Black Rice and French Lentil Tacos with Pistachio Herb Sauce

Black rice, french lentil tacos

Black rice, french lentil tacos

There’s a scene in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot in which the titular idiot, Prince Myshkin (who, of course, is not an idiot at all but the wisest man in any room) tells the story of a condemned man. He describes, in great detail, the thoughts going through the condemned man’s mind, minute by minute. “He said that nothing was more oppressive for him at that moment than the constant thought: ‘What if I were not to die! What if life were given back to me–what infinity! And it would all be mine! Then I’d turn each minute into a whole age, I’d lose nothing, I’d reckon up every  minute separately, I’d let nothing be wasted!'” And someone asks Myshkin what happened to the condemned man after his punishment was changed at the last minute, and he was granted “infinite life.” Did he live reckoning up every  minute? “Oh, no, he told me himself–I asked him about it–he didn’t live that way at all and lost  many, many minutes.” The condemned man is Dostoesvsky himself! This exact thing happened to him when he was 29 years old–he was before the firing squad when a reprieve was delivered. So the account of the rest of his life must be about him, as well, he lost many, many minutes, as we all do.

I love the fact that Myshkin knows Dostoevsky, not by name, but as a man he’s spoken to, at one time or another. And one of the things I love most about The Idiot is just how much Dostoevsky seems not to know Myshkin, from time-to-time. He loves him, clearly, as does everybody who meets him, even the angry anarchists who don’t want to love him at all. And at moments he has beautiful flashes of insight into Myshkin’s thoughts and feelings–just before his epileptic fit, for example. Because, of course, Myshikin is Dostoevsky, in part, his creation, born of his imagination. But there are times when Dostoevsky says, regarding the Prince’s actions and emotions, “…we can supply very little information.” He doesn’t know where the Prince disappeared to, or why he left! He doesn’t know, and he gives us only the hints and rumors that any of the other characters would be privy to. And at the end, when we wonder why the Prince acted the way he did in a certain crisis, he says, “And yet we feel that we must limit ourselves to the simple statement of facts…because we ourselves, in many cases, have difficulty explaining what happened.” Of course this has the effect of allowing us to see Prince Myshkin as a strange and inexplicable creature in a society in which people have certain expectations for the way people will act and speak. But it’s also a beautiful description of the creation of a character who becomes alive for the writer and the reader, a character you think long about after you’ve finished the book.

When Dostoevsky wrote he didn’t know what would happen next in his story, so that he was just as surprised by it as the reader. And the first parts of the book were published in journals before he’d written the next, so he couldn’t go back and change his mind. The story becomes as inevitable as our lives. The Idiot is meandering and strange and strangely written in a way that I find thrilling. In a clumsy, beautiful, heartfelt “explanation,” Ippolit, the angry anarchist, who considers himself condemned to death by the last stages of consumption, tells us about the joy of traveling when you don’t know where you’re going, and of trying to understand things and express things  you will never be able to understand or express, “Ask them, only ask them one and all, what they understand by happiness? Oh, you may be sure that Columbus was happy not when he had discovered America, but when he was discovering it; you  may be sure that the highest moment of his happiness was, perhaps exactly three days before the discovery of the New World, when the mutinous crew in their despair almost turned the ship back to Europe, right around! The New World is not the point here, it can just as well perish. Columbus died having seen very little of it and in fact not knowing what he had discovered. The point is in life, in life alone–discovering it, constantly and eternally, and not at all in the discovery itself. But what is the point of talking? I suspect that everything I am saying  now sounds so much like the most common phrases that I will probably be taken for a student in the lowest grade presenting his easy on ‘the sunrise….’ But, nevertheless, I will add that in any ingenious or new human thought, or even simply in any ernest human thought born in someone’s head, there always remains something which it is quite impossible to convey to other people, though you may fill whole volumes with writing and spend thirty-five years trying to explain your thought; there always remains something that absolutely refuses to leave your skull and will stay with you forever; you will die with it, not having conveyed to anyone what is perhaps most important in your idea.”

