Gorditas with roasted salsa and pigeon peas


So it’s the first week of school. I ventured to the CSA this morning to pick some vegetables – easier, quicker, and much less fun without my boyish entourage. On the way home, I heard a man on the radio talking about raising successful children by teaching them grit and character. (I realize that I am very badly paraphrasing the words of this man who sounded both reasonable and intelligent, and I apologize.) His words really struck home, as we send the boys back into the uncertain waters of a new school year – by turns bright and clear and uplifting, and dark and murky, full of fascinating silt and weeds. They learn from it all, of course! I think it must be impossible for a parent to hear somebody talk about this subject without turning it back on themselves. Am I doing enough to teach them grit and character? How do you even do that? What the heck is grit? What’s character? Secretly, part of you thinks, “Of course I’m doing a good job! Just look at my brilliant boys!” And part of you thinks, “My god, I’m failing completely, they’ll be gritless and lacking in character and scarred for life!” Somebody phoned in a question about I.Q. and academic success – assuming a correlation between the two, and the man said that in fact self-control was more important than I.Q. in determining academic success. Oh dear! I thought…parent-teacher conferences for both boys tend to run, “Your son is so smart and creative, but he’s just got too much energy/he calls out too much/he can’t focus on the assignment…” Sigh. We hit a strange patch last year with Malcolm, when his first “real grades” report card came out, and it was very different from the straight s+ report cards of years gone by. Oh dear! Well, this is when it always helps to take a step back and widen the picture for yourself, and think about the meaning of “success” and how varied and subjective it is. (Of course I want my boys to be successful in every accepted conventional sense, of course I do – life is so much easier that way!) But when you ask the boys what they’re good at, what achievements they’re proud of, they’ll say: jumping off of things, finding an antique bottle in a creek, drawing dragons and robots, running very fast, climbing steep hills. They feel good about these things! And, honestly, any of them can lead to every kind of success, if they’re not discouraged. And I’m glad that they like writing and reading, too, and that Malcolm’s favorite subject is math. They both love school, and that makes me feel very lucky and very happy.

Roasted salsa

And, of course, they’re good little cooks!! These gorditas were very fun to make, and even more fun to eat! I have to thank the proprietess of Hot Spicy and Skinny for drawing them to my attention, when she read of my struggles making tortillas without a press. I’m not sure if I made them authentically. I sort of combined a bunch of different recipes that I saw, and I used a combination of butter and olive oil rather than lard. They turned out so tasty! Crispy, chewy, flavorful. We split them in the middle, but it might have been easier to pile the peas on top, or even break off pieces and use them like naan. The salsa is the result of my preference for roasted garlic, onions and peppers over raw. I decided to roast everything (well, broil, really) and then mix it all together. It’s yummy! Smoky, a little sweet, a little spicy. You can use any combination of sweet peppers and hot peppers that you happen to have on hand, and you could easily use onion instead of shallot. And the pigeon peas match their earthy meatiness with bright sweet corn, tomatoes and cilantro. We ate everything mixed together, with basmati rice and grated sharp cheddar.

Pigeon peas and corn

Here’s Expectations by Belle and Sebastian.

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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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Homemade tortillas and pigeon peas & greens

Tortilla & pigeon peas

In my short acquaintance with masa harina I’ve become very fond of it. It has such a mysterious taste. It taxes my limited descriptive powers. Almost sweet, a little floral, maybe. I think the corn is treated with lime. Is that the flavor? I want to use it all the time, in a million different ways! I’ve already made pupusas with it, which I think turned out very good! And I made something else, but I don’t remember what it was, because I didn’t write about it, and this blog has become my auxiliary memory. (It’s very convenient!) The other night I tried using it to make (as I understand it) its main reason for existence – tortillas! I don’t have a tortilla press, but that didn’t stop me, because I don’t have a pasta machine, and we made good pasta. Turns out it’s not that simple with the tortillas. They were delicious, but they weren’t pretty! They’re harder to roll out than pasta, and they stick to the counter and fall apart, and generally made me feel a little cranky and sweary. They were worth making, though, and I’d do it again, but I think I’d make them smaller and call them tortilla chips. I think they’re fine if they’re irregularly shaped…it adds to their appeal! I fried them in a shallow pool of hot olive oil. And burned my finger! Do not dip your finger in hot oil! Don’t do it! We ate the with rice and pigeon peas sauteed with broccoli rabe and tomatoes. Very nice!

Here’s the Clash with 1-2 Crush on You, because that’s how I feel about Masa Harina! There, I’ve admitted it to the world.
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Pigeon peas, saffron and artichoke hearts. W/ jerk-spiced roti

pigeon peas and roti

When I was in college, I used to meet my brother (and best friend) every Thursday night at the Jamaican Delight restaurant. We’d both spent some time away…he’d been in Italy and Minnesota, I’d been at Oxford. We’d both had some rough times, and now we were back in the city across from our home town. It had always seemed like a last resort, but now…it seemed magical! It smelled sweet (turns out there’s a candy factory there!), the people were wonderful, we both had remarkable mentorish teachers, the possibilities were dizzying. So we’d meet every Thursday night, and talk about everything that was important to us, then, in our early twenties…when everything is important. We’d go across the street to Spirit Mart, buy one beer each, and order the same thing every time…vegetarian delight, vegetable roti, plantains (if they had them) and grape nut ice cream.

The other day I bought some plantains, because I remembered loving them, and I thought my boys might like them, too. Then, of course, I had to try to make some roti. And somehow pigeon peas fit into this picture. So I asked my husband what would be nice with pigeon peas. He consulted his inner culinary genius and said, how about saffron and artichoke hearts. Wellawella! What a good idea that turned out to be! So I made a spicy, brothy mix of pigeon peas and art hearts. Some basmati rice. Some fried plantains. And I made some roti, but not the kind you can wrap around vegetables, like we used to have at the old Jamaican Delight. Since I had the oil all heated up for the plantains, I decided to drop the roti in there. Oh, yum! And I had flavored the dough very subtly with jerk seasonings, viz: thyme, allspice and cayenne. Okay, that’s my version of jerk seasonings. Nice though! It was a really fun meal to eat, with lots of little parts that added up to taste well together.

Here’s The Jerk, by the Clarendonians.
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