Smoky roasted delicata squash (On a pizza, on a salad)

Roasted delicata squash

Roasted delicata squash

I woke up in the middle of the night recently thinking about the word “ardent,” as one does. It’s a word we should use more often, it’s a way we should feel more often. The next morning I looked it up in the good old OED. I was delighted, dee-light-ed, to discover that “ardent” once meant “burning” and “glowing,” and these are the roots of the word. I love anything that glows! I love the idea of people glowing with an emotion. It feels too easy to go through each day half asleep, especially if you have a job you don’t love. Because every day is so full of things that need to be done–cleaning and shopping and chores. It’s impossible to face everything with fervor and ardor.

I thought about this:


I agree with Calvin! But in a world where you can’t always be enthusiastic about everything you have to do, you can at least be passionate about everything you choose to do: the music you listen to, the books you read, the walks you walk, the meals you cook.

And I thought about The Idiot (which I am still reading). People in The Idiot are in a state. They’re excited, they’re ecstatic, they’re rapturous, they’re ardent. They all glow with their desires and even with their worries and their confusion. They’re ardent in their affection, love, admiration, friendship. They seem so alive. The Idiot suffers from epileptic fits, as Dostoyevsky himself did, and the description of the ecstatic moments before a fit is both frightening and beautiful:

He was thinking, incidentally, that there was a moment or two in his epileptic condition almost before the fit itself (if it occurred in waking hours) when suddenly amid the sadness, spiritual darkness and depression, his brain seemed to catch fire at brief moments….His sensation of being alive and his awareness increased tenfold at those moments which flashed by like lightning.  His mind and heart were flooded by a dazzling light.  All his agitation, doubts and worries, seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of understanding…

I fainted once, many years ago, and I felt something like this just moments before I fell. I wouldn’t like to feel this way all the time, obviously I wouldn’t, but it’s such a strange change from the stupor I feel most of the time going about the days. And obviously it’s not practical or even desirable to be as invested in every emotion as the characters in the Idiot are. It would be exhausting! But you know what else is tiring? Feeling half-alive all day long. Feeling “meh” about everything you do, as time flies by on its strong swift wings. As in all other things, I guess we have to find some balance, and to be as passionate about the people and occupations we love as we can, and to find as much joy in our chores as we can muster. Or at least to find some moments in each day that set us afire, that glow for us.

Pizza with pistachio herb pesto and roasted delicata squash

Pizza with pistachio herb pesto and roasted delicata squash

We got some lovely delicata squash from our CSA farm a few weeks in a row. I found a way to roast it, thinly sliced, and then season it with smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and I kind of ran with that! I put it on a pizza with a pistachio-sage pesto, and it was almost like pepperoni. (Not that I really remember what that was like!) This was a late summer-into-autumn pizza, with pretty golden tomatoes to go with the pretty roasted squash. I put it on a salad layered with red rice, smoked basmati rice and farro, and with french lentils, and topped with a bright lemony pine nut sauce. I’ve included a bunch of recipes after the jump. You can mix and match! Or you can make the squash and do whatever you like with it!

Salad with roasted delicata squash

Salad with roasted delicata squash

Here’s The Wailing Wailers with Who Feels it Knows it.

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Ricotta and lemony herb tart with roasted beets and pine nuts

Ricotta and herb tart with roasted beets

Ricotta and herb tart with roasted beets

I had a birthday the other month, and I realized I don’t really want for anything, I don’t need anything more than I have. I want a dress with pockets and some wine that’s better than we usually drink, but that’s about it. And it’s summer, so lots of friends are going on big adventures, but we’re mostly going on smaller adventures, and I’m fine with that. I think I have an ample portion of whatever quality it is that breeds contentment. And why wouldn’t I? I have no excuse not to. And then I was thinking about people who struggle to be content in the face of adversity, Pierre Bezukhov; “The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories, and imaginings that came to him.” Or Myshkin; the idiot, “And I dreamed of all sorts of things, indeed. But afterwards I fancied one might find a wealth of life even in prison.” And there are times we shouldn’t rest in contentment: in the face of injustice or cruelty or any situation that deprives another of the opportunity to be content. And maybe contentment is dangerous sometimes, because if you’re too comfortable you might lose yourself in your own small world.

