Eggplant and sweet potato tart with pistachios and pine nuts

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Sweet potato and eggplant tart with pine nuts and pistachios

Last night I had trouble sleeping, as I often do, and I started thinking about thoughts. I thought specifically about how some thoughts are like mosquitoes. They buzz around your head, flying with sudden noise into your ears and eyes. You know they don’t do anybody any good. They’re impossible to ignore, and just when you think you’ve shooed them away, they’re in your ears again. And if you let them land, if they’re with you any time at all, they’ll leave angry welts, which will fester and grow the more you scratch at them. You can tear at them with your nails until you bleed, and they’ll only plague you more, with their fiendish itching. It’s best to leave them alone, to ignore them, but it’s so damned hard. There’s nothing valuable about these thoughts; they’re not worth pondering. You won’t figure anything out, you won’t arrive at any truths. They’re the lesser of Pandora’s evils, rising insubstantial and weightless in lazy persistent circles from her box, they’re lies, deceit, scolding, accusation, envy, gossip, scheming, self-doubt. They arrive in the evening, particularly this time of year, when the light fades and the chill steals in, the darker it grows the more they swarm. And these prickly devils, like mosquitoes, breed in stagnant water, in the festering ooze of a lazy mind. So the thing to do, of course, is to keep the waters running clear and cool, to keep your brain full of things worth thinking about, which will feed on the larvae of your mosquito-thoughts. Of course this is hard sometimes, in the middle of the night. It’s hard to steer your mind away from the angry buzzing, but it can be done, and it’s important to stock the waters with a ready supply of thoughts that can dart through the moving current, or hang rippling in pools of sunlight. You can think of a story you’re writing, a poem you can almost remember, a film you once enjoyed, a long ago conversation that made you happy once. When you finally sleep, these thing will weave through your dreams and become something new, something alive. If thoughts are going to keep you up all night, they should at least be worth thinking about.

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Eggplant and sweet potato tart

Of course, if you’re me, you’ll spend some of your ample insomnia hours thinking about how to cook the eggplants you picked from your garden, and how to use up all of the sweet potatoes from the farm. And eventually you’ll make this tart, which I thought was really delicious! Perfect for this time of year. I made eggplant the way I generally do, marinating, dipping in egg, breading and baking in olive oil. This is a good recipe to use up leftover eggplant that you’ve made this way a day or so before. I have very thin sweet potatoes from the farm, and I liked the idea of them looking like pepperoni, so I roasted them with a little tamari and smoked paprika. And I topped everything with some lovely crunchy pistachios and pine nuts.

Here’s Benjamin Booker with Have You Seen My Son, because I’m obsessed with this album at the moment.

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Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and zucchini tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

We went away for a couple of days for a very small vacation. I brought a novel to read and a notebook so that I could start writing a novel. And guess what I did instead? I read a field guide to insects and spiders. I’m completely charmed by the names of the various crawling and winged creatures. And this leads us, Ordinary friends, to another installment of our sporadic series on found poetry: the unconscious poetry of bug names. Who doesn’t want to read about worms and beetles on a food blog? As I read through the guide I thought about the people who had named these bugs. Some seem to have had a very good imagination and a sly sense of humor. Others seem appealingly earnest and literal. But the one thing that they have in common is that they all seem to have a real affection for the creature they’re naming. They’ve studied it and learned all they can about its form and its habits. Maybe they even take credit for discovering this tiny life form, and they’ve named it for themselves, with their own names. They name them for their appearance, they name them for what they once were or what they’ll become, for the way that they were before their great change, or the way they will be after it. They name them for the job that they do. They’re called after what they eat and where they live, their home and their sustenance. We have question marks and painted ladies, phantom midges, predacious diving beetles, darners and diggers and borers and pruners and skimmers and elaters (elaters!!) Cloudywinged aphids, snow fleas cat fleas human fleas, snow lice, hog lice and bird lice. Firebrats and jumping bristletails. Ferocious waterbugs and Eastern toe-biters. Treehoppers, leafhoppers, sharpshooters. You’ve got your eastern cone nose and your jagged ambush bug, your boll, pine, bean, alfalfa, rose and lesser cloverleaf weevils. And the beetles! O, the beetles! Elegant checkered beetles and their coarse cousins rough fungus beetles, spotless nine-spotted ladybugs, willow leaf beetles and harlequin beetles, fire beetles and blister beetles, iron clad beetles and patent leather beetles. You have both dainty tiger beetles and beautiful tiger beetles. Somebody loved tiger beetles! Dragon lubber grasshoppers, differential grasshoppers, toothpick grasshoppers and true katydids. Bearded robber flies, phantom crane flies, march flies, marsh flies, flesh flies. The moths are fairies and gypsies and sweethearts and witches and beauties, and the butterflies are wood nymphs and satyrs and elfin. What a world of characters we have flying around our heads and buzzing in our ears and crawling through the grass at our feet!

