Kale with capers, walnuts and fresh basil

Kale, walnuts and capers

Kale, walnuts and capers

Here at The Ordinary, we’ve decided to revive a worship of ancient Greek deities. We’ve been building oracular shrines and temples in our back yard…making little piles of stones for hermes, eating pomegranates for Hera, and worshipping owls for Athena. We’re sending the boys to vacation Zeus camp. I’m kidding, of course, but I have been reading the boys’ copy of D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, and I’m completely smitten. The stories are so rich and strange, and yet so familiar. They’ve got a flood, with one couple building a boat that carries them safely through it. They’ve got people being made from other people’s body parts. They’ve got an all-powerful god who is strangely incapable of avoiding death and misery for everyone around him. The scope and balance of Zeus’s power and his limitations is so fascinating to me. He wants to change certain situations, but he can’t, because it’s against the rules. But which rules? Who made them? Who is more powerful than Zeus, to dictate what he can and cannot do? He can’t stop himself from killing his mortal wife by revealing himself to her in all his deadly, brighter-than-the-sun-glory (he promised!). But he can take her unborn son from her burnt body and complete its gestation in his leg, and he can eventually bring her back to life and give her a home on Mount Olympus. He’s powerless against the jealous anger of his godly wife Hera. In one story, he falls in love with a mortal named Io, and when Hera comes down to investigate, he turns the woman into a cow. She’s a very pretty cow, though, just as she was a very pretty mortal, and Hera is jealous. So she asks for the cow as a gift, knowing that Zeus won’t be able to turn her back into a real girl. She has her servant Argus watch over the cow. Argus has hundreds of eyes all over his body. So part of him can sleep while part of his watches the pretty cow. Zeus sends Hermes down to take care of Argus, and Hermes bores him to death! He tells such dull stories that half of Argus’ eyes close, and then he continues to tell such dull stories that the other half of Argus’ eyes close, and he dies! And Hera puts all his eyes on peacock tails! How can you not worship gods with stories like this?

This is a completely simple preparation of kale, but it’s quite pleasant as well. This time of year I love mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil (I know, I know, everybody does.) This sees that combination piled atop kale that’s tender but bright and tossed with capers and walnuts. A little crunchy, a little tangy, and satisfyingly fresh and green.

Here’s Hermes Tri by Jorge Ben, I think there’s a connection to Hermes the god, but I’m a little confused by the story, since I don’t speak Portuguese.

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Beets glazed with tamari, lime, and hot pepper

Beets glazed with tamari

Beets glazed with tamari

On the local news they were running a story about the demolition of an old hotel…a historical landmark. A fresh-faced local reporter informed us of the traffic problems we might expect, and about proposed plans for the site. Then they told us our “backyard” weather report, before returning to the national morning program, on which a group of plastic-faced plastic-haired individuals cheerfully and ignorantly speculated on the murder of a sad-seeming “reality” TV star. Later we drove home through miles of winding mountain roads covered with pine forests. We passed small towns and farms, and almost more churches than houses. I always feel a little lonely driving through strange neighborhoods, getting small glimpses of people’s lives there…a couple of kids playing volleyball without a net, a line of people waiting for a bus (where are they going?), an unchained dog ambling back to his place in a service station. Something about the pines and the veering hills makes this part of the world seem unusually wild, and it’s obviously a place people have travelled to for some time to escape the cares of the world. It’s beautiful, silent, pitch black at night, and desolate. We passed by huge strange buildings from the last century–giant resort hotels and spas, in crumbling disrepair or transformed into apartments. We passed abandoned resort towns from the sixties and seventies, where trees grow out of the tennis court, and the bright groovy colors welcome the ghosts. We passed colonies of small houses–cabins or shacks, really–they must have been for families roughing it for a week or two, or for artists’ gatherings or religious retreats. And now they’re dilapidated, missing doors and windows and crumbling apart, but judging from the possessions strewn over the front lawn, there are people living there, people with dogs and children and worries just like mine. It’s so strange to think about the people who have come here for vacation, maybe year after year, until the buildings were boarded up and the business closed down. It’s strange to think about the people who live here now, in these small towns and old cities and ex-resorts, all connected by the morning show piped into their televisions, with its gruesomely breezy jolliness, its forced fake stories that have nothing real about them, nothing that touches anybody’s life, not enough substance to even crumble and decay. Humans are so strange, sometimes.

