Cinnamon buns with apple cider glaze

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I like a day that starts out cool and ends up cool but warms in the middle. I like a day when the light changes so fast you feel dizzy, and I don’t mind that evening comes before you expect it, and that the surprisingly deep cool shadows bewilder you with their soft blue sledgehammer. I like that the changes in the light and the warmth gently bruise you with anticipation and regret. I like a late-summer day.

On several of these warm-middle-of-the-day days lately we’ve gone to see Malcolm’s cross country meets. In the ever-increasing list of things that make me weepy, this would be right near the top. The event begins with groups of teenagers from different high schools milling about, warming up and chattering and organizing themselves. What’s the collective noun for a group of teenagers? A contrariness of teenagers? An insecurity of teenagers? Except that they don’t seem insecure, these teenagers, these stars of track and field. They seem sunny and happy and enviably comfortable in themselves. And though they’re chatty and cheerful before the race, when they’re running they’re so serious and focused, in a world by themselves. The face of each one of them, the ones I know and the ones I don’t, just knock me out with the glowing beauty of their intensity. They’re all so vulnerable and so strong, whether they sprint across the finish line or walk across it long after everyone else has finished. They’re all doing something I have never done and could never do.

The first race was on a hot hot day, and Malcolm passed us, sweating and clutching his side, before puking his way across the finish line, never breaking his stride. Well! I wanted go to him, of course I did, but he’s fourteen and was surrounded by his friends. The next race was far from home, much farther than we expected, in a land of dairy farms, small strip malls, vacant buildings. By the time we arrived the day had cooled. Bright clouds and black vultures circled overhead and the darkly purple clouds on the edges of the fields piled high and deep. Behind us the yellow fluorescent glow of empty high school hallways was strange and familiar. It felt like rain but it didn’t rain. David and Isaac and I were tired and hungry and thinking about the long ride home. After the race they ran some more, a cool-down run. And after all of this running, when we got to the car Malcolm took off again, by himself, to find a feather he’d seen in the woods during the race. It felt like a long while later that he came back over the hill, running, clutching a huge beautiful tattered brown and black feather, as if he could take off flying.

I got us lost on the way home in the maze of small houses with Trump signs on small lawns, making the long ride even longer. By the time we got back it was dark. The boys and David set the table outside and lit the lamp, and I walked to get the pizza. The moment I got home the rain came, but we sat outside anyway, under our umbrella in the glow of our lamp, with our two bright boys, collecting any little bits of information about the first weeks of school they would let slip.

img_2683Yesterday Malcolm informed me that we were going to make these, and I was more than happy to oblige! I made a soft, sweetish dough and let it rise while David and Malcolm were off spray painting furniture. While these were cooking Malcolm helped me make dinner. I haven’t cooked with him in a while, and I forgot how fun it is. Anyway! It was Malcolm’s idea to put apple cider in the glaze, and he made it himself, and they turned out delicious! If I made them again, I’d probably add some cider to the dough itself, as well.

Here’s Stars of Track and Field, by Belle and Sebastian

 

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Yeasted cornmeal crepe

IMG_0572.jpg“I’m not worried!”

“You’re mom, Mom.” said Isaac.

“It’s like you have a dog with you at all times you have to worry about.” Said Malcolm.

“An imaginary worry dog!” I cried, loving the idea. (Our very real dog and actual perpetual source of worry had been left home for this trip.)

Isaac said, “Mom always has to worry because she’s always with Clio or us, for her to not worry she’d have to go on a walk all by herself.”

Last time I wrote it was blizzarding, and now it’s snowing pale petals and golden sycamore seeds. After a slow start, we’ve had a rare spate of perfect spring days, and the boys and I are going on an adventure. Usually David is their man for adventures and I drive the getaway car. But David is too tall for this adventure, and though it’s my lack-of-height that gets me invited, I’m still honored that they want me along. They discovered a special secret place and they want to show it to me. Am I going through a list of possible dangers in my head? Of course I am. Malcolm assures me, “Really, mom, the hazards are few.”

