Eggplant and sweet potato tart with pistachios and pine nuts

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Last night I had trouble sleeping, as I often do, and I started thinking about thoughts. I thought specifically about how some thoughts are like mosquitoes. They buzz around your head, flying with sudden noise into your ears and eyes. You know they don’t do anybody any good. They’re impossible to ignore, and just when you think you’ve shooed them away, they’re in your ears again. And if you let them land, if they’re with you any time at all, they’ll leave angry welts, which will fester and grow the more you scratch at them. You can tear at them with your nails until you bleed, and they’ll only plague you more, with their fiendish itching. It’s best to leave them alone, to ignore them, but it’s so damned hard. There’s nothing valuable about these thoughts; they’re not worth pondering. You won’t figure anything out, you won’t arrive at any truths. They’re the lesser of Pandora’s evils, rising insubstantial and weightless in lazy persistent circles from her box, they’re lies, deceit, scolding, accusation, envy, gossip, scheming, self-doubt. They arrive in the evening, particularly this time of year, when the light fades and the chill steals in, the darker it grows the more they swarm. And these prickly devils, like mosquitoes, breed in stagnant water, in the festering ooze of a lazy mind. So the thing to do, of course, is to keep the waters running clear and cool, to keep your brain full of things worth thinking about, which will feed on the larvae of your mosquito-thoughts. Of course this is hard sometimes, in the middle of the night. It’s hard to steer your mind away from the angry buzzing, but it can be done, and it’s important to stock the waters with a ready supply of thoughts that can dart through the moving current, or hang rippling in pools of sunlight. You can think of a story you’re writing, a poem you can almost remember, a film you once enjoyed, a long ago conversation that made you happy once. When you finally sleep, these thing will weave through your dreams and become something new, something alive. If thoughts are going to keep you up all night, they should at least be worth thinking about.

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Of course, if you’re me, you’ll spend some of your ample insomnia hours thinking about how to cook the eggplants you picked from your garden, and how to use up all of the sweet potatoes from the farm. And eventually you’ll make this tart, which I thought was really delicious! Perfect for this time of year. I made eggplant the way I generally do, marinating, dipping in egg, breading and baking in olive oil. This is a good recipe to use up leftover eggplant that you’ve made this way a day or so before. I have very thin sweet potatoes from the farm, and I liked the idea of them looking like pepperoni, so I roasted them with a little tamari and smoked paprika. And I topped everything with some lovely crunchy pistachios and pine nuts.

Here’s Benjamin Booker with Have You Seen My Son, because I’m obsessed with this album at the moment.

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Smoky eggplant-pistachio mince, and Turnovers with eggplant mince, white beans, roasted peppers and olives

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

I have a new job. I like it a lot, but I still feel like I’m just getting used to it. I have these strange anxiety dreams that have nothing to do with the actual job–waitressing anxiety dreams, or middle school anxiety dreams (although these probably have more to do with Malcolm actually starting middle school). My old job was a lot of walking and talking to people. My new job is lots of sitting and writing and looking. Part of my work is deciding if images are ready to be made into prints that artists can sell–if they’re cropped correctly, and in focus, and of a sufficiently large size. This part of the job was hard for me at first. I’m naturally a second-guesser. I don’t always trust my eyes. I don’t really like to be the decider, especially if it involves someone else’s work. But here’s the funny thing. Each artist’s work is wildly different from every other artist’s work. Some are sweet, some are pretty, some are disturbing. Some are oil, some pastel, some drawings or prints or mixed media. Obviously I don’t love everything I see. Nobody would. I like certain kinds of art just like everybody else does. But it’s my job to look at the work as closely as I can, to zoom right in and make sure everything is in focus. And I’ve experienced such a strange phenomenon. When I look at each image as closely as I possibly can: too close to see the subject matter, but close enough to see each brush stroke or pencil scratch, too close to even read the signature, when I see them like this I love each one. I often wonder why people do what they do–why they say what they say and write what they write and sing what they sing and draw what they draw. Why that particular thing, why bother at all? Well, when you see them up close like this, you realize that this is a useless question. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what. It’s beautiful just that they tried, they created something with their own hands, with strokes that no other hands could have made in exactly the same way. Many of them are just Ordinary people with day jobs, for many of them art is not a career, it’s a passion. But I like to think about them going about their day thinking about their art, with that bright spark in their mind and then giving that spark life with strokes on canvas or paper. I like to think about that.

