Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Chard and goat cheese tart with a mashed potato pecan crust

Today, friends, we interrupt our series of American Mythologies to bring you a tangential installment of our Films-of-1967 series. As you no doubt recall, David and I arewatching every film ever made in 1967. Every one! We’re making very slow progress. The other month we watched The Fireman’s Ball by Milos Forman. It was a brilliant and beautiful film, and I read it as a sly and subtle comedy about the foibles of human nature, and how within a community the best and worst in all of us is greatly magnified. Our hypocrisy, our desires, our fears and suspicions. I could tell it was about something more, though, I felt I was probably missing something, and it turns out the film was a satire of the Eastern European communist system. It was banned, and Forman left Czechoslovakia for America, where he made One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, among other films. Obviously the fact that the true nature of Fireman’s Ball escaped me means that I’m not qualified to tell you a thing about it, other than that you should watch it as soon as you can. Instead I’ll tell you about the film we saw last week, also by Forman, called Loves of a Blonde. What a beautiful, funny, heartbreaking film! Like Fireman’s Ball, this film is about ordinary people and their desires and hypocrisies. And it is also a political film, though more subtly so, as is often the case with films with female protagonists. Andula is a very young woman who works at a shoe factory in a small Czech town. She lives in a dormitory with other shoe factory workers, and her life is stagnant and stilted, trapped as she is on the edge of nowhere, with little to do but work. The population of the town has a 16 to 1 ratio of women to men, so there’s little hope of romantic escape. The kindly owner of the shoe factory asks army officials to place a regiment in the town, saying of the women, “They need what we needed when we were young.” The regiment arrives to the disappointment of the young factory workers, who find it composed of middle-aged reservists. At a dance these men encourage each other to try their luck with the young ladies, clumsily sending a bottle of wine to the wrong table and dropping a wedding ring which leads them in an awkward chase across the dance floor. The women wonder if they’re just desperate enough to follow these unappealing men into the woods. Andula seems to be saved from this fate by young Milda, a pianist from Prague who played in the band at the dance. She wants to trust him, because he’s attentive and kind, though not very subtle in his advances. They spend the night together, and then he’s gone. After a few weeks, she hitchhikes to Prague with a small suitcase. She arrives at Milda’s apartment to find him out at a gig, though his mother and father are home and in an uproar over her appearance. And that’s it, that’s the story. But it’s told with such style and warmth and humor that it’s ridiculously compelling. Forman used a mixture of actors and non-actors. In the dance, the camera rests on the faces of people sitting and waiting to dance, and you feel that any of them have a story worth telling, they’re so real and expressive. The scenes in Milda’s bedroom are so perfectly filmed, beautiful and simple. You know he’s a scoundrel, she knows he’s a scoundrel, but he’s such an unlikely lothario, and he’s so funny and unlike everybody else in town that she decides it’s worth it to trust him, if only for this night of human connection, and the faint promise of more to come. Milda’s parents are comically strident, a sort of Archie and Edith of the Czech new wave. But it’s desperately sad, too, to think that all of their squabbling will only make it easier for Milda to send Andula back to her life of loneliness and exile. The movie is stylie, it features moments Wes Anderson would aspire to, or Godard would admire, but it’s so much more honest and human than those hipsters’ films. (I love those hipsters, too!) It’s a sweetly sad poem of human desire, hope, and loneliness.

We had some leftover mashed potatoes, so this is what I made. I lined a cake pan with butter, then bread crumbs and chopped pecans, then a layer of mashed potatoes. I molded this into a crust. Then I poured in a mixture of eggs, cheese and greens. It bakes together quite nicely. Soft and satisfying, but with a crispiness on the outside from the nuts and breadcrumbs. If you’re trying to go gluten free, leave out the bread crumbs, and add a few more pecans. And that’s that! This was nice with a spicy red sauce.

