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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Empanadas with greens, chickpeas and cranberries

Kale, cranberry and chickpea empanadas

Kale, cranberry and chickpea empanadas

I’ve been thinking about the way our world changes, and specifically about the way people bring about that change. Our history as humans is a pattern of progress and change, progress and change. We’ll head blindly in one direction, unable to see quite where we’re going because it’s so close, and then somebody or somebodies will push us in another direction. With a grand gesture, with a slow protest, with a war, with a sit-in, with a newspaper article, with a violent act, with a strike, with a clear bold voice, or in a confused tangle of contradictory words. I’ve been thinking about certain small acts of rebellion that I love, certain quiet ways that people have changed the rules. They change the world slowly, almost imperceptibly, but the change grows in widening waves. The personal becomes political and art becomes powerful. I love to read about blues musicians from the last century, growing up in a world of poverty and discrimination and finding a way to make music no matter what the odds. Nobody hired them a music teacher so they’d understand the rules of musical theory. Big Bill Broonzy made a fiddle from a cigar box, Elizabeth Cotten taught herself to play guitar upside-down, they figured it out themselves, with the help of some friends. They sang about their lives, the way they actually were, the trains running by their door, the work they had to do, and they sang about the way they wished their lives could be. The rules they answered to in life were harsh and unjust, but in music they made their own rules, they made music the way they wanted it to sound–that was theirs. And with books like Catcher in the Rye, Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird, we find a whole new world of writing, with the language people actually use, according to the rules of conversation and not those of grammar. These books are intimate and personal and real, and they describe the lives of normal people as they actually are. This small feat frightened people enough that they were all banned, at one time or another. And, of course, I love filmmakers who make films the way they think they should be. Hollywood films have quite a rigid set of rules that dictate the way they’re made. These rules are nearly invisible to the viewer, because they’re designed to make a film seem more realistic, and because we’ve grown up with them, we’ve learned them, without even realizing. Well, I love a director like Yasujiro Ozu, who defies these rules. He sets the camera where he thinks it should be, he moves it when it needs to be moved (not very often!) he crosses sight lines, he leaves out plot points. Not to be rebellious, but because he knows how he wants his films to look. His films are mostly about middle-class families going about their lives. They seem placid and uneventful, at least compared to most movies. But in showing us the way we live, in showing us hurtful pettiness and gossip, thoughtlessness and ingratitude, he makes us think about the way we could live, the way we could treat the people around us. It’s subtle and slow, but it seeps into you and makes you notice everything differently and more clearly. And I believe this small slow change is the most important, and that it extends to all things…not just to art and politics, but to life, which is the very heart of art and politics. We can change the world with the food that we eat, the cars that we drive, the books that we read. We change the world by struggling to understand it, by recognizing the rules that govern us as they are, and by deciding the way we want them to be. We change the world with every kindness to another person, and it’s a shame that this sounds sappy, because it’s true.
Kale, chickpea and cranberry empanadas

Kale, chickpea and cranberry empanadas

Well, I totally wasn’t going to go on and on about this today! It’s been on my mind, man. I think it’s because David and I just bought some Big Bill Broonzy CDs and they’re phenomenal, and because I’m reading this biography of Jean Vigo. Yeah. So! These are summery sorts of empanadas, I think. I made them for our anniversary picnic dinner. Empanadas make the best picnic food, because you can eat them with your hands and walk around with them, and they combine so many flavors and food groups in one neat package. I also boiled some little potatoes and tossed them with herbs and butter, and they are also a fun, if messy, picnic food. Our picnic was spoiled by dozens and dozens of ticks…a sickening tickening…but we came home and sat in our backyard and finished our empanadas, or lovely smoky, savory sweet empanadas.

Here’s Big Bill Broonzy with Feelin Low Down. Phew, what a song!

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Empanadas with potatoes, black beans, spinach and smoked gouda

Potato and black bean empanadas

Potato and black bean empanadas

We saw the most beautiful movie the other day – The Maid, written and directed by Sebastian Silva. It isn’t stylistically gorgeous – it has the look of home videos from a decade or so ago – it is emotionally beautiful – full of honesty and grace and sly humor. Raquel, played by Catalina Saavedra in a remarkably precise, powerful and restrained performance – is the live-in maid for a middle class family in Chile. She’s been with them more than half of her life, their world is her world. She roams the house when everybody is gone, with vacuum and duster, but she has dominion over only a tiny portion, a cell-like bedroom that looks out onto the kitchen. She loves the family, and they love her, but with a stunted, confused sort of love that cannot express itself in real affection. She’s started to have horrible headaches and dizzy spells, so they decide to hire somebody to help her, despite her protestations. With a devastating blow of well-meaning cruelty, they give the new “girl” care of the kitchen and the food, thus taking away the source of Raquel’s comfort and power, the nexus between two worlds. This is the space where Raquel has control, where she is vitally important, the space from which she nurtures the family. When this is taken away from her, she doesn’t make life easy for the new maids, and the script cunningly plays on our expectations to suggest that we’re going to follow Raquel into a world of darkness and depravity. The manner in which these expectations are gratified or denied is a source of great film-watching joy, so I can’t say too much more without spoiling the film. I’ll just say that a few moments of exquisitely portrayed human connection, in all of its poignant confusion, happiness, and sorrow made this simple, understated tale of an ordinary woman one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a long while. Honestly, I’ve put off writing about it all day because I can’t do it justice!

