Kale & chickpeas with orange and tarragon

kale chickpeas and tarragon

Today is our anniversary! David and I have been married sixteen years. It’s gone so fast! These years have become such a long, strong part of my memory, of my happiness, of my life – of who we are. I want to make something special for dinner tonight, and I’ve been thinking about memorable meals we’ve had. The first meal we ever ate together, David made for me – ravioli, red sauce, garlic bread and wine pilfered from his roommates. Still one of the pleasantest meals I’ve ever had! In our courting days we used to go on hikes and take picnics. We always brought bread, peanut butter, dark chocolate and fruit – oranges and apples. What an unlikely, perfect combination of flavors! We brought wine hidden in snapple bottles. The first time we’d ever visited the town where we now live, we went out to dinner on my birthday. I told the waiter, “I’m a vegetarian,” and David said, “So am I.” And that was that – no big announcement, he’d just quietly become a vegetarian, and that’s how we’ve continued our lives together. For a long time we’d share the same plate. We’d make a big mess of pasta or rice and beans and vegetables, and pile it on one big deep plate. And these days I feel grateful every night to live with a man who will happily eat all of the strange food I put on the table! Anybody who likes to cook will know that making food to share with people that you love is what it’s all about. I’m so happy to have somebody to share food with, and listen to music with, to watch films with, to look for birds with, to raise children with, to walk with, to talk with.

I’ll make something more special tonight, but in the meantime, here’s a dish that reminds me of a special meal we had on vacation long ago. We used to go to upstate New York every autumn, and we’d eat at a restaurant called The 1819 House. It was just our kind of place. They served something they called vegetarian paella, and we’ve been having different versions of it ever since. Here’s one version, which I call…vegetarian paella. And this new version has kale, chickpeas, artichoke hearts and olives, in a sweet/salty broth made with white wine, orange juice and tarragon. All of the flavors blend nicely, so you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. As David said, you don’t really taste the orange, you just taste a sunny, summery flavor.

Here’s a version of Bob Marley’s Mellow Mood, which is our song!
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Almond aioli

almond aioli

Memorial day gets me all confused. So full of mixed emotions. Part of me can’t stop thinking about how war is so horrible, in every way. Part of me can’t not dwell on the fact that we should have figured that out. Why haven’t we stopped it? How can we allow something so unspeakably evil to continue, seemingly perpetually? It’s impossible not to think about these questions, today, but I know this isn’t the place to address them, or the day.

And I do love the idea of taking a day to remember. Time is running and passing like a caravan freighter, and I love to think that, as a nation, we stop everything for one day, to remember. And to be grateful. And to celebrate being with our friends and our family. And, yes, of course I love the idea that the way we celebrate is by making a meal together, because, as far as I can tell, after the parade, that’s what memorial day is all about.

So, if you happen to be grilling anything this weekend, think about this almond aioli as an accompaniment! We don’t eat mayonnaise in my family. David had a supermarket deli job as a teenager, and that gave him a healthy aversion to mayonnaise from which he will never recover. I like it, but I don’t need to eat it. I’m okay without it. I make it, from time to time, and that’s nice, but I eat it all by myself. Well…I had the bright idea to make it with almonds instead of eggs. I think it turned out very nice!! It’s intensely flavorful, with dijon, capers, and roasted garlic. So you just need a bit. I’ve been putting it on everything!! Roasted veg, beans & greens stews, french fries. I think it would be lovely with grilled vegetables. It didn’t get quite as smooth as mayonnaise, but I made it in my blender. I wonder if you had a good food processor if it would get more creamy? It’s good, anyway, with a bit of texture.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s Two Soldiers. So sad and beautiful.