Here’s a song from the opening credits of Loves of a Blonde sung by one of Andula’s fellow factory workers. If you don’t fall in love with this film from the first second, you’re crazy, crazy I tell you!
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Mashed potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

Potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

Potato and white bean croquettes with sage and rosemary

People at work have been giving me grief about my handwriting. Sometimes they’re joking, sometimes they’re exasperated and angry, but it’s always the same cry, “You have to write more neatly.” The odd thing is that in my 44 years, most of which I’ve spent a lot of time writing, nobody has ever said a negative word about my handwriting. It’s not pretty, I’m no calligrapher, but it’s always been legible. I get my point across. I’m tempted to say, “Don’t worry, my seven-year-old has a hard time reading cursive, too. You’ll get it eventually.” But I don’t. The other odd thing is that it’s surprisingly hurtful to be teased about your handwriting. It feels bad to be scolded. It feels bad for about a minute, because this is just my extremely part-time job, and I don’t really care enough to care, and when you work in a restaurant if you can’t weather some criticism barked at you by stressed-out cooks you won’t last very long. The other day we were trying to sort through the mess of papers in Malcolm’s backpack, and most of them said, “Write more neatly!!” Well! I had such a surge of sympathy for my Malcolm! He hears it all the time. The teachers are only doing their job, and I’m sure they’re kinder than my co-workers (they’d better be!!). But I’m sure it’s not just the handwriting, it’s everything. I’m sure he’s constantly told to sit still, focus, be organized, pay attention. And that’s just the school part, just the educational side. He’s got a million other things to figure out, too. The other day he needed his tiger hat. With classic Malcolmish single-mindedness and urgency, he wouldn’t even eat breakfast until he found it. He was sure all the other kids would be wearing their animal hats (last year his class was like a strange sort of zoo.) Well, they weren’t. It’s just Malcolm and his tiger hat. But he didn’t care, he’s still happy to wear it, as cool as ever a kid could be. Yesterday Malcolm was worried about a grade he got on a math test. So worried that he wouldn’t look at me or talk to me. He wouldn’t lift his head, and I found myself talking to the blankly staring, slightly surprised button eyes on the tiger’s hat, pushed back to the top of Malcolm’s head. It’s overwhelming! There’s so much for Malcolm to be responsible for, to keep track of, to figure out! He’s so bright and sweet and smart and practical, but it seems like so much. We can’t do it for him, we can’t even be there with him most of the time while he’s holding all the pieces together. It’s just so strange to be a parent, sometimes. It’s my job to show Malcolm that all of this is important: that grades are important, and neatness, and showing your work,and points, there are always points to keep track of, to be lost and never regained. It’s my job to make this matter to Malcolm, when part of me wants to shout, “Who cares what your handwriting looks like if the words you write with it are as imaginative and clever and funny as you are? Who cares if your spelling is erratic as long as your stories are so brilliant and creative? And who cares about math at all?!” But of course I would never say that, because I do care, and I know that he should, too. I know he can manage all of this, I know he can. He’s a strong swimmer, I know he can carry himself over this sea of worries and responsibilities. His mind is a vivid, teeming, beautiful place, and I know his head hurts sometimes with trying to see his way through clearly, trying to rein it all in, and trying to get it all out–trying to organize all this brilliance and show his work, and write more neatly so other people can share it, too. I understand that sometimes a person might need to lie on the floor and hide behind his tiger hat before he wades in again, I might try it myself sometime.

I think there’s nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes! They smell like a holiday while they’re cooking, and they’re so pleasing and soft and gently flavorful. I had some left over, and I wanted to make something that accentuated their comfortingness, so I made these little croquettes. I kept them very simple, but they’re not bland. It’s just mashed potatoes mixed with smushed white beans, eggs, white sharp cheddar, and rosemary and sage. Quick and easy. I made a red sauce to go with them, with some balsamic and garlic and shallots, so it’s got stronger sharper flavors which were nice against the simplicity of the croquettes.

Here’s James Brown with Mashed Potato
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Spinach pesto croquettes

pesto croquettes

You know what I love about these very green croquettes? They combine something very wintery (mashed potatoes leftover from Christmas dinner) with something very summery (pesto I made back when basil was abundant, and have stashed in my freezer for just such an occasion.) At the end of the summer I gathered armfuls of basil, and as I turned it into pesto, I imagined myself on a cold winter’s day, after the festivities of Christmas, with nothing but months of bleak winter ahead…sniff…sob…taking out spoonful of pesto and being reminded of a glowing late-summer day.

Other than that, though, these are uncomplicated, comforting war-ration-we-can’t-afford-any-meat fare. I tried to make them very simple, so that my sons would eat them, so it’s just potatoes, breadcrumbs, pesto, and mozzarella. But there’s nothing in it that you don’t like!!

These are easy, pretty, and very green. A good way to use up leftover mashed potatoes! I served them with a bright red simple tomato sauce, that I made quite smoky and spicy with paprika and red pepper flakes.

Here’s Blackalicious’ Green Light, Now Begin.
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