Pesto, lentil and tomato tart

Tomato, pesto, french lentil tart

Tomato, pesto, french lentil tart

This is the 900th post to come at you from The Ordinary. Nine hundred recipes and songs, 900 confused and meaningless meandering rambling essays. It’s crazy, I tell you. Crazy. It’s a crazy amount of words. The other night, whilst half-awake, I found myself composing an Ordinary post in my head, and I realized that I hadn’t done it in a while. And I realized that I missed it. I’ve always had words running through my head–does everybody? And I’ve always arranged them into phrases, and imagined them written. When I was little, I narrated my life in the third person. And then maybe everything was silent for a while. I can’t remember. Maybe I thought in pictures instead, and music, maybe I thought about movie scenes. But when I started writing posts from The Ordinary, when I really started writing essays, and not just providing tepid descriptions of food I’d cooked, I started to write in my head again. I was always thinking of things I could write about. Everything I saw or watched or heard or read seemed to filter itself into an Ordinary post. The world became reorganized in this way, reimagined, seen through Ordinary eyes. Everything seemed worth talking about. And then it was the novel, it took over my thoughts, and the characters spoke to each other in my head, and that was the best feeling of all. And then I fell out of the habit, and suddenly nothing seemed worth talking about, even everything I’d already written. The more you do something, the more you do something, and I think that’s good, and important to remember. If you’re feeling listless and detached, if you’re feeling whybotherish, start to do something you once enjoyed: draw, make music, cook, write. It might be hard at first, it might not come out like you’d planned, but the more you do it, the better it will feel, the more you’ll think about it when you’re not thinking about it, the more you’ll come back to it as your natural resting place. The very act of doing it will give it meaning and value, if you persevere. And that’s where I am now, coming out of the hazy lazy listless summer slump to sharpen my thoughts again, to point them in a certain direction and then follow wherever they lead. I’ll take all the splinters of words and images that have slept in my head all summer, and string them together, so that the words chasing each other around my head in the middle of the night become worth writing down in the morning, so that they become worth sharing.

Lentil, tomato and pesto tart

Lentil, tomato and pesto tart

In keeping with this august benchmark in Ordinary history, I’ll tell you about this very Ordinaryish tart. I love lentils! Especially French lentils! And I love tarts! And I love all of the abundant produce of summer. The pesto I made from basil from our yard and from the CSA we belong to. The tomatoes are from our yard (and they’re wonderful!) Everything was nice together, I think. Fresh, but earthy and satisfying. The crust is yeasted and has a little chickpea flour in for flavor, the pesto is made with pistachios, almonds and sharp cheddar. The lentils are flavored with a little cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and smoked paprika. Lovely spices for lentils.

Here’s 9th and Hennepin, by Tom Waits, because it’s been in my head all morning, and because it’s one of the best collections of words I’ve ever heard.
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Roasted butternut and tomato soup with butter beans

Roasted butternut and butterbean soup

Roasted butternut and butterbean soup

I’ve said again and again that I don’t accept society’s definition of success. I’ve gone on and on explaining that I don’t always value what we’re supposed to value. I like to try to maintain my own definition of what makes a person successful and therefore happy, of what is worth working for. But let’s face it, sometimes it all comes crashing down around you, sometimes it’s just too much effort to think the happy thoughts that keep you aloft and the pixie dust wears off. And then you feel discouraged. I’m sure it happens to everyone, it comes and it goes. But discouragement is of no interest to anyone, so I’ll give you this instead.
dancing dogs
It’s dancing dogs! It’s from 200 BC! It’s from Jalisco, which is in Mexico! It makes me so happy that somebody took the time to make this. It’s so beautiful and joyful and perfect in every way. You can see the original at the Princeton University Art Museum, which is a wonderful place. And today’s Sunday interactive playlist is an easy one. It’s dancing songs, songs about dancing or songs that make you feel like dancing. It will help us all get through these dull grey January days.

And here’s a roasty juicy soup with nice plump butter beans in it and a good dollop of pesto on top. Not hard to make and very tasty. The boys ate it with pasta, as a sort of sauce.