Beets glazed with tamari

Beets glazed with tamari

Almost everything in this dish came from the farm! The beets, scallions, garlic, hot pepper, basil, cilantro. It’s simple, but with nice strong flavors, sweet, salty, hot and tangy. You could toss it with rice or pasta to make a meal, or eat it on the side with all the other good summer vegetables.

Here’s Who Cares, Michelle Shocked’s ghost town song.

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Saucy summer vegetables with lemon, basil, and ginger

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

We’re having a heatwave! It’s been one scorcher after another, with little relief even at night. I don’t mind it so much. I like to hole up in our one air-conditioned room and read or write, and then strike out in search of water for the boys to swim in. But it does make you feel a little weary, after a while, and leave you longing for crisp, energizing weather. You might expect this week’s Sunday interactive playlist to be about hot songs, right? But no! We’re going to cool it down with songs about coldness, winter, ice and snow. What’s cooler than cool? Our ice cold playlist to chill out to.

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

This is a light, bright way to use up some vegetables from the farm without heating up the kitchen too much. I used golden beets, pattypan squash, golden and red tomatoes and fennel, because I like the combination of flavors and that’s what we had, but you can use what you like. It’s very flavorful, with ginger, coriander, basil, cilantro and lemon. We ate it with soba noodles, and it looked very nice and colorful against their slate grey background, but you could eat it with rice, or over greens, or as a sort of side dish.

Here’s a link to the ice cold playlist. Add what you like, or leave a comment and I’ll add it for you.

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Savory cake with tomatoes, mozzarella and olives

Savory cake with olives, tomatoes and mozzarella

Savory cake with olives, tomatoes and mozzarella

Have you ever discovered a wonderful new way to start a story? Cause I have, and I’ll tell you about it. Did you see? Did you see what I did there? I asked a question and then I told you that I’m going to answer it for you! Where did I discover this ingenious new rhetorical method? Why, in the piles and piles of paper Malcolm brought home on the last day of school, of course. I love going through all the boys’ papers. It’s so funny to see their odd ideas and their mad doodles. Sometimes I think all of the little notes and drawings, which are probably dire signs that they aren’t focussing, are my favorite part of their work. And I love to learn what they’ve been thinking about–that Isaac’s major interests this year were bats and his big brother, and that his heart murmur makes his heart have an echo, and that makes him feel special. Malcolm’s writing journal is a treat. It’s a chaotic pile of ripped pages and tiny pictures of his favorite recurring character, a fez-wearing fellow named madman. But it gets neater as it goes along. The writing is more even, the stories are longer and more carefully formed, but the spelling is as erratic as ever, which is definitely a sign of genius, right? Towards the end of the journal, all of the stories start with the “Have you ever…? I have, and I’ll tell you about it” pattern, which I actually love. I’m never going to sit around worrying about how to start a story again! This technique, so confiding and conversational, pulls you right into the story. My favorite of his essays begins like this. (Spelling and grammar have been cleaned up to ease comprehension.) “Have you ever had a favorite window? Cause I have and I’ll tell you about it. It is a green window that has a radiator next to it so when I look out I am warm. Speaking of looking out, I always see a white parking lot or [unintelligible] normal [trails off here]. I feel happy Jumpy when I look out that window…” And that’s pretty much it. It’s an unfinished work. I love it though, and I’m going to tell you why. First of all, I love windows in literature, and in photographs and films, and I’m proud to think of Malcolm joining this fine tradition. Furthermore, I know which window he’s talking about, and I like it too. I like to think of Malcolm, warm in his room, looking through the cool green window with his big green eyes, watching the world go by. I like that he feels happy-jumpy, whatever that means. Malcolm is a boy who will go anywhere with you. He never needs persuading, he’s ready and out the door in a flash, and I like to think about him sitting there thinking of all the places he’ll go. And funnily enough, I’d made a little film of this very window as part of my series of small videos that I’ve told you about in the past. They’re like Ozu’s pillow shots without the film all around them. “I started making short, static videos. I gave myself some rules…they had to last about a minute. I couldn’t change the frame. The sound would be whatever naturally occurred for that minute. I focused on leaves, or water, or shadows, even dirty dishes in the sink. The sound generally involved my children yelling for me and trying to get my attention, which was an idea that I liked a lot. It captured my life at the time (and to this day.) There was nothing brilliant about the videos, but I liked the way that shooting them made me think about how long a minute lasts, how hard it is to be quiet and still, how my life sounded, how pretty small things could be.” One night about a month ago, when we were putting the boys to bed, I was very taken with Malcolm’s green window. It was a cooly glowing spring dusk, and the light in the room was warm and creamy, and the light outside the window so cool and evening-blue green.

