Roasted golden beet, carrot & cashew sauce (with broccoli, garlic scapes, & tamari)

Roasted golden beet, carrot and cashew sauce

Roasted golden beet, carrot and cashew sauce

I used the word “keen” the other day, and it struck me that it’s a very Ordinary word. Of course I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and of course I looked it up in the OED. The word has foggy and uncertain origins, and I think this mystery adds to its appeal. It’s had quite a few meanings over the years, and I like almost all of them. Most of them relate to an intensity of sensation or emotion. (Except, of course, in America in this century, when it’s meant something mild and harmless like “swell” or “nice.” Sigh.) In the earliest examples, which I can’t make sense of, even though I studied Old English twice, it meant wise, learned or clever, and then it drifted into brave bold and daring, which edged into fierce and savage, or cruel, harsh and insolent. Something of this fierceness and sharpness remained, and keen continued its career to mean anything piercing, pungent, intense, even stinging. Cold, touch, taste, sound, light, hunger, even love, all of these could be keen or keenly felt. Language could be keen, as well, in which case it was sharp, intense, even bitter…slicing the flesh like sarcasm. All of our senses can be keen–eyesight, smell, taste, which means they’re penetrating, acute and highly sensitive. And we can be keen, or feel things keenly, we can be “Eager, ardent, fervid; full of, or manifesting, intense desire, interest, excitement, etc. Also, of desire, feeling, etc.: Intense.” And we can be keen on someone or something, which means that we have a crush-like fascination with them or it. Of course, keen has another meaning as well, as noun and verb, it describes the singing of a wailing song for the dead, but even this sad meaning is wild and passionate and beautiful. “But Claire,” I hear you ask, “That’s all very well, but what does all of this have to do with The Ordinary?” “Well,” (I respond) “I’m glad you ask!” As it happens, I have an agenda, an Ordinary agenda. And the Ordinary agenda is about engaging keenly in all of the moments of your life…not just the big ones that everybody takes photos of, but the smaller ones, the quotidian day-to-day moments that pass by easily unnoticed. And perhaps this is the time to admit that The Ordinary is not really a food blog, (Shocking, I know!) except insofar as food is part of our daily lives, a necessity for daily life, but also a wonderful opportunity to experiment and be creative. And keenly flavored food tastes better when you’re keen-set for your dinner. And keenly-written books with sharp, clever, keen language read better when you have a keen interest in them. And keenly-played music is keenly felt by people who listen with keen ears. And the keen wild green of summer is only here for a short time before the keen-cold winter months return, so don’t wish it away!

Broccoli and garlic scapes with golden beet, cashew & carrot sauce.

Broccoli and garlic scapes with golden beet, cashew & carrot sauce.

This sauce uses golden beets and carrots from the farm. I grated them, toasted them, and pureed them with cashews, ginger, cardamom, cumin, coriander and lime. It has a sweet creaminess, but it’s vegan. We ate it with broccoli sauteed with garlic scapes, tamari and honey, which was a nice contrast of flavor and texture. But the boys also dipped raw cucumber in, and it would be good over rice, or with any roasted vegetables, or as a sort of curry sauce. Very versatile.

Here’s The Viceroys with Slogan on the Wall. We have an album called Nice Up the Dance, and every time I listen to it I have a new favorite. This has been going on for over a decade. Today, I have a keen regard for this song.

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Almond tarragon sauce

Almond tarragon sauce

Yesterday we had a rare day off, all together, and it was the only sunny day in recent memory. So we went for a hike in the woods. It felt good to clear the cobwebs and feel the sun on our heads. At one point, a big golden leaf fell behind me – I could sense it as a sort of glowing shadow. It seemed so slow and quick all at once. It almost made me wish I was someone else. Somebody who could wander around in the woods thinking about things and noticing things – like Basho or Thoreau, instead of just some idiot who forgot to pay the credit card bill (god I hate that!). Of course I was somebody wandering around in the woods, thinking things, and watching my little ones glowing with high finally-out-of-the-house spirits, as well as being the non-bill-paying idiot. And on the way home I had the strangest sensation of time travel. The sun was very bright and warm on my face, so I closed my eyes. I had that peculiar feeling you get in your head when you’re about to get a cold, when it seems like all of your senses are heightened and dulled at the same time. I had such a distinct memory of having this exact experience before – the sun, the onset of a cold, the movement of the car. I could have been any age. I had a flood of memories of myself at different times. With my family growing up. With David when we were younger. With my dog when she was a puppy. I may have fallen asleep for a few moments, because I felt my thoughts taking off, into the air. And then Malcolm said, “Mommy…” and showed me a picture he’d drawn, or told me how much baby bears weigh at birth. Human voices woke me, and I drowned…in the present. Where I forget to pay bills, and can’t keep the house clean, and yell too much at my boys, but I feel so grateful to have them all around me – to have this messy glowing life, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.

