Millet & chickpea kofta

Millet and chickpea kofta

Millet and chickpea kofta

Malcolm’s basketball coach told him that if he keeps his head in the game he’ll be unstoppable. “Keep your head in the game” is now my favorite phrase in conversations with myself. “Keep your head in the game, Claire, or you’ll never get two breakfasts and two lunches made by 7:30!” And Malcolm’s teacher said that with a little more focus he’ll be unstoppable. There it is, the “f” word. It all comes down to focus, it all converges at focus. Isaac has been advised that he needs to focus on his focus, as well. It’s a distracting world! There’s so much going on, so much to see and say and taste! How can anybody concentrate on just one thing? It’s all very well to tell somebody to keep their head in the game, but the game is so complicated! The game is so fast-moving and there are so many things going on at once! One is in danger of getting one’s head bonked, if one keeps it in the game for too long! I’ve always had trouble focussing, too, so that’s probably where the boys get it. I can’t concentrate on one thing very long, with my gnat-like span of attention. My life is strewn with half-read books, half-written novels, half-sung songs, and lots and lots of brilliant ideas that never amounted to much (you’ll have to take my word for it). It doesn’t feel good, and I would wish my boys more success in concentrating on one task until it’s completed. I wish for them the ability not just to focus narrowly on one thing, but to bring everything around them into focus. To adjust the lens through which they view the world so that everything is as bright and vivid and clear as they can make it. Malcolm has discovered the joy of focussing beams of light through a magnifying glass until he makes fire, and this is sort of how I can see him moving through life–focussing his light and energy to set the world on fire. (Safely, of course, as executed with focus’ good friend self-control!) And I hope they’ll be able to concentrate on everything that interests them in the sense that they’ll distill it and make it as pure and flavorful as possible, creatively speaking. Isaac is a rare child who can actually sit and concentrate on one project for a fair amount of time. He’s happy with his own company, singing and drawing or making something out of legos. From when he was very little, his whole face reflects his absorbtion–head on one side, tongue out like Charlie Brown. Here’s Isaac’s picture of a focussed face…
focus
This is how I’m going to imagine myself, from now on, when I want to try to get something important done!!
Millet and chickpea kofta

Millet and chickpea kofta

I wonder if I like cooking because it’s a chance to finish a project – to see it through to its tasty completion. When you start to make a meal, you can’t stop till it’s done. You can’t give up halfway through because you get to a tedious part. If things aren’t going well you have to fix them, you can’t just set it aside for another time and then forget about it completely. And you have the promise of a good meal that you can eat and share as motivation to get it all done. Plus it’s fun! These croquettes were so simple to make. I combined leftover millet with chickpeas and grated cheese. I seasoned them fairly simply, with basil, cumin and lots of pepper. They turned out lovely–crispy and delicate outside and soft and flavorful inside. We ate them with spicy spinach cashew sauce and OOTOs (yeasted semolina flatbreads), as well as avocado and arugula. But you could eat them with pita bread or tortillas, and any sauce you like…tahini or tomato sauce or mustard or mayonaisse, or no sauce at all. Very versatile.

Here’s De La Soul with En Focus. Love this one!

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Black bean and kale cornmeal cakes with fresh avocado cucumber salsa

Black bean and kale cornmeal cakes

Black bean and kale cornmeal cakes

I’m reading Roderick Hudson at the moment. It’s Henry James’ “first serious attempt at a full-length novel,” and it’s quite fascinating. It’s youthful and ambitious, and about youth and ambition, which seems so sweetly unselfconscious to me. James tells the story of two young men–an irresponsible genius and his more mature but less interesting patron. These men are like lovers, almost, and they’re like two sides of the same person (James?). And they’re like the two styles of writing that seem to be battling it out in the novel. The impetuous, romantic and credulity-straining meets head-on with the dense and methodical, and this seems to make the characters unintentionally more human and appealing. But I hadn’t planned to go on and on about the novel! I planned to talk about this one sentence that struck me as very interesting, and here it is…”At times when he saw how the young sculptor’s day passed in a single sustained pulsation, while his own was broken into a dozen conscious devices for disposing of the hours, and intermingled with sighs, half-surpressed, some of them, for conscience’ sake, over what he failed of in action and missed in possession–he felt a pang of something akin to envy.” Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that James? I’m fascinated by the way that time passes differently for different people, or at different times in your life. When I was younger the days seemed very long sometimes, and I remember wishing time away, and trying to fill up the hours, trying consciously to dispose of them, as Rowland does. And I recognize his gentle sense of regret and self-reproach. How could he get so little done and miss so many chances when time moves so slowly? I understand perfectly why he admires and envies Roderick, who doesn’t think about the past or the future or the consequences of his actions, who took the risks Rowland was scared to, not because he particularly wanted to or cared about the results, but because…why not? I’ve never been like that. I’ve never lost track of whole days or forgotten the time, I’ve never been brave or impetuous, I’ve never been able to free my mind of regrets about the past or worries over the future. Time doesn’t travel fluidly for me. But it does go more and more quickly, which is frightening, and makes me rue all of the hours I wished away when I was younger. I never really have anything that needs to be done, and yet I feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, to do everything I want to do. My days will never pass in a single sustained pulsation, I don’t think, but I have this odd image of myself swallowing them in chunks, hungrily eating them one piece at a time, and then looking back with surprise and some sadness when they’re all gone, wondering where they’ve gotten to. Obviously, the thing to do is to make them delicious, to make every hour of each day as tasty as possible, and then to try to savor them, to take my time, rather than wishing it away.