Around the time I was thinking all of this I encountered Epictetus. He was a stoic teacher, but he lived four hundred years after the original stoics. (Four hundred years.) He said one should be “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.” And he began life as a slave, his very name means “acquired.” In my ignorance, I’d always thought stoics taught that a person shouldn’t feel anything at all; not sadness or pain or desire or happiness. And yet according to my slight understanding of Epictetus, the whole point is to seek eudaimonia, which is happiness or flourishing or contentment. And to achieve this, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” Life comes at you in impressions, or phantasiai. And you don’t take these at face value, you question them, you talk to them. You say, “Stop, let me see what you are, and where you come from, just as the night-watch say, ‘Show me your token.” And if it’s a harsh impression, you “Make it your study then to confront every harsh impression with the words, ‘You are but an impression, and not at all what you seem to be.’ Then test it by those rules that you possess; and first by this–the chief test of all–’Is it concerned with what is in our power or with what is not in our power?’ And if it is concerned with what is not in our power, be ready with the answer that it is nothing to you.” And, like Pierre Bezukhov taking comfort in joyful comforting imaginings and memories, you “In the first place, do not allow yourself to be carried away by [the] intensity [of your impression]: but say, ‘Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are, and what you represent. Let me test you.’ Then, afterwards, do not allow it to draw you on by picturing what may come next, for if you do, it will lead you wherever it pleases. But rather, you should introduce some fair and noble impression to replace it, and banish this base and sordid one.”

For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Not everything that Epictetus writes makes sense to me. I think passion and desire are beautiful and unavoidable emotions, and we should try to live with them rather than without them. But I like the idea of using your mind and your imagination to overcome anxiety and make your way through the world. I like the idea of working to change what you can and understanding that you can’t change everything. I like the idea of living in accord with nature, and with our nature, our name. “Further, we must remember who we are, and by what name we are called, and must try to direct our acts to fit each situation and its possibilities.” The name we are called is sister, mother, brother, father, friend, and when you act according to your name you do so regardless of the situation or the behavior of others. So if, say, your 13-year-old is unaccountably angry and moody and worrisome, you don’t respond with anger, you respond as his mother who loves him and tries to understand him at all times, if mother is one of the names you are called. I like the balance of this idea. I’m done with my ramble, but here are some Epictetus quotes that appealed to me.

Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

When a raven happens to croak unluckily, don’t allow the appearance hurry you away with it, but immediately make the distinction to yourself, and say, “None of these things are foretold to me; but either to my paltry body, or property, or reputation, or children, or wife. But to me all omens are lucky, if I will. For whichever of these things happens, it is in my control to derive advantage from it.”

Avoid swearing, if possible, altogether; if not, as far as you are able.

These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better”; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding actions: The habit of walking by walking, the habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer write.

Here’s When the Saints go Marching In by Barbecue Bob, because I love it!

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PIne nut and herb tart with a yeasted crust

Herb and pine nut tart

Herb and pine nut tart

Lately, at our Dickensian flea market, there’s been a man with a table full of books about ancient Egypt. He’s got books on history, on art, on myth, on language. It’s a full collection, somebody’s entire library. I wonder how it all ended up here. I imagine a Tintin character, a scholar with a long white beard and round glasses, an Egyptologist, who gives it all up, sells all his books,  and goes on an   adventurous journey down the Nile. I bought a beautiful book called The Literature of Ancient Egypt. I will freely admit to you that I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Of course I knew about the myths and the gods, but I didn’t know there were stories and poems, that we could still read lengthy narratives from all those years ago. And how strange and beautiful they are! They alternate between the completely human and recognizable and the fantastically bizarre. There’s a ghost story that isn’t spooky at all because “death for a deceased Egyptian who had undergone the rites ofbeatification was an extension of life…and rapport between the living and the dead was by no means always a gloomy affair.” There’s The Shipwrecked Sailor, which is a story within a story within a story, one of them told by a golden snake.

