Lemon pine nut chocolate-covered cookies

Pine nut cookies


My ex-sister-in-law used to talk about totem animals. I’m not sure precisely what she meant, (I’m simple!) but to me it’s always meant the animal that you’d be, if you could be an animal. If your spirit could leave your body (at night, say, in your dreams) and slip into a body that felt more comfortable, what body would that be? For me, it’s always been an otter. They used to live around here, but they were hunted out of existence in this area. It makes me sad that you can only see them in zoos, but when we do visit zoos, I find the otters mesmerizing. I saw this video yesterday, and I can’t stop watching it! I think I’m losing it! I’m not a person who LOLs and posts cute things. But this video kills me. I love Nellie’s ridiculously beautiful otter belly, and the sound the cups make when she hits them against it. I love her speaking face and paws – every expression and gesture is so perfect. I love how slick and cool she is. I love her otter friend, who’s just kicking back, happy to be with her. I feel bad for her that she’s in a zoo, and that she’s performing for fish. But I love how she looks at the zookeeper, when she’s given the cups in the wrong order, with a sweet look that seems to say, “There’s no fish in here, and you got the order all wrong. Sheesh.” I love that when she holds her friend’s paws, which she’s told to do, she half-closes her eyes.

What’s your totem animal?

Holy Smoke, I’m waaaaaaaay behind on telling you about recipes. I’ll never catch up! I won’t make it to everything. Some recipes will get left behind. These were nice, though, so I’ll tell you about them. I wanted do make a sort of shortbread cookie with pine nuts. I realized that I always think of pine nuts in a savory setting, but they have such a smoky sweetness that I thought they’d be nice in a cookie. And they were! I could have probably left it at that, but I felt that they’d be good with a touch of lemon zest. And everything’s better with a coating of bittersweet chocolate, right?

Here’s Jean Redpath with Song of the Seals

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Zucchini, walnut and raisin pastries

Zucchini walnut pastries

A few months ago, my friend Tony described something I’d written in these virtual pages as an “essay.” That idea was so pleasing to me, and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about since. I like the idea of writing essays. In school I used to love essay tests. I felt like I didn’t really understand whatever I was writing about until I started writing about it, and then connections would come flying out at me. I found it quite exciting (I was a weird kid). On the one hand, essays feel so substantial and victorian. Move over, John Stewart Mill, and make room for my landmark essay, “On beets.” Today’s essayists are serious people who write important words for the New York Times. Which obviously isn’t me (although, NYT, if you’re looking for somebody to write about zucchini, fireflies and hip hop versions of War and Peace, I’m your woman!) On the other hand – the smiling side of the janus face, if you will – is the fact that “essay” comes from the word “to try.” How lovely is that! You’re not succeeding (or failing). You’re not even worried about that! You’re just giving it a go. It’s all about the journey, man – process not product, man. According to the highly reliable dictionary that pops up on my computer when I press a button (definitive source!) the “try” in “essay” doesn’t just mean “attempt.” It also means “test,” or “weigh.” As in “I tried the strength of the rope bridge that crossed over the fiery ravine before I commenced my journey upon it.” Interesting! If you’re following along at home, you’ll recall my infatuation with the word Selah, which also meant “to weigh.” I think of selah as being about feeling the weight of the words, and valuing that, and essay as being about testing the weight of the words by sending them out there and watching whether they sink or swim. (“What is she going on about?!” you’re asking yourself. It’s 97 degrees here! My brain is all melting and wobbly!) One thing I’ve been thinking about essays, as it directly relates to this collection of recipes, is that cooking is like writing essays. You have an idea, you try it. You weigh the possibilities, you weigh the ingredients. (I’m almost done, I promise! I’ve nearly followed this unravelling line of thought to its illogical conclusion.) You don’t know how it will turn out, and that’s why it’s fun to try. If you think that it might not come out well, you’ll won’t make the attempt. And there’s so much joy in trying!