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

More eggplant! This was sort of a failed dish that turned into something better. I was going to make eggplant cutlets or kofta, but they fell apart, and I ended up making a sort of mince. I thought it was really good! We made a fire in the back yard and put the eggplant right into the fire, till they were charred and melty. When they were cool enough I peeled them and mashed them with some pistachios and garlic and herbs. And then I ended up frying them almost like I was making scrambled eggs or hash browns. The first night we ate this with sautéed chard and some bread that I made and a creamy pistachio sauce. The next night I made turnovers or empanadas with leftover eggplant mince and white beans, olives, roasted red peppers and leeks. Even Isaac liked them! He ate seconds!

Here’s the Velvet Underground with Sweet Jane, because I’m currently obsessed with it, and because you could be a clerk and still make art.

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Goat cheese tart with roasted eggplant, olives, and a lemon-semolina crust

Goat cheese tart with eggplant and olives

Goat cheese tart with eggplant and olives

It’s Saturday storytelling time! It’s summer sporadic schedule Saturday storytelling time!! As I’m sure you’ll recall, each Saturday we post a found photograph, a vernacular picture, and we write a story about it, and invite everyone else to write one, too. And then, in theory, we all read each others’ stories and offer wise editorial advice. Today’s picture is lovely, I think. It has layers. And here it is… Send me your story and I’ll print it here, with mine after the jump, or send me a link to share, if you have somewhere of your own to post it.

eggplant-olive-tartIt’s a summery tart! The eggplant is from the farm, of course, which means it’s really really the middle of summer. This whole tart is quite light and fresh-flavored, I think. The crust has semolina in it, which makes it extremely crispy, and it has lemon in it, which makes it bright. I think olives, eggplant and goat cheese form a sort of perfect trinity of flavor. So there it is!

Here’s Up on the Roof by the Drifters

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Eggplant & chickpea flour croquettes

Eggplant and chickpea flour croquettes

I like strange people, I always have. I’ve been drawn to the eccentrics and outcasts. The self-proclaimed rebels that say, “If you don’t like my attitude, screw you.” The kids in choir and band and theater. The ones who wore black and listened to the Smiths (like everyone else who wore black and listened to the Smiths.) The kids who pretended they didn’t care about the prom and were witty and dismissive about school spirit day. They might not have been the most popular, but they were (almost) convinced that they were the most cool, and they had that familiar combination of arrogance and insecurity you never really grow out of. I’ve always been proud to be different, and felt that my strangeness was one of my most winning qualities. There’s always going to be somebody prettier and smarter and nicer and better at everything, but there will never be anybody strange in quite the way that I am strange. Like everything else in life, having children seems to have shaken me a bit, in this regard. The other day Isaac wanted money for a popsicle at snack time, because everyone else got one. And I said, “Well, we don’t do things just because everybody else does.” Which I firmly believe. But then I thought, maybe we’re different enough already. We’re vegetarians, we don’t have cable or a video game system or a microwave. Malcolm made my heart ache with his sweetness once, on a play date. I offered to make popcorn and he proudly announced, “My mom makes it from scratch on the stovetop!” How long before that embarrasses the hell out of him? I want them to be happy with themselves, and I want them to feel good about all the ways they’re unique. I want to encourage the rebel in them. But I don’t want to impose that on them. On a rainy morning last week, I dropped Isaac off at school, and I saw Malcolm at his safety post. I’m always tempted to go up and give him hugs and kisses, of course, but of course I don’t. I had this discombobulatingly self-conscious moment, completely foreign to me as a mom – this idea of him watching me walk away in the rain. It felt weird to be a person and a mom at the same time – it feels strange to me to worry about feeling strange. Luckily we live in a town that celebrates eccentrics, most of the time. My boys are strong! They’ll be what the need to be. And we’ll keep up with those things I’m passionate about, like being a vegetarian. But we’ll try not to be witty and deprecating on school spirit day, and we’ll try not to make snide comments about LMFAO. Because, after all, what a joy to watch them dancing to those silly songs!

