Roasted mushroom, pine nut and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Roasted mushroom and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Roasted mushroom and olive pizza with a mashed potato crust

Sleepy John Estes had a “…tendency to withdraw from his surroundings into drowsiness whenever life was too cruel or too boring to warrant full attention,” according to blues historian Bob Koester. In a strange way, when I read this I thought, “I know what that feels like!” I’ve always gotten very tired when I feel nervous or confused, and I sometimes I think I feel tired all the time because I don’t sleep very well…I’m half-awake all night and half-asleep all day. I wonder if Sleepy John Estes felt that way, too, because he sings, “You know I worried last night and all night before/ You know by that I won’t be worried no more/ I was worried for you, I was worried for me/ You know by that I’m gon’ let it be.” It’s a beautiful song with a kazoo, and I love to hear him say that he’s not going to worry any more, but we all know that’s easier said than done. There’s something about Sleepy John Estes songs that makes them easy to relate to, that makes them very powerful though they’re often quite simple. He talks about his life, he talks about the people he meets, and the events that effect him from day to day, and though the subject is quotidian, his language is resonant and the music is perfect. He’s another patron saint of The Ordinary.
By R. Crumb

By R. Crumb


He talks about waiting for the mailman, hoping for some good news. “Now I been waiting on the mailman : he usually come around about eleven o’clock/ Now I guess he must have had car trouble : or either the road must be blocked/ Mailman : please don’t you lose your head/ You know I’m looking for a letter from my babe : some of my people might be dead.” He tells the story of a fire in his town,”When you see the chief : boys please clear the street/ Because you know he’s going down : save little Martha Hardin’s house for me/ She’s a hard‑working woman : you know her salary is very small/ Then when she pay up her house rent : that don’t leave anything for insurance at all./ Now I wrote little Martha a letter : five days it returned back to me/ You know little Martha Hardin’s house done burnt down : she done moved on Bathurst Street.” It’s almost as though he’s reporting on the local news, but though the details are small and specific, the words and imagery are so urgent the tale becomes more universal. In Floating Bridge, Estes tells of a time he nearly drowned during a flood. It feels dreamlike and mythological, he talks of the flood and of drowning and rebirth. “Now I never will forget that floating bridge/ Tell me five minutes time under the water I was hid/ When I was going down I thowed up my hands/ Now they carried me in the house and they laid me ‘cross the bank/ “Bout a gallon-and-half muddy water I had drank/ Now they dried me off and they laid me in the bed/ Couldn’t hear nothin’ but muddy water runnnin’ through my head/ Now, people standin’ on the bridge, screamin’ and cry in’ People on the bridge was screamin’ and cry in'” It’s so beautiful and wild and surreally real. One of my favorite songs is Clean Up at Home. It’s a rare sentiment in any kind of music. It really is about cleaning up your home, but it’s also about taking care of yourself and what you have and who you have, it’s about tending your own garden.

I wash my clothes, I hang ’em by the fire
Get up in the mornin’ they be thoroughly dry
CHORUS: Clean up at home, clean up at home
Clean up at home, I ‘clare you can’t go wrong

I went to the beer tavern, tryin’ to make me a dime
Said, “Go ‘way, boy, clean up and git on some time.”
CHORUS

Five cents cap and ten cent suit
Then y’all think I’m tryin’ to act cute, I want to
CHORUS

I was doin’ somethin’ that you can’t do
Go ’round on State Street, get a woman for a pot of stew, you have to
CHORUS: Clean up at home, you have to clean up at home,
Clean up at home, I ‘clare you can’t go wrong

I played for the colored, I played for the white
All you got to do, act kinda nice, you got to
CHORUS: Clean up at home, you got to clean up at home
Clean up at home, ‘clare you can’t go wrong

Yeah. I was worried last night and the night before, but I ain’t gonna be worried no more.

THE PIZZA:
I was feeling sort of wobbly all week last week, so I kept making bread, comforting foods. Here’s one! It’s a sort of pizza, but it has a mashed potato crust. This makes the crust quite soft, it’s more of a knife-and-fork pizza. The crust is comforting, but the topping is quite flavorful–roasted mushrooms, olives, and a mixture of sharp cheddar, mozzarella and smoked gouda. A nice meal for a reluctant spring.

