Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

    There is shadow under this red rock,
    (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
    And I will show you something different from either
    Your shadow at morning striding behind you
    Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
    I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

These lines, of course, are from TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, a poem I have long-loved. I only recently learned that the phrase “a handful of dust” comes from a meditation by John Donne, part of a series of meditations and prayers called Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and seuerall steps in my Sicknes. Donne wrote these meditations while recovering from a nearly fatal illness, they’re about health, pain, and sickness, and they’re quite melancholy. In this particular meditation, number four, Donne starts by describing each person as a little world, which is an idea that I love. “It is too little to call man a little world; except God, man is a diminutive to nothing. Man consists of more pieces, more parts, than the world; than the world doth, nay, than the world is. And if those pieces were extended, and stretched out in man as they are in the world, man would be the giant, and the world the dwarf; the world but the map, and the man the world.” And what is it that makes us so immense, that makes the air too little for this orb of man to move in? It is our thoughts, our imagination. “Enlarge this meditation upon this great world, man, so far as to consider the immensity of the creatures this world produces; our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are born giants; that reach from east to west, from earth to heaven; that do not only bestride all the sea and land, but span the sun and firmament at once; my thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mystery; I their creator am in a close prison, in a sick bed, any where, and any one of my creatures, my thoughts, is with the sun, and beyond the sun, overtakes the sun, and overgoes the sun in one pace, one step, everywhere.” No matter how confined our bodies are, whether it’s because we’re sick or imprisoned or merely stuck in traffic or a waiting room, there’s no limit to where our thoughts can travel. It’s like Pierre as a prisoner! “The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories, and imaginings that came to him.” We might all be in the gutter, but we can look up at the stars! We might have to “live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowing overhead,” but our imaginations and memories and reveries can soar with the flowing skies. And, as Donne tells us, when two of these little worlds come together, in friendship, or in love or marriage, we have everything, we have everywhere.

    For love, all love of other sights controls,
    And makes one little room an everywhere.
    Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
    Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
    Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

My friend Neil told me about a recipe involving chicken baked with quince and caramelized onions. As a lover of quince, I was greatly intrigued! I thought about various substitutions for the chicken, and in this version I’ve settled on butterbeans. They’re big and juicy, and they take on a nice substantial texture when they’re baked. I mixed them with some pre-cooked quince and caramelized onions, and gave them a sauce of brown sugar and butter, salt and pepper, and a dash or two of white wine. I tried to keep the flavors quite simple, with only salt and pepper as seasoning, but you could easily add thyme or rosemary or any other herb you like. You could add olives or capers or pine nuts. I thought of this a little like fancy baked beans (although I used a can of cooked beans, because I’m lazy!)

Here’s Back in the Good Old World by Tom Waits, because I was just listening to it, and it seems to fit, somehow!

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Brioche-crusted pie with greens, butter beans, raisins and walnuts

Brioche crusted pie

Brioche crusted pie

Isaac woke up early with a nightmare. He wanted to cuddle, and it was a cold sleety slatey morning, I should have cuddled. But I mumbled something cranky about having to make his lunch and got myself a cup of coffee. He told me about his dream, but I only half-heard. He was on a field trip, and there was a train, and it left without him. He told me that last night, he and Malcolm were playing a game of catch with a stuffed dinosaur, and Malcolm told him they wouldn’t be able to play games like that when they got older. They talked about getting older, and Isaac told Malcolm he doesn’t want him to go away when he turns eighteen, and they both agreed to live in this house when they’re married and have children and dogs of their own. I think about time passing constantly, perpetually. The thought of it is a strange sort of weight, sometimes pleasantly grounding, sometimes like falling down on hard rocks. It’s so poignant to me to think about the boys thinking about time passing, thinking about this moment as something they won’t have forever. It’s so strange to think about them almost regretting this time even as it passes, and fondly remembering this illicit game of after-dark-dinosaur-catch even as they’re playing it. And, of course, I thought about how time works in such a way that by the time they’re eighteen they’ll feel differently about everything, when they’re married and have kids and dogs of their own they’ll see the world from a completely different center. And how when they’re older they’ll realize that they can still play catch with a stuffed dinosaur any time they like. And this being the day before Thanksgiving, I thought about how grateful I am that they’re good friends, and how thankful I am to have them as my friends. And I thought about yesterday at the doctor’s office. We went for flu shots, and Malcolm was near-tears-worried. We sat in the waiting room, which happens to be across the street from our house, and I looked at our house from the outside. It was just that time of day when the lamps came on, and the cars’ headlights made colorful splashes on the slick grey streets, but it hadn’t ever really been light all day. Our windows were lit and warm, and our dog was waiting in the doorway watching us. We waited over an hour, which felt horrible, what with all the anxiety and apprehension. But we were closed into a little room, waiting, and it started to be okay. The boys made each other laugh about stupid things, which probably seemed funnier because we were nervous. They were weighed and measured, and they’re growing about an inch a month, which seems crazy and beautiful, and I had that strange feeling of pride that starts when they’re tiny babies and put on an ounce or two. And I realized I want to be thankful for all the moments, not just when we’re gathered around an abundant table, but when we’re sitting in a waiting room, or stuck in traffic, or arguing over homework, or when they’re driving us crazy by playing catch with a stuffed dinosaur when they should be asleep. All of it, I’m so grateful for all of it.