This almond tarragon sauce is another version of a tarator sauce. I made it to go with some very pretty dragon’s tongue beans, which I lightly steamed. But I ate it for days afterwards – with every kind of vegetable, with empanadas, on salads. It’s a nice creamy, cream free dressing. Very good with roasted beets!

Here’s Sunshine and Clouds and Everything Proud from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

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Creamy zucchini, walnut, and white bean sauce (with sage)

Zucchini walnut sauce

One of my favorite lines from any movie is spoken by Ballou the bear in Jungle Book. “Fall apart in my back yard,” he says. It’s always seemed like such a tempting invitation. I’ve had a stressful week of cut fingers and a sick boy, making hard decisions about cut fingers and a sick boy (hard for me, anyway, indecision is my m.o.) trying to pretend I’m strong and that I’m not freaking out about everything when inside I’m a mess, and not sleeping much. Silly, I know, when taken individually, but it all added up to wear me out a little bit. So last night I spent a little time in my own backyard, in the the dark, cool evening, just enjoying the soft sounds of summer-night bug flights and the smell of the herb garden and yesterday’s fire. And then I saw a face in the witch hazel bush! Not as if somebody was standing there, but as if the witch hazel itself had a face. Two kind, softly glowing eyes in a dog-like face. I sat and stared at it a long while. I moved to another seat, and it was still there. I like to think about spirits all around me. When I clean the bathrooms (remember that I have two little boys!!) I always imagine a pee spirit living behind the toilets. A mischievous noisome yellow blob of a spirit, that I angry up when I bleach his home. I’ve always seen faces in tree trunks, and in stones, I see dog’s eyes and noses in knots in planks of wood. I swear it sometimes seems like everything has a message to tell me. And then, of course, there are the fireflies. (Fireflies and zucchini, again!?! Yup.) I love our witch hazel bush, with its wintertime flowers like fragrant fireworks. I felt oddly comforted by the idea of a witch hazel spirit. I sat for a long while, reluctant to go up to bed despite being exhausted, and thought about spirits. I finally went inside and locked everything up, and turned out all the lights, and through the window I could still see softly glowing eyes in the witch hazel.

If there was a spirit in our back yard, I imagine it would eat the sage in our vegetable garden, because sage seems like good spirit food. Well, I harvested some myself to make this pasta sauce. This is a good quick-meal-after-work sauce, and it’s a good way to use up some of my over-abundance of zucchini. The zucchini is blended with white beans, walnuts, and broth to make a thick and creamy, though cream-free sauce. I used the broth from the millet stew I’d made, and it was very flavorful with sage and bay leaves, but you could use any broth you have on hand, or even water. I also used caramelized onions, because I’d made a huge batch over the weekend (and cut my finger!) but if you don’t happen to have them lying around, a shallot or a regular onion would be fine. And that’s all I can say about that at the moment because Malcolm is desperate for the computer.

Here’s Aretha Franklin’s remarkable Spirit in the Dark, live in Philly.
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Summery almond sauce with lime, mint, basil, and tamari

Summery almond sauce

I’ve decided to write an opera. Follow along, gentle reader, as we set the scene for our drama. It’s the tale of two brothers. It all begins on a balmy summer evening. The older brother discovers a magical island in the middle of the river. It’s an enchanted island that only the dogs know about. But the boy is partly wild water dog himself, and they let him swim. The boy sings a happy song, in which he promises to bring his little brother the very next day, as soon as he’s done with summer rec camp. But the next day dawns, and the little brother is tired and contrary. (Perhaps because he kept his mother up half the night claiming to be scared of Tintin. As if Tintin had ever scared anybody!) Little brother won’t go to the river! And this is the dramatic heart of the opera – it gets louder and louder! The orchestra rages! The brothers threaten to hurt themselves and each other. They slam doors! THey run up and down stairs! They cry and they wail! They threaten not to invite each other to their birthday parties EVER AGAIN!! In one touching aside, the mother (a comic character – a buffoon, if you will…) foolishly promises the younger son all sorts of things she can’t really give him if he’ll just walk down to the goddamn river and sit on the bank for half an hour. But he’s deaf to her promises. HE WILL NOT GO! And then, inexplicably, for no apparent reason, he decides to go after all. The dogs of the island welcome him as one of their own. The brothers swim, they have fun, they sing a reprise of the older brother’s happy song, but as a duet this time. The mother stands with her feet in the cool water, feeling like an idiot because she always forgets sunscreen, and they all go home when the little brother has to pee. EXEUNT OMNES!!

