Roasted butternut, spinach, raisin and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

I’m writing a novel. If you’ve spent any time with me you know this fact, because I go on and on about it to the point of tedium; ad nauseam, ad infinitum. I talk about it frequently, I think about it constantly, I dream about it every night. What I don’t do all that often is write it. I spent all day yesterday–all day–writing two scenes I’d thought about for ages, and I wrote…a couple of pages, maybe, and I’m not sure they’re any good. I wake up every morning determined to get on with it. I have a picture in my head of myself, in a frenzy of writing, spewing out page after perfect page. This doesn’t happen. I’m so easily distracted and discouraged. I’m so often plagued by saucy doubts and fears. I could write it now, but if I tried, instead, to write it in fifteen minutes, I’d write completely different words! I’d have completely different ideas! How do I know it wouldn’t come out better if I waited an hour, or a day, or a week. Maybe something would happen between now and then that would alter the course of history (in the world of my novel.) Well this morning, when I thought about writing my novel, I kept finding a song in my head, and I’ve decided that this is my new novel-motivational track. It’s Precisely the Right Rhyme, by Gang Starr. It’s about knowing that what you say is the right thing to say, and that you’re saying it at the right time. It’s about confidence. I’ve been thinking about confidence a lot lately. It’s not something I possess great quantities of, it’s not something I’ve passed down to my boys. Instead I’ve got a bizarre mixture of crippling insecurity and bafflingly misplaced arrogance. Confidence is not even something I admire, necessarily. I don’t respect people who are all cockiness and swagger. I’m attracted to humility and moved by human weakness. And yet, and yet…I’m starting to recognize confidence as an essential part of the creative process, if not of life. On Malcolm’s basketball team it was never the tallest or most agile kids that played best, it was the kids who acted like the ball belonged to them, the basket belonged to them, the whole damn court was theirs and everybody else was in their way. So that’s how I’m going to write, with “everybody else” being the twin demons of doubt and distraction who fly at me from every side. This understanding applies to all things. So maybe you’re not trying to write a novel (although, honestly sometimes it seems that most people are!) But whatever you’re trying to do, tell yourself you’re doing it just right, at just the right time. Tell yourself till you believe it! In the words of Troy McClure, “Get confident, stupid!”

And the words of Gang Starr,

    My subject matter and context are blessed
    Vocal inflection connects, it’s a slugfest
    Ladies approach to hear quotes from the spokesman
    Thoughts are like oceans for my lyrics to float in
    I’m absolutely astute so salute

    Just get with the words and the way I command ya
    Cause you’re in the right place, and luckily it’s the right time
    And since I’m inclined, I’ll kick precisely the right rhymes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love greens, pine nuts, raisins and garlic. It’s the perfect combination for me. In this instance I’ve packed all that into a pie with some grated roasted butternut squash and some mozzarella cheese. I made this pie for a bunch of people to eat standing around without plates or utensils, and it worked well in this regard. It would be nice for a party or a picnic, I think, for this reason.

Here’s Gang Starr with Precisely the Right Rhymes.
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Collards, roasted mushroom and pecan pie with a spicy smoky crust

Collard pecan pie

Collard pecan pie

Malcolm came home from school yesterday and lay on the couch and wept. I asked him if something upsetting had happened, and he said, no, he was just tired, and he really wanted some pineapple. We’d bought a pineapple on Monday, and I kept telling him it wasn’t ripe, because, honestly, I can never tell! The last time we bought one I prudently waited until it was moldy and disintegrating, just to be sure. So I gave him a dish of pineapple, and I got myself a glass of wine, and he got a blanket, and we cuddled on the couch and watched a dumb show about Merlin. And then snow began to fall, thick and fast – the prettiest snow I’ve ever seen. It sparkled! It looked like crystals falling from the sky and forming an improbably light, even blanket on the ground. And when David came home we went out to dinner. We almost never go out to dinner, just the four of us, maybe twice a year. It’s so nice when we do! I felt so happy being with my family, in our little booth, eating delicious and unexpected food. We always bring a blank book when we go out – the same book each time, and we all take turns drawing in it. We have quite a collection of crazy pictures, and each small sketch transports us back to the good meal we had and the good talks we had. Last night we talked about the things that might have been worrying Malcolm. We talked about a game his whole class plays, and he said that by the end everybody is mad at each other because they’re competing, and that doesn’t feel good. He leaned up against me. Both boys ate with good appetites, with glee, and Malcolm said, “I love food!” And, of course, I love that he loves food. We talked about all the places we’ll travel, when we’ve got the time and money. We talked about taking a plane somewhere with no plans, and just making it up as we go along. Finding a place to stay, finding a lovely restaurant, with little booths, where we can eat strange and wonderful food, and draw in our book, and talk. And then we drove home through a glittering white world to our old warm house. A good night!
Isaac's beautiful landscape from our restaurant book

