Pizza with olives, capers, caramelized onions and sweet potato mash

Pizza with sweet potatoes, olives, capers, and caramelized onions

Pizza with sweet potatoes, olives, capers, and caramelized onions

Yesterday Malcolm told me that my nickname is “dictionary.” I love it! I more than love it, I’ve decided that I want to be a superhero called “The Dictionary.” I wouldn’t be a snarky sort of superhero who went around telling people they used the wrong form of “their,” or they used “less” when they should have used “fewer.” First of all, that’s a job for the word police. Second of all, Lord knows I make plenty of mistakes myself. And finally, I believe that using words incorrectly and spelling them irregularly might be what keeps language alive and changing and growing. And naturally, as The Dictionary, I’d be like the OED. I wouldn’t tell people what words mean, but what they have meant and how people have used them differently over the centuries, how their meanings vary from year to year and place to place and usage to usage. I’d resolve conflicts by showing the combatants that their words have shades of meanings, and if they only shift their understanding slightly one way or another, everybody could get along. I’d show how “attack” can mean, “To enter upon a work of difficulty, with the intention of conquering and completing it.” So we can decide together that the work of difficulty will be an epic novel or an opera in twelve acts, and we’ll all attack it together. I’ll point out that “take” originally meant, “to put he hand on, to touch, to lay hands upon, to accept what is handed to one, or even to understand.” And it still means, “to take root, to germinate, and to begin to grow.” So we’d all marinate on those meanings for a while, and maybe plant a garden together and watch and wait for the seeds to take, and forget why we were fighting. Because, of course, we could all fight together…we could all fight disease or fight poverty or ignorance instead of each other. And I’d swoop down in classrooms and explain that “essay” means “to try,” and that the important thing is the attempt itself, the process. And before you know it everybody would be as delightfully bewildered by vagaries of meaning as I am, and everybody would agree that nothing is written in stone or immutable, and that everything is open to interpretation and we’d all be expressively unintelligible and unproductive.

I made some caramelized onions last summer and froze them for a wintery day. We’ve had a lot of those lately! I decided to put them on this pizza, which also has capers and black olives. And, it has white sweet potatoes mashed with ricotta cheese! White sweet potatoes have a mildly citrus-y flavor that I like a lot. This whole pizza was a mixture of sharp flavors and comforting textures, and I liked it a lot.

Here’s Words of Love by Buddy Holly.
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Rosemary crepe stack with CSA medley filling

Savory crepe stack

Today marks the beginning of my live-blogging olympics broadcast. Ready? Begin. We’ll start with ping pong. He shoots the ball across the table! He shoots it back across the table. He shoots it back, he shoots it forth, back, forth, back, forth. Wait! What’s this? Could it be? No, it’s back. Forth, back forth. I’m kidding, of course, and I don’t mean to poke fun at ping pong, which is a perfectly honorable sport. We watched a bit of olympics at work over the weekend, and I really do enjoy the games. I’m strangely moved by large gatherings of people, united in one cause. I get weepy at political demonstrations and concerts and parades. I’ve never been sure why – it’s an irrational and inexplicable response. I find the olympics particularly thrilling. All of these people coming from all over the world, so full of energy and hope and skill. Despite my gospel of under-achievement, and my support for mediocrity everywhere, I’ve always thought it would be fun to be very very good at something. To be, perhaps, the best in the world. I’d love to be passionately focussed on something that I was actually good at doing. I’ve said I’m not very competitive, and it’s true that I’m not, but I can imagine that it would be wonderful to be around other people who have concentrated their life and energy on the thing that you’ve concentrated your life and energy on, even if you’re competing with them for medals. At work over the weekend, some of my co-workers were laughing at the people who had fallen so far back in the race that they didn’t show up on the screen any more. But I thought…they’re in the Olympics, for chrissake!! They’re possibly the best in their country, among the best in the world, they’ve probably trained all of their lives, and they’re here! They should be flying, and glowing, and ecstatic!! They should cross the finish line and laugh and cry with joy! Of course it’s not that simple. I know that. But all of the complexity and drama are part of the beauty of it.

If this dish was an olympic sport, it would be that race in which the swimmers do a different stroke every couple of laps. Why? Because there’s a different filling between each crepe! If this dish was the olympics opening ceremony, it would be that part when they go through the whole history of the host country. Why? Because the fillings are OOTO favorites, and making them was like taking a walk through the history of this blog. How did it all come about, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It was a sultry Friday night. Delivery of the next box share of vegetables was imminent upon the morrow. But, what’s this? We still have beets and zucchini and basil and lord-knows-what-else from last week? Let’s cook them all up, I say!! What grows together, tastes good together! And so it does. I made a stack of rosemary and black pepper crepes. And then I made toasted beets, sauteed zucchini and capers, I made some pesto, I had some caramelized onions leftover, I roasted some mushrooms. I grated some mozzarella. I made a light and simple but smoky tomato sauce to go on top. And that was that! You could obviously use whatever elements you have on hand to make fillings for the layers. And you can arrange them in any order that you like. It’s very fun to put together. It does take a while to make everything at once, but if you happen to have some of the stuff leftover – pesto, or caramelized onions, or sauteed zucchini, it all goes together in a snap.

