Moroccan spiced chickpea, tomato and pepper stew & couscous, & semolina bread

Morrocan chickpea stew

Malcolm wanted to go to the river. Isaac didn’t. It’s not the first time this has happened. After another epic struggle, we persuaded Isaac to walk down with us. As we walked, Malcolm declared that he was an outdoors swimming animal, and Isaac was an indoors curl-up-in-a-nest-of-fur-and-feathers animal. We laughed, cause it’s funny and it’s sort of true. But I felt uneasy. We try very hard not to label the boys a certain way. Not to say… Malcolm is a man who does this, and Isaac is a man who does that; or Malcolm’s good at this, and Isaac’s good at that. Because when somebody decides that you are a certain way, you can get stuck. I find it interesting, and a little frightening, how readily people take to a certain description of themselves. The boys like being defined in certain ways. We all do…everything’s such a confusing muddle, and it makes it easier if you have a semi-solid notion of yourself from which to make sense of it all. As an example…Malcolm is the boy who will try any food, Isaac is the boy who refuses to taste a thing. This is a thing that’s been decided, and Isaac is almost proud of it. But it’s just not true! In fact, I’d go even farther to say that the idea that children like bland, pale foods, and we should start out feeding them tasteless things, and trick them into eating anything else, is also, just not true. We fed tiny Malcolm oatmeal and yogurt and bananas. Then, one day, on a whim, we gave him orzo with pesto on it. Who turned the lights on? Flavor! Strong, sharp flavor! (Tiny little pasta that squishes through your fingers and drives the dog crazy when you scatter it ont the floor!) I think all children like strong flavors – Isaac likes olives and goat cheese – he always has. They both love capers, which they call flavor dynamites. We just have to give them a chance to try these things! Tapenade baby food, anyone?

Isaac eats a chickpea

So when I made this Moroccan-spiced chickpea stew, Isaac refused to try it, because that’s what he does. Then I gave him a chickpea. He ate that, and helped himself to more. I gave him an olive. He ate that, and spooned a few more onto his plate. By the time the rest of us had left the table, I looked out the window and saw that he’d pulled the whole serving plate toward him, and was eating everything together, hungrily. So we’ll take Isaac swimming, and Malcolm will curl up on the couch with a good book.

The stew was really tasty, and it’s a good way to use up all your tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers, if you’re sick and tired of ratatouille. It’s not authentically Moroccan-spiced, of course. It’s just that it’s a pleasing mixture of savory spices and herbs, and “sweet” spices and herbs. And the bread! Well, I’d been reading fascinating accounts of Moroccan flatbread, that generally contain semolina, and are folded into all sorts of beautiful fashions. I decided to play around with these ideas, but in one big loaf. It turned out very nice! With a lovely texture and flavor – crumbly, chewy, and satisfying. If you don’t feel like doing all the crazy folding, you could just shape it into a nice round, and leave it at that.

Here’s Peter Tosh’s beautiful I Am that I Am.

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Isaac’s sweet and spicy ice cream

sweet and spicy ice cream

“What kind of ice cream shall we make?” I asked Isaac. “Carrot ice cream!” He said with a giggle. Little does he know that I actually plan to make carrot ice cream some day! Watch this space! In the end, after considering the fragrances of lots of jars from the spice cabinet, he decided on a few sweet spices, plus some chocolate chips. Cinnamon, a touch of nutmeg, and a touch of ginger. And we ground up the chocolate chips a bit, so they’d be nice and melty in the ice cream. Delicious! The words “ice cream” always makes me think of this scene from Down by Law. Jarmusch is probably my favorite American independent filmmaker, for reasons that should be obvious when you watch the clip. I could go on and on about why I like his filmmaking, but I’m late for work, so I’ll tell you instead about the music. In each of his films, I’ve discovered music that has become some of my favorite music ever. From Tom Waits in Down by Law, to RZA in Ghost Dog, to Mulate Astatke in Broken Flowers, watching Jarmusch’s films has added immeasurably to my musical library. So here’s a short playlist of songs I’ve discovered from his films, to listen to while you wait for your ice cream to freeze!

