Chickpea flour-battered shishito peppers

In the evenings Clio and I might walk to a field on the edge of town. Each day it’s a little darker; autumn works quickly. We’re probably not supposed to be there. We’ve been warned off other fields by the police. And she could run away from me, it’s not fenced in and she’s done it before, in other fields, in other years. Maybe there’s a ghostly deer she could follow into the thicket, along the creek, to the big road. Of course I go through the list of all the worries, every single time; all tangling with the bigger list of worries, which has grown and grown in the last half-year.

But I drop her leash, I let her run with the frantic joy of a fast girl who has been stuck in a house for half a year. She comes back to me, and Is there anything more beautiful than the beaming crossing white paws of a grey dog, flashing towards you in a forbidden field in the near-dark? I think not.

We might walk back on the towpath. Nearly dark now, screech owls asking their querulous questions. The lights on fences and sheds come on as we pass, they light for us, and make a glowing tunnel through the trees. I’m talking to people in my head. I’m talking to people I know, and people I’ve never met. I’m talking to Clio, who looks up at me in the dark with her smoky beautiful eyes. I have so much anger and sadness that’s been building in me for the last 8 months, the last 3 years.

The chalk-white path is striped with lights and shadow. The canal water is lacquer-black, with slowly floating leaves glowing in the warmth of light from houses. We come to our stop on the path at a house with a beautiful little garden clinging to it along the towpath, a garden with a magnificent fig tree. All the long cold spring it was wrapped in burlap, dormant, but by the last weeks of summer it was vibrant, verdant, full of beautiful small figs. The owners of the fig tree, whose names I didn’t know then though I do know them now, gave me three beautiful figs. They were so rosy and pretty, and we ate them with honey.

And this is what has made all the difference, not just in the last 8 months, not just in the last four years, but (I have to believe) always. A moment of personal connection, a gesture of generosity, a gift of something grown and cared for. Certainly the value of friendship and decency has appeared in a stark and heightened light in our season of isolation. Certainly after four years of anger, hatred, and division raining down from above, kindness seems rare and important. It’s hard to think of things to be thankful for, lately, but surely this is one, the appreciation for small moments of connection, the understanding of how precious they are.

Ordinary friends, I want/need to write again. I’ve been dormant and discouraged. I apologize in advance for any crappy posts I may post, including this one. I’m rusty and well out of practice of writing anything at all. Of writing anything at all I care about.

This summer we got shishito peppers on the regular from our CSA. Eating them like this was pretty much my favorite thing for a while. It’s basically shishito pakoras, but there something so fun about eating an entire pepper! Seeds and stem and all. It’s just delicious, but mostly it’s fun. And I’ve read that though they’re mild and sweet, there’s often a surprisingly hot one in the mix. I love that idea! We haven’t encountered one yet, but you never know. You could easily mix up the spices here, or just use curry powder or garam masala, or any of the spice mixes available in this day and age.

Here’s my musical obsession from the last few months. Mano Negra with Mala Vida. I love the little film, I love the song, I love it all!

Black rice, bean and beet burgers

Hello Ordinary Friends. It’s been a bizarre, sad time for the whole world. I’ve written a bunch of stuff and deleted it all. There’s really nothing I can say.

Everything feels more emotional than usual, but does everything feels heightened, or does everything feel dulled, because it’s the same thing every day? It’s a strange, lost-at-sea feeling. All rules are changed. We’re working on airport rules. Air-borne disease rules. Not going to lie (one of my favorite phrases the youth use now) we’ve had some heartrendingly beautiful times and some probably equally beautiful, in the end, but not so fun times.

So when Malcolm and I made this movie it made me happier than I can say. It started out as a retelling of a Greek myth, something we’ve talked about for a long while now. It turned into a meditation on being stuck with yourself during quarantine. That was all Malcolm. All of his decisions were the right decisions, and his vision is remarkable.