Crepe stack cross view

Here’s Jurassic 5 with The Game

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Goat cheese & caramelized onion tart with arugula & pine nuts

Tall crust goat cheese and arugula tart

Some days feel like time-outs. If life is like a giant game of tag, and “it” is pursuing you relentlessly, and you’re giggling, breathless, with that small edge of real fear that tag-playing elicits, and you’re miles from base: sometimes you have to call time-out. The last couple of days have felt like that. Isaac and I have been on a team, and we’re taking a little time out together. He’s under the weather. Monday we spent a couple of useless hours at the doctors’ office, and I got antsy, and thought, “Dammit, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” Yesterday he had a fever, and the whole house was hot as hell except for his air-conditioned room. He didn’t want to be alone, so I lay on his bed next to him, and thought, “Oh dear, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” And then I realized that I really don’t. It’s an interesting fact about a time-out, that sometimes from this point of view you see the game more clearly – everybody else running around frantically, in a red-faced tizzy. As I lay there besides Isaac, with his hot little head touching mine, I realized that I don’t really have anything important to do. The realization was a little sobering, a little liberating. I was very tired, because I don’t sleep much when there’s a fever in the house, and for the moment it felt good to lie next to Isaac, and listen to him explain Isaac-y things to me in his sweet serious way. Their room is bright, with sea-green trim and pale curtains that hold the light. It felt a little like floating in cool water for a short while. And, of course, this little glowing ripple of a moment is the most important thing I need to be doing.

Tall crust tart

I’m always a little crazy when the boys aren’t feeling well. I don’t sleep much, I get that weird tired-nervous energy. It makes me want to bake! In the winter time I’ll bake cookies with the boys. It was, frankly, a little hot for baking yesterday, even for me! But I’d had this thought in my head for a while of a tart that would be fun to make and fun to eat. I’m very excited about this one! I think it turned out really well. Really perfect combination of tastes and textures. I’ll tell you all about it. It’s a peppery hazelnut crust, and it’s a very tall crispy crust. Inside of that, we have a thin layer of goat cheese custard with thyme and caramelized onions. Simple. The whole thing is served slightly warm and inside is a mess of cool, lightly dressed baby arugula with pine nuts and fresh tomatoes! It’s like a salad tart! Perfect for a hot day, cause you can make the whole thing in advance. I love goat cheese with arugula. I love hazelnuts with arugula. (If you don’t have pine nuts, you can use toasted chopped hazelnuts instead.) This is a nice thing to eat when you’re taking a time out. Be it a summer-day time out, or a stop-and-enjoy-your-nice-dinner-and-glass-of-wine time out.

Here’s Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.
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Chard and french lentil empanadas

Chard & french lentil empanada

“People talk of natural sympathies,” said Mr. Rochester. And we all know that he was just trying to seduce Jane Eyre, but he wasn’t wrong – people do talk of natural sympathies. Not just between people, but between colors, and musical notes as well. Certain things just look or sound pleasing when they’re combined. The boys have a book on the history of perspective in art, and I find it so fascinating! Artists through the ages have tried so hard to understand the world through mathematical rules – they understood it in order to draw it, and they understood it by drawing it. (Which is what little Isaac does, it seems – when something interests him he has to draw it, and he’s always pleased with what he draws) Apparently Paolo Uccello would stay awake at night after his wife had gone to bed, searching for vanishing points, and he’d say, “Oh, what a a sweet thing this perspective is!” And Piero della Fransesca believed in a perfect geometry underlying God’s creation. He saw everything as defined by measurements and numbers, which had mystical properties. Everything was carefully planned, in his art and in the world around him to be pleasantly harmonious. David, who is a painter, will point out how certain colors “hum” when they’re next to each other. Some even create a beat when placed in proximity – almost a flashing in your vision. My piano teacher, who was also a painter, used to say that each painting should have one “key note” color, which stood out from all the other, and didn’t harmonize with the rest of the picture. I think it’s interesting that the visual world is spoken of in musical terms, what with all the humming and the beats! I asked my mom, who is a professor of music history, if people believed certain chords together had magical powers. Oh yes! She said. People used to believe that you are what you listen to, and that you could be driven to certain actions – saintly or diabolical – according to what you heard. Octaves and fifths were pure and safe, but the tritone was the devil in music, and could cause terrible unrest. She said that if you took perfect fifths, and sang them perfectly in tune, by the time you got four octaves up, you’d be a half-step flat. People used to develop all sorts of tunings to solve the problem (well-tempered tuning) and now we use equal temperament tuning, in which we adjust by making everything equally out of tune. “In order to end up on pitch you have to compromise everything else,” Says my mother, “Just like in life.”

