Roasted butternut, mushroom and white bean tostada with pecan chipotle sauce

Buuternut, mushroom and white bean tostadas

Buuternut, mushroom and white bean tostadas

weathered bones
just thinking of the wind
it pierces my body
– Basho

All night long the wind seemed to shake the house. It sounded as though it was rushing through the neighborhood, rattling chains and knocking things over. It sounded like somebody drumming on empty barrels, and then racing away up the street. I lay awake for a while, worrying. Not about the wind, but about getting older and about disease and decay. It sounds foolish, it is foolish, and yet I lay awake letting my thoughts move from one thing to another, just like a visit to the doctor at a certain age results in one test that leads to another and another. I had no concrete cause for concern, I don’t know where the worry came from. I finally fell asleep and dreamt about owls and woke up confused. The wind was still wild this morning, blowing through us like icy knives on the way to school. When Clio and I walked home, empty garbage cans rolled around the streets, and made Clio crazy. She stopped and startled and then took off like a shot. Her hackles were raised, she refused to go down certain streets and she barked down others. She was in a panic. It struck me as strange that it’s so easy for us to recognize when somebody else’s fears are ungrounded or misplaced. It’s so easy for me to see that Clio is not going to be attacked by a garbage can, and I know that cars are dangerous for her, though she does not. It must be like that with my own worries as well. I’m barking down alleys at shadows, losing sleep over empty cans.

Roasted squash, mushroom and white bean tostadas

Roasted squash, mushroom and white bean tostadas

You know what makes these special? The patented Ordinary method of grating and roasting vegetables. It works for squash, beets, mushrooms, turnips, and many many others. It produces a nice texture and a completely roast flavor. In this recipe mushrooms and butternut squash are grated and roasted and then mixed with white beans, to create a sort of mince. This mixture is layered on top of a crispy tortilla in a cold/warm/cold/warm stack. First cool spinach leaves, then warm beans, then melted cheese, then cool avocado and tomatoes and spicy smoky pecan chipotle sauce. And that’s that!

Here’s Skip James with Worried Blues.

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Roasted butternut farro balls and rosemary walnut tarator sauce

Roasted butternut farro balls

Roasted butternut farro balls

It’s a very slow, cold spring. Everybody is upset by it, everybody is complaining bitterly, everybody is angry with that stupid lying groundhog. Everybody except me. It’s very strange, but I don’t mind. I’m not quite through hibernating yet. I feel like maybe something’s wrong with me! And you might agree, when I tell you that I’m a little anxious about summer. Not about the long, endless days with the boys, which are days that I crave. It’s hard to describe. I feel as though I’ve slowly pulled layer upon layer of something strong and warm over myself and my family, to keep us cozy and secure. And in summer the boys will burrow out and run like mad little things in all directions, laughing and glowing, with barely a glance back, and it will all go so fast and be over before we know it. It’s a very strange feeling, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like this before, although in retrospect it might have been creeping up on me with slow sneaky progress for a few years now. TS Eliot famously said that April is the cruelest month, I think that people frequently misinterpret this line. They think April is cruel because it just won’t be warm and sunny, dammit. Just when you’re ready for spring it’s all chilly and drizzly with those April showers. But what he really meant was that April is cruel because it wakes you up.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

I suppose I’ve gotten too comfortable this winter, with dull days that please me so much and go by so fast–just keeping my family warm and feeding them roasted tubers, and then writing about that and starting all over again. It’s hard to do anything very important when you’re too comfortable, but I’m also convinced that the day to day of every day is as important as life gets, so I’m not easily motivated. I’m sure it’s just the chill and the damp that folds me in on myself. Already the slanting hopeful rosy light of morning and evening is rousing me from my wintery dormancy, but gently and kindly. When the weather is warmer on top of that I’ll feel all the old unspecified longings and yearnings, which must visit you no matter what your age. I’ll be ready to go on adventures again. And if the warmth won’t do it, Malcolm will! He’s so full of life and plans, he’s so curious and fearless. I want to be like him when I grow up, so I may as well start now! And maybe summer will surprise us, and we’ll stop in the colonnade, and go on in the sunlight.

In the meantime, we’re still eating winter squash, here at The Ordinary. And I’m still experimenting with the joys of grating and roasting it. It’s so nice and soft and crispy and sweet and savory all at the same time! In this instance, I mixed it with some leftover farro and some walnuts and made it into little balls. I fried them up in olive oil, so they’re crispy outside and soft in. The flavors are sage, smoked paprika and nutmeg – I suppose they’re flavors I associate with a sausage-y taste, so these could pass for vegetarian meatballs, or if you made them long and thin, they could be vegetarian sausage. We ate them with tender whole wheat flatbreads, which I’ll tell you about soon, arugula, which went so nicely with the nuttiness of the walnuts, and a creamy (cream-free) walnut rosemary tarator sauce. The sauce turned out very good, and would be nice with any kind of roasted vegetable – beets, potatoes, parsnips, any of those old dried tubers. In the summer, it would be nice with grilled zucchini and asparagus as well!! If you don’t have leftover farro, I’ve told you how to make it, and you can use the extra to toss on salads, or as a base for sauces and stews.