I have a lot of zucchini from my CSA, and I’ve been thinking for a while about combining it with raisins, walnuts, goat cheese, cinnamon and basil, in some sort of dish. I thought I’d try (segue!) rolling it into a pastry, because a crispy layer would be so pleasant with the soft zucchini and goat cheese. I put a bit of lemon zest in the pastry dough, for piquancy. And I wanted to have a couple of sauces to dip the pastries in, so I decided to shape the pastry like little christmas crackers, so that when you broke it in half, you have two little tabs to hold onto, while you dip, and then you have a nice, buttery-lemony crispy bite to end with. I think it turned out well! I’m going to make other stuffings for this shape of pastry, because it’s so much fun to eat with your hands and dip things! For dipping sauces I used two leftover from a takeout Indian meal (lazy, I know, but they’re so good you can’t just throw them out!) That’s the sweetish tamarind one, and the cilantro mint one. And then I made some good old-fashioned basil/pine nut/garlic/parmesan pesto. I mellowed it out a bit by adding a teaspoon of honey, and by roasting the garlic.

zucchini walnut pastry

Here’s James Brown’s Try Me, one of my favorite songs ever!

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Zucchini fritters with goat cheese and pine nuts

Zucchini Fritters

With a ringing of bells, a man entered our store. He was slim and elegant and quite dapper in an understated 60s Greenwich Village way. He wore some of the coolest sneakers I’ve seen in a while. He walked straight to me, without looking around, and he clutched something under his arm. My heart sank. We have more people come into our store trying to sell things than the other way around, sadly. I was late to meet someone, we can’t afford to buy anything at the moment – but he held a book of photographs, and I took the time to look. They were beautiful – black and white, quite dark in tone and mood. He explained that they were of Bosnia, his home country, during the 70s and 80s. I told him we weren’t in the financial position to buy anything, however much we liked it. He turned to leave, but halfway along, he stopped. He told me he loved the store. He said that “they” were trying to squash craft and art and creativity, but that a wave was coming that they couldn’t stop. He said it would wash right over the bunkers that they build out of all the crap that they make us watch and eat and read. He was very eloquent. He said we would be okay because of a good way of life (he rubbed his belly) and a pure soul (he put his hand on his heart). It was like a strange benediction. When he left I felt a slight trace of regret – that I didn’t have more time to talk to him, maybe, or that I couldn’t help him by buying his prints.

My favorite cooking utensil – the one I use for absolutely every meal I make, is a wooden stirrer-scraper that David made. It’s made from curly maple, and it’s the perfect combination of beauty and function. It’s long-handled, but the handle is tapered, so it doesn’t fall into your pot, or fall out of your pot and clatter in a big mess on the floor. Its straight beveled edge is absolutely perfect for scraping the bottom of the pan when you add white wine, to get all the lovely caramely tasty bits mixed into the sauce. I love that David made it, and that I use it to make meals for the family. I love that it takes on the colors of the food I cook, and that, as it does, its beautiful, rippled grain becomes more visible.

Of course I used it to make these zucchini fritters!! They’re fairly simple – crispy outside, soft in, melty with goat cheese and crunchy with pine nuts. (My god they’re good! I haven’t splurged on them in a while and I’d forgotten how delicious they are!!) The fritters are lightly flavored with fennel, lemon, and basil – summery! Malcolm invented the dipping sauce. We’d been eating salted limes, and he thought that if limes were good with salt, they’d be good with tamari. The sauce is full of flavor – ginger, garlic, lime, tamari and hot pepper. It’s unusual with the fritters, but really lovely. You could, of course, make any other sort of sauce you like with them.

