Broccoli rabe and black beans with ginger and tamari (and tofu!)

black-bean-broccoli-rabeIn my dream I decided to legally change my name to Clairey the Observer. And in my dream this was my job (my dream job!), I was a professional observer. I just sat back and watched people and then I wrote about it. I made observations. I half-woke up and thought about what a nice job this would be in real life, I imagined myself on a high perch, taking notice of all that happened around me, and I thought about writing stories based on observations of people. I want this job! Unfortunately I didn’t dream about the part where you apply for the position, so I don’t know how to go about it. But then when I was fully-woken up, I looked up “observe” in the OED, as one does, so I’d be fully apprised of the job description before I undertake the employment. Observe. It’s such a rich and fascinating word. According to my understanding of the term in my dream, my main responsibility as an observer would be “To take notice of, be conscious of; to notice, perceive, see.” And then “To remark or make observations on.” If I was actually applying for this job, I would write in my cover letter, “I think I would be very good at taking notice and being conscious of things, because it’s very important to me to notice things, and not to just let them pass me by. I want to observe things and collect and keep them, and not just let life wash over me as though I was in a sleepy stupor. I want to be a keen observer, and notice even the small things and feel them, too.” Further duties of an observer would include acting “To watch over, look after, keep safe.” And I feel confidant that I could do this very ably. Just ask my dog or my sons, if anything I’m likely to keep too close a watch and generally look after too fondly and anxiously. I also understand that as an observer I might be called upon to abide by or adhere to or to maintain or uphold a mode of existence, a covenant, or a promise, and I assure you that in my day-to-day existence, I will strive to observe principles of curiosity, creativity, generosity, honesty, and, of course, verbosity and I will faithfully observe such small daily rituals as necessary to ensure a life fully lived and thoughtfully observed, as far as I am able. In summation, I would like to share the words of Francis Bacon, “If men will intend to observe, they shall finde much worthy to observe.” I hope that you will consider me for this position of observer, howsoever it shall be found and remunerated, yours sincerely and henceforth, Clairey the Observer.

Malcolm picked out some tofu at the grocery store. I only like tofu when it’s fried very crispy, and I don’t like the way my kitchen smells when I do that at home. So I had the bright idea to take it to work and ask the chef to put it in the fryer for a few minutes. And he very very kindly agreed, for which I am eternally grateful. I brought it home, and Malcolm and I made a sauce for it, consisting of tamari, honey, balsamic, and a bit of ginger. I decided to use this same treatment on some black beans, and pile these on some broccoli rabe as a backdrop for the tofu, so that is what we did. Quick and simple meal, but quite tasty, too. You could use broccoli instead of broccoli rabe, and just add it to the beans and cook until bright and tender.

Here’s Niney and the Observers with Blood and Fire.
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Broccoli rabe with corn, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella

Broccoli rabe with corn, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella

Broccoli rabe with corn, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella

Here’s my wish for labor day! I hope that everybody finds the work they need to do. I hope that everybody finds work that fulfills them creatively and keeps them lively and alive, and is financially rewarding enough that they have food to eat and a roof over their heads, that everybody is comfortable. I hope that everybody finds work that feels important, for themselves and the people and the world around them. I hope that everybody finds work that keeps them guessing from day-to-day, or that becomes pleasant as a routine–that they take some joy in rolling that boulder up the hill, in doing a good job. I hope we can all come together to help with the jobs that nobody wants to do, but which have to get done, that we can share them equally, and even find the value in them. I wish that the daily work of getting up and getting along and carrying on is light and bright and gratifying. And now I have to get to work, so I’ll quote Camus again, “Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” And I’ll post a link to today’s Sunday interactive playlist. It is, of course, about work! I posted a list last year, but it wasn’t interactive, so this year I invite all of my friends to add to it, or leave a comment with the song of your choice, and I’ll try to remember to add it myself.

Broccoli rabe, corn, basil, tomatoes and mozzarella

Broccoli rabe, corn, basil, tomatoes and mozzarella

I love broccoli rabe, but I always felt selfish making it, because I didn’t think anybody else in my family did. Imagine my surprise to find that they like it prepared this way!! We had some leftover corn on the cob, so I sliced off the kernels and combined them in a kind of quick fresh flavorful tomato-olive oil sauce. I combined this and the warm tender broccoli rabe with fresh broccoli and small pieces of mozzarella, which melted under the heat of the greens and tomatoes.

