GInger beer-battered zucchini & artichoke fritters

GInger beer-battered fritters

We had a family joke when I was growing up that whenever my brother was ill, my mom would make enchiladas. Delicious, yes, but maybe not an ideal comfort food. It probably only happened once or twice, but it became the stuff of family legend. Yesterday Isaac wasn’t feeling well, and I made these. Sigh. I thought it would be fun for him, because he likes food you can eat with your fingers and dip in sauce (as who doesn’t!). In my defense, his fever didn’t start till after dinner, but when you’re feverish, battered vegetables probably aren’t your first choice of meal. Malcolm loved them, though, and the dipping sauce they went out in (which had tamari, balsamic, lime, red pepper flakes, and basil.) I thought it would be fun to make a beer batter, but with ginger beer, because I LOVE GINGER BEER! I flavored the filling with a touch of ginger and lots of fresh basil, and added goat cheese for taste and texture. So, crispy on the outside, soft and melty inside, tasty and fun to eat.

A while back I wrote an essay on food, music, childhood, comfort, memory and the soul. I sent it around to a few places, but, strange to say, there’s not a huge market for essays about Proust, Memphis Minnie, and RZA! Who knew! Well, guess what, today we’re going to have a guest speaker in the form of my own self. Most if it will be after the jump, because the authoress goes on and on and on.

And here’s a short playlist of the songs mentioned.

The Taste of Memory

We all know about Proust’s Madeleine. After a dreary day, the prospect of a depressing morrow left the narrator dispirited, until one bite of Madeleine, dipped in tea, filled him with an overwhelming joy. The taste of the food, and the memory of childhood happiness acted as a powerful tonic. He describes taste and smell as souls, persistent, faithful, bearing the weight of the vast structure of recollection in their tiny, fragile essence. Most adults have probably experienced this – when you’re feeling unwell or depressed, you crave some food you ate when sick as a child. It’s not the food that makes you feel better, it’s the memory of being cared for, of a time when you were not isolated by your maturity, not relied on to make decisions, not expected to take care of yourself and protect others.

To be continued…. (the recipe is after the jump as well, just like it always is!)
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Chard and french lentil empanadas

Chard & french lentil empanada

“People talk of natural sympathies,” said Mr. Rochester. And we all know that he was just trying to seduce Jane Eyre, but he wasn’t wrong – people do talk of natural sympathies. Not just between people, but between colors, and musical notes as well. Certain things just look or sound pleasing when they’re combined. The boys have a book on the history of perspective in art, and I find it so fascinating! Artists through the ages have tried so hard to understand the world through mathematical rules – they understood it in order to draw it, and they understood it by drawing it. (Which is what little Isaac does, it seems – when something interests him he has to draw it, and he’s always pleased with what he draws) Apparently Paolo Uccello would stay awake at night after his wife had gone to bed, searching for vanishing points, and he’d say, “Oh, what a a sweet thing this perspective is!” And Piero della Fransesca believed in a perfect geometry underlying God’s creation. He saw everything as defined by measurements and numbers, which had mystical properties. Everything was carefully planned, in his art and in the world around him to be pleasantly harmonious. David, who is a painter, will point out how certain colors “hum” when they’re next to each other. Some even create a beat when placed in proximity – almost a flashing in your vision. My piano teacher, who was also a painter, used to say that each painting should have one “key note” color, which stood out from all the other, and didn’t harmonize with the rest of the picture. I think it’s interesting that the visual world is spoken of in musical terms, what with all the humming and the beats! I asked my mom, who is a professor of music history, if people believed certain chords together had magical powers. Oh yes! She said. People used to believe that you are what you listen to, and that you could be driven to certain actions – saintly or diabolical – according to what you heard. Octaves and fifths were pure and safe, but the tritone was the devil in music, and could cause terrible unrest. She said that if you took perfect fifths, and sang them perfectly in tune, by the time you got four octaves up, you’d be a half-step flat. People used to develop all sorts of tunings to solve the problem (well-tempered tuning) and now we use equal temperament tuning, in which we adjust by making everything equally out of tune. “In order to end up on pitch you have to compromise everything else,” Says my mother, “Just like in life.”

Well, I believe that there are certain flavors that go together perfectly, as well. When you taste them they just make sense, and they hum in your mouth. Frequently they grow together and ripen together, which almost makes you agree with Piero della Francesca’s assessment that there’s some divine pattern accounting for all of the harmonies in the world. Tomatoes and basil, for example. Perfect. And I like to think about my piano teacher’s idea of introducing one element of flavor that’s surprising and unexpected, and makes all of the other happily harmonizing flavors more exciting. Some flavors hum along together, some contrast pleasantly, to create a beat. Personally, I love chard and french lentils together. And I love chard and some sweet and tangy fruit. And I love them all together in a crispy crust. I really liked these empanadas! It’s one of my favorite meals I’ve made in a while. I combined chard, which had been sauteed with a bit of garlic and hot red pepper, with lentils, which had been cooked with nigella seeds and sage. I added some caramelized onions, for sweetness. And I added a spoonful of quince jam. I used queso blanco & mozzarella to make everything nice and melty, and bring it all together. I’d read that in argentina they make empanadas with quince paste and salty white cheese, and I guess this is my version of that. We ate these with my version of patatas bravas, which I’ll tell you about in a little while, and, I’m not saying it was a masterpiece, or anything, but it was very pleasing meal to have in out little green backyard on a cool summer evening.