And of course we’ve been cooking and baking like mad! I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while now. This is the best vegetarian burger recipe in the world. In a time of impossible, unreal and unlikely burgers, let’s celebrate the beauty of a flavorful bean and rice burger. Black rice is the secret here. Earthy, a little chewy and delicious. This is a very adaptable recipe, you can use different kinds of beans, different spices, red rice works well, too. Instead of a beet you can use a sweet potato or some butternut squash.

The song is in the video. The recipe is after the break.

Almond cake with chocolate and strawberry jam

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Clio knows that he gets off the third bus. The first two she lets pass with only the mildest of interest. But when the third bus stops, she waits alert and aching with anticipation. When Malcolm appears around the corner, she races over at her ridiculous top speed, she circles him a few times, and then she bolts back to me to give me her signature double-muddy-paw-to-the-belly kick, to make sure I’m paying attention to the miracle of her boy coming home from school. And then we collect Isaac, who is (to use a phrase he himself propelled into popular parlance) Fun To Be With. Isaac is a man who always answers the banal question, “How was your day?” with a series of interesting and unexpected stories.

I listen to Isaac’s stories with one ear, and with the other try to sort through Malcolm’s stream of pleasant absurdities for any actual news about his day. It has rained since the middle of the night, an incessant pouring rain, but this is a pause. The sky has a flat yellow winter-twilight glow, though it‘s only 3 o’clock. A block away fire engines scream down Main Street, with their sense of panic and urgency, and everyone turns to watch. Crowds of children walking home from school turn and stare at the lights and the noise. Ahead of us a flock of blackbirds hover strangely in front of a stop sign. Turns out there’s a branch with bright red berries crossing the sign. The birds eating stopsign-red berries don’t care about the fire truck, as they create a pressing disturbance of their own. Underneath all the noise is a strange waiting stillness. It feels like something will happen, even if it’s just the small change of more rain falling or night drawing in.

It’s a slender story, there’s not much to it. Just walking home from school as millions of people do millions of times, day-in-day-out. And yet it seems worth saving.

I read a story the other day about a student walking home, written by one Anton Chekhov. Ivan, the student, is walking home just at the end of the day, and though it’s spring, winter is in the air. He’s cold and hungry and night is falling, and “It seemed to him that the cold that had suddenly come on had destroyed the order and harmony of things, that nature itself felt ill at ease, and that was why the evening darkness was falling more rapidly than usual. All around it was deserted and particularly gloomy.” Ivan’s mood reflects the weather and the time of day, and he thinks about the neverending history of ignorance and poverty and want. “…he thought that just such a wind had blown in the days of Rurik and in the time of Ivan the Terrible and Peter, and in their time there had been just the same desperate poverty and hunger, the same thatched roofs with holes in them, ignorance, misery, the same desolation around, the same darkness, the same feeling of oppression — all these had existed, did exist, and would exist, and the lapse of a thousand years would make life no better. And he did not want to go home.”

He stops to warm himself at the fire of “the widows”—a mother and daughter who sit washing up after dinner. He tells them that the Apostle Peter must have warmed himself at just such a fire, and though they say they know the story, he goes on to tell it anyway, the story of Peter denying Jesus. It happens to be from The Bible, but what’s important is that it’s a tale of human frailty, doubt and forgiveness, from somewhere far away and long ago. When he looks up he finds the mother widow weeping, with big tears flowing freely down her cheeks. He says goodnight and he moves on, he crosses a river by ferry boat. He thinks about the widow being moved by the story, not because of the way in which he told it, but because “Peter was near to her.” He’s moved by their connection to a story from a far off time and place, and the unchanging progress of history that seemed so bleak to him before suddenly fills him with joy.

“The past,” he thought, “is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.” And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered…he thought that truth and beauty which had guided human life there in the garden and in the yard of the high priest had continued without interruption to this day…and the inexpressible sweet expectation of happiness, of unknown mysterious happiness, took possession of him little by little, and life seemed to him enchanting, marvelous, and full of lofty meaning.