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Broccoli rabe with lemons, pecans and french feta

broccoli rabe, pecans and french feta

broccoli rabe, pecans and french feta

Here at The Ordinary, everybody is in a tizzy. It’s the last week of school! There’s so much to remember and sign, and turn in, and bring home, and so many places to be at certain times and letters to write and cookies to bake and presents to procure. When I say everybody, I mainly mean me, because all the other little Ordinarians are taking it all in stride, as they take most things. I feel a little anxious, I tell you! It’s a feeling of the end of something drifting into the beginning of something else; the clash of memory and anticipation. I’d like to approach summer like Finn dealt with his fear of the ocean…just hit myself over the head and let myself sink peacefully into it, till I lie in a gently undulating bed of underwater plants. Barring that, I’ve been trying to think of quiet scenes from movies. I keep talking about how I love quiet scenes–either quiet scenes from quiet movies, or unexpectedly quiet scenes in noisy movies. I’ll try to remember a few now. Can you think of any?

Whisky, from Uruguay is an entirely quiet and beautiful movie. I’ll probably go on and on about it someday, but for the time being, here’s a small clip.

The ridiculously beautiful end of 400 Blows.

Of course, the moment in Bande a Part in which Godard demonstrates the meaning of room tone.

And Ozu’s “pillow shots,” I’ve linked to this before, but they really are beautiful.

Well, that’s all I can think of for the moment, because I’m surrounded by CHAOS! of the excited small boy variety. I’m sure I’ll think of more in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, and I’ll tell you all about them some other time.

Broccoli rabe, pecans, and french feta

Broccoli rabe, pecans, and french feta

This dish is simple! We got some broccoli rabe from our new CSA, and it’s the best broccoli rabe I’ve ever had! Just the right edge of bitterness. I also treated myself to some French feta from the local market. I wanted the flavors to be strong and clean, so I didn’t even add garlic or shallots. Just greens, herbs, lemon, feta, and pecans for a bit of crunch. If you can’t find French feta, (which is a little creamier and milder than Greek feta), Greek feta would work fine as well.

Here’s Nina Simone with Sounds of Silence.

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Broccoli rabe with apples, walnuts, honey and cheddar

broccoli rabe with walnuts and apples

broccoli rabe with walnuts and apples

In French, the word “de” can mean “from” or “of.” This distinction, along with the ambiguity of the ellipsis, make the original title of Ousmane Sembene’s first feature film, La Noire De… enigmatic. It becomes a question–is Diouana the woman from Senegal, or is she the girl who belongs to her French employers? The film opens with a question as well, Diouna steps off a boat into a new world, and wonders, “Will someone be waiting for me?” a question that echoes in the loneliness she experiences throughout the film. There is someone to meet her at the dock, but he is coldly polite. He does not carry her bag or open the car door for her. She answers him with the same tone, saying no more than “Oui, Monsieur,” to his perfunctory inquiries. Sembene shot the film in 1965, in a short time on a very low budget, but he transformed the constraints of production and used his limitations to beautiful advantage. The film was shot without sound and post-synched, but the dialog between Diouana and her employers is so clipped and minimal that this doesn’t become a problem. She doesn’t have a voice in their presence. They scold her with increasing petulance and ferocity, but she goes silently about her chores. What we get instead is the rich, intelligent voice of her thoughts and her memories. We hear her hopes about starting this new life as a nanny, her anxieties as it becomes obvious she’s not a nanny but a maid of all work, and finally her disappointment and bitterness at being mislead and mistreated. This painful, voiceless isolation is at its worst when she receives a letter from her mother. Neither of them can read or write. Her mother had to hire a letter-writer, and Diouana relies on her employer to read the letter to her. He takes it upon himself to write back, taking down not her words, nothing close to her thoughts, just trite niceties about her situation that he wishes were true. The jarring space between his words and her reality, between her hopeful memories and her present situation, between her articulate imagination and her silent life is so great and dark that she falls into it and can’t find her way back out. The film is beautifully filmed–it is one of the most aesthetically thoughtful black-and-white films that I have ever seen. From Diouana’s graphically patterned hand-me-down dresses to the gleaming white tub and toilet she must scrub, every shot is so full of contrasts of light and shadow that it becomes more than metaphor, it becomes the whole world. This is a movie I want to read. Every image, every shot and movement seems full of shifting significant meaning that I want to notice and understand. I want Diouana to explain it to me. I want to hear her voice.

I love the music in La Noire De…, but I can’t track down the composer. Does anybody know who it is? My search led me to this beautiful song by Sory Kandia Kouyate, called Massane Cissé. So that is your song for today.

