Millet & chickpea kofta

Millet and chickpea kofta

Millet and chickpea kofta

Malcolm’s basketball coach told him that if he keeps his head in the game he’ll be unstoppable. “Keep your head in the game” is now my favorite phrase in conversations with myself. “Keep your head in the game, Claire, or you’ll never get two breakfasts and two lunches made by 7:30!” And Malcolm’s teacher said that with a little more focus he’ll be unstoppable. There it is, the “f” word. It all comes down to focus, it all converges at focus. Isaac has been advised that he needs to focus on his focus, as well. It’s a distracting world! There’s so much going on, so much to see and say and taste! How can anybody concentrate on just one thing? It’s all very well to tell somebody to keep their head in the game, but the game is so complicated! The game is so fast-moving and there are so many things going on at once! One is in danger of getting one’s head bonked, if one keeps it in the game for too long! I’ve always had trouble focussing, too, so that’s probably where the boys get it. I can’t concentrate on one thing very long, with my gnat-like span of attention. My life is strewn with half-read books, half-written novels, half-sung songs, and lots and lots of brilliant ideas that never amounted to much (you’ll have to take my word for it). It doesn’t feel good, and I would wish my boys more success in concentrating on one task until it’s completed. I wish for them the ability not just to focus narrowly on one thing, but to bring everything around them into focus. To adjust the lens through which they view the world so that everything is as bright and vivid and clear as they can make it. Malcolm has discovered the joy of focussing beams of light through a magnifying glass until he makes fire, and this is sort of how I can see him moving through life–focussing his light and energy to set the world on fire. (Safely, of course, as executed with focus’ good friend self-control!) And I hope they’ll be able to concentrate on everything that interests them in the sense that they’ll distill it and make it as pure and flavorful as possible, creatively speaking. Isaac is a rare child who can actually sit and concentrate on one project for a fair amount of time. He’s happy with his own company, singing and drawing or making something out of legos. From when he was very little, his whole face reflects his absorbtion–head on one side, tongue out like Charlie Brown. Here’s Isaac’s picture of a focussed face…
This is how I’m going to imagine myself, from now on, when I want to try to get something important done!!
Millet and chickpea kofta

Millet and chickpea kofta

I wonder if I like cooking because it’s a chance to finish a project – to see it through to its tasty completion. When you start to make a meal, you can’t stop till it’s done. You can’t give up halfway through because you get to a tedious part. If things aren’t going well you have to fix them, you can’t just set it aside for another time and then forget about it completely. And you have the promise of a good meal that you can eat and share as motivation to get it all done. Plus it’s fun! These croquettes were so simple to make. I combined leftover millet with chickpeas and grated cheese. I seasoned them fairly simply, with basil, cumin and lots of pepper. They turned out lovely–crispy and delicate outside and soft and flavorful inside. We ate them with spicy spinach cashew sauce and OOTOs (yeasted semolina flatbreads), as well as avocado and arugula. But you could eat them with pita bread or tortillas, and any sauce you like…tahini or tomato sauce or mustard or mayonaisse, or no sauce at all. Very versatile.

Here’s De La Soul with En Focus. Love this one!

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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 parsnip, spinach and walnut kofta (with secret melty cheese!)

Parsnip and spinach kofta

Today’s recipe goes with yesterday’s recipe in much the same way that today’s meandering ramble continues the fine tradition of yesterday’s meandering ramble, and of the day’s before that. Think of it as a three part series on gratitude, annoyance, and regret, if you like. I apologize for talking about my boys so much, lately, but, mama, they’ve been on my mind. I promise to talk about something more universally interesting tomorrow. Like Lindsay Lohan. And her childhood. Before bed, David reads with Isaac, and I read with Malcolm, and then I cuddle with Isaac for a few minutes before I get on with my life. I used to fall asleep nearly every night, and wake up an hour later feeling trampled and discombobulated and with my whole evening shot. So I only stay for a few minutes now (super intense concentrated cuddles). Last night Isaac gently ran a finger down my cheek three times, slowly, and then touched my lips. It seemed like such a mysterious and beautiful gesture, so I asked him why he’d done it. He said, with a serious smile, “Because I just love you.” And I just love him, too, so I repeated the gesture on his incredibly soft cheek. He giggled and traced a more complicated pattern on my chin and nose and eyelids, and I tried to repeat that, too. And so it went, until he was laughing with his ridiculously lovely belly laugh, which I wish I could bottle, along with the rest of this moment. My first thought was that he touched my cheek because I look old, because he could tell that I was aging. But I think that children rarely notice that their parents are growing older. And Isaac frequently tells me, “You don’t look old at all, to me,” prompting the suspicion that everyone else in town is talking about how old I look. And then I thought about how I keep telling him that he’s getting older, that he’s growing so big, that he’s a big seven-year-old and should be able to keep up or get to sleep all by himself. I thought that I hadn’t heard him laugh like that in some time. I thought about his school picture, in which he’s not smiling at all. He is, in fact, frowning, and there’s a bit of a challenge in his eye. It’s as if he just told the photographer, “don’t you tell me to smile!!” His whole life, Isaac has been a glowing smiler. He used to beam at people from his bjorn. His whole face lights up in a delightful and infectious way. I thought about how cranky I’d been, lately, not for any particular reason, it’s just a pattern one gets into. And how it must have seemed to him like I’m always annoyed, because he walks slowly or spills his juice or won’t get to sleep. Ugh. I thought about how Malcolm’s teachers sounded annoyed when they said his name, and feared that I might do that, too. We only get one chance at this! Phew. Did you hear about that Lindsay Lohan? She got arrested again! I read about it on the front page of the Guardian!

