Roasted grape tomato crostini, and penne with zucchini, spinach, olives, capers and almonds

Roasted grape tomato crostini

Roasted grape tomato crostini

A while back I was standing in the kitchen at work waiting for food to run, and I chatted with the food runner, who was standing in the same place with the same intent. For some reason, I mentioned to her that you’re not supposed to be sarcastic in front of children because it confuses them. She laughed and said, “your kids must be confused all the time.” Well! This gave me pause. I hadn’t spoken often with the runner or even said much in her presence. How could she know about the sarcasm? Had my inner-sarcasm somehow seeped through the cracks of my professional and friendly demeanor? Because I don’t think you’re supposed to be sarcastic in front of bosses or customers either–they get confused, too. I started to think about what it means to be sarcastic in front of your children. It’s true that my boys get confused when you say something they know isn’t true. When Isaac walks into a room, don’t say, “Well, who are you? I’ve never met you before,” because he hates it as much as if your words could actually negate his existence. (Although apparently he’s allowed to say, “Mom, my right arm is attached to my left hand and my left hand is attached to my right arm, and both my arms are put on backwards!” and I’m supposed to take this alarming information all in stride.) Honestly, children ask a lot of questions. Sometimes you don’t know the answer, sometimes it’s too complicated, and sometimes it’s too dull, and like Calvin’s dad, you find yourself presenting a different version of the world. So when they ask you why the subway is so much hotter than the street, you might find yourself answering, “because it’s closer to the fiery earth’s core,” instead of the actual answer–that it’s the cumulative temperature of all the pee that’s been peed there, which can’t cool and evaporate so far under ground, because this is obviously too scientific an explanation for little minds. But surely this is just using your imagination to present an alternative view of the world, and surely the world is always shifting and mutable anyway, so that there are no constant and correct answers. Obviously, if your child is uncomfortable you abandon the joke, but most of the time they recognize a good story, and if nothing else, they learn to become very skeptical of everything they’re told, and that can’t be a bad thing. I did a little research on the subject of sarcasm and children. Apparently, you’re not supposed to be sarcastic at all, in front of anybody, ever, because it’s cruel and dishonest. Well! (again) this gave me even more pause, because I love sarcastic humor, but I abhor cruelty and dishonesty. Sarcasm comes from the Greek meaning to tear or cut the flesh, and I realize this does sound cruel, but like anything else in life, it’s how you use it. You can use sarcasm to be snarky and bullyish and make people feel bad about themselves, certainly. But why would you? You can also use sarcasm to cope with an unpleasant situation, to make fun of yourself, to express something that you’re not allowed to come out and say. It’s a coping mechanism, and it’s a tool I’d like my children to posses. I always admire people that can disarm a tense or nasty confrontation with a joke. At its most effective, sarcasm can demonstrate the absurdity of a predicament and help you to change it or wade through it. And, far from being dishonest, sarcasm, like all humor, is a way to speak truths that otherwise couldn’t be spoken, that wouldn’t be accepted in any other form. With sarcasm and irony you can turn the world on its head, and sometimes that needs to happen. So I’m not going to teach my boys that sarcasm is bad, I’m going to teach them that pettiness and cruelty are bad, however they’re expressed. And when they each inevitably develop a sarcastic sense of humor (they’re sarcastic on their father’s and mother’s side, so it’s only a matter of time), I’ll be glad to step back from the world with them, have a chuckle at the absurdity of it all, and forge back into life better prepared to shape it the way we like it.

Zucchini and spinach with olives and almonds

Zucchini and spinach with olives and almonds

I’m combining these two recipes because we ate them together, but they’d each be fine on their own. They’re both super-simple, so this is a nice summer meal. I roasted some grape tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic and herbs (use fresh if you have them!) and piled this on little toasts spread with goat cheese. That’s it! A nice combination of flavors, though. And then I made a stir fry of zucchini with spinach, capers, olives, and topped the whole thing with almonds. The boys ate it with pasta as a sort of pasta primavera and I ate it over greens as a sort of warm salad. Good either way!