I’ve been craving greens like a crazy person! Something about seeing the world turn green all around me, and smelling the fresh sharp sweet smell of the ferns and undergrowth makes me want to cook and eat them! So I make lots of broccoli rabe, which has that bitter-sweet, strong-tender pleasantness. I combined it, here, with crunchy walnuts and tart-sweet pink lady apples. I cooked the apples with the garlic when we ate it, but I think they’d be better fresh and crispy and raw, so that’s how I’m telling you to do it!
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Broccoli rabe, walnut and rosemary purée and roasted sliced potatoes

Broccoli rabe walnut pesto

Broccoli rabe walnut pesto

We’re having a dinnertime problem, lately. I should start by saying that dinnertime is probably my favorite time of the day. I spend hours scheming about what to make, and making little parts of it as I go along. Dinner is the culmination of massive amounts of creative and emotional energy, dammit! It’s a work of mother-flipping art. Every…single….day. Of course that’s not entirely true. (It’s only a work of art 5 days a week. The other two…pffft, who cares!) Okay, so it’s never a work of art! But it is the best time of the day, and here’s why. Because the whole family is together, because we’re eating good food, or at least food that’s had a lot of thought put into it, because we’re most likely drinking wine (well, two of us are). We’re not just all in the same house, we’re all at the same table, we’re sharing food, we’re sharing thoughts. Ideally we’re sitting outside, sharing sunshine and cool breezes. I feel so ridiculously lucky that we get to eat dinner every day!! Lately it’s been stressful, though. Which is a horrible feeling–it’s that feeling of looking forward to something and having it all go wrong. The boys won’t sit still, they won’t eat, they won’t even try the food. If Malcolm stays in his chair for a second it’s with his head on the table (and his hair in the food half the time). If you ask him what’s wrong, he cries. For a few weeks now, I’ve been employing the it-sucks-but-there’s-nothing-I-can-do-about-it-hopefully-it-will-go-away-and-we’ll-all-have-lovely-dinners-together-when-they’re-out-of-college parenting technique. But then I started thinking about it from their point of view. You know, empathizing. I know that for a lot of people preparing dinner is a chore. Obviously, I don’t feel that way; for me it’s a delight. But I can see how it would become tedious in its day-in-day-out necessity. Well, it occurred to me that maybe for the boys eating dinner is a chore. Let’s face it, I make weird food. I can see that it might be stressful to have to taste something new night after night. I know they know how much I care about it, and they don’t like to hurt my feelings. I get that. And David and I are alone most of the day, on our feet, with our own worries and concerns piling up in our heads. It’s a relief to sit down, it’s a relief to have somebody else to talk to. But for the boys it’s the opposite. They’ve spent the whole long day of school trying to control themselves, and be silent and still, and focus their attention on words. They’ve spent the whole day navigating the choppy seas of social interaction–answering questions, forming complete grammatically correct sentences, coloring inside the lines and showing their work. It’s not relaxing for them to sit at the table and answer questions about their stupid day at school and eat the strange food their mom is anxiously watching them taste. It’s relaxing for them to sprawl on the floor with the dog eating grapes or race around the backyard watering plants with a water gun. It’s relaxing for them to be with each other, doing nothing, not asking each other how they did on their test, not asking each other how they feel about the homework due tomorrow, not trying to remember if they had a shower last night, not caring whether they eat anything but tiny tomatoes or drink a ginger beer so fast they’re not hungry any more. I’ve had a talk with Malcolm, and asked him to understand how important dinnertime is to David and me. And now I understand how important downtime is to Malcolm and Isaac, and I’ll tell him that, too. We’ll work something out. We’ll find a balance.

roasted sliced potatoes

roasted sliced potatoes

I LOVE GREENS!! I love chard and kale and spinach and broccoli rabe! And I love them puréed! Is there anything more comforting and delicious? I think not!! This particular dish started because I bought some frozen broccoli rabe. Why? I don’t know! It was winter! Fresh vegetables were sad-looking and expensive! Well, frozen broccoli rabe is not a happy thing. It’s all thick stems and withered leaves. After a good long boiling, though, it’s lovely puréed. It has that addictive bittersweetness, and with rosemary and walnuts it’s really wonderful. You could easily make this with fresh broccoli rabe and it would be even better! I ate this by the spoonful, but you could eat it any way that you eat pesto–on pizza, tossed with pasta, mixed into mashed potatoes, or…alongside roasted sliced potatoes. These were really simple. The only thing special about them was the shape, which was sliced. They were kind of like extra thick, warm potato chips. Lovely to scoop up some broccoli rabe purée!