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Beet and squash tart with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts

Who is hungry now?!? This has been a summer of beets, squash and tomatoes, as all summers should be. And we’ve made a lot of tarts, as everyone should do! We mix it up though. Sometimes the vegetables are in the custard, sometimes they’re on top. Sometimes we add nuts, and we almost always add cheese, but we mix it up a bit, we use different kinds. This tart had roasted yellow squash and beets mixed up with a pistachio/pine nut custard and topped with pretty multi-colored cherry and grape tomatoes.

Here’s Leadbelly with Boll Weevil.
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Thin sliced roasted potatoes topped with goat cheese, pistachios, olives and capers

Potatoes with goat cheese, olives and capers

Potatoes with goat cheese, olives and capers

We’re having a sleepy sort of day here at The Ordinary. It’s drizzly and cold and Isaac is home sick from school. He’s mostly feeling better, but he’s subdued and quiet. I found him lying on his brother’s bed, feet up against the wall, playing with a Star Wars toy and singing. He’s eaten nothing all day but three pieces of toast, but this is a perfect day for toast. He had a stomach bug, and he suffered from terrible queasiness for a few days, and it’s one of those things that makes itself worse, that festers and feeds on itself: the more you worry about being sick, the more sick you feel. It’s like middle-of-the-night worries, being anxious makes you more anxious. I was talking to a fellow-insomniac about this conundrum, and he said that once, whilst going through a rough time that resulted in many sleepless nights, he developed the habit of saying, “I’m okay right now.” He would lie in bed and say, right now at this moment I’m healthy and have a warm house and my family is safe, and the thought of present security would help him to chase away anxieties about the past and the future. I love this idea. And so remarkable is the human brain and imagination that if your present is not happy or healthy or secure, you can do as Pierre Behuzov did, and dream about a different, but maybe no less real, reality, “Still less did Pierre think about himself. The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories, and imaginings that came to him.” Funnily enough I’ve spent the day reading a book by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew called On Superstitions Connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery. The book, published in 1844 deals with medical superstitions from throughout recorded human history. And many of these involve amulets and charms that work because the patient believes they’ll work. It’s not the moss you take from the skull of a deceased thief, dry to a powder and then take like snuff that cures your headache, it’s your belief that it will. It’s not the three spiders that you hang around your neck that cure your ague, it’s your faith in their power. He talks about “sympathetical cures,” in which the doctor treats the weapon, not the wound. “If the superstitious person be wounded by any chance, he applies the salve, not to the wound, but, what is more effectual, to the weapon by which he received it. By a new kind of art, he will transplant his disease, like a scion, and graft it into what tree he pleases.” But as Pettigrew points out, when a doctor cleans a wound, and then takes the knife that caused it, wraps it cloth, confines it to a closet and tells the patient not to move until the wound heals, his method is not all that different from a doctor who cleans the wound and tells the patient not to move until it heals. Maybe he’s just transferred the worry from the wound to an unfeeling object. After all, he says, the physician and surgeon do all their services by observing the properties of the living body,”…where the living principle is so strong and active in every part that by that energy alone it regenerates any lost substance, or reunites in a more immediate way the more simple wounds.” Pettigrew talks about quacks and charlatans, and their methods of controlling a patient through their fears and worries. And he shows that in most cases it’s only the faith and hope that a patient feels–in the doctor, in the medicine–that allows them to heal. Sometimes it seems our bodies know what they need, and it’s our busy minds that get in the way, and sometimes it’s the power or our imaginations that heal us. Either way, it would seem the best cure is to build a wealth of thoughts to make us happy and alive, to turn to in times of sickness and worry, to have hope and faith not in the amulet or charm, but in the strength of our own minds and bodies.