Isaac’s beautiful landscape from our restaurant book

I love collard greens. I love their substantial texture, and their mildly assertive taste. I like to pair them with smoky crispy things. I thought of the crust in this as being almost like bacon – crunchy and smoky with smoked paprika. The pecans added a nice crunch, and the roasted mushrooms brought their lovely savory, meaty flavor.

Here’s Fox in the Snow by Belle and Sebastian.

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White bean, spinach and roasted mushroom pie with pecan sage crust

white bean, mushroom, and spinach pie

white bean, mushroom, and spinach pie

This is a very Dickensian time of year. I want to read Dickens, watch adaptations of his novels (good or bad), eat Dickensian food (like this pie!) drink hot gin punches. In short, I love Charles Dickens – I always have. I don’t care what anybody says about him. I don’t care if people think he’s nothing but an overly sentimental Victorian fuddyduddy. I’m not blind to his faults, I will admit that he can be a little ham-fisted with the sentiment at times. But he’s also darkly, bitingly funny, political, warmly human, and even light-heartedly absurd. His books contain everything a novel should – a broad, carefully calculated over-arching plot that feels complicated yet effortless; an expansive cast of characters so diverse, eccentric and detailed that they feel alive; and a powerful mix of humor and pathos, sweetness and brutality. What’s my favorite Dickens novel? I hear you ask. And without a second’s hesitation I will tell you, Our Mutual Friend. It’s a dark, dirty novel, swirling with life and death, like the river it describes. It’s about the river, and the bodies found there, and the people that make their living there, and those that try to escape its inky pull. Amongst the eccentric, extensive cast of characters are some of the most appealing Dickens (or anyone else) has ever created. There’s Eugene Wrayburn, witty, idle, disappointed, disappointing – the culmination of Dickens’ career-long treatment of the theme of a cruelly seductive wealthy man who ruins a poor young woman. There’s Wrayburn’s friendship with Mortimer Lightwood, a real friendship, generously observed. And Wrayburn’s love for Lizzie Hexam, who is far more than a poor but pretty face. And Lizzie’s friendship with Jenny Wren, one of the oddest characters in literature. She’s the twisted and crippled embodiment of the Victorian ideal of a child-woman – an ideal that Dickens helped to perpetrate. He’s created this bizarre monstrous little creature that stands as a criticism of his own work. She’s a perpetual child, physically, frail and beautiful, but her words are as sharp as needles, and she becomes a kind of chorus or surrogate for Lizzie, able to say the things Lizzie’s politeness will not allow her to express. She’s remarkable, I tell you! And of course this is only a small handful of an enormous cast of characters, but I can’t go on and on about it here.

Do you like Dickens? What’s your favorite Dickens novel?

Instead, I’ll go on and on about this pie. I love a double-crusted pie in the wintertime, one with a tall crispy crust that holds in any mashed potatoes you might pile on top. In some ways this is my ur-winter pie. I love the combination of roasted mushrooms and nuts, and smoky cheese, and savory spinach. The beans add substance and flavor. I love the combination of sage and rosemary with a bit of nutmeg. This pie has all those things! In this case the nuts are in the crust, which is light and crispy, and the filling is dense and satisfying.

Here’s the Dickensian Decemberists with The Chimbley Sweep.

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