It’s a pair of tunnels that run off the canal under the path on the other-side-of-the-canal to a strange sort of pond in the-secret-passage. It’s a new place they’ve discovered under a familiar place. An unknown hollow under ground we’ve walked hundreds of times. The entrance is a strangely pretty concrete ditch, and the tunnels themselves are dull concrete and lined with a trough of dark boggy mud. But there are small seedlings growing in the muck, spindly and skinny and stretched towards the light. And the light on the other side of the tunnel is spring distilled–glowing and green. To me the tunnels could lead to a magical world, and to the boys they’re  a good place to hide in a post-apocalyptic world-at-war scenario. Which tells you all you need to know about how children’s literature has changed in the last few decades.

They show me how to walk with your feet on either side of the tunnel walls, so that you don’t fall in the bog; they point out impressive spider webs above our heads; they adorn the walls with their own graffiti tag in white crayon. They cut away the thorn bushes from the far entrances of the tunnels so we can stand on the edge of the pond, and they’re sad that it’s filmed with gasoline. People think they’re so powerful, Malcolm says, but they make garbage and coca cola and guns. Malcolm wants to stay for hours and eat sandwiches perched over black mud and garlanded with spider webs. But I’m ready to go home.

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While we’re walking home I worry about worrying too much and worry about the boys knowing that I worry too much. Popular knowledge dictates that we should emulate the good old days, when parents stayed indoors smoking and day-drinking while their children ran wild on train tracks and super-highways and incurred character-building injuries. But surely, as in all things, there has to be a balance. I don’t lock my boys indoors; they’re not terrified of the world. They’re curious and adventurous and scared of most scary things and scared of a few not-very-threatening things, like everyone else on the planet. They roam our town. That very day they went back to sit in the tunnel and watch birds and spy on people walking on the path above. They sat until the thrill wore off and a savage goose chased them away, then they went for a ramble in the secret passage. They were gone a while. The fact that they knew I worried made me worry less. They came home safe and told us stories.

And isn’t that how it should be? We walk the path together or we walk the path alone, we explore the secret places all around the path. We’re never free of worry because we’re never free of love. We know there’s someone glad to see us when we get home, waiting to hear our stories.

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These were a sort of cross between a flatbread and a crepe. Easy and fun to make, and very tasty. Everybody liked them. We ate them like pita bread, with croquettes, lettuce, tomatoes and sauce inside. And the next day Malcolm wrapped them around scrambled eggs.

 

Here’s Tunnels by Johnny Flynn

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Chervil pesto pizza (with mashed potatoes)

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Happy Boxing Day, Ordinary friends. In keeping with my recent holiday tradition, I’m feeling under the weather, all tired and achey. Fortunately Malcolm declared this a day that nobody has to get anything done and everybody can stay in pajamas all day, so all will be well. Since it’s boxing day, I’ll tell you about two of my favorite presents this year, which were, in fact, boxes. One is a pencil box, and it’s the prettiest pencil box you’ve ever seen. It’s strangely like a pencil box I was obsessed with as a third grader. All of the other girls had pencil boxes with sliding tops from WH Smith, and I wanted one so badly. And I got one! And I still remember how it smelled, and what a satisfying feeling it was to pack it with pencils and pens and erasers and how it felt like a box full of possibility for all the things I could write or draw. This box is a similar shape and size, with a sliding top, but instead of being made out of some weird plastic-wood, it’s made out of beautiful walnut, with a grain like flame or waves. and it’s hand-dovetailed by my favorite hands in the world. I put my special pen inside, and I’m fairly sure the box’s magical powers will imbue the pen with motivation or inspiration, and I’ll be able to write again. The other box is a Trojan DJ box set, and I’m COMPLETELY OBSESSED!! OBSESSED! This is 50 tracks (!), and each one is better than the one before, there are no stinkers. I love this music so much I want to eat it! This music is from the very late 60s and very early 70s, and it involves deejays taking popular tracks and mixing them up, and then toasting over them. Toasting is all good things! It’s blessing and praise, but it’s a little bit roasting and boasting as well. It’s poetry. It’s strange catch phrases or noises that are so simple but express so much. [What does this sound like? Hip hop! Of course! (Did you know that DJ Kool Herc was born in Jamaica?!?!)]  This is simultaneously the most moving, fragile, wobbly, and icily cool music I’ve heard in a while. I imagine a culture of DJs who support one another in friendly competition. They know one another and quote one another. It’s alternately funny and profound, or both at once. One of my favorite DJs in the box is King Stitt. He got the name King Stitt because he stuttered as  a child, and he got the name “The Ugly One” because he was born with a facial malformation and had very few teeth. But he was discovered because he could dance. I love that! And then he made a name by talking, and I love that too. He embraced what made him different, and realized that it made him cooler than cool. And he was one of the first DJs. He achieved success and everyone followed him. I like to imagine a community where this story is possible. I like to have these voices, which are so perfect and alive, in my foggy dispirited brain. To quote King Stitt, “Hot it from the top, to the very last drop!”

