Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

    There is shadow under this red rock,
    (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
    And I will show you something different from either
    Your shadow at morning striding behind you
    Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
    I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

These lines, of course, are from TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, a poem I have long-loved. I only recently learned that the phrase “a handful of dust” comes from a meditation by John Donne, part of a series of meditations and prayers called Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and seuerall steps in my Sicknes. Donne wrote these meditations while recovering from a nearly fatal illness, they’re about health, pain, and sickness, and they’re quite melancholy. In this particular meditation, number four, Donne starts by describing each person as a little world, which is an idea that I love. “It is too little to call man a little world; except God, man is a diminutive to nothing. Man consists of more pieces, more parts, than the world; than the world doth, nay, than the world is. And if those pieces were extended, and stretched out in man as they are in the world, man would be the giant, and the world the dwarf; the world but the map, and the man the world.” And what is it that makes us so immense, that makes the air too little for this orb of man to move in? It is our thoughts, our imagination. “Enlarge this meditation upon this great world, man, so far as to consider the immensity of the creatures this world produces; our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are born giants; that reach from east to west, from earth to heaven; that do not only bestride all the sea and land, but span the sun and firmament at once; my thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mystery; I their creator am in a close prison, in a sick bed, any where, and any one of my creatures, my thoughts, is with the sun, and beyond the sun, overtakes the sun, and overgoes the sun in one pace, one step, everywhere.” No matter how confined our bodies are, whether it’s because we’re sick or imprisoned or merely stuck in traffic or a waiting room, there’s no limit to where our thoughts can travel. It’s like Pierre as a prisoner! “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.” We might all be in the gutter, but we can look up at the stars! We might have to “live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowing overhead,” but our imaginations and memories and reveries can soar with the flowing skies. And, as Donne tells us, when two of these little worlds come together, in friendship, or in love or marriage, we have everything, we have everywhere.

    For love, all love of other sights controls,
    And makes one little room an everywhere.
    Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
    Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
    Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

Butterbeans with quince and caramelized onions

My friend Neil told me about a recipe involving chicken baked with quince and caramelized onions. As a lover of quince, I was greatly intrigued! I thought about various substitutions for the chicken, and in this version I’ve settled on butterbeans. They’re big and juicy, and they take on a nice substantial texture when they’re baked. I mixed them with some pre-cooked quince and caramelized onions, and gave them a sauce of brown sugar and butter, salt and pepper, and a dash or two of white wine. I tried to keep the flavors quite simple, with only salt and pepper as seasoning, but you could easily add thyme or rosemary or any other herb you like. You could add olives or capers or pine nuts. I thought of this a little like fancy baked beans (although I used a can of cooked beans, because I’m lazy!)

Here’s Back in the Good Old World by Tom Waits, because I was just listening to it, and it seems to fit, somehow!

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Chard, chickpea, and olive tart (with a citrus-quince glaze)

Chickpea & olive tart

Well, I was a little cranky yesterday! I had a small tantrum because we couldn’t find some place we used to go bird watching. I yelled at the boys everywhere we went. I yelled at them for making me yell at them. I yelled at them as we bought them giant cookies. And they weren’t being bad! They were happy, and noisy, and getting along with each other. But Isaac has this squeal – it’s very high-pitched, and it goes right through you. He resorts to it whether he’s very happy, indignant, or actually hurt. It signals panic either way. And Malcolm was being sweet and good, but why can’t he just walk? Why must he climb walls, jump off benches, press Isaac’s shriek & giggle buttons? Why! By evening-time I had to sit in the back yard and watch squirrels to try to rid myself of my cranky-induced headache. But I wouldn’t tell anybody about that! I’d talk about the good things – the Savory Spice shop we went to, which was completely wonderful! How sweet it was to see the boys excited about smelling all the spices! The beautiful place we found for a walk! The tart that I made for dinner, which I had literally dreamed of, which was a little odd, and which I might not have made if it wasn’t my birthday! Everybody being together on a beautiful day! How I got a beautiful new golden-amber bakelite watch and some perfectly claire-y pens and a blank notebook, which is the most inspiring thing ever! (From Modern Love)

