Green spring tart (with pistachios, pine nuts, asparagus, olives, brie…)

Green spring tart

Green spring tart

AMERICAN MYTHOLOGIES #6. SUPER HEROES

I love all the “real” myths. The ancient stories, as old as humanity, which resonate and repeat around the world, answering questions about the origins of everything: how did the world begin, how do we make our place in it, where did we come from, where are we going? They answer the earliest questions, questions of conception, birth, creation. In the grand scheme of things, America is a very young nation. We’re teenagers, maybe. Or maybe we’re at that age just past adolescence when our swagger starts to falter, and we try to relive our glory days and we regret the insouciance of our youth. Accordingly our own mythological figures, our superheroes, have more adolescent concerns. These are the stories we all know, as Americans, these are the tales of valor, the epic struggles, the characters with godly speed and strength, with more-the-human abilities. And they help us to address, as a nation, all of the anxieties in our teeming teenage brain. How do we explain the changes in our body, which we can neither understand nor control? And these changes bring about a strange new power, which we can neither understand nor control. And, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and if there’s one thing teenagers hate, it’s responsibility. Superhero myths help us to work through anxieties about the source of our power–the science and technology that have changed our lives faster than we can compute. They helped to make us a super power, but they made us dangerous, too, and our morality didn’t always develop at an equivalent rate. The older myths tried to make sense of the justice or lack of it that people faced every day, and our superhero stories do this, too. When our authority figures mete out unfair punishments, just as in the earlier myths, super people and lesser gods try to trick the most powerful. Our superhero stories help us to understand evil, the dark side, and that it’s sometimes part of ourselves, confusing and strangely compelling. And they reflect a strangely American optimism: anything is possible, ordinary people are capable of great things. My boys have known the superhero stories almost sense they could talk. They seem to have learned them by osmosis. And as long as they could talk they’ve imagined powers for themselves, they’ve invented “guys,” who are capable of weird and wonderful things. They give them a history, an origin story, they draw them and sing songs about them, and they become them as they fly down the street, leaving all the worries of the real world behind.

I tried to put every green thing I could think of in this tart! So it’s got spinach and arugula and tarragon inside, and it’s got bright castelvetrano olives, asparagus and pistachio nuts on top. It was a nice combination…juicy and bright and nutty all at once.

Here’s MF DOOM’s Beef Rap, with the spiderman samples!

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PIne nut and sundried tomato sauce

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

When I was in high school, our English teacher handed us a xerox (or maybe it was a mimeograph, this was a long long time ago). It contained words in sentences, but there was nothing to identify it. No title, no author’s name. We didn’t know if it was fact or fiction, we didn’t know when or why it was written. The sentences were short, simple and strangely repetitive. The words were small plain words, and a few of these unimportant words were repeated from sentence to sentence or within sentences. The story was disarmingly uneventful. The teacher asked us what we thought of the writing, and we were all under-impressed and thought the author had a lot of work to do, tightening the writing and combining sentences and working a little harder to keep our attention, making it a little easier for us to get through the story. We’d been fed certain rules of effective writing for over a decade and we had thoroughly absorbed them. I didn’t think about this at the time, but I’m fairly certain that if the author had sent the first few pages of his manuscript to an agent or publisher today, they’d have given up after the first paragraph, and he’d never ever hear from them. Well, guess what? The author was Ernest Hemingway. That’s right, Ernest Hemingway. And though I doubt any of us had read enough Hemingway to form any kind of opinion about him at that point, we’d heard of him. We knew that other people liked him. He was well-known and well-respected. And suddenly we saw everything differently. The simplicity of the story seemed significant, even profound. The simplicity of the language seemed elemental, important. The repetition made beautiful, resonant little circles of words. And everything we’d learned about writing was bullshit. Well I’m very grateful to this teacher, because I think the understanding we gleaned from this lesson applies to all things, at least all things creative, and I consider life the biggest creative endeavor of them all. Don’t trust platitudes, be wary of easy advice. Don’t “kill your darlings,” your darlings are what make your writing yours. What would the world be like if Dickens or Nabokov had been more restrained, or had edited their work till it was spare and sellable? “Write about what you know” doesn’t mean write about the clumps of dirt in your backyard, it means write about what you know to be true, write with honesty about how it feels to human, even if you’re describing life a hundred years ago, a hundred years hence, or in a world that never existed. Speak with the rhythm in your head, even if you think people won’t understand it or be able to keep up with it or slow down to it. They might find it beautiful in the end. When they realize who you are. And read everything you encounter, everyone you meet, as if you’d love what they do, if you knew who they were.