And we’ll keep eating strange vegetarian food like these eggplant and chickpea croquettes! I roasted and pureed the eggplant, so the croquettes were quite smooth. Like savory cookies, almost. Which is how we sold them to the boys, who liked them quite a bit. I made a fresh-tasting salsa of tomatoes, roasted peppers and tamarind to have with the croquettes, but you could use any salsa or sauce that you like.

Here’s Strange by Screamin Jay Hawkins.
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Kale “lasagna” with tomatoes & roasted red peppers

Kale “lasagna”

I’ve always had a habit of becoming irrationally fond of inanimate objects. An oddly shaped twig, a little sketch I made, a blank book, a pen, an acorn. The list goes on and on. I would imbue them with importance, with personality, with magical powers, almost. At the moment it’s a little quince. I’ve said in the past that I love everything about quinces, and that remains true. I love their flavor, their scent, their name, their name in french (coing), the fact that you need to give them a lot of attention to make them palatable, the fact that they start out quite drab, but become lovely and rosy when you cook them. We have a little quince bush in our backyard. It’s a cutting from a tree by David’s aunts old house. We didn’t think it would live, but it’s doing quite well. It even produced a few little fruits this year, its second year with us. The fruit didn’t ripen, though. It fell to the ground – tiny, pale and very hard. It smelled nice, so I held onto it. I put it beside me on the desk, and there it sat for a few days. I worked all weekend, and Monday morning I thought about the quince. I couldn’t see it anywhere, but I could smell it, unmistakable and sweet. David had moved it to the top of a nearby bookshelf to save it from the boys, who had been playing at my desk all weekend. The poor thing is smaller, shriveled, soft, starting to turn brown in spots. But it still smells intoxicatingly good! The uglier it gets, the sweeter it smells. And I’ve become fond of the wrinkled little thing. I feel like a swooning lady with her smelling salts, I hold it to my nose and it elevates my spirits. It’s like autumn in a tiny rotting bundle.

So…kale! We got some kale from our CSA, and some red peppers, and some eggplant and of course, some more tomatoes! I decided to boil up the kale, and treat it like lasagna noodles. I washed it and removed the stems, but kept the leaves long. I boiled them for about twenty minutes, so they were quite soft, but still bright, and not falling apart. And I stretched it out like lasagna noodles, layering it with ricotta, roasted peppers, fresh tomatoes. I had some leftover eggplant anyone can love, so I added a layer of that. It was delicious, but if you don’t have it, or have time to make it, this dish will still be very delicious! I broiled a red pepper, let it steam in a covered bowl, and then removed the skin and seeds. you want to be sure to let it sit for a while, and discard any moisture that collects. As with any lasagna that contains vegetables, you want to be sure the veggies are quite dry before you add them, or the lasagna will form a broth. This broth happens to be quite tasty, though, so if you have some bread to sop it up, you’re golden!

Here’s Bill Withers with Ain’t No Sunshine, because it’s a beautiful song, because it’s a rainy day, because I miss my dog.
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Crispy cornmeal crusted eggplant and chickpea ratatouille

I love gestures. I love that we can convey meaning without words. I like carefully planned and highly stylized gestures – the kind you see in old movies or certain ceremonies. I like gestures unwittingly made – graceful movements of the hand or head that say things we don’t even know we’re saying. I try to pay attention to gestures, but it’s difficult because there’s so much noise. It’s the words that you notice. And sometimes, of course, we misread people’s movements. The other day I took Malcolm down to the river to swim. A couple floated by, each in their own giant tube. They were floating next to each other, and I watched curiously as they touched each others hands, and then their own lips. Touched hands and then lips, touched hands and then lips. They seemed very happy, and it struck me as odd and beautiful. And then it dawned on me that they were sharing a smoke of some sort of other. Heh heh. We were at the shore the other day, and I spied a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are beautiful, clever-looking, sweet, flashy birds, with white-patched-wings and long tails. This particular mockingbird landed not far from us. He raised his wings, half open, in a precise and snappy fashion, and then he opened them further and held them in a sort of arc away from his body, then opened them fully and held them stretched, then closed them. Four jerky, careful steps. Then he turned and faced a new direction and did the same thing. He flew from place to place – fence post to ground to rooftop – performing the same series of gestures, turning in a different direction each time. It was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I followed him for a while, watching him show off his lovely white wing patches. When I tried to film him, he flew to a wire, pumped his tail a few times and left. I’m so enamored of this mockingbird and his beautiful gestures! I read a bit about mockingbirds. Did you know that they’re very social, and they’ll play with birds of a different species? They play with their young. And, apparently, this series of gestures is a display to attract a mate. I didn’t see any other mockingbirds around, though. Maybe he was practicing. Maybe, like me, he just likes the feeling of stretching out his wings. Maybe he’s sharing his beauty with the world. I’ve been feeling a little discouraged lately. I feel overwhelmed, sometimes, when I think about everyone trying so hard, working so hard to say something to people, or show people something they think is worth seeing. But everybody’s talking so loudly we can’t hear what anyone is saying. Or maybe we hear but we miss the gestures. When I think about all of the words in all of the books in all of the world, and all of the work and passion that went into recording them, I become completely exhausted. One could almost ask oneself, “why bother?” But now I think, when I feel that way, I’ll think about the mockingbird, and his perfect dance for no bird audience.