I started watching a Masterpiece Theater version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray the other day, while I was exercising. (I jump around the living room holding two cans of beans while I catch up with The Daily Show on the computer. Isaac thinks this is hilarious! “You’re holding two cans of beans!!”) I love late Victorian novels – they’re so well-crafted and beautifully novelly. It was pretty well-done. It had Prince Caspian in it, and Mr. Darcy! And some guy named Ben who was familiar. It was a little dark and gloomy for early-morning-exercise-viewing. It had a lot of shocking Victorian nudity. (Masterpiece Theater wasn’t like that when I was a lass! When I was a lass, characters from televised versions of literary classics had the decency to keep their oddly-eighties-looking costumes on, thank you very much!!) When I thought about how cranky I was yesterday, but how I wouldn’t write about that part of the day, I had an idea for a modern version of Dorian Gray. What if there was somebody who had one of those mommy-blogs, or an advice column about parenting. What if they talked about their own lives in glowing, unrealistic terms. And then…all of the bad stuff they don’t write about manifests itself doubly in their real lives, until they all descend into a spiralling vortex of depravity and despair!! Bom bom bommmmmmmmmm.

So! This tart! I was quite excited about it. I had thought of having a tart with a base of chard and goat cheese and fresh basil, all mixed together till smooth and bright green. This would be poured into a crust which contained some zesty lemon zest and white pepper. And it would all be topped with chickpeas and olives, which would become, as it were, roasted, as they cooked. And poured over the whole thing would be a provocative glaze of quince jelly, lemon & lime zest, and lemon and lime juice, for a sweet/tart surprise. It was surprising, and I thought it was quite good – very summery. I mixed some sumac and smoked paprika in with the chickpeas, because I had just bought them at the savory spice store, and I was little-kid-excited about it. Isaac said he tasted three layers of flavor, which I thought was very bright and perceptive for a six-year-old.

I also roasted some potatoes, and we had them with lots of pepper and my new alderwood-smoked sea salt. (SMOKED SEA SALT!!) it was delicious!!

Here’s Bob Marley singing Corner Stone (a rare acoustic version!) I’ve been listening to this a lot lately, driving around, getting lost looking for bird watching places. I love it so much!
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Eggplant pie with greens, quince, and hazelnut

Eggplant pie with greens, quince & hazelnuts

We started bird watching back in our courting days. We’d wake up as close to dawn as we could muster, we’d stop at Dunkin Donuts for some sweet coffee, and we’d listen to the Sudson Country radio show on the way out. Despite having been born in Kansas, I’d never listened to a lot of country music, and I’d never heard the classics. Kitty Wells, the undisputed queen of country; Lefty Frizzell, with his sweet, gentle voice; Hank Williams, with his twangy sass – they all seemed to fit, somehow, with our sleepy mood and the slanting morning light. Then we’d find our field or our trail, and we’d begin the slow, silent walk, stopping at every flutter of wings in the trees over our heads. It’s hard to describe the thrill of seeing your first yellowthroat, your first oriole, warblers, vireos…good lord – wood thrushes and veeries – with their hopeful, haunting songs. It boggled my mind that all of these birds had been here, all along. They weren’t new. I’d never bothered to look at them, I’d never taken the time to look up, and discover the teeming world in the tangled branches of the trees. We’d come home and write our finds in a little turquoise-covered blank book that I’d been saving for years for something special. Then we’d check each other for ticks. Birdwatching is a little like falling in love, in a way – you catch a glimpse of something bright and beautiful. You can’t believe it’s really alive, with its small warmth and its fast-beating heart. You’ve heard about it; you’ve read about it in your bird book. Other people claim to have seen it, but, frankly, you’re a little skeptical. You’re not convinced it even exists. Then when you’ve got it, you hold it in your sight, you know you’ll never understand it, but you try to identify it, this wild, fragile, lively thing.

We don’t have a lot of chances to go bird watching any more, what with children and real life and all of their demands. But we went on a lovely bike ride this morning, and it makes me happy to know they’re all still there. We can still catch a glimpse of a bird and know what we’re seeing. We’ll hear a sweet little song, or a hoarse call, and we know what we’re hearing. We’re still part of their world, and they’re still part of ours.