The opera will last about five hours, and in the interval we’ll serve this sauce in chilled champagne glasses. I liked this sauce quite a bit! It’s one in a long line of creamy nut-based sauces I’ve made, I’m a nut-sauce fan!! I like this one because it seems like a concentration of a lot of flavors I’ve been using lately. I’ve been putting lime in everything. I’ve been putting basil in everything. The boys have been eating tamari like it’s going out of style. And every once in a while David and I will treat ourselves to dark-and-stormy-mojitos. That’s ginger beer, rum, lime, ice and fresh mint leaves. Oh yum. So this has a lot of those flavors in it. And they’re all really nice together. I’ve eaten it with roasted vegetables (it’s nice with earthy beets and potatoes!) I’ve eaten it on green salads. And I made a nice, fresh and juicy salad of cucumbers, carrots and basil, that I coated with this. Very refreshing!

Cucumber carrot salad

Here’s Marvin Gaye with What’s Happening, Brother?

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Grilled vegetables and pecan tarragon sauce

Roasted beets & mushrooms

We’ve been watching the Olympic trials at work, on a big television above the bar. The sound is turned all the way down, and for some reason, in this way, it becomes the most beautiful drama. The expressions on the athletes’ faces are so raw and honest – pure, distilled emotion. It reminds me of silent films, when the actors’ gestures and expressions had to tell the story, except that this is entirely unstudied. It’s hard to tell at first who has won and who has lost, because the faces are oddly similar – anguished, ecstatic, exhausted. Their faces are like children’s faces in delight and sorrow – undulled and unguarded. It’s very emotional! I have to stop myself from getting weepy right there at the host stand! I love the idea of working very hard for one thing, and putting so much emotion and energy into it. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately – it’s good to have a grand project in your life.

When I was little we lived in England one summer, during the Olympics. To my shame, I remember being actually bewildered that the announcers spoke more about English athletes than Americans. Didn’t everybody in the world care more about our superior American athletes even than their own? Didn’t they? Heh heh. With independence day drawing on apace, it’s probably a good time to examine our place in the world as Americans and as human beings. Luckily for you I have to go to work in a short while, so I’ll talk about grilling vegetables instead. We grilled beets, mushrooms, and potatoes. Of course you could grill any vegetables you like, but I recommend this combination. The beets and mushrooms have a nice juiciness, everything is crispy, earthy, smoky and delicious. I like a simple marinade for grilled vegetables. Olive oil, vinegar, fresh herbs and garlic. I added some nigella seeds because I just got them for the first time and I’m very excited about them! But if you can’t find them you could live without. We also sauteed the beet greens with some chard, and I used zatar spices, because I just bought sumac, and I’m very excited about that, too!! And the pecan tarragon tarrator sauce is a lovely, creamy, vegan, subtly flavored sauce that goes very sweetly with the earthy grilled vegetables. Malcolm ate his grilled vegetables on toast, and he made it into Darth Vador’s Tie Fighter. (serving suggestion)

Beet tie fighter

Here’s a little film of Louis Armstrong playing Stuttin with some Barbecue, and dancing with Velma Middleton.

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Pecan-whole grain tarator sauce

Pecan tarator sauce

I was thinking about tarator sauce the other day. The word means different things to different people, and contains different ingredients in various locations around the globe. For me, a tarator sauce is a combination of nuts, bread-soaked-in-water and seasonings. It is a thing of wonder! These unlikely elements combine to form something subtly flavored, smooth, creamy, and completely dairy-free! At first, I generally used pine nuts and white bread, garlic and lemon. Definitely delicious. Then I used almonds, because they’re also lovely and much cheaper. I made this savory vanilla sauce, for instance. And a tarator sauce can make the base of a creamy soup. My version of Jane Austen’s white soup combines an almond tarator sauce with white beans and cauliflower.

I’ve always thought of tarator as a pale ivory concoction, and I’ve generally used pale nuts and white bread. Well, the other day, faced with a very tasty but rapidly aging loaf of whole grain bread, I thought, why not make a tarator sauce with that? And I used pecans, because they have a wonderful distinctive flavor. And I used balsamic instead of lemon juice, for a little depth. And then I added roasted garlic, thyme, and rosemary, because it seemed to need all those things. Turned out delicious! We ate it as a sort of dip for butternut squash-pecan dumplings. But tarator sauce is very versatile. It’s good with french fries, or on roasted vegetables, or as a dip for anything you can think of dipping in it.

Here’s Soul Sauce from Cal Tjader

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