“True or false, the universe has a universe.” True!
“True or false, all bats are scaly and rough.” Well, that’s complicated, because all bats are different. “Wrong! It’s false, all bats are incredibly soft and furry.” Wait a minute, just because your brother touched one bat and it was incredibly soft and furry does not mean that every bat in the whole world is soft and furry. That’s faulty reasoning. “Nope, Malcolm said so. All bats are soft and furry.”
“True or false, when a bat flaps its wings, the vibrations can be felt on the other side of the world.” Um, true? Short pause. “Dad said it was false.” Well, where did you hear it was true? Longer pause. “Batman. Why are you laughing?”
I’ve been feeling like a literary magpie, lately. Or maybe just an airhead. I’ll happen across a small passage that intrigues me, and then I’ll buy the whole book from the magical used book store across the street, which has every book you can ever think of, precisely when you’re thinking of it. Then I’ll read a chapter, be completely charmed by it but understand it not at all. I’ll read a wikipedia entry on the text, feel slightly more informed and slightly guilty, and then some new passage will capture my gnat-like attention, and I’ll chase after that like Clio chases after dried leaves. A bit of Aristotle, a bit of Hobbes, a bit of the Mahabarata…maybe a few pages of Tintin to clear the palate. And of course I want to talk about whatever I’m reading, I want to discuss it and try to understand it, but my lack of comprehension combines with my inability to string words together to form a sentence and I sound like a complete idiot. But I think I’m okay with that. I’m not in school, I don’t have to write an essay or pass a test. I don’t even have to finish a book if I don’t want to! Although I usually do want to, if only for a feeling of completion. I like to read books about other people trying to figure things out, even though I don’t believe it’s possible to do so. I love the language, particularly in the very old books, I like the perfect parallel between my inability to understand a concept and the strangeness of the words themselves. I’m fascinated by the connections between books from around the world and throughout history, by the patterns that form, and the way everybody was influenced by somebody else, their thoughts echo the thoughts of those who wrote before them. In a poem Isaac described himself as “a thinker.” I’m so glad that he is, and that he knows that he is! I like to see Isaac and Malcolm make sense of everything, everything that teachers tell them, and friends tell them, that they tell each other, everything they read, and yes, even all the important scientific facts they learn from a batman cartoon. They’re processing it all, and learning to doubt and to reason, and it’s a beautiful process to watch. There’s a beautiful portrait of young Francis Bacon by Nicholas Hilliard with an inscription that translates as, “If only I could paint his mind.” I know what he means!
UPDATE! This was our conversation on the way home from school, and it seemed relevant, and I want to remember it, so here you go…
Isaac: I frequently think about what was there before space.
Me: Do you frequently think about that?
Me: And what do you think was there?
Isaac: Well, I get frustrated, because I think there was nothing, but then I think about what color nothing would be.
This was a delicious sauce. It had a lot of ginger in it, which gave a nice little zing to the tartness of the lemon and the creamy sweetness of the coconut milk. It would be good with other vegetables as well – broccoli would be nice! We ate it with long thin pasta, but it would be good over basmati rice as well.
Here’s Mississippi John Hurt with Joe Turner Blues
And here’s a simple meal. My poor boys are subjected to so many strange and unlikely food combinations. Sometimes they beg for just a simple meal. One of their favorite is pasta with “smooth” tomato sauce. Well! We had an abundance of tomatoes, and perfect weather for a fire in the backyard. We piled tomatoes and red peppers on the grill and left them for a long time, turning them every once in a while, but basically forgetting about them till the fire went out. We peeled them a little, but left some of the charred peel on, and then we cooked them up into a smooth tomato sauce. The boys loved it! And so did we. It’s ridiculously adaptable. You could add any herbs you like, or olives and capers, or red wine, or shallots or onions, or any other vegetable you have lying around, or cheese. Anything, really! This would make a nice soup, as well, if you add some cream or broth.
If there was a spirit in our back yard, I imagine it would eat the sage in our vegetable garden, because sage seems like good spirit food. Well, I harvested some myself to make this pasta sauce. This is a good quick-meal-after-work sauce, and it’s a good way to use up some of my over-abundance of zucchini. The zucchini is blended with white beans, walnuts, and broth to make a thick and creamy, though cream-free sauce. I used the broth from the millet stew I’d made, and it was very flavorful with sage and bay leaves, but you could use any broth you have on hand, or even water. I also used caramelized onions, because I’d made a huge batch over the weekend (and cut my finger!) but if you don’t happen to have them lying around, a shallot or a regular onion would be fine. And that’s all I can say about that at the moment because Malcolm is desperate for the computer.
