Here’s Places and Spaces by Donald Byrd.
It’s the summer solstice and the first day of summer vacation. After a spring that saw hot humid days alternate with days of freezing rain, the weather is finally perfect. And I found myself in the worst mood. Cranky, anxious, discouraged. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could, but then I’d have to think about why, and that won’t do no one no good. I always feel horrible when I’m dejected and sweary around the boys, it feels almost abusive. And some part of me begrudged the time I have alone when they’re in school, when I can be as indulgently miserable as I want. But not today, today it was not okay, I could feel that in the way the boys kept giving me little sidelong glances and gentle pats on the back.
And now I’m going to share the saga of my changing mood. This morning I went for a scamper with Clio, and when we came to the end of our journey we found a dead tree bathed in golden light, stretching upward with branches like the rungs of a ladder. Each branch held small swallows, making grumpy buzzing noises. When bigger swallows flew above them, they flew up and kissed in mid-air and then then swooped away, as in some mad beautiful dance.
And then I was in a foolish rush to get things done, but I was arrested by the sight of a sleek grey dog lying in the sunshine outside the door, golden and blinking, and Malcolm stopped in his backyard racing to cry, “Mom, look!” Black currants! Our bright bramble of currants is laden with fruit. I had so much to do, so much to get done, and I just stopped and picked black currants with the boys, deep in the berries’ odd acrid fragrance, trying to convince myself that this was the most important thing to be doing right now. Then Malcolm had a crazy idea of how to cook the currants, and we worked on that, but I was still in a state and cursed like a madwoman in front of the boys when the semolina flour fell out of the cupboard into our batter. (Why right in there? Why?)
And then we went up to David’s shop to build boats to take to the creek. David’s shop is like an inspiring museum of craft and creativity housed in a small post-apocalyptic compound, surrounded by miles of beautiful countryside. The man that rents him space also rents out construction equipment, and you’ll find oddly beautiful piles of giant rusted metal rings that you could walk into, and drill bits the size of cars. In the back of David’s shop, a door opens onto a long corridor where barn swallows nest. If you stand in the doorway, they’ll fly around your head in dizzying loops, with humbling speed and agility, and it’s so beautiful that you want to make a film of it, but you can’t, you can’t capture it, just like Isaac will never catch a swallow in his hands, even if he calls to them in his high bright voice that is strangely like their call.
And when I went back into the shop, Isaac leapt onto my back like a little monkey, and he said, in his way of talking that makes everything sound like a poem
Do you remember
When we went to the park
And you held my hands
And spun me around
And it felt like flying?
And they made clever boats and now we’re going to the creek, and I will sit on a rock and watch them, and do absolutely nothing, and try to recognize the momentousness of the situation.
I like to make pizza in the summertime. Well, I always like to make pizza, but in the summertime it’s fun to play around with different pesto sauces with which to top it, and to think of ways to add vegetables. So this time I made a pesto of pumpkinseeds, capers, arugula and tarragon. All very strong flavors. The pesto was delicious and unusual, with a slight edge of bitterness from the arugula, but in a pleasant way. Because the pesto was so strong and bright, I added chickpeas, because they’re simple and comforting. Not bland at all, but not overwhelming. The crust is thin and crispy, as ever.
Here’s The Ink Spots with When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.
Here’s Billy Taylor playing the song.
Here’s Nina Simone’s version, with lyrics
Here’s a live performance by Nina Simone.
And here’s an absolutely remarkable extension of the song, also Nina Simone live.This pizza has arugula pistachio pesto on it, and it has arugula and pistachios! It also has capers, cherry tomatoes and an herbaceous crust. I thought it was deeeeelicious. This recipe is enough to make two large pizzas just like this. If you want the second pizza to have different sort of toppings, you can half the pesto recipe, or make the full amount and eat the pesto in any other way you’d like.
