Chipotle Roasted Potatoes

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On an unseasonably warm day in February, Clio and I went for a jaunt on the towpath. It was like swimming in the ocean. We passed through alternating currents of warmth and coolness, which bewilderingly didn’t correspond to the areas of slatted light and shadow. The birds were confused and loud, in a tizzy; the bees and beetles were aimless and dizzy. Thawing mud and wet grass had a hopeful scent. And the late February light was hopeful, slanting on slick bare branches, bright wet moss and bark.

Of course the unseasonable hopeful warmth came to an end. The sky was inky, gloomy and ominous. The rain spattered against windows half-opened for the first time in months. The wind threatened to tear the roof off, and the storm on the radar looked like a solid flaming bar of hellfire headed our way. And now the bushes and trees, with their hopeful budding leaves, look vulnerable and almost foolish, stretching out of the snow.

Everything has felt a little darker and colder since the election of our 45th president, and the creeping greyness gets thicker and heavier with each passing day, with each new reading of the news. So much to say and do, nothing to be said or done. It’s overwhelming and exhausting, which is the point of it all. It’s like we’re all little kids with super-villain parents. They’re trying to wear us out or distract us with shiny things so that they can get on with their fiendish plans.

Yeah, I’m tired. I guess I’m just a “liberal snowflake,” and I’m melting. Like everyone else who didn’t vote for Trump, I’m weak and needy, and I should just man-up and accept the reality of Trump’s world. Except that there is no reality in Trump’s world. It’s not real, it’s based on alternative facts and ambiguous words and outright obvious ridiculous lies. And one of the obvious lies is that there’s any strength or courage in anything Trump represents. He claims to be a tough man who will make America strong again, but he is so clearly a weak childish man who is frantically destroying everything that made us strong in the first place. His platform is, unabashedly, that America and Americans should say “Me first, everyone else is trying to hurt me and take what is rightfully mine.” Toddler logic. And the funny thing is that Trump is like a toddler with super-villain parents just like the rest of us. Because he’s not in charge, and we all know who is. And his handlers give him shiny things so that the rest of us will get distracted when he has a tantrum and throws them out of his pram.

Well! Surely nothing makes you weaker or more of a victim than to assume that everybody is out to get you. As anyone who as ever spent time being human can tell you, it takes more strength to care about people than to shut yourself off. It takes great courage to care for someone you know, and even more to care for a stranger. It’s not brave to assume that anyone different from you is a threat, and it’s downright evil to play on ignorance and sow fear by telling people that anyone different from them is a threat. It’s cowardly to shut people out of your life or your country, and it’s more-than-foolish to do so based on rumors and lies. It takes strength to fight these appeals to the worse demons of our nature, the demons of selfishness, suspicion, and bigotry. But we’re finding the strength to fight, often in surprising places. There are no paid protestors at the Town Halls and rallies. These are grandparents and babies and everything in between, many of them politically awake for the first time in their lives. And I’m beginning to let myself hope that the warmth and ferocity of our struggle will melt this administration, with its feeble understanding, fragile ego, and frightened brittle rhetoric; we will melt it to nothing.

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Potatoes with capers, olives, artichokes, almonds and paprika

Smoky spicy potatoes with olives capers and artichoke hearts

Smoky spicy potatoes with olives capers and artichoke hearts

We go to the river most days in the summer, so the boys and dog can swim. You can probably hear me, from wherever you happen to live, yelling to them to come back, closer to the shore, closer to me. Once upon a time a grown man came and plunged into the water with them. At first his small dog nervously swam out to reach him, crying with each stroke, as nervous swimming dogs do. But the man swam farther and farther out, he was more than halfway across the river, and he was floating away with the current, down the river towards the bridge. It was, at once, a most peaceful and a most anxious sight. He seemed fine, he was fine, he probably just wanted to know what it was like to hang out on the pylons with the turtles, and who hasn’t wanted to do that? But I’d been standing in the sun for a long time, and reading my book of Egyptian literature, and feeling a little dazed. I imagined him having existential thoughts. Not a crisis, just a pondering, a “Why not float out to sea?” moment. The center-piece of my Egyptian literature book is a “remarkable Middle Kingdom text” called The Man Who Was Tired of Life. It’s a dialogue between a man and his soul. I know what you’re thinking, plenty of people have written dialogues between body and soul. There’s Andrew Marvel’s A Dialogue Between the Body and the Soul, and Yeats A Dialogue between Self and Soul. But this is early, this is from the middle kingdom of Egyptian literature, and that’s…that’s…well, I honestly have no idea when that was, but it’s really early. And this man is so strangely relatable. I imagine most people have felt like this at one time or another. He’s feeling down. Partially in the “I think I’ll go eat worms,” way. “Behold, my name is detested, Behold more than the smell of vultures/ On a summer’s day when the sky is hot.” (More than the smell of vultures!) But he’s also feeling discouraged about people, about all of humanity.

“To whom can I speak today?/ Faces are averted,/ And every man looks askance at his brethren.
To whom can I speak today?/ Hearts are rapacious/And there is no man’s heart in which one can trust.
To whom can I speak today?/ There are no just persons/And the land is left over to doers of wrong.”

The strange thing…when we came home from the river, I sat in our cool store and continued to make my slow way through Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and I happened to be on a passage in which thirteen-year-old Kolya says to Prince Myshkin, “Honest People are terribly scarce here, so that there’s really nobody one can respect…We are all adventurers nowadays…they are all money-grubbers, every one of them.”
And then, if you read the news, especially lately, it’s hard not to get down about humanity, it’s hard to keep from being discouraged and cynical and pessimistic. But it’s important to remember that for every piece of tragic news, we can cling to hope in the response of most of the people who hear it: in the outpouring of sympathy and love and even anger, all of these things that will combine to push us towards justice. “Hate won’t win.” And the man on the river made it easily to shore, and stood on the bank joking with whoever was standing there. And the soul persuades the Man Who Was Tired of Life to carry on, and to “Cast complaint upon the peg,…and cleave to life.” And Myshkin, who notices everything and understands everything, says, “What could I teach you? At first I was simply not dull; I soon began to grow stronger. Then every day became precious to me, and more precious as time went on, so that I began to notice it. I used to go to bed very happy and get up happier still. But it would be hard to say why.” We have to cleave to hope, even if we can’t say why.

Here’s Amazing Grace by Blind Willie McTell

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Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée (and croquettes)

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

Kale, castelvetrano and pistachio purée

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

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

Kale, pistachio, and castelvetrano croquettes

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

Here’s Booker T and the MGs with Time is Tight
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