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Beet dogs

Beet dogs

I love sleeping. I’m not very good at it – I never have been! I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and my brain will start buzzing, and I can’t quiet it down. It’s like the little people in my brain that have the middle-of-the night shift are working over time. I used to panic that if I didn’t get enough sleep I’d go crazy. I mean, there’s only so much of being with myself that I can take! I need a break, man! Of course, panicking about not being able to sleep is a rookie mistake; all the seasoned insomniacs know that it only makes things worse. Having children has put some sleepless fears to rest. I get along fine without much sleep. Yes I’ll be tired and blurry, but it won’t last forever. But a good night’s sleep, or even a good few-hours of sleep, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I don’t consider this a lazy attitude, because with sleep comes dreams, and dreaming is one of the most active and creative activities that a mind can engage in. I love dreaming! Perhaps because I’m a filmmaker that hasn’t made a film in over a decade, I consider every dream like a short film – I’ve even have a dream that I make a film, and it’s always a perfect and beautiful film, which I lose when I wake up. David’s alarm goes off at 6, and I’ll sleep for another hour or so, and this is when you have all the best dreams – or at least you remember them best. Dreams about old clothes, dreams about flying, dreams about falling, dreams about houses that have unexpected rooms and passages, dreams about climbing trees, dreams about my dog, dreams about people I’ve never met, dreams of swimming, dreams of drowning, dreams about water, dreams about glass, dreams about darkness, dreams about school, and about schools with unexpected rooms and corridors. And lately, of course, dreams about food. This recipe came to me in a dream. And part of me, upon waking, thought, you’re not really going to try that, are you? And another part of me thought, why the hell not? These are a sort of version of vegetarian hot dogs. They’re made with beets, pinto beans, garlic, smoked paprika, a pinch of nutmeg, and a pinch of allspice. They have some flour and eggs in them. They’re very simple and easy to make. They look funny and a bit embarrassing while you’re making them, so if you have boys in your house I suggest you banish them from the kitchen, unless you’d like to hear rude jokes and titters. The jokes stopped when they tasted these, though! Everybody was dubious, but everybody loved them. We all ate more than we planned on. Isaac sat with his chair tilted back, one beet dog in each hand, talking and gesturing, and ate every single bite. (Being allowed to eat them with their hands was part of the appeal!) Malcolm declared them better than store-bought not-dogs. I tried them two ways. First, I just fried them in butter (which is the way I make not dogs.) Second, in a flash of inspiration, I had the idea to boil them first, like gnocchi (which they resemble in some ways!) and then fry them in butter. I thought these came out better. Less dry, with a nice sort of chewy texture. They really are unlike anything I’ve ever eaten, but in a good way. Try them! Why the hell not! They’re very easy to make. I think that the boiled ones would be grillable, too. I’ll try it and let you know!

Here’s Big Mama Thornton with Hound Dog
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Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa? Aw, man, I was totally into quinoa back when nobody knew about it. Back before it became all popular. I used to buy it at this small store that was, like, all hardcore vegetarian stuff, and, like imports. Quinoa was so cool – it was my favorite, and it totally spoke to me. It was my perfect food, man. And then it started getting bigger, and playing the big stadiums, like shoprite, or, you know, pathmark, and suddenly everybody’s eating quinoa. And it’s in cookies, and, pancakes, and bread, and in mother-flippin statues of Mount Rushmore probably. Totally sold out. It’s so sad when that happens to a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. So sad.

That’s right, I ate quinoa in 1993! That’s got to make me one of the first wave of quinoaers, right? Old school! Except for maybe the Incas. They might have come first. When I first met David (in 1993) he made a quinoa-barley soup that his co-worker had recommended. And it was really good! I have to admit that I don’t cook with it as often as I should, and I’m ashamed to admit that it might be because it’s so popular now! It’s so earnestly vegetarian, which is a quality I admire in a food, but sometimes it makes me take a step back from it for a while. Silly, I know!!

