Ricotta and lemony herb tart with roasted beets and pine nuts

Ricotta and herb tart with roasted beets

Ricotta and herb tart with roasted beets

I had a birthday the other month, and I realized I don’t really want for anything, I don’t need anything more than I have. I want a dress with pockets and some wine that’s better than we usually drink, but that’s about it. And it’s summer, so lots of friends are going on big adventures, but we’re mostly going on smaller adventures, and I’m fine with that. I think I have an ample portion of whatever quality it is that breeds contentment. And why wouldn’t I? I have no excuse not to. And then I was thinking about people who struggle to be content in the face of adversity, Pierre Bezukhov; “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.” Or Myshkin; the idiot, “And I dreamed of all sorts of things, indeed. But afterwards I fancied one might find a wealth of life even in prison.” And there are times we shouldn’t rest in contentment: in the face of injustice or cruelty or any situation that deprives another of the opportunity to be content. And maybe contentment is dangerous sometimes, because if you’re too comfortable you might lose yourself in your own small world.

Around the time I was thinking all of this I encountered Epictetus. He was a stoic teacher, but he lived four hundred years after the original stoics. (Four hundred years.) He said one should be “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.” And he began life as a slave, his very name means “acquired.” In my ignorance, I’d always thought stoics taught that a person shouldn’t feel anything at all; not sadness or pain or desire or happiness. And yet according to my slight understanding of Epictetus, the whole point is to seek eudaimonia, which is happiness or flourishing or contentment. And to achieve this, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” Life comes at you in impressions, or phantasiai. And you don’t take these at face value, you question them, you talk to them. You say, “Stop, let me see what you are, and where you come from, just as the night-watch say, ‘Show me your token.” And if it’s a harsh impression, you “Make it your study then to confront every harsh impression with the words, ‘You are but an impression, and not at all what you seem to be.’ Then test it by those rules that you possess; and first by this–the chief test of all–’Is it concerned with what is in our power or with what is not in our power?’ And if it is concerned with what is not in our power, be ready with the answer that it is nothing to you.” And, like Pierre Bezukhov taking comfort in joyful comforting imaginings and memories, you “In the first place, do not allow yourself to be carried away by [the] intensity [of your impression]: but say, ‘Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are, and what you represent. Let me test you.’ Then, afterwards, do not allow it to draw you on by picturing what may come next, for if you do, it will lead you wherever it pleases. But rather, you should introduce some fair and noble impression to replace it, and banish this base and sordid one.”

For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Not everything that Epictetus writes makes sense to me. I think passion and desire are beautiful and unavoidable emotions, and we should try to live with them rather than without them. But I like the idea of using your mind and your imagination to overcome anxiety and make your way through the world. I like the idea of working to change what you can and understanding that you can’t change everything. I like the idea of living in accord with nature, and with our nature, our name. “Further, we must remember who we are, and by what name we are called, and must try to direct our acts to fit each situation and its possibilities.” The name we are called is sister, mother, brother, father, friend, and when you act according to your name you do so regardless of the situation or the behavior of others. So if, say, your 13-year-old is unaccountably angry and moody and worrisome, you don’t respond with anger, you respond as his mother who loves him and tries to understand him at all times, if mother is one of the names you are called. I like the balance of this idea. I’m done with my ramble, but here are some Epictetus quotes that appealed to me.

Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

When a raven happens to croak unluckily, don’t allow the appearance hurry you away with it, but immediately make the distinction to yourself, and say, “None of these things are foretold to me; but either to my paltry body, or property, or reputation, or children, or wife. But to me all omens are lucky, if I will. For whichever of these things happens, it is in my control to derive advantage from it.”

Avoid swearing, if possible, altogether; if not, as far as you are able.

These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better”; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding actions: The habit of walking by walking, the habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer write.

Here’s When the Saints go Marching In by Barbecue Bob, because I love it!

