Yellow squash in brown butter with jalapeños and chives

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yesterday was a near-perfect summer day. Bright round  blue sky, wispy clouds; not too hot, not too humid, with just an edge of autumn in the breeze that stirred the leaves. The kind of day on which it feels like a crime against time passing to spend even a moment indoors. On this perfect day, Malcolm and I found ourselves in the chilled fluorescent tin can that is the grocery store. Not ideal, but it has to be done. And I was with Malcolm, which is always a good thing, and we were pondering ice cream flavors, and there are worse places you could be. Malcolm said, “a little while ago I decided to start a career as an optimist.” !!!!! Of course I had a million questions! What made him decide to be an optimist? Where was he when this career path occurred to him? I hadn’t gotten as far as “how do you define ‘optimist?'” when I saw that look on his face that says, “Why do I bother telling her anything? So many questions!” So I stopped asking. He said it got hard to be an optimist because he felt sad about something, but he’s going to take it up again, because he is an optimist. Aside from the obvious joy I felt to hear that my occasionally broody 13-year-old son considers himself an optimist, I just love the idea of optimism as a career. I can imagine his guidance counsellor saying, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” And Malcolm replying, with that bright, clever look he gets, “An optimist!” And at career day he’ll pick up pamphlets from the optimists’ table, maybe set up between the army recruiters and the guys offering careers in pharmaceutical companies, and the pamphlets will tell him about which colleges have the best optimism courses and what kind of jobs that will be available when he graduates with his optimism degree. I like to imagine a world in which optimism is a career option. It’s not that far-fetched. Did you know that Epictetus began life as a slave, but through studying and teaching stoicism he obtained his freedom and started his own school? Surely optimism is an easier sell than stoicism! And Malcolm is no idealistic fool. He’s shrewd, he’s savvy. He hears everything and understands everything–the bad as well as the good. So his brand of optimism will have depth and value. It won’t be some shallow meme-worthy advice telling you that if you smile a lot money will drop in your lap and all your problems will be solved. It won’t be that. What will it be? I don’t know, don’t ask me! I haven’t had a career as an optimist! We’ll just have to wait and see.

This dish was extremely easy to prepare, extremely simple, and full of flavor. If you decide to use lemon thyme and a dash of fresh lemon juice, it will have a bright spicy flavor. If you decide to use balsamic and regular thyme it will be more round and earthy. Delicious either way! We had this mixed in with some fresh tomato sauce. It would be good on a  bed of baby spinach. Or just as it is, simple, as a side dish.

Here’s Nina Simone with Ooh Child. It’s the best!

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Charred eggplant, pistachio and pine nut dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

Yesterday after dinner Malcolm and I went for a walk on the other side of the canal. The last time we’d gone that way, we’d lost Clio. It had only been for a few minutes, but long enough that I got that sinking feeling in my heart, long enough that Malcolm took off in a teary panic, feeling guilty because he’d dropped her leash. Last night I told Malcolm about my dream that Clio ran away, and in my dream I knew my favorite sound in the world was the jingle of Clio’s collar approaching through the fearful silence of having lost her. Malcolm started to think about his favorite sound. First he said it’s the sound of an airplane when it sounds like thunder a few days before your cousins visit. Then he said it’s the sound of a motor boat when your head is under water because it makes you feel…no, that’s not the right word. “What? What word?” I want to know the word for how a motor boat heard under water makes you feel, but he won’t tell me because that’s not his favorite sound anyway. He says, emphatically, it’s Isaac’s laugh. Not his fake laugh, but the laugh that fills up his whole body like it’s helium, so that he could float away on the laughter, the laugh that makes him glow. He said it’s a sound that makes you laugh when you hear it. And it is! And then he said he also likes a certain sound in combination with a certain smell, first thing in the morning. The sound is the bird that goes who who who whoooo. (“A mourning dove?” “Yeah.”) And the smell is water but sweet water. And he said he also likes a certain smell that smells like autumn, when you’re warm inside your coat but your cheeks are cold. I wanted to remember every word, but I knew I wouldn’t, and I made him repeat everything over and over, and it was slightly different every time, and it’s slightly different now when I write it all down. And though it’s changing all the time, I know now that I’ll never forget it.