Chard and lentil empanadas

Here’s Leonard Cohen with Hallelujah. Is he talking about a chord with divine and magical powers? I’m never sure. I like the word “hallelujah.”
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Grilled veg, pigeon peas, lime, basil and pine nuts

Grilled veg and pigeon peas

Here at The Ordinary’s anti-boredom institute, we believe that you have to be taught to be bored. Babies are never bored. Give them a shaft of light and their little fingers and they’re happy for ages. Little children don’t get bored. It’s when you’re older, and somebody shows you that it’s cool to be bored, that it all comes crashing down, and you lose the ability to entertain yourself. Unfortunately it feels as if this is happening at a younger and younger age. One week into summer vacation, Malcolm announced that he was bored, and needed to watch a(nother) video. I lost it a little bit. I yelled, “you are not that boy – you don’t have so little going on in your busy brain that you need to watch television to keep from being bored!” He sighed, and may have rolled his eyes, my little nearly-ten-year-old-teenager. I’m a big believer in unstructured time, for little ones. Isaac likes to lie on his back in bed, one leg thrown over the other knee, singing and thinking. I always wonder what’s going on in his bright little head. The two of them together can spend hours on some scheme or another. Sometimes it’s better not to know what they’re up to! When I was growing up my mom used to say, “people who are bored are boring.” It’s a lesson that I took to heart. I truly believe that you should have enough inner resources to be stuck in traffic and not be bored – your thoughts should be able to keep you busy and happy. It’s mother-flippin hard sometimes, I know! Inertia, ennui, fatigue, 90+ degree weather – they weigh you down! But it’s what I wish for my bright boys. Now to keep them away from the damn DVD player! Of course it might help if I stopped writing about how I don’t want them to be bored, stepped away from the damn computer, and engaged! We live in such a noisy world! My friend Laura shared this article from the NYT that I found very validating!

OMG, you know what else is totally boring? Eating the same grilled vegetables two days in a row. Sheesh. Unless…you sautée them with pigeon peas, add a squeeze of lime, a giant handful of fresh basil, and a scattering of pine nuts. (Now that I have pine nuts, pretty much every thing I make will involve pine nuts. Until they’re gone. You’ve been warned!) This turned out really tasty. It was an after work – very tired – it’s too hot to cook meal, but it was actually quite special. It was David’s suggestion to use pigeon peas, and it was an excellent one. They have an earthy quality that went well with everything else. You could use any grilled vegetables you have leftover, but I have to say beets, potatoes and mushrooms were lovely. I stir-fried some zucchini, and with the beet juice and nigella seeds, it ended up looking uncannily like water-melon slices! You could, of course grill the zucchini. You could also roast all the veg, or even sautee it all, if that was easier for you, or you don’t have a grill, or it happens not to be summer as your read this. And you could substitute chickpeas for pigeon peas, if that’s what you have on hand. We ate this with basmati rice and some good bread.

Here’s Bob Marley with Lively Up Yourself. I can’t get enough of him, lately!

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Grilled vegetables and pecan tarragon sauce

Roasted beets & mushrooms

We’ve been watching the Olympic trials at work, on a big television above the bar. The sound is turned all the way down, and for some reason, in this way, it becomes the most beautiful drama. The expressions on the athletes’ faces are so raw and honest – pure, distilled emotion. It reminds me of silent films, when the actors’ gestures and expressions had to tell the story, except that this is entirely unstudied. It’s hard to tell at first who has won and who has lost, because the faces are oddly similar – anguished, ecstatic, exhausted. Their faces are like children’s faces in delight and sorrow – undulled and unguarded. It’s very emotional! I have to stop myself from getting weepy right there at the host stand! I love the idea of working very hard for one thing, and putting so much emotion and energy into it. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately – it’s good to have a grand project in your life.

When I was little we lived in England one summer, during the Olympics. To my shame, I remember being actually bewildered that the announcers spoke more about English athletes than Americans. Didn’t everybody in the world care more about our superior American athletes even than their own? Didn’t they? Heh heh. With independence day drawing on apace, it’s probably a good time to examine our place in the world as Americans and as human beings. Luckily for you I have to go to work in a short while, so I’ll talk about grilling vegetables instead. We grilled beets, mushrooms, and potatoes. Of course you could grill any vegetables you like, but I recommend this combination. The beets and mushrooms have a nice juiciness, everything is crispy, earthy, smoky and delicious. I like a simple marinade for grilled vegetables. Olive oil, vinegar, fresh herbs and garlic. I added some nigella seeds because I just got them for the first time and I’m very excited about them! But if you can’t find them you could live without. We also sauteed the beet greens with some chard, and I used zatar spices, because I just bought sumac, and I’m very excited about that, too!! And the pecan tarragon tarrator sauce is a lovely, creamy, vegan, subtly flavored sauce that goes very sweetly with the earthy grilled vegetables. Malcolm ate his grilled vegetables on toast, and he made it into Darth Vador’s Tie Fighter. (serving suggestion)

Beet tie fighter


Here’s a little film of Louis Armstrong playing Stuttin with some Barbecue, and dancing with Velma Middleton.

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