Roasted beet “relish” with olives and feta

roasted beets, feta, olives, pine nuts

roasted beets, feta, olives, pine nuts

Desk Set is one of my favorite movies of all time. All Time! That’s a very decisive statement for someone as indecisive as myself! It’s so well-written. It’s witty all of the time, and downright funny in flashes. It’s incredibly generous to the characters–the writers love all of them, even the extra-quirky ones. And the characters love each other. Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, obviously, glow in each other’s presence. That’s a given. But one of my favorite aspects of the film is the friendship between Katherine Hepburn’s Bunny, and her friend Peg Costello, played by Joan Blondell. They have a history, they look after each other, they make each other laugh. One of the best passages in the history of film is the office christmas party. Peg and Bunny drink champagne and scotch and  martinis and lord knows what else (“they’re all the same base–alcohol!”) They become giddy, and you feel giddy watching them. At one point, they’re reminiscing about New Year’s Eves through the years, about being lonely, and Peg tells a story about a missed opportunity with a well-dressed man. Katherine Hepburn raises her paper cup of champagne in the air and says “More power to you!”

This is a line and a delivery that has been stuck in my head a lot lately. And I want to keep it there. I happen to have a snarky voice in my head from time-to-time. When I was a teenager they called me Miss Snide–in the minefield of high school, sarcasm is sometimes the best defense. And this voice lingers in my head, right into middle age. It’s a sarcastic, and often, sadly, a judgmental voice. Society is to blame! We live in a world full of petty criticisms, mean anonymous comments, articles that rate people and compare people and criticize their every move. I try to hold the voice in check. I don’t want to waste my time in being critical of trivial things. I believe that people should be able to wear what they want to wear, say what they want to say, and act how they want to act, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. I want to be generous and affectionate all the time. But I’m not, I’m just not. So, lately, when I feel myself being snidely critical of some small thing a person does or says or wears, I imagine Katherine Hepburn, paper cup of champagne in the air, declaring, “More power to you!” If every single cruel and acidic comment on the old internet could be replaced with “More power to you!” Well, that wouldn’t be so bad. More power to you! More power to each and every one of you!

Roasted beets, olives, feta and pine nuts

Roasted beets, olives, feta and pine nuts

I made this earlier in the summer, but since beets are making a come back at the farm, I’m posting the recipe now. More power to me! It’s an easy recipe, with lots of strong flavors, but most of the children I fed it to liked it. It’s almost like a relish, because the beets are chopped so finely, so you can have it on the side of anything, or on some good bread, or however you like to eat it.

Here’s Go Where You Wanna Go by the Mamas and Papas

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Beet, arugula and French feta salad with pine nut, lemon, rosemary sauce

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Most years we just grow a few tomato plants and a few herbs, basil mostly. We have a small yard and rambunctious boys and a berserker dog and it never seemed wise to pin our hopes on healthy intact produce. Last year we didn’t grow anything at all. The ground lay fallow. This year we have the best garden ever, entirely thanks to David. He built raised boxes and we have a summer’s worth of beautiful things growing in our yard.
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It feels so hopeful, to look out at it and imagine the days unfolding and the vegetables ripening. Herbs to eat now, in large quantities, tomatoes and eggplant to ripen with the full roundness of the summer days, salsify and scorzonera to eat in the fall. I love our garden! And because I’m a lunatic, I think of the vegetables almost as people, with separate personalities of their own. We planted fava beans, and David made a trellis of twine for them to wind around. We don’t know how tall they’ll get, and we wanted to give them plenty of distance to travel, plenty of encouragement, our full faith that they’ll reach all the way to the top, but we didn’t want to set up unrealistic expectations for them. The salsify and scorzonera seem very social, standing together in long graceful lines, sharing the light that glows through them. The cilantro started sad and timid, but now it’s just taken off, it’s bolted into tall, feathery, beautiful flowers, and maybe in the fall we’ll figure out what to do with the coriander seeds. The pepper plants seem like underachievers; they haven’t grown much since we’ve gotten them, but they’re working so hard on making beautiful vivid little peppers. They’re concentrating on their art. The eggplants generously share they broad leaves with some little bug that repays the favor by turning them into lace. The tomatoes are full and frank and happy standing together in the sun.

Tarragon

Tarragon


And then there’s the tarragon. I love the way tarragon grows. It spreads along the ground in a pretty fragrant sprawl. If you weigh down a sprig so that it touches the earth, it will take root and form a new plant attached to the original. It moves and travels, it has an unruly wildness to it, but it sets down roots everywhere it goes, it makes a new place to start from, and it stays connected to its roots as well.

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

We got some more beautiful beets from our CSA. I thought I’d make them into a pretty salad, with their best friend arugula, and some mildly delicious French feta I splurged on at a local market. I also added half an avocado, because I’m putting avocado in everything this summer, and a scattering of pine nuts. I made a tarator sauce to drizzle over the top, with lemon and rosemary, a bit of dijon, a few capers. You could use any herbs you like in this. Tarragon would be nice!!