What’s your favorite sound in the world?

Smoky eggplant dip

Smoky eggplant dip

On Monday the boys cooked every single meal over a campfire in the back yard. They made veggie sausages and toast for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and potatoes and mushrooms for dinner. My friend Neil had just told me about a Romanian eggplant dip made with charred eggplant, so I decided to make a version of that. I wrapped an eggplant in foil and cooked it right in the fire for about an hour, till it was melting inside and charred outside. I combined it with pistachios, pine nuts, some herbs, some roasted garlic, and I made thick smooth sauce. We ate it with olive bread and fresh tomatoes, but it would be good with pita and salad, or as a dip for roasted vegetables or chips.

Here’s Autumn Sounds by Jackie Mittoo

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Ratatouille-style ratatouille (With potatoes and roasted beets)

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

Ratatouille-style ratatouille

We’ve decided to watch every movie made in 1967. It is for fun! We chose 1967 at random, after watching La Chinoise a week or so ago. We’re obviously not going to watch every movie made that year, but we’re going to do our best. Some we’ve already seen and loved: Le Samourai, The Two of Us, Cool Hand Luke. Some aren’t available on DVD yet. But we’ll do the best we can, and I’ll probably tell you all about each and every film. As I said, we picked the year at random, but upon reflection it seems like an interesting time. (And wikipedia agrees, “The year 1967 in film involved some significant events. It is widely considered as one of the most ground-breaking years in film.”) On the cusp of a new decade, at the end of a decade of great change and tension and upheaval. People have new ideas, and they’re finding new ways to tell their new stories, new ways to capture the images, new ways to arrange their narratives. Many directors are working in color for the first time, and we’re moving from the cool black-and-white stylishness of the sixties to the polyester polychrome neon of the seventies. And the French are still driving enviably cool cars. (Have you seen Le Samourai?) Some films deal with shifting ideas about marriage and family. Some films are experimenting with the shockingly entertaining qualities of violence, from Bonnie and Clyde to Godard’s Weekend. We have films to distract you from your troubles–The Jungle Book, Elvis Presley movies, James Bond Movies, and films that tackle the issues head-on, like the Best Picture-winning In the Heat of the Night. Some people are looking back, and others are looking forward to a new world when anything is possible and everything is allowed. The new wave isn’t so new anymore, and the rebellious exploits of the early sixties seem quite tame and adolescent compared to what’s to come. It’s the year my parent’s got married, and two years before the summer of ’69, when men walked on the moon and I was born. I was going to tell you about the first movie we watched, La Collectionneuse, but this introduction has gone on so long that I’ll save it for another post. Watch this space!

IMG_4059It’s squash, eggplant and tomato season, and we all know what that means! It means ratatouille! We thought it would be fun to try to make it like they make it in the movie of the same name. Lots of other people have already recreated that recipe as closely as possible, so we thought we’d mix it up a bit. We decided to pre-cook everything, so that it got a little crispy. We decided to add potatoes and beets, because they’re nice thinly sliced and roasted, and because we’ve had them in abundance from the farm as well. And I cooked the eggplant separately, because I like it best crispy and roasted breadcrumbs, nuts and herbs. I cut the eggplant in large rounds, and we used it as a sort of plate for the ratatouille. Delicious!

Here’s Lulu’s To Sir with Love, the top song from 1967 from the movie released in 1967.

