Roasted butternut-choux nests with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Butternut choux nest with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Butternut choux nest with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Last night Malcolm and I walked down to the river. It had been cloudy all day, and the sky was still thick and pale and glowing. When we reached the middle of the bridge, Malcolm told me to look down the river upside-down, so I did. Dizzyingly beautiful! The clouds and the water stretched away from us in swirling rivulets, reflecting in each other and cutting a silvery moving hourglass shape into the sharp black pattern that the land made on both sides of the river, stretching together in the distance. While we walked home, Malcolm told me his plan to replace war with a giant nerf gun competition. If you’re hit by a nerf dart, you have to sit down and let the others keep playing. This way all of the conflicts of the world would be solved, and nobody would be hurt. He’s heard a lot about guns, lately. We all have. we’ve all been thinking about it a lot, or trying not to think about it. Prepare yourself to hear something very shocking, because, here at The Ordinary, we are ready to come out very strongly in favor of gun control! I know! It’s hard to believe that the proprietoress of a vegetarian food blog would take such a stand! This is one of those issues that makes me feel slightly crazy, because I don’t understand how it can be an issue at all. In the same way that I don’t understand why we sill fight wars, I don’t understand why guns are even an option. Honestly, I have two little boys, I’m aware of the fascination that guns hold for them. If you take their toy guns away, they’ll use sticks as guns, if you take the sticks away, they’ll use their fingers. So they have nerf guns and water guns, and I do see why these are fun – it adds a moving target to a game of tag. But nerf guns and water guns don’t hurt anybody, and that is, really, the only purpose of a real gun – to hurt or to kill. (I suppose you could use a gun to smash garlic, but how practical would that be?) And you can go ahead and blame movies and video games that glorify guns as well, because, guess what?! I’m not a huge fan of those, either. If we didn’t have guns we wouldn’t have to criticize video games for making them look appealing. I realize that I can’t add much to the conversation on gun control that hasn’t already been said, but I’d love to move it to the left, to reframe it, so that when we meet at the middle, the middle doesn’t seem like the frightening place that it is now. I’ve seen lots of so-called “gun nuts” spouting lots of, what’s the word? shall-we-say, vociferously-argued arguments. Well, I’d like to be an anti-gun nut. I’d like to say that merely wanting a gun should qualify you as too crazy to own one. I’d like to say that when the “rational” rationale for owning a gun is that you want to kill animals with it – that’s not rational at all, it’s horrible and depressing and should also qualify you as too crazy to own a gun. I’d like to say that no stubborn, paranoid misreading of our constitution or any other document makes a good argument for carrying guns. Surely the whole point of the constitution was to establish a government based on intelligent understanding and measured reasoning, with enough checks and balances that an armed revolution would never be necessary, as long as people behaved decently and rationally. If you want a gun just because somebody might take it away from you, you’re crazy, you can’t have one. If you want a gun because you don’t understand how government works, and that makes you nervous, you’re crazy and you can’t have one. If you want a gun because it makes you feel powerful, you’re crazy and you can’t have one. I want to turn the whole conversation upside down, starting from a place where people are generous and gentle and kind and expected to behave that way. Where the mistrust that makes people cling to their guns is directed at the gun companies who try to keep them in fear and ignorance for their own profit, so that not buying a gun is an act of rebellion and independence. I’d like to live in a world where we don’t need to talk about gun control, because nobody wants a gun, because they love all people and animals too much – because they understand the value of life. I’d like to believe that this is possible, that this is what most people want.

butternut-chouxAnd I’d like to live in a world where the most fun toy is not a gun but a pastry tube set. Holy smoke, I got my first set yesterday, and I’m so excited! It’s so much fun, so seussically nonsensical, so full of possibilities. And yet practical as well, because you get to eat whatever you make! These little butternut choux nests are among my favorite meals that I’ve made in some time. I used a fairly basic choux recipe, and added some roasted garlic and roasted butternut squash puree and some fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, smoked paprika and nutmeg. Then I piped this dough into lovely nests, about 4 inches across, and before I baked them I piled in some baby spinach, toasted pecans and smoked gouda. They turned out puffed and crispy on the outside, nice with the crunchy pecans. And soft and flavorful and comforting inside. Even the boys liked them! If you don’t have a pastry tube, you can easily make these by dropping little mounds of dough and pushing the center down with your hands or a spoon. It won’t be as pretty, but it will still taste as good.

Here’s When the Gun Draws by Pharoahe Monch It’s sweary, but he’s angry.