Because my birthday is in June, it has become a tradition to make a dinner of bread, tomatoes, mozzarella and olives. Just to sit and snack and have a slightly nicer bottle of wine than usual. This year, because it’s a sweltering and humid 95 degrees every day, I thought it would be a good idea to bake something. But I wanted to retain the basic idea of tomatoes, olives and cheese. I’m savory-cake mad at the moment, so I made a yeasted, herbed chickpea flour batter, and then I piled fresh tomatoes, herbs, mozzarella and castelvetrano olives in the middle, and then I baked it all. Delicious! We had it with tiny boiled potatoes from our CSA and some bright sauteed pattypan squash and asparagus. The boys liked it, too, because it resembles pizza. I actually left the batter in the fridge over night, but you could just do an ordinary afternoon-rise, if you like.

Here’s Brianstorm, by the Arctic Monkeys, which is Malcolm’s favorite song.

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Roasted radish and beet salad

Roasted radish and beet salad

Whenever I hear the word “radish” I think of the Simpsons. Other things that make me think of the Simpsons: oregano, doughnuts, convenience store hot dogs, very long sandwiches, skateboards, saxophones, tramampamolines, clouds in a blue sky, Mitt Romney, and, of course, 3 foot high blue hair. I used to love the Simpsons! I haven’t watched for about a decade, maybe. It all went downhill, for me, when they started having celebrity guests in most episodes. Luke Perry was the beginning of the end. But I’ve watched every episode from before that time about a billion times each, so I’m covered, Simpsons-wise. It’s funny how many situations in life call to mind a scene from the Simpsons. We rented the second season on DVD for the boys. They’ve seen some pretty dark shows – Star Wars, Harry Potter, Coraline – they all have some actually scary moments, and my boys are usually fine with it. But they found the Simpsons very unsettling. Despite the tall blue hair and the absurd humor, the Simpsons are very real. The problems they face each episode are very real human problems. And problems that my boys could relate to, and felt uneasy about – getting in trouble, problems with bullies, realizing that your parents don’t have the answer to every question. I think, despite being cartoons, and very cartoonish, the characters in this odd yellow family are well-rounded and subtle. I like when Lisa is little girlish, I like when she’s Simpsonish. I love Marge’s gentle nature – I need to be more like her!

When we got two big bunches of radishes from the CSA, I was tempted to carve them all into radish rosettes, like Marge’s impressive aliens. Instead, I decided to roast them with beets. Both pink, both root vegetables, but one is sharp and spicy and one is sweet and earthy. I thought they’d be perfect together! I’ve never eaten roasted radishes before, so I tried to keep the salad very simple so I could really taste them. I added almonds and fresh basil. I think it would be good with feta or goat cheese as well – maybe next time. We ate this with some fresh arugula from the farm, and it was very good indeed!

Here’s Mikey Dread with Roots and Culture
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Chickpea stew with tomatoes, chard and castelvetrano olives

Chickpea, chard, castelvetrano stew

Isaac wants a baby orangutan for a pet, and so do I. Actually he just asked if I’d rather have an elephant, and I think I might rather. He’ll get the orangutan, and I’ll get the elephant. So we’re going to head down to the local animal shelter and see if we can find one of each. He’s home sort-of-sick from school, and watching a show about orphaned orangutans and elephants. They’re raised by humans and then returned to the wild. They’re all so beautiful you could cry! The shot of a herd of baby elephants, red with the dusty earth, running, eager, giant ears held high, following people with soccer balls, threw me for a loop. A loop, I tell you! The film centers on the two women that run the retreats. Rightfully so, I suppose, they’ve given their lives and probably lots of their money to these animals. David and I were thinking it would be interesting to see a movie about the people that work there, and care for the animals every day, as well. Orphaned animals can’t sleep alone. In the wild they cuddle with their mothers, and in this strange environment they have too many bad memories of why they became orphaned animals. There’s a shot of a man trying to sleep, with a baby elephant cavorting all around him. I well remember days of trying to cuddle a toddler to sleep. Can you imagine if the toddler weighed several hundred pounds?! And a scene with a woman cuddling a tiny baby orangutan, singing to him, and rubbing his tummy, as he frowns and struggles to keep his eyes open – well it kills me. I wonder what the lives of these people are like. Do they have children of their own? What strange hours they must work. What a demanding but rewarding job it must be! What kind of dreams do you have when you care for orphaned animals all day and night?

