Tacos with broccoli, chard, and kidney beans in chipotle-coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

I got an iPhone four years ago. In the time since I’ve developed a nervous habit of checking my e-mail every few minutes. I don’t do it while I’m talking to people, of course, or at a meal or a gathering of any kind, but if I’m waiting on line, walking the dog, trying to write, if I’m actually just trying to check the time, I’ll always check my e-mail, too. It feels sort of hopeful and foolish. Any minute now, somebody is going to tell me they’d like to offer me a big advance to write a novel or make a feature film, and obviously they’re going to do it via e-mail, and it’s going to be totally legitimate, and if I don’t respond immediately I’ll lose the opportunity. Yeah. We got new phones, the other night, and now I get a gentle little chime each time I get a new e-mail. This means I don’t need to check!! This means that I know immediately that I got an important message from staples or toys r us or astrocenter (what the hell is astrocenter? Why are they bothering me?). Well, it feels strange. It’s vaguely disappointing, somehow. I no longer have the feeling that I could be getting good news at any time, because I know I’m not. Now I feel much more foolish than hopeful. And all of this got me thinking about mail, and how nice it used to be to wait for real mail from the mailman, and to write real letters, that required time and thought. And then I started thinking about photos, and how precious they used to be. People used to have special ways to keep photographs, little frames and boxes they would carry their one or two precious pictures in. Now we have phones loaded with snapshots. It used to require time and patience to take a photograph. The process was half skill, half luck in capturing the perfect moment. Now it’s all luck, the camera takes care of all the rest, and we can snap a billion shots a day. We have a much higher chance of capturing a randomly beautiful moment. I’ve been thinking about this quote I scribbled in my notebook a few years ago. It’s from René Claire, a filmmaker and writer who worked at the very beginning of cinema. He wrote essays about this miraculous new art form describing how passionately he felt about the direction it should take. He held it as a great responsibility to make films a certain way that would ensure that cinema lived up to its potential. Here’s the quote…

    In this era, when verbal poetry is losing the charm it exerted on the masses … a new form of poetic expression has arisen and can reach every beating heart on earth … a poetry of the people is there, seeking its way.

It’s easy to feel down and discouraged about the overwhelming barrage of messages and photos and news and information that we receive every single day, whether we like it or not. It’s easy to regret the days when a letter or a photograph was a rare and precious thing. It’s easy to be sad about the bloated, disappointing state of American film. But maybe it’s better to think about this new endless procession of snapshots, which capture an instant, are taken in an instant, and are shared in an instant, as a form of poetic expression available to most, and capable of reaching every beating heart on earth. Equal parts hopeful and foolish.
We have tons of chard from the farm, which makes me very very happy, because I love chard. I decided to try something different with it, and cook it in a chipotle coconut milk sauce. It turned out really tasty! I added broccoli and kidney beans for substance, and lime and spices for flavor and brightness. We ate this with basmati rice, warm wheat tortillas, and a fresh salad made of avocado, cucumber and tomatoes, but you could eat it just with rice or any other grain you like.

Here’s Photo Jenny by Belle and Sebastian

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Bok choy and black beans simmered in tomato coconut sauce

Bok choy simmered in tomatoes and coconut milk

I’ve been thinking about my post yesterday, in which I suggested that everybody can be creative all the time no matter what their job or financial status. I may have seemed to imply that, according to my slightly skewed definition of “a successful life,” a person would need to be some kind of artist to be happy. (And, to be honest, this is something I would wish for my boys, though I would stretch the definition of artist to encompass doodling, making nice meals, and humming nonsense as you walk to school.) “But wait a minute,” I could imagine somebody replying. “What if I can’t create anything? What if I just don’t want to?” Which is, of course, a reasonable response. And I’ve got another option for you. Because I was thinking that I also very much admire admirers. The ability to appreciate something is just as valuable as the ability to create something. In fact, I believe it is creative. It’s an important part of the creative process to be moved by something, to see its beauty, to be excited by it, to be a fan. In most aspects of my life I happily fall into this category. I like writing, but it’s frustrating, too, and not comparable to the strong pure pleasure of reading a well-written book. I’d like to make a film, but it’s so expensive and complicated. Watching good films, however, brings the pleasure of immersing yourself in a world of somebody else’s genius. I was talking to my mom the other day, who is a professor of music, and she said, (and I paraphrase) that she’d rather have the ability to appreciate music than all of the professional accolades in the world. I also admire a certain curatorial spirit. Some people have the ability not only to appreciate art, but to bring people together to share and celebrate, which seems so full of warmth and generosity to me. Nothing is created in a vacuum – if you’re singing along to a song you love as you drive to work, you’re an important part of the process of making that song, and your life is richer for it. So cheers to all of my fellow readers and listeners and watchers, as well as to the curators and patrons!

