Roasted butternut, spinach, raisin and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

Roasted butternut, raisin, spinach and pine nut pie

I’m writing a novel. If you’ve spent any time with me you know this fact, because I go on and on about it to the point of tedium; ad nauseam, ad infinitum. I talk about it frequently, I think about it constantly, I dream about it every night. What I don’t do all that often is write it. I spent all day yesterday–all day–writing two scenes I’d thought about for ages, and I wrote…a couple of pages, maybe, and I’m not sure they’re any good. I wake up every morning determined to get on with it. I have a picture in my head of myself, in a frenzy of writing, spewing out page after perfect page. This doesn’t happen. I’m so easily distracted and discouraged. I’m so often plagued by saucy doubts and fears. I could write it now, but if I tried, instead, to write it in fifteen minutes, I’d write completely different words! I’d have completely different ideas! How do I know it wouldn’t come out better if I waited an hour, or a day, or a week. Maybe something would happen between now and then that would alter the course of history (in the world of my novel.) Well this morning, when I thought about writing my novel, I kept finding a song in my head, and I’ve decided that this is my new novel-motivational track. It’s Precisely the Right Rhyme, by Gang Starr. It’s about knowing that what you say is the right thing to say, and that you’re saying it at the right time. It’s about confidence. I’ve been thinking about confidence a lot lately. It’s not something I possess great quantities of, it’s not something I’ve passed down to my boys. Instead I’ve got a bizarre mixture of crippling insecurity and bafflingly misplaced arrogance. Confidence is not even something I admire, necessarily. I don’t respect people who are all cockiness and swagger. I’m attracted to humility and moved by human weakness. And yet, and yet…I’m starting to recognize confidence as an essential part of the creative process, if not of life. On Malcolm’s basketball team it was never the tallest or most agile kids that played best, it was the kids who acted like the ball belonged to them, the basket belonged to them, the whole damn court was theirs and everybody else was in their way. So that’s how I’m going to write, with “everybody else” being the twin demons of doubt and distraction who fly at me from every side. This understanding applies to all things. So maybe you’re not trying to write a novel (although, honestly sometimes it seems that most people are!) But whatever you’re trying to do, tell yourself you’re doing it just right, at just the right time. Tell yourself till you believe it! In the words of Troy McClure, “Get confident, stupid!”

And the words of Gang Starr,

    My subject matter and context are blessed
    Vocal inflection connects, it’s a slugfest
    Ladies approach to hear quotes from the spokesman
    Thoughts are like oceans for my lyrics to float in
    I’m absolutely astute so salute

    Just get with the words and the way I command ya
    Cause you’re in the right place, and luckily it’s the right time
    And since I’m inclined, I’ll kick precisely the right rhymes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love greens, pine nuts, raisins and garlic. It’s the perfect combination for me. In this instance I’ve packed all that into a pie with some grated roasted butternut squash and some mozzarella cheese. I made this pie for a bunch of people to eat standing around without plates or utensils, and it worked well in this regard. It would be nice for a party or a picnic, I think, for this reason.

Here’s Gang Starr with Precisely the Right Rhymes.
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Empanadas with greens, chickpeas and cranberries

Kale, cranberry and chickpea empanadas

Kale, cranberry and chickpea empanadas

I’ve been thinking about the way our world changes, and specifically about the way people bring about that change. Our history as humans is a pattern of progress and change, progress and change. We’ll head blindly in one direction, unable to see quite where we’re going because it’s so close, and then somebody or somebodies will push us in another direction. With a grand gesture, with a slow protest, with a war, with a sit-in, with a newspaper article, with a violent act, with a strike, with a clear bold voice, or in a confused tangle of contradictory words. I’ve been thinking about certain small acts of rebellion that I love, certain quiet ways that people have changed the rules. They change the world slowly, almost imperceptibly, but the change grows in widening waves. The personal becomes political and art becomes powerful. I love to read about blues musicians from the last century, growing up in a world of poverty and discrimination and finding a way to make music no matter what the odds. Nobody hired them a music teacher so they’d understand the rules of musical theory. Big Bill Broonzy made a fiddle from a cigar box, Elizabeth Cotten taught herself to play guitar upside-down, they figured it out themselves, with the help of some friends. They sang about their lives, the way they actually were, the trains running by their door, the work they had to do, and they sang about the way they wished their lives could be. The rules they answered to in life were harsh and unjust, but in music they made their own rules, they made music the way they wanted it to sound–that was theirs. And with books like Catcher in the Rye, Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird, we find a whole new world of writing, with the language people actually use, according to the rules of conversation and not those of grammar. These books are intimate and personal and real, and they describe the lives of normal people as they actually are. This small feat frightened people enough that they were all banned, at one time or another. And, of course, I love filmmakers who make films the way they think they should be. Hollywood films have quite a rigid set of rules that dictate the way they’re made. These rules are nearly invisible to the viewer, because they’re designed to make a film seem more realistic, and because we’ve grown up with them, we’ve learned them, without even realizing. Well, I love a director like Yasujiro Ozu, who defies these rules. He sets the camera where he thinks it should be, he moves it when it needs to be moved (not very often!) he crosses sight lines, he leaves out plot points. Not to be rebellious, but because he knows how he wants his films to look. His films are mostly about middle-class families going about their lives. They seem placid and uneventful, at least compared to most movies. But in showing us the way we live, in showing us hurtful pettiness and gossip, thoughtlessness and ingratitude, he makes us think about the way we could live, the way we could treat the people around us. It’s subtle and slow, but it seeps into you and makes you notice everything differently and more clearly. And I believe this small slow change is the most important, and that it extends to all things…not just to art and politics, but to life, which is the very heart of art and politics. We can change the world with the food that we eat, the cars that we drive, the books that we read. We change the world by struggling to understand it, by recognizing the rules that govern us as they are, and by deciding the way we want them to be. We change the world with every kindness to another person, and it’s a shame that this sounds sappy, because it’s true.
Kale, chickpea and cranberry empanadas