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Spinach and mozzarella cake

Spinach mozzarella cake

Spinach mozzarella cake

“I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.”- James Baldwin
Well, I love this quote! I’d been thinking about these things – the mutability of morality, the shifting quality of truth, the unreliability of words. It struck me as so similar to Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day” (Thank you, universe, for making everything connect.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m a very vague person, I’m blurry at the edges, and I see the world this way. I think it’s dangerous to decide the world is a certain way, and that we have to act in a certain way in the world, according to a strict set of rules. The idea that morality should come from within – that we need a core of strength despite the fact that the outlines are shifting – is so hopeful about humanity, but it’s a little frightening, too. It would be a comfort to believe that there’s some larger system to decide right and wrong – to reward the good and punish the wicked. But how often have these ideals been corrupted by the people that claim to interpret them for us? How dangerous it is to stubbornly hold onto conclusions to the point where we act out of habit, thoughtlessly, without consideration. How much better to constantly question, to actively seek answers, even though they might not exist in any definitive form, or they may shift and change the moment we catch up to them. And to struggle to express ourselves and share our thoughts, even though the words themselves are as transparent and mutable as water. The world is constantly changing, time is streaming by us, we’re never grown-up, we’re never done. It’s a silly notion, but I have a dream-like image of people as spirits, moving through the world, with some sort of light of truth inside of them, burning strong. What nonsense I’m spouting today! What extra-special foolishness! Happy shrove tuesday! A day that we confess our sins and eat pancakes! I like the idea of pancakes as absolution. I know it doesn’t quite work that way, but it’s a nice notion, anyway. I believe the original habit of pancake-eating on shrove Tuesday began as a way to use up all the fat and sugar in the cupboard before then lenten fast began. Or, more likely, it was because it was February, and everybody wanted something simple and comforting. Like this Seussically green, fat, cheesy pancake! We had some saucy chili left over, and I wanted something to eat it with. Something the boys would like, that would contain vegetables and protein, but in a non-objectionable way. And so we have this cake. It has some almonds, for flavor, texture and protein. It’s got flavorful herbs, it’s got a bit of cheese. And it’s BRIGHT GREEN for spring. After all, supposedly “lenten” comes from the old English for long, because the days are getting longer at the moment, and have such a hopeful light about them!

Here’s The Meters with Mardi Gras Mambo.

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Mashed potato popovers

mashed-potato-popoversIt feels so good to get your appetite back after you’ve been sick. I love that moment of realization that what I’m experiencing is hunger and not nausea. I like to be hungry – it makes me feel healthy and alive. I know that it’s a privilege to feel this way. Not to feel hunger, of course, which is fairly universal, and is decidedly horrible if you don’t have food for yourself or your family. I know it’s a luxury to enjoy hunger, to know that you have a meal coming – that you have all the food you need and more – and to know that you’ll relish it more for being hungry for it. It strikes me that we complicate hunger these days – we eat when we’re not hungry, we eat more than we want, we have appetite suppressants, for god’s sake! What an insane idea! What an indication that we have too much, that we’d need to simulate sickness to try to make ourselves more healthy. This is one of those times that I look at my boys, and they seem to have it all figured out. They have good appetites, it seems as though they’re always hungry. So they eat what sounds good to them, until they’re full, and then they stop. It’s so simple! It makes so much sense! And it has so little relation to the way most adults eat. It’s harder to earn our food these days. We sit all day at desks or computers, we snack constantly, we don’t “build an appetite.” I love the idea of a healthy appetite – not just for food, but for learning, and living, for ideas and enjoyment and music and art. I like the idea of voraciously reading or writing or drawing or cooking – it seems all connected in our spirit, and when one fades, they all fade. Just as you can be sick in your belly, you can be sick in your soul or your heart or whatever you call the part of you that makes you feel creative and curious and alive. And you can spoil these appetites, too, with too much snacking on all the noise from the computer and the television and the tabloids, so you lose that keen edge of hunger. I’ve read that all animals instinctively know what kind of food they need. If they have some sort of deficiency in protein or a nutrient, they’ll seek out foods rich in those things. Humans must have that, too, under layer upon layer of ideas about what we think is healthy or we’re told we should or shouldn’t eat, under all of the nonsense that passes for knowledge. And we must have this instinct, too, about what we need to feed our minds to make them healthy and alive, so that they can work and grow. Of course, sometimes it’s nice to cuddle on the couch with your ten-year-old son, eating junk food and watching dopey historical dramas! Sometimes that’s what you’re hungry for, and that makes it good for you, too.

I’m better, but I still feel a little blurry in my head today, so I hope you’ll forgive all the nonsense I’ve been prattling! There are some clear ideas under there somewhere. When I first regained my appetite, I wanted soft, mild comforting foods. I wanted mashed potatoes and popovers, and I wanted them all at once! So I combined them. David said that these are the food equivalent of a warm snuggly blanket. They’re flavorful with rosemary and black pepper, they’re soft with mashed potatoes and eggs and cheese, they’re nourishing, and they’re delicious! We ate them with carrot parsnip and apple soup, and it was a lovely meal! They do pop up, but, obviously, not as high as regular popovers, and they deflate pretty quickly. But they still taste lovely!

