I’ve been talking so much, this week, here on The Ordinary’s virtual pages. I feel like I’ve had thoughts spilling out of my head messily all over this little blank box. So today we’ll have a bit of quiet, and we’ll return to a video project I’ve been working at off and on for years. Mostly off, I have to admit, but it’s something I want to get back to, and why not now? Why not here? I’ve mentioned the whole idea before, here at The Ordinary, so I’ll briefly plagiarize myself now. I’m a huge fan of stillness in films, and quiet moments. Whether they last the whole film long, or they form a small pocket in a louder busier film. A few years ago I submitted a series of short videos to an online gallery run by the remarkable Peter Ferko, a New York artist. The series was called Now:Here:This, and it involved art made in a moment (or a few moments) by people all over the world at roughly the same space in time. I started making short, static videos. I gave myself some rules…they had to last about a minute. I couldn’t change the frame. The sound would be whatever naturally occurred for that minute. I focused on leaves, or water, or shadows, even dirty dishes in the sink. The sound generally involved my children yelling for me and trying to get my attention, which was an idea that I liked a lot. It captured my life at the time (and to this day.) I became very taken with making the videos – there was nothing brilliant about them, but I liked the way that shooting them made me think about how long a minute lasts, how hard it is to be quiet and still, how my life sounded, how pretty small things could be. We like to have a story, so any small change in the action or the sound becomes significant. The idea wasn’t inspired by Yasujiro Ozu, it’s something I’d started long before I saw my first Ozu film, but it’s reminiscent of a technique that he uses in his beautiful still “pillow shots” between scenes. They’re shots down hallways, of empty rooms, along an alleyway. They’re not entirely static – the camera is still, but there’s movement of light, or of people walking by, clocks ticking, curtains blowing. You sense that the story is playing itself out somewhere nearby. The shots are so cool, so quiet but not silent. I find them incredibly compelling. And then Ozu went and stole the idea from me! I’d like to stop and look at my house, for moments at a time, from down a corridor, when nothing is happening. Of course it wouldn’t be quiet and clean and cool, like in Ozu’s films. It would be a warm messy muddle.
Yesterday morning, as I’ve already told you, we had a thunderstorm. The weather had been mixed and moody for days, in the way that you feel inside your head. I had a lot to do, but I took a moment to sit on the couch with Clio, and listen to the rain, and think about ichneumon wasps, as I’ve also already told you.
You can hear the rain and the thunder. You can hear the cars go by, which has its own sort of suspenseful build-up of sound. You can catch a glimpse of the cool wet world outside of my curtain. You see the legos and CDs that need putting away. And you can see me breathing, because I was holding the camera on my belly, which is an idea that I like…it’s marking time, and it makes the film feel alive. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, because it’s totally cheating to tell you anything about it, it’s against all the rules.
These smoky spicy sweet collards and black-eyed peas in a very brothy sauce went with the smoky cheesy bread I shared yesterday, much in the same way that this video goes with everything I wrote yesterday. They’re simultaneous. We ate them at the same time! I made the black-eyed peas from dried, which was fun. I cooked the peas and the collards at the same time, so that the cooking water becomes the broth for the dish. The smokiness comes from black cardamom, which is such an odd looking thing, with such a mysteriously delicious flavor. We also have pepper flakes and ginger for zing and pomegranate molasses for sweet tartness, Tamari for the umami, and a bit of brown sugar for molasses-y sweetness. A nice warm meal for a chilly rainy spring day!
On the last day of school, Isaac said, “Mom, for summer vacation I want to go to a big field somewhere and play tag.” And that was his whole plan! I love that idea. I love the simplicity of it. I can just picture our family, all summer long, in a big glowing green field, playing tag. I feel that I have less and less ambition to make big plans and take big trips. I’ve always had something of Moley about me. Or maybe Ratty – content to while away the hours in my riverside home. I do love to travel – just the other day I was thinking about how nice it is to walk around a strange city early in the morning. I do want to take the boys to other countries, and show them that their home is only the center of their universe. But for now, I’m happy spending long, slow summer days with the boys, not doing much of anything at all. Today we went creeking. They threw rocks in the creek, and found a spider the size of Isaac’s hand (biggest spider I have ever seen in real non-zoo life!) They built a pyramid of smooth creek rocks. And on the way back through the woods we found two little ponds. Malcolm waded through them, and spotted a frog. The plump bronzy-green frog swayed in the small waves made by Malcolm’s steps, his little froggy hand reaching toward the slick bank to ground himself. Malcolm made a dive for him, and he swam under a large rock. We decided to wait, as quietly as possible, for the murky water to clear, and the frog to reemerge. I’ve been trying to slow myself down, lately. I’m always impatiently on to the next thing, I can’t sit still. This is why I can’t do yoga, and I can’t enjoy sitting at the beach for hours and hours. I feel like I’m anxious to get things over with and carry on, even if I’m doing something I’m enjoying. I don’t know why. I’m always hurrying the boys from place to place like a madwoman, even though we almost never have anywhere we need to be, in the summer. So we stood very still, and listened to the wind in the trees far over our heads, and felt the warm dapply sun. You can’t hurry a frog!