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Speaking of simple! This is one of those simple yet delicious dishes. I bought a little bottle of sundried tomatoes in olive oil. If you buy dried sundried tomatoes, you might want to soak them in hot water (and then drain them) before using them in this recipe. This is a creamy vegan sauce with lots of flavor. You could add smoked paprika or roasted garlic if you want, they’d both be nice here. We ate this with roasted vegetables and chard croquettes one night, and with tacos the next night. You could dip things in it, or spread it on things, or toss it with pasta or rice. I think it would be fine however you’d like to use it!

The Hemingway I spoke of earlier is from his Nick Adams stories, or In Our Time. To this day, I’m not his biggest fan, but I love these stories. Here’s a sample of the language.

    As he smoked his legs stretched out in front of him, he noticed a grasshopper walk along the ground and up onto his woolen sock. The grasshopper was black. As he had walked along the road, climbing, he had started grasshoppers from with dust. They were all black They were not the big grasshoppers with yellow and black or red and black wings whirring out from their black wing sheathing as they fly up. These were just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color. Nick had wondered about them as he walked without really thinking about them. Now, as he watched the black hopper that was nibbling at the wool of his sock with its fourway lip he realized that they had all turned black from living in the I burned-over land. He realized that the fire must have come the year before, but the grasshoppers were all black now. He wondered how long they would stay that way.

Here’s Simple Things by Belle and Sebastian.

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Beet, arugula and French feta salad with pine nut, lemon, rosemary sauce

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Most years we just grow a few tomato plants and a few herbs, basil mostly. We have a small yard and rambunctious boys and a berserker dog and it never seemed wise to pin our hopes on healthy intact produce. Last year we didn’t grow anything at all. The ground lay fallow. This year we have the best garden ever, entirely thanks to David. He built raised boxes and we have a summer’s worth of beautiful things growing in our yard.
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It feels so hopeful, to look out at it and imagine the days unfolding and the vegetables ripening. Herbs to eat now, in large quantities, tomatoes and eggplant to ripen with the full roundness of the summer days, salsify and scorzonera to eat in the fall. I love our garden! And because I’m a lunatic, I think of the vegetables almost as people, with separate personalities of their own. We planted fava beans, and David made a trellis of twine for them to wind around. We don’t know how tall they’ll get, and we wanted to give them plenty of distance to travel, plenty of encouragement, our full faith that they’ll reach all the way to the top, but we didn’t want to set up unrealistic expectations for them. The salsify and scorzonera seem very social, standing together in long graceful lines, sharing the light that glows through them. The cilantro started sad and timid, but now it’s just taken off, it’s bolted into tall, feathery, beautiful flowers, and maybe in the fall we’ll figure out what to do with the coriander seeds. The pepper plants seem like underachievers; they haven’t grown much since we’ve gotten them, but they’re working so hard on making beautiful vivid little peppers. They’re concentrating on their art. The eggplants generously share they broad leaves with some little bug that repays the favor by turning them into lace. The tomatoes are full and frank and happy standing together in the sun.

Tarragon

Tarragon


And then there’s the tarragon. I love the way tarragon grows. It spreads along the ground in a pretty fragrant sprawl. If you weigh down a sprig so that it touches the earth, it will take root and form a new plant attached to the original. It moves and travels, it has an unruly wildness to it, but it sets down roots everywhere it goes, it makes a new place to start from, and it stays connected to its roots as well.

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

Beet, arugula and French feta salad

We got some more beautiful beets from our CSA. I thought I’d make them into a pretty salad, with their best friend arugula, and some mildly delicious French feta I splurged on at a local market. I also added half an avocado, because I’m putting avocado in everything this summer, and a scattering of pine nuts. I made a tarator sauce to drizzle over the top, with lemon and rosemary, a bit of dijon, a few capers. You could use any herbs you like in this. Tarragon would be nice!!

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Root Down (and get it)

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Warm salad with potatoes, butter beans, spring rage, fresh mozzarella and herbs

Warm salad with potatoes, butter beans and greens.

Warm salad with potatoes, butter beans and greens.