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Tomato & basil toasts

The sky is flat, dark, slate grey, gathering over the roofs and trees to the southwest. The sky is bright on the other side of the horizon, but the rooms of our house are becoming dusky-dark. The bright green leaves are showing their pale undersides, and a spattering rain is edging over the house. The wind smells remarkable – cool and green and sharp, after a day of damp and heavy air. A storm is coming! I’m a little phobic about storms. It’s tedious for my family. I won’t leave the house if a storm is predicted. Well – that’s not quite true any more, because they predict storms every day from May to September in this day and age, and I do leave the house in every once in a while during those months. The truth is, though, that I love a good storm, if all of my people are safe and sheltered. Storms seem to capture so many seasons and hours of the day in their cycle of anticipation and relief. The heavy stillness that precedes them, which you can feel weighing you down; the drama of the storm itself; the clearness of the world when it’s all over. And storms are creatures of the summertime, of course. Warm and ripe and bursting – like summer tomatoes. We don’t have any summer tomatoes, yet, but we do have lots of basil! And half a ciabatta baguette to use up! So I made these tomato basil toasts. This could probably be called bruscetta, actually. And it’s one of those things that’s so simple, you feel silly posting a recipe. But it’s perfectly delicious. I add capers and roasted garlic, to the trinity of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. The juice of the tomatoes mingles with a bit of olive oil and balsamic to create a lovely juicy sauce to dip your bread in. And that’s about it!

Here’s The Storms are on the Ocean by The Carter Family. I really love this song! It’s so driving, in their understated way.
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Deconstructed tapenade (With castelvetrano olives and french feta)

Deconstructed tapenade

Malcolm has standardized testing all week. These last few weeks he’s been working on essay composition. I decided to write this using the methods he’s been taught. Here we go…
“My goodness, look at those!” She cried, jumping back in surprise. [Narrative grabber] “Castelvetrano olives! I never thought I’d find them in a market so close to my home.” She bought as many as she could afford, and then her eye was caught by a creamy white cheese. “What’s that?” she queried. [Try not to use the words “said” or “asked”]
“Well,” responded the vendor, a short, pleasant woman with dark brown hair, [describe all the characters in detail], “It’s French feta cheese. Would you like a taste?”
It was the most delicious thing she’d ever eaten. [hyperbole] Creamy and juicy, with a nice salty edge, but much milder than Greek feta. She counted out her coins and bought a small slice.

There are several reasons I like castelvetrano olives. One is that they’re very pretty. They’re as green as serpents, as bright as spring grass, and as shiny as emeralds. [similes!] They taste so good, too. They’re have a very vegetable-y taste, they’re fresh and buttery and mildly salty. [List reasons and support with details and examples] I thought the feta would go very well with them, and as I drove home with little packets of each on the seat next to me, my mind whirred with the possibilities. I wanted to make a tapenade, but not puréed – I wanted to retain the taste and texture and pretty colors of the olives. I thought of all the things I could add. Tart cherries would add a touch of sweetness, chopped hazelnuts would add a bit of crunch, and tarragon and chervil would lend their intriguing lemon/anise zing. Plus they’re half of that band “Les fines herbes.” They’re the bassist and the drummer, I think.

To conclude, I love castelvetrano olives, and I was surprised to find them at a market near my home. I made them into a chunky sort of tapenade that had a lovely mix of flavors and textures. It was delicious on small toasted pieces of baguette. We ate every little bit, and I was tempted to lick the bowl! Who knows what we’ll have for dinner tonight? [The conclusion should restate what’s already been said, in a slightly different way, but try to leave the reader wanting more with a takeaway ending.]

