Semolina cake with bananas and coconut milk (and banana-pear chocolate chip bread)

Semolina banana cake

The first film I ever made was called The Real World. It was about seven hot strangers living together in one house – O! the drama that ensued! I’m joking of course. My first film hit the streets several years before MTV’s seminal reality show. It was, in point of fact, a three-minute in-camera-edited powerhouse of a film. A young man walks down a long, brick path, holding a blue jay feather. He’s obviously delighted with it! He encounters a very tall couple dressed in evening clothes – dressed all in black, and wearing top hats and veils. He shows them the feather. They laugh and point. He feels foolish and drops the feather. And that’s pretty much it. Exeunt omnes! To this day, I find it heartbreaking when somebody is happy about something or proud of an achievement, and they’re teased or belittled. Nothing so sad as deflated enthusiasm! Last night we started watching the documentary Marley with the boys. (So far so good). Malcolm was very impressed and he wanted to wear my Bob Marley shirt to school today. He was so excited about it that he wore it even though it was picture day, and he wore a button-down shirt over it, which he planned to remove with a flourish once picture-taking had ended. I met them after school on this grey and drizzly day. Malcolm looked as dapper as ever in his tweed cap and plaid skater’s jacket. After about half a block he said, “I’m never wearing this shirt to school ever again! Everybody teased me! They said it was a girl’s shirt!!” Ouch. He didn’t seem that upset, but I felt like crying. We caught up to some friends of theirs. Isaac said, “Everybody teased Malcolm’s shirt.” Their friend said, “What! That’s Bob Marley, he’s the coolest guy ever. He wanted peace! Anybody who teases you for wearing a Bob Marley shirt is an idiot!!” Huzzah! I felt like crying all over again, and giving their little friend a big hug! I think we should invent a super hero that travels around the world being glad to see people, and noticing when they’re proud, and giving them little pats on the back for their achievements, and admiring their treasures.

So…we had some overripe bananas. I’d just made a sort of traditional banana bread last week, with pears and chocolate chips. It was delicious! I don’t have a picture, but I’ll give you the recipe anyway. I wanted to try something different this time. So I mixed semolina flour into the batter, which gave it a lovely texture – large crumbed and dense, but light and delicate at the same time. And I flavored it with cardamom and ginger. And I added a half cup of coconut milk, which gave it a lovely creaminess and flavor. There’s no actual coconut in the cake, so it’s quite a mysterious and subtle flavor.

Here’s Bob Marley with Rastaman Live Up! Don’t be afraid of the wolf pack!
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Apricot & pistachio tart

Apricot & pistachio tart

Sometimes I think my fun-O-meter is broken. Lots of things I’m supposed to think are fun make me anxious, and things that other people dread as chores (making dinner!) are what I live for. For me, tonight was a fun night! Hooooo boy. First of all, we made vegan veggie burgers that were grillable! They got brown on the grill, they didn’t fall apart!! We made them from scratch! We grilled flatbreads, which we made from scratch as well! I’ll tell you about them eventually, with recipes and everything, but for now let me say that I felt so happy about it, and had so much fun doing it that it was just ridiculous. Then we went for an after dinner walk on the towpath (love it!) and we played tag. But not the kind of tag where you have to run all the time, because that wasn’t an option (sooooo full of grilled veggie burgers). The kind of tag where you could hold hands with someone, or give them a hug, giggling maniacally the whole time, and that would pass along the “it”ness. Good times!!

I also think it would be fun to live in Greece and go to lunch with friends in Paris. And that’s the origin of this recipe. My friend Sandy, (who lives in Greece and goes to lunch with friends in Paris) sent me this “non-recipe” for a dessert she had. She described it thus…

…dessert one of those fabulous french tarts (er tartes) – tart dough, then a pate of crushed or somehow pated pastichios – may have had another ingredient in pate, i don’t know. maybe a bit of a liquer or rose water or something. (it was from a pastry shop so i couldn’t ask). and on top apricots. in a sense it was like a tarte with pistachio pate instead of custard under the fruit, but the apricot was not raw – it was baked.

Well! With my obsession with frangipane, and making frangipane out of hazelnuts or other non-almond nuts(which makes it no longer frangipane!) OF COURSE I had to try this!! I made a simple paté sucrée crust, with a hint of cardamom. I made a pistachio frangipane (an imaginary beast!), and then I just sliced very ripe apricots, and sprinkled them with sugar because they’re quite tart! I liked the resulting tart very much indeed, but I have to admit that my boys wouldn’t try it because they don’t like apricots. And the apricots were tart. It was a tart tart. This appealed to me very much! I think it would be nice with some lightly whipped, lightly sweetened whipped cream. The tart won’t last for days in pristine form, because the fruit softens the crust. So eat up!!

