Chard and white beans with raisins, walnuts and smoked gouda

Chard and white beans with walnuts and smoked gouda

Chard and white beans with walnuts and smoked gouda

If you’re following along at home, you’ll recall that yesterday found us, here at The Ordinary, seeking some solace from our busy thoughts in the form of quiet film scenes. David mentioned a film we’d watched last week, Le gamin au vélo, and I thought “ah, yes, of course.” I was going to add a scene from the movie to yesterday’s post, but in watching the scene, I realized that this was one I want to go on an on about, so that’s where we find ourselves today. The film is by the Dardenne brothers of Belgium, renowned for making emotionally and stylistically bleak and austere films, most notably La Promesse in 1996. They almost never use non-diegetic music–they don’t have a soundtrack. The sounds of the film are those that people make going about their day, and these sounds become oddly compelling as we become immersed in the rhythms of the character’s lives, as we learn their routine and become alert for any small change in the patterns. All of their films are quiet, they’re a succession of silent moments. And that’s why this scene is disarmingly beautiful. We’re given music! We’re given, specifically, a small, moving swell of music, like a warm gentle wave; a few notes from the second movement of Beethoven’s Emperor piano concerto. And then we return to the quiet world of this ridiculously beautiful expressive boy, to the sound of his breath, and of his madly pedaling feet. Throughout the film, in certain scenes, this music washes over us, just a few notes, and then recedes. You feel that you need to hear the rest, you want the notes to resolve themselves. You want the boy’s life to resolve itself, you want him to care for himself, you want him to let somebody take care of him. The Dardenne brothers’ films, though beautiful, are often hard for me to watch. The very honesty and rawness that makes them wonderful makes them painful. Their characters are battered by life, conflicted and rejected, and they spend a lot of time alone. We’re compelled to watch them in their solitude, drowning in the silence of their own company, facing rotten choices and making regrettable decisions. They raise all sorts of questions for me, as a film viewer, and as somebody that hopes to one day call herself a filmmaker again. You could make a film this revelatory of human nature as it actually is–you could, and you probably should, but why would you? Why watch something so depressing? The older I get, I find I have less tolerance for unrelentingly grim movies. When I was younger I could watch anything, but now that I have children, I just can’t–particularly if the movie involves kids the age of my boys, as this film does. I don’t need a happy ending. I don’t want to watch sickeningly sweet saccharine feel-good movies, but I do need some small hopeful sign. So I will admit to you that when we watched this film, we stopped halfway through, and I read about how the film ended, and only then did we watch the rest. But we did watch the rest. Because in being entirely honest about human nature, you have to include moments of warmth and generosity and connection, and that’s what this film does, quietly, slowly, without melodrama or judgement. The few notes of Beethoven that we hear throughout the film are full of sweet sadness, the music veers between hope and despair, light and darkness, but it’s so beautiful that we need to follow it to the end, which they finally allow us to do during the credits. And that is why you watch a movie like this one.

Chard and white beans with walnuts, raisins and smoked gouda

Chard and white beans with walnuts, raisins and smoked gouda

Greens are my favorite! This time of year is the best! We’re getting greens by the armful from our CSA–chard, kale, spinach, broccoli rabe. I love to come up with new ways to prepare greens, and this one turned out really good. It’s a twist on the old chard/raisin/pine nut combination that I love so much. This one adds white beans and smoked gouda, for extra substance and flavor. We ate this with whole wheat pearled couscous, which I prepared “according to the package instructions,” except that I cooked the couscous in olive oil and herbs at first. You could eat it with pasta, rice, millet, farro, a big bed of lettuces, or as a vegetable side dish. You could eat it in a box, you could eat it with a fox.

Here’s the second movement of Beethoven’s Emperor piano concerto.

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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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Greens, white bean and potato soup & more Eliza

Greens and white bean soup

If you cast your memory back to last weekend, you may recall that we’re going to share a story in these virtual pages in serial format. It’s time for our second installment of Eliza and Hyssop! Someday it will have a real title! This is a good season for soups – we’re having grey and chilly weather. And soups go nicely with Eliza’s story, because she finds comfort in a warm bowl of soup after wandering, cold and weary, through dark streets. Just as all self-respecting characters in stories do! We get a nice spicy fall mix of greens from our CSA. It’s a combination of little sharp lettuces and leaves…too bitter for a salad, but lovely in soups and savory tarts. I combined them with white beans and red potatoes for a simple, satisfying and delicious meal. If you don’t get bags of spicy lettuces from some random source, feel free to use any greens you have…spinach, arugula, kale…anything would work here! I was really taken with this soup – I had two big bowls, and we ate them with sharp cheddar melted on whole wheat toast, for the most perfect warm and comforting meal.

