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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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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Green spring tart (with pistachios, pine nuts, asparagus, olives, brie…)

Green spring tart

Green spring tart

AMERICAN MYTHOLOGIES #6. SUPER HEROES

I love all the “real” myths. The ancient stories, as old as humanity, which resonate and repeat around the world, answering questions about the origins of everything: how did the world begin, how do we make our place in it, where did we come from, where are we going? They answer the earliest questions, questions of conception, birth, creation. In the grand scheme of things, America is a very young nation. We’re teenagers, maybe. Or maybe we’re at that age just past adolescence when our swagger starts to falter, and we try to relive our glory days and we regret the insouciance of our youth. Accordingly our own mythological figures, our superheroes, have more adolescent concerns. These are the stories we all know, as Americans, these are the tales of valor, the epic struggles, the characters with godly speed and strength, with more-the-human abilities. And they help us to address, as a nation, all of the anxieties in our teeming teenage brain. How do we explain the changes in our body, which we can neither understand nor control? And these changes bring about a strange new power, which we can neither understand nor control. And, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and if there’s one thing teenagers hate, it’s responsibility. Superhero myths help us to work through anxieties about the source of our power–the science and technology that have changed our lives faster than we can compute. They helped to make us a super power, but they made us dangerous, too, and our morality didn’t always develop at an equivalent rate. The older myths tried to make sense of the justice or lack of it that people faced every day, and our superhero stories do this, too. When our authority figures mete out unfair punishments, just as in the earlier myths, super people and lesser gods try to trick the most powerful. Our superhero stories help us to understand evil, the dark side, and that it’s sometimes part of ourselves, confusing and strangely compelling. And they reflect a strangely American optimism: anything is possible, ordinary people are capable of great things. My boys have known the superhero stories almost sense they could talk. They seem to have learned them by osmosis. And as long as they could talk they’ve imagined powers for themselves, they’ve invented “guys,” who are capable of weird and wonderful things. They give them a history, an origin story, they draw them and sing songs about them, and they become them as they fly down the street, leaving all the worries of the real world behind.

I tried to put every green thing I could think of in this tart! So it’s got spinach and arugula and tarragon inside, and it’s got bright castelvetrano olives, asparagus and pistachio nuts on top. It was a nice combination…juicy and bright and nutty all at once.

Here’s MF DOOM’s Beef Rap, with the spiderman samples!

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