Well, I believe that there are certain flavors that go together perfectly, as well. When you taste them they just make sense, and they hum in your mouth. Frequently they grow together and ripen together, which almost makes you agree with Piero della Francesca’s assessment that there’s some divine pattern accounting for all of the harmonies in the world. Tomatoes and basil, for example. Perfect. And I like to think about my piano teacher’s idea of introducing one element of flavor that’s surprising and unexpected, and makes all of the other happily harmonizing flavors more exciting. Some flavors hum along together, some contrast pleasantly, to create a beat. Personally, I love chard and french lentils together. And I love chard and some sweet and tangy fruit. And I love them all together in a crispy crust. I really liked these empanadas! It’s one of my favorite meals I’ve made in a while. I combined chard, which had been sauteed with a bit of garlic and hot red pepper, with lentils, which had been cooked with nigella seeds and sage. I added some caramelized onions, for sweetness. And I added a spoonful of quince jam. I used queso blanco & mozzarella to make everything nice and melty, and bring it all together. I’d read that in argentina they make empanadas with quince paste and salty white cheese, and I guess this is my version of that. We ate these with my version of patatas bravas, which I’ll tell you about in a little while, and, I’m not saying it was a masterpiece, or anything, but it was very pleasing meal to have in out little green backyard on a cool summer evening.

Chard and lentil empanadas

Here’s Leonard Cohen with Hallelujah. Is he talking about a chord with divine and magical powers? I’m never sure. I like the word “hallelujah.”
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Artichoke heart, caramelized onion and brie tart

Caramelized onion tart

You know how they tell you you’ll use pre-calculus when you grow up, but you highly doubt it? When I was in high school, I didn’t like pre-calculus much. I used to sit in class feeling queazy and thinking I might die from appendicitis. (I wish I was kidding!) The teacher, a small, dry man, took me aside and told me I couldn’t avoid everything that confused me. Ha! Proved him wrong! I’ve been doing that for over 40 years, and I pretty much never use pre-calculus skills in the real world. I took another class called Writing and Responding. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said it was one of those classes that shapes your life. It was taught by Carol Lefelt, and I went on to do independent studies with her on Shakespeare, and (If I recall correctly) female poets. She was remarkable! Very questioning, very curious – contagiously so. In Writing and Responding, we learned how to respond constructively to other writers’ work. I’ve thought a lot, through the years, that some of these lessons I have used in real life, not just in responding to writing, but in responding to people! For instance, after reading a piece, you always start by saying a couple of things you like. Specific things, be they ever so small. This seems like such a simple idea, but I don’t know how many times I find myself thinking, “no, no, no…start with something nice, then get to the complaint.” I went to Malcolm’s second grade parent-teacher conference a few years ago. Before I’d sat down, before I’d even crossed the room, his teacher said, “Malcolm is all over the place! He breaks all his pencils!” And I thought, “What you really meant to say, surely, was that my son is so bright and imaginative, and he has so much energy …” And then get to the part about the pencils. Right? Another lesson – instead of saying you don’t like something, or that it doesn’t work, you ask questions about it. That way, the writer, in pondering your questions, will understand that they didn’t get their point across, that they’ve caused confusion instead of clarity. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead of being scolded, to be asked a few questions that showed you the error of your ways. Another thing we learned, on the writing side, was not to worry about being ready to write, or knowing exactly what you’d like to write, but using the act of writing as a way of figuring that out. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I like this idea a lot. And I’ve found it to be true. In writing, as in life, sometimes the less you fret, the better things turn out. Admittedly, this appeals to me, partly, because I’m a vague and lazy person. And, obviously, some things need to be carefully planned and plotted. You’re not going to build a cabinet, say, or a rocket ship, just slapping some things together and hoping it works. But other things – things that come from some part of your brain you’re not in complete control of, seem to work better when you just do them. You just let them evolve as they need to evolve. I think cooking is like that – for me at least. I’m not a fan of following recipes. I like to dream a bit about what would taste good, and then see what I have, and let it come out as it does.

So – we got some onions from the farm. It might seem odd, but this has been one of my biggest veg challenges to date. I like shallots, chives, scallions… I just don’t love actual onions. They’re too much! I don’t like the smell of them clinging to walls and clothes like some bad dream from a Tom Waits song. But I tried caramelizing them, and I think they’re quite nice. I followed Deborah Madison’s recipe to the letter (except that I halved it). If ever I were to follow a recipe, it would certainly be hers. She’s my hero! And I decided to put them on a big, pizza-like tart. With brie, capers, and artichoke hearts, and fresh sage and fresh thyme. Because I had all those things, and they told me they’d be good together! And they were! This was very easy, and very tasty. I used a buttery pate brisée crust, but you could use pizza dough instead, if you were in the mood.

Here’s Respond React, from The Roots
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