Thinly sliced potatoes with goat cheese, olives and tomatoes

Thinly sliced potatoes with goat cheese, olives and tomatoes

This was easy to make and I thought it was very delicious. It’s kind of like nachos, with potatoes instead of chips. I used castelvetrano olives, but you could use any kind of olives you like. I chopped them in the food processor with some cherry tomatoes, and then mixed them with goat cheese, mozzarella and capers. I spread this over roasted potatoes, and then returned it to the oven briefly until everything was melted. Comforting but very flavorful.

Here’s Sir Lord Comic with Doctor Feelgood

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Savory cake with mushrooms, chard, pecans & pistachios

Savory cake with chard, mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

Savory cake with chard, mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

“Mom? Someday? Can we go to a junkyard? And bring home junk? And make sculptures with it? What are those things called?”
“Sculptures?”
“Yeah.”
“Um, they’re called sculptures.”
“Yeah. You know a lot of people think junk is just junk, but it’s not!”
“What is it?”
“Art materials!”
I realize that lately the subtitle of Out of the Ordinary could be “Isaac and Claire talk on the way to school.” And I never intended it to turn out that way, but the truth is, I come home and I think about all of the odd things he’s told me. I think about them for hours, setting off a little chain of loosely connect thoughts which generally lead back to whatever he was talking about in the first place. Today I thought about junkyards, and I thought about the Gleaners and I and Vik Muniz’ Wasteland, and Agbobloshie, and aircraft boneyards. And I thought of the term “rag-and-bone,” which has been in my head for days, although try as I might I can’t remember what put it there in the first place. And of course that made me think of “Rag and bone shop of the heart,” so I had to look up the whole poem. The Circus Animal’s Desertion. What a name for a poem! What a poem! It ends thusly:

    Those masterful images because complete
    Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
    A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
    Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
    Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
    Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
    I must lie down where all the ladders start
    In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

And it’s so strange to think about Yeats lacking inspiration or feeling disappointed. It’s so strange to think about him looking back on his career with any kind of sadness or regret, or looking into his heart and feeling despair or disdain for what he finds there. I want to tell him what Isaac would tell him, that those old kettles and bottles and bones aren’t junk, they’re art materials. He can make himself a new ladder out of old iron and broken cans, a ladder that might be more true and stronger than his old one. But of course he knows that, he knows it all, because he found his inspiration, he wrote this poem, and it’s beautiful and he must have felt that in his deep heart’s core.

Savory cake with chard, roasted mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

Savory cake with chard, roasted mushrooms, pecans and pistachios

I’ll blame it on the weather, on the seemingly endless winter, but I’ve wanted to make warm comforting bready meals lately. Last night it was this savory cake, which is a lot like a pizza with the toppings baked right into the dough. I made the dough rich and tender, with butter, milk and an egg (I think of it as brioche-like). And I filled that with my favorite combination of chard and mushrooms. I used pecans and pistachios, but you could use one or the other, whichever you have. We ate this with leftover asparagus pesto and with a pecan sauce something like this one.

Here’s Rag and Bone by The White Stripes

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Apricot & pistachio tart

Apricot & pistachio tart

Sometimes I think my fun-O-meter is broken. Lots of things I’m supposed to think are fun make me anxious, and things that other people dread as chores (making dinner!) are what I live for. For me, tonight was a fun night! Hooooo boy. First of all, we made vegan veggie burgers that were grillable! They got brown on the grill, they didn’t fall apart!! We made them from scratch! We grilled flatbreads, which we made from scratch as well! I’ll tell you about them eventually, with recipes and everything, but for now let me say that I felt so happy about it, and had so much fun doing it that it was just ridiculous. Then we went for an after dinner walk on the towpath (love it!) and we played tag. But not the kind of tag where you have to run all the time, because that wasn’t an option (sooooo full of grilled veggie burgers). The kind of tag where you could hold hands with someone, or give them a hug, giggling maniacally the whole time, and that would pass along the “it”ness. Good times!!