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

I love the flavor or black rice, so nutty! And I especilaly love it mixed with a bit of smoked basmati, which makes it ridiculously tasty. And of course I love French Lentils! I made both of these separately, then stir fried them with some garlic, added spinach and cannelloni beans, and seasoned with smoked paprika and garam masala. We ate them with warm tortillas, grated mozzarella cheese and an herbaceous pistachio sauce. Really nice! It was also very easy to make, and tonight the leftovers will turn into croquettes.

Here’s Idiot Wind by Bob Dylan

Continue reading

Advertisements

Roasted tomato-pinenut sauce and potatoes baked with tomato broth and leeks

Potatoes and leeks in tomato broth

Potatoes and leeks in tomato broth

My kids are the most bright and beautiful. Just like everybody else’s kids. Do I tell them they’re bright and beautiful? Of course I do! Every time they say something funny or make something clever, every time they act wisely or kindly. Every time I feel it, which is all the time. Am I worried that I’m going to turn them into entitled little narcissists? Honestly, I’m not. The world will knock them down. People can be so cruel, and they’re just teetering on the precipice of the valley of nauseating self-doubt and insecurity that is the teen years. The world will knock them down, and they’ll be strong enough to get back up again.

There’s some article making the rounds advising that you shouldn’t tell your child they’re special. Of course your child is special! Everybody’s child is special, and we’re all somebody’s child! We’re all special in the way that we’re all unique, that is, equally so. You can’t be more unique or the most unique, it doesn’t make sense–the laws of grammar and nature don’t allow it. So it is with specialness. But my children are also special to me, each of them, in a way that nobody else in the world is. I feel that this is something I’ve earned. It’s the gift that comes along with all the worry and trouble and sleepless nights. Do I tell them this? Not in so many words, I suppose. “Special” is such a strange word, so overused and undervalued, with such shifting meanings. But I hope that they understand it, in the way children understand a million things that we don’t say to them in so many words.

So I will praise my children, I want them to feel good about the things they do well, I want them to feel brave about trying things they might not do well. I want them to feel good about themselves. Insecurity is a dangerous quality, in my experience, and can cause people to behave in petty or destructive ways. When you feel bad about yourself it’s tempting to make other people feel bad about themselves, too. The big hope, of course, is that they’ll love themselves, and they’ll love everybody else, too. Which is where empathy and respect enter the equation. You teach them about empathy and respect by the way you treat them as though they’re special, and you treat each other that way, and the dog, and your neighbors, and everybody that you meet. Praise your children! Tell them that they’re smart and funny and beautiful. Respect them, show them love any way you can. Tell them that they’re special. To you, and in the world. It will make them stronger. And while you’re at it, praise someone else’s children as well, praise everybody’s children.
Roasted tomato and pine nut sauce

Roasted tomato and pine nut sauce

These two dishes go together! Partly because you use the broth from one to cook together. Partly because they’re both a tribute to late summer produce. We have (almost) more tomatoes than we know what to do with. And from our lovely farm we’ve got heaps of tiny potatoes, beautiful leeks and red and yellow peppers. If they grow together, they taste good together, right? I like to make oven roasted tomato sauces because it’s so easy to pick the peels out when they’re done cooking, rather than do that whole boiling and peeling thing before you make the sauce. But if you use all the juices from the tomatoes in the sauce it turns out quite thin. I decided to save the juiciness to baste some tiny potatoes and some braised leeks–simple, with only lemon thyme, white wine, and a lot of salt and pepper. The tomato sauce, then is much thicker, and it’s thickened still with toasted bread and nuts. Almost like a romesco sauce, but with pine nuts instead of hazelnuts, and far more tomatoes than peppers. You can use whatever tomatoes you happen to have in abundance at the moment. I used a mix of red, yellow, black. It’s nice spread on bread or roasted eggplant. It would make a nice sauce for pizza. Or you could just dip things in it. Whatever you like!
Here’s Top Special  by the White Stripes

