Broccoli and chickpeas in coconut curry sauce

Broccoli chickpea coconut curry

Broccoli chickpea coconut curry

Well! I’ve finally finished Brothers Karamazov, and to celebrate we’re going to have a party. I sent Malcolm to the store and I told him to tell the shopkeeper that Claire sends her greetings, “and will be there directly…. But listen, listen, tell them to have champagne, three dozen bottles, ready before I come, and packed as it was to take to Mokroe. I took four dozen with me then…they know all about it, don’t you trouble…Stay, listen; tell them to put in cheese, Strasburg pies, smoked fish, ham, caviare, and everything, everything they’ve got, up to a hundred roubles, or a hundred and twenty as before…. But wait: don’t let them forget dessert, sweets, pears, watermelons, two or three or four — no, one melon’s enough, and chocolate, candy, toffee, fondants;” That being vegetarian versions of smoked fish and ham, of course! And David said I have to write a twenty page paper on the book, so I’ll share that here, shall I? Ready? Do you have your glass of tea and plate of salted fish and cherry jam? Let’s begin! I’m kidding, of course! No scholarly paper. However, I read that Dostoyevsky had intended to write a sequel about the life of Alyosha, but he died before he had the chance. So I’ve decided to take it upon myself to complete the task. A bit of Karamazov fan fiction, if you will. Of course, we’re going to sex it up a bit for our modern audience. No tortured discussions about spirituality or morality – there’s just no market for that these days. Instead, it’s all going to go like this… Lise, of course, is a vampire. Weak, pale, pretty and wicked, what else could she be? But she’s one of those sparkly vampires. And she bites Alyosha, and then dresses him like this, “I should like you to have a dark blue velvet coat, a white pique waistcoat, and a soft grey felt hat….” And then Alyosha, instead of wandering around trying to solve everybody’s problems and worrying for their souls, will solve all their problems by relieving them of their souls, and turning them, too, into sparkly vampires. Meanwhile, Dmitri’s attempt at escape from prison (which will be described in nail-bitingly extensive detail) will fail, and he’ll be sent to Siberia in exile. But this won’t be a dull, workaday work camp kind of story. Oh no! It will be subtitled Survivor: Siberia, and will tell the tale of a bevy of lordly types roughing it in a grand competition in the frozen wastes of Siberia. They’ll be voted out of exile one at a time, until the winner remains alone. Sadly, he’ll still be alone in exile for twenty years, which will be dull, so we’ll forget all about him. And Ivan, broody young Ivan, will provide the comic relief, as he sets up an apartment with his pesky devil, and they bicker humorously about whether or not either of them exists! Until, of course, he’s turned into a vampire by Lise and then… Well, I confess I haven’t figured out how to end it yet. Something big! Something thrilling! Leave them wanting more! Yes. Actually, I feel a little irreverent for speaking of Brothers Karamazov in this way! It touched me very deeply, and gave me much to think about, and I feel such genuine affection for Dmitri, with his wild impulsive ways and his generous heart, Ivan, with his oddly hopeful despairing cynicism, and, of course sweet, honest, strong Alyosha.

So, broccoli, chickpeas and corn in a curried coconut sauce. This was delicious! And every member of the family liked it and ate several helpings, and I ate the leftovers cold before bed one night. It struck me that the mix of ingredients and spices was a little odd, but I liked them all together. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, and quite savory all at once. We ate it over basmati rice, and that was nice!

Here’s Saint Behind the Glass by Los Lobos (from Nacho Libre), because it seems to fit!

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Gorditas with roasted salsa and pigeon peas