Here’s Howlin Wolf with Built for Comfort. I feel as though the connection between my songs and my rambling preambles (my prerambles?) is becoming more abstruse!

More Eliza after the JUMP!

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Greens with lime, honey & fresh basil

Greens with lime and basil

People come up to me on the street all the time, and they say, “Claire, we love to eat greens, but we can’t be bothered to wash them or remove their stupid stems. Should we just popeye them straight from a can into our mouth?” Alright, so this is apocryphal. It’s never happened and it never will. But if it did…I would be ready with an answer. I have a tip. A cooking tip. This is how I wash fresh greens. Even if they’re filthy muddy buggy greens straight from the farm after a horrible storm. It’s not difficult and it doesn’t require a lot of effort. What you do is fill a large bowl with cool water (a salad spinner bowl and basket is ideal – not because you’re going to spin it, but because it’s easier to dump out the dirty water and replace it with clean). You put the greens in and swish them about a bit. Then you let them soak while you go about your business. In my experience, the bugs will float to the surface, and the sand and grit will sink to the bottom. You dump out all the dirty water, rinse the bowl, and soak again. (This is where a salad spinner comes in handy, because you can just lift the greens right out in the built-in basket.) You swish them around a little bit and then let them soak again. How many times you do this depends on the dirtiness of your greens. Once the bottom of the bowl is grit and sand free after a soak, you’re probably clean enough. Now, to remove the stems, and also check each leaf for hidden bugs – you use your fingers. I find this much quicker than trying to chop the stems off. You pick up a leaf, fold it in half lengthwise (they often do this all by themselves) and pull the stem off from the bottom to as far up the leaf as you need to go to remove the unpleasant spiny bits, using your other hand to pinch the leaf so that you don’t lose too much good green stuff. It’s sort of hard to describe, but try it and it will all make sense. This is a surprisingly quick and easy job, even if you have a large batch of greens. Many of the smaller stems can just be snapped off near the bottom. If you have something with giant fat stems like kale, it’s easiest of all – you just grab the stem and pinch the leafy parts right off. It’s that easy!!

I think this is a really nice way to make greens. It’s fresh, sweet and tart. I made it with half broccoli rabe, half chard. So – a little bitter plus a little earthy. I like to pair a more assertive green (broccoli rabe, turnip, beet) with something gentler like spinach or chard. You could use any green you like with this, and just adjust the lime/honey ratio till it’s perfect for you. This is quick and doesn’t make your kitchen too hot on a summer’s day!

Here’s Outkast with So Fresh, So clean, because this tastes fresh, and your greens are so clean!
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Broccoli rabe with ginger, apricots & cashews

Broccoli rabe & apricots

My poor boys. They have an inexplicable 6-day weekend, and the weather is ridiculous. Round-the-clock thunderstorms. When it’s not actually storming, it’s gloomy and threatening, with thick damp air that sticks to your skin, and heavy glowering clouds that seem to crawl inside your head. There’s a perpetual twilight glow. And they don’t care! They’re in their pjs! They had flat pancakes for breakfast! They have a giant pile of legos dumped on the living room floor, they have Star Wars guys, they have each other. This morning they’ve been dividing the universe alphabetically. Malcolm gets Mondays, magic, and medusa, and Isaac gets iron and imagination.

We seem to be heading into too-hot-to-cook weather. I’m not ready! Luckily, this is our first week of CSA season (oh boy oh boy oh boy!). And we got a box full of greens! Kale, spinach, chard!! I LOVE GREEEEEEEEENS!! And the nice thing about them is that you can cook them quickly, and eat them when they’re not piping hot. As it happens, I’d bought lots of greens last week, from the grocery store. (I didn’t buy lettuce, I was expecting a box full of lots and lots of lettuce. Guess what? No lettuce! Lettuces don’t like hail storms, apparently!) So I have a whole lot of greens to cook my way through. It’s a pleasant sort of anxiety.

I’m on record as saying that my favorite way to eat greens is with garlic, raisins and pine nuts. I’ve made it into pies and tarts, and pesto, using a variety of (cheaper) nuts. Here’s another variation. The apricots provide the tart-sweet fruitiness – they’re more assertive than raisins, and broccoli rabe is more assertive than chard or spinach, so it all works out nicely. Red pepper flakes and ginger add a little heat, and fresh basil adds – well nothing’s better than fresh basil! This is a quick and tasty dish, and it would make a meal, tossed with pasta, or on top of basmati rice.