Kale, chickpea and cranberry empanadas

Well, I totally wasn’t going to go on and on about this today! It’s been on my mind, man. I think it’s because David and I just bought some Big Bill Broonzy CDs and they’re phenomenal, and because I’m reading this biography of Jean Vigo. Yeah. So! These are summery sorts of empanadas, I think. I made them for our anniversary picnic dinner. Empanadas make the best picnic food, because you can eat them with your hands and walk around with them, and they combine so many flavors and food groups in one neat package. I also boiled some little potatoes and tossed them with herbs and butter, and they are also a fun, if messy, picnic food. Our picnic was spoiled by dozens and dozens of ticks…a sickening tickening…but we came home and sat in our backyard and finished our empanadas, or lovely smoky, savory sweet empanadas.

Here’s Big Bill Broonzy with Feelin Low Down. Phew, what a song!

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Beet and kidney (bean) pies

Beet and kidney bean pie

Beet and kidney bean pie

It’s take your child to work day. The boys are at the shop with David, hopefully not routering their arms or circular sawing their fingers. Take your child to work day. It’s a little odd, when you stop to think about it, which for better or for worse I’ve just done. It seems to imply a certain neatness and regularity to the world that just doesn’t exist, as I see the world. Does every parent have a safe, child-friendly job? Does every parent have bosses and co-workers that will put up with an infestation of restless children? Does every parent have a job they can work at productively whilst entertaining a bored and or curious tyke? Does every parent have a job during school hours? Maybe they’re chefs or professors or rock stars or stage actors, and they work at night. Does every parent have a job at all? 399919_10200595609406883_2047603223_nI’ve just read that the day was invented by Gloria Steinem as Take Your Daughter to Work Day, and was intended to give girls a sense of possibility and purpose. This makes it seem even odder to me, almost as if it was subversively designed to illustrate the messiness of the world. How many children are bundled off to work with their fathers, because their mothers don’t work during the week because they’re home with children. Maybe they work at night or on the weekend so that they can be there to pick up their children after school. Maybe they have a job but its the kind of job many women have at some point in their lives–cooking or cleaning or caring for someone else’s children, and, strangely, this isn’t the kind of job you’d like to share with your own child. Maybe, like many women, you’re not treated with respect at your job, you’re not treated as an equal. A lot of things have changed, a lot of things have not. Of course, all of this stopping-to-think-about-it has included some thoughts on my own life, my own work, my own ideas of success or failure and how they don’t quite fit into those of the rest of the world. Any thing you do is considered work if somebody pays you to do it. And the more they pay you, the more successful you are at your job. I’ve been doing a bit of pastry cheffing, and yesterday I made a cake for a restaurant. If the boys had stayed home and helped me with that, they would have been at work with me (and we would have had fun!). Today, I don’t have any commissions for cake, so if the boys stayed home from school and baked a cake with me, we’d be goofing off (and we’d still have fun!). If I sit around writing or cooking or conspiring to make a movie, I’m a shiftless slacker who should go out and get a real job (I know, I know…). If somebody pays me to do those things, I’m a person who has followed my dreams to find success (although I probably still can’t afford health insurance.) Everything is a little different looked at through the prism of parenthood. What seems brave and valuable when you’re a single person with only yourself to care for, seems irresponsible once you have children. We have our own small business. We work seven days a week, one way or another, and the truth is that the boys spend all weekend every weekend at work with David, watching him watch the store while I wait tables. This is life as they know it. We don’t have days off or weekends or paid vacations, and we still can’t afford health insurance. And all summer when they knock about the house with me, cleaning and cooking and keeping themselves happy and creative, waiting impatiently while I finish writing some dumb thing so we can go to the creek, they’re at work with me, whether they know it or not. It’s messy, it doesn’t fit into any tidy pattern of employment, but I think they’re okay with it. I think they’re proud of us, and have a sense of possibility and purpose. I think they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Beet and kidney bean pie

Beet and kidney bean pie

Beet and kidney bean pie! It’s ruddy! This was inspired, of course, by beef and kidney pie, or steak and kidney pie. It does have a certain meaty quality to it. It’s roasted beets and mushrooms combined with kidney beans in a saucy sauce of tamari, sage, rosemary, thyme and allspice. If you use vegetable shortening instead of butter in the crust, this would be vegan.

Here’s King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Workingman’s Blues.

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