Red lentils and kidney beans with zucchini, spinach and rosemary

Red lentils, kidney beans and spinach

Red lentils, kidney beans and spinach

I forgot to buy dish soap at the grocery store, because that’s what I do. So I went to the little store down the block. They carry ultra joy. Well, what do you know? Money can buy happiness. And not very much money, either! It only costs a couple of dollars. I made a joke at the counter about how I was purchasing ultra joy, because it seemed like a funny idea to me. The woman at the register didn’t understand that I was joking, because in normal human conversation you can’t add LOLs and smiley faces. She said, “It works really good.” I thought, I hope so, because I’m feeling a little down and whybotherish. I wonder how that would work? Would you use the soap to wash away all of your doubts and sadnesses? Would happiness float to you in iridescent bubbles? Surely you wouldn’t have to drink it, because it might make you happy, but it would probably make you pretty sick, too. I suppose it would be dangerous if you could buy ultimate elation in a plastic squeeze bottle of lemon-scented liquid soap. It might make us all very lazy. Ultra joy is something you should have to work for, and it should be saved for rare and special occasions. They sell a non-ultra joy, too, as it happens, of the dish soap variety. This seems more reasonable, on a day-to-day basis. You can squeeze out small portion of relative contentment, or tired-but-cheerfulness, or it-could-be-worseness. Maybe it would be nice if something as quotidian as washing dishes held some magical power to make you feel joyous and light-hearted. I suppose it could, if we could muster the energy to enjoy the feeling of warm water and soapy bubbles, if we could understand how fortunate we are to have warm running water in the first place, or food to make our dishes dirty. Maybe the soap is meant as a subtle reminder of all that we should be grateful for. Wouldn’t that be an unusual marketing campaign? Well, I’ve just written a small essay on dish soap, so it’s probably time for me to get on with my day. After all, I’ve got laundry to fold, and the detergent promised me everlasting bliss.

Before I go, I’ll tell you about this dish of red lentils, kidney beans, zucchini and spinach. It’s a little like a dal, but with lots of rosemary instead of curry spices. It’s like a bright green potage, but the kidney beans add a nice texture. It’s simple to make, and doesn’t take much time. You could serve it over rice or pasta, or just with some good crusty bread. I topped mine with grated mozzarella, which melted right in.

Here’s Billy Bragg with The Busy Girl Buys Beauty

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Millet, red lentil, and sweet potato dal and pumpkin ricotta flatbreads

Millet dal and pumpkin flatbread

Millet dal and pumpkin flatbread

Yesterday around mid-morning, I spent ten minutes sitting on the couch in my pajamas, with Clio half-on/half-off my lap. I petted her velvety ears and watched people rush by in the rain. They seemed so busy and productive, and I could just imagine how the world smelled like rain to them, and how they felt icy drops trickling into their collars, and how their cars had that feverish chilled-but-warming feeling. And here I was, so toasty and still and unproductive. I felt like I was in a Basho poem. I thought of the quote from the Hagekure (and Ghost Dog!)

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. By doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things.

I found that I didn’t feel quite so unproductive, because my mind was busy, and then I felt foolish for thinking that. Then I thought about writing about thinking about writing about sitting there. And then Clio said, “Man, you’re cramping my style. I’ve got some napping to be getting on with.” The mail came, but I didn’t bring it in because it’s only bills and advertisements. Then I went up to clean the bathroom, and thought about writing about that, but luckily for you I won’t do that. When I was little, I used to narrate my actions in my head in the third person. Not all the time, because that would be crazy! But often. “And then Claire sat on a bench in the middle of the room. She always got through with looking at paintings before everyone else. She did everything quickly. And now she sat and watched the people looking at the paintings…” And on an on it goes! I feel like I’ve been doing that again lately, because of The Ordinary. Not in third person now, so it’s slightly less eccentric. But when I cook, I’ll think about writing about it, and aboutexplaining how it’s done. And sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and try to occupy my brain with whatever I might say on here the next day (explains a lot about the quality of the work, doesn’t it?) and I’ll find myself writing in my head. And, yes, this might seem crazy, but I think this is a good thing!!! I firmly believe that the more you write, the more you write. The more you think about writing, the more you’ll write, and hopefully it will become a habit. (This doesn’t guarantee good writing, mind you! It just makes it easier to get started.) I think this understanding extends to all things. The more you draw, the more you’ll draw. If you want to make movies, you should watch movies, talk about movies, take photographs, write movies, make shorts. The more you cook, the more you’ll think about cooking, and the more you’ll want to try new things and experiment with new ingredients, until you’ll get sick of it all and go out to dinner. If you want to make music, the more you listen to songs, and practice making music, and think about music, the more life will present itself to you as a song. Because even if writing and making movies and drawing aren’t important, which, arguably they’re not at all, I’d still like to go through life looking for things to write about (or sing about or draw pictures of.) Just as the actors that work with Jaques Tati started to see little comic pieces in everyday exchanges in the world around them, you’ll start to find that even small things are worth noticing and remembering and examining, which in some way makes life worth living.