Here’s Bob Marley with Them Belly Full.
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Collards and red beans with smoky masa harina pudding-bread

Masa harina bread and collards

Masa harina bread and collards

So I seem to have brought some sort of stomach bug home from work this weekend. Ug. I feel better now, but I’m tired. I spent yesterday morning in bed with my eyes closed feeling like a big ball of nothing but sick-feeling pain. And then as I started to feel better, I watched the reflection from the windows on the ceiling, and the way it changed like rippling water every time a car passed the house. I felt like I was rocking a little, and the cars sounded like waves as they crashed by in the wet street. Did you know that the word “nauseous” comes from the latin which comes from the Greek for “ship”? I felt like I was on a bright ship lurching along on clear, light, choppy waters. I thought that this would be a good time to really think. Not just about all of the odd figures I saw in the brown patches on our cow-print curtains, but to think about big things, about everything. To form thoughts and connect thoughts, and try to sort things out, and try to remember, and try to plan. It turns out lying in bed fighting off nausea is not a good time to think. I felt very old and not strong enough to fight off a creeping feeling of dispiritedness, and now I feel very tired. And that’s all I’m going to say about that! I’ll talk instead about Joan Aiken, because I love Joan Aiken, and I find her incredibly comforting. Joan Aiken was a writer of brilliant children’s books that never caught on in America, which I think is a crime. Her characters are so lively and engaging, her settings, with their invented historical epochs, so appealing. I love her vast knowledge on small and eccentric subjects – fabrics and styles, music and paintings, nautical matters. And food. Joan Aiken’s books are delicious. She brings her characters into situations of great deprivation – they’re cold, wet, hungry, poor and miserable – and then through some gracefully wrought turn of events, they suddenly find themselves in warmth and comfort, with something tasty and toasty to sooth them. Even the names of the dishes bring solace – pipkins of soup, hampers of pies, and hot possets for all! In the way that certain foods can bring comfort when you’re ill, once you’re well enough to think about food at all, and certain books can bring comfort when your head isn’t so achey you can’t read, Aiken’s warm and timely meals strengthen and console, not just the characters, but the reader, too. Viz: Bonnie and Sylvia are ice skating through the grounds of Willoughby Chase when they find themselves impossibly far from home, with snow falling thick and fast, and wolves gathering in the shadows. What do they do? Take shelter in Simon’s cave, of course! Once they’re snug with his bees and his geese, our lithe and bright-eyed Simon makes them little cakes in the fire. “The boy had separated the fire into two glowing hillocks. From between these he now pulled a flat stone on which were baking a number of little cakes. The two children ate them hungrily as soon as they were cool enough to hold. They were brown on the outside, white and floury within, and sweet to the taste. ‘Your cakes are splendid, Simon,’ Bonnie said, ‘How do you make them?’ ‘From chestnut flour, Miss Bonnie. I gather up the chestnuts in the autumn and pound them to flour between two stones.'” As they’re leaving the cave, “The boy Simon dug in shallow sand at the side of the cave and brought out a large leather bottle and a horn drinking cup. He gave the girls each a small drink from the bottle. It was a strong, heady stuff, tasting of honey. ‘That will hearten you for the walk,’he said. ‘What is it, Simon?”Metheglin, miss. I make it in the summer from heather honey.'” OF COURSE HE DOES! Of course Simon gathers chestnuts in autumn and heather in the summer, and makes lovely restorative cakes and tinctures with them! And I love him for it! I could make a list a mile long of scenes such as this…spice cakes and plum brandy, ginger bread and applesauce, thick comforting chowder. But I’ll give you this bittersweet example, instead. I love Aiken’s Go Saddle the Sea trilogy. It’s so dark and wild and richly imagined; the characters so strong and complicated and bizarre. The central figure, of course, is Felix. He lives in Spain with his cold and unloving grandfather and great aunts. His only friend is Bernadina the cook. Her bustling kitchen is a haven for him, and she shows her love with special treats she prepares for him. When she dies, he visits her kitchen…”It looked as if she had been making herself a merienda just before she had taken ill. A pestle and mortar stood on the big scrubbed table with some chocolate in it she’d been pounding, and a platter held a pastry cake sprinkled with salt, my favorite food. Maybe she was going to sneak it up to me in my room. Now I couldn’t touch a crumb of it.” Poor Felix! One of my very great pleasures, here at The Ordinary, is to bring attention to books and movies and songs that I think should be better known. Joan Aiken is one of those things, in America at least. Put down your sparkly vampires and your derivative wizards, and discover the mad, wild, dark and beautiful world of Joan Aiken. It’s like a warm, restorative, complexly-seasoned posset!

This meal was very comforting in its way. The masa harina bread was soft and dense inside, which is why I think it’s pudding like, and it has the lovely mysterious flavor of masa harina. I love collards! They’re quickly becoming my favorite green. I don’t know why they’re not as popular as kale, but I’d like to announce my campaign to make them so!! Here they’re sauteed with red beans, tomatoes, and lots of lovely spices, like ginger, smoked paprika, and cardamom, to make them spicy, smoky and a tiny bit sweet. Delicious!

Here’s Bessie Smith with Thinking Blues.
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