Here’s a link to your interactive play list. Add what you like or leave a comment and I’ll try to remember to add it for you.
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Tarragon and walnut pesto

tarragon and walnut pesto

tarragon and walnut pesto

Hey, kids! It’s Saturday storytelling time! As I’m sure you recall, this means that along with your daily recipe and song, you’ll get a story, too! Each week, everybody in our small salon of auteurs (well, generally me and one or two other people) writes a story based on a found photograph. If you’d like to write a story about it, and I hope you do, send me a copy and I’ll post it here, or send me a link if you have somewhere of your own to post it. Who are these men? Where are they? What are they reading?
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I bought a bunch of tarragon. I put some in a tart, and I had a lot left. I love tarragon, but I can’t put it in every single meal! So I decided to use it all in this pesto. We ate it with flatbread, beans and greens. You could toss it with pasta, or spread it on a pizza, or even serve it as a dip with chips or crackers. Strangely, Malcolm has said in the past that he doesn’t like tarragon, but he loved this, an gobbled it right down. It is very tarragon-y. This is vegan, but if you wanted it to be more like a traditional pesto, you could add parmesan, if you liked.

Here’s Duppy Conqueror by Bob Marley. It’s about ghosts, you know.
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Summer-in-winter pizza with pesto, sofrito, chickpeas and artichoke hearts

Pizza with sofrito, pesto and chickpeas

Pizza with sofrito, pesto and chickpeas

You wouldn’t believe the vast system of pantries we have here at The Ordinary. It extends for miles, beginning above-ground, with spacious, sunny rooms lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. And then it tunnels under to form a vast network of cellars, ice houses, larders, butteries, and spences. And the shelves are lined with bottles and jars. Those in the light of the windows glow like stained glass. Those in the darkened cellars shine with their own internal light. In each bottle and jar – a perfect distillation of a moment from each season from the year. We open these, as needed, to help us navigate the year as it unfolds. When you’re melting in summer, you can uncork a clear, cold, cleansing january day. In winter, we have a vial containing the cool-warm smell of a June morning. We have a whole room stocked with falling things. A jar of late spring’s flower petals – confused, whirled in a tangle; a summer sun shower; autumn leaves, curling to the ground; and a soft, quiet, gentle December snow. Each one will serve to remind you of what you’ve seen and felt, the fragrances and tastes that you have known, and each will remind you as well of the cycle of the seasons which will bring each moment inevitably back upon you. In one room, of course, we have flavors…ripe plump tomatoes, bursting with the hot sunny abundance of August, refined into a flavorful paste. Bunches of basil, sweet, sharp, and intoxicating, concentrated into one pure flavor of summer. And that’s what we used to make this pizza.

pizza with sofrito, chickpeas and pesto

pizza with sofrito, chickpeas and pesto

What? You think I’m waxing hyperbolic? You think this is why I earned the name “hyperboClaire?” Well, it’s totally true!! Every word! Okay, so I’m really talking about the sofrito and pesto that I made with our over-abundance of tomatoes and basil at the end of the summer. I froze them, and at the time I thought…in the middle of winter, this will make a welcome meal! And then the power went out for ten days, and I was worried that they didn’t stay frozen. But they seemed frozen! And our kitchen felt very near freezing through the time. And we ate them on this pizza and everybody seemed fine!! I also added chickpeas and artichoke hearts. I have long loved artichoke hearts on a pizza, and chickpeas on a pizza – well, it just sounded good to me! And it was good! They got all roasty and flavorful. If you happen not to have frozen sofrito in the summer, you can easily make it from a can of tomatoes (Spanish-style sofrito! Recipe to follow). And pesto can be bought in most grocery stores, if you don’t have that lying around in your feezer!! Anyway – this was a good pizza. It did taste like summer, and reminded me of golden afternoons spent picking tomatoes and basil. Very welcome indeed as the temperature plummets.

Here’s Summertime by Jimmy Smith.

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Rosemary crepe stack with CSA medley filling

Savory crepe stack

Today marks the beginning of my live-blogging olympics broadcast. Ready? Begin. We’ll start with ping pong. He shoots the ball across the table! He shoots it back across the table. He shoots it back, he shoots it forth, back, forth, back, forth. Wait! What’s this? Could it be? No, it’s back. Forth, back forth. I’m kidding, of course, and I don’t mean to poke fun at ping pong, which is a perfectly honorable sport. We watched a bit of olympics at work over the weekend, and I really do enjoy the games. I’m strangely moved by large gatherings of people, united in one cause. I get weepy at political demonstrations and concerts and parades. I’ve never been sure why – it’s an irrational and inexplicable response. I find the olympics particularly thrilling. All of these people coming from all over the world, so full of energy and hope and skill. Despite my gospel of under-achievement, and my support for mediocrity everywhere, I’ve always thought it would be fun to be very very good at something. To be, perhaps, the best in the world. I’d love to be passionately focussed on something that I was actually good at doing. I’ve said I’m not very competitive, and it’s true that I’m not, but I can imagine that it would be wonderful to be around other people who have concentrated their life and energy on the thing that you’ve concentrated your life and energy on, even if you’re competing with them for medals. At work over the weekend, some of my co-workers were laughing at the people who had fallen so far back in the race that they didn’t show up on the screen any more. But I thought…they’re in the Olympics, for chrissake!! They’re possibly the best in their country, among the best in the world, they’ve probably trained all of their lives, and they’re here! They should be flying, and glowing, and ecstatic!! They should cross the finish line and laugh and cry with joy! Of course it’s not that simple. I know that. But all of the complexity and drama are part of the beauty of it.

