Roasted butternut and yellow split pea soup

Roasted butternut and split pea soup

Roasted butternut and split pea soup

It’s the season for reflection, for looking back on the year just passing and taking a reckoning of all you’ve done or left undone. The wise men of newspapers and magazines are making lists of all the worst and best things that have happened over the course of a year, and Facebook’s computers are compiling photos of the most important events of our lives for us to share with our friends. And what is the phrase that has been stuck in my head with contrary steadfastness these past few days? “Don’t look back.” I’m unaccountably fascinated with this idea at the moment. It is, of course, one of Satchel Paige’s rules for longevity, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” And D.A. Pennebaker borrowed the phrase from Paige for the title of his beautiful 1967 (1967!) movie about Bob Dylan. And Bob Dylan himself used the phrase in his song She Belongs to Me, “She’s an artist, she don’t look back.” It’s an idea that shows up in myths from all over the world. Orpheus leading Eurydice out of Hades, Lot’s wife fleeing Sodom. If you look back you’ll be punished for disobeying a rule, for lacking trust or faith, for seeing God at his awe-ful job. But what does it mean? What does it mean? It can’t mean that we shouldn’t sift through our memories, and revisit people and places from our past life. We’d be nothing without our memories. Our future would be meaningless without our past. It can’t mean that. Is it spoken by someone who fears aging, like I do, and is frightened to see how fast it has all gone behind them, and how rapidly it will fly before them? Is Satchel telling us that we shouldn’t let fear of what has gone before frighten us about what’s to come? And what is gaining on us? What slouching beast? These are the questions we wrestle with on sleepless nights. Today I read the passage from Virgil’s Aeneid called “The visit to the underworld.” This was written more than 2000 years ago. Get your mind around that. I’m not sure that people have changed all that much, and I find it a strange comfort to look back all that way into someone else’s life, and see echoes of my own.

In the center is a giant and shady elm-tree, spreading branches like arms, full of years. False Dreams, so it is often said, take the tree for their home, and cling everywhere beneath its leaves.

Here’s The Temptations with Don’t Look Back. We’re gonna leave all our troubles behind.

This soup! It was tasty because butternut squash and yellow split peas are ridiculously tasty. Plus it has nice spices in it. It takes quite a while to cook the split peas, or it did for me, so plan ahead!

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semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut, butter beans and spinach-almond-asparagus pesto

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

Semolina dumplings with roasted butternut and butter beans

“I doe now publish my Essayes; which, of all my other works, have been most Currant: For that, as it seems, they come home, to Mens Businesse, and Bosomes.” This is how Francis Bacon prefaces The Essays: or Counsels, Civil and Moral. I have a beautiful copy of this book, and I love the form of it. It is, simply, a series of short essays: Of Truth, Of Death, Of Unity in Religion, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Simulation and Dissimulation, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Envy, Of Love and so on and on it goes. And I love the tone of it. It’s quite matter-of-fact, he’s stating truths as he believes them, and he makes the truths sound incontrovertible, but we also feel that he hasn’t arrived at them lightly. He’s thought and thought on these subjects, and considered all of the facets and vagaries of them. And though he sounds sure of himself, he hasn’t sealed his mind on any of these ideas. He’s thinking on them still. We feel that he would agree with James Baldwin and with me that “…all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.” My favorite essay is the first, On Truth. You can tell that he loves truth as a thing, almost as a person. He loves the search for truth, “…yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.” And just as a hope is a place, so is truth, “It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.” He talks about poetry being the shadow of a lie, which adds some beauty to the truth, and he talks about lies such as “vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like,” as saving men’s minds from becoming “poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition.” In just this way he mixes wild, poetical language with the more staid and scholarly, and helps us to see not just the matter of his text, but his passion for it as well. I’d like to write a book of essays like this. I’d like to see everybody do it! We could pick the topics, of course, according to our interests, but we’d keep the essays short and fierce and thoughtful, like these are. We’d look at the world around us and decide what questions are important to ask, and then we’d spend time thinking about these questions, and then we’d write it all down. Not the answers to the questions, because there are no answers, but we’d write all of the ways we’ve been thinking about it, the truths that we have wooed. We’d share our truths with each other, and see that our truths aren’t the only ones, and that would make us seek not just the truth of our own little world, but of the great and common world, the whole round world.

"IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND."

“IF ONE COULD BUT PAINT HIS MIND.”

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Semolina dumpling ring with roasted butternut squash, butter beans and asparagus almond pesto

Speaking of round! I made this ring of semolina dumplings, which are puffy and soft and comforting. Then I filled the center with butternut squash roasted with herbs, butter beans and mozzarella…all soft and creamy and sweet and roasty. And I topped the whole thing off with a bright, green, vegetal, lemony pesto of spinach, almonds and asparagus. This meal has layers. It didn’t take long to make, and it was a nice complex but comforting winter meal.

Here’s some more Gary Davis for you.

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Roasted butternut red pepper and goat cheese pie

Roasted butternut and red pepper pie

Roasted butternut and red pepper pie

There’s this thing I’m quite taken with at the moment. It’s an “app,” I guess, but I’m not sure exactly what makes something an app. It’s called What Would I Say, and it takes random words you’ve written and combines them to create short statements. I suspect it’s only remotely interesting to the person whose words are being combined, and most of the statements are repetitive or very dull or so nonsensical they’re not worth reading. And yet there’s something very addictive about it! I love words, of course, and in a very self-involved way I’m fascinated to see which words I use very often. And I love the randomness of it. There’s something freeing about having words combined for you, about not having to think about it at all, and having completely no control over it. I spend so much time thinking about how I’m going to put words together that it all starts to feel very heavy and tangled. This is like throwing the words in the air, and watching them flutter all around you, or float away, and searching for meaning in the patterns that they make. It’s like found poetry, and I love the fact that words mean different things when combined in different patterns, and I love the feeling of my brain scrambling to make meaning of it all, and to remember why I used the words in the first place. It’s like a confused, shifting memory, like a dream of only words. I like the fact that many of mine end with the phrase, “And Isaac’s the lead singer.” This is a phrase I feel we could all end more sentences with, as we go through our day. This one, for instance, “Isaac, holding a crescent of cantaloupe, I stole the mooooooon, and Isaac’s the lead singer.” I like this one, which sounds like an ee cummings poem, “If you have a field far away to the air, but we’d glued the boys’ feet behind me, waving them sit on the flowered air, beneath the rising from mounds of the 2 coryadoras, and we don’t know” And this one sounds like a poem to me, too. Maybe cummings via Basho, “A little boy oh boy who could not sure the best lack all conviction, while I’m depressed by the windbeaten orchard, near the way.” But mostly I like when they’re very simple, and oddly perfect. LIke this one, “Watching around town, we have the best kind of each other.” And my favorite of all, “Thanks for there is a handful of today.” I love that! I wish I’d thought of it myself!

Roasted butternut and red pepper pie

Roasted butternut and red pepper pie

I sort of thought of this as a savory pumpkin pie. It’s got a yeasted whole wheat crust, which is vegan, although the rest of the pie is not! It’s got a soft custard of roasted butternut squash and ground pecans, a pecan frangipane, almost, which is flavored with allspice, nutmeg, ginger, smoked paprika and sage. It’s got goat cheese to cut through all of the sweetness of the squash and peppers, and smoked gouda to add to the roasty smokiness of it all. I thought it was very tasty! Maybe next time I’ll throw all the ingredients in the air and let them combine themselves randomly, and see how that works out!

Here’s Word Play by A Tribe Called Quest.