And now I feel foolish for writing about writing, so let’s talk about this dal instead. It’s made with red lentils, millet and sweet potatoes, and it’s cooked for some time, which makes it dense and soft and porridgey. Red lentils are nice because they cook quickly, but if you cook them longer, as (I believe) Indian dals are cooked, they take on a whole different life. I added spinach and peas to pep things up and provide a little texture. And I used beautiful black cardamom pods, which are so smoky and sweet (but watch out for them when you eat the dal, you wouldn’t want to bite down on one!) I decided that cumin was too obvious in this dish, so I left it out in favor of other sweet and smoky spices, like cardamom, nigella seeds and smoked paprika. The flat breads were quick and easy to make – they have a little pumpkin puree and a little ricotta, which gives them a nice flavor and texture, and they were just crunchy enough to provide a pleasant contrast to the soft dal.

Here’s Station Showdown from the Yojimbo soundtrack, cause it’s all about the millet. Golly, this soundtrack is brilliant!

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Potage of quinoa w/ 4 kinds of lentils & 8 kinds of basil

Potage with quinoa and lentils

We visited Monticello last week. It’s so full of beauty, light, and grace that it made me weepy. Less than a mile away, in the visitor’s center, is a recreation of one of Jefferson’s slaves’ dwellings. It’s dark, gloomy, and cramped. That made me weepy, too. Jefferson designed the house with all of the “dependencies” – where the work was done – hidden beneath the building in catacomb-like tunnels. The word “dependencies” struck me as a funny one, in this situation. As you walk through the house and grounds you realize that Jefferson and his family had a complete and childlike dependence on their slaves. Their slaves dressed them, raised their children, grew their food, cooked their food, made their furniture, dug their graves. The man who dug Jefferson’s grave was named Wormley Hughes. He worked in the garden. The garden at Monticello is a thing of wonder. Beautiful, useful, inspiring – a perfect spot to sit and ponder questions of liberty and independence. Wormley Hughes was freed after Jefferson’s death, and shortly thereafter, his wife and 8 of his children were divided and sold.

It’s a discombobulating experience, visiting Monticello. So much beauty, and cleverness – so many good ideas being exchanged, and important work being done. And literally hidden beneath all of it, so much pain and suffering.

Sorry to go on about it! It’s on my mind. I did buy some seeds in the gift shop, to plant in our garden. I’m very excited about our garden this year. We have about 8 kinds of basil, and that’s what I used to make this dish! Back in the Ye Olde Days, they used to have “potage gardens,” and the fruits and vegetables grown there would be used to make potage, a thick stew or porridge. The potage combined all of the different elements of a meal in one bowl, and was a staple in the diet of peasants. This particular potage contains 4 kinds of lentils – beluga, french, red, and split moong. The beauty of this, is that when they’re all cooked together, the quick-cooking varieties (I’m talking to you, moong & red!) melt into a creamy background, while the slower-cooking types (french and beluga) remain a bit al dente. So you have a nice mix of textures. If you can’t find beluga lentils or split moong dal, you could make this with french and red, which are both fairly easy to locate. I roasted the cauliflower separately, because I like that smoky flavor, and then pureed half with broth, and added half whole. This is quite a thick, satisfying dish, and it’s flavorful as well – seasoned with ginger, smoked paprika and tons of fresh basil. It’s funny, though – lentils are so pretty when they’re raw, and so drab when cooked. They make up for it with supreme tastiness, though!

Here’s Blind Willie McTell with Amazing Grace. He doesn’t sing, but it’s almost as if the guitar is speaking the words.
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