And, thus, I’ll keep on telling you about these crazy recipes. This one was gooooood. Everybody liked it, even little Isaac, our toughest food critic here at The Ordinary. It’s very simple and summery. It’s not ratatouille exactly, I know that. But it’s a sort of take-off on ratatouille, in that it involves eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs like thyme and rosemary. I’ve kept the eggplant separate, and coated it with a crispy cornmeal coating, and roasted it till it’s like a crispy chip. And I’ve added chickpeas and olives, which are really lovely together, really lovely with eggplant and olives. Isaac used the eggplant slices like little taco shells, picking out a few chickpeas and olives to stuff inside. David made little stacks of eggplant and ratatouille. I put the eggplant chips on top, like a sort of crispy topping. However you do it, you can’t go wrong!

Chickpea ratatouille

Here’s a blurry sort of video of a mockingbird doing his displaying dance.

And here’s Aretha Franklin singing Mockingbird. Happy song!

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Eggplant pie with greens, quince, and hazelnut

Eggplant pie with greens, quince & hazelnuts

We started bird watching back in our courting days. We’d wake up as close to dawn as we could muster, we’d stop at Dunkin Donuts for some sweet coffee, and we’d listen to the Sudson Country radio show on the way out. Despite having been born in Kansas, I’d never listened to a lot of country music, and I’d never heard the classics. Kitty Wells, the undisputed queen of country; Lefty Frizzell, with his sweet, gentle voice; Hank Williams, with his twangy sass – they all seemed to fit, somehow, with our sleepy mood and the slanting morning light. Then we’d find our field or our trail, and we’d begin the slow, silent walk, stopping at every flutter of wings in the trees over our heads. It’s hard to describe the thrill of seeing your first yellowthroat, your first oriole, warblers, vireos…good lord – wood thrushes and veeries – with their hopeful, haunting songs. It boggled my mind that all of these birds had been here, all along. They weren’t new. I’d never bothered to look at them, I’d never taken the time to look up, and discover the teeming world in the tangled branches of the trees. We’d come home and write our finds in a little turquoise-covered blank book that I’d been saving for years for something special. Then we’d check each other for ticks. Birdwatching is a little like falling in love, in a way – you catch a glimpse of something bright and beautiful. You can’t believe it’s really alive, with its small warmth and its fast-beating heart. You’ve heard about it; you’ve read about it in your bird book. Other people claim to have seen it, but, frankly, you’re a little skeptical. You’re not convinced it even exists. Then when you’ve got it, you hold it in your sight, you know you’ll never understand it, but you try to identify it, this wild, fragile, lively thing.

We don’t have a lot of chances to go bird watching any more, what with children and real life and all of their demands. But we went on a lovely bike ride this morning, and it makes me happy to know they’re all still there. We can still catch a glimpse of a bird and know what we’re seeing. We’ll hear a sweet little song, or a hoarse call, and we know what we’re hearing. We’re still part of their world, and they’re still part of ours.