And I was thinking that cooking (and eating) is a perfect microcosm of the macrocosm of the whole creative process, encapsulated in each meal. It’s a distillation of the pleasure of creating and sharing. And it’s something we have to do every day! You don’t have to be a chef to take pleasure in cooking. And, as much fun as a meal is to cook, it would be nothing without somebody to taste it. I made this particular dish, of greens and beans with a spicy sauce, because a) we have tons of tomatoes, bok choy, broccoli, and napa cabbage from the CSA. And b) we all have colds, and wanted something comforting but spicy, and c) I opened a can of coconut milk yesterday to make my banana bread and I wanted to use it up. The sauce is flavored with cumin and ginger. It’s spiced with red pepper flakes. The black beans add earthiness and substantiality. The greens are lightly simmered in the sauce, so that they still retain their distinctive flavor and crunch.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s Song to Woody. I love the idea of Bob Dylan, idolized by so many, being such a fan, himself. Plus it’s really pretty!

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Noodles with broccoli, scallions and black beans

Broccoli, black beans, and scallions

My little Isaac has mastered the art of bicycle riding. It’s not just that he can ride a two-wheeler, but that he rides his bike exactly as a bike should be ridden. It’s all about the journey, with him. Isaac is not a practical man. He’s dreamy and glowy and delightfully meandering, and that’s how he rides his bike. He’s like a little gnat, flying along in dizzy spirals, darting unexpectedly at passersby, weaving happily from side to side. Sometimes he’ll take off at top speed for about half a block, and then he’ll stop to take off his itchy helmet for a moment, and ask me what my favorite dinosaur is, and if it has little yellow eyes. Then he’ll laugh and say, “You couldn’t know that! Nobody could know that.” Then he’ll get himself going again, and sway happily down the street. He has no sense of urgency about getting to school on time. I feel like such a traitor to the world of childhood when I hurry him along, and lecture him about lateness. I feel like the kind of person who would use the word “tardy,” I feel like I’m working for the man.

Isaac is not a very practical eater, either. He seems to live on fruit and sunshine. He’s a vegetarian who doesn’t like many vegetables. He’s not hungry at mealtimes, but he’ll be ravenous fifteen minutes later. He only likes certain shapes of pasta, and swears that every pasta has its own flavor. He does eat a lot of pasta, so maybe he’s preternaturally discerning. As David said, “fifty words for snow…” When Isaac does eat something of a substantial meal-like nature, with vegetables and protein, it’s like seeing a rare and wonderful bird. I’ll point it out to David with quiet gestures, and he’ll gesture back not to disturb the exotic creature at the watering hole, or he’ll bolt, and leave his meal uneaten. Last night I decided to cook up some scallions and broccoli I’d gotten from the CSA. I was extremely tired after a ridiculously busy shift at work. This was quick, and had a nice mix of salty, hot, and sweet. Isaac approached it slowly. First he picked out the broccoli. Then the beans, one at a time, then he began to eat everything together, by the forkful. Huzzah!!

I’ve been waiting to cook with scallions so I could post Booker T’s Green Onions.

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Sesame tamarind broccoli

There’s a shocking secret behind this dish. First, I should tell you that it was very tasty. I should also tell you that Isaac, the world’s pickiest eater, ate most of this all by himself. He showed very little interest in the mound of macaroni and butter on his plate, in fact he shoved it aside to make room for more broccoli. The bowl of broccoli started in the middle of the table, and he slowly pulled it closer and closer to his plate. In the end, he ate straight out of the bowl. And now, for the shocking secret…I used leftover tamarind sauce from an Indian takeout meal!! Da da da dummmmmmmmm. You know when you get a meal from an Indian restaurant, and they give you a little container of mint-cilantro sauce (that’s the green one) and another of tamarind sauce (that’s the dark purply red one), and they taste so good that you don’t want to throw them away, even though you have nothing left to dip in them? Have you ever wondered what else you could do with them? Well! Here’s a solution. I got a beautiful little bunch of broccoli from our CSA. I wanted to do something simple with it, and I decided to try simmering it briefly in a tamarind broth. I added a little garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a spoonful of black sesame seeds, and that was that! Oh, and I topped with a bit of fresh basil, because at the moment everything I make gets a bit of fresh basil! If you don’t have tamarind sauce left from an Indian restaurant, you could add a dash of honey and balsamic (or lemon). It wouldn’t be the same, but it would still have that sweet/sour quality that tamarind imparts.

Here’s The Heptones with Sweet Talking 12″ disco mix! It’s beautiful. Sweet and a touch melancholy. Sigh.
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Black bean and broccoli tacos

Broccoli & black bean tacos

I worked a mothers’ day lunch shift yesterday, and I regret to say that it won. It beat me. It did me in. [Whiny rant alert!] Waitressing is really hard! You’re on your feet the whole shift (6 or 7 hours, usually for me). Literally on your feet – you don’t sit down! You don’t eat. You do drink lots of coffee, which might contribute to the post-work fatigue. You have to remember stuff! You have to be nice to people, and communicate with them in a way they understand!! And all for the princely sum of $2.13 an hour! So why do we do it? The glamor, I suppose. The prestige. Okay, whinge over.