Last night we sat in our yard in the evening, and made a fire. The boys dashed around catching fireflies. Malcolm twirled Isaac around at arm’s length (by the fire! So dangerous!), and he came flying into my lap. I thought he’d be hot and sweaty from all the mad running, but he was as soft and cool as the dusk. One of the boys said, “I wonder who turned firefly-catching into a sport?” I said, “Ah, yes, the firefly catch, I saw that in the olympic trials last week.” And David said, “No…the firefly toss. Can you imagine what a quiet, gentle sport that would be?” People standing near each other, in the gloaming with their hands in the air, waiting for the firefly to climb to the fingertips and take off into the night, at their own twirly dreamy pace. I love that idea!
What!? Talking about fireflies again! What!? More zucchini recipes!?! Haven’t we just done all that? Yes. Yes we have, people, this is summer!! The first zucchini recipe we ate as a side dish, but it would be good as a meal over rice. It was very quick and simple, like most good zucchini recipes. It involved sauteeing the zucchini with some frozen peas. We added a little cumin and ginger. And then we tossed the lot with cashews, sweetened flaked coconut, and, lime, and fresh basil. Ta da!! The second zucchini recipe is actually a pasta dish. Despite being vegetarian, we don’t eat pasta very often. I’m drawn to things with more intensity of flavor. The boys love it, though, so I’ll make pasta, and I’ll eat the sauce as a sort of soup or stew. Anyway – this pasta dish. We made orchiette, and then we made a summery mix of quickly cooked zucchini, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, fresh basil, and pine nuts. Simple, substantial, and super.
The other night while we were at the shore, and I had my usual not-in-my-own-bed insomnia, I was half awake and listening to the waves, and this metaphor crept into my head. I’ll share it with you! It’s an extended metaphor, and I’m going to go on about it for a really long time, so I get extra points on my essay. Aging is like being in the ocean. You bob along, from day to day, treading water. You see your family on the beach, bright, and real, and busy and playing in the waves that wash towards them. You feel the sand under your feet slipping away, a little more with each wave, but it’s not unpleasant. Every once in a while you step on a sharp shell or get pinched by a crab, but the waves carry the sharp thing away again, and you bob and and you tread. The vasty ocean curves all around you, beautiful, comforting, frightening, inexplicable. And you’re fine; you’re lifted up, you’re set back down, you’re happy. And then when your back is turned a giant wave comes and breaks right over your head, you’re not ready for it, you’re turned upside down, your mouth and eyes and ears are full of water. But you struggle to right yourself, to see your family on the glowing sand, you clear your soggy head, you tread, you bob, you’re fine.
The older I get, the more I realize it’s the small everyday things that matter. Today we’re making a cake, and Malcolm drew me a card with green and blue Dog Woman on it, and Isaac drew me a card with a picture of him and me laughing. The sun is shining, the day is cool. Yesterday I went to a grocery store with my boys, but it was a special grocery store, and I got special things, and they’re full of happy potential for good meals. We’re all on the same boat together going in the same inevitable direction – we may as well enjoy the meals!
One of the nice things about having a summer birthday is the vegetables. I LOVE VEGETABLES!! Yesterday I made a sauce with roasted tomatoes, roasted beets, roasted zucchini, tons of fresh basil, a pinch of marjoram and thyme, and a few of my special birthday purchases – viz, sherry vinegar, fresh mozzarella, and pinenuts. I think it turned out really nice! A little beet-sweet, with the subtle tang of sherry vinegar. We had it with penne, but it would be good with anything, I think. It would even make a good soup, if you added more water or stock!
Here’s Tom Waits’ Time, surely one of the most beautiful songs ever!
But I bought more castelvetrano olives, because I still have a big crush on them, and I bought some little nicoise olives, which are the cutest things you’ve ever seen! Small and perfect little purply-brown ovals. They’re firm and salty and meaty, and very easy to pit. I decided to add them to some quickly sautéed zucchini, with some garlic, summer savory and chervil, for a quick, light side dish. And I decided to fry some sliced almonds in butter to top it off, because they’re ridiculously tasty that way! (But you could toast them in a dry pan, if you’re vegan). Nice with an arugula salad, but it would be good tossed with pasta, as well!