Here’s The Specials with Too Hot, because it’s close to 100 degrees here, and we’re melting!
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Chard, chickpea, and olive tart (with a citrus-quince glaze)

Chickpea & olive tart

Well, I was a little cranky yesterday! I had a small tantrum because we couldn’t find some place we used to go bird watching. I yelled at the boys everywhere we went. I yelled at them for making me yell at them. I yelled at them as we bought them giant cookies. And they weren’t being bad! They were happy, and noisy, and getting along with each other. But Isaac has this squeal – it’s very high-pitched, and it goes right through you. He resorts to it whether he’s very happy, indignant, or actually hurt. It signals panic either way. And Malcolm was being sweet and good, but why can’t he just walk? Why must he climb walls, jump off benches, press Isaac’s shriek & giggle buttons? Why! By evening-time I had to sit in the back yard and watch squirrels to try to rid myself of my cranky-induced headache. But I wouldn’t tell anybody about that! I’d talk about the good things – the Savory Spice shop we went to, which was completely wonderful! How sweet it was to see the boys excited about smelling all the spices! The beautiful place we found for a walk! The tart that I made for dinner, which I had literally dreamed of, which was a little odd, and which I might not have made if it wasn’t my birthday! Everybody being together on a beautiful day! How I got a beautiful new golden-amber bakelite watch and some perfectly claire-y pens and a blank notebook, which is the most inspiring thing ever! (From Modern Love)

I started watching a Masterpiece Theater version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray the other day, while I was exercising. (I jump around the living room holding two cans of beans while I catch up with The Daily Show on the computer. Isaac thinks this is hilarious! “You’re holding two cans of beans!!”) I love late Victorian novels – they’re so well-crafted and beautifully novelly. It was pretty well-done. It had Prince Caspian in it, and Mr. Darcy! And some guy named Ben who was familiar. It was a little dark and gloomy for early-morning-exercise-viewing. It had a lot of shocking Victorian nudity. (Masterpiece Theater wasn’t like that when I was a lass! When I was a lass, characters from televised versions of literary classics had the decency to keep their oddly-eighties-looking costumes on, thank you very much!!) When I thought about how cranky I was yesterday, but how I wouldn’t write about that part of the day, I had an idea for a modern version of Dorian Gray. What if there was somebody who had one of those mommy-blogs, or an advice column about parenting. What if they talked about their own lives in glowing, unrealistic terms. And then…all of the bad stuff they don’t write about manifests itself doubly in their real lives, until they all descend into a spiralling vortex of depravity and despair!! Bom bom bommmmmmmmmm.

So! This tart! I was quite excited about it. I had thought of having a tart with a base of chard and goat cheese and fresh basil, all mixed together till smooth and bright green. This would be poured into a crust which contained some zesty lemon zest and white pepper. And it would all be topped with chickpeas and olives, which would become, as it were, roasted, as they cooked. And poured over the whole thing would be a provocative glaze of quince jelly, lemon & lime zest, and lemon and lime juice, for a sweet/tart surprise. It was surprising, and I thought it was quite good – very summery. I mixed some sumac and smoked paprika in with the chickpeas, because I had just bought them at the savory spice store, and I was little-kid-excited about it. Isaac said he tasted three layers of flavor, which I thought was very bright and perceptive for a six-year-old.

I also roasted some potatoes, and we had them with lots of pepper and my new alderwood-smoked sea salt. (SMOKED SEA SALT!!) it was delicious!!

Here’s Bob Marley singing Corner Stone (a rare acoustic version!) I’ve been listening to this a lot lately, driving around, getting lost looking for bird watching places. I love it so much!
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Thin-sliced potatoes, 3 ways