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Beet, arugula and French feta salad with pine nut, lemon, rosemary sauce

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Most years we just grow a few tomato plants and a few herbs, basil mostly. We have a small yard and rambunctious boys and a berserker dog and it never seemed wise to pin our hopes on healthy intact produce. Last year we didn’t grow anything at all. The ground lay fallow. This year we have the best garden ever, entirely thanks to David. He built raised boxes and we have a summer’s worth of beautiful things growing in our yard.
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It feels so hopeful, to look out at it and imagine the days unfolding and the vegetables ripening. Herbs to eat now, in large quantities, tomatoes and eggplant to ripen with the full roundness of the summer days, salsify and scorzonera to eat in the fall. I love our garden! And because I’m a lunatic, I think of the vegetables almost as people, with separate personalities of their own. We planted fava beans, and David made a trellis of twine for them to wind around. We don’t know how tall they’ll get, and we wanted to give them plenty of distance to travel, plenty of encouragement, our full faith that they’ll reach all the way to the top, but we didn’t want to set up unrealistic expectations for them. The salsify and scorzonera seem very social, standing together in long graceful lines, sharing the light that glows through them. The cilantro started sad and timid, but now it’s just taken off, it’s bolted into tall, feathery, beautiful flowers, and maybe in the fall we’ll figure out what to do with the coriander seeds. The pepper plants seem like underachievers; they haven’t grown much since we’ve gotten them, but they’re working so hard on making beautiful vivid little peppers. They’re concentrating on their art. The eggplants generously share they broad leaves with some little bug that repays the favor by turning them into lace. The tomatoes are full and frank and happy standing together in the sun.

Tarragon

Tarragon


And then there’s the tarragon. I love the way tarragon grows. It spreads along the ground in a pretty fragrant sprawl. If you weigh down a sprig so that it touches the earth, it will take root and form a new plant attached to the original. It moves and travels, it has an unruly wildness to it, but it sets down roots everywhere it goes, it makes a new place to start from, and it stays connected to its roots as well.

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

We got some more beautiful beets from our CSA. I thought I’d make them into a pretty salad, with their best friend arugula, and some mildly delicious French feta I splurged on at a local market. I also added half an avocado, because I’m putting avocado in everything this summer, and a scattering of pine nuts. I made a tarator sauce to drizzle over the top, with lemon and rosemary, a bit of dijon, a few capers. You could use any herbs you like in this. Tarragon would be nice!!

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Root Down (and get it)

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chickpea guacosalsa or salsamole

Chickpea saslamole

Chickpea saslamole

This afternoon Clio and I walked to school to pick up the boys, as we always do. I looked down at her, and she seemed very serious, head down, ears bobbing as earnestly as ears can bob. Yes, she has a light elegant gait and shiny white socks, but at this moment her pace was very businesslike. She had somewhere to be, and she was determined to get there. Dogged, I thought, Clio is demonstrating the definition of dogged.
Clio

Clio


I know that Clio considers walking the boys to and from school her job. She knows by some mysterious internal clock when it’s time to get them, and if I make any move around that time, she follows me frantically, worried that she’ll be left behind. What a wonderful work ethic she has! She knows where she’s going and she heads there at a relatively steady pace. If you were, oh, I don’t know, writing a novel, say, this would be the equivalent of writing a little bit every day, forcing yourself to write a few pages so that you will get where you’re going in a timely manner. We don’t take the same route every time, but we always arrive in the same place. She’s happy to let the walk take her where it will as long as we’re headed towards the school, but if I try to turn in the wrong direction she stops. She looks at me with serious, wondering eyes, she won’t move. She’s goal-oriented, but she’s willing to explore different options in achieving that goal. She’s willing to let herself get distracted by important things, like squirrels or sparrows, she’ll gladly stop to greet a friend, but she always has one paw back on the path, ready to continue the journey. Most of all, Clio’s work is full of the weighty buoyant responsibility of love. She enjoys the walk, sure, and she doesn’t mind the wait at the other end, as long as she has a few sticks to chew on. But the real reward is leaping happily on the boys when they finally emerge from the school. Her love for them has brought her out, in every kind of weather, when the sidewalks were slick with rain or treacherous with slush and ice. She’s joyfully, bouncingly dogged. She’s a true amateur.

