Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

Golden split pea and tomato soup

Isaac ends his sentences with an ascension. His voice travels upwards at the end of each thought. Sometimes it trails upwards in a lengthy and leisurely fashion. Sometimes, when he’s indignant, it rises sharply to unhearable heights. It sounds like he’s asking a question, even if he isn’t asking a question. This is not uncommon, I think. I’ve heard other children talk in this fashion. The question is why, and here at The Ordinary’s institute for analysis of vocal inflection, we’ve been looking into it. We’ve been examining data, both quantitative and qualitative, and using the scientific method to posit hypotheses before testing them against focal groups and sample fields. (I’ve been helping Malcolm with his biology homework!) We’ve come up with two possible theories to explain the phenomenon. One is that Isaac’s thoughts are buoyant. They bubble out of him and float up into the atmosphere. They’re not insubstantial, they start with a pleasant weight and depth, but they’re uncontainable, exuberant, they catch the breeze and rise like kites to travel where Isaac’s unusual mind will take them. Like to the lark at break of day arising
from sullen earth, Isaac’s thoughts sing hymns at heaven’s gate. This is one theory. The other, more probably theory, is that he doesn’t believe we’re paying attention, so each statement is a question, a “did you hear these words, are you listening?” question. Well of course we’re listening! We catch his words as they float out of him, and they help to lift us up on even the dreariest of days.

Speaking of dreary days, if you’re experiencing such a thing, make this soup! It’s warm and bright, a little spicy but very comforting. I made it with golden tomatoes from our garden, which gave it a pretty color. You could make it with any kind of tomatoes, though, it would still be good. We ate it almost as dal, over rice. I added some chopped baby spinach to mine. You could eat it just as it is, though, with some nice crusty bread, for a perfect autumn meal.

Here’s As I Rise by the Decemberists.
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Millet, red lentil, and sweet potato dal and pumpkin ricotta flatbreads

Millet dal and pumpkin flatbread

Millet dal and pumpkin flatbread

Yesterday around mid-morning, I spent ten minutes sitting on the couch in my pajamas, with Clio half-on/half-off my lap. I petted her velvety ears and watched people rush by in the rain. They seemed so busy and productive, and I could just imagine how the world smelled like rain to them, and how they felt icy drops trickling into their collars, and how their cars had that feverish chilled-but-warming feeling. And here I was, so toasty and still and unproductive. I felt like I was in a Basho poem. I thought of the quote from the Hagekure (and Ghost Dog!)

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.

I found that I didn’t feel quite so unproductive, because my mind was busy, and then I felt foolish for thinking that. Then I thought about writing about thinking about writing about sitting there. And then Clio said, “Man, you’re cramping my style. I’ve got some napping to be getting on with.” The mail came, but I didn’t bring it in because it’s only bills and advertisements. Then I went up to clean the bathroom, and thought about writing about that, but luckily for you I won’t do that. When I was little, I used to narrate my actions in my head in the third person. Not all the time, because that would be crazy! But often. “And then Claire sat on a bench in the middle of the room. She always got through with looking at paintings before everyone else. She did everything quickly. And now she sat and watched the people looking at the paintings…” And on an on it goes! I feel like I’ve been doing that again lately, because of The Ordinary. Not in third person now, so it’s slightly less eccentric. But when I cook, I’ll think about writing about it, and aboutexplaining how it’s done. And sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and try to occupy my brain with whatever I might say on here the next day (explains a lot about the quality of the work, doesn’t it?) and I’ll find myself writing in my head. And, yes, this might seem crazy, but I think this is a good thing!!! I firmly believe that the more you write, the more you write. The more you think about writing, the more you’ll write, and hopefully it will become a habit. (This doesn’t guarantee good writing, mind you! It just makes it easier to get started.) I think this understanding extends to all things. The more you draw, the more you’ll draw. If you want to make movies, you should watch movies, talk about movies, take photographs, write movies, make shorts. The more you cook, the more you’ll think about cooking, and the more you’ll want to try new things and experiment with new ingredients, until you’ll get sick of it all and go out to dinner. If you want to make music, the more you listen to songs, and practice making music, and think about music, the more life will present itself to you as a song. Because even if writing and making movies and drawing aren’t important, which, arguably they’re not at all, I’d still like to go through life looking for things to write about (or sing about or draw pictures of.) Just as the actors that work with Jaques Tati started to see little comic pieces in everyday exchanges in the world around them, you’ll start to find that even small things are worth noticing and remembering and examining, which in some way makes life worth living.