Eggplant pie

So! Eggplant pie! It’s got thin layers of crispy rosemary/balsamic-marinated breaded eggplant. It’s got layers of chard and spinach, sauteed with garlic and red pepper and mixed with quince jam. It’s got layers of crispy toasted hazelnuts, and it’s got layers of melted cheese. Odd combination, you say? Oddly perfect together!! All in a crispy crust. If I do say so myself (when have I not, eh?) it turned out really delicious. I think this would be nice for a party or a picnic, because it tastes good even when it’s not hot out of the oven, and it holds together well for carrying around with you. So you can take it for an evening-time picnic, and walk around with it as you look for all the birds that come out at in the gloaming!

Here’s Left Frizzell with I Love You A Thousand Ways.
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Gateau basque (with quince & black currant jam, and chocolate covered cherries)

gateau basque

My mom recently gave me a book called Cuisine moderne et vieilles recettes. She bought it in Belgium, when she was an au pair there. I’m having such a nice time reading it! I don’t speak French at all, really, but I studied it in high school and college, so I recognize some words, and then I’ll use google translate to try and understand the rest. (“Put a bead on the mold of lacking, in the basement, before boiling the under wall?!?” Okay, I’m on it!! Sounds delicious!) My mom wrote some notes, in french, on some of the recipes. It just kills me! It’s the same handwriting she has today. I’d like to be there making the recipe with her! I admire my mom so much. She’s so brave and thoughtful and full of energy. She went from Kansas to Belgium, and she’s been more places since than I will ever visit in my life. And she travels with curiosity and empathy. She seems fearless, sometimes (but I know she’s scared of loud bangs and high heights) .

I’ve had to skip over some passages (and pictures) in the book, that talk about rabbits and livers and tongues (it’s a lot like reading Mrs. Beaton, actually!). But I was very taken by a picture of Gateau Basque. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of anything Basque since I read Bridle the Wind, by Joan Aiken. (The best children’s book author ever!) One character, a Basque girl, was fiercely, stubbornly independent, and so appealing. I love the idea of a region between Spain and France (both plenty fascinating on their own!) with its own language, its own music, its own history, and its own food. So I had to make this gateau basque – at least my poorly interpreted version of the recipe! It turned out dangerously delicious! It’s like a giant butter cookie or jam tart! It’s rich and dense and sweet. You had the choice, in the recipe, of filling it with pastry cream, but, it said, “…ou mieux, avec de la confiture de cerises (ce gateau se prĂ©pare gĂ©neralement avec de la confiture…)” So I was going for the jam, because that was better. I decided on a very Claire-y combination of quince jelly, blackcurrant jam and … Chocolate covered cherries. I was worried the whole thing would be too sweet, but Malcolm rejected his piece because it tasted bitter to him. And David said he’d like this cake for his birthday! Done and done, my love!!

I’ve just been doing some reading about Basque music. This is amazing! Martxea Albokeagaz, by Maurizia, Leon eta Basilio & Fasio. Smokes! It sounds gaelic, arabic… wild and beautiful!! I’ll be learning more about this!
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Almond cake with quince glaze

Almond cake with quince glaze

I love quince! So I was very happy to be given a jar of quince jelly recently (Thanks, Ellie!) It’s delicious on toast, of course, but it’s so pretty, and has such a lovely, distinctive, mysterious flavor, that I knew I had to make something else with it as well. Obviously I needed to make a cake. Somewhere in the back of my muddled mind, I remembered reading about a Uruguayan confection that combined quince and dulce de leche. So I wanted the cake to have a hint of dulce de leche about it. It doesn’t actually contain any, but it’s made with sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar, so it has that rich, caramel-y flavor to it. It’s a dense cake, and the almonds add a nice texture to it. The flavor of the cake itself is fairly simple, so that the quince-y quinciness shines through in all of its delightful flavor.

Here are two versions of Mr Jelly Lord, by Jelly Roll Morton. Don’t you love that song title? And the song?
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