Eggplant pie

So! Eggplant pie! It’s got thin layers of crispy rosemary/balsamic-marinated breaded eggplant. It’s got layers of chard and spinach, sauteed with garlic and red pepper and mixed with quince jam. It’s got layers of crispy toasted hazelnuts, and it’s got layers of melted cheese. Odd combination, you say? Oddly perfect together!! All in a crispy crust. If I do say so myself (when have I not, eh?) it turned out really delicious. I think this would be nice for a party or a picnic, because it tastes good even when it’s not hot out of the oven, and it holds together well for carrying around with you. So you can take it for an evening-time picnic, and walk around with it as you look for all the birds that come out at in the gloaming!

Here’s Left Frizzell with I Love You A Thousand Ways.
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Ratatouille sofrito w/ crispy eggplant

Ratatouille sofrito

I love the movie Ratatouille. I think it’s well-made, of course, but beyond that, it makes me happy to watch it. I’ve talked before about my fascination with the connection between food and memory, so the scene in which Anton Ego takes a bite of ratatouille and rockets back to his childhood appeals to me in every way! And there is something about ratatouille – its simplicity, its distinctive flavors. Ratatouille seems like the embodiment of summer at its height, when everything is plump and ripe at the same time, and glowing with possibilities. The fact that everything that grows together and ripens together and tastes so wonderful proves that there is a pattern, there is meaning and sense!

I decided to make a sort of distillation of ratatouille. An intense concentration of the flavors and textures, which uses wintery ingredients to produce a memory of summer. Obviously, I don’t have fresh tomatoes and peppers from the garden. I have a can of tomatoes and a jar of roasted reds- So I sofritoed it. In this way, you can still get a fix of warmth and sunshine to get you through the chilly months. I combined all the signature ratatouille ingredients – zucchini, tomato, red pepper and herbs – and I cooked them and cooked them until they were meltingly delicious and very very flavorful – almost like a chutney. I have to admit that I don’t really like mushy eggplant. I only like eggplant if it’s sliced thin and crisped up. Even in the summertime, when I make ratatouille – even if I get the eggplant right out of my garden – I don’t cook it with everything else. I slice it thin, bread it, and bake it in olive oil till it’s nice and crispy. And then it goes perfectly with the ratatouille!

So that’s the story about that. We ate it with slices of bread I’d baked with my OOTO spice mix (more about that later!) and some grated mozzarella. Malcolm made little sandwiches with eggplant on the outside and ratatouille and cheese on the inside. And we had a salad, of course! Baby spinach, baby arugula and some grape tomatoes.

Here’s a song from the ratatouille soundtrack. It’s a good soundtrack. No cheesy teen idols singing inane songs. Like on some other animated hits.
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Eggplant Wellington

Eggplant Wellington

In my mind, beef wellington is the great uncle of savory pastries. The one with the muttonchop whiskers and the velvet smoking jacket, sipping on a brandy. As it happens, this great uncle doesn’t go quite as far back in the family history as you might think. As they tell us over at Historical Foods

The culinary history of Beef Wellington is a bit of a mystery, with far too many theories, (and all of them lacking in any hard evidence) to put this dish any earlier than the 20th Century – it certainly does not appear in any Victorian recipe books. So ignoring for now the myths surrounding this recipe we should instead concentrate on making it.

Indeed we should! For my vegetarian version, I decided to wrap the pastry around eggplant anyone could love (marinated, breaded, baked), I topped it with roasted mushrooms and shallots sprinkled with sherry, and I put a layer of sautéed chard in the middle. It turned out very well indeed! Tasty, and substantial, but not overly heavy considering it’s really only vegetables inside. (And a few slices of cheese!)

It’s not a last-minute meal – it did take a bit of time because there are a few parts to contend with, but most of them could be made earlier in the day, or even the day before. And if you buy your puff pastry, you’d cut down even more time. (I’d be more likely to cheat and use a quick paté brisée before I’d buy frozen puff pastry, though.) It’s very fun to make, too – and a delight to take out of the oven. I felt so proud of myself! It makes a nice crowed-pleasing meal for a special occasion. Like Christmas dinner!

We ate it with a lovely tomato & port wine sauce that went perfectly with all the flavors and textures.

If you liked this, you might like to also try my Portobello Wellington.

If you’d like to compare this to genuine beef wellington, check out Felicity Cloake’s article in the Guardian.

Here’s Michael Coleman, a fiddler active in the 20s, playing Wellington Reels.
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