Yesterday after work I was plenty tuckered out. I was stupid tired. So I wanted to make a quick and nourishing dinner. I fell back on my old standby – the soft taco. I make some basmati rice; I warm up some flour tortillas; I grate some sharp cheddar; I chop up some lettuce. That’s all the extras. And then I make a mess of beans and vegetables. This is where the creativity comes in. I like to make something saucy and spicy. Yesterday I did this with black beans, broccoli (which has a very nice texture for the inside of a taco, I think!), puréed roasted red pepper and tomato, chipotle, sage, oregano, cumin and smoked paprika. Easy & tasty!

Here’s Fugazi with I’m So Tired. I love this song!
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Magic broccoli

Magic broccoli sauce

The other night, I got home from work latish, I was tired, I wasn’t up to making anything elaborate. But I did feel a little guilty about the dearth of vegetables in my vegetarian sons’ diets, so I decided to make some broccoli. I threw some in a pot with a little water, cooked it till it was bright and just starting to soften, drained it, but not very carefully, and added four ingredients. That was it!

The boys loved it! The fought over the last piece! They poured the broth on their plates and mopped it up with bread! They asked me to make it again the next night. Which I did. And I’d like to have saved some to take a picture of, but there wasn’t a morsel left. If you served this over rice or noodles, you’d have a meal! You could always add tofu or chickpeas if you wanted a bit of protein. And you could add nut butter, or hot pepper, or garlic… I had to stop myself, because I think the beauty of this recipe is its simplicity.

It’s magic!

Here’s Junior Murvin with Magic Touch.
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Rice-flour crusted pastry with roasted chickpeas and broccoli

In which Claire begins a journey of discovery with gluten-free pastry crusts…

Rice flour crust

I had my first request! I’m so excited. I love a challenge! When I was little, I thought my cousin Becket was the coolest girl on the planet! I still do! Recently, she told me that her daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease, and she wondered if I’d ever made a gluten-free-crust for a savory pastry. Well, I had not. Though I’d come close! The truth is that I’m fascinated by different kinds of flour – chickpea flour, semolina flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, buckwheat flour, barley flour – on and on it goes! And I have many of these in my cupboard at the moment. But, first of all…I wasn’t entirely aware that not all non-regular-flours are not gluten free. As it happens, semolina flour and barley flour, to name two, are not gluten free. (Or so I’ve been told). And second of all…I’d never tried using these flours all by themselves, I always mix them with some amount of “regular” wheat flour. I suppose just so I know what to expect – at least a little bit!

Becket’s question prompted me to take it to the next level. I was determined to make a pastry with a gluten-free crust. So here’s my first attempt. I used rice flour, and I tried, as a sort of control, to make it as close to ordinary pastry crust as I could in every other way. I was worried that it wouldn’t be workable. I was worried that it wouldn’t be crispy. Well…it was a little hard to work with. It was like feta cheese, in texture. Just imagine trying to roll feta cheese with a rolling pin and mold it into a pastry! But I worked that out. I had to be less daring with the shape of the pastry. And one thing that I discovered was that this dough works better when it’s not so cold. I had chilled it, as one would do with ordinary pastry. Not a good idea. I had to warm it up a bit and work it in my hands before I could cook with it at all. And then I found it best to use my hands to press it flat, and do that directly on the baking sheet, rather than trying to roll it out, fill it, and then move it. But once I’d let it warm up a bit, I took a small ball, put it on the baking sheet, flattened it to be about 1/4 inch thick, and then used a spatula and my hands to gather dough from all around, pull it over the filling, and seal it on top. I’d take a pinch of extra dough to fill the gaps. Then I turned it onto the seam side. It was actually fun once I got started. Like playing with play-doh. Then I brushed the tops with egg, because it was so pale I though it would be nice to see it get browned a bit.

And, guess what? It did turn out crispy! Very crispy on the outside! Quite nice! Not the prettiest shape I’ve ever made. My son said it looked like a dumpling, and I’m ok with that. I would gladly make this again! Once I got the hang of it, it was a pleasure to make, and to eat!

You could fill this with anything you like, but I filled it with roasted chickpeas that I’d cooked in some approximation of a zatar spice. This is a middle-eastern spice mix that seems to always contain thyme and sesame seeds, but…beyond that, is pretty open to interpretation. I added oregano and caraway seeds, which I’d learned was a typically Palestinian addition. Lovely!

This doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but it’s so stuck in my head right now! I love it to pieces. It’s Sir Lord Comic with Wh’appen?
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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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