Chickpea salsamole

Chickpea salsamole

This is so easy, so delicious, and so versatile. It’s a little like guacamole, a little like salsa, and a little like a cool chickpea salad. You could add anything you want to this! Garlic, raw or roasted, onions or chives, jalapeños, olives, capers, hot sauce, cheese…anything! I used cilantro from our garden and beautiful golden oregano from the CSA that we belong to. I like this to stuff inside a pita or tortilla with some croquettes or beans and rice.

Here’s Uncle Tupelo with I Want to be your Dog. I LOVE this cover!
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Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

    There is shadow under this red rock,
    (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
    And I will show you something different from either
    Your shadow at morning striding behind you
    Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
    I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

These lines, of course, are from TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, a poem I have long-loved. I only recently learned that the phrase “a handful of dust” comes from a meditation by John Donne, part of a series of meditations and prayers called Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and seuerall steps in my Sicknes. Donne wrote these meditations while recovering from a nearly fatal illness, they’re about health, pain, and sickness, and they’re quite melancholy. In this particular meditation, number four, Donne starts by describing each person as a little world, which is an idea that I love. “It is too little to call man a little world; except God, man is a diminutive to nothing. Man consists of more pieces, more parts, than the world; than the world doth, nay, than the world is. And if those pieces were extended, and stretched out in man as they are in the world, man would be the giant, and the world the dwarf; the world but the map, and the man the world.” And what is it that makes us so immense, that makes the air too little for this orb of man to move in? It is our thoughts, our imagination. “Enlarge this meditation upon this great world, man, so far as to consider the immensity of the creatures this world produces; our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are born giants; that reach from east to west, from earth to heaven; that do not only bestride all the sea and land, but span the sun and firmament at once; my thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mystery; I their creator am in a close prison, in a sick bed, any where, and any one of my creatures, my thoughts, is with the sun, and beyond the sun, overtakes the sun, and overgoes the sun in one pace, one step, everywhere.” No matter how confined our bodies are, whether it’s because we’re sick or imprisoned or merely stuck in traffic or a waiting room, there’s no limit to where our thoughts can travel. It’s like Pierre as a prisoner! “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.” We might all be in the gutter, but we can look up at the stars! We might have to “live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowing overhead,” but our imaginations and memories and reveries can soar with the flowing skies. And, as Donne tells us, when two of these little worlds come together, in friendship, or in love or marriage, we have everything, we have everywhere.

    For love, all love of other sights controls,
    And makes one little room an everywhere.
    Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
    Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
    Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

My friend Neil told me about a recipe involving chicken baked with quince and caramelized onions. As a lover of quince, I was greatly intrigued! I thought about various substitutions for the chicken, and in this version I’ve settled on butterbeans. They’re big and juicy, and they take on a nice substantial texture when they’re baked. I mixed them with some pre-cooked quince and caramelized onions, and gave them a sauce of brown sugar and butter, salt and pepper, and a dash or two of white wine. I tried to keep the flavors quite simple, with only salt and pepper as seasoning, but you could easily add thyme or rosemary or any other herb you like. You could add olives or capers or pine nuts. I thought of this a little like fancy baked beans (although I used a can of cooked beans, because I’m lazy!)

Here’s Back in the Good Old World by Tom Waits, because I was just listening to it, and it seems to fit, somehow!

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Parsnip, ginger and lime purée

Parsnip, ginger and lime purée.

Parsnip, ginger and lime purée.

I’ve had lines from two songs stuck in my head recently. One is Nina Simone saying, “I And I sing because I know yeah…I would know how it feels to be free,” and the other is Cee Lo Green saying, “And I sing because I’m happy, And I sing because I’m free (I’m free).” And today being Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day eve seems like a good time to think about what it means to be free. “Freedom” means different things to everybody, and it means more to those who don’t have it. Freedom from oppression, freedom from prejudice, freedom from poverty, freedom to say what you need to say, freedom to keep quiet. Freedom to do the work you need to do. To some, freedom means not having to work, to others it means being able and allowed to work. Nina Simone says, “Freedom means to me, NO FEAR!” And she talks about being free from all labels–from country, religion, race, even from herself. She defines freedom as a new way of seeing, as a chance to be a “little less like me.” She’d learn to fly, and she’d look down and see herself, and she wouldn’t know herself – she’d have new hands, new vision. She tells us that the Bible says be transformed by the renewal of your mind. And James Baldwin, a friend of Nina Simone and of Martin Luther King Jr. echoes her when he says, “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free — he has set himself free — for higher dreams, for greater privileges.” It’s a freedom from our own prejudices as well as those of others. I like to think of the sort of ecstatic freedom that Cee Lo Green describes, which seems to me like a freedom from self-doubt, a freedom to create, a freedom to be whoever you need to be, as eccentric and different as that makes you. NO FEAR.