It’s movie week here at The Ordinary! I seem to be talking about a different film every day, and today will be no different. Today’s installment features Le Corbeau made by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1943. The film is about a small town plagued by anonymous poison pen letters, which threaten to tear the very fabric of the town to pieces. Everybody feels guilty about something, everybody tries to blame somebody else, everybody becomes plagued with fear and suspicion. It’s a fine film, in many ways, beautifully shot in black blacks and white whites. It’s suspenseful and mysterious, almost Hitchcockian. It’s still oddly relevant considering that the internets are full of anonymous trolls. But the thing that really stuck with me, strangely, is the way the setting is described in the very beginning. A small town, “ici ou ailleurs.” Ici ou ailleurs! Here or elsewhere! This phrase has been stuck in my head for days. I love the sound of it and the meaning of it. It makes any story into a fable or a myth, showing how our fears and hopes and passions are the same no matter where or when we live. It makes the story Ordinary by showing that it could happen to anyone, anywhere. Ici ou ailleurs. Of course Jean-luc Godard beat me to it, he made a film called Ici et Ailleurs. He made it with Anne-Marie Mieville, and it’s a reworking of footage they shot for Jusqu’à la victoire, a 1970 pro-Palestinian film. I haven’t seen it yet, but the trailer juxtaposes “simple images” of French children watching television with shots of Palestinians, and a woman’s voice tells us, “We should learn how to see here in order to be able to hear elsewhere. Learn how to hear yourself speaking in order to see what the others are doing. The Others, the elsewhere of our here.” Godard! Ici ou ailleur.

Warm sa;ad with potatoes, butter beans and greens

Warm sa;ad with potatoes, butter beans and greens

It’s so much fun to make dinner when you just return from a CSA with your arms full of fresh vegetables! Yesterday I made them into this sort of warm salad with potatoes and butter beans for substance. The potatoes, beans, and broccoli rabe were warm, the tomatoes, mozzarella and herbs were cool, and they all melted together when combined. I picked some bronze fennel, which was new to me and very lovely, and I minced that and added it for a nice mellow anise-y flavor. We ate it with a loaf of crusty bread, and Malcolm made it into a big sandwich.

Here’s Eddie Harris with Listen Here.
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Harvest pie with potatoes, tomatoes and basil

End of summer pie

End of summer pie

Autumn is a good season for time travel. Not extensive trips involving complicated machines, but small, simple glimpses into the past. Maybe it’s the way scents travel in the clear air, or the way the light seems more slanting and golden, but for the last few days I keep finding myself in some other time of my life. Not that I’m just reminded of another time, but for a moment I’m there. I’m a child walking to school in England, or a twenty-three year old walking through the world with my new friend David. For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about time passing. Not in the usual way that I think about it passing in my life or in the lives of people I love or in the seasons changing, but on a larger scale, a bigger cycle, about how the world has changed so much and is constantly changing, but under all the clutter and confusion people haven’t changed that much. We still all want the same things: someplace safe to rest our head when we’re tired, enough food to eat, sunshine when it’s chilly and shade when it’s warm. People have probably always struggled, as we do now, to free ourselves from the burden of being hopelessly, irredeemably, the center of our own universe so that we could be kind to others, and see everything around us with more clarity.

End of summer pie

End of summer pie

Here’s a good pie for the change in seasons! It’s like a pizza, so you can call it that if you want. I made the crust much thicker than I usually make my pizza crust, so it would be comfortingly soft and strong enough to hold up to all the toppings. All the herbs and vegetables are from our farm. I like potatoes on a pizza, it’s one of those things that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. I parboiled these and then tossed them in a little olive oil, so they’re soft but just starting to crisp up. I love the combination of tomatoes, potatoes and basil, but you can add any kind of vegetables or cheese or herbs you like on here.

Here’s Good Feeling by the Violent Femmes. I’ve been listening to them a lot lately…talk about a portal to the past!!

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Roasted delicata squash over spinach white bean purée

Roasted delicata squash with spinach white bean purée.

Roasted delicata squash with spinach white bean purée.

A few times over the summer and again today, I spent some time down at the local food pantry. The thing about spending time at a local food pantry, is that everybody you meet is a remarkable person in one way or another. The people who work there, who volunteer there, who pick up food there. Once you start talking to them, you realize that they all have wonderful stories. Maybe this is true of all people, it probably is, but I felt it so strongly this morning, as I walked home through the chilly sunshine. Through a program called Rolling Harvest, which is such a smart, giving idea that it makes me weepy, farmers donate produce, which is then distributed to food pantries, domestic violence shelters, meals on wheels, senior centers, homeless shelters and at-risk low-income adults with health challenges. And in some of these places, they have farmer’s markets…free produce for anybody who wants it. And they ask somebody to demonstrate some easy ways to cook the produce, which is where I came in. I made a couple of things with peppers and tomatoes, lettuce and apples. But mostly I enjoyed talking to people, and most of the people who came by had plenty more recipes than I do. As they took their bags of apples and greens and hot peppers, they stopped to chat, and they were so beautifully generous. They shared stories about their lives and their children and their grandchildren. They shared recipes for apple cobbler and pickled green tomatoes, they shared advice not to cuss at doctors, but to be cheerful for any help they gave you. One woman grew up nearby on a farm, which is now a highway. When she was little, if her family couldn’t find her they knew to look for her in the tomatoes, where she’d be sitting with a salt shaker, eating the fruit right from the plant. And her uncle would set up a big pot of boiling water in the middle of the cornfield, so as they picked they’d eat the corn as fresh as it could be eaten. She had cherries and apples and peaches, any good thing you could think of. Gleaners of fruit, gleaners of stories, gleaners of time.