And the love poems are crazy, intimate and yearning. In a context I only remotely understand, maybe there’s a sense that the people who describe themselves as belonging to another actually belong to the other as property, but if you’ve ever been in love you know how it feels to belong with someone, and in this context, these speak to me. Listen to this love poem:

The voice of the turtledove speaks out. It says:
day breaks, which way are you going?
Lay off, little bird,
must you so scold me?

I found my lover on his bed and my heart was sweet to excess.

We said:

I shall never be far away from you
while my hand is in your hand,
and I shall stroll with you in every favorite place.

He set me first of the girls
and he does not break my heart.

and this one…

A dense growth is in it,
in the midst of which we become ennobled

I am your best girl:
I belong to you like an acre of land
which I have planted
with flowers and every sweet-smelling grass.

Pleasant is the channel through it
which your hand dug outdoor refreshing ourselves with the breeze,
a happy place for walking
with your hand in my hand.

My body is excited, my heart joyful,
at our traveling together.

Many of the passages dole out advice, mostly to sons, some from fathers who are already dead. My favorite is The Maxims of Ptahhotpe. He’s not yet dead, but he’s aging, which he describes in a Sappho-worthy passage.

    The Eyes are dim, the ears are deaf, strength is perishing because of my lassitude, the mouth is silent and cannot speak, the mind has come to an end and cannot remember yesterday, the bones suffer all over, good is become evil, all taste has gone…

His advice is sometimes strange and sexist (how to deal with the women you own), but sometimes beautifully generous and still very pertinent today. He says not to judge anyone by their position, and not to be arrogant because of your knowledge, but to confer with the ignorant man as with the learned, for “Good speech is more hidden than malachite, yet it is found in the possession of women slaves at the millstones.” Anybody is worth speaking to, if you give them the chance to speak! He says that you shouldn’t pay any attention to a man who is speaking ill of others, you should be silent because he ” will be dubbed an ignoramus when your self-control has matched his prolixity.” And he says “Do not inspire terror in men…for no terror of man has ever been effective…plan to live in peace, and what men give will come of its own accord.” And most mysterious and most lovely, “Follow your desire as long as you live and do not perform more than is ordered, do not lessen the time of following desire, for the wasting of time is an abomination to the spirit; do not use up the daytime more than is necessary for the maintenance of your household.”

It’s so strange to read words from an almost incomprehensible time ago, when it’s hard to imagine how people lived, and find truth in them that still resonates today. I’m not always the biggest fan of human beings in general, but sometimes in the bright round mystery of our history, we’re remarkable and beautiful and persistently true.

We have so many herbs growing in our garden! I love this time of year. I love the bright taste of all of the herbs mingled together with something milder like eggs or cheese or potatoes. This turned out really good, I think. I used chervil and tarragon, which are both lovely and lemony and anise-y, plus basil and thyme, and sage and rosemary, and a little oregano. You can use whatever you have. I think the idea is to use strong flavors you might not usually combine, but which work well together because they’re all growing together at the same time. Very simple tart, in many ways, so it compliments the complexity of the herbs. You could play around endlessly with this!

Here’s a song by Oum Kalthoum. Another thing I don’t understand completely, but find beautiful.

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Pizza with grilled mushrooms, french lentils and roasted potatoes

Pizza with french lentils, grilled mushrooms and roasted potatoes

Pizza with french lentils, grilled mushrooms and roasted potatoes

“Do you want to hear something that doesn’t make sense?”

“Yes I do.”

Isaac and I are walking to school on a spring morning that’s warm on the inside and cool on the outside, on a morning that makes you shiver. The day will warm up, the year will warm up, but it’s all on the edge right now. He’s got one finger hovering softly on my spine just between my shoulder blades as we walk along, which is a thing that he does lately that pretty much knocks me out with the sweetness of it.

“I’m a non-evil demon wizard who is 999 years old, and Malcolm is a 13-year-old fire wizard…”

This is not the thing that doesn’t make sense. So far, this all makes perfect sense. The thing that doesn’t make sense is that Malcolm says Isaac’s not allowed to use fire against him, or is vulnerable to Malcolm’s fire, which…

“Now you’re just making fun of me!”

