Roasted sweet potato and shallot pizza

Roasted sweet potato and shallot pizza

Roasted sweet potato and shallot pizza

Isaac’s second grade class was given an assignment. They were told to write a short essay about their favorite place to go. They made a list of places they like, chose one, and started in. Isaac chose his imagination. The teacher told us about this in a parent-teacher conference, and she was obviously delighted with his answer and of course I loved her for that. And of course I love Isaac’s answer. I can’t visit his imagination with him, but he’s drawn me pictures and told me stories–he’s sent me postcards. There’s never a dull moment. It’s an exciting place, a destination. Later on at Malcolm’s conference they told us what a good job he’s doing with the focussing and the paying attention and the being prepared. And then they said, but sometimes he’ll just be…gone…for a few minutes. Just staring into space, and he’ll look so happy and content. And I said, “Oh yes, didn’t you know? He can travel through time and space. He can close his eyes and be in a different world. Yeah, he told me all about it just the other day.” Heh heh! Of course I didn’t say that!! I didn’t want them to think I’m crazy! What’s cute and clever in a seven-year-old is cause for alarm in older children and their parents. But I’m proud of Malcolm’s world-to-world traveling abilities, and I’m so glad and grateful that both boys have this prodigious talent. I consider it a very solid and serious real-world skill. Just think what it means! They’ll never be bored! They’ll never be stuck in a dull place with nothing to do! It costs nothing, they can’t lose it but they can share it, and nobody can ever take it away from them.

Sweet potato and shallot pizza

Sweet potato and shallot pizza

I thought this was a very delicious meal. It made me happy to make it and to eat it. It’s a pizza piled high with deliciousness. Sweet potatoes are diced quite fine and roasted with shallots and balsamic vinegar. They’re piled atop goat cheese and mozzarella and smoked gouda, and on top of that we have tomatoes and capers. Fresh and sweet and smoky and satisfying. Very autumnal.

Here’s Places and Spaces by Donald Byrd.

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Pizza with pumpkinseed-tarragon pesto, chickpeas and arugula

Pizza with tarragon pumpkinseed pesto

Pizza with tarragon pumpkinseed pesto

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 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 their 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.

Pizza with tarragon-pumpkinseed pesto and chickpeas

Pizza with tarragon-pumpkinseed pesto and chickpeas

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.

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Pistachio & arugula pizza

Pistachio and arugula pizza

Pistachio and arugula pizza

We were in the car for over 28 hours in the last three days, and we got home late last night. Today I feel as though I’d been hit over the head. I’m stupid-tired. I have a lot to do to catch up, of course, but this morning I spent some time sitting on the couch with Clio’s head on my lap, getting all weepy about Nina Simone singing I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free. I’m in love with this song! I’ve talked about it here at The Ordinary before (twice!), so I’m not going to go on and on telling you why I love it. I’m not going to tell you that the song was written by Billy Taylor for his daughter, that it became an anthem for the civil rights movement. I’m not going to share the fact that when Nina Simone sings it, it sounds to me as though it becomes about a sort of fundamental, elemental freedom. Freedom from anything that binds you by labeling you–freedom from race, nationality, faith–freedom almost from yourself. It’s about freedom to have a voice, and to trust your voice enough to be heard. It’s about the freedom to live with passion and creativity, the freedom to create what you need to create, to do the work you need to do. And to be free not just from the restrictions society puts on you according to the way that it labels you, but also from nagging self-doubts and fears. The song expresses a sort empathetic morality that really appeals to me, and which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I won’t tell you that I think the most beautiful part is that she knows! Nina knows how it feels to be free, you can feel it in her voice. And she says, “I sing because I know, I sing because I know.” I love that! Of course she knows and thank god she sings.

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.

pistachio and arugula pizza

pistachio and arugula pizza

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.

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Summer-in-winter pizza with pesto, sofrito, chickpeas and artichoke hearts

Pizza with sofrito, pesto and chickpeas

Pizza with sofrito, pesto and chickpeas

You wouldn’t believe the vast system of pantries we have here at The Ordinary. It extends for miles, beginning above-ground, with spacious, sunny rooms lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. And then it tunnels under to form a vast network of cellars, ice houses, larders, butteries, and spences. And the shelves are lined with bottles and jars. Those in the light of the windows glow like stained glass. Those in the darkened cellars shine with their own internal light. In each bottle and jar – a perfect distillation of a moment from each season from the year. We open these, as needed, to help us navigate the year as it unfolds. When you’re melting in summer, you can uncork a clear, cold, cleansing january day. In winter, we have a vial containing the cool-warm smell of a June morning. We have a whole room stocked with falling things. A jar of late spring’s flower petals – confused, whirled in a tangle; a summer sun shower; autumn leaves, curling to the ground; and a soft, quiet, gentle December snow. Each one will serve to remind you of what you’ve seen and felt, the fragrances and tastes that you have known, and each will remind you as well of the cycle of the seasons which will bring each moment inevitably back upon you. In one room, of course, we have flavors…ripe plump tomatoes, bursting with the hot sunny abundance of August, refined into a flavorful paste. Bunches of basil, sweet, sharp, and intoxicating, concentrated into one pure flavor of summer. And that’s what we used to make this pizza.