Our CSA farm, Sandbrook Meadow Farm, is one that contributes produce, and all of the produce from this recipe came from there as well. Delicata squash is similar to butternut, but sweeter, lighter and easier to work with. In this instance, I roasted it and then tumbled it on top of a bed of spinach, white beans and pinenuts, which I puréed. Nice contrast of savory and sweet, soft and roasty.

Here’s the Carolina Tarheels with Got the Farm Land Blues.
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Summer squash “jam” with olives and pine nuts

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

Well alright! Wh’apen? Hey ya! Gabba gabba hey! I’m not sure what you’d call these sayings…catch phrases, maybe? But they’re all the titles to some very good songs, and they’re the subject of this week’s playlist. The rules are quite flexible, but what we’re looking for is some collection of words that stands on it’s own in a conversation or greeting, that’s more than just the title of a song. Here’s the start of the playlist. I’m sure there are a million more, but I’m late for work!

This is a good dish for people who are looking for something different to do with summer squash. It’s not just sliced and sautéed, it’s grated first, and then cooked for a while with scallions and fresh herbs, so that it turns soft and saucy, almost like a jam. Then olives and tomatoes and pine nuts are added for a bit of texture and a kick of flavor. This would be nice on the side like a condiment, almost, but I think it’s best on toasts or crackers or spread on crusty bread.

Here’s that playlist again.

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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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Two summer salads with feta

Arugula salad with apples, pecans and feta

We find ourselves in the delightful position of having too much to tell you about! I can’t keep up! I’ve also been talking too much lately. So, first of all, I apologize for posting several times in one day. Second of all, these are salads. Salads should be quick to make and pleasing to eat, and you shouldn’t waffle on about them for hours and hours. So I won’t! I’ll give you some recipes, and some good music, and set you on your way.

Chickpea, tomato, olive, feta salad

My boys loved both of these salads and fought over the bowl. The first is green and light, with arugula, romaine, pink lady apples, feta, and pecans. The second is a little heartier and quite savory. It’s got chickpeas, feta, kalamata olives, capers, pine nuts and fresh juicy tomatoes. We ate it with crispy eggplant rounds, as a nice meal.

And here’s a playlist featuring songs with horns. Horn-y songs. I love songs with horns! If anybody would like to suggest other songs with horns to add the list, I’m all ears!
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Beet & goat cheese roulade filled with greens and pinenuts

Beet roulade

I’m feeling a little dull and blue today, for no reason whatsoever! It’s a funny thing about feeling blue, because it’s not really a bad feeling, as I use the term. It’s a contemplative, slightly melancholy feeling. But there are so many shades and moods of blue, and I love them all. Tintin blue is one of my absolute favorite colors – bight and clear. Bill Traylor’s high singing blue is exhilarating. Midnight blue is deep and mysterious. Indigo is dark and rich. Sky blue is light and floating. Flame blue is like a flickering soul or spirit. Vein blue is alive and poignant. Musically, the blues put you in a mood, but it’s not a depressed mood. A little sad, maybe, but joyful, too, just because they exist. To shake the dullness, I thought I’d post a few dancey scenes. Dancing always livens the party! There are so many good ones, and here are few of my favorites.

There are so many! I could go on and on and never stop! What are some of your favorite dance clips?

You know what else will cheer you up? A bright pink and green pinwheel! This roulade was very fun and easy to make, and tasted delicious! The roulade itself was like a big fat pancake (it’s actually closer to a flatter soufflé!). It was sweetish, because of the beetish, and a little tangy with goat cheese, and lovely and summery with thyme. The filling used the greens from the beets, in combination with some chard (you could use any green you like!) and was a nice savory contrast to the roulade. Pine nuts add a bit of smoky crunch. The nice thing about the roulade is that it’s very good at room temperature, so if you don’t want to heat your kitchen up before you eat (on a 100 degree day, say) – make this earlier in the day and set it aside till you’re ready! We had it with a no-cook sauce of tomatoes and avocados, chopped chunky-style, and tossed with olive oil, basil, and balsamic. Add a salad of crisp arugula and crunchy hazelnuts, lightly dressed with olive oil, sherry vinegar and some crumbled goat cheese, and you have a perfect summer meal!!

Here’s Jackie Mittoo and the Soul Vendors with Love is Blue.

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