I wasn’t, I swear, but I was laughing so hard I might have missed the crux of the problem. I said maybe they could work together to make something out of fire.

“I don’t make things out of fire,” replied Isaac indignantly, “I live in cities of fire!”

Well! They do this a lot. They make up worlds, and those worlds have rules, and those rules are constantly shifting. Their place in the world changes with the rules, as do their powers and abilities, their actions and their fates. Usually it’s Malcolm, with his older-brother-power, making up most of the rules, which means his character has more power and “wins.” But Isaac can hold his own, he’s got a fierce imagination too. Or he can just stop playing. I’ve been thinking that this is not something we outgrow, though the older we get the less fun and funny it is. It’s still people with more power making all the rules and telling us that our actions are useless and our abilities are worthless. Telling us that we’re powerless against their fire. And that’s when we summon our fierce imaginations and change the rules so that it works out better for everyone. Or we just stop playing their game.

Pizza with french lentils, grille mushrooms and roasted potatoes.

Pizza with french lentils, grille mushrooms and roasted potatoes.

This pizza was a good way to use up some leftovers. Leftover french lentils, leftover roast potatoes, leftover grilled mushrooms. But it was also delicious! Smoky from the pine nuts and grilled mushrooms, earthy and sweet from the lentils. Nicely crispy and soft.

Here’s You Can Never Hold Back Spring by Tom Waits, because I love it.

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Chard, raisin, and pine nut tart with chickpea flour crust

IMG_6054I drove Malcolm to a middle school dance. We were listening to the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack, we were driving through some of the prettiest countryside in the world, up and up winding roads to the school itself. It was a soft rosy 8 o’clock on the edge of an unseasonably warm day. I felt a little stale in the head, because I hadn’t slept too well, what with one thing and another, partly worrying about Malcolm being gone all day on a chorus/band trip to an amusement park. I’d weirdly missed him in the 4 hours after school we would usually spend together, despite the fact that the 4 hours after school the last two days had been fraught and difficult at times. In the scant time between the field trip and the dance we’d walked to buy two slices of pizza, and Malcolm said that it feels good to eat pizza when you’re walking down the street. So when we go home I made him watch the opening to Saturday Night Fever. And it’s not a bad thing to go to a middle school dance with the bee gees in your head. In the car on the way to the dance he didn’t seem tired, he was cheerful, and he asked me to tell David something when I got home. And I said “sure, sure” but I was lost in thought, and I didn’t hear him, and he knew it. I asked him to repeat what he said and he did, and then he said, “Don’t forget!” And put one finger from his right hand on his head, and one finger from his left hand on my forehead. We drove a little more and I said, “Can you do that again? With the fingers on the foreheads?” He said, “Why?” I said “I want to feel as bright and smart as you are.” He said, it works better like this…one hand, pinky on his head, thumb on mine. I leaned towards him, so we’d all fit, and the song playing on our radio said,

Every moment
Every moment
Every moment
Every moment

chard, raisin, pine nut and chickpea flour tart

chard, raisin, pine nut and chickpea flour tart

I said, while we were eating this that it could be the national dish of some country, and David said, “Claironia.” It’s true, this dish combines a lot of my favorite flavors. They just seem to go perfectly together. It’s juicy, a little smoky, a tiny bit sweet and a little nutty. The crust is crispy on the outside and soft and almost bready inside.

Here’s Every Moment by Rogue Wave from the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack.