Here’s Everybody Eats When they Come to My House by Cab Calloway
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Greens with lime, honey & fresh basil

Greens with lime and basil

People come up to me on the street all the time, and they say, “Claire, we love to eat greens, but we can’t be bothered to wash them or remove their stupid stems. Should we just popeye them straight from a can into our mouth?” Alright, so this is apocryphal. It’s never happened and it never will. But if it did…I would be ready with an answer. I have a tip. A cooking tip. This is how I wash fresh greens. Even if they’re filthy muddy buggy greens straight from the farm after a horrible storm. It’s not difficult and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. What you do is fill a large bowl with cool water (a salad spinner bowl and basket is ideal – not because you’re going to spin it, but because it’s easier to dump out the dirty water and replace it with clean). You put the greens in and swish them about a bit. Then you let them soak while you go about your business. In my experience, the bugs will float to the surface, and the sand and grit will sink to the bottom. You dump out all the dirty water, rinse the bowl, and soak again. (This is where a salad spinner comes in handy, because you can just lift the greens right out in the built-in basket.) You swish them around a little bit and then let them soak again. How many times you do this depends on the dirtiness of your greens. Once the bottom of the bowl is grit and sand free after a soak, you’re probably clean enough. Now, to remove the stems, and also check each leaf for hidden bugs – you use your fingers. I find this much quicker than trying to chop the stems off. You pick up a leaf, fold it in half lengthwise (they often do this all by themselves) and pull the stem off from the bottom to as far up the leaf as you need to go to remove the unpleasant spiny bits, using your other hand to pinch the leaf so that you don’t lose too much good green stuff. It’s sort of hard to describe, but try it and it will all make sense. This is a surprisingly quick and easy job, even if you have a large batch of greens. Many of the smaller stems can just be snapped off near the bottom. If you have something with giant fat stems like kale, it’s easiest of all – you just grab the stem and pinch the leafy parts right off. It’s that easy!!

I think this is a really nice way to make greens. It’s fresh, sweet and tart. I made it with half broccoli rabe, half chard. So – a little bitter plus a little earthy. I like to pair a more assertive green (broccoli rabe, turnip, beet) with something gentler like spinach or chard. You could use any green you like with this, and just adjust the lime/honey ratio till it’s perfect for you. This is quick and doesn’t make your kitchen too hot on a summer’s day!

Here’s Outkast with So Fresh, So clean, because this tastes fresh, and your greens are so clean!
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Broccoli rabe with ginger, apricots & cashews

Broccoli rabe & apricots

My poor boys. They have an inexplicable 6-day weekend, and the weather is ridiculous. Round-the-clock thunderstorms. When it’s not actually storming, it’s gloomy and threatening, with thick damp air that sticks to your skin, and heavy glowering clouds that seem to crawl inside your head. There’s a perpetual twilight glow. And they don’t care! They’re in their pjs! They had flat pancakes for breakfast! They have a giant pile of legos dumped on the living room floor, they have Star Wars guys, they have each other. This morning they’ve been dividing the universe alphabetically. Malcolm gets Mondays, magic, and medusa, and Isaac gets iron and imagination.

We seem to be heading into too-hot-to-cook weather. I’m not ready! Luckily, this is our first week of CSA season (oh boy oh boy oh boy!). And we got a box full of greens! Kale, spinach, chard!! I LOVE GREEEEEEEEENS!! And the nice thing about them is that you can cook them quickly, and eat them when they’re not piping hot. As it happens, I’d bought lots of greens last week, from the grocery store. (I didn’t buy lettuce, I was expecting a box full of lots and lots of lettuce. Guess what? No lettuce! Lettuces don’t like hail storms, apparently!) So I have a whole lot of greens to cook my way through. It’s a pleasant sort of anxiety.

I’m on record as saying that my favorite way to eat greens is with garlic, raisins and pine nuts. I’ve made it into pies and tarts, and pesto, using a variety of (cheaper) nuts. Here’s another variation. The apricots provide the tart-sweet fruitiness – they’re more assertive than raisins, and broccoli rabe is more assertive than chard or spinach, so it all works out nicely. Red pepper flakes and ginger add a little heat, and fresh basil adds – well nothing’s better than fresh basil! This is a quick and tasty dish, and it would make a meal, tossed with pasta, or on top of basmati rice.