If this dish was an olympic sport, it would be that race in which the swimmers do a different stroke every couple of laps. Why? Because there’s a different filling between each crepe! If this dish was the olympics opening ceremony, it would be that part when they go through the whole history of the host country. Why? Because the fillings are OOTO favorites, and making them was like taking a walk through the history of this blog. How did it all come about, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It was a sultry Friday night. Delivery of the next box share of vegetables was imminent upon the morrow. But, what’s this? We still have beets and zucchini and basil and lord-knows-what-else from last week? Let’s cook them all up, I say!! What grows together, tastes good together! And so it does. I made a stack of rosemary and black pepper crepes. And then I made toasted beets, sauteed zucchini and capers, I made some pesto, I had some caramelized onions leftover, I roasted some mushrooms. I grated some mozzarella. I made a light and simple but smoky tomato sauce to go on top. And that was that! You could obviously use whatever elements you have on hand to make fillings for the layers. And you can arrange them in any order that you like. It’s very fun to put together. It does take a while to make everything at once, but if you happen to have some of the stuff leftover – pesto, or caramelized onions, or sauteed zucchini, it all goes together in a snap.

Crepe stack cross view

Here’s Jurassic 5 with The Game

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Chickpeas, tomatoes and pesto

…and kohlrabi slaw with walnut and scallion dressing!

Chickpeas & pesto

We watched a remarkable movie the other night. Waste land, which is about Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s lengthy project of making portraits of catadores, garbage pickers at the Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro, was engrossing, disturbing, inspiring and hopeful, all at the same time. The landfill itself was massive and horrifying, and the jobs of the pickers – sorting through mountains of garbage to collect recyclables – seemed too awful to imagine. Yet they were cheerful, if not happy, and they’d created a supportive community for each other. Muniz makes a series of portraits of catadores in poses borrowed from famous paintings, and he uses the recyclable materials from the landfill as his medium. Waste Land reminded me of a film by Agnes Varda called The Gleaners and I. Varda, who is wonderfully curious and engaging, shoots a documentary about gleaners, people who follow after the harvest has been collected, to pick the fruit that was left behind. Varda shows people who find food and other treasures in vineyards, fields, and urban markets. Some live on the food and money they make from the objects they find. Some turn them into art. The film is a history of gleaning, a portrait of gleaners, a meditation on aging, a subtle examination of the artist as a gleaner, of the documentarian as a person who collects treasures from the world around her. Both films are about excess and waste, beauty and love. They are about the strength and fragility of people – in body and spirit. In both films, many of the people we meet have been living in this way, literally on the outskirts of society, since childhood, even for generations. They’re bright and energetic and resilient, but both films are permeated with an atmosphere of mortality and decay. The stories of the catadores and the gleaners remind us that life is fragile, and our position in society is more so. In this country we talk about a “safety net,” which seems to have failed many of these people completely. And yet they’ve built their own community to protect each other, and care for each other, to feed each other – they’ve built libraries and learning centers. Aunt Irma has set up huge pots in Jardim Gramacho, and she cooks for the pickers, using food thrown away by grocery stores and restaurants, brought to her as fresh as possible. She seems so happy with her life, and her role of feeding her friends, that it made me weepy. I could go on and on! Both films contained layer upon layer of meaning and beauty and emotion.

Kohlrabi slaw with walnut/scallion dressing

But I’ll move right along now, to tell you about a meal that we partially gleaned. We were walking home from rec camp, on a blisteringly hot day. We passed a table with an awning covered with baskets of vegetables. It was part of an outreach program from Fisherman’s Mark, a local organization, called Farmers, Families, and Fisherman’s Mark. Local farms bring their excess produce, or the produce that’s just nearly past it, and they teach classes on nutrition, and provide demonstrations of easy ways to prepare the vegetables. We stopped for a glass of ice water, a moment in the shade and a chat, and left with some burstingly ripe tomatoes, a few kohlrabi, and a loaf of day-old whole grain bread. It was nearly too hot to cook, even for me, so we decided to open a can of chickpeas, and toss them with tomatoes, toasted cubes of bread, pesto, and small chunks of mozzarella cheese. All to be served over fresh and crispy baby arugula. I decided to cook the tomatoes just for a second, because I like how saucy they get, and I like the fact that they melt the cheese a little bit, but you could leave this step out, especially if you have fresh mozzarella! And I made the kohlrabi into a sweet and spicy slaw with carrots and a walnut scallion dressing.