Here’s Noah and the Whale with Five Years Time. They’ll have FUN FUN FUN!! This does actually look like fun to me, but it’s also a critical reexamination of past ideas of funness.
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Slow cooked canary bean and moong dal

canary beans and moong dal

I’ve been feverishly cooking my way through all the veg from the CSA this week. I was a veritable tasmanian devil of vegetable preparation. I paused for a moment, to peer in my vegetable drawer, and…it’s almost gone! Just a head of lettuce left! So I decided to take a day off from primarily-vegetable-meals and cook some beans. I generally use canned beans, to my eternal shame. They’re just so easy, and cheap, and good quality canned beans taste fine to me! But I bought some beautiful pale yellow dried canary beans, and I wanted to cook them up. I’m a big fan of any dish that combines lentils with larger beans. Like urad dal & kidney beans in dal makhani, for instance, so I decided to make a variation on that. I used canary beans and whole moong dal. Both so pretty uncooked, and so drab when cooked! You could use any slow-cooking lentil (whole moong dal and whole urad dal are the two I know of) and any larger, firmer bean that you like (kidney and navy being two contestants). If you used a quicker-cooking lentil, it would just get softer and mushier, but that’s not a bad thing, because it becomes part of the sauce the beans sit it. I decided to flavor the beans with cardamom and smoked paprika. It all started the night before, when I simmered some bok choy with these particular spices and then topped it with peanuts. Baby, it was so nice, I wanted to do it twice! Ahem, my train of thought seems to be derailed at the moment, so I’ll just get on with the recipes, shall I?

Bok choy & peanuts

Here’s Howlin Wolf, Goin Down Slow.

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Carrot cake with pistachio crumb topping

Carrot cake with pistachio crumble topping

In our house, when we put the boys to bed, David reads stories to Isaac, and I sit next to Malcolm reading my novel while he reads his. (Pretty clever, huh? Reading time for me!) Then we go downstairs and yell at them periodically to Be quiet! Get back in bed! Get to sleep! (They share a room, and it’s nice to hear them chatting for a long time after lights out – what on earth do they talk about? But really, they need their sleep!) I just started reading The Brothers Karamazov. I like it so far, but it reminds me of reading War and Peace, which was so confusing at first because everybody has about three different names that they’re called by, and they all sound sort of similar, and I have trouble keeping them all apart. Which reminded me, in turn, of my brilliant idea that somebody should make a hip hop version of War and Peace. I think it would be wonderful! Epic! Here’s why. Rappers have a lot of different names, and I sometimes have trouble keeping them straight. And…so many of the concerns explored in War and Peace are also of primary importance in hip hop songs. Religion, violence, love, lust, greed, over-indulgence in alcohol. Can’t you just see it? Or maybe hear it, it should probably be an opera, right?

Ahem. Sorry for the creeping tangential nature of this post. Anyway – I can sometimes hear snippets of the stories David reads to Isaac, and yesterday one of them mentioned carrot cake. Carrot cake!?! Said Isaac. What on earth is that? You know, said David, it’s like pumpkin bread – it’s sweet and sweet-spicy. You could see the little wheels turning in Isaac’s head as he processed this information. And, of course, you could hear the little wheels creaking rustily in my much older head as I planned to make a carrot cake. Why not, thought I, why not purée the carrots, instead of grating them? Just for a change. And then my mind wandered back to an Indian dessert I had recently read about (I like to read the dessert sections of my Indian cookbooks while I eat my breakfast, don’t you?) It was a sort of carrot pudding, with pistachios and cardamom. Sounded good! But I didn’t want to just stir the pistachios in. I thought I’d make them into a crumbly topping with lots of butter and sugar, to make this even less of a healthy cake. It turned out very good! The cake is velvety, and the pistachios are a perfect crunchy little accent. Isaac came running into the kitchen, with a beaming smile, saying “you made carrot cake!” and boys both give it their seal of approval (crumbs all over the living room).

Here’s the B 52s with Cake

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Oatmeal cake with pears and chocolate chips

Oatmeal cake

A perfect pear. It’s such a nice phrase, and such a rare and wonderful object to find in real life. There’s something so hopeful about waiting for a pear to ripen. You buy a few hard, golden green unblemished boscs. You put them somewhere safe and you wait for that one day that they’ll be perfect. Not mushy, not hard, just sweet and yielding. But there’s no guarantee they’ll be sweet once they ripen! You don’t know! They could be mealy and bland. And the wait for them to ripen is like marking the passage of time – they change before your eyes, almost as you watch! In my house it’s a very rare pear that makes it to perfection without insult and abuse. They’re dropped, they’re played with, somebody sneaks little bites and then puts it back when they realize it’s not ripe. Somehow I miss the fleeting moment of perfection. And I have bruised, scratched, soft and overripe pears. Which is exactly why pear cake was invented!

This cake has ground oats inside, to give a nice oaty flavor and texture, and rolled oats on top for crispy crunchiness. It has cardamom, which is a mysterious but lovely flavor, and very nice with pears. It’s a nice cake to have with coffee in the morning, but it’s sweet and special enough to have with a glass of wine after dinner. Maybe with some ice cream or lightly whipped cream. It’s very quick to put together.