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Membrillo and Manchego Tart

Membrillo and Manchego tart

Membrillo and Manchego tart

David described A Time For Burning as probably the quietest civil rights film we’ve seen. And indeed, the whole film shows people talking; quietly, earnestly, discussing issues. And yet it’s an amazingly compelling 56 minutes of film. The film, by Bill Jersey, was shot in Omaha, Nebraska in 1966, and as one of the characters explains, it’s about Lutherans talking to Lutherans. Seemingly such a small thing, a tiny step. But it turns out to be an insurmountable step to many. The film “explores the attempts of the minister of Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, to persuade his all-white congregation to reach out to ‘negro’ Lutherans in the city’s north side.” The pastor, Rev. L. William Youngdahl, is kind and thoughtful and well-meaning, and he loses his job over this issue. In the course of the film he encounters the remarkable Ernie Chambers, a barber who goes on to law school and then to become the longest-serving senator in the history of Nebraska. The conversations between Youngdahl and Chambers are bracing and passionate and necessary and uncomfortable. The conversations amongst the white parishioners are heartbreaking of the I-can’t-believe-anybody-ever-spoke-unashamedly-in-that-way-and-so-little-has-changed variety. The conversations amongst black teenagers (whose visit to the white church one Sunday caused the congregation to shrink) are lovely and hopeful and sharp. But the character I found the most moving–I don’t even know his name. He had glasses with thick lenses and thick frames, in a uniquely 1960s style. At first, listening to the reverend propose his plan, this man seemed myopic, doubtful and unsure. It would be easier, after all, to ignore the situation altogether. But over the course of the film we watch him change, incredibly change. He starts to question what it means to be human, what it means to be the person he is, in the time and place that he lives. He thinks about kindness, justice, history, his faith, his family, the future of mankind. He says he’s like a newborn, two weeks old, and the world is changing all around him. He thinks about the history of his country and the history of oppression. He recognizes how simple, how monumental this one small step would be, and he’s desperate to take it. He’s conscious of the way the country is changing all around him, in that moment, and he wants to be part of it. The saddest thing, watching nearly fifty years later, is how little has changed. This is a painfully relevant film, and everyone should watch it.

I wasn’t going to go on so long about it, because the characters speak for themselves, and there’s a documentary about the documentary that discusses it all much more intelligently than I could ever do.

So! Someone gave me a little carton of Membrillo, which I love. And I bought a little bit of manchego, and I thought I’d turn them into a tart, because they just have to be together. It’s a super-simple tart, flavor-wise, and not hard to make.

Here’s Chambers Brothers and Barbrara Dane, from 1966, the year A Time For Burning was filmed, with You’ve Got to Reap What You Sow.

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Roasted parsnip, pecan, and caramelized shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Well I finally finished reading Zola’s Nana. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get through it. I enjoyed it and admired it; of course it’s  well-written, but the truth is it made me a little sad and it’s hard to spend too much time in Nana’s world. None of the characters treat her very well, and neither does Zola himself. It’s not just that he’s cruel to her with the plot, although he is. He’s not kind to her with his words, or with the words he has her speak. I don’t think it’s intentional on his part. He wanted her to be a sympathetic character, he didn’t want her to be held responsible for all of the destruction that occurs. In his notes about her, which he assembled before he wrote the novel, he describes her as “…good-natured above all else. Follows her nature, but never does harm for heart’s sake, and feels sorry for people.” But just as she becomes “…a ferment of destruction, but without meaning to, simply by means of her sex…” so she also becomes a character Zola can’t completely realize or embrace, because he knows he doesn’t understand her and he fears her power. Zola’s style of writing is very straight-forward and unadorned, almost documentary. I learned in the introduction to my version that Zola published a work called The Experimental Novel around the same time that Nana came out, in which he said that “imagination had no place in the modern world, and that the novelist, like the scientist, should simply observe and record, introducing characters with specific hereditary peculiarities into a given environment–just as the chemist places certain substances in a retort–and then noting down the progress and results of his “experiment.” So Nana reacts to the world around her, and vice versa, because of “hereditary peculiarities” and because she’s a woman. But of course a novel isn’t scientific, and relations between anybody, either real or fictional, are never predictable. Even in reality, we create the people in our life. We take notes on their character, we make decisions about them and expectations about how they’ll act. And sometimes we’re not kind about it, particularly if we don’t understand them or fear them because they’re different from us. For the most part Zola maintains the cool clinical tone of an observer. But to me the novel is most beautiful when people behave unexpectedly, and when Zola’s language bursts through with emotion and poetry. Nana has many lovers, but there’s only one person she seems to actually love, who seems to love her, Satin. Satin calls to her, “Come along! Come along!” and “Nana undressed in the dressing-room. To be quicker about it, she took her thick mass of blonde hair in both hands and began shaking it above the silver wash-basin, so that a shower of long hair-pins rang a chime on the shining metal.” What a perfect poem of anticipation! It’s a kindness, a gift, this moment and this love, no matter how short-lived. In literature, as in life, everything is more beautiful when it’s messy and unexpected and we don’t decide about it beforehand.