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

PIne nut and sundried tomato sauce

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

When I was in high school, our English teacher handed us a xerox (or maybe it was a mimeograph, this was a long long time ago). It contained words in sentences, but there was nothing to identify it. No title, no author’s name. We didn’t know if it was fact or fiction, we didn’t know when or why it was written. The sentences were short, simple and strangely repetitive. The words were small plain words, and a few of these unimportant words were repeated from sentence to sentence or within sentences. The story was disarmingly uneventful. The teacher asked us what we thought of the writing, and we were all under-impressed and thought the author had a lot of work to do, tightening the writing and combining sentences and working a little harder to keep our attention, making it a little easier for us to get through the story. We’d been fed certain rules of effective writing for over a decade and we had thoroughly absorbed them. I didn’t think about this at the time, but I’m fairly certain that if the author had sent the first few pages of his manuscript to an agent or publisher today, they’d have given up after the first paragraph, and he’d never ever hear from them. Well, guess what? The author was Ernest Hemingway. That’s right, Ernest Hemingway. And though I doubt any of us had read enough Hemingway to form any kind of opinion about him at that point, we’d heard of him. We knew that other people liked him. He was well-known and well-respected. And suddenly we saw everything differently. The simplicity of the story seemed significant, even profound. The simplicity of the language seemed elemental, important. The repetition made beautiful, resonant little circles of words. And everything we’d learned about writing was bullshit. Well I’m very grateful to this teacher, because I think the understanding we gleaned from this lesson applies to all things, at least all things creative, and I consider life the biggest creative endeavor of them all. Don’t trust platitudes, be wary of easy advice. Don’t “kill your darlings,” your darlings are what make your writing yours. What would the world be like if Dickens or Nabokov had been more restrained, or had edited their work till it was spare and sellable? “Write about what you know” doesn’t mean write about the clumps of dirt in your backyard, it means write about what you know to be true, write with honesty about how it feels to human, even if you’re describing life a hundred years ago, a hundred years hence, or in a world that never existed. Speak with the rhythm in your head, even if you think people won’t understand it or be able to keep up with it or slow down to it. They might find it beautiful in the end. When they realize who you are. And read everything you encounter, everyone you meet, as if you’d love what they do, if you knew who they were.

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Speaking of simple! This is one of those simple yet delicious dishes. I bought a little bottle of sundried tomatoes in olive oil. If you buy dried sundried tomatoes, you might want to soak them in hot water (and then drain them) before using them in this recipe. This is a creamy vegan sauce with lots of flavor. You could add smoked paprika or roasted garlic if you want, they’d both be nice here. We ate this with roasted vegetables and chard croquettes one night, and with tacos the next night. You could dip things in it, or spread it on things, or toss it with pasta or rice. I think it would be fine however you’d like to use it!

The Hemingway I spoke of earlier is from his Nick Adams stories, or In Our Time. To this day, I’m not his biggest fan, but I love these stories. Here’s a sample of the language.

    As he smoked his legs stretched out in front of him, he noticed a grasshopper walk along the ground and up onto his woolen sock. The grasshopper was black. As he had walked along the road, climbing, he had started grasshoppers from with dust. They were all black They were not the big grasshoppers with yellow and black or red and black wings whirring out from their black wing sheathing as they fly up. These were just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color. Nick had wondered about them as he walked without really thinking about them. Now, as he watched the black hopper that was nibbling at the wool of his sock with its fourway lip he realized that they had all turned black from living in the I burned-over land. He realized that the fire must have come the year before, but the grasshoppers were all black now. He wondered how long they would stay that way.

Here’s Simple Things by Belle and Sebastian.

Continue reading

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
Continue reading