Here’s Apfelsextet, by Pierre Barbaud from the Gleaners and I.
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Roasted veg with pesto and fried bread

Roasted veg & pesto

I was so pleased with this meal! It seemed so summery. It felt as if all the vegetables were getting along, like a good family should. The cauliflower and potatoes were roasted, because that suited them best. The zucchini was sautéed till it was lightly browned, and then it played nicely with some fresh spinach and a tidbit of canned tomatoes. The mozzarella and pesto were wonderfully yielding to the warmth of the cooked vegetables. And the cubes of bread, lightly fried in olive oil, added just enough crunch to turn the whole thing into a party.

Something about the combination of bread, potatoes and vegetables evokes a peasant-ish meal. But a meal idealized peasants might have. I see peasants in the French or Italian countryside, and it’s constantly sunset or sunrise. They’ve got the wholesome goodness. I see a beautiful, spoiled American woman from LA, or NYC. She’s lost her way, she has no sense of purpose. All it takes is one bite of roasted vegetables with pesto and fried bread to make her realize how shallow her life is. She falls in love with a mysterious, swarthy fellow, who is secretly a count and a millionaire. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry!! You’ll buy the book and all the merchandise to go with it!

I don’t have time to pick a more appropriate song, so here’s a beauty…Fred Williams and the Jewels band with Tell Her.
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Chard, raisin, pecan pesto & black pepper pasta

Chard, pecan, golden raisin pesto

I had a little tantrum yesterday. It was not my proudest moment. It was about ice cream – I was like the kid that drops the ice cream cone, except that instead of tears there was lots of swearing and self-pity. Why did this happen? Let’s take it back. As they say in the TV shows, 18 hours earlier…

The night before I’d mixed some yeast and sugar and a little bit of flour – I’d made a starter. Then I’d gone to bed and thought about all of the interesting things I could make to go with my bread. The next morning I’d added all the other ingredients for the bread, and I had, almost simultaneously, made a brown butter caramel custard to turn into ice cream later in the day. For some reason, I cooked the heck out of everything in the house yesterday! I wanted to make everything from scratch. Bread, pasta, sauce, ice cream. Why? I don’t know! I was seized by some dormant Little House on the Prairie-longing, perhaps. But it all seemed so easy and pleasant. Everything was just a little bit of effort now, a little bit more later. I had fun kneading the dough, I didn’t panic whilst making the custard. I felt positively light-hearted!

Then things started to go wrong, as they usually do. But I couldn’t take it in stride, for some reason. The bread had a really nice crust, but the inside didn’t have the big holes I was hoping for. I really want to make bread with big holes. The pasta was fine, I think, but Isaac wouldn’t even try it. He always eats pasta, and he would not take one bite. Not one! Malcolm ate his pasta like a dog, which is probably normal behavior for a nine-year-old boy, but it did me in. He relented and ate with a knife and fork, but I’d gone to the dark side, by then. And then the mother-flipping ice cream wouldn’t freeze. I have a child’s toy of an ice cream maker from the 80s. It’s not ideal, but it does the job, usually. Not last night. Sigh.

I sat in the backyard enjoying the silence and the greenness and the smell of our lilacs and roses, and the sight of tiny little fireflies. (Why have I never noticed them before? Are they just young fireflies? They’re lovely!) The boys came out and asked for dessert. Goddamn dessert. Then came the cursing, the regret over wasted ingredients, the desire for one peaceful meal, the wistfulness for the ice cream that might have been. I threw squares of bittersweet chocolate at them, which they absconded with happily. Hopefully they’ll remember that, rather than be scarred for life by their mother’s moodiness.

This pesto is really tasty, though, I think! One of my all time favorite combinations is greens, raisins and nuts. (I’ve said it many times, I know!) I’ve baked it into savory pies plenty of times, and it was time to try something different. I thought to myself, why not put it all together? I love pesto, and I like to experiment with different kinds. So that’s what I did. You’ve got chard, pecans, almonds (because I didn’t have many pecans left), golden raisins, roasted garlic, rosemary and smoked paprika. Savory, sweet, and a little smoky.

Here’s Tom Waits with All the World is Green. I love this song, I’ve listened to it so much lately. And all the world is green, right now! And this pesto is a lovely, mossy sort of green.
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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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