French lentil and butter bean soup with tarragon and spinach

French lentil and butter bean soup with tarragon

French lentil and butter bean soup with tarragon

Reverend Gary Davis was born in Laurens, South Carolina in 1896. He was born partially blind, and became fully blind as an infant. He was the only one of eight children to survive to adulthood. His father was killed when he was ten, his mother didn’t treat him well, so he went to live with his grandmother. He taught himself guitar, and invented a way of playing with many voices at once. In the twenties and thirties he was active in the Piedmont blues scene, and made some recordings. He became a Baptist minister. He moved to New York City in the forties, and performed as a street musician for a while before being rediscovered during the folk revival and becoming very popular with lots of rock stars of the day. All of these are facts straight from the wikipedia, but what the wikipedia can’t tell you is that his music is phenomenal. Such a perfect combination of exquisite technical skill and deeply sweet soulfulness. Such a perfect balance of heavy darkness, which we recognize as part of everybody’s life, and of the hope and humor that make it bearable. Such strange poetry to describe feelings that we all have. I’m flabbergasted (to use one of Malcolm’s vocabulary words) by his music, and by the fact that I haven’t discovered him earlier. I must have heard a song here or there, but I couldn’t have been paying attention, because I wasn’t stopped in my tracks and incapable of doing anything but listening, as I have been all week, steeped in his music.

I’m so obsessed with Reverend Gary Davis at the moment that I wanted to make this Sunday interactive playlist all about him. But we obviously need a bit of diversity, so I decided to pick something that he’d fit into nicely. As well as many chilling and beautiful songs about death, sin, and the afterlife, he’s got some beauties about life and love. And he has quite a few versions of Candyman. This being valentine’s day weekend, I decided that was the direction to take. So this week’s Sunday interactive playlist is on the subject of sweets. Of course songs about candy are never really about candy, are they?

This soup was perfect for a winter’s night. Flavorful but simple. Hearty but brothy and bright, and with the springlike greenness of tarragon. Not at all hard to make.

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist. Add what you like, or leave a comment and I’ll add it through the week.

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French lentil and farro soup with spinach

French lentil farro soup

French lentil farro soup

    “He was standing by the edge of a small pool – no more than ten feet from side to side – in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others – a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking up the water with their roots. This wood was very much alive. When he tried to describe it afterward Digory always said, “It was a rich place: as rich as plumcake.”

    The strangest thing was that almost before he had looked about him, Digory had half forgotten how he had come there. …If anyone has asked his “Where did you come from?” he would probably have said, “Ive always been here.” That was what it felt like – as if one had always been in that place and never been bored although nothing had ever happened. As he said afterward, “It’s not the sort of place things happen. The trees go on growing, that’s all.”

This, of course, is a passage from The Magician’s Nephew, by CS Lewis. He’s describing “the wood between the worlds,” a strange, lazy, dreamy green-lit place. It’s a place I think about a lot. We used to love The Chronicles of Narnia when we were little, my brother and I. Who wouldn’t like to imagine a magical world you could escape to at any time, where you could (safely) go on adventures and talk to animals? Your dog could finally tell you what she’d been thinking about all this time! We had a world of our own, in which we were talking animals, and the world had a history, a geography, a morality all its own. I’d tell you all about it, but it’s top secret! This world was almost like a religion for us, and it shaped our outlook on life to a remarkable extent. I’ve been looking forward to sharing Narnia with the boys, but I’ve been reading through parts of the books lately, and I feel a little disappointed! I’d forgotten about that whole, “Buck up, old chap, and stop your blubbering or we’ll despise you for the rest of the book” mentality. One of my favorite books was always The Horse and His Boy. I love the idea of stories that take place between the major conflicts. My idea of a good book would be a story of life when Peter was high king in which absolutely nothing happened. No drama, no evildoers to overthrow, just a tale of what day-to-day was like in this happy golden time. Well, I went back and read a bit of Horse and His Boy. It’s the story of light-haired, light-skinned noble well-intentioned people from the north fighting against swarthy-skinned, dark-haired, backwards and mean-spirited people from the South. Ugh! It’s still a good story, but I feel a little queasy when I imagine Malcolm reading it. Maybe I’m crazy. Anyway…I’ve always loved the idea of the wood between the worlds. So many times in my life I’ve felt like I’m there, I’m in this tranquil in-between place, trying to decide which pool to jump in next. Because each pool is a world, and you don’t know what you’ll find there, when you jump in. Here in the green wood, you’re safe, all you have to do is sit still, and your memories are vague and dreamlike, and you can almost feel yourself growing. You don’t have to act, or interact with anyone. But you can’t stay forever. As Polly says, “This place is too quiet. It’s so – so dreamy. You’re almost asleep. If we once give in to it we shall just lie down and drowse for ever and ever.” So you have to exert yourself and pick a pool (or a school, or a job, or a place to live …) You have to wake up and exert yourself and engage with your life, and let the wood between the worlds become your dream. Since the boys were born, I feel like I’m having an extended stay in the wood between the worlds. I can feel the boys growing, at the incessant imperceptible rate that people grow, but how it all happened, how they got to be the boys they are now, on their way to being the boys they will someday be, is a jumble of memories and expectations and anxieties, all swathed in a glowing green light – a hopeful light, a healthy growing light. Sometimes I rouse myself from my pleasant drowse and I think about jumping into one of the pools – I apply for a job, I contact people about shooting a film – but I never seem to do much more than get my ankles wet in the wrong pool before I’m lying on the soft green grass again, wondering how I got there, listening to the boys grow, watching them get ready to choose which pool to jump into. Some day, in the glowing green future. There’s no hurry, it’s very nice here.