We’re back to stew season, here at The Ordinary! The evenings are drawing in, and it’s time for warm saucy meals. This particular stew extends the bridge between summer and fall. It’s full of fresh tomatoes and basil, chard from the farm, and a sweet roasted red pepper. And it has castelvetrano olives, which I love so much. They’re lovely and bright and juicy, and they’re very pretty with the tomatoes. I had mine with bulgarian feta crumbled on top, but if you leave that (and the bit of butter) out, you have a good vegan meal. Serve it with a salad and a loaf of crispy bread, and you’re golden.

Here’s Elephant Gun by Beirut. It’s a beautiful song, but it’s a sad story of elephant hunting, and it’s why these baby elephants are orphans.

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Tomato steaks au poivre; Semolina dumpling baked in tomatoes; roasted red salad stuffed heirloom

Giant heirloom

It’s hard not to become defensive when you grow up in New Jersey. From an early age, you’re aware that you’re the butt of jokes – not just the jokes of snarky Manhattanites, but of pretty much everybody, everywhere. You hear stereotypes about New Jersey accents, New Jersey styles of dress, New Jersey music. You know, of course, that those accents and styles of dress actually originate in certain boroughs of Manhattan, and the attribution is false, but you grow tired of explaining that. People drive from New York to Philly and see the ugliest part of New Jersey – the Strip malls and refineries. You think about telling them that where you live, there’s nothing but vast expanses of beautiful countryside, but you don’t want everybody moving here, so you keep quiet. You know that Jersey is overpopulated, but that population is incredibly diverse, which means that we have a rich culture of languages, art, and food. We have mountains and beaches and meadows. We have a sense of humor about ourselves – we have to – it’s a survival instinct. We’re adaptable and tolerant – living so close to your neighbors (as you do in much of the state) you learn to respect them and care for them.

Baked semolina dumpling tomatoes

And we have tomatoes! Jersey tomatoes – pride of the garden state! At the moment I have a bewildering number of tomatoes! But I’ve had a lot of fun thinking of ways to prepare them. We had some big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes. I scooped out some of the flesh and replaced it with semolina dumpling batter. I baked the tomatoes, and made the flesh into a sauce with chard and basil.

Tomato chard sauce

The semolina has a lovely, soft texture that absorbs the tomato-y juices. Then I thought about giant slices of tomatoes that feel like steaks, and I decided to coat them in pepper, fry them in a little butter, and then use the juices to make a sauce, with shallots, garlic, and wine. It made a nice side dish, and I think it would be nice over angel hair pasta. Finally, we had an heirloom tomato the size of a small pumpkin. I decided to open it in thick slices, and stuff a flavorful salad into the spaces – roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, capers, olives, and fresh basil. Fresh and delicious!

Tomato steaks au poivre

Here’s Tom Waits with Jersey Girl
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Chickpea flour chard frittata-cake (with olive sofrito)

Chard & chickpea flour cake

I’m not very good at sitting still. I’ve tried doing yoga or meditating once or twice, but as soon as I try to clear my head, it fills with silly thoughts and petty anxieties. When I try to sit and write, I find myself jumping up every few minutes to do something that doesn’t actually need to be done. Yesterday, I attempted to master the art of being still. I’ve written the underdog’s theme song, and absolved lack of competitive instinct and lack of ambition everywhere. At the moment I’d like to champion a brief spell of staring into space. It’s been a spate of immaculate weather. We were trying to think of the perfect thing to do after dinner – homework all done, but still a school night. We weren’t organized enough for a walk of any kind. Maybe we’d sit around a fire in the backyard. But I found myself sitting in a chair by the front door. The sky was bright as day, but the room was filling with darkening blue light at an autumn pace – always surprising and even slightly worrying. The boys were playing kickball in the backyard. They were giggling maniacally – beautiful, but I’m sure they were hitting the window and the recycling bins on purpose. David was in the kitchen sneezing, and covering Malcolm’s text book with a brown paper bag, the way humans have covered textbooks for all eternity. The boys ran in and out of their showers, cool, pale and giggling. They disappeared into the backyard, as the sky finally deepened outside the window, and in the room it became too dark to write. The smell of smoke and the sound of loved voices pulled me into the backyard, where the sky was still palely glowing.