So today’s Sunday interactive playlist is songs about freedom, whatever that may mean to you. And songs about feeling so happy and free that you have to sing.

And here’s a parsnip purée. This dish was crazy! It’s such a strong collection of flavors, and to me they’re completely perfect together, but I will admit that it was too much for the boys. It’s quite light and smooth and pleasing. You’ll want to eat it with something strong flavored…like curry, maybe, or spicy chilly, because it’s cool and sweet-tart, with a gingery kick. Almost like savory sherbet, if that doesn’t put you off it completely!

And here’s a link to your interactive playlist.
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Thinly sliced potatoes with spinach, tomatoes and olives

Sliced potatoes with spinach, olives and tomatoes

Sliced potatoes with spinach, olives and tomatoes

Machucha is the story of making and losing a friendship. It’s about all of the small and surprising moments of connection, and the surprising differences as well. About discovering that the way your family lives and what they consider normal is not normal for everyone else. Small kindness and revelations add up to form something stronger and warmer. But we understand the fragility of the relationship, too, that feeling of almost holding your breath, hoping and fearing, which is all part of the ordinary and extraordinary occurrence of making a friend when you’re twelve years old. That Machucha is set in Chile during the 1973 Coup d’état adds to the tension and heartbreak, but the real drama is one of friendship. We see the historical events as a child sees them, with confusion, fear, and a horrible sense of powerlessness. Gonzalo Infante is a student at a private Catholic school in Santiago. His family is wealthy but far from perfect, in ways that are also bewildering and unsettling to an uncomprehending boy. A handful of poorer students is introduced to the school, and they’re treated with inevitable mockery and bullying. Gonzalo befriends Machucha, a boy who lives in a shantytown. The story of their friendship is joyful and sad and haunting. The film is quiet and subtle but resonant. We see that all of the cruelty and brutality of our political world starts as suspicion and misunderstanding and fear of people who are different. And any hope for change comes from small moments of connection between ordinary people, and from empathy and friendship.

Thinly sliced potatoes layered with spinach, tomatoes and olives

Thinly sliced potatoes layered with spinach, tomatoes and olives

I may have mentioned that I got a new food processor for Christmas. It’s a marvel! It’s so fast and quiet and efficient. I used it to slice these potatoes very thinly, and then I layered them with a sort of sauce of spinach, tomatoes, capers and olives. I also added some grated smoked gouda, but you could use mozzarella or goat cheese or leave the cheese out altogether and this would be vegan. I made mine quite shallow in a big French cake pan, but you could make it with more layers in a deeper pan. You might need to cook it longer, though.

Here’s Bicicleta from the Machucha soundtrack.