 

We have a forest of chervil growing in our garden. It’s the one herb that has thrived despite the few frosty nights, the drizzly days, and my constant picking. So I gathered some to make a pesto. Chervil is a lot more delicate than basil. It’s got a slight lemony-anise flavor, and it makes a lovely pesto. I made this like a normal basil pesto, with pine nuts and olive oil and garlic. Then I put it on a pizza with mashed potatoes for comfort and fresh tomatoes for liveliness. And that’s that.

 

Here’s King Stitt doing Fire Corner.

 

 

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PIne nut and herb tart with a yeasted crust

Herb and pine nut tart

Herb and pine nut tart

Lately, at our Dickensian flea market, there’s been a man with a table full of books about ancient Egypt. He’s got books on history, on art, on myth, on language. It’s a full collection, somebody’s entire library. I wonder how it all ended up here. I imagine a Tintin character, a scholar with a long white beard and round glasses, an Egyptologist, who gives it all up, sells all his books,  and goes on an   adventurous journey down the Nile. I bought a beautiful book called The Literature of Ancient Egypt. I will freely admit to you that I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Of course I knew about the myths and the gods, but I didn’t know there were stories and poems, that we could still read lengthy narratives from all those years ago. And how strange and beautiful they are! They alternate between the completely human and recognizable and the fantastically bizarre. There’s a ghost story that isn’t spooky at all because “death for a deceased Egyptian who had undergone the rites ofbeatification was an extension of life…and rapport between the living and the dead was by no means always a gloomy affair.” There’s The Shipwrecked Sailor, which is a story within a story within a story, one of them told by a golden snake.

And the love poems are crazy, intimate and yearning. In a context I only remotely understand, maybe there’s a sense that the people who describe themselves as belonging to another actually belong to the other as property, but if you’ve ever been in love you know how it feels to belong with someone, and in this context, these speak to me. Listen to this love poem:

The voice of the turtledove speaks out. It says:
day breaks, which way are you going?
Lay off, little bird,
must you so scold me?

I found my lover on his bed and my heart was sweet to excess.

We said:

I shall never be far away from you
while my hand is in your hand,
and I shall stroll with you in every favorite place.

He set me first of the girls
and he does not break my heart.

and this one…

A dense growth is in it,
in the midst of which we become ennobled

I am your best girl:
I belong to you like an acre of land
which I have planted
with flowers and every sweet-smelling grass.

Pleasant is the channel through it
which your hand dug outdoor refreshing ourselves with the breeze,
a happy place for walking
with your hand in my hand.

My body is excited, my heart joyful,
at our traveling together.

Many of the passages dole out advice, mostly to sons, some from fathers who are already dead. My favorite is The Maxims of Ptahhotpe. He’s not yet dead, but he’s aging, which he describes in a Sappho-worthy passage.