So – we got some onions from the farm. It might seem odd, but this has been one of my biggest veg challenges to date. I like shallots, chives, scallions… I just don’t love actual onions. They’re too much! I don’t like the smell of them clinging to walls and clothes like some bad dream from a Tom Waits song. But I tried caramelizing them, and I think they’re quite nice. I followed Deborah Madison’s recipe to the letter (except that I halved it). If ever I were to follow a recipe, it would certainly be hers. She’s my hero! And I decided to put them on a big, pizza-like tart. With brie, capers, and artichoke hearts, and fresh sage and fresh thyme. Because I had all those things, and they told me they’d be good together! And they were! This was very easy, and very tasty. I used a buttery pate brisée crust, but you could use pizza dough instead, if you were in the mood.
Malcolm is writing an essay for school about what he wants to be when he grows up. I’m going to share some excerpts with you. Remember, this is still a work in progress – he’s at the prewriting stage. Here we go…
Bang! Pishhh! “Hey, chef I need 3 pies.”
In my opinion being a chef is very fun.
I want to be a chef because I like to cook with my mom and she says that I have great ideas for cooking. One of my favorite things to do is invent and cooking is like inventing.
I want to travel so I can go to Scotland and find out what they eat there. Then I will learn how to cook food all over the world.
I hope he will!
It’s fun to take a walk with Malcolm, because he talks a lot. He’s a scrounger, and an inventor, and he has a wonderfully vivid imagination. He likes to talk about the things he’d like to create – contraptions he’ll make out of bits and pieces he finds; cars that he’ll invent that will make the world cleaner; superheroes that will make everyday life easier for people, or will save trees or animals. He has such sweet, zany ideas, and they’re always a pleasure to hear about, even though they’re not always possible to carry out. Not yet, anyway.
He has these schemes for things to create in the kitchen, too, and these are possible, they’re always possible. Nobody is going to tell him that it won’t work, or it sounds like a bad idea. (Luckily he has very good food instincts!) It’s a delight to cook with him – he’s so confident and creative. He likes to use the blender and the little food processor. He likes to chop things up. I was nervous about this at first, but I took a cue from my husband, the furniture maker. It will come as no surprise that Malcolm likes to go to David’s shop as well. Rather than tell Malcolm that he can’t use a saw, or a chisel, or (gulp) a lathe, David will teach him the safe way to use it. It takes some of the mystery out of it, and it makes it more fun, because he can create something really useful and beautiful. So I showed him how to chop vegetables with a big knife, but safely. (It’s nice to have a helper with that job!)
When my boys were littler I used to worry that I told them too often that they were handsome and smart and wonderful at everything. I thought I might turn them into vain little egotists. Now I think you can’t tell them often enough. The world is not an easy place, and the knockings-down start when they’re pretty young. I love cooking, I love sharing it with Malcolm, and I love to see him feel good about what he makes. What a joy to sit down as a family and eat something we’ve made together!
Phew – I just got very side-tracked. Let’s talk about beezza! It’s a pizza, and it’s made with Malcolm’s Supreme Spicy Sauce, which is made with Malcolm’s Supreme Spicy Spice mix. The mix reminds me a little of ethiopian berbere – it’s a little sweet and a little spicy. The toasted beets – also Malcolm’s invention – are in the sauce itself, and then dotted about the top. This is like no pizza you’ve ever tasted! It has a roastiness, from roasted red peppers and smoked paprika; a sweet earthiness from the beets; and a bit of tang, from tomatoes and balsamic. Even Isaac ate about four pieces!
I had to try it. I like making pizza anyway. It’s fun and easy and everybody in my family happily eats it, which is always a pleasure. I’ve been trying for some time to make pizza with a thinner, crispier crust – it had always eluded me. It worked this time, though…I used less yeast, more water and olive oil. The dough was quite sticky, but not hard to work with. I put lots of herbs in the dough, and I topped it with a roasted red pepper tomato sauce, dollops of goat cheese, and lots of fresh rosemary.
And the faina. It seemed such a strange idea to me at first, but when I took one bite, it all made sense! The texture was nice with the pizza, but more importantly, it seemed like a vehicle for the pepper and rosemary…flavors that are nice with the pizza, but tend to get distracted in the sauce were distilled into a perfect form.
Here’s The Bouncing Souls with The Pizza Song. When I was in my early twenties I lived across the street from these fellows, and they lived a few doors down from the legendary Tata’s Pizza. Is that what they’re singing about here? We’ll never know.