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Cauliflower leek purée

Cauliflower leek purée

Cauliflower leek purée

Here at The Ordinary, we believe it’s time to bring our focus back to the ordinary. We’ve been watching the show Connections, and it’s fascinating. It follows James Burke, looking sharp in a white leisure suit, as he travels the world showing us how our history is a tangled network of invention and discovery and technological advances. The pattern is complicated and far-ranging, but as he unravels history, we see a clear trail leading from country to country and epoch to epoch. Sometimes we’re out at sea, sometimes we’re on dry land, sometimes we’re working within the protection of the church and sometimes we’re running from their inquisition. The thing that struck me as particularly interesting, especially ordinary, is the fact that most of the advances came at the hands of regular working people trying to make their job a little less tedious. Often we don’t even know their names, these clerks and craftsmen. And it’s never just one big moment of inspiration, it’s a series of small, unexpected steps, one discovery leading to another, until some smart man decides to put his name on the invention and take all the credit for it. It’s strange how nothing really changes: the aristocrats in 18th century France didn’t think about the tedious complicated process of weaving their fancy silks any more than I think about the intricate construction of my iPhone every time I use it. It’s inspiring to think that any of us, if we’re paying attention and awake to the possibilities, can create something new and useful: some new way of looking at the world, some device to make work a little easier, and give us more time to really live. Of course, Connections starts with an apocalyptic vision of the world in which we’re so completely dependent on technology that everything breaks down because of one faulty switch. And that was the seventies. So maybe we’ve come full circle, and we’ve come to the part of the tangle when we give it a pull and it all comes unravelled. Maybe the inventions we come up with should be about the really living part, and not the working. We should come up with new ways to hold on to the part of us that makes us alive and connected as humans.

I really liked this puree! It’s partway between a sauce and a vegetable dish, and it’s delicious. We ate it with the last pie I posted about, but you could eat it with just about anything. Or you could add some broth and make a tasty soup.

Here’s Bob Marley with Redemption Song
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Purple sweet potato and cauliflower purée

Purple sweet potato and cauliflower purée

Purple sweet potato and cauliflower purée

I decided to try a little game. As I wrote last week, I’m delighted by the random combination of words to make strange phrases, so I decided to combine whole sentences to make a strange story. Most of these sentences come from books on the shelves next to me. For the first I closed my eyes and picked at random. I happened to pick The Sauptikaparavan of The Mahabharata:The Massacre at Night, which is an apocalyptical tale. Not the happiest way to begin! In this story you’ll also find sentences from Faulkner’s Light in August, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov and a few other odds and ends. It’s a fun game, try it with the books next to you!
    Then, in a little while, the great tumultuous din–the roaring of men and other, lower moans–faded and died away. And that terrible swirling dust, my king, was in a moment absorbed by the blood drenched earth. We left the town in a panic, in a daze, blinded more by fear than by the dust itself. When we got to the road, as our eyes cleared, we could see what we had left behind. The sun died, too, and fell, gasping off the edge of the world, spreading long grasping crimson arms across the earth. And in this light we saw that the chaos was complete. Whole buildings had fallen, leaving only gaunt, staring, motionless wheels rising from mounds of brick rubble and ragged weeds. And let me tell you that we left with just the clothes we had on our backs. And they were tattered, they were rags, dirty strips of fabric matted to our wounds. We stumbled down the road, broken and bruised, charred and ruined, but always moving, trying to leave this day behind to fester in our nightmares where it belonged. In the distance on the road before us we saw a figure approaching, slouching towards us, with a long, strange stride, singing. He came nearer and we saw that it was a man, a large man with a perfect smile on his face. “Friend,” we said, “You must turn around, you must flee this place.” But he said, “I am done with running. Is it not better to be freed from cares and agues, from love and melancholy, and the other hot and cold fits of life, than like a galled traveler, who comes weary to his inn, to be bound to begin his journey afresh?” Well, we could not argue with that; what could we say to that, after all we had seen? We watched him on his way, and he raised a small rosy cloud of dust with each footfall, and soon we lost him in the sanguine whirl of everything. We turned on our way, and soon night, fresh and quiet, almost unstirring, enveloped the earth.

It’s a purple purée! Isaac was mystified by this dish, but he ate it anyway. It’s a combination of a purple sweet potato, a regular potato and half a head of cauliflower, all boiled till tender and then mashed together till smooth. It was really delicious. I seasoned it very simply with butter, salt and lots of pepper, but you could jazz it up with various herbs and spices, or even with cheese.

Here’s The Smiths with Cemetery Gates, because I’ve had these lines in my head all night…If you must write prose/poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loan.”

And of course that’s exactly what I did, I took words on loan.

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