I’ve been making lots of pizzas lately! I always make a “normal” one for the boys, with marinara and mozzarella, and then I make a weird one. I’ve been experimenting with lots of almost-pesto sauces, which are almost more like savory frangipane. And this one was no exception. It had a pecan sauce, which I actually made earlier in the week to have with kofta. I added an egg and a little smoked gouda and topped it with roasted parsnips and caramelized shallots. Smoky, savory, a little sweet. Nice.

Here’s Nantes by Beirut, because it sounds almost like “Nana” and it’s got the French connection.

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Small pies with french lentils and greens


    American Mythologies #5: dress your way/EVERYBODY IN KHAKIS.

I ordered some clothes from a certain company and now they are my best friend. They’re so friendly and attentive, and I know they like me a lot because they write to me many times a day, offering me special exclusive deals that nobody else is privy to. The other day they sent me this message…

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 10.48.18 AM

Do you see how it is? You can have your own unique style just like everybody else. We’re all individuals! We’re all the same in being utterly original. Here in America we’re a nation of mavericks, we all do what we want to do and like what we want to like. Of course it helps if plenty of other people like it, too. Not everyone of course, but the right people, the cool people, and we can depend on advertising to reliably tell us who those people are. And we can count on the internet to tell us what’s viral and trending, so that we see exactly what everybody else sees, and so that we remember to watch to the very last second, because that is the moment that will astound us! Oxymoronically, even our most conservative politicians are mavericks. They keep us on our toes, we never know what crazy method they’re going to use to ensure America’s complete homogeneity. Remember Herbert Hoover’s rugged individualism during the depression? Well that’s who we are, we’re all individuals who can take care of ourselves, with no help from the government or anyone else at all. We can pull on our own bootstraps! We can iron our own khakis. Because there’s no greater marker of distinctive idiosyncratic style than a good pair of khakis. Originally adopted as a uniform for soldiers, so that they were all uniformly dressed, this drab fabric is supposed to stand out nowhere on nobody; you’ll melt seamlessly into the background wherever you may be. And now it’s the uniform of waiters and clerks and businessmen, of anybody who needs to be just like everybody else. Of course the truth is that although we haven’t always had the highest tolerance for difference, America has a splendid history of eccentrics, some celebrated, some obscure and forgotten. Many of the people who first declared America to be America, and then many of the people who forged West on some mad mission, despite the hardships and deprivations, must have been completely bonkers, and not always in a good way. And the truth is, that despite what my new best friends at the clothing company and their associates in the advertising division might tell us, you can be completely bonkers in a good way even if you’re wearing khakis. Even if you’re wearing the wrong khakis, which are out of style and ill-fitting and which you were forced to buy to work at some job that is strangling your soul. Even then, you can have a world of weird and wonderful thoughts in your head, which are unique and distinctive and entirely yours.

We ate these little pies on New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. Because lentils and greens and round foods are supposedly good luck, for health and wealth and happiness. They’re simple, but I thought they were really good.

Here’s Strange by Screaming Jay Hawkins
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Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

American Mythologies, #4: Catcher in the Rye is a sophomoric over-rated novel about teen angst.

    The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. A controversial novel originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angst and alienation.The novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion.