Here’s Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers with Hyena Stomp. Need a laugh? This has plenty.
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Tomato & basil toasts

The sky is flat, dark, slate grey, gathering over the roofs and trees to the southwest. The sky is bright on the other side of the horizon, but the rooms of our house are becoming dusky-dark. The bright green leaves are showing their pale undersides, and a spattering rain is edging over the house. The wind smells remarkable – cool and green and sharp, after a day of damp and heavy air. A storm is coming! I’m a little phobic about storms. It’s tedious for my family. I won’t leave the house if a storm is predicted. Well – that’s not quite true any more, because they predict storms every day from May to September in this day and age, and I do leave the house in every once in a while during those months. The truth is, though, that I love a good storm, if all of my people are safe and sheltered. Storms seem to capture so many seasons and hours of the day in their cycle of anticipation and relief. The heavy stillness that precedes them, which you can feel weighing you down; the drama of the storm itself; the clearness of the world when it’s all over. And storms are creatures of the summertime, of course. Warm and ripe and bursting – like summer tomatoes. We don’t have any summer tomatoes, yet, but we do have lots of basil! And half a ciabatta baguette to use up! So I made these tomato basil toasts. This could probably be called bruscetta, actually. And it’s one of those things that’s so simple, you feel silly posting a recipe. But it’s perfectly delicious. I add capers and roasted garlic, to the trinity of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. The juice of the tomatoes mingles with a bit of olive oil and balsamic to create a lovely juicy sauce to dip your bread in. And that’s about it!

Here’s The Storms are on the Ocean by The Carter Family. I really love this song! It’s so driving, in their understated way.
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Crispy beet & caper wontons with port wine sage sauce

Beet & caper won tons

I’ve always loved stories (usually children’s stories, but you sometimes find it in Dickens as well) in which a character is subjected to terrible cold and hunger and discomfort, but somehow finds themself, in the next scene, basking in humble fireside warmth and nice things to eat. On our spring break, we went into the mountains. We went for a hike, despite the chilliness, and the predictions of rain or even snow. We were in a place we’d been before, and the paths always wound back to the beginning. They were all only a mile long. We could do that! Isaac got tired and wanted to turn around. The weather worsened. We thought – we’re in a loop, if we turn now, we would have been minutes from the beginning. So we trudged on. Finally we came to a map. The woods chilled and quieted, and a cold pelting hail rained down with purpose. The map said, “Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of this trail. Now turn around and trudge back the miserable 1 and half miles, with a tired 6-year-old and a 9 year-old who has twisted his ankle.” It was an oddly panicky moment! One of those, “who said I could be a mom, because moms are supposed to know exactly where you’re going and how to get there” moments. But we walked back, and for five minutes the sun came out, and it was nice talking to the boys while we walked. We got to one spot where somebody had obviously made a campfire. The dirt was wet and sweet, and the charred wood was equally fragrant. Don’t think I’m crazy, but it really made me want to eat beets!! Then the hail came back, and we were so grateful to see the end of the trail, and go back to David’s mom’s lovely cabin and sit in dry warm pjs by the fireside!

Beets are sweet! And beautiful! And so tasty! I can’t believe I ever thought I didn’t like them. They’re combined here with capers (or flavor dynamites, as they’re known in my family). The tart savory brininess of the capers is a nice relief from the earthy sweetness of the beets. The beets are grated and toasted, and they have a lovely, charred-sugar flavor, and an almost juicy texture. All of this is tucked inside a wonton wrapper (they’re so much fun!) and then quickly fried in olive oil. Making for a perfect little crispy pouch of juicy deliciousness. We had these as a meal with a big salad, but I think they’d be a fun appetizer or snack for a party with a bowl of delicious dipping sauce alongside.

What is that delicious dipping sauce, you ask? Well, it is rich and savory, made with port wine, balsamic, fresh sage, and shallots. It’s a bit like a beurre rouge, but it has a lot less butter in it.

Here’s Down the Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton. Wonder if he was craving beets as well?

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Broccoli and kale paté

broccoli and kale paté

Brassicaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! This paté brings the sexy back to your brassica. Yes, they smell funny when you cook them. Yes, they’re good for you. Yes, when overcooked they’re stodgy and horrible. But brassica can be really delightful – bright, green, flavorful, juicy! That’s how we find them in this delicious and simple paté. My sister-in-law, Christy, was over for dinner the night I made these. She doesn’t like kale or broccoli (I know, I’m a very considerate hostess!) but she asked for two helpings of this! We ate this on thinly sliced toasted whole grain bread with a bowl of soup, and it made an easy, satisfying meal. It would make an elegant appetizer, as well, or snack for a party.

Here’s Beirut’s brassy Gulag Orkestar to listen to while you boil your brassica.
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Non-sausage rolls with butternut squash and goat cheese

Butternut squash goat cheese rolls

One of the nice things about being a savory pastry geek, is that when you have an opportunity to bring an appetizer to a party, you’re prepared!! These are loosely based on the good old-fashioned sausage roll, in construction at least. But the filling is a lovely blend of roasted butternut squash, spinach, goat cheese and hazelnuts. A nice balance of sweet, tart and earthy. These make a nice appetizer or snack for a party. With a bowl of soup or a good salad, they make a satisfying meal.

Here’s Tom Waits’ Eggs & Sausage and a Side of Toast, performed live on a TV show in 1976. And a very funny interview with him after. Look at everybody smoking!
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