avacado-cucumber-saladThese little cakes were confounding to my boys. They didn’t think they’d like them, so they didn’t enjoy their first half-hearted nibble. But after some drama and persuasion, they both decided they liked them and ate almost all of them. David and I liked them. They were crunchy out, soft in, with a nice balance of earthy flavors. They were a bit dry, though, as baked goods made with cornmeal alone tend to be, so eat them with a sauce. This little salad or salsa was lovely! I don’t know why I’d never thought of mixing avocado and cucumber before, but they’re really perfect together! Fresh and green and soft and crisp. I kept the seasoning simple – salt, pepper, lime and cilantro, which made the whole thing bright and clean, and just the perfect accompaniment to the cornmeal cakes.

Here’s Wildwood Flower by the Carter Family, because they say “Yes, he taught me to love him and call me his flower That was blooming to cheer him through life’s dreary hour.” No dreary hours!! We’ll have no dreary hours!!

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Fennel & walnut croquettes

Fennel and walnut croquettes

Fennel and walnut croquettes

Olga Von Till was born in the 1890s. As a girl she lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She played piano for silent movies, providing a soundtrack for their voiceless antics. She was sent to Hungary to study with Bela Bartok, and became stranded there when World War I broke out. She made a living as a companion for wealthy, eccentric women. When she returned home she lived in New York City for a while, and she taught classical piano to Bill Evans, amongst many others. In the 80s she lived in a small town next to New Brunswick, and it was at that point that I met her – she was my piano teacher all through high school. She was an intimidating teacher, exacting and persistent. She heard the tone of each note, and she heard the silence between notes, which were as important as the notes themselves, and needed to be given their exact space, their exact weight. Ms. Von Till would hold your arm with her strong hands, feeling the muscles, and she’d put her hand under your hand, so that your fingers stretched to the piano keys from a seemingly impossible height, but with just the right force when they finally touched. She had a hard round belly that she’d prop a blank music-lined book on, and she’d write careful instructions for the week’s practice in strange and wonderful felt tip pens that I coveted, but never found in the real world. She had two pairs of glasses, one with round thick lenses and gold frames, and one with horn-rimmed frames and small blue flowers. Everything in her house was exactly as she wanted it, and she could tell you stories about choosing the fabric on the walls or the rugs on the floor. She had two steinway grands, and she talked about them as if they were living creatures – each had its own tone, its own voice. Her husband Sam played the violin, and he’d been a child prodigy, but his career had been disappointing. He heard music in his head, and would gesture passionately as he listened to it. I was a mediocre student, we all knew I would never amount to much as a pianist. But I loved to sit with Ms Von Till. After I left for college, I would visit her every time I came home. I’d bring her flowers every time, and I’d sit and listen to her stories. As she got older, she wouldn’t come down the stairs, and we’d sit upstairs in her study, side by side. She would tell stories of her remarkable life, sometimes the same stories over and over, but they were worth hearing again. She’d hold my arm, and feel the muscles, she’d support my hand with her strong hands. She could tell I hadn’t been playing piano. Sometimes we’d sit in silence, and then she’d look at me with a beaming smile through her thick round lenses. I didn’t talk much, she couldn’t have known much about me, but I felt that she loved me. I felt that she was a good friend, despite the more than seventy years between us. I still dream about her sometimes, about the world that she created with her music, her elegance, her strength, her stories, and her expectations.

Obviously I admired her very much! So this week’s Sunday interactive playlist will be about songs of admiration for other musicians. The tribute can be in the lyrics or in the tunes. I thought I had a lot of these stored up, but I’m struggling, so I need your help!

And these fennel croquettes – I wanted to have a combination of comforting and wintery and bright and fresh and summery. I used fresh thyme and fresh rosemary, and I made them light and crispy. But they also have bread crumbs and melty cheese to get you through the winter evening. We ate them with a simple tomato sauce, but you could eat them with any kind of sauce you like.

Here’s the interactive playlist as it stands so far. Feel free to add whatever you can think of!

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Roasted parsnip, spinach and walnut kofta (with secret melty cheese!)