Gorditas

So it’s the first week of school. I ventured to the CSA this morning to pick some vegetables – easier, quicker, and much less fun without my boyish entourage. On the way home, I heard a man on the radio talking about raising successful children by teaching them grit and character. (I realize that I am very badly paraphrasing the words of this man who sounded both reasonable and intelligent, and I apologize.) His words really struck home, as we send the boys back into the uncertain waters of a new school year – by turns bright and clear and uplifting, and dark and murky, full of fascinating silt and weeds. They learn from it all, of course! I think it must be impossible for a parent to hear somebody talk about this subject without turning it back on themselves. Am I doing enough to teach them grit and character? How do you even do that? What the heck is grit? What’s character? Secretly, part of you thinks, “Of course I’m doing a good job! Just look at my brilliant boys!” And part of you thinks, “My god, I’m failing completely, they’ll be gritless and lacking in character and scarred for life!” Somebody phoned in a question about I.Q. and academic success – assuming a correlation between the two, and the man said that in fact self-control was more important than I.Q. in determining academic success. Oh dear! I thought…parent-teacher conferences for both boys tend to run, “Your son is so smart and creative, but he’s just got too much energy/he calls out too much/he can’t focus on the assignment…” Sigh. We hit a strange patch last year with Malcolm, when his first “real grades” report card came out, and it was very different from the straight s+ report cards of years gone by. Oh dear! Well, this is when it always helps to take a step back and widen the picture for yourself, and think about the meaning of “success” and how varied and subjective it is. (Of course I want my boys to be successful in every accepted conventional sense, of course I do – life is so much easier that way!) But when you ask the boys what they’re good at, what achievements they’re proud of, they’ll say: jumping off of things, finding an antique bottle in a creek, drawing dragons and robots, running very fast, climbing steep hills. They feel good about these things! And, honestly, any of them can lead to every kind of success, if they’re not discouraged. And I’m glad that they like writing and reading, too, and that Malcolm’s favorite subject is math. They both love school, and that makes me feel very lucky and very happy.

Roasted salsa

And, of course, they’re good little cooks!! These gorditas were very fun to make, and even more fun to eat! I have to thank the proprietess of Hot Spicy and Skinny for drawing them to my attention, when she read of my struggles making tortillas without a press. I’m not sure if I made them authentically. I sort of combined a bunch of different recipes that I saw, and I used a combination of butter and olive oil rather than lard. They turned out so tasty! Crispy, chewy, flavorful. We split them in the middle, but it might have been easier to pile the peas on top, or even break off pieces and use them like naan. The salsa is the result of my preference for roasted garlic, onions and peppers over raw. I decided to roast everything (well, broil, really) and then mix it all together. It’s yummy! Smoky, a little sweet, a little spicy. You can use any combination of sweet peppers and hot peppers that you happen to have on hand, and you could easily use onion instead of shallot. And the pigeon peas match their earthy meatiness with bright sweet corn, tomatoes and cilantro. We ate everything mixed together, with basmati rice and grated sharp cheddar.

Pigeon peas and corn

Here’s Expectations by Belle and Sebastian.

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Spicy zucchini-corn risotto with toasted pumpkinseeds, and Risotto burgers

Zucchini corn risotto

Happy labor day! It strikes me as funny that many of the laborers in our workforce don’t actually get to call labor day a holiday, so I’d like to take a minute to thank the doctors, nurses, waitresses, cooks, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, shop clerks…anybody working this rainy monday. I’ve been thinking a lot about work lately, because I’m looking for a job. Oh, I have a job, of course, but I need what they call a “real” job, because, as everybody knows, waiting tables is a completely surreal job. And everybody also knows that raising children doesn’t count as work, it’s more of a walk in the park, really. I’ve been thinking about what defines something as “work,” and it seems to be money. If you get paid to do something, it becomes work. And the more the work is valued, the more money you’re paid to do it. Some things that certain people do for fun, like playing baseball, making music, painting pictures, or writing, other people get paid to do, it’s their job. Some of them get paid quite a lot to do it. They’re very lucky! Sometimes I imagine an alien race drifting down to observe humans as we labor away in our wide array of jobs. I wonder if they would be puzzled to see that certain jobs are rewarded over others. If they’d scratch their bright green heads with their long frog-like fingers to see that, say, the CEO of a company that makes weapons that kill people is given much more money than the nurse that cares for us when we’re at our most vulnerable, scared and, probably fairly sickening, in our time of sickness. I videotaped a remarkable lecture, once. (I was paid to do it! It was a job of work!) The man speaking, and I regret that I can’t remember his name, said that the idea that there aren’t enough jobs, and there isn’t enough money to go around is a myth. If everybody worked the same hours – not a forty-hour work week, but a shorter one – and if we were all paid a more balanced amount for the work that we did…well, we could all live comfortably. Everybody could. That sounds nice to me. I wish it was possible. America has always been a country that values hard work, it’s part of our myth of who we are as a people. We work hard, we’re proud, self-sufficient, we are entitled to certain things, but only if we work hard enough to deserve them. The problem, of course, is that plenty of people work incredibly hard and still don’t get those things. Many of the jobs that require long, unforgiving hours doing work nobody else wants to do aren’t well-paid, don’t come with health insurance, paid vacations, job security, or any benefits at all.