And now I feel foolish for writing about writing, so let’s talk about this dal instead. It’s made with red lentils, millet and sweet potatoes, and it’s cooked for some time, which makes it dense and soft and porridgey. Red lentils are nice because they cook quickly, but if you cook them longer, as (I believe) Indian dals are cooked, they take on a whole different life. I added spinach and peas to pep things up and provide a little texture. And I used beautiful black cardamom pods, which are so smoky and sweet (but watch out for them when you eat the dal, you wouldn’t want to bite down on one!) I decided that cumin was too obvious in this dish, so I left it out in favor of other sweet and smoky spices, like cardamom, nigella seeds and smoked paprika. The flat breads were quick and easy to make – they have a little pumpkin puree and a little ricotta, which gives them a nice flavor and texture, and they were just crunchy enough to provide a pleasant contrast to the soft dal.

Here’s Station Showdown from the Yojimbo soundtrack, cause it’s all about the millet. Golly, this soundtrack is brilliant!

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Red lentil cashew curry

Red lentil cashew curry

We saw a movie last night that was such a good surprise. I didn’t know anything about it beforehand. Guess what? Madhur Jaffrey was in it! She was amazing! And Aasif Mandvi was in it, too. He wrote it! He was wonderful, too. The movie, Today’s Special was about learning to cook (and live) with your head, your heart, and your belly. It had many inspiring scenes in the kitchen. Including one in which the characters mix a masala, or spice mix. I’ve said it before, I love this idea! I wasn’t thinking very clearly about the spices I put in here, but I like the mix I came up with. Mustard seed, sesame seed, a touch of cumin, coriander and cardamom. Lordy, I love the very names of spices!

Red lentils, you say? Why is it green? Why? It’s a funny thing about red lentils. They’re such a pretty salmon color before you cook them, but they turn yellowish after. Still pretty, though, I think! And this is green because it has zucchini and spinach and cilantro. I like to make a red lentil dal that you cook for a very long time, until it separates into cooked lentils, and a delicate, flavorful broth. This isn’t like that! It’s more substantial and thick. It reminded me of oatmeal, a bit, as I was making it. The ground cashews add a sweet nutty creaminess that I find quite pleasant. This would be nice with basmati rice and naan or paratha, but we ate it with grit cakes, which was very good, too!

Here’s a song which is used to wonderful effect in the film, Eena Meena Deeka. The video is wonderful, too!
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Slow cooked urad dal and black-eyed peas

urad dal and black-eyed peas

My son got a couple of science experiment kits for christmas. I got a slow-cooker. I’ve never had one before! I like the idea of trying to figure out how to use it without reading too much about it. I feel just like a 6-year-old with a box full of mad experiments to try!!

The first thing I thought to cook in the big beautiful black stoneware pot was Urad Dal. I bought some this summer at an Indian grocery store. They’re beautiful, tiny, black ovoid lentils. They need to cook for a loooooong time, on a looooooow heat. And then they turn out delcious! I matched them with black-eyed peas, because they both have an earthy flavor, and because I liked the little black beans with white spots, and the larger white beans with black spots. I seasoned them with allspice, ginger, cardamom, coriander and basil. Bright and sweet – to go with the earthy. And I cooked them in butter, because Dal Makhani, the traditional urad dal dish, is cooked with butter, yogurt and cream, and I wanted to give a nod to that. Turned out yummy! I cooked it for 6 hours on high, and I think it would have been done an hour earlier, but I wasn’t home. Very tasty with basmati rice and cauliflower in a spicy cashew-almond sauce. It’s not the prettiest dish you’ve ever made, but if you stir in some chopped tomatoes and cilantro at the end, it will have a bit of color and fresh flavor.

This was fun to make in a slow cooker, because I could leave the house with minimal fear of burning it down. But I’ve also cooked urad dal on a low burner for 5 hours, and that’s worked, too. So if you don’t have a slow cooker…don’t despair.

Of course it’s got to be Slow and Low by the Beastie Boys. That is the tempo!!
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