This past year it has occasionally felt as though the icy wind of ignorance and hate is gathering strength, and it’s easy to feel discouraged and gloomy, particularly on a pouring-down-rainy day. But maybe there will be a break in the rain, and you’ll watch people you love deliriously happy to see other people you love, and you’ll think about parents all over the world all down the years meeting their children at school. And this will remind you of a story about a student walking home, a story that moved you very much about a story that moved others very much. And little by little even small things will seem marvelous and full of lofty meaning.

This is a sort of cake I make a lot. You can try it with any kind of jam you like (I like cherry or raspberry!). You can leave the chocolate out. You can try with different nuts, but you might find that almonds make it the smoothest. I like to add a shake of cinnamon sometimes. you can even leave the jam and chocolate out and this is still good. you can also wait to add the chocolate till you take it out of the oven. Then turn the oven off and scatter the chips over. Return to oven for a minute or two until the chocolate is soft. Smooth it over the top with a knife or spoon, and then let cool.

Here’s a collection of songs performed by Reverend Gary Davis in a beautiful film

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Honeysuckle Ice Cream

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There was a candy factory in the town where I spent my early twenties. When you sat out on somebody’s soft dusty tar-covered rooftop, when you looked out over all the other rooftops in the city and into the bright dinning windows, with a million questions on your mind, the air would be hot and sugary and full of promise.

The town I live in now is teeming with elderflowers and linden and honeysuckle, and on a June day when you step out of your front door you’re met with a wave of warm sweet air, air you could swim in, air you could eat. Many of the questions are answered now, but of course every answer spawns a million new questions, which pester you in the middle of the night like needy children.

The other morning after breakfast the boys set out to bring me an early birthday present, with much whispering in code words, much laughing and conspiring. I expected them to come home before too long with a rock or a stick or a feather. Maybe with a toad peeing through their fingers. But an hour passed, and then another, and they weren’t back. So I went to look for them. Onto the magical dog island. Past the house where I think nobody lives, past the place that smells like some weed not sweet at all, but savory and sharp with a hint of scent-of-wet-dog; that smells like memories of childhood places we weren’t quite allowed to be. Behind garages, between buildings, by train tracks and at the edge of parking lots at the edge of town. Uncultivated.

Past all of that, onto paths that rise and fall and rise again, that twist this way and that. It occurred to me that I almost never take a walk alone. I always have a boy or a dog with me. It felt strange, like I’d forgotten something, like I should go back and start again. I passed a man walking with a tiny boy, and I wanted to ask if he’d seen my giant boys, but I didn’t. And then it got very quiet. No people, no dogs, just woodthrushes, who always sound like they’re trying to remind you of what is important, always quietly to tell you to Pay Attention. I listened for my boys, and I could almost imagine hearing them around every corner. But being a mother means almost-always nearly-hearing your child calling for you, from day one.

Finally I found them, bright and laughing, on the train bridge over the canal. They didn’t seem surprised to see me, they almost seemed to be expecting me, which made it all feel like a dream. They had a secret—they had something hidden under the bridge. But it didn’t take them long to tell me: they were collecting honeysuckle nectar in a little bottle. Well! It’s something I had done when I was a child, a story I had told them many times. We want to bring back memories, they said. Did we bring back memories? My god, yes, but the memories you’re stirring aren’t nearly as powerful as the memories you’re making. Memories gathered drop-by-drop in a small bottle.

A few days later Isaac and I sat on a bench in a park on a summer evening, with the clouds seeming to spread in bright soft circles over our heads, and he informed me that he knows what he wants to be when he grows up–he wants to be an animator. He also said it makes him a little sad to know what he wants to be. I tried to cheer him up by saying that an animator can go anywhere and do all different kinds of work, can create any sort of world imaginable (and I can’t wait to see the worlds in his head!). But I also told him it was ok to feel sad about it, that I understood feeling sad about it, and he looked at me with an expression that only Isaac can make, and said, “I know you do.” And I tell you it makes your heart ache a little to look into the sweet serious face of the best possible answer to a question you didn’t even know you were asking, and think about all of the other best possible answers you couldn’t have dreamed of, and all of the millions of new questions they make you ask every day, and all of the questions your answers will ask, and the answers they’ll be surprised by and on and on forever.