Here’s Nina Simone with Another Spring.

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Roasted butternut semolina cakes with cauliflower pumpkinseed puree

Roasted butternut semolina cakes

Roasted butternut semolina cakes

Two brothers sit on a grassy patch below an elevated walkway. Behind each of them, in the far distance, stretches a long bridge that seems to connect the boys to the real, busy world. But they don’t care about that. The boys are in their stocking feet, comfortably eating rice with their fingers, and drinking tea out of the tea kettle lid or their cupped hand. “Messy, isn’t it?” “Yes! Fun, isn’t it!” Minoru and Isamu have run away from home with their teakettle and rice cooker, because their parents won’t buy them a television set. They’ve decided not to speak to anyone until their demands are met. This is, of course, Yasujiro Ozu’s tenderly beautiful film Good Morning. The film tells the story of a small suburban community and the havoc cast upon it by gossip, suspicion, and two small boys on a silence strike. The film was shot in 1959, and it reminded me of Tati’s films of the same period – full of grace, generosity and gentle humor. It’s about ordinary people going about ordinary lives, but it’s completely captivating. The boys decide to stop speaking because grownups talk so much and say nothing worth hearing…it’s all just a lot of meaningless talk. “Good morning, good evening, a fine day, where to? Just a ways, I see, I see.” The brothers can talk to each other, if they show the right sign. And they have a shared language of gestures and expressions that are full of meaning, and beautiful to see. Of course their gestures don’t always translate to the rest of the world, and when the little one, Isamu, tries to ask permission to speak in class, nobody knows what he means. The adults in the film, including the boys’ aunt and their English tutor, are amused by the boys’ assessment of grown-up conversation, but they recognize that there’s some truth in it.The film is full of misunderstandings and half-spoken thoughts and desires. The gossip that travels from small house to small house is a perfect example of meaningless words gone awry and striking out with their own destructive pattern. And yet, the real joy of the film is the moments of understanding between people, and in those moments when we recognize ourselves in the characters, our lives in their lives. They speak Japanese and a bit of English (“I love you!”). They talk in niceties and don’t say what they mean. But we know what they mean, whatever language they speak. Ozu is famous for defying Hollywood’s rules for creating melodrama in a film, not just by his quiet use of still, low-angled shots, but also because he utilized narrative ellipses. He doesn’t show the big events, he shows the spaces between them. In famous “pillow shots,” he gives us beautiful small poems of transition, static, but full of quiet, gentle motion within the frame. In the same way, we understand that what’s important in communication isn’t the words, but the spaces between them, and the meaning that they convey through gesture and expression and a universal understanding of human nature. In the last scene, the boys’ aunt and their English tutor stand at a train station talking foolishly about the shape of a cloud (“Yes, it does look like something…”) But from their barely contained smiles, we know that they know they’re saying so much more to each other. Throughout the film, there’s a running series of fart jokes. The boys eat pumice so that they’ll be able to produce a fart on demand when they push each other on the forehead. One of the housewives repeatedly mistakes her husband’s fart for language. During a callisthenic session, two boys admire the flatulent prowess of an older man, and say he has a lot of practice because he works for the gas company. The boys decide that farting is okay, as a form of communication, and doesn’t constitute a breach of their silence strike. This is more than a spate of fart gags, this is a nod to the things that connect us all…our humor and our humanity.

Grating and roasting butternut squash is my new favorite culinary technique! I use my food processor, which makes it super easy and fast. You might find you have a huge mound of grated squash, but it cooks down. I had mine piled about 2 inches deep on the baking tray to start, but it cooked down to about one cup in the end. Just keep stirring the outside pieces, which brown first, into the center of the tray. I added my grated butternut squash to a batter that was very similar to that for semolina dumplings or Roman gnocchi, which have quite a comforting consistency. I flavored it with sage, rosemary, smoked paprika, and a bit of cinnamon and cayenne. Delicious! To go with these big cakes, I made a puree of cauliflower and pumpkinseeds, with a little roasted garlic and spinach thrown in. It was creamy and smooth with a mild nutty flavor, and was very pretty with the butternut cakes.

Here’s Memphis Minnie with Good Morning.

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