Arugula salad with roasted carrots, beets, pecans and shaved goat cheese

Arugula salad with roasted carrots, beets and pecans

Arugula salad with roasted carrots, beets and pecans

“Hey, Claire,” I hear you say, “Why the hell have you never mentioned the ‘kitchen sink’ films of the sixties? Aren’t they perfectly Ordinary?” And then I slap myself on the forehead and say, “OF COURSE! Of course they are! And I love them! They’re some of my favorite movies of all time!” And then I think it over a little more and decide that some are more Ordinary than others, and maybe these are the ones I’ll talk about. The kitchen sink films, for those who don’t know, are British films made in the sixties that are notable for showing working class people going about their ordinary lives. They’re mostly black and white, and though simply, even roughly, shot, they’re gorgeous. They’re often filmed on location with natural lighting, but I would happily save each frame of most of them as a beautiful still photograph. The term “kitchen sink” was inspired by a painting by John Bratby, and this drive for social realism was part of a broader movement that included art, theater and literature.
John Bratby's Kitchen Sink

John Bratby’s Kitchen Sink

The films are also called “Angry Young Man” films, because many of them concern themselves with just such a character, but I find that my favorites are more complicated than this, they’re not always about men, and the central character is not simply angry, but has a conflicted attitude to their home and the humdrum life they find themselves stuck in. One such man is Billy Liar, played with pathos and comic genius by Tom Courtney. This film has an extraordinary balance of darkness and light. Billy works in a funeral parlor, and he woos one of his many girlfriends in a cemetery. His parents needle him to grow up and take responsibility. He dreams of someday escaping to London, preferably in the company of Julie Christie. But the truth is that Billy escapes his dreary reality every day: he has a world in his head, a country called Ambrosia, where he is a hero, or several heroes. Billy’s goal in life is to be a script writer, and through his fantasies, he writes a script for himself, for his life, that helps him to transcend the weighty worries of his real-life. When he’s offered a chance at a actual grand gesture, a genuine adventure, he decides not to take it, and the ending of the film is suffused with a melancholy sense of failure, but once again Billy’s imagination saves him. Billy Liar is a comedy, but it’s a complex one, with layer upon layer of questions about life and society buried deep in each scene. Billy’s world is far from perfect, but seen through his eyes, it’s beautiful and funny and touching. The ending is bittersweet and complicated, just like life. I think Billy has made happiness for himself, and to me that means he’s not a failure at all.

Stay tune for further installments of Claire’s favorite Kitchen Sink films at an Ordinary near you!

Roasted carrot and beet salad

Roasted carrot and beet salad

It’s been too hot to cook, so we’re having lots of salad. But when a salad is your meal, you want it to be hearty, you want it to have nuts and cheese and then you want to try to use up all of your vegetables from the farm, so you add roasted beets and carrots, and then you treated yourself to some special hard goat’s cheese from Spain and some special hard sheep’s cheese from the Basque region, and you want to shave some of that on there as well. And you end up with this big beautiful tangle of greens and everything but the kitchen sink!

Here’s The Decemberists with Billy Liar.
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Roasted beet and butterbean salad with spinach, arugula and smoked gouda

beet-and-butterbeanWhen I was younger–shall we say early twenties?–I wrote a screenplay about a man who wouldn’t leave his front porch. He’d travelled the world, and then something happened, but I don’t remember what, or maybe nothing happened–I’ve always been a big fan of the anti-drama–and he sat in a rocker on his front porch and refused to leave. His mother fussed over him and consulted various experts to aid in his cure. She talked to ministers and doctors and wise neighbors. He chatted with the mailman and with small children that ran by the house. We worry about him, because he’s not behaving like everyone else, he’s not normal. But he seems okay. He’s a little confused, but he’s pleasant and cheerful. He’s alright. It turns out he’s trying to rid himself of fear and desire, based on some combination of ideas gleaned from several philosophies that I barely understood at the time and understand even less well now, all these many years later, seen through a haze of crumbling memory. I still think about this from time to time. Would I want to rid myself of fear and desire, assuming I had the strength to do so (I don’t)? In all honesty, I don’t think I would. Desire, like hunger, is such a part of being alive. Wanting keeps you wishing and hoping and trying. And fear is so closely connected with imagination and creativity and dreams. The idea seemed good at the time, I suppose. I was confused, myself, and so full of wants and worries. But in thinking about losing myself, I was doing the opposite, I was completely self-conscious and self-centered. We all look at the world through our own eyes, through the prism of our own fears and desires. As Hobbes so delightfully says…

    …for the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man, to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasions. I say the similitude of passions, which are the same in all men,- desire, fear, hope, etc.; not the similitude of the objects of the passions, which are the things desired, feared, hoped, etc.: for these the constitution individual, and particular education, do so vary, and they are so easy to be kept from our knowledge, that the characters of man’s heart, blotted and confounded as they are with dissembling, lying, counterfeiting, and erroneous doctrines, are legible only to him that searcheth hearts.

“Only to him that searcheth hearts”!!! I love that! Where was I? Ah, yes. I’ve been remembering my juvenile struggle with all of these muddled ideas lately because of all the memes! The memes and soundbites and super-designed quotes and quips and words of wisdom. It feels, sometimes, as though we’re taking little pieces of these philosophies that we don’t understand, and spinning them around to become something entirely new. Like all good twenty-first century Americans, we’re stripping them of their original meaning and making them all about making us feel better about ourselves. So that they’re no longer about losing ourselves, but about loving ourselves. We don’t have to rid ourselves of anything, cause we’re okay! Reduce a philosophy to a few pithy phrases, superimpose it over a rainbow or some flowers, and its meaning is distilled–it’s all about me! I know, I know, I sound hypocritical and hypercritical. But it seems as though if we’re going to appropriate ideas we should at least read enough of them to be confused by them, to let the words get us into a muddle, to struggle to understand something of the original wisdom, and not just swallow it down like some sugary pill that makes us feel better with no side effects. We should have more respect for the words than to make them into social-media-ready memes. That’s what kittens are for!

Springtime with its damp fragrant earth and unfurling ferns always makes me crave beets. So I bought a big bunch. My favorite method of cooking beets is one that Malcolm invented…grated, tossed with olive oil and herbs and roasted. So that’s what I did here. And I roasted some buttery butterbeans in butter. And I sauteed some spinach with garlic, and I mixed all of these things together, stirred in a little black truffle butter, added some ripe avocado, piled it into a nest of fresh wild arugula, and grated smoked gouda on top. Delicious! A warm, hearty salad with such lovely melty, smoky, sweet and buttery flavors.

Here’s Tom Waits with Just Another Sucker on the Vine, just because I love it.

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