Curried butternut & black bean soup

Curried butternut black bean soup

When we decided to get Clio, David said, “You can’t be insane about this one!” What? Me? Insane about a dog? What could he be talking about? Sigh, it’s true, there’s no denying it. I was crazy about Steenbeck, and not always in a good way. I wouldn’t let anybody else walk her or keep her overnight. I avoided getting a full time job, so I wouldn’t have to leave her alone. No…more than that…I got myself fired from a full time job a few months after we adopted her. Heh heh heh. That’s right! It’s all Steenbeck’s fault! And before I was insane about Steenbeck, I was insane about David – not that I wouldn’t let anybody else walk him, but that I worried about him all the time. And before I met David, I worried about myself a lot – I worried myself sick, I gave myself an ulcer at 23. Well, meeting David helped me to worry less about myself, and getting Steenbeck helped me to worry less about David, and each succeeding boy has helped me to worry less about everyone else. Because, of course, I’m insane about my boys as well. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, lately, since Clio has been in the house. I don’t feel insane about her, but have I left her alone for a minute yet? I have not. I will though, I think I’ll be better this time. I’ve let Malcolm walk her all over town! He’s very good at it! It’s such a joy to see how pleased he is with the responsibility, and how much he likes taking care of her. Because there is pleasure in taking care of someone, as well as anxiety. That’s partly why we get dogs; it’s partly why we have children. It’s a joy to love someone, and nourish them, and protect them, and make them feel safe. And one thing the boys have taught me, is that it’s a joy to give them some freedom, too. To give them responsibility, and to let them do things for themselves. If I had my way, I’d probably still walk the boys to school when they’re in college. But I remember the thrill, when I was little, of running to the mailbox on the next corner. We had to cross a street! We’d go when it was getting dark and spooky! We were fine, and made it home safely. The boys are so happy finding their own new paths like that. Around the block. To the candy store across the street. Small journeys that become huge adventures when they go together, without me. It seems silly, but it makes them stronger and more confident. When Malcolm walks Clio he’s very serious and careful, a far cry from the boy who zips down the towpath waving sticks and startling passing cyclists. Watching him with her, I feel like I have learned some balance. I’ve learned that I’d worry more about not letting him explore the world on his own (sometimes), because he needs that freedom, and giving that to him is a way of nurturing him. He knows that I worry, he knows that I need to know where he is at all times, even when he’s not in my sight. But if I can find the right balance, and let him know that I worry just enough to be glad when he makes it home, but not enough to keep him home altogether, that makes the journey all the more wonderful. After school yesterday, Malcolm was crying-tired. Everything we said or did upset him. He threw himself on the couch. Little Clio jumped up and curled up beside him. She’s taking care of him, too!

Soup seems like such a perfect comfort this time of year. David asked for soups, and soups he will get. He’s got what seems like the start of a winter-long cold, so I was hoping this spicy, flavorful soup would make him feel better. He said it was just what he needed!! I made it with a butternut squash and fresh tomatoes, but if you’re reading this in the middle of pumpkin, I suspect you could make it with a can of pumpkin, a good can of diced tomatoes, and a good can of black beans, and it would be very good as well.

Here’s Elmore James’ It Hurts Me, Too, which is one of my favorite songs ever by anyone.

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Bok choy and black beans simmered in tomato coconut sauce

Bok choy simmered in tomatoes and coconut milk

I’ve been thinking about my post yesterday, in which I suggested that everybody can be creative all the time no matter what their job or financial status. I may have seemed to imply that, according to my slightly skewed definition of “a successful life,” a person would need to be some kind of artist to be happy. (And, to be honest, this is something I would wish for my boys, though I would stretch the definition of artist to encompass doodling, making nice meals, and humming nonsense as you walk to school.) “But wait a minute,” I could imagine somebody replying. “What if I can’t create anything? What if I just don’t want to?” Which is, of course, a reasonable response. And I’ve got another option for you. Because I was thinking that I also very much admire admirers. The ability to appreciate something is just as valuable as the ability to create something. In fact, I believe it is creative. It’s an important part of the creative process to be moved by something, to see its beauty, to be excited by it, to be a fan. In most aspects of my life I happily fall into this category. I like writing, but it’s frustrating, too, and not comparable to the strong pure pleasure of reading a well-written book. I’d like to make a film, but it’s so expensive and complicated. Watching good films, however, brings the pleasure of immersing yourself in a world of somebody else’s genius. I was talking to my mom the other day, who is a professor of music, and she said, (and I paraphrase) that she’d rather have the ability to appreciate music than all of the professional accolades in the world. I also admire a certain curatorial spirit. Some people have the ability not only to appreciate art, but to bring people together to share and celebrate, which seems so full of warmth and generosity to me. Nothing is created in a vacuum – if you’re singing along to a song you love as you drive to work, you’re an important part of the process of making that song, and your life is richer for it. So cheers to all of my fellow readers and listeners and watchers, as well as to the curators and patrons!

And I was thinking that cooking (and eating) is a perfect microcosm of the macrocosm of the whole creative process, encapsulated in each meal. It’s a distillation of the pleasure of creating and sharing. And it’s something we have to do every day! You don’t have to be a chef to take pleasure in cooking. And, as much fun as a meal is to cook, it would be nothing without somebody to taste it. I made this particular dish, of greens and beans with a spicy sauce, because a) we have tons of tomatoes, bok choy, broccoli, and napa cabbage from the CSA. And b) we all have colds, and wanted something comforting but spicy, and c) I opened a can of coconut milk yesterday to make my banana bread and I wanted to use it up. The sauce is flavored with cumin and ginger. It’s spiced with red pepper flakes. The black beans add earthiness and substantiality. The greens are lightly simmered in the sauce, so that they still retain their distinctive flavor and crunch.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s Song to Woody. I love the idea of Bob Dylan, idolized by so many, being such a fan, himself. Plus it’s really pretty!

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Apple & carrot mulligatawny soup

mulligatawny

If you’re like me, and you’re a highly esteemed scholar of food history as it relates to Europeans aggressively roaming the earth and changing their cooking styles and the food-preparing habits of the people they met as they traveled… Okay, obviously I’m not an esteemed scholar of anything. But I am a bit of a buff, when it comes to the role of food in the history of colonialism. As I’ve mentioned before, in relation to savory pastries. Anyway! If this kind of thing interests you at all, than you’ll have some thoughts about Mulligatawny. I think the name means “pepper water,” and as I understand it, the soup came about because somebody was trying to make Indian flavors palatable to Englishmen. But it became hugely popular! And the whole notion of the soup is completely open to interpretation. You could put anything in there and call it mulligatawny! I made this soup thinking about a mulligatawny I ate at an Indian restaurant somewhere just outside of London, when I was about 7 years old. I remember apples. I remember pleasant spices. I remember a tawny color. And that’s about it! But something must have worked on some strange level, because my Isaac, who is 6, and who generally won’t eat much of anything unless it’s pale and has lots of butter on it…asked for 3 helpings of this soup!!

Here’s Dead Milkman Punk Rock Girl, which really has nothing to do with mulligatawny, but it’s so stuck in my head! And it’s a good song for valentine’s day tommorrow!
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