Parsnip and spinach kofta

Today’s recipe goes with yesterday’s recipe in much the same way that today’s meandering ramble continues the fine tradition of yesterday’s meandering ramble, and of the day’s before that. Think of it as a three part series on gratitude, annoyance, and regret, if you like. I apologize for talking about my boys so much, lately, but, mama, they’ve been on my mind. I promise to talk about something more universally interesting tomorrow. Like Lindsay Lohan. And her childhood. Before bed, David reads with Isaac, and I read with Malcolm, and then I cuddle with Isaac for a few minutes before I get on with my life. I used to fall asleep nearly every night, and wake up an hour later feeling trampled and discombobulated and with my whole evening shot. So I only stay for a few minutes now (super intense concentrated cuddles). Last night Isaac gently ran a finger down my cheek three times, slowly, and then touched my lips. It seemed like such a mysterious and beautiful gesture, so I asked him why he’d done it. He said, with a serious smile, “Because I just love you.” And I just love him, too, so I repeated the gesture on his incredibly soft cheek. He giggled and traced a more complicated pattern on my chin and nose and eyelids, and I tried to repeat that, too. And so it went, until he was laughing with his ridiculously lovely belly laugh, which I wish I could bottle, along with the rest of this moment. My first thought was that he touched my cheek because I look old, because he could tell that I was aging. But I think that children rarely notice that their parents are growing older. And Isaac frequently tells me, “You don’t look old at all, to me,” prompting the suspicion that everyone else in town is talking about how old I look. And then I thought about how I keep telling him that he’s getting older, that he’s growing so big, that he’s a big seven-year-old and should be able to keep up or get to sleep all by himself. I thought that I hadn’t heard him laugh like that in some time. I thought about his school picture, in which he’s not smiling at all. He is, in fact, frowning, and there’s a bit of a challenge in his eye. It’s as if he just told the photographer, “don’t you tell me to smile!!” His whole life, Isaac has been a glowing smiler. He used to beam at people from his bjorn. His whole face lights up in a delightful and infectious way. I thought about how cranky I’d been, lately, not for any particular reason, it’s just a pattern one gets into. And how it must have seemed to him like I’m always annoyed, because he walks slowly or spills his juice or won’t get to sleep. Ugh. I thought about how Malcolm’s teachers sounded annoyed when they said his name, and feared that I might do that, too. We only get one chance at this! Phew. Did you hear about that Lindsay Lohan? She got arrested again! I read about it on the front page of the Guardian!

We ate these kofta with the white bean tomato bisque, almost as a sauce. David dunked his right in, and I ate mine with lettuce and tomatoes, all wrapped up in a warm tortilla, and the soup on the side. (It probably would have been better in pita, but I didn’t have time to make any!) I thought they turned out really good. I was quite proud of myself. Parsnips obviously have such a nice flavor, and they go well with earthy spinach, and the walnuts added just a bit of crunch. And then there’s the secret melty cheeeeeeeese!!

Here’s You Only Live Once by SJob movement. I just love it!!
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Artichoke, walnut and feta croquettes

Artichoke croquettes

We don’t have cable in our house (conscious choice, cable companies! Don’t come calling.) But sometimes at work I can persuade my fellow restaurant patrons to watch the cooking channel. My favorite is Chopped. I can imagine a version at my house. Instead of gleaming counters and well-coiffed judges, you’d have tables full of school work and drawings and old bills, walls coated with little hand prints and globs of paint, and an elderly dog clattering through, bumping into everyone. And the challenge would be to look in my fridge, pick 2 leftovers packed away in plastic boxes, and make something special out of it. I’d win this round!! I had some leftover mashed potatoes, a half-used can of artichoke hearts, and a bit of extra sandwich bread on hand. What did I make? Lovely croquettes – crispy, flavorful and delicious. Croquettes can be a little stodgy, what with the bread and potatoes, so I wanted them to have bright flavor – something that would go well with feta and artichoke hearts. Hence the fennel and lemon. They turned out really nice! We ate them with a smooth roasted red pepper sauce (open jar of roasted peppers!), which the kids later happily ate on pasta for lunch.

Here’s Vaios Malliaras with Aginara (artichoke) Greek folk clarinet music from 1933. Odd and really lovely!
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Spinach pesto croquettes

pesto croquettes

You know what I love about these very green croquettes? They combine something very wintery (mashed potatoes leftover from Christmas dinner) with something very summery (pesto I made back when basil was abundant, and have stashed in my freezer for just such an occasion.) At the end of the summer I gathered armfuls of basil, and as I turned it into pesto, I imagined myself on a cold winter’s day, after the festivities of Christmas, with nothing but months of bleak winter ahead…sniff…sob…taking out spoonful of pesto and being reminded of a glowing late-summer day.

Other than that, though, these are uncomplicated, comforting war-ration-we-can’t-afford-any-meat fare. I tried to make them very simple, so that my sons would eat them, so it’s just potatoes, breadcrumbs, pesto, and mozzarella. But there’s nothing in it that you don’t like!!

These are easy, pretty, and very green. A good way to use up leftover mashed potatoes! I served them with a bright red simple tomato sauce, that I made quite smoky and spicy with paprika and red pepper flakes.

Here’s Blackalicious’ Green Light, Now Begin.
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