Brioche-crusted pie

Brioche-crusted pie

I’ve gotten to the point where I call any yeasted dough with eggs in it “brioche dough.” I know! It’s not right! It’s lazy and inaccurate. So this isn’t really a brioche dough, but it’s a tender, rich, flakey sort of dough. And it’s nice and crispy on the outside. I filled it with my favorite combination of greens, raisins and nuts, but you could put anything you like in there. I used kale and chard, but you could use spinach or broccoli rabe. I used walnuts but it probably would have been better with pine nuts, and you could easily use pecans or almonds. You see, it’s very versatile. I think this would make a nice vegetarian Thanksgiving option, and in fact I plan to make something similar for dinner tomorrow, and maybe I’ll tell you about it some other time.

Here’s Bob Marley and the Wailing Wailers with Put it On.

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Leek, potato & butterbean stew

Leek, potato and butterbean stew

Leek, potato and butterbean stew

    “His little treat, when he was nice and clean…was to leave his chest bare for a while. His pale skin, as white as that of an anaemic girl, was covered in tattoo marks scraped and scored by the coal, “cuttings,” as the miners call them; and he displayed them proudly, flexing his strong arms and broad chest, which gleamed like blue-veined marble. In summer, all the miners sat out on their doorsteps like this. Despite the day’s wet weather, he even went outside for a moment, to exchange ribald remarks with another bare-chested neighbor, on the other side of the gardens. Other men came out too. And the children, who had been playing on the pavements, looked up, and laughed with pleasure at the sight of all this tired flesh released from work and at last allowed to breathe in some fresh air.”

I’ve been reading Germinal by Emile Zola. I’ve never read anything by him before, and I’m so happy to have discovered him. It’s like Dickens with more sweat and pee and nakedness. Germinal is the tale of French miners in the late 19th century. They work more than five hundred meters below the earth, in cramped, dangerous, miserably hot, miserably cold, horribly dark and dangerously coal-dusty conditions for less than a living wage. They live crowded together into a cramped two-room house where they have no privacy and little peace. Their cupboards are literally bare, and their breakfast is hot water poured over yesterday’s coffee grounds. They’re all tired and anaemic and tubercular. And yet they’re very much alive, and full of humor and affection and desire. The story of their day-to-day life, the work the men and children do in the mines, the work the women do in their homes, is told in detail so rich and gripping you’ll find yourself hanging on every word, waiting impatiently to see what happens next. All of the characters are described with such warmth and generosity that I feel I’d like to know them, though I’d have trouble justifying the comfort in which I live, in which I expect to live.

Potato, tomato and leek stew

Potato, tomato and leek stew

When La Maheuse finally manages to beg and plead for some supplies, she makes a soup of potatoes, leeks and sorrel. We just got some leeks and potatoes from the farm! So, of course, I had to try to make a French coal miner’s stew. I added herbs and butterbeans and wine and red peppers tomatoes. I don’t have sorrel, so I used lemon juice to attain that lemony flavor. I thought it turned out very tasty! I made a big round loaf of bread to go with it, but you could always just buy a baguette.

Here’s Driver 8 by REM, because the passage I quoted above reminds me of the line, “The children look up all they see are sky blue bells ringing.”

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Butter beans with chard, asparagus, fennel, and castelvetrano olives

Butterbean and spring vegetables

Butterbean and spring vegetables

I’m always in a hurry when Isaac and I walk to school. He’s an ambler, and he’s not concerned at all about the dire consequences of tardiness. One of us has to be! As a mother, I think the responsibility falls to me. So I’m always rushing him along, yelling, “With me!” as if he’s a dog I’m teaching to heel. Not this week, though. It’s the last week of school. Monday morning the air was just right, like water of a perfect temperature. In a sleep-deprived daze following a weekend of insomnia, it seemed as though we were swimming serenely through the air. It felt perfect to walk along, holding Isaac’s hand, answering true and false questions about matters big and small. I didn’t want the walk to end.
“True or false, the universe has a universe.” True!
“True or false, all bats are scaly and rough.” Well, that’s complicated, because all bats are different. “Wrong! It’s false, all bats are incredibly soft and furry.” Wait a minute, just because your brother touched one bat and it was incredibly soft and furry does not mean that every bat in the whole world is soft and furry. That’s faulty reasoning. “Nope, Malcolm said so. All bats are soft and furry.”
“True or false, when a bat flaps its wings, the vibrations can be felt on the other side of the world.” Um, true? Short pause. “Dad said it was false.” Well, where did you hear it was true? Longer pause. “Batman. Why are you laughing?”