If you’re looking for a way to introduce quinoa to somebody who hasn’t tried it, this might be it, because the quinoa is so much a harmonious part of everything going on around it. Malcolm asked what the little floating curls were, and I said, “sea monkeys!” Fortunately he’s too young to know what those are, so I revised my answer to “the ultimate Incan super-food, that made them into superheroes!” He liked the soup a lot, anyway.

I think this soup turned out really well! I’m quite proud of it! It’s got a really pleasing flavor and texture. Very savory, soft, but substantial, and comforting. I grated the zucchini, which, once cooked, gave it a perfect sort of texture. And I puréed half the spinach and chopped the other. I used the broth left over from cooking french lentils, but I think you could make a simple vegetable broth and it would be fine. It’s as close to chicken soup as I’ve come since I stopped eating chicken soup. And probably better for you! It’s simply seasoned with fresh thyme, nutmeg and cinnamon. I wasn’t sure this combination would work, but I went ahead with it on a whim, and it’s really good!

Here’s Carnaval ayacuchano from an album called Peru: Kingdom of the Sun, the Incan Heritage. I love this song!
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Asparagus & Spinach quiche

Asparagus quiche

We had this for dinner on St. Patrick’s day, and, I swear to god, I didn’t know it would be so green! It was not a calculated move! As it happens, green is my favorite color, so I’m exceedingly pleased that it turned out so green. I can’t really think of anything interesting to say about asparagus quiche at the moment, so I’ll just relate a few salient points. Firstly, I made this in an hour. One hour, start to finish! As it happens, I had some crust dough leftover, but even if you added dough-making time, it would still be, maybe, one hour 10 minutes. So it seems quite fancy (doesn’t it?) but it’s quick and easy. Second-of-all, I think it’s very pretty (and green). So it makes a nice spring-y meal. Even for a special day like Easter, I’d say. It’s flavored with a little basil and rosemary. And with nutmeg, because nutmeg belongs in a spinach quiche! I added some goat cheese, for freshness and tang. And now I’ll stop talking about it, or I’ll have gone on longer describing it than it takes to make it!

asparagus quiche

Here’s Nutmeg, by Art Pepper
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Butternut tart with caramelized fennel

Butternut tart

Tart pan, tart pan
Who’s got a tart pan?
I do, that’s who.
Salty or sweet,
messy or neat,
Who can make tarts now?
I can.

Did I tell you that I got a tart pan? I did? I’m totally not excited about it at all. I’m, like, pfffft. Tart pan, whatever.

I used it last week to make a sweet tart. And I used it this week to make a savory tart! I wanted it to be a bit like a pumpkin pie – with the butternut squash roasted, pureed and mixed into a sort of custard. And I thought the fennel would be pretty AND tasty, it’s bright distinctive taste mellowed by a bit of caramelization in white wine and balsamic vinegar. I put some lemon zest in the crust, to tart up the tart, because squash and fennel are quite sweet. I thought very hard about the seasoning, because I’m making a real effort to keep it simple – to choose two or three herbs and spices that go well together. I chose nutmeg and sage – both very nice with butternut squash, and quite lovely together!

Here’s Art Pepper with Nutmeg
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Spicy machica cocoa baked pudding

baked pudding

The other week I bought some machica at the Super Tropical Food Market. I’ve been thinking about what to do with it ever since. What is machica, you ask? Well, it’s toasted barley flour. The machica that I bought is from Ecuador, and according to my extensive research, when it’s at home it’s used to thicken hot drinks. I saw several recipes for machica hot chocolate, that sounded very nice. And then I was browsing through Mrs. Beeton’s Everyday Cooking. (There’s such strange stuff in there! So matter-of-factly presented! It’s irresistible.) She has a recipe for baked puddings made with very finely ground grains! Including barley! The idea of combining Ecuadorian machica and a recipe of Mrs Beetons seemed like the best kind of fusion cooking, so I gave it a go. I decided to flavor it with dark cocoa powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I didn’t want to overwhelm the subtle flavor of toasted barley, but I thought it might be pleasant to fashion it after spiced cocoa thickened with Machica. The resulting pudding was very tasty. The texture is comforting, and it has a nice balance of tastes, with the toasted barley-flavor subtle but distinct.

Here’s Miles Davis with Tasty Pudding.
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