There’s no actual recipe for this. We haven’t even made it yet. The boys asked what I did with the honeysuckle I collected when I was little, and I barely remember. And the first bottle they collected sat on a hot table till it turned to vinegar, and not the kind of vinegar you want to imbibe. I told them it was fine: all things, and this gesture more than most, are about the idea rather than the fact, the process rather than the product. But they washed the bottle out and set out to collect more. And on my birthday we’ll add it to vanilla ice-cream. I wonder how that will taste, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

On Waiting

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When you own a store and you sit in it all day, it can feel like waiting for guests who didn’t know they were invited. It just feels like waiting. Of course so do most jobs, even jobs that are enjoyable or valuable. You’re waiting for your next break, or for your lunch, or for your shift to be over. We spend a lot of our lives waiting. Waiting’s not so bad, most of the time. It carries a sense of anticipation, and anticipation carries a sense of hope.

And this summer we discovered the best kind of waiting yet. We hung hummingbird feeders in our backyard, and every morning we would sit and wait for the birds to show up. We’d just sit and watch the plants grow and the garden turn greener and greener and we’d wait for the tomatoes to ripen and we’d wait for the hummingbirds to arrive. And they did. Every single day. Almost to a schedule. A hummingbird is a ridiculous thing. Too sweet, too pretty, too rare. Something nobody can really draw or paint without preciousness, and probably something nobody should try to write about. Seeing one feels like a gift or a blessing, to use an overused but completely apt word. And that’s just when they hover for a moment in your garden. When they land on a tree or a stake in your yard, when you start to recognize one from another, when they take on distinct personalities, when they hover close to your face as if they’re trying to tell you something, when they stay for a while in the glowing green twilight light of your perfect summer garden while you sit and breathe the dusty smoky air and drink the hummingbird-green chartreuse you got for your summer birthday. Well, that’s worth waiting for. That could bring tears to the eyes of a person less steely than myself. Of course the thing about a hummingbird is that she doesn’t announce herself. She’s not preceded by a fanfare, she makes no noise. You have to chance upon her, or you have to be watching. You have to wait with focus. And while you’re waiting, every faintly or fastly fluttering thing will attract your attention, and you’ll realize that they’re all pretty, too. The bugs and bees and bigger blundering birds,  the twisting falling leaves. And no matter how focussed and expectant you were, the hummingbird will always be a heart-bothering surprise, turning up out of nowhere. And even if she’s exactly where you were directing your focussed gaze, the space will feel buzzing new and strange, like a slice of another world.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this waiting and watching, I started wondering about the French word for wait, attender, and I became curious about the connection between waiting and attending. So I searched it up, as the boys would say, and here is my scholarly report. From various old languages, Old French, Old English, Old Latin, we have “To direct one’s mind or energies, to expect, wait for, pay attention.” “To stretch to or stretch towards” “To heed, take care of, protect.” I love them all! To stretch yourself towards the the thing you are hoping for and waiting for! I love that! And I love the sense of expecting, too, it’s one step beyond hoping. And I love the sense of protecting and caring for, which I suppose is from the “waiting-upon-someone” sense of the word; dancing attendance, as the Williams Shakespeare and Yeats might phrase it. But mostly I love the heeding and the directing of energies and the paying attention. I love the idea that we’re not just killing time, waiting, we’re heedful, we’re attentive. We should wait for everything the way we wait for hummingbirds, keenly, and we should notice everything else that happens while we’re waiting with the same keen attention. We should stretch ourselves towards the thing we anticipate and expect, and we should notice every beautiful thing that flies by us as we’re waiting. And then we should stop writing about hummingbirds, because nobody should try to write about hummingbirds.

