Eggplant croquettes

Eggplant croquettes

Eggplant croquettes

If you’re familiar with The Ordinary at all, you’ll know we’re big fans of Square America, an online collection of found photos: the kind you see in yard sales and flea markets, the kind that make you a little sad, because they’re pictures of somebody’s family and friends, and you wonder how they ended up here, in a jumble, in the hands of strangers. The pictures are intriguing, often moving, sometimes funny. You wonder what happened before, what came next. It’s a tiny moment in someone’s life, a rare glimpse. You might recall that all last year I wrote a story a week based on photos found on Square America, a habit that only died out because one of them turned into a novel, a habit I hope to pick up again as soon as I get myself organized. Last week, the proprietor of Square America posted a series of mug shots from New Castle, PA. What a strange thing to see! Probably the least private and personal of the Square America photographs, and yet you feel almost guilty looking at them, it’s really none of your business. All the same, you can’t help wondering about these people, captured in this way on a bad day, a low point in their lives, probably. You can’t help wondering what brought them here and where they went next. Well, the proprietor of Square America posted a link to Small Town Noir, a site where some very thorough person has scanned the local papers of New Castle, PA, to discover the story behind each mug shot, and then went on to research any information about the rest of their lives. [Update: That very thorough person is Diarmid Mogg, and he’s publishing  a book called Small Town Noir! Learn more about it here.] You learn what brought them here and where they went next. You learn about their parents and their lovers and their children. It’s crazy, crazy to read. I couldn’t stop reading it yesterday, and it gave me such strange dreams. People are so vulnerable when they’re alone. People need each other so much and are so cruel to one another. And people endure. So many of these people have extraordinary, awful, strange and almost unimaginable tribulations, and they live to rebuild their lives and meet new people and raise their children, and survive to a hale old age. It’s crazy to read, crazy. Eggplant croquettes! We were eating eggplant almost every day at one point in the summer. We grew it, and we got some from our CSA. So I was trying to do something new and unusual with it, and I came up with this idea. I cooked the eggplants whole until they were meltingly soft. Then I peeled them and processed them with pine nuts, bread crumbs, cheese and herbs. Then I baked them in olive oil till they were nice and crispy outside and soft and warm on the inside. These have a nice smoky flavor because of the charred eggplant, the smoked paprika, and the smoked gouda. Here’s Tom Waits with Singapore, because many of these stories could easily become a Tom Waits song. Continue reading

Leeks, white beans and French feta AND smoked eggplant-couscous croquettes

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Back in the days before cable, when VCRs hadn’t yet been invented, there were a few movies my brother and I would watch every single time they came on television. (Which was maybe twice.) One such movie was Breaking Away. I hadn’t thought about it much in the intervening decades, but the other night we watched it again with the boys. Well! It’s a beautiful film! It’s beautifully filmed! It’s deceptively spare and simple in a manner that hides a genius of elegance and grace, which places it in the tradition of Ozu or Rohmer. The only non-diegetic music is a continuation of the Italian songs that Dave sings in his attempt to convince the world that he’s Italian. Much of the action seems to happen off-screen, between scenes, in best Ozu fashion. An entire romance and marriage takes place, and we feel real affection for the couple, though we only see them in a few scenes, in passing. The film is about one summer in the life of four teenagers, and it’s full of the kind of latent drama underlying every teenagers’ existence. At any minute they might dash their heads on a rock or crash their car or bike, or be crushed by a truck, they might fall out with friends they love, they might tear their family apart. Any of this could happen, and if this was any other kind of movie it probably would, but here it doesn’t, and this makes it feel more real, more like life. The film glows with a flat, pale, nostalgic light, like a dream of the late seventies, of the mid-west, which people have been trying to capture since in photo filters and iPhone apps. The film is sweet, smart, funny, thoughtful; it’s about infatuation and disillusion and the return of hope. It’s about friendship and family, imperfect and enduring. It’s about freedom and escape, and finding a way to achieve these things without leaving your home. And it’s about work, which makes it a good film to discuss after labor day weekend. The fathers of our four teenage friends were cutters, they cut limestone out of the quarries, and cut them into smooth rocks to build the local university. And now all they have left is a big hole in the ground where their boys swim, and a college full of teenagers who mock their boys. At one point Dave’s dad says he wants his son to find a job and be miserable just like he was. But we know he doesn’t really want his son to be unhappy, and we know that he enjoyed his work as a cutter: he was good at it, he took pride in his work. The boys have to decide what work they’ll do when the work that made their world isn’t an option any more. They have to make their own new world. Doesn’t it remind you of Seamus Heaney’s Digging?

    Digging
    BY SEAMUS HEANEY

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

    Under my window, a clean rasping sound
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
    My father, digging. I look down

    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
    Where he was digging.

    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

    By God, the old man could handle a spade.
    Just like his old man.

    My grandfather cut more turf in a day
    Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
    To drink it, then fell to right away
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
    Over his shoulder, going down and down
    For the good turf. Digging.

    The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
    Through living roots awaken in my head.
    But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I’ll dig with it.

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Leeks! I just love them. I treated myself to some French feta, which is milder and creamier than most fetas I’ve had. I sauteed my leeks with white beans, white wine, thyme and capers, and then I crumbled the feta on top. Delicious!! We ate it with plain couscous. And later in the week I combined the leftover couscous and white beans with eggplant roasted until smooth and smoky and pureed with smoked gouda and bread crumbs. I fried this in olive oil as little croquettes, and served them with an impromptu dipping sauce of maple syrup, dijon mustard and tomato paste.

Here’s Kimya Dawson with I Like My Bike.

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