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Root Down (and get it)

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Corn, avocado, french feta and cherry tomato salad

corn-and-avocado-saladWe’re just coming out of summer…floating up through the thick moist august air into the cool days of autumn, and I feel as though I’ve got the bends! I’m forgetful and moody and I’m having a hell of a time concentrating on anything. The boys are back in school, and my list of things I’ll get to it as soon as the boys are back in school is languishing in some pile of other things I’ve misplaced and forgotten all about. As the mornings and evenings draw in dark and chilly, I feel as though I’ve started casting out my silky and yet freakishly strong threads, and I’m winding them around everyone I love, pulling them home, where I’ll feed them warm food and keep them safe. I feel a bit like Clio, actually! Walking Isaac to school and meeting the boys at the end of the day are the highlights of my life at the moment, and everything in between is a confused blur. I’ll get back into a pattern, eventually, there’s so much I want to do. But for now, I’ll enjoy walking Isaac to school as a sort of meditation, a facet of my training as a student of Isaacstentialism. In my dazey half-awake state, I’ll put my hand out without looking, and know that his will be right there to take it in less than a moment. I’ll half listen as he talks and talks and says the sweetest things, and I’ll think about them for the rest of the day. Today he said that when he grows up he’s going to have a big field in his back yard, with grass in it that’s taller than his children, and they’ll play hide and seek in the grass, and Malcolm’s children will come over too, so all four of them (?!?!) will be there. And there will be a sort of maze in the grass, but a path through it, too, so they can all find their way home safely. And Isaac will have a porch above the grass so that he can see where his children are running, and he and Malcolm will sit on the porch and talk while their children play in the long green reeds below. Yeah. Next week everything will be clear and organized and I’ll get to work. This week, I’ll imagine myself like a child, running through long grass taller than me, all the world a beautiful shifting confusion of green, with a path to carry me safely home. “When a body catch a body coming through the rye…”

Leftover corn-on-the-cob is fun! Who knew!! This time I combined it with avocado, cherry tomatoes, french feta (but you could use regular feta or any crumbly cheese you like), fresh basil, fresh cilantro, pine nuts and lime juice. Fresh, sweet, salty, tart. Very nice indeed. I didn’t add any oil as a dressing, because I think the avocado serves that purpose. And the cherry tomatoes from the farm have been sweet as candy, so between those and the corn, I didn’t feel I needed to balance the lime juice with any extra sweetness, but you could always add a drizzle of honey. You could also add roasted garlic, hot sauce, or any other thing you like.

Here’s Whispering Grass by The Ink Spots.

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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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Broccoli rabe with lemons, pecans and french feta

broccoli rabe, pecans and french feta

broccoli rabe, pecans and french feta

Here at The Ordinary, everybody is in a tizzy. It’s the last week of school! There’s so much to remember and sign, and turn in, and bring home, and so many places to be at certain times and letters to write and cookies to bake and presents to procure. When I say everybody, I mainly mean me, because all the other little Ordinarians are taking it all in stride, as they take most things. I feel a little anxious, I tell you! It’s a feeling of the end of something drifting into the beginning of something else; the clash of memory and anticipation. I’d like to approach summer like Finn dealt with his fear of the ocean…just hit myself over the head and let myself sink peacefully into it, till I lie in a gently undulating bed of underwater plants. Barring that, I’ve been trying to think of quiet scenes from movies. I keep talking about how I love quiet scenes–either quiet scenes from quiet movies, or unexpectedly quiet scenes in noisy movies. I’ll try to remember a few now. Can you think of any?

Whisky, from Uruguay is an entirely quiet and beautiful movie. I’ll probably go on and on about it someday, but for the time being, here’s a small clip.

The ridiculously beautiful end of 400 Blows.

Of course, the moment in Bande a Part in which Godard demonstrates the meaning of room tone.

And Ozu’s “pillow shots,” I’ve linked to this before, but they really are beautiful.

Well, that’s all I can think of for the moment, because I’m surrounded by CHAOS! of the excited small boy variety. I’m sure I’ll think of more in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, and I’ll tell you all about them some other time.

Broccoli rabe, pecans, and french feta

Broccoli rabe, pecans, and french feta

This dish is simple! We got some broccoli rabe from our new CSA, and it’s the best broccoli rabe I’ve ever had! Just the right edge of bitterness. I also treated myself to some French feta from the local market. I wanted the flavors to be strong and clean, so I didn’t even add garlic or shallots. Just greens, herbs, lemon, feta, and pecans for a bit of crunch. If you can’t find French feta, (which is a little creamier and milder than Greek feta), Greek feta would work fine as well.

Here’s Nina Simone with Sounds of Silence.