We ate these kofta with the white bean tomato bisque, almost as a sauce. David dunked his right in, and I ate mine with lettuce and tomatoes, all wrapped up in a warm tortilla, and the soup on the side. (It probably would have been better in pita, but I didn’t have time to make any!) I thought they turned out really good. I was quite proud of myself. Parsnips obviously have such a nice flavor, and they go well with earthy spinach, and the walnuts added just a bit of crunch. And then there’s the secret melty cheeeeeeeese!!

Here’s You Only Live Once by SJob movement. I just love it!!
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Zucchini chickpea kofta

Zucchini & chickpea kofta

Malcolm and I were walking the hot streets of town the other day when we came across a basket of GI Joe figures in front of an antique store. It made me think of the movie Marwencol. It’s a fascinating, absorbing documentary – the kind you think about for a long while after you’ve seen it.

I couldn’t get it out of my mind, yesterday, and yesterday being independence day, the story of Mark Hogancamp became, in my melting little brain, a sort of allegory for America’s struggle for independence. In the face of violent intolerance, Hogancamp created his own country, with its own rules. The country, Marwencol, is hopeful, frightening, imperfect and evolving, and it’s the place where Hogancamp can escape from the physical and emotional reality of who he is, to be a different, better version of himself. And to pursue the justice that eludes him in the old world – the real world.

He’s a true eccentric, just as the people that first came to America must have been, and the people that created our country, and forged a path out west, surely were. It’s the creativity and passion attached to his eccentricity that make his new world possible. And the story of the new world is beautiful and hopeful, but it’s also violent and disturbing at times. Of course, the story of Independence Day is the struggle for freedom, just as the story of Marwencol is Hogancamp’s quest for freedom from who he is and from all that he’s lost.

David found a remarkable version of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Feels to Be Free. She talks about what freedom means. She says it’s freedom from fear, it’s a new way of seeing something. There’s a line in the song in which she says that freedom means feeling a “little less like me.” She’d learn to fly, and she’d look down and see herself, and she wouldn’t know herself. She’d have new hands, new vision. She tells us that the Bible says be transformed by the renewal of your mind. God, she’s brilliant – she makes me speechless. But this is what I was thinking about on the 4th of July – eccentricity, creativity, the freedom to create a world for yourself and reinvent yourself. A new way of looking, and of seeing.

Speaking of eccentric! Speaking of yankee ingenuity! I envisioned this zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. They were all out of chickpea flour at the grocery store. I pretended to be a stubborn child, who wouldn’t leave the aisle till I got chickpea flour, the boys pretended to be stern parents. We all had a giggle. And I went home and made these croquettes with mashed up chickpeas. Which might even have had a better flavor, and a lighter, more pleasing texture. We ate these with pita bread, tomatoes chopped with mozzarella and basil, lots of fresh lettuce from the CSA and pecan tarragon sauce. You could use any kind of sauce you like, though. Something with tahini would probably work well! I seasoned these with sesame seeds, thyme, and sumac (zatar, baby!) All-in-all a nice summer meal.

Here’s that remarkable version of I Wish I Knew How it Feels to be Free.

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Roasted butternut and black bean kofta

butternut squash black bean kofta

I feel like I’ve been seeing meatballs everywhere lately. All the internets and newspapers and magazines are brimming over with them. Is this a “food trend” that we have before us? Perhaps, subconsciously, that’s where I got the idea for these. We obviously need a vegetarian version! I’m fascinated that different cultures seem to have their own take on the notion of little balls of meat and grains and veg and spices. My son’s favorite dish to order from an Indian restaurant is malai kofta, which is one variation on the idea. Decades ago, I saw pumpkin kibbeh listed on a menu at a Lebanese restaurant. I’ve been intrigued by the idea for years! This is sort of my imagining of a vegetarian meatball/kibbeh/kofta. It combines roasted butternut squash, smashed black beans, bulgar, bread crumbs, a bit of cheese and an egg. These are seasoned with oregano, basil, sage, smoked paprika, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. Flavorful little bundles! I thought about frying them on top of the stove, but in the end I coated them in olive oil and then baked them in a hot oven instead. They still came out quite crispy, but soft in the middle. I made a spicy chipotle tamarind sauce to go with them, and we ate them with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and warm pita bread. Plus oven roasted rosemary french fries. But I have different plans for them tonight! I’m having trouble concentrating on this! My little son is home (not very) sick from school, and I’m getting a tutorial on the shades of difference between his two Luke Skywalker toys!

Here’s Josh White’s One Meatball.
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