Continue reading

Chickpeas with fines herbes, chard and articoke hearts

Chickpeas w/ fine herbes

I have this recurring dream. I’m in my old bedroom in the house where I grew up. I’m surprised to find piles and piles of clothes in the cupboards. Clothes I’d never known about – clothes that I could have and should have worn, but inexplicably never did. They’re stale and horrible and full of moths. In the dream I alway wonder if I could clean them and wear them, but I know that it wouldn’t really work. I’ve always interpreted the dream as being about lost opportunities. Career paths I could have taken but chose not to, films I should have made, novels I should have written. Well, the other night I had a dream that we lived in this strange house. Part of it broke away to reveal rooms upon rooms that we hadn’t known were there. And there were kitchens! Lovely kitchens, painted blue-green and butter yellow. Well-equipped kitchens, with large lovely windows. We were delighted! And I’m going to interpret this dream as opportunities yet-to-come, opportunities right before us that we’re just starting to see. Beautiful and dreamy.

And I should probably warn you that we’re in greens season, at the moment, here at The Ordinary. In our CSA box we received kale, chard, spinach, and turnips with lovely perfect leaves. So there will be greens recipes! Every kind you can imagine! Fasten your seatbelts! I was inspired to make this dish because we’re growing chervil. Chervil is lovely. It’s pretty and delicate and fernlike and has a subtle anise/lemon flavor. As I understand it, chervil is one of the fines herbes, along with tarragon, chives and parsley. So I mixed these with some chickpeas, and some greens, and some artichokes and zucchini, and served it with pearl couscous and giant puffy flatbread, which I’ll tell you about after I get a few chores done. This isn’t the prettiest dish you’ve ever eaten, but what it lacks in visual flash, it more than makes up in wonderful flavor.

Here’s Stranger Cole with The Time is Now. He’s my new fave!
Continue reading

Spring herbs & greens tart


A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot–
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.
-Thomas Edward Brown

I used to love this poem, when I was little. I know … it’s overblown, it’s stilted, it’s very Victorian, but I thought it was great. I learned recently that the poem spawned a word, “godwottery.” Godwattery refers to a) gardening in an elaborate and affected style, or, b) affected use of archaic language. I love that! I love the word, I love the idea, and the gentle teasing quality of the whole arrangement.

My parents gave me a small part of the yard to make a garden in. I used to plan it furiously. I had a little garden book. I drew pictures, I researched seeds. I visited the Cloisters in New York. I read overwrought victorian poetry about gardens. I was never quite as good at actually planting the garden, though, or weeding it, or taking care of it. I did make a nice little space, for a while. Where we live now, we have a tiny yard, and an even tinier space set aside for a garden. We grew tomatoes for a few years, but we’re giving the soil a break, and this year we’re planting herbs and small greens. I’m thrilled! I’ve always loved a tangled combination of greens and herbs in any food. Not carefully planned out, but all thrown wildly together, so you get a small taste of each, and it forms a beautiful, complicated whole. I love the way this works year round. In winter you have kale and spinach, winter savory and rosemary. In summer chard, more spinach, basil and thyme. In fall, small, bitter greens, sorrel and sage. In the spring – you have a big jumble of small spicy sassy plants. Chervil and tarragon, tiny beet greens, arugula, lovage, summer savory. (I was never the most organized farmer – this is more my bright idea about how things might fit togehter! The names are a pretty part of the plan!)

I love recipes that combine a wild mix of herbs and greens. Soup meagre, or small salads that combine a few herbs and greens. You can mix them with butter, or toss them with pasta or mashed potatoes. Or bake them into a tart! Which is what I did! I combined baby arugula, baby spinach, basil, summer savory, tarragon, chervil, parsley, bull’s blood beet leaves, lovage, and chives. Most of these things we’re growing; some I bought. It doesn’t matter! It all tastes good! You can use whatever you like – whatever you can find. The only other flavoring I used was a clove of roasted garlic. And the crust has some ground pecans – a nice nutty combination with the herbs. I think it turned out very nice – every bite has a new combination of flavors. It’s possible to distinguish one or two, now and again, or just to enjoy them as they come.

Here’s footage of Louis Armstrong with Royal Garden Blues
Continue reading

Zucchini with nicoise olives & almonds

Zucchini, nicoise, almonds

There’s a little market not far from my house. I love it! I have to stop going! It’s not like a regular farmer’s market, with local vegetables you can afford. It has irresistible, beautiful things that you can’t afford, but can’t not buy. I’ve gone the last three weeks, and I’m like a kid on christmas morning, with my trumpet mushrooms, fiddleheads, castelvetrano olives and french feta. But it has to stop! Yesterday, I stood clutching my bag of olives and my loaf of bread, my brain feverishly trying to catch up with the fact that I’d just spent nearly ten dollars on two kinds of olives, whilst simultaneously trying to figure out if it was worth waiting for the french feta to arrive on the scene. Sigh.