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Arugula salad with apricots, pecans and french feta

As you are no doubt aware, I am the esteemed authoress of a wildly popular series of books about the marked similarities to be found in the writings of Tolstoy and the rappings of many rappers. Weighty volumes. I am, of course, also the producer of the soon-to-be-a-smash hip hopera version of War and Peace (would you look at the date on that? I’m making very…slow…progress on this novel!) Okay, I’m prepared to admit that none of that is true. However, ever since I spoke of Dostoyevsky and Talib Kweli yesterday, I’ve had a yen to chat about these same similarities. Which I will do after the jump. You’ve been warned!
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Lettuce – pumpkinseed pesto AND lettuce, hazelnut & white bean bisque

Or, two ways to prepare lettuce that don’t involve the word “salad.”

Lettuce, white bean, hazelnut soup

We’re watching Blues Brothers with the boys. It’s rated R, but we can’t remember why, so we’re watching it cautiously, with the remote nearby. Is it the non-stop swearing and the incredibly destructive car chases? Pshaw, my boys are used to that! We drive recklessly through a couple of malls a day around here. Actually, it might be a little rough for them, but I think they’re well aware that they can’t say all of the words that they’re hearing and that they can’t drive cars through store windows. What a pleasure to watch them watch the dancing and the singing, and all of the wonderful, contagiously happy music. It’s such a joyful movie! And I’d forgotten how sweet it is, in parts, and how good it looks. There are a few moments that have such a lovely, quiet grace about them, in the midst of all the raucousness. And, oddly, these moments seem to involve toast. In one scene, Elwood has just toasted a piece of bread in his small room in the home for itinerant men. His brother fell asleep, and he covered him with a blanket, and then sat in the window and looked out at the trains rumbling by in a watery blue light. Beautiful! Now, I love toast. I think it’s such a comforting, restorative food. The very smell of bread toasting can make you feel better. And I happen to have made a meal last night that revolved around toast! And lettuces, lots and lots of lettuces. We got about 7 heads of red leaf lettuce from the CSA, and I’m actually very excited about it. I love salad, as I’ve said many a time, but I also like the challenge of turning lettuce into a non-salad meal. We happened to eat two in the same meal last night, but they were both very tasty, so nobody seemed to mind.

Lettuce pesto

I made a soup with lettuce, hazelnuts and white beans. I seasoned it with tarragon, chervil, and lovage, and it was very flavorful. It was smooth, but not velvety, although you could certainly make it that way if you liked. I floated a small, plain toast in it, and it was delicious. The other non-salad lettuce item on the agenda was a lettuce, pumpkinseed, goatcheese pesto. It turned out very nice! Much milder in flavor than a traditional basil pesto, but it has the lovely, indefinable flavor of toasted pumpkinseeds, and a bit of creamy tang provided by goat cheese. We ate it with toast (again!) and a little bruschetta topping made from tomatoes, basil, french feta, and capers.

Here’s Shake A Tail Feather, with the Blues Brothers and Ray Charles. Doesn’t it make you happy?

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Deconstructed tapenade (With castelvetrano olives and french feta)

Deconstructed tapenade

Malcolm has standardized testing all week. These last few weeks he’s been working on essay composition. I decided to write this using the methods he’s been taught. Here we go…
“My goodness, look at those!” She cried, jumping back in surprise. [Narrative grabber] “Castelvetrano olives! I never thought I’d find them in a market so close to my home.” She bought as many as she could afford, and then her eye was caught by a creamy white cheese. “What’s that?” she queried. [Try not to use the words “said” or “asked”]
“Well,” responded the vendor, a short, pleasant woman with dark brown hair, [describe all the characters in detail], “It’s French feta cheese. Would you like a taste?”
It was the most delicious thing she’d ever eaten. [hyperbole] Creamy and juicy, with a nice salty edge, but much milder than Greek feta. She counted out her coins and bought a small slice.

There are several reasons I like castelvetrano olives. One is that they’re very pretty. They’re as green as serpents, as bright as spring grass, and as shiny as emeralds. [similes!] They taste so good, too. They’re have a very vegetable-y taste, they’re fresh and buttery and mildly salty. [List reasons and support with details and examples] I thought the feta would go very well with them, and as I drove home with little packets of each on the seat next to me, my mind whirred with the possibilities. I wanted to make a tapenade, but not puréed – I wanted to retain the taste and texture and pretty colors of the olives. I thought of all the things I could add. Tart cherries would add a touch of sweetness, chopped hazelnuts would add a bit of crunch, and tarragon and chervil would lend their intriguing lemon/anise zing. Plus they’re half of that band “Les fines herbes.” They’re the bassist and the drummer, I think.

To conclude, I love castelvetrano olives, and I was surprised to find them at a market near my home. I made them into a chunky sort of tapenade that had a lovely mix of flavors and textures. It was delicious on small toasted pieces of baguette. We ate every little bit, and I was tempted to lick the bowl! Who knows what we’ll have for dinner tonight? [The conclusion should restate what’s already been said, in a slightly different way, but try to leave the reader wanting more with a takeaway ending.]

Here’s Chunky but Funky by Heavy D, to listen to while you chop olives for your chunky tapenade.
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