Here’s Chunky but Funky by Heavy D, to listen to while you chop olives for your chunky tapenade.
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Crispy beet & caper wontons with port wine sage sauce

Beet & caper won tons

I’ve always loved stories (usually children’s stories, but you sometimes find it in Dickens as well) in which a character is subjected to terrible cold and hunger and discomfort, but somehow finds themself, in the next scene, basking in humble fireside warmth and nice things to eat. On our spring break, we went into the mountains. We went for a hike, despite the chilliness, and the predictions of rain or even snow. We were in a place we’d been before, and the paths always wound back to the beginning. They were all only a mile long. We could do that! Isaac got tired and wanted to turn around. The weather worsened. We thought – we’re in a loop, if we turn now, we would have been minutes from the beginning. So we trudged on. Finally we came to a map. The woods chilled and quieted, and a cold pelting hail rained down with purpose. The map said, “Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of this trail. Now turn around and trudge back the miserable 1 and half miles, with a tired 6-year-old and a 9 year-old who has twisted his ankle.” It was an oddly panicky moment! One of those, “who said I could be a mom, because moms are supposed to know exactly where you’re going and how to get there” moments. But we walked back, and for five minutes the sun came out, and it was nice talking to the boys while we walked. We got to one spot where somebody had obviously made a campfire. The dirt was wet and sweet, and the charred wood was equally fragrant. Don’t think I’m crazy, but it really made me want to eat beets!! Then the hail came back, and we were so grateful to see the end of the trail, and go back to David’s mom’s lovely cabin and sit in dry warm pjs by the fireside!

Beets are sweet! And beautiful! And so tasty! I can’t believe I ever thought I didn’t like them. They’re combined here with capers (or flavor dynamites, as they’re known in my family). The tart savory brininess of the capers is a nice relief from the earthy sweetness of the beets. The beets are grated and toasted, and they have a lovely, charred-sugar flavor, and an almost juicy texture. All of this is tucked inside a wonton wrapper (they’re so much fun!) and then quickly fried in olive oil. Making for a perfect little crispy pouch of juicy deliciousness. We had these as a meal with a big salad, but I think they’d be a fun appetizer or snack for a party with a bowl of delicious dipping sauce alongside.

What is that delicious dipping sauce, you ask? Well, it is rich and savory, made with port wine, balsamic, fresh sage, and shallots. It’s a bit like a beurre rouge, but it has a lot less butter in it.

Here’s Down the Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton. Wonder if he was craving beets as well?

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Napa cabbage salad with raisins, cashews & capers

Napa cabbage salad

Can cooks concoct comestibles containing cabbage, cucumber, carrots, cashews and capers? Certainly they can! And it will be mother-flippin delicious! And kid-flippin, too as it happens, because my boys both went crazy for this salad. That’s right, my…boys…went…crazy…for…a…salad. (Although, to be honest, after Isaac took his third helping, I noticed he was mining out the cashews, raisins, and “flavor dynamite,” as they call capers.) And, don’t judge me, but I ate the leftovers the next day right out of their little tupperware holding pen, and then I drank the dressing. It’s true, I drank the dressing that was left in the container. Well, I couldn’t just pour it down the drain, when it tasted so good!! And the really shocking thing about this revelation is that Malcolm had wanted to take it for lunch, but I told him it wouldn’t be a good idea because the salad might be mushy by lunchtime. (Which, in fairness, it would have been in his warm little lunchbox.)

I suppose, to be precise, as Thompson and Thomson would say, this is a slaw. But it’s a light slaw, because it involves no mayonnaise. It’s incredibly easy to make, and very versatile. You could add other vegetables that you like, sprouts might be good! Or you could add cilantro leaves or fresh basil. If I’d had fresh basil I would most certainly have added it. This dressing for this salad is a step in my constant journey to find a balance of sweet, spicy, tart and savory flavors.

I’ve realized, recently, that I describe lots of food I make as “bright.” I use the word a lot! I’d better find a new one. In the meantime, here’s Horace Andy using the word in True Love Shines Bright. What a voice!!

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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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Black forbidden rice, black beluga lentils, roasted golden beets

Black rice, black lentils, golden beets

Sometimes, in life, you search for something. You look in all of the ordinary places your path takes you. You don’t find it. It becomes a quest. You go farther afield, you make special trips, just to find this thing. You ask the wise people you meet if they know where it can be found. You don’t find it. You find something similar, you tell yourself it’s the same, but in your heart you know it’s not. Then, one day, you’re looking for something else, perhaps in one of the places you’d already searched. And you stumble upon the very thing you were looking for all along. Thus it was with me and beluga lentils.