On a side note: I had a recipe to go with this, but honestly, I haven’t had time to write it all down, it’s not a recipe I feel happy about, and I’m tired of pretending this is a food blog, which it hasn’t been for several years. I’m not saying there will be no more recipes, but there won’t always be recipes.

There will always be songs though! Here’s Bob Marley and the Wailers with I’m Still Waiting.

 

 

Flourless chocolate almond cake with coffee and cinnamon

IMG_0364.jpgLast Saturday was a blizzarding day. The sky was white and bewildering, the time passed quickly and not-at-all, and the snow lay in deep, perfect drifts all around. A week later, the snow is still in giant gravelly piles where it was pushed away from all the places people walk and drive and park. The time is still passing strangely. The hours pass in the usual way, some flying some crawling, but at the end of the day it’s all a blur and I haven’t done half the things I’ve persuaded myself that I need to do. It’s days like this that make you want to turn into Malcolm’s latest superhero creation: Slothman. Slothman’s super power is that he goes slowly, he takes time to enjoy things. And he enjoys everything. Malcolm believes that people, and himself in particular, move too fast. He is a speedy fellow. So if he could turn into slothman he would slow down, everything would slow down. He could be happy just sitting up in a tree doing nothing but just sitting up in a tree. That in itself would become something to enjoy. The funny thing is that I think Malcolm already has this quality in spades. Not the slowness part, he is fairly full-speed-ahead in all endeavors. But the enjoying part. When you’re doing something with Malcolm–cooking or playing cards or going for a walk–he’ll announce, “This is fun.” And because he says it, you stop and think, “this is fun,” and then, strangely, it becomes more fun, just because he said it. And on the day that Malcolm told me about Slothman, we were on a walk. He’d been jumping puddles rimmed with black mud, and I was worried about his shoes, because it’s my job to worry about his shoes. Malcolm stopped walking and I yelled, “No jumping puddles!” But guess what–he wasn’t jumping puddles, he wasn’t moving at all. He was standing perfectly still, with a beaming face, and he said, “It’s so pretty! The light through the trees! And the shadows!” I looked ahead on the path and it was pretty, it was beautiful. The pale hopeful January light through brambled leafless trees. I thought about taking a picture, but it would never work, I couldn’t capture it. So we just stood for a moment and watched the shifting slanting light, until Clio woke us and we moved on.

 

Snowy weather is always good baking weather, so we’ve been making lots of cookies and cakes and bread. One day I ran out of flour, so I made this cake. It’s very tasty! Soft and flavorful, but with an almost crispy layer on the top. The flavors–cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, almond–they’re perfect together! This wasn’t at all hard to  make, and it was even easier to eat.

 

Here’s Groovin in Style by Ken Parker

 

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Nutmeg gingerbread ice cream

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“Our family is the most powerful in the world.”

It’s a lazy morning over Christmas break and Malcolm and I are sitting together on the couch under a blanket and under Clio. We’re both just waking up, just pondering a day ahead with no plans and no obligations. All around us is sprawled a cheerful post-Christmas chaos of toys and socks and books. Malcolm has just cracked a joke that made David laugh aloud, which is a thing Malcolm loves to do.  And then he declares us the most powerful family in the world.

“How so?” You might well ask. “Wherein lies this supreme power?” Is it because we possess vast wealth, an intimidating arsenal, or confounding Machiavellian genius? No, no it’s not, although obviously we have all these things. According to Malcolm, the source of our power is that we have so much fun together. With the addendum that when we have nothing to do we sit around with a dog on top of us. Well, there it is! The secret to ultimate power revealed by a 13-year-old.

Predictably, I love this! I love that my son sees the ability to have fun as a source of power, that he sees that our cohesiveness makes us strong. I wish this understanding could be applied to all things, to all groups of people. I wish that threats and violence, rather than shows of strength, were recognized as the offshoots of weakness that they are. I wish this understanding applied even to countries. Can you imagine if we displayed our power not by amassing weapons but by showing how much we make each other laugh, how well we get along? Can you imagine the Fox News pundits sitting on their set with a dog sprawled on top of them, criticizing the president not because he showed weakness by not bombing people, but because he wasn’t making enough people laugh at international summits? Cohesiveness and joy, that’s what it’s all about.