Risotto burgers

Here’s a kind of work I call fun! Making risotto. It’s just the right amount of hands-on stirring and mixing. You feel involved! But it’s not finicky or incredibly time-consuming. You stir a bit, you wander away, you stir a bit more. My pet name for this particular risotto is “taco risotto.” It’s got oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, sage, and jalapenos – so it’s a bit smoky, a bit spicy. The zucchini is grated, so it blends in with the rice. The corn retains its bright sweet qualities. Risottos are soft by nature, so I thought it would be nice to add a bit of crunch in the from of toasted pumpkinseeds, which also bring their lovely and mysterious flavor. And I made some crispy toasted tortilla strips to scoop up the risotto.

The next day I turned the ample leftovers into big juicy burgers, which we ate on buns with tomatoes and lettuce. If I’d had an avocado, I would have sliced that to go along with it.

Here’s a playlist of work songs for labor day.
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Zucchini-corn-basil soup and herbed semolina biscuits

Zucchini corn soup

When last we’d left our intrepid explorers, Claire was yelling at Malcolm and feeling bad about it. CUT TO…several days later. Claire’s walking home from work. She’s tired, and if we’re being honest, she’s a little cranky and discouraged. Suddenly, through the shifting crowd of tourists, she sees two beaming faces bobbing towards her. It’s her boys! Isaac stops at the corner, and leans cooly against a lamppost; Malcolm charges across the street and nearly knocks her over with the force of his hug. Back in their paint-peeling, disordered, yet charming home, Claire makes a quick and delicious dinner. Then she and Malcolm set out to get a cup of coffee and a quart of milk for their breakfast. The air is cool and sweet, it’s a peach of an evening – a perfectly ripe, sweet, peach of an evening. So they take the long way, they walk down to the tow path. Malcolm says he wants to swim, but the air is like water, and it feels good when he flaps his arms like wings. Claire loves him so much she could cry, at that moment, but they walk along the towpath, both flapping their arms slowly like big strange birds. They meet friends who had a beagle that died the same week Steenbeck did. They have a new beagle puppy, who’s boundingly happy. They all seem happy, and they remark that Malcolm is almost as tall as Claire. “I know!” she replies, “and he’s only ten!” When Malcolm and Claire reach the main street, the shop is closed, so they keep walking. Somehow, Malcolm catches Claire’s hand…and holds it! Claire feels as though she’s caught a rare, sweet toad, that might jump through her fingers. This won’t happen much longer, she knows that. On the way home, they pass a boy they knew when he was Malcolm’s age. Now he’s a teenager, a big, lanky, laughing teenager, walking with his friends. Malcolm eyes them appraisingly. In the house, David and Isaac are playing a game with bug-inscribed tiles. Claire passes through the house to the backyard, because the air is so delicious. She listens to the katydids and the whirring evening insects. David joins her, and they hear a screech owl. He calls to it, and it calls back. They watch the day change into night, they feel the summer change into autumn. The boys come out, and Isaac curls up in Claire’s lap, his smooth cool/warm skin glowing milkily in the dusky light. They don’t want to go inside, they want to listen for the owl. It’s hard to make them go to bed, at this moment. CUT TO…

Herbed semolina biscuits

But wait a moment, you’re asking yourself! What was the quick and delicious dinner that Claire made? Well, I’ll tell you. It was a soup with zucchini, corn, scallions and lots of basil. Malcolm said it tasted like winter, and David said it tasted like something we’d eat in winter to remind ourselves of what summer tasted like. And we had biscuits made partly with semolina flour, with fresh sage, thyme, and oregano, and freshly ground black pepper in them. Isaac loved the biscuits. Everyone else liked everything together.

Here’s A Tribe Called Quest with Excursions. “I said, ‘Daddy, don’t you know that things go in cycles.'”
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Tacos with chickpeas, black beans and pumpkinseed basil sauce

Chickpea & black bean tacos with pumpkinseed basil sauce

I’ve moaned many times about the death of American Independent cinema. The way I see it, the thrilling golden era of the seventies and eighties (Jarmusch! Lee! Sayles! Hartley!) gave way to an era of derivative, overblown hollywood-wannabes. American independent cinema is dead – killed off by two clever young men who made flashy little hollywood movies, and by the generation of filmmakers following them, whose knowledge of film history went back no farther than these clever young men. Independent filmmaking became an industry – the films were products, the filmmakers wanted to be stars. But the films were like fast food, at once too much and too little – insubstantial and unsatisfying. Rather than carry on with this cantankerous whinge, I’ll tell you that lately I’ve been very excited to discover that American independent cinema is alive and well – it’s just not living in North America.