I know they have empanadas in Chile, but I don’t suppose they have any like these! I thought of them as a sort of cross between samosas and empanadas. So they have potatoes and peas (comforting and bright!) and they have smoky paprika, smoked gouda, spinach, and earthy black beans. The crunchy crust is made with masa harina, cayenne and black pepper. These were really delicious! I felt proud of them, and happy with the combination of flavors.

Here’s Ayayayay by Pedro Piedra from The Maid’s soundtrack.

And here’s Promesas by Los Mono, which is a video I was very taken with a few years ago. Turns out Sebastian Silva is Los Mono! Who knew?!?!
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Chard and french lentil empanadas

Chard & french lentil empanada

“People talk of natural sympathies,” said Mr. Rochester. And we all know that he was just trying to seduce Jane Eyre, but he wasn’t wrong – people do talk of natural sympathies. Not just between people, but between colors, and musical notes as well. Certain things just look or sound pleasing when they’re combined. The boys have a book on the history of perspective in art, and I find it so fascinating! Artists through the ages have tried so hard to understand the world through mathematical rules – they understood it in order to draw it, and they understood it by drawing it. (Which is what little Isaac does, it seems – when something interests him he has to draw it, and he’s always pleased with what he draws) Apparently Paolo Uccello would stay awake at night after his wife had gone to bed, searching for vanishing points, and he’d say, “Oh, what a a sweet thing this perspective is!” And Piero della Fransesca believed in a perfect geometry underlying God’s creation. He saw everything as defined by measurements and numbers, which had mystical properties. Everything was carefully planned, in his art and in the world around him to be pleasantly harmonious. David, who is a painter, will point out how certain colors “hum” when they’re next to each other. Some even create a beat when placed in proximity – almost a flashing in your vision. My piano teacher, who was also a painter, used to say that each painting should have one “key note” color, which stood out from all the other, and didn’t harmonize with the rest of the picture. I think it’s interesting that the visual world is spoken of in musical terms, what with all the humming and the beats! I asked my mom, who is a professor of music history, if people believed certain chords together had magical powers. Oh yes! She said. People used to believe that you are what you listen to, and that you could be driven to certain actions – saintly or diabolical – according to what you heard. Octaves and fifths were pure and safe, but the tritone was the devil in music, and could cause terrible unrest. She said that if you took perfect fifths, and sang them perfectly in tune, by the time you got four octaves up, you’d be a half-step flat. People used to develop all sorts of tunings to solve the problem (well-tempered tuning) and now we use equal temperament tuning, in which we adjust by making everything equally out of tune. “In order to end up on pitch you have to compromise everything else,” Says my mother, “Just like in life.”

Well, I believe that there are certain flavors that go together perfectly, as well. When you taste them they just make sense, and they hum in your mouth. Frequently they grow together and ripen together, which almost makes you agree with Piero della Francesca’s assessment that there’s some divine pattern accounting for all of the harmonies in the world. Tomatoes and basil, for example. Perfect. And I like to think about my piano teacher’s idea of introducing one element of flavor that’s surprising and unexpected, and makes all of the other happily harmonizing flavors more exciting. Some flavors hum along together, some contrast pleasantly, to create a beat. Personally, I love chard and french lentils together. And I love chard and some sweet and tangy fruit. And I love them all together in a crispy crust. I really liked these empanadas! It’s one of my favorite meals I’ve made in a while. I combined chard, which had been sauteed with a bit of garlic and hot red pepper, with lentils, which had been cooked with nigella seeds and sage. I added some caramelized onions, for sweetness. And I added a spoonful of quince jam. I used queso blanco & mozzarella to make everything nice and melty, and bring it all together. I’d read that in argentina they make empanadas with quince paste and salty white cheese, and I guess this is my version of that. We ate these with my version of patatas bravas, which I’ll tell you about in a little while, and, I’m not saying it was a masterpiece, or anything, but it was very pleasing meal to have in out little green backyard on a cool summer evening.

Chard and lentil empanadas

Here’s Leonard Cohen with Hallelujah. Is he talking about a chord with divine and magical powers? I’m never sure. I like the word “hallelujah.”
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