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Roasted butternut semolina cakes with cauliflower pumpkinseed puree

Roasted butternut semolina cakes

Roasted butternut semolina cakes

Two brothers sit on a grassy patch below an elevated walkway. Behind each of them, in the far distance, stretches a long bridge that seems to connect the boys to the real, busy world. But they don’t care about that. The boys are in their stocking feet, comfortably eating rice with their fingers, and drinking tea out of the tea kettle lid or their cupped hand. “Messy, isn’t it?” “Yes! Fun, isn’t it!” Minoru and Isamu have run away from home with their teakettle and rice cooker, because their parents won’t buy them a television set. They’ve decided not to speak to anyone until their demands are met. This is, of course, Yasujiro Ozu’s tenderly beautiful film Good Morning. The film tells the story of a small suburban community and the havoc cast upon it by gossip, suspicion, and two small boys on a silence strike. The film was shot in 1959, and it reminded me of Tati’s films of the same period – full of grace, generosity and gentle humor. It’s about ordinary people going about ordinary lives, but it’s completely captivating. The boys decide to stop speaking because grownups talk so much and say nothing worth hearing…it’s all just a lot of meaningless talk. “Good morning, good evening, a fine day, where to? Just a ways, I see, I see.” The brothers can talk to each other, if they show the right sign. And they have a shared language of gestures and expressions that are full of meaning, and beautiful to see. Of course their gestures don’t always translate to the rest of the world, and when the little one, Isamu, tries to ask permission to speak in class, nobody knows what he means. The adults in the film, including the boys’ aunt and their English tutor, are amused by the boys’ assessment of grown-up conversation, but they recognize that there’s some truth in it.The film is full of misunderstandings and half-spoken thoughts and desires. The gossip that travels from small house to small house is a perfect example of meaningless words gone awry and striking out with their own destructive pattern. And yet, the real joy of the film is the moments of understanding between people, and in those moments when we recognize ourselves in the characters, our lives in their lives. They speak Japanese and a bit of English (“I love you!”). They talk in niceties and don’t say what they mean. But we know what they mean, whatever language they speak. Ozu is famous for defying Hollywood’s rules for creating melodrama in a film, not just by his quiet use of still, low-angled shots, but also because he utilized narrative ellipses. He doesn’t show the big events, he shows the spaces between them. In famous “pillow shots,” he gives us beautiful small poems of transition, static, but full of quiet, gentle motion within the frame. In the same way, we understand that what’s important in communication isn’t the words, but the spaces between them, and the meaning that they convey through gesture and expression and a universal understanding of human nature. In the last scene, the boys’ aunt and their English tutor stand at a train station talking foolishly about the shape of a cloud (“Yes, it does look like something…”) But from their barely contained smiles, we know that they know they’re saying so much more to each other. Throughout the film, there’s a running series of fart jokes. The boys eat pumice so that they’ll be able to produce a fart on demand when they push each other on the forehead. One of the housewives repeatedly mistakes her husband’s fart for language. During a callisthenic session, two boys admire the flatulent prowess of an older man, and say he has a lot of practice because he works for the gas company. The boys decide that farting is okay, as a form of communication, and doesn’t constitute a breach of their silence strike. This is more than a spate of fart gags, this is a nod to the things that connect us all…our humor and our humanity.

Grating and roasting butternut squash is my new favorite culinary technique! I use my food processor, which makes it super easy and fast. You might find you have a huge mound of grated squash, but it cooks down. I had mine piled about 2 inches deep on the baking tray to start, but it cooked down to about one cup in the end. Just keep stirring the outside pieces, which brown first, into the center of the tray. I added my grated butternut squash to a batter that was very similar to that for semolina dumplings or Roman gnocchi, which have quite a comforting consistency. I flavored it with sage, rosemary, smoked paprika, and a bit of cinnamon and cayenne. Delicious! To go with these big cakes, I made a puree of cauliflower and pumpkinseeds, with a little roasted garlic and spinach thrown in. It was creamy and smooth with a mild nutty flavor, and was very pretty with the butternut cakes.

Here’s Memphis Minnie with Good Morning.