We’ve watched a number of films lately from Latin America that give me so much hope – engagingly human, unforgettable, and inspiring. Despite being low-budget, and not containing celebrities, each of them achieve some level of perfection of production that I find thrilling. Acting, camera work, music, writing – all carefully combine to make films that glow on the screen, and in your memory. All of the films share a quality that made them especially dear to me. They are ordinary – stories of ordinary people, of their day-to-day-life, of the food they make, their mundane jobs, but they are so beautifully presented that they become extraordinary and compelling. Like a well-made meal, the films are simple, but the ingredients are exactly as they should be, and they’re sustaining and memorable.

I’ll tell you about a few! Duck Season has become one of my favorite films of all time. It’s the first feature by director Fernando Eimbcke, and it tells the story of two boys in a high-rise in Mexico. It’s Sunday, they’re stuck in their apartment, and the power is out. It’s a really ecstatic film, and we watched it twice in two days!

From Brazil, we have The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, by director Cao Hamburger, about a boy who goes to stay with his grandfather and develops an unlikely friendship with his neighbor. A perfect example of how attention to every detail of production can make a simple film resonate.

I’ve already mentioned Adrian Biniez’ Gigante, from Uraguay, because it inspired me to make pizza with faina! A lovely movie with an underwater glow about the lighting and the pacing. And Whisky, a disarmingly dry, touching, and funny movie from Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll. The same directors made 25 Watts, a day in the life of three friends that’s low key, funny, thoughtful, and that you’ll think about long after you’ve seen it.

One more! From Argentina, the tale of a housekeeper and her over-bearing employer – Live in Maid, by Jorge Gaggero. It’s a quiet film, but the small telling details, which examine the routines that shape these two women’s lives, make them alive for us. The film is a very human and immediate way of describing what’s happening in the larger world of politics and economics.

All of these films are like little gems – it’s so wonderful to discover them. They allow you to travel to another part of the world, and give you such an intimate glimpse of the people that live there, and do so with such generosity, humor, and subtlety, that you feel fortunate to spend some with them.

Your song for today is from Lake Tahoe, another remarkable movie by Fernando Eimbcke. The song is La Lloroncita by Los Parientes de Playa Vicente, and it’s gorgeous.

And your meal for today is tacos made with black beans, chickpeas, yellow squash and corn. Everything is combined in a sauce of pumpkinseeds and fresh basil – a sort of pumpkinseed pesto, but lighter. We ate it with warm tortillas, chopped tomatoes, avocado, romaine, and grated sharp cheddar. I have to admit that it’s a little funny-looking (David laughed when I brought it to the table) but look beyond that! Because it tastes very good! Sweet, savory, a little smoky, a little spicy.

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Risotto of black barley, garlic scapes and white corn

Black barley risotto

People become vegetarians for lots of different reasons. Some people just don’t like the taste or smell of meat. I am not one of those people! I haven’t eaten meat since I was about twelve, so I don’t remember exactly what it tastes like, but sometimes…when I smell a steak being grilled or bacon being cooked, it smells good. I know assuredly that I don’t want to eat it, but I find myself trying to make things that taste like my memory of the taste of meat. When I made this risotto, I kept describing it as “meaty.” I feel like I may have used that word so many times that my family wanted to go out and buy me a thesaurus! There’s just something about this broth – it’s dark and savory and flavorful, but it has a kind of sweetness to it, as well. For some reason it just tasted…meaty.

We got some garlic scapes from our CSA. They’re the lovely, long, curly green stems of garlic bulbs, which taste like a milder, sweeter garlic. They can still be quite pungent, raw, but in this dish they’re stewed in delicious broth for some time, so they become soft and sweet. They go nicely with black barley, which has a nice, nutty flavor. You could easily use regular barley or arborio rice to make this, and it would take less time and probably be creamier. But it wouldn’t have that distinctive deep, black barley flavor and color. It did take more than an hour for all the broth to be absorbed, but you don’t have to stir it the whole time. The barley almost spoke to me, as I made this … as soon as I heard the barley sizzling in the dry pan, I knew it was time to add more broth. It told me when it was ready! As ever, the broth is quite important in a risotto. In order to make it, well, meaty, I used a little marmite, a little tamari, some tomato paste, and a handful of french lentils. You could use whatever you have on hand, though!

Garlic scapes

Good heavens!! Helen Humes! Why have I never heard of her before? She’s amazing. Smokes. Here she is singing Garlic Blues. Wow. Wiki says, “…her true young voice consorting oddly with bizarre material like “Garlic Blues.”
Consorting oddly! Gotta love the wikipedia. The other day I said I’d like to someday be introduced as “my colleague” (“My esteemed colleague, obviously, being ideal). I’ve changed my mind. I want to be introduced as “Claire Adas … and her orchestra!”

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