We wanted to make some new holiday traditions just the four of us. Malcolm’s idea was to make a gingerbread house. So we did. Hoo boy. We made a derelict, condemned house out of gingerbread. We were going to put licorice vultures on top but the roof caved in. So we were left with a lot of (very tasty) gingerbread. David had the brilliant idea to crumble it up and mix it into nutmeg ice cream as it froze. Delicious! Very simple, but with strong, wonderful flavors. So this is a good use of leftover gingerbread house, or you can make a few extra gingerbread cookies next time, or you could just buy some gingerbread men.

Here’s Soul Power by the Heptones

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French lentil and wild rice soup

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The other day Isaac wrote some sentences. It was for school. Usually he hates writing sentences, he hems and haws and procrastinates and eventually scrawls out a few lines with little thought for legibility or the rules of spelling. But on this occasion he took his time, he enjoyed himself. He told us what he was writing about, he looked pleased, he looked happy. He read us his favorite sentence a few times, “The children were babbling like mad to hear their voices echoing off the canyon walls.” I love this! I love to see him happy with his words, happy with something he’s created. And I love the sentence itself. Sometimes it seems like we’re all children babbling like mad to hear our voices echoing off the canyon walls. We’re all talking and talking, and posting things all over the place, everything we feel and think and notice, everything that annoys us or makes us feel thankful or blessed. We’re sharing our observations and our pictures of ourselves and everyone we love, in all our moods and various flattering lightings. And we’re waiting to hear the echoes back of people liking everything we’ve posted, noticing everything we say. It’s easy to be cynical about this, but if I think about it long enough, I think this is all good, I love all of this. I love people sharing their moments and marking them as blessed or thankful moments. It’s good to notice, it’s good to feel grateful. It can’t be a new thing–people must have always felt this way, wanting to get their thoughts and feelings out, though it wasn’t so easy to share everything so quickly. And maybe it was all better when you had to take your time and think more carefully about everything you said. Maybe words are more precious when they’re not more easily shared, when you have to work and work at it till you get that wonderful buzz from getting it just right. But then I think about how easily and strangely words come to my boys when they’re not thinking about it at all. They’re not even worried about sharing it, they’re not even concerned about the reaction they get. They’re just saying what they think in all of their unselfconscious oddly perfect glory. Malcolm’s favorite adjective is “dancing,” and he uses it in the most unlikely most wonderful places. It throws you off guard with how much sense it makes. And our Isaac always has the right weird words at the right weird time. He was feeling down the other night after it got dark and we sent him to bed, and he said everything felt “damp and broken.” If you’ve ever felt down, which means if you’re human, you know that he got it exactly right. And Isaac likes to share his philosophies. Here’s one: Nobody can do everything, but everyone can try. And here’s another: It’s not done until you do it. And last night he actually spent a lot of time and effort perfecting this ridiculously beautiful tongue twister: I think I thought a thousand thoughts that no-one else could think. And isn’t that the crux of it all! When you’re having trouble getting the words out, or making something that you need to make, or doing something the you need to do…think about the billions of thoughts you’ve thought that no-one else could think. And then think about how important that makes them. And then, children, babble them like mad, until they echo off the canyon walls.

David said this soup was “perfect” and that made me happy! It’s a meaty vegetarian soup. (Vegan if you leave the butter out.) I put a lot of things in it that you certainly don’t need to add if you don’t have them. Honestly, the rice and lentils will give it favor enough. Miso and tamari give it a deeper, more savory flavor, but if you happen not to have them, no worries! If you have marmite, you could add a teaspoon of the instead or as well. I used the herbs that are still in my garden, and I think there’s a perfect balance if you use rosemary, sage, and lemon thyme. If you don’t have those, though, use what you do have! It’s a very adaptable soup. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Twilight Echoes by Roy Smeck.
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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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