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Roasted butternut-choux nests with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Butternut choux nest with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Butternut choux nest with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Last night Malcolm and I walked down to the river. It had been cloudy all day, and the sky was still thick and pale and glowing. When we reached the middle of the bridge, Malcolm told me to look down the river upside-down, so I did. Dizzyingly beautiful! The clouds and the water stretched away from us in swirling rivulets, reflecting in each other and cutting a silvery moving hourglass shape into the sharp black pattern that the land made on both sides of the river, stretching together in the distance. While we walked home, Malcolm told me his plan to replace war with a giant nerf gun competition. If you’re hit by a nerf dart, you have to sit down and let the others keep playing. This way all of the conflicts of the world would be solved, and nobody would be hurt. He’s heard a lot about guns, lately. We all have. we’ve all been thinking about it a lot, or trying not to think about it. Prepare yourself to hear something very shocking, because, here at The Ordinary, we are ready to come out very strongly in favor of gun control! I know! It’s hard to believe that the proprietoress of a vegetarian food blog would take such a stand! This is one of those issues that makes me feel slightly crazy, because I don’t understand how it can be an issue at all. In the same way that I don’t understand why we sill fight wars, I don’t understand why guns are even an option. Honestly, I have two little boys, I’m aware of the fascination that guns hold for them. If you take their toy guns away, they’ll use sticks as guns, if you take the sticks away, they’ll use their fingers. So they have nerf guns and water guns, and I do see why these are fun – it adds a moving target to a game of tag. But nerf guns and water guns don’t hurt anybody, and that is, really, the only purpose of a real gun – to hurt or to kill. (I suppose you could use a gun to smash garlic, but how practical would that be?) And you can go ahead and blame movies and video games that glorify guns as well, because, guess what?! I’m not a huge fan of those, either. If we didn’t have guns we wouldn’t have to criticize video games for making them look appealing. I realize that I can’t add much to the conversation on gun control that hasn’t already been said, but I’d love to move it to the left, to reframe it, so that when we meet at the middle, the middle doesn’t seem like the frightening place that it is now. I’ve seen lots of so-called “gun nuts” spouting lots of, what’s the word? shall-we-say, vociferously-argued arguments. Well, I’d like to be an anti-gun nut. I’d like to say that merely wanting a gun should qualify you as too crazy to own one. I’d like to say that when the “rational” rationale for owning a gun is that you want to kill animals with it – that’s not rational at all, it’s horrible and depressing and should also qualify you as too crazy to own a gun. I’d like to say that no stubborn, paranoid misreading of our constitution or any other document makes a good argument for carrying guns. Surely the whole point of the constitution was to establish a government based on intelligent understanding and measured reasoning, with enough checks and balances that an armed revolution would never be necessary, as long as people behaved decently and rationally. If you want a gun just because somebody might take it away from you, you’re crazy, you can’t have one. If you want a gun because you don’t understand how government works, and that makes you nervous, you’re crazy and you can’t have one. If you want a gun because it makes you feel powerful, you’re crazy and you can’t have one. I want to turn the whole conversation upside down, starting from a place where people are generous and gentle and kind and expected to behave that way. Where the mistrust that makes people cling to their guns is directed at the gun companies who try to keep them in fear and ignorance for their own profit, so that not buying a gun is an act of rebellion and independence. I’d like to live in a world where we don’t need to talk about gun control, because nobody wants a gun, because they love all people and animals too much – because they understand the value of life. I’d like to believe that this is possible, that this is what most people want.

butternut-chouxAnd I’d like to live in a world where the most fun toy is not a gun but a pastry tube set. Holy smoke, I got my first set yesterday, and I’m so excited! It’s so much fun, so seussically nonsensical, so full of possibilities. And yet practical as well, because you get to eat whatever you make! These little butternut choux nests are among my favorite meals that I’ve made in some time. I used a fairly basic choux recipe, and added some roasted garlic and roasted butternut squash puree and some fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, smoked paprika and nutmeg. Then I piped this dough into lovely nests, about 4 inches across, and before I baked them I piled in some baby spinach, toasted pecans and smoked gouda. They turned out puffed and crispy on the outside, nice with the crunchy pecans. And soft and flavorful and comforting inside. Even the boys liked them! If you don’t have a pastry tube, you can easily make these by dropping little mounds of dough and pushing the center down with your hands or a spoon. It won’t be as pretty, but it will still taste as good.

Here’s When the Gun Draws by Pharoahe Monch It’s sweary, but he’s angry.

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