In that spirit, I made beans from scratch, in the slow cooker. As I’ve said in the past, I almost always use canned beans. (I’m actually very loyal to goya as a brand, and I think their beans are fresh and tasty. My first product endorsment!) But it’s fun to make beans from scratch, sometimes. It’s nice to use the slow cooker, on a hot day, because it doesn’t warm up the kitchen too much. And I like collards in a slow-cooked scenario, because their flavor develops nicely and they don’t turn to mush. I’ve also been on a food-quest for black cardamom, lately, and I finally got a big bag, and I was extremely eager to try it out. They’re wonderful! Big wrinkly black pods, with the most amazing smoky-sweet flavor. I love them! Their taste is milder than their smell. If you can’t find them, you can use green cardamom, or cardamom powder, and add a touch of smoked paprika, if you have it. This would probably good with rice, but I didn’t think of that at the time!
Sometimes the recipe picks the song, and sometimes the song picks the recipe. Most of the time, I’ll think of what I’d like to cook (and eat!) and the music will come into my head while I’m making it. Yesterday, as I was wheeling around town, I started thinking about the perfection of the song Salt Peanuts by Dizzy Gillespie. Honestly – have you heard it? It’s killer! The only words in the song are…”Salt peanuts, salt peanuts.” Right now I can’t think of anything better than that!
Then I got to thinking about how I don’t cook with peanuts very often. I cook with all sorts of other nuts. Tree nuts, but not peanuts. We eat peanuts in their shells. Half the household eats peanut butter in their sandwiches every single day. But I don’t cook with peanuts very often.
spicy salty sweet peanuts
To make it about Salt Peanuts, the peanuts would have to be salty. I also wanted them to be a little bit sweet, and a little bit spicy. And then I wanted to eat them with collard greens, because I love greeeeeeeeeeeeeeens!! But I kept the collards simple, because the peanuts were very flavorful. The way I made the peanuts, they got a bit burny-tasting. Blackened, if you will. I really like that flavor. If you don’t, keep a close eye on your peanuts and don’t let the pan get too hot.
We’ll begin today, friends, with a reading from the liner notes of my new (brilliant) Jimmy Smith album, Home Cooking.
On the front of this album, there is a brilliant color photograph of Jimmy Smith by Blue Note’s talented lensman, Frank Wolff. Jimmy is standing in front of what is, to many musicians, the “soul station” in the neighborhood of Harlem’s Apollo Theatre.
Kate’s Home Cooking is located on 126th Street, not far from the Apollo’s backstage entrance. Performers such as Ruth Brown, Cozy Cole, Count Basie, Fats Domino, James Moody, Art Blakey and Horace Silver make it their prandial headquarters during the course of a week when they are playing the big A. Jimmy Smith is an ardent admirer of “Home-soul” cooking, especially the brand dispensed by Kate O. Bishop. Home Cookin‘ is a dedication to Kate. This “all blues” date musically approximates the feeling her cuisine imparts. The distance from grits, greens and gravy to swing, sounds and soul is a short one for Jimmy Smith.
This salute, Home Cookin‘, in recognition of a certain brand of culinary art that has not perished (thanks to Kate Bishop), finds Jimmy Smith and his colleagues demonstrating that the blues, if utilized when just ripe and seasoned correctly, will never lose any of their flavor either.
I love that! The whole idea. Food, music, soul. Yeah. Well, after reading this, I went out and bought some collard greens. I love greens of any variety, I really do! I know I’m not remotely from the South, so this isn’t exactly my home cooking, but I love it all the same. The idea of it and the taste of it. I’ve given some thought to what my home cooking might be. Savory pies, I guess, with greens and beans in them?
These collard greens are sort of a fusion of two different quintessential collard recipes. One is Ye’abesha gomen, an Ethiopian dish with garlic and ginger, and the other is one more typical of the American south, with chiles and bacon. Obviously, I don’t eat bacon, but I roasted some potatoes that had been chopped into small cubes, and then I tossed them with my spice mix, which has the smokey, savory flavor I associate with bacon or sausage.
I usually like my greens bright and cooked just as much as necessary, but for some reason, I wanted these collards to be meltingly soft, so I cooked them for quite a long time. The crispy potatoes on top formed a nice contrast of texture. I added a dash of vinegar at the end, to bring out the hot savory flavors, and that’s about all I have to say about that!