Here’s Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass with Bittersweet Samba, accompanied by the oddest little film, which, according to the youTube poster, was filmed by Robert Altman!
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Homemade tortillas and pigeon peas & greens

Tortilla & pigeon peas

In my short acquaintance with masa harina I’ve become very fond of it. It has such a mysterious taste. It taxes my limited descriptive powers. Almost sweet, a little floral, maybe. I think the corn is treated with lime. Is that the flavor? I want to use it all the time, in a million different ways! I’ve already made pupusas with it, which I think turned out very good! And I made something else, but I don’t remember what it was, because I didn’t write about it, and this blog has become my auxiliary memory. (It’s very convenient!) The other night I tried using it to make (as I understand it) its main reason for existence – tortillas! I don’t have a tortilla press, but that didn’t stop me, because I don’t have a pasta machine, and we made good pasta. Turns out it’s not that simple with the tortillas. They were delicious, but they weren’t pretty! They’re harder to roll out than pasta, and they stick to the counter and fall apart, and generally made me feel a little cranky and sweary. They were worth making, though, and I’d do it again, but I think I’d make them smaller and call them tortilla chips. I think they’re fine if they’re irregularly shaped…it adds to their appeal! I fried them in a shallow pool of hot olive oil. And burned my finger! Do not dip your finger in hot oil! Don’t do it! We ate the with rice and pigeon peas sauteed with broccoli rabe and tomatoes. Very nice!

Here’s the Clash with 1-2 Crush on You, because that’s how I feel about Masa Harina! There, I’ve admitted it to the world.
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Vegetable, french lentil, potato ragout

Vegetable french lentil ragout

In which Claire goes on and on about The Two of Us, part 2 of 2.

Did I mention that we recently watched the Claude Berri film, The Two of Us? Oh, I did? I’ve told you that I loved the film, and some of the reasons why. But there was more to it than that. The film spoke to me, about things I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks. I saw myself in some of the characters in a way I don’t usually with most films. I wonder if everybody feels that way when they watch The Two of Us, because the film is so human and honest that it feels universal? Such specific things resonated, though. An old, old dog, loved more than anything in the world. A bright, energetic 8-year-old boy, who doesn’t quite understand why you’re upset by the way he acts. The father’s anxious-angry-loving face was so dear and familiar. And then there were the animals. Pepe is a vegetarian. Not a common or popular position in the French countryside at the time, it would seem. The rest of the populace was trying to find a way to scrounge some meat during the deprivations of WWII, but he proudly announced that he only ate vegetables. By choice. Not because that’s all the rations allowed. His wife raised, killed, and cooked rabbits. But to Pepe, that wasn’t an option, because he knew the rabbits. He loved the rabbits. Exactly in the way he loved Claude, though he was a jew, because he knew him. It reminded me of the film The Shooting Party, in which a parallel is made between children who save their pet duck from a duck hunt, as though she’s the only duck that matters, because she’s their duck, and the fact that the accidental shooting of an old man is only important because they know him. All this in the context of WWI, in which surely it was only possible to kill other humans in fear and ignorance, because you didn’t know them, and they were the enemy. In the way Claude, the little boy, would have been to Pepe, before he knew him.

Anyway…I wanted to make something to go with my couronne bread, and I decided to make something Pepe might eat. So I made a ragout, which as I understand it is a stew substantial enough to be a meal. This was hearty, because of the potatoes and french lentils, but they weren’t the stars of the show. We also had zucchini, broccoli rabe and tomatoes, and white wine and capers for brightness. So it had a certain lightness, despite being completely satisfying. Not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but right up their with the tastiest.

Here’s Nina Simone with Turning Point. A devastating, complex song, told with the simplicity of a child’s voice. A revelation of prejudice that makes it all seem so idiotic and unnecessary.
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red pepper semolina crepes with broccoli rabe & chickpeas

My favorite meal in the summer is any meal that involves a lot of different little dishes. A mezze or tapas type of situation. It’s sort of funny that this makes me think of summer, because in the summertime we like to eat outside. If you do the math, you’ll see that this means that we carry lots of little dishes out the kitchen door, down a small path, down a step, and onto the outside table. It’s worth it, though! I swear it is! It was crazy warm last week, so we ate outside, and I’ve already started in with the summer meals.

Let me tell you about this one. I like to make a kind of crepe, a kind of green, a kind of sauce, a kind of salad, and a kind of potato, and have them all together. However…although we’ve had exactly this kind of meal before, we’ve never had anything quite like this!! I made crepes with semolina flour and roasted red peppers. Delicious! Not thin and elegant, exactly, but very satisfying! I made broccoli rabe sauteed with chickpeas and grape tomatoes. Lovely! And I made thinly sliced roasted potatoes seasoned with sage and Spanish smoked paprika. Finished with a simple salad of baby spinach and baby arugula dressed with with olive oil and balsamic, salt and pepper.

I’m going to post Dead Prez’ Happiness at this point. I should probably save it for later in the summer, but I need it now. So here we go…
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