Thus speaketh Wikipedia, and although ordinarily I would eschew Wikipedia as a less-than-scholarly source, when dealing with American mythologies, it is the authority, the ultimate collection of all of the opinions that have gathered over the years to become myth. Whether or not you like Catcher in the Rye, I think we can all agree that it has achieved mythic status in the pantheon of American literature. And Salinger’s legendary reclusiveness has only added to the mysterious air of cool that clings to the novel. I would argue that, over the years, our ideas of what the novel is about have taken on a life of their own, so that now they seem more real in some ways than the original story, and they bear little relation to it. Now we think of Holden as a rebel, a maverick, and if they ever made the book into a movie (which, mercifully, they never will) it would star James Dean or a young Marlon Brando. Wikipedia tells us, “Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States,” because Holden was a bad role model, further adding, “Often the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself.” No less than three shootings have been somehow associated with the book. Of course none of this has anything to do with anything that actually happens in the book. The very phrase, “teen angst” is disparaging; it suggests that the nature of the angst is trivial and misguided, a self-centered foolishness to be outgrown, born of boredom and a bratty hatred for everything and everybody. Teen angst is all about ME, and why I’m so unfortunate. And I think Holden is thinking about everyone around him: his elderly teacher, the ducks in Central Park, his kid sister, his old friend, his dead brother, children in some mis-heard song, some miserable kid prostitute in a green dress. I think that’s why it’s beautiful. I don’t think Holden hates anyone, I think his problem, the source of his pain, is that he loves everyone he meets. Even with the people he doesn’t like he finds something to love. The kid who is a terrific bore is an excellent whistler, “So I don’t know about bores. Maybe you shouldn’t feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them. They’re don’t hurt anybody, most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.” He loves everybody: the mother he meets on the train, the nuns he meets in the station, the grippey teacher who yells “good luck” at him, the girl whose roller skate he tightens. He’s not the scowling kid who scrawls “Fuck You” every where he goes, he’s the kid who gets depressed when he sees that somebody else has done that. He doesn’t hate school because he’s too cool for it, it’s just the opposite, he hates the fact that people are forced to be more cool, more contained, to dim their enthusiasm. “What I mean is, lots of time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most. I mean you can’t help it sometimes. What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.” He doesn’t mistrust adults or authority figures, unless they’re hypocritical or tyrannical. I think he recognizes that they’re as confused as he is, that you never really outgrow the bewilderment caused by human connection, by sex, by loss, by loneliness. I think Holden is a teenager in the way Calvin is a six-year-old, his age allows him to say things we’re all feeling, as does the fact that he keeps calling himself a moron and a madman. There’s a passage in the book in which he’s talking about Laurence Olivier’s performance of Hamlet and he says, “He was too much like a goddamn general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy.” And I think Holden is that sad, screwed up type guy, too, not a fighter, not a rebel. And he’s got good reason to be sad. In Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the title characters go through the long list of woes that have afflicted Hamlet, and then they say, “And why are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?” It’s like that with Catcher in the Rye, too. His brother died at the age of eleven, when Holden was only thirteen. Three short years prior to the time that the story is set. He’s been in one boarding school after another since that time, alone, lonely, homesick, mourning. It’s Christmas time and he’s afraid to go home because he’s failed out of another school. Why would he behave in this extraordinary way? Why would he have a breakdown and become sick and sit in the park thinking he was going to die? Why would he talk aloud to his dead brother, wracked with regret over the one time he didn’t let him ride to his friend’s house years ago? How could he not! He’s searching for some sort of meaningful connection, and he’s disappointed by people who pretend to be something they’re not, or hide who they really are. But he loves them anyway. I know I quote this passage too much, but he reminds me of Alyosha in Brothers Karamazov, “Do you know, Lise, my elder told me once to care for most people exactly as one would for children, and for some of them as one would for the sick in hospitals.” Holden feels sorry for people a lot, and I think that’s a form of love. At the end of Franny and Zooey, when Zooey, as an adolescent, says everybody is a moron, his brother Seymore tells him to shine his shoes or be funny for the fat lady, and then Franny and Zooey get this idea of a cancer patient somewhere, listening to them talk, and then Zooey says the fat lady is christ, which means that everybody is christ, but they’re Jewish, so it’s not in any Christian sense of the word. It’s about loving everybody that you meet. And I think Holden does that. In Brothers Karamazov Ivan talks at great length about the suffering of children, and he asks Alyosha if he would kill one child to bring peace to the entire world. Alysosha wouldn’t, he would save the child, and Holden, standing on the edge of a cliff, would save all the children if he could, as they come running through the rye.