Chard and chickpea flour frittata

And before all of this activity? I made the best meal! I’m really proud of it! I think I may have invented it! I’m not even sure what to call it! It’s like a frittata, but it has chickpea flour in it, which gives it a lovely substantiality and flavor. It’s also got sauteed chard, mozzarella, some garlic, some rosemary, and some basil. We cut it into thick wedges, and ate it with sofrito (spanish style). I’d made a big batch with all of the paste tomatoes I picked last week. I froze some of it for winter, and I set some aside, and added olives and a roasted red pepper (also from the farm!) You could make a simple tomato sauce instead, though. (Both recipes below) And we had a nice, simple heirloom tomato salad as well.

Olive & red pepper sofrito

The cool, blue sounds of Jackie Mittoo’s Evening Time.
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Every kind of tomato tart, with a semolina crust

Every kind of tomato tart

Is there any anxiety in life more pleasant than that of having too many tomatoes? I think not! I look forward to this moment all year long. I went to the CSA last week and picked the beautiful little golden tomatoes, the tiny bright orange tomatoes, the big green sauce tomatoes. The next morning we picked up our CSA box and … even MORE TOMATOES! My counter is overflowing with tomatoes, the garden is overgrown with basil, and I’m overjoyed at the over abundance. Isaac dispatched the cherry tomatoes in no time – he eats them like candy. I have so many fiendish plans for the rest of the tomatoes. Be warned, I’ll be pelting you with tomato recipes all week!

Fresh tomato tart

The tomatoes are so pretty, in all their various shapes and sizes and colors, that the first thing I wanted to make was a simple tart to showcase them in all their glory. The wondrous trinity of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil is combined here, elegantly packed into a crunchy semolina crust. I kept everything very simple and spare, so that the tomatoes themselves would really shine. They’re lovely here – cooked long enough to be soft and juicy, but not so long that they’re mushy. You can taste the subtle difference in each type of tomato in every bite of this tart. This tart was a breeze to put together. I made the crust before work, and it cooked in about half an hour. Simple, quick, pretty, and delicious. And gone! We ate the whole thing in one sitting.

Here’s Freddy McKay with Love is a Treasure. And so are september tomatoes! (I love this song!)

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Zucchini, green pea, feta, & mint paté and zucchini with tarragon and hazelnuts

Zucchini green pea feta paté

It can be hard to stay cheerful when you’re a waitress. Many restaurant patrons are as needy and particular as toddlers, and they’re not always nice about making their needs known. I slip into horribly bitchy crankiness sometimes, as a mom and as a waitress, and it feels awful. On a good day, however, there’s a real joy in feeding people – even if it’s just the humble job of carrying their food to the table. People can be so endearing when they eat – the way they arrange their food before they put it in their mouth, the gestures they use to share with others at their table, even the particular care they use to get their order exactly correct can be as sweet as it is irksome. I like to see people eating together: some have so much to say they forget to eat, and others are either so comfortable together or so awkward they may not say one word through the meal. This weekend I worked with a very young woman, very quiet, very nice. An older couple came in and sat in her section. The man asked his wife what he wanted to drink – he’d forgotten. His wife knew (we all know! He gets the same thing every time.) The waitress came back to write up the order, and she said, “I love them!” Every little thing they said, the way that they knew each other so well they could finish each others’ sentences, all of it was making her so happy. I know what she means! I’d been feeling cranky about humans, that morning, but her love for this couple made humanity seem pretty wonderful. It reminded me of Alyosha, (still reading The Bros. K! Still reading) who says we should “…care for most people exactly as one would for children…” He’s trying, though he he doesn’t feel he’s altogether ready in himself. Sometimes he’s very impatient, and other times he doesn’t see things. I know what he means, too!

Well! We’re still getting tons of zucchini, and I’m trying to love that, too. Here are two ways to prepare it that both use herbs from our garden. One is simple, one a little more complicated. The paté being the latter, though it’s really not difficult to make. I’m calling it a paté because it’s nice on toast or crackers, but we ate it one night as a side dish, and it was good that way too. Feta, mint and peas seem like such a natural combination – so fresh and sweet and salty, all at the same time. This paté has some almonds in, which gives it a sort of country-paté texture. In the simpler dish, the zucchini is sautéed briskly in butter till it’s nicely browned but still has a bit of crunch. It’s mixed with garlic, tarragon and some toasted hazelnuts. A nice side dish!

Zucchini with tarragon and hazelnuts

Here’s King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Workingman’s Blues

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