My friend Neil told me about them years ago. I’m a huge fan of all lentils, but these sounded exceptional, and I became determined to find them. To no avail. Neil lives in Germany, and it turns out that the Germans are several years ahead of us in lentil availability. I bought some urad dal, I thought it might be similar. Not so. Jump ahead a couple of years, and I found myself in Whole Foods. For me, Whole Foods is a forbidden land. Everything is too tempting and too beautiful and too expensive. I rarely go, and then only on precise pinpointed missions. I went this week to find golden beets (my new questing food!). Straight into produce, secure the beets, get out. But no – you have to walk all over the crazy store to get to the checkout. Of course I passed the castelvetrano olives. So pretty, so delicious. And then my greatest challenge. The bulk food aisle. Black rice! I haven’t had that since the Tibetan store closed down. The one with the nice man who used to give Malcolm little bags of black rice. Sigh. And then, a few bins down…BLACK BELUGA LENTILS!

As I walked to the checkout, grappling with all of my little bags of food and tubs of olives (I hadn’t gotten a basket. I wouldn’t need a basket, I was only buying one thing…) This recipe formed in my head. The colors! The flavors! The textures! We would have a sort of pilaf or warm salad, of black rice, black lentils, roasted golden beets, sauteed beet greens, castelvetrano olives and capers. (Malcolm’s first time knowingly eating a caper – he called them “flavor dynamite.”) All layered on a big plate of fresh baby spinach and topped with toasted hazelnuts. Part warm, part cool, a little smoky with Spanish paprika, a little sweet with oregano and basil, a little earthy with beets and sage. Finished with a tangy sweet balsamic and lots of black pepper. And rosemary roasted red bliss potatoes on the side. Delicious!

In the interest of keeping it ordinary, I should tell you that this would be very nice made with basmati rice and not-so-ugly-themselves french lentils and red beets.

I asked Neil to play guest DJ for this post. Here’s what he said…

“Recipe sounds big and brassy…so how about Bold and Black, an Eddie Harris composition played by Ramsey Lewis…from the album Another Voyage. Some smoky rhythm guitar, that sweet melody on Rhodes, and the wonderfully earthy drum riff which kicks off the groove section.” Perfect!!
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Butternut squash pecan dumplings

Butternut dumplings

I invented these little dumplings because I wanted something to serve with my pecan tarator sauce. I tried to think of something that would complement the earthy nutty flavor, but that would bring some surprising elements of its own to bring to the table – the dinner table, that is. I think these have a nice balance of flavors and textures. Sweet soft roasted squash, sharp briny capers, crunchy pecans, and smoky smoked gouda. The pastry on these is different from a regular paté brisée. It’s softer, and (as I imagine it) more dumpling-like. It’s actually loosely based on knish-dough recipes that I have read. It contains no butter! It’s not vegan, because it has an egg in it. But if you’re trying to avoid butter (why would you do that?) this is a good one to try. I added a little Spanish paprika to the crust, to echo the smokey flavor of the gouda, and to make them a lovely rosy color.

Here’s Johnny OtisHarlem Nocturne, which is just a remarkable piece of music.
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The best tapenade in the world!!

Okay, so it’s probably not the best tapenade in the world, but it is really good! Most tapenades (all, maybe?) include olives and capers. These are bold and briny flavors. This tapenade tempers those flavors with roasted garlic, smokes it up with some paprika, spices it up with green peppercorns and cayenne, and mellows it out with nuts and honey. Complex, but really tasty, and oddly addictive.

This song, Bob Marley’s wonderful Hypocrites, might seem an odd choice, but I swear, every time I hear it, it seems to me he’s saying “Tap for tapenade.” So when I think about tapenade, I get this song stuck in my head!
Bob Marley – Hypocrites

Recipe after the jump…

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