I’ve gone on and on, and I could go on even more! I could write a book about this book. But I won’t. I’ll tell you about this pizza instead. I think it had nice flavors, sort of nutty from the salsify and asparagus, and bright from the tarragon. We grew salsify in our garden this summer, and we’re just harvesting it now. It’s a funny sort of root, with a mild sweet nutty flavor. It’s quite hard to find in stores. You could replace it with parsnips if you can’t find salsify. It’s similar, and much easier to clean. Or you could leave it out altogether. This would still be tasty.

Here’s Just One of Those Things by Art Tatum, because it’s a song Holden likes.

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Pizza with pecan sage pesto and roasted mushrooms and potatoes

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’m feeling a little foggy in my brain lately, and if I’m being honest I’ve been in a bad mood. A terrible bad mood. (As opposed to my usual wonderful bad mood.) I’ve been epically discouraged, and I don’t really feel like doing anything. Blame it on the hibernating weather, if you like. So today I sat down to do nothing in the form of watching the supplementary material on a DVD we watched a week or so ago. Interviews with the director and the stars. This wasn’t the usual Hollywood miasma of self-congratulatory celebrities recounting hijinks with forced jollity. This was people remembering a film they worked on fifty-two years ago, reflecting on their lives at that time and on what they had become. And I swear to god the director had a message for me. It’s an odd story. Serge Bourguignon made Sundays and Cybele in 1962. It was his first feature and he was thirty-three years old. It didn’t do very well in France, it didn’t get distribution, but it got rave reviews at the Venice film festival, a New York Times reporter called it a masterpiece, and it won the oscar for best foreign language film. Needless to say, all this attention and affection from critics and Americans meant that the film got distribution in France, and also that it earned scorn from the other French filmmakers of the New Wave. Their films were fast, unplanned, edgy. Sundays and Cybele is slow and dreamlike, and it’s finely made. I’ve always admired the collaborative nature of the French New Wave, how they made films together and talked about films together and wrote about films together. It’s always seemed like it would be fun to live in such a time, to have friends like that. Bourguignon describes the new wavers as a club of cool kids, which he wasn’t part of, and I’d never really thought of it in that light. And then I read a modern scholarly essay on the film, and the author talked about how differently the film would be received now than it was then, because we’re all so jaded and cynical now and people grow up so fast. But to hear the people talking, people were always jaded and cynical and even in 1962 they watched the film with doubt and suspicion. The film tells the story of a thirty-year-old soldier, scarred by his experiences in Vietnam, who has trouble remembering, trouble fitting in. He meets a twelve-year-old girl, abandoned by her parents, who develops a strong attachment to him. They love each other, they’re good friends, and that is all. They’re children together, and she helps him as much as he helps her. Complicated, of course, but beautiful, like most human relationships. The director and the stars describe the filmmaking process as a wonderfully serendipitous time. Everything happened exactly as it should, everyone was happy, every moment was perfectly captured just as it should be. And the film is ridiculously beautiful, gorgeously filmed, so perfectly acted it doesn’t feel like acting, with a wonderful score, and a strangely dizzyingly clear feeling of looking at the world through patterns in glass or water.

Bourguignon talks about his career after Sundays and Cybele, which went really nowhere. He doesn’t sound bitter. And he says, I have written films since, I have dreamed films, and maybe someday another little miracle will happen, and I will make another film. Well! I have dreamed films! I have written films! And the film I have written, which on my good days I know that I will make someday, has almost exactly the same plot as Sundays and Cybele. That’s why I first noticed the film! That’s why I watched the DVD as soon as it became available on DVD! It’s the strangest thing, I tell you, the strangest thing, to sit here feeling old and discouraged and watch Bourguignon, who by any account has had remarkable success in his life, sounding old and discouraged. And then sounding so hopeful! It’s discombobulating. Well, I will make my film one day, and I look forward to watching Bourguignon’s next small miracle of a film as well.

pizza with pecan sage pesto

pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’ve been making lots of cheesy crusty things lately, to set myself up for hibernation, and this was no exception. Very autumnal! It’s smoky and flavorful. It’s more of a custard than a pesto, I guess, but either way…

Here’s Marisa Anderson in a tiny desk concert for NPR. I think she’s remarkable.

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