Here’s Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass with Bittersweet Samba, accompanied by the oddest little film, which, according to the youTube poster, was filmed by Robert Altman!
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Two spring salads

Asparagus castelvetrano salad

A big part of my brain is telling me to “just post the damn recipe, Claire!” But when have I ever listened to my brain? Rarely! So here we go…Yesterday I rambled on about nutella and sweets and American’s eating habits. Well, of course I have more to say on the subject. Let’s begin ten years ago. I worked in a bookstore. I was amazed at the number of diet books. And the number of weird diet books. Eat your colors, eat your horoscope, only eat carbohydrates, don’t eat carbohydrates, don’t eat green beans on Tuesday, eat only cheese and grapefruit, eat only chocolate chip cookies and cider vinegar. I joked, at the time, that I was going to write a book called “The DUH Diet.” There are some ideas about eating that just make sense (to me!), and they’re not new ideas or revolutionary ideas. They’re not eating habits that are difficult to live with. I love Satchel Paige’s Rules for Long Life, so I’m going to present a few of these commonplace, commonsense ideas in this form. (I should note that this applies mostly to Americans, because that’s mostly what I know.) Ready? Begin…

1. Enjoy every bite you eat. Don’t stuff something down your throat that you don’t really like the taste of–that you don’t really have a hankering for–just because it’s mealtime or you’re hungry or it’s sitting in front of you. It’s okay to feel hungry once in a while, as you wait for the food you really want. Most of us go through life snacking whenever our stomachs get a little grumbly. Let yourself feel hungry before a meal. It’ll wake you up! You’ll enjoy it more.

2. Drink lots of water. Good for every part of you.

3. Eat cookies and potato chips if you feel like it, but enjoy them. Eat a handful, not a bagful.

4. Satchel said avoid fried meats. I’d say avoid all meat, or try to go easy on it. Bad for the animal, bad for the planet, bad for your body, bad for your soul.

5. Never ever go to McDonalds or any other fast food restaurant, unless you need to use their toilet. Bad for the planet, bad for every part of you.

6. Enjoy rich foods, like buttery, cheesy savory pastries, but have that be a small part of your meal, and eat a big salad with it, or a big bowl of soup. Fill up on fruits and vegetables.

7. Satchel said “jangle gently as you walk,” which I love. Do it every day! Go for a walk, or a run, or jump around your living room. Get your heart beating, and your blood flowing.

I guess that’s it, for now. Sorry to get all preachy on you. But it’s all stuff everybody knows anyway, right? Duh.

Anyway, in the interest of loading up on vegetables, which is part of tenet number 6, let me tell you about these two salads. I make a salad almost every night, but I rarely talk about them because they’re gone before I can make a record of their existence.

These two seemed notable, though. The first had royal trumpet mushrooms. These had become a questing food for me ever since my friend Neil told me about them. Neil’s in Germany, and he called them “king trumpet.” I think the version we have in America is called “royal trumpet.” Either way, I found them, by accident, in a local market. The same market that had fiddleheads. It’s a magical market! I decided to keep it simple, this first time, so I sauteed them with rosemary and a bit of garlic, olive oil and balsamic. Then I put them on a salad with

Royal trumpet mushroom salad

spinach and arugula, and added a handful of chopped hazelnuts. And that was it! They were delicious. They became lovely and crispy. I’ll definitely be having these again. The second had bright green asparagus, bright green castelvetrano olives, capers, almonds and a little goat cheese. Simple and green and crunchy.

Here’s Louis Armstrong Tight Like That to go with the trumpet mushrooms. I think it’s such a perfect song!
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Soup Meagre

Soup Meagre is from the 18th century, and I don’t think there’s a definitive recipe, but to my knowledge (or in my imagination!) it’s a sort of hodgepodge of any green thing you can find. A spring tonic! Or, for my family this week, a fall tonic. There’s a lovely sort of cycle to the CSA that we belong to. It starts and ends with greens. Lots and lots of greens. Lettuces; spinach; arugula; wild, bitter little leaves. The autumn greens tend to be coarser and more bitter than the spring greens, but once you cook them they mellow out in no time. I think this is a pretty soup, and it’s surprisingly substantial, and wonderfully delicious. I always add yellow split peas, because they’re tasty, have a nice texture, and make a flavorful broth. But you can leave them out, or add any kind of legume you like.

Here’s Yo La Tengo’s beautiful Green Arrow, which sounds like a spring or fall evening, just at dusk.
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How I dress a salad

“…people got too many things on they lettuces…”

(this is a quote from K’naan’s wonderful track Wash it Down. Give it a listen while you toss your lettuces)
K'naan – Wash it Down

simple salad

I love salad. I make a salad almost every night of my life. I almost consider the salad the center of the meal, and everything else as a side dish that goes along with it. I have a very simple way of making salads, I like to let the flavor of the greens speak for itself. So here’s what I do.
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