I’ve been feeling like a literary magpie, lately. Or maybe just an airhead. I’ll happen across a small passage that intrigues me, and then I’ll buy the whole book from the magical used book store across the street, which has every book you can ever think of, precisely when you’re thinking of it. Then I’ll read a chapter, be completely charmed by it but understand it not at all. I’ll read a wikipedia entry on the text, feel slightly more informed and slightly guilty, and then some new passage will capture my gnat-like attention, and I’ll chase after that like Clio chases after dried leaves. A bit of Aristotle, a bit of Hobbes, a bit of the Mahabarata…maybe a few pages of Tintin to clear the palate. And of course I want to talk about whatever I’m reading, I want to discuss it and try to understand it, but my lack of comprehension combines with my inability to string words together to form a sentence and I sound like a complete idiot. But I think I’m okay with that. I’m not in school, I don’t have to write an essay or pass a test. I don’t even have to finish a book if I don’t want to! Although I usually do want to, if only for a feeling of completion. I like to read books about other people trying to figure things out, even though I don’t believe it’s possible to do so. I love the language, particularly in the very old books, I like the perfect parallel between my inability to understand a concept and the strangeness of the words themselves. I’m fascinated by the connections between books from around the world and throughout history, by the patterns that form, and the way everybody was influenced by somebody else, their thoughts echo the thoughts of those who wrote before them. In a poem Isaac described himself as “a thinker.” I’m so glad that he is, and that he knows that he is! I like to see Isaac and Malcolm make sense of everything, everything that teachers tell them, and friends tell them, that they tell each other, everything they read, and yes, even all the important scientific facts they learn from a batman cartoon. They’re processing it all, and learning to doubt and to reason, and it’s a beautiful process to watch. There’s a beautiful portrait of young Francis Bacon by Nicholas Hilliard with an inscription that translates as, “If only I could paint his mind.” I know what he means!

UPDATE! This was our conversation on the way home from school, and it seemed relevant, and I want to remember it, so here you go…

Isaac: I frequently think about what was there before space.
Me: Do you frequently think about that?
Isaac: Yes.
Me: And what do you think was there?
Isaac: Well, I get frustrated, because I think there was nothing, but then I think about what color nothing would be.

Butterbeans and spring vegetables

Butterbeans and spring vegetables

This was a green meal! A spring green meal. We kept it fresh and simple, with a saucy sauce of white wine and lemon. We used greens and fresh herbs from the CSA, and a special treat of castelvetrano olives from the market up the road. The boys ate this over gemelli pasta, and I ate it over a mix of lettuces from the farm, and arugula and fresh spinach, as a sort of warm salad. Good either way!

And here’s The Pixies with Where is my Mind??? Which has been stuck in my head, for some reason.
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Sage roasted butter beans and greens with raisins and pine nuts

roasted butterbeans and greens with raisins and pine nuts

roasted butterbeans and greens with raisins and pine nuts

It was a night under the stars! That’s what the school dance was called, and, funnily enough, as we walked home I’d never seen the stars so bright and clear over our tinsy little metropolis. The stars were cool and distant, after the hot clamor of the dance, but they seemed to be dancing, too. The boys went in different shifts. First the little ones, racing around the transformed all-purpose room (cafeteria tables pushed out of the way, gym mats rolled up, starry black balloons floating everywhere.) Isaac and his friends wiggled through the dancing crowd like small minnows against the current. (How do they all know dance moves when they’re so young?) The older kids stood around in little groups, full of joyful secret drama. Malcolm looked dapper as hell in his suit. But we weren’t allowed to stay and watch the second shift, so I can only report that when Malcolm and I walked home, looking for orion and the big dipper, he had a cool happy glow about him, like the moonlight.

And the music? We had the Harlem Shake twice, of course, and gangnam style and that heyo gallileo song, and lord knows what else. They all sound a bit alike, they’re musically repetitive and lyrically uninspired, and yet they’re irresistible! I’m such a sucker for this kind of music. Roller rink music, prom music, school dance music. So for this week’s Sunday interactive playlist, we’re going to collect songs we remember from dances and roller rinks, or any public youthful dancing occasion. I’m excited about this one! I think we can make quite a collection of happy songs from different eras and different parts of the world. But I need help, because I was super backwards and shy as a child, and didn’t go to many school dances.

sage roasted butter beans and spinach with raisins and pine nuts

sage roasted butter beans and spinach with raisins and pine nuts

I’m excited about this meal, as well. As I’ve said a million times, greens with raisins and pine nuts, simply seasoned with garlic and maybe a little rosemary, is one of my all time favorite flavors. Here I added a little egg to make it comforting and substantial. You can use any greens you like. I used broccoli rabe and spinach, but you could add kale or chard, if you like. And the butter beans! I coated them in a little olive oil and roasted them with sage. Simple, but they turned out delicious. Cripsy, tender, meaty. We ate this with some herbed pearled couscous, and I made croquettes out of the leftovers with the addition of some bread crumbs, eggs and cheese – formed into patties and roasted on an olive-oil coated tray. Also very delicious! I’d show you a picture, but it got lost on my camera somewhere, and disappeared.

So here’s the playlist. I’ll make it collaborative, so feel free to add what you’d like.

And here’s a scene from Freaks and Geeks. I love the impossibly long walk to the dance floor, and the way the song kicks in when they get there. “If somebody making you go to a dance is the worst thing in your life, I’d say you have a pretty good life.”

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