Potatoes with rosemary, sage & smoked paprika

This is my 300th post! Considering I post a recipe almost every time, and sometimes more than one per post, that’s gotta be nearly 300 recipes. Phew. I’m simultaneously giving myself a little pat on the back and wondering why I spend so much time on this! For my 300th post, I’ll talk about something simple and enduringly good. Potatoes. I love potatoes. I don’t remember always loving them, but in the last few years, I feel like I want to eat them every night! They’re so comforting, and versatile, and they have a wonderful, subtle flavor all their own, but they’re so generously accommodating to other flavors. I like them roasted – any size. Cut into large chunks and tossed with rosemary; cut into nice thin roasted slices; cut into tinsy pieces, and then roasted till they’re little crispy nuggets. I love them mashed. Mashed potatoes are as fun to play with as they are to eat. You can make mountains and moats and volcanoes, with little pools and rivulets of melted butter. I’m something of a mashed potato purist, (butter, salt, pepper) but tarragon-roasted garlic mashed potatoes are very nice, too. I crave french fries, sometimes. I don’t drink beer, very often, but sometimes I like the idea of going to a bar in the afternoon and having a big plate of french fries and a pint of beer. David and I have a small tradition of going into New York and finding a place to have french fries, hummus, and a glass of red wine. There’s nothing better after a day of walking and looking. I don’t have a deep fryer, but I oven-roast french fries from time to time. I like them with a savory vanilla sauce. It’s my tribute to fries and a vanilla milkshake.

One of my favorite ways to eat potatoes is to slice them quite thin (1/4 inch-ish) parboil them, and then layer them in a dish with herbs, herb-infused milk, or butter, and bake them till they’re crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. In this scenario, the possibilities are endless. You can use any herbs or spices that you like. You can always add cheese, if you’re in the mood. One elaborate version is this with sofrito and fennel. I’m going to suggest a few versions here, but your imagination and your taste are the limit.

I’ve never heard this song before! Bob Marley sings Milkshake and Potato Chips!! How wonderful!
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Salubrious Parsley Soup

Parsley soup

The other day my friend Laura asked me if I’d ever made anything with parsley as the main ingredient. Guess what! I had just bought a large bunch of Italian parsley! Strange, right? I don’t usually buy parsley, for some reason. I enjoy it when it comes in our CSA box, but I usually pass it over at the store, in favor of it’s showier cousin, cilantro. But I’d been craving parsley. Something about the fresh green flavor seemed perfect for the time of year. So Laura’s question was very well-timed. I thought of a lot of different types of things I could make, which I will eventually. But for some reason my mind kept wandering back to tabouli. I thought of a sort of soup, with a clear, clean broth. One of those garlicky, lemony broths that people eat when they’re not feeling well. With flecks of parsley floating in it, and with herbily seasoned bulgur on the side, that you could add to your taste. So that’s what I made. I tried to keep it simple, and I was worried that it wouldn’t have enough flavor, but my son said it had too strong a flavor, so … who knows! I seasoned the broth with thyme and basil and the bulgur with zatar herbs and sesame seeds.

Here’s Lee Perry & Niney with Chase Them Down With Garlic.
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Artichoke, walnut and feta croquettes

Artichoke croquettes

We don’t have cable in our house (conscious choice, cable companies! Don’t come calling.) But sometimes at work I can persuade my fellow restaurant patrons to watch the cooking channel. My favorite is Chopped. I can imagine a version at my house. Instead of gleaming counters and well-coiffed judges, you’d have tables full of school work and drawings and old bills, walls coated with little hand prints and globs of paint, and an elderly dog clattering through, bumping into everyone. And the challenge would be to look in my fridge, pick 2 leftovers packed away in plastic boxes, and make something special out of it. I’d win this round!! I had some leftover mashed potatoes, a half-used can of artichoke hearts, and a bit of extra sandwich bread on hand. What did I make? Lovely croquettes – crispy, flavorful and delicious. Croquettes can be a little stodgy, what with the bread and potatoes, so I wanted them to have bright flavor – something that would go well with feta and artichoke hearts. Hence the fennel and lemon. They turned out really nice! We ate them with a smooth roasted red pepper sauce (open jar of roasted peppers!), which the kids later happily ate on pasta for lunch.

Here’s Vaios Malliaras with Aginara (artichoke) Greek folk clarinet music from 1933. Odd and really lovely!
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