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Gougere ring filled with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella

Gougere ring

There’s this strange thing that happens sometimes – a poignant shifting of time and memory, that leaves you feeling an instant nostalgia. This happens a lot when you have children. You’ll watch them do something beautiful – they don’t even realize how beautiful – you’ll want to find your camera, but you know you can’t capture the moment, and in an instant it’s passed. It’s the past, and you think about yourself much older, remembering that moment. You’ll think about your children when they’re older, which is something you can’t know. It’s not unpleasant, not painful, exactly, but you very nearly regret the instant that you’re living in now, as it passes. It’s not the big events that people pose for and record, but the small, ordinary things your children say, their characteristic gestures, that you can’t be sure you’ll remember, because they’re so dear and familiar you almost forget to notice them. This time of year is ripe for these sea-shifting feelings. It’s pure summer – we’ve had such a spate of perfect summer days – but part of you misses all the summer days leading up to this one, and part of you anticipates autumn on its way.

I just learned that “poignant” meant, archaically, strong smelling or tasting, which seems sort of perfect, because taste and smell are such triggers for memory. If one vegetable was the embodiment of this ripe, sweet, late summer anxiety, surely it would be the tomato. You have almost more than you know what to do with, and they’re plump and perfect now. You want to can them and freeze them and save them to warm you in the middle of winter, but you know they won’t be the same! I feel the same way about basil – we have a garden-full. I made some pesto and froze it, but it’s not the same as picking up a ball the boys have kicked into the basil patch and being enveloped in basil-fragrance. Not surprisingly, these tastes are famously perfect together. I made a ring of gougeres – cheese-tinted choux pastry balls – as a crown for my tomatoes and basil. Gougeres are actually quite simple to make, and they’re very comforting and pleasing – soft and eggy. They deflate fairly quickly (at least mine did!) but they’re still plenty tasty. Served like this, they soaked up some of the lovely tomato & olive oil juices, which is one of my favorite parts of eating tomatoes!!

Here’s Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.

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Herbed grit cakes

Herbed grit cakes

In a blatant attempt to pander to the southern vote, I decided to make something with cheese grits, y’all. Actually, I cannot tell a lie, it has nothing to do with that. I’m not even running for president! Shocking, I know! The truth is, I like to make recipes inspired by songs, and one of my favorite songs is RZA’s Grits. I find it beautiful on so many levels! It remembers a childhood of poverty, of grits for dinner every night. It’s affectionate and honest, and, it’s so pretty!

I’ve had grits a few times, and, to be honest, I haven’t loved them. They’ve been stodgy and tasteless. So I wanted to do something a little different with them. But nothing crazy fancy, I wanted to keep it simple! So I used half milk/half water to make them, and I steeped this mixture with some aromatics as it was warming. Once the grits were cooked, I added eggs and cheese, and then I chilled the mixture for a while, because I had to get the boys from school!

These turned out really nice. They were so far from stodgy that they were almost delicate. A little crispy on the outside, but with a nice, soft, flavorful and comforting interior. We ate them with a red lentil cashew curry, which I’ll probably tell you about later. But they would make a nice meal with some greens, potatoes, and maybe a fresh tomato sauce, or some beans. Anything, really! And I think they’re gluten free.

Here’s RZA with Grits. (I like the video, too!)
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Tapioca-choux dumplings with turnips and cheddar

Turnip & cheddar choux dumplings

As I was making these, I thought to myself, “I really can’t imagine anyone else in the world cooking these.” Not that they were hard to make, or that they didn’t taste good (they did!). It was just such a strange and winding path that led me to them. First of all, I bought some tapioca flour at the Super Tropical Food Mart. This reminded me of an intriguing recipe I’d seen in the New York Times for Brazilian cheese puffs. And my tapioca flour is called “Yuca flour.” For some reason this made me think of Japanese Takoyaki. I thought maybe they add yucca root to that. Which is an entirely different thing, of course, but the connection had been made! I like watching how-to videos about takoyaki on youTube. (In fact I like watching any short cooking videos with non-English narration. I really do.) Anyway – takoyaki always seemed like a messy-fun thing to make and eat (and say!), and I had dreamed of trying a version of my own, with a muffin tin instead of a real takoyaki pan. And I’ve always wanted to try making something with a choux batter … but with something tasty stuffed inside!! Why roasted turnips, sharp cheddar and thyme? Why? Why not, I say! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled these out of the oven, but I liked them a lot. They were soft and dense and cheesy on the inside, and nicely crispy on the outside. We ate them with leftover vegetarian haggis, cause everyone knows you’re supposed to eat turnips with haggis!

I should mention that if you don’t have tapioca flour on hand, these will work fine with regular flour – just use 1 1/2 cups. And if you’re not a turnip fan, you could substitute roasted parsnips or butternut squash, or just use cheese – any cheese you like!

Here’s Duke Ellington with Tapioca
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