    The Eyes are dim, the ears are deaf, strength is perishing because of my lassitude, the mouth is silent and cannot speak, the mind has come to an end and cannot remember yesterday, the bones suffer all over, good is become evil, all taste has gone…

His advice is sometimes strange and sexist (how to deal with the women you own), but sometimes beautifully generous and still very pertinent today. He says not to judge anyone by their position, and not to be arrogant because of your knowledge, but to confer with the ignorant man as with the learned, for “Good speech is more hidden than malachite, yet it is found in the possession of women slaves at the millstones.” Anybody is worth speaking to, if you give them the chance to speak! He says that you shouldn’t pay any attention to a man who is speaking ill of others, you should be silent because he ” will be dubbed an ignoramus when your self-control has matched his prolixity.” And he says “Do not inspire terror in men…for no terror of man has ever been effective…plan to live in peace, and what men give will come of its own accord.” And most mysterious and most lovely, “Follow your desire as long as you live and do not perform more than is ordered, do not lessen the time of following desire, for the wasting of time is an abomination to the spirit; do not use up the daytime more than is necessary for the maintenance of your household.”

It’s so strange to read words from an almost incomprehensible time ago, when it’s hard to imagine how people lived, and find truth in them that still resonates today. I’m not always the biggest fan of human beings in general, but sometimes in the bright round mystery of our history, we’re remarkable and beautiful and persistently true.

We have so many herbs growing in our garden! I love this time of year. I love the bright taste of all of the herbs mingled together with something milder like eggs or cheese or potatoes. This turned out really good, I think. I used chervil and tarragon, which are both lovely and lemony and anise-y, plus basil and thyme, and sage and rosemary, and a little oregano. You can use whatever you have. I think the idea is to use strong flavors you might not usually combine, but which work well together because they’re all growing together at the same time. Very simple tart, in many ways, so it compliments the complexity of the herbs. You could play around endlessly with this!

Here’s a song by Oum Kalthoum. Another thing I don’t understand completely, but find beautiful.

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Pizza with grilled mushrooms, french lentils and roasted potatoes

Pizza with french lentils, grilled mushrooms and roasted potatoes

Pizza with french lentils, grilled mushrooms and roasted potatoes

“Do you want to hear something that doesn’t make sense?”

“Yes I do.”

Isaac and I are walking to school on a spring morning that’s warm on the inside and cool on the outside, on a morning that makes you shiver. The day will warm up, the year will warm up, but it’s all on the edge right now. He’s got one finger hovering softly on my spine just between my shoulder blades as we walk along, which is a thing that he does lately that pretty much knocks me out with the sweetness of it.

“I’m a non-evil demon wizard who is 999 years old, and Malcolm is a 13-year-old fire wizard…”

This is not the thing that doesn’t make sense. So far, this all makes perfect sense. The thing that doesn’t make sense is that Malcolm says Isaac’s not allowed to use fire against him, or is vulnerable to Malcolm’s fire, which…

“Now you’re just making fun of me!”

I wasn’t, I swear, but I was laughing so hard I might have missed the crux of the problem. I said maybe they could work together to make something out of fire.

“I don’t make things out of fire,” replied Isaac indignantly, “I live in cities of fire!”

Well! They do this a lot. They make up worlds, and those worlds have rules, and those rules are constantly shifting. Their place in the world changes with the rules, as do their powers and abilities, their actions and their fates. Usually it’s Malcolm, with his older-brother-power, making up most of the rules, which means his character has more power and “wins.” But Isaac can hold his own, he’s got a fierce imagination too. Or he can just stop playing. I’ve been thinking that this is not something we outgrow, though the older we get the less fun and funny it is. It’s still people with more power making all the rules and telling us that our actions are useless and our abilities are worthless. Telling us that we’re powerless against their fire. And that’s when we summon our fierce imaginations and change the rules so that it works out better for everyone. Or we just stop playing their game.

Pizza with french lentils, grille mushrooms and roasted potatoes.

Pizza with french lentils, grille mushrooms and roasted potatoes.

This pizza was a good way to use up some leftovers. Leftover french lentils, leftover roast potatoes, leftover grilled mushrooms. But it was also delicious! Smoky from the pine nuts and grilled mushrooms, earthy and sweet from the lentils. Nicely crispy and soft.

Here’s You Can Never Hold Back Spring by Tom Waits, 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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