Here’s Big Youth with Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Time is running and passing, and you better get it right this time, but wait…there is a next time! If you miss the moment of ripeness – bake a cake!!
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Cardamom rabadi with champagne mango & salted pistachios


I find it fascinating that different cultures have similar recipes, especially when they involve not-so-simple techniques. The other day, Isaac and I made paneer, which, it turns out, is a lot like making ricotta. Did they teach each other? Did somebody in each country accidentally drop lemon juice in their boiling milk and say, “hey….”? I’ve been reading my Indian cookbooks (those by Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey), and I was excited to come across recipes for rabadi. This is milk, boiled and then simmered for quite some time, until it becomes a lovely, slightly sweet pudding-like consistency. It’s thick and creamy and tawny. It’s very delicious! And the method of making it is quite similar to dulce de leche, except that you don’t add sugar, so it’s not as caramel-y. How did people discover these things? That if you whip egg whites they become stiff, or that if you cook milk for hours it becomes a comforting pudding? I like the simplicity of this dessert. It’s really just milk! I added a tiny bit of cardamom, and a few spoonfuls of sugar, and that was it – it was delicious by itself, but it was even nicer with some perfectly ripe champagne mangos, some pretty strawberries, and a handful of roughly chopped salted pistachios. This is a nice dessert for summer time, because you serve the rabadi chilled, and it’s perfect with whatever fruit is ripe. The next day I blended the leftover rabadi with the leftover mangoes and pistachios, to make a delicious thick frothy drink.


And here’s the perfect song for this! Hot Milk, by Jackie Mittoo. He’s the best!
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Roasted butternut & tomato bisque

roasted butternut bisque

Remember Bob Ross and his happy accidents? This soup was the result of a happy accident, in some ways. NO I DIDN’T PUT TOO MUCH BURNT SIENNA ON MY FAN BRUSH!! I just made the roasted red pepper-almond sauce too hot and spicy. That’s right, the one we made with our empanadas. So last night, with fiendish cleverness and calculation, I decided to use the sauce as a base for a soup! Thus spreading the spicy joy around, and rendering it more palatable. I decided to add roasted butternut squash because it’s so mild and sweet that it could easily accommodate a bit of heat. And then I thought about all the roastiness going on, with the pepper, and the chipotle, and the squash, and I thought fire-roasted tomatoes would go well (from a can, unfortunately – it being February). So I made this lovely, velvety, sweet, smoky, spicy bisque.

Here’s Lee Perry with Roast Fish and Cornbread, because, let’s face it, I’m never going to have recipe for roast fish, and this song is wonderful!
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Coconut-lime-vegetable soup

cocnut lime soup

The elegance of this light, bright soup belies its humble origins. In point of fact, this soup is the result of a very nearly empty vegetable drawer and a half-used can of coconut milk! I tend to save the white, hearty, wintery vegetables till the end of the week, and use the more brightly-colored, more easily-spoiled veg earlier. But I had carrots and peas, man! I could have added those! I made a choice to use only white vegetables! A conscious choice! I think they look nice with the silky tart-sweet coconut lime broth. As it happens, you could really use any vegetables you like in this soup – it’s eminently adaptable. Carrots and peas would have been pretty, actually. So would broccoli, or spinach, or sweet potatoes… You could also add basmati rice, if you wanted a heartier dish, or you could serve it over long, thin pasta, or you could add nuts – cashews or pistachios would be good, here. Or you could add red lentils. Or lots of cilantro. Go crazy, baby! I liked it in this simple manifestation, though – just what I was in the mood for. Sometimes vegetables and broth are all that are needed.

Here’s Louis Armstrong singing about being stranded on a Coconut Island. Now doesn’t that sound nice?
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Cardamom coconut brownies with white chocolate.

cardamom coconut blondies

A few weeks ago I was reading about Indian sweetmeats, as one does, and I thought, “These would make great cakes!” Not that they weren’t perfect in their original forms, I’m sure, just that some of the flavor combinations, and some of the interesting techniques seemed so inspiring to me, so full of possibilities. One in particular, a kind of fudge, with cardamom and coconut, became stuck in my craw as a perfect combination. Time passed, and the combination of cardamom and coconut haunted me…but I really felt that I wanted to make something with a different texture – not light and crumbly like a cake, but dense and tender, like the fudge that had inspired me. And then the whole thing with the brownies happened (I made 2 trays in 2 days…) And then it hit me!! These should be brownies!! But really blondies, because they wouldn’t have any cocoa in them! And they should have white chocolate chips, because brownies are required to have chocolate chips, but I liked the idea of all the wintery white colors in these. Before the last brownie was eaten, I got to work. And, let me tell you, these are the most ridiculously tasty, tender inside, crispy outside blondies I have ever eaten!!

Here’s Jole Blon by Harry Choates
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Sweet potato buns

I made these sweet potato buns with the last of the veg from our CSA. They’re a lovely rosy color, have a crisp crust and a fine crumb. I added a little cardamom and paprika, so they have a subtle sweet/smoky flavor that seems to go with their color. Yesterday was a day of freezing dampness, and it was nice to have a fresh-baked bun at the end of it.

Good with black bean burgers!

Here’s Mikey Dread’s Hot Cross Bun to listen to as you wait for the dough to rise.

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