Well, I’ve mentioned that we’re all feeling a bit under the weather, here at The Ordinary. So I wanted to make a rich, comforting soup that would have a bit of spiciness to cut through the lurgy. So I made this soup, with french lentils and farro, for sustenance, spinach for all-around wonderfulness, and cayenne, ginger, and lemon, for salubriousness. It was very good! We floated green toast in it, made from the colcannon bread, which was lovely. This is a very hearty, meal-in-itself soup, but it wasn’t heavy at all – it had a nice warm smoky broth, and the ginger and lemon helped to brighten it.

Here’s This is Your World by Sam and Dave. What a good song!

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French lentil chard soup with meyer lemon and ginger

Chard, lentil and meyer lemon soup

Chard, lentil and meyer lemon soup

    There’s Nothing as Trustworthy as the Ordinary Mind of Ordinary Man.

So readeth a banner on the wall of Lonesome Rhodes. Lonesome himself is on the balcony, raving like a Tom Waits-voiced Tarzan about how the people listen to him, because the people love him, because he is the people and they are Lonesome. He’s playing to an empty house, his own empty penthouse, lonely and cavernous, wrapped in sinister shadows. But his friend Beanie is laying on the applause – loud and often – on a machine that he himself, Lonesome, invented – it applauds him and laughs with him and oohs and ahs at his wise sayings. He starts to sing that he’s ten thousand miles from home, but he breaks off. He’s breaking down.

What is this madness? A face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan in 1957. What a remarkable, odd, oddly contemporary film! It tells the story of Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter picked up in a jail by an eager Sarah Lawrence graduate (and all that that implies) played by Patrica Neal. She records him for a radio show on the voice of the common people, called Face in the Crowd. He’s irreverent and folksy. He becomes a star, a personality, first in Arkansas, and then all over the whole country. In New York his show is sponsored by Vitajex, a placebo that he sells as a libido-enhancer (Big Lebowski-esque dream sequence!); the CEO of Vitajex introduces him to a man running for senator, a tepid, aristocratic person that Rhodes sells as a man of the people. The film’s themes are startlingly relevant today: the intersection of commerce, politics and entertainment; the cynicism of the entertainment industry about the intelligence of their audience “Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got ’em like this… You know what the public’s like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.” In the beginning of the film, Rhodes is irreverent towards the company that endorses him and suspicious of any commercial enterprises. He appeals on the air for all of his listeners to help a woman whose house has burnt down. By the end he’s on TV, exchanging quips with his senator about the evils of social security, and thinking of his audience, the crowd, the ordinary people, only in terms of the money, votes, or adulation they can give him. He’s seduced by the idea that he could become one of the elite, that he could guide the thinking of the masses. He’s funded by the Koch brothers of the day, to tell people what to buy, and to vote for the guy who will keep them poor, suspicious, and under-educated. He’s an ordinary person, but some people are more ordinary than others. Of course his career crashes, his women leave him, and he’s back where he started, ten thousand miles from home, and he doesn’t know where to go.

I bought a bag of meyer lemons! Look for them in every single recipe I make for the next week or so! They’re so lovely – sweet, tart, a little piney. I was thinking about french lentils, as one does. I love them, but I always seem to cook them the same way. I decided to try something a little different, and give them a kick with meyer lemons and ginger. This soup was so delicious! Comforting with potatoes and lentils, but very lively, with not just a squeeze of lemon, but the juice of two whole lemons!! Oh yes.

Here’s A Face in the Crowd, sung by Andy Griffith (to the tune of Sitting on top of the World, by the Mississippi Sheiks.

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French Lentil Soup topped with caramelized mushrooms & shallots & sharp cheddar crisps

French lentil soup

Mushrooms and shallots and crisps, oh my!

Beautiful, tasty french lentils don’t get mushy. If you cook them properly they retain a little crunch, so this isn’t the porridge-y lentil soup that you might expect. The lentils, carrots and potatoes float in a delicious, herb-infused broth. And I love mushrooms, especially in combination with french lentils, but I don’t love the way they get a bit slimy in soup – I like them crispy and flavorful. So I decided to roast them with shallots until they’re very crispy, and use them as a garnish. And to top it all off, I made little lacy crisps of sharp cheddar, which melt into your soup. Eat it with a good loaf of ciabatta and you’re all set!

Here’s the Rudies with Devil’s Lead Soup
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