But I bought more castelvetrano olives, because I still have a big crush on them, and I bought some little nicoise olives, which are the cutest things you’ve ever seen! Small and perfect little purply-brown ovals. They’re firm and salty and meaty, and very easy to pit. I decided to add them to some quickly sautéed zucchini, with some garlic, summer savory and chervil, for a quick, light side dish. And I decided to fry some sliced almonds in butter to top it off, because they’re ridiculously tasty that way! (But you could toast them in a dry pan, if you’re vegan). Nice with an arugula salad, but it would be good tossed with pasta, as well!

Here’s Nat King Cole with This Side Up, to listen to while you make this side dish!
Continue reading

Tart with ramps, chervil, and meyer lemons

I love books with cross-section drawings. Books that will show you the inner workings of an ancient Roman villa, or a castle, or a galleon. I used to pore over them for hours as a child. They seem to give such a clear idea of how people might have lived. I wish I had the skill and patience to draw pictures like that! We have a few of these books around the house, you know, ahem, for the kids. I like to read the one about castles. On one page, you can see the kitchen (fascinating) and then the next shows a glimpse through the kitchen window into the great hall where a feast is in progress. You just know they’re eating savory pies! And I like the book that shows a man-o-war. There’s a kitchen in that one, too, with it’s mealy-worm infested hard tack. Yum! Well, this morning, as I was perusing a cross-section drawing of a galleon, I learned that the shipwrights that built them didn’t have written plans. They used a method called rack-of-eye, in which they would have a mental image of how parts should fit together. My first thought was, “that doesn’t seem very safe!” And my second thought was, “that’s exactly how I cook!” Although, obviously, the consequences of fitting the parts together incorrectly are a lot less dire on a savory tart than on a galleon.

But I digress. As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I ventured into Whole Foods again. I entered in search of a few specific things. Didn’t find them. Came out with a few unexpected non-specific things. They didn’t have golden beets or king trumpet mushrooms, but…what was this? Unbound and unlabeled, nestled on a little mound of ice…RAMPS!! I’ve been searching for ramps! I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to trendy things, I always have been. I didn’t wear lavender docksiders in third grade! I resisted the temptation! Food trends are no different. But when it comes to delicious garlicky greens that have pretty white flowers and have to be foraged when the world is cool and that completely represent spring? I’m on board! I don’t care if they’re so 2011. And then I saw a bag of meyer lemons. I’ve never had meyer lemons! I never thought I’d be able to have meyer lemons in New Jersey. They’re so pretty and smell so sweet I want to inhale them!

Imagine my surprise when I looked at my receipt and saw that ramps cost $14 a pound. Ha ha!! Who knew!! Probably everybody but me! So I had to cook them immediately, and I had to make something delicious with them. And I might as well use meyer lemons, too, because they’re so pretty! And David suggested adding chervil, which is also so pretty and smells so good, and which we recently acquired. It’s waiting to get planted in the garden. Let’s hope it makes it before I eat up all the delicate little leaves. So I caramelized the bulbs with meyer lemon juice and a little white wine. I quickly sauteed the greens with chervil, and I made a pretty pattern with chervil on the top.

In the interest of keeping it ordinary, I should tell you that you could probably make this tart with leeks, parsley and ordinary lemons. In the interest of justifying my extravagant ramp purchase (and to speak the truth) ramps are mother-flippin delcious! Meyer lemons are also delicious! This was a very very nice tart. We ate it with tiny boiled potatoes, mixed with a little butter, salt, pepper, and summer savory (also hoping to make it into our garden before I eat it all). And a nice salad with arugula, tart dried cherries and hazelnuts.

Here’s Antsy Pants with Vampire. I was having trouble coming up with a song to go with ramps, but David, the genius, suggested this one. Here’s why it’s perfect. I read that ramps are strongly garlicky when eaten raw that children would eat them to get sent home from school, or to ward off vampires!!
Continue reading