spare and simple in a manner that hides a genius of elegance and grace, which places it in the tradition of Ozu or Rohmer. The only non-diegetic music is a continuation of the Italian songs that Dave sings in his attempt to convince the world that he’s Italian. Much of the action seems to happen off-screen, between scenes, in best Ozu fashion. An entire romance and marriage takes place, and we feel real affection for the couple, though we only see them in a few scenes, in passing. The film is about one summer in the life of four teenagers, and it’s full of the kind of latent drama underlying every teenagers’ existence. At any minute they might dash their heads on a rock or crash their car or bike, or be crushed by a truck, they might fall out with friends they love, they might tear their family apart. Any of this could happen, and if this was any other kind of movie it probably would, but here it doesn’t, and this makes it feel more real, more like life. The film glows with a flat, pale, nostalgic light, like a dream of the late seventies, of the mid-west, which people have been trying to capture since in photo filters and iPhone apps. The film is sweet, smart, funny, thoughtful; it’s about infatuation and disillusion and the return of hope. It’s about friendship and family, imperfect and enduring. It’s about freedom and escape, and finding a way to achieve these things without leaving your home. And it’s about work, which makes it a good film to discuss after labor day weekend. The fathers of our four teenage friends were cutters, they cut limestone out of the quarries, and cut them into smooth rocks to build the local university. And now all they have left is a big hole in the ground where their boys swim, and a college full of teenagers who mock their boys. At one point Dave’s dad says he wants his son to find a job and be miserable just like he was. But we know he doesn’t really want his son to be unhappy, and we know that he enjoyed his work as a cutter: he was good at it, he took pride in his work. The boys have to decide what work they’ll do when the work that made their world isn’t an option any more. They have to make their own new world. Doesn’t it remind you of Seamus Heaney’s Digging?

    Digging
    BY SEAMUS HEANEY

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

    Under my window, a clean rasping sound
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
    My father, digging. I look down

    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
    Where he was digging.

    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

    By God, the old man could handle a spade.
    Just like his old man.

    My grandfather cut more turf in a day
    Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
    To drink it, then fell to right away
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
    Over his shoulder, going down and down
    For the good turf. Digging.

    The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
    Through living roots awaken in my head.
    But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I’ll dig with it.

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Leeks! I just love them. I treated myself to some French feta, which is milder and creamier than most fetas I’ve had. I sauteed my leeks with white beans, white wine, thyme and capers, and then I crumbled the feta on top. Delicious!! We ate it with plain couscous. And later in the week I combined the leftover couscous and white beans with eggplant roasted until smooth and smoky and pureed with smoked gouda and bread crumbs. I fried this in olive oil as little croquettes, and served them with an impromptu dipping sauce of maple syrup, dijon mustard and tomato paste.

Here’s Kimya Dawson with I Like My Bike.

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Leeks, potato & french lentils stew … and burgers

Leek and lentil burgers

Leek and lentil burgers

This morning Clio and I tried to go for a walk on the towpath. It had been raining for hours, and on one side the sky was as bright as day, but on the other, it was dark and purple-grey. I stood for a while uncertain about whether to go on or be safe and turn back. Across the canal a little green heron stared at us suspiciously, his tufty head the color of the weeds streaming beneath the muddy water. It felt good to just stand for a while, watching the heron, watching the clouds in the teeming sky, feeling the relief of cool winds and spatters of rain. Clio looked up at me with a sweet confused face, and then resigned herself to grazing on the long grass that grows against the stone wall. I’d been thinking about the story of Cupid and Psyche, which has always been one of my favorite myths. It’s a long, remarkable story, and it has a million meanings and interpretations, of course. But I was thinking about the part where Psyche, though perfectly happy, is persuaded to doubt whether she’s perfectly happy. She’s had a lot of strange and wonderful adventures, and she’ll have plenty more. Every time she’s tested she feels hopeless and wants to throw herself off of something or into something else, but everybody she meets seems to like her and wants to help her, even the bugs and the reeds. And eventually she goes back to the place she’d been happy all along. Aside from all of the other things “psyche” means, apparently it meant “life” in the sense of “breath,” formed from the verb ψύχω (psukhō, “to blow.”) Derived meanings included “spirit,” “soul,” “ghost,” and ultimately “self.” With a name like that it’s hard not to turn Psyche’s story into some sort of allegory for our own sense of well-being. It’s hard not to think of Psyche when you feel discouraged or disgruntled and, provoked by doubt, you step aside for a moment to look at your life as it actually is, at all of the skills that you have and the people who want to help you, or who need your help. Clio and I decided to play it safe and walk back home. She woke the boys, which is her favorite thing to do, and she’s spent the whole rainy day since running away from them when they try to pull her ears. The sky was bright for a while, we could have gone for our walk. And then it poured and thundered, and now it’s bright again, but the heavy clouds are rolling in, and that’s probably the way it will go all day.

Lentil leek and potato stew

Lentil leek and potato stew

I always think of leeks and potatoes as sort of wintery, but we got them from the farm this week, so that makes them summery. This stew was amazingly tasty. We topped it with fresh chopped cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, which was a nice sweet contrast to the savory comforting stew. We turned the leftovers into burgers, and I made soft smoked-paprika buns for them.
smoked paprika buns

smoked paprika buns

Here’s Horace Andy with Rain from the Sky

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Chard, new potatoes, olives and capers; pesto-pearled couscous, and…croquettes!

Potatoes, chard, olives and capers

Potatoes, chard, olives and capers

Sir Lord Comic. I love everything I’ve heard by him, but that’s only five or six songs. I don’t know much about him, but here it is…he’s one of the first Jamaican deejays. In fact, his song Ska-ing West is considered the first deejay recording. He began his career as a dancer with the Admiral Dean Sound System. He’s got a wonderful rich, soave voice. He’s got a remarkable vocabulary. He’s funny and bright and talks so fast sometimes that I can’t understand what he’s saying. He’s got some combination of coolness and joyful warmth that makes his few songs completely contagious. On Dr. Feelgood he uses the phrase “musically glad,” which is an idea I love, and is exactly how you feel when you listen to Sir Lord Comic. A gold star to anyone who can tell me what he says right before he says “musically glad!” Here he is dancing…

chard, potato, couscous croquettes

chard, potato, couscous croquettes

I love potatoes and greens, and I love greens and olives, so this was a nice combination of both. It’s also got capers (or flavor dynamites) and fresh herbs and tomatoes from the farm. We ate it with whole wheat pearled couscous mixed with pesto and chickpeas. And, of course, the next night I made croquettes out of the leftovers. All good! All easy!

Here’s a list of all the Sir Lord Comic songs I’ve ever heard. If anybody knows of any more, or is better informed about his life and career, I’d be grateful to hear about it.
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