pizza with sofrito, chickpeas and pesto

pizza with sofrito, chickpeas and pesto

What? You think I’m waxing hyperbolic? You think this is why I earned the name “hyperboClaire?” Well, it’s totally true!! Every word! Okay, so I’m really talking about the sofrito and pesto that I made with our over-abundance of tomatoes and basil at the end of the summer. I froze them, and at the time I thought…in the middle of winter, this will make a welcome meal! And then the power went out for ten days, and I was worried that they didn’t stay frozen. But they seemed frozen! And our kitchen felt very near freezing through the time. And we ate them on this pizza and everybody seemed fine!! I also added chickpeas and artichoke hearts. I have long loved artichoke hearts on a pizza, and chickpeas on a pizza – well, it just sounded good to me! And it was good! They got all roasty and flavorful. If you happen not to have frozen sofrito in the summer, you can easily make it from a can of tomatoes (Spanish-style sofrito! Recipe to follow). And pesto can be bought in most grocery stores, if you don’t have that lying around in your feezer!! Anyway – this was a good pizza. It did taste like summer, and reminded me of golden afternoons spent picking tomatoes and basil. Very welcome indeed as the temperature plummets.

Here’s Summertime by Jimmy Smith.

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Artichoke heart, caramelized onion and brie tart

Caramelized onion tart

You know how they tell you you’ll use pre-calculus when you grow up, but you highly doubt it? When I was in high school, I didn’t like pre-calculus much. I used to sit in class feeling queazy and thinking I might die from appendicitis. (I wish I was kidding!) The teacher, a small, dry man, took me aside and told me I couldn’t avoid everything that confused me. Ha! Proved him wrong! I’ve been doing that for over 40 years, and I pretty much never use pre-calculus skills in the real world. I took another class called Writing and Responding. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said it was one of those classes that shapes your life. It was taught by Carol Lefelt, and I went on to do independent studies with her on Shakespeare, and (If I recall correctly) female poets. She was remarkable! Very questioning, very curious – contagiously so. In Writing and Responding, we learned how to respond constructively to other writers’ work. I’ve thought a lot, through the years, that some of these lessons I have used in real life, not just in responding to writing, but in responding to people! For instance, after reading a piece, you always start by saying a couple of things you like. Specific things, be they ever so small. This seems like such a simple idea, but I don’t know how many times I find myself thinking, “no, no, no…start with something nice, then get to the complaint.” I went to Malcolm’s second grade parent-teacher conference a few years ago. Before I’d sat down, before I’d even crossed the room, his teacher said, “Malcolm is all over the place! He breaks all his pencils!” And I thought, “What you really meant to say, surely, was that my son is so bright and imaginative, and he has so much energy …” And then get to the part about the pencils. Right? Another lesson – instead of saying you don’t like something, or that it doesn’t work, you ask questions about it. That way, the writer, in pondering your questions, will understand that they didn’t get their point across, that they’ve caused confusion instead of clarity. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead of being scolded, to be asked a few questions that showed you the error of your ways. Another thing we learned, on the writing side, was not to worry about being ready to write, or knowing exactly what you’d like to write, but using the act of writing as a way of figuring that out. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I like this idea a lot. And I’ve found it to be true. In writing, as in life, sometimes the less you fret, the better things turn out. Admittedly, this appeals to me, partly, because I’m a vague and lazy person. And, obviously, some things need to be carefully planned and plotted. You’re not going to build a cabinet, say, or a rocket ship, just slapping some things together and hoping it works. But other things – things that come from some part of your brain you’re not in complete control of, seem to work better when you just do them. You just let them evolve as they need to evolve. I think cooking is like that – for me at least. I’m not a fan of following recipes. I like to dream a bit about what would taste good, and then see what I have, and let it come out as it does.

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.

Here’s Respond React, from The Roots
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Pizza dumplings

Pizza dumplings

The other night we made dumplings loosely based on our vision of the dumplings in Kung Fu Panda. While we were eating them, we all talked about the different kind of things we could fill them with. Malcolm came up with the idea of pizza dumplings. He wanted them to be like the earth, with layers. An olive for the core, a layer of cheese, a layer of sauce and a layer of dough. So that’s what we tried to do.

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!

Here’s Desmond Dekker with Sugar Dumpling.
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Beezza

Beet pizza

It’s a beet pizza! My nine-year-old son asked me to write about this. It was his invention from start to finish.

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!)

Malcolm and me in the messy kitchen

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!

Here’s Body Movin, by the Beastie Boys. One of Malcolm’s favorites. He’s so sweet he’s like a nice bon bon!
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Pizza with faina

Pizza with faina

One of my favorite food-related scenes in movie history, is the moment when father and son go into a restaurant and share a bottle of wine and a mozzarella, in The Bicycle Thief. We recently watched Gigante, an Uruguayan/Argentinian film, that I promise to stop talking about soon. In one scene, our hero goes into a restaurant and orders pizza with mozzarella, a beer, and faina. First of all – it reminded me of that scene in Bicycle Thief to such an extent that I was sure it was a tribute to it. Second of all – what is a faina?!? I was so intrigued that I researched it the second the movie was over. Faina turns out to be a Uruguayan version of socca…a chickpea flour-based bread. It’s mixed with olive oil, herbs, sometimes parmesan, and tons and tons of pepper. And then it’s baked in a hot oven, till it’s crispy outside, though still dense and soft on the inside. And then it’s sliced and each slice is eaten on top of a slice of pizza. How strange but tasty does that sound!

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.
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