I also think it would be fun to live in Greece and go to lunch with friends in Paris. And that’s the origin of this recipe. My friend Sandy, (who lives in Greece and goes to lunch with friends in Paris) sent me this “non-recipe” for a dessert she had. She described it thus…

…dessert one of those fabulous french tarts (er tartes) – tart dough, then a pate of crushed or somehow pated pastichios – may have had another ingredient in pate, i don’t know. maybe a bit of a liquer or rose water or something. (it was from a pastry shop so i couldn’t ask). and on top apricots. in a sense it was like a tarte with pistachio pate instead of custard under the fruit, but the apricot was not raw – it was baked.

Well! With my obsession with frangipane, and making frangipane out of hazelnuts or other non-almond nuts(which makes it no longer frangipane!) OF COURSE I had to try this!! I made a simple paté sucrée crust, with a hint of cardamom. I made a pistachio frangipane (an imaginary beast!), and then I just sliced very ripe apricots, and sprinkled them with sugar because they’re quite tart! I liked the resulting tart very much indeed, but I have to admit that my boys wouldn’t try it because they don’t like apricots. And the apricots were tart. It was a tart tart. This appealed to me very much! I think it would be nice with some lightly whipped, lightly sweetened whipped cream. The tart won’t last for days in pristine form, because the fruit softens the crust. So eat up!!

Here’s Noah and the Whale with Five Years Time. They’ll have FUN FUN FUN!! This does actually look like fun to me, but it’s also a critical reexamination of past ideas of funness.
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Cardamom rabadi with champagne mango & salted pistachios

rabadi

I find it fascinating that different cultures have similar recipes, especially when they involve not-so-simple techniques. The other day, Isaac and I made paneer, which, it turns out, is a lot like making ricotta. Did they teach each other? Did somebody in each country accidentally drop lemon juice in their boiling milk and say, “hey….”? I’ve been reading my Indian cookbooks (those by Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey), and I was excited to come across recipes for rabadi. This is milk, boiled and then simmered for quite some time, until it becomes a lovely, slightly sweet pudding-like consistency. It’s thick and creamy and tawny. It’s very delicious! And the method of making it is quite similar to dulce de leche, except that you don’t add sugar, so it’s not as caramel-y. How did people discover these things? That if you whip egg whites they become stiff, or that if you cook milk for hours it becomes a comforting pudding? I like the simplicity of this dessert. It’s really just milk! I added a tiny bit of cardamom, and a few spoonfuls of sugar, and that was it – it was delicious by itself, but it was even nicer with some perfectly ripe champagne mangos, some pretty strawberries, and a handful of roughly chopped salted pistachios. This is a nice dessert for summer time, because you serve the rabadi chilled, and it’s perfect with whatever fruit is ripe. The next day I blended the leftover rabadi with the leftover mangoes and pistachios, to make a delicious thick frothy drink.

rabadi

And here’s the perfect song for this! Hot Milk, by Jackie Mittoo. He’s the best!
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Chard, pistachio & golden raisin tart

When I was in Spain quite a few years ago, I stopped at a place with only one vegetarian thing on the menu – spinach, raisins, and pine nuts. It was such a simple dish, and I had such a heaping mound of spinach on my plate, but somehow it was one of the most memorable and delicious meals I have ever eaten. The filling for this pie is loosely based on that memory. I used chard instead of spinach, because of the added depth of earthy flavor, and because it seems more substantial. And I added pistachios, quite frankly, because I had them! You could just as easily use spinach and pine nuts. The flavor would be different but equally delicious. I added lemon zest to this light yeasted crust, because I think the brightness of lemon zest contrasts nicely with the earthiness of the chard.

Here’s Swiss Chard, by Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, a band we used to listen to when we lived in Boston. I hadn’t thought about them in a while. Thank you, swiss chard, for reminding me!!

Recipe after the jump…
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