Semolina, artichoke and mozzarella croquettes (with romesco sauce)

Semolina artichoke croquettes

Semolina artichoke croquettes

I spent the morning cleaning and thinking about James Baldwin. I’m reading Go Tell it on the Mountain, and it’s such a strange combination of instantly powerful and hauntingly beautiful. The scenes and sentences that stay in my head aren’t the ones I expect, the passages I find myself instantly re-reading and then reading again are not the most dramatic passages. They describe in-between times, times of working and waiting, and they’re so thoughtfully observed and beautifully expressed that they make the book human and honest and real, and make it something greater than that as well. And I spent the morning cleaning, as I spend most mornings cleaning, to try to fight the creeping dust and dirt and chaos. But you can’t tell that I’ve been cleaning, you could never tell, because I’m not very good at it and for whatever small part I clean, the rest of the house is conspiring to coat itself in dust and clutter all around me. And it does feel like a waste of time, sometimes, except that you can think about James Baldwin while you do it, and even think that he’s had the same feelings about it.

    To sweep the front room meant, principally to sweep the heavy red and green and purple Oriental-style carpet that had once been the room’s glory, but was now so faded that it was all one swimming pool of color, and so frayed in places that it tangled with the broom. John hated sweeping this carpet, for dust rose, clogging his nose and sticking to his sweaty skin, and he felt that should he sweep it forever, the clouds of dust would not diminish, the rug would not be clean. It became in his imagination his impossible, lifelong task, his hard trial, like that of a man he had read about somewhere whose curse it was to push a boulder up a steep hill, only to have the giant who guarded the hill roll hte boulder down again–and so on, forever, throughout eternity; he was still out there, that hapless man, somewhere at the other end of the earth, pushing his boulder up the hill. He had John’s entire sympathy, for the longest and hardest part of his Saturday mornings was his voyage with the broom across this endless rug; and, coming to the French doors that ended the living room and stopped the rug, he felt like an indescribably weary traveler who sees his home at last. Yet, for each dustpan he so laboriously filled at the doorsill demons added to the rug twenty more; he saw in the expanse behind him the dust that he had raised settling again into the carpet; and he gritted his teeth, already on edge because of the dust that filled his mouth, and nearly wept to think that so much labor brought so little reward.

Well, as I scrubbed the bathroom I thought about how I’ve written about dust demons, and I’ve written about cleaning and Sisyphus! And I thought how foolish it is to feel good about having written about the same things in the same way as James Baldwin, how foolish it is to compare myself to James Baldwin at all, except that he makes everything feel so human and at once so specific and so universal that everybody reading him must find revelatory similarities and sympathies. I started reading Baldwin, at this time, because I’m writing a novel (insert laugh-track hilarity here.) And I always believe that if you read well, you’ll write well. I was hoping that some of Baldwin’s fierceness and honesty and fearlessness and poetry would rub off on me. And I happen to be writing about a person who cleans (yes it is going to be as interesting as that sounds!) It’s funny how sometimes something well-done can be inspiring, but if it’s so well-done it might make you think, “Why bother? Give it up, kid!” But I suppose, as in all things, there’s a balance. And for now I’m just grateful that Baldwin made it to the end of the rug and left the room, and found time to write this haunting and beautiful novel, to give this hapless woman something to think about on a dreary January day.

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

Semolina and artichoke croquettes

I love food you can eat with your fingers and dip in different sauces. I always pretend I make a meal like this for the boys, but it’s really for me. David asked me to make romesco sauce, which I was glad to do. Since romesco sauce is Spanish, I decided to invent tapas to dip in it. I made these croquettes with semolina, artichoke hearts and mozzarella. They’re like little semolina dumplings…soft and dense inside, and crispy and puffy outside. As ever, I used canned artichoke hearts that are packed in brine, but you could use fresh or frozen if you like. I also made oven-roasted fries to dip in the sauce, and I sauteed some kale and spinach with golden raisins, pecans and garlic, which might have been my favorite part of the meal!

Here’s Git up, Git Out by Outkast. Cee Lo Green always helps to shake a person out of discouraged despondence.
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Romesco paté

romesco paté

romesco paté

Yesterday as we were walking home from school, Malcolm told me that he sometimes feels as though he has lots of different people inside of him. He’s not bound to this world or this time or the narrow point of view of one individual person, and he can close his eyes and be somewhere else, in a different world. I thought this was such a beautiful idea, and he spoke about it so beautifully, that of course I wanted to hear more, I wanted to ask him who he became and where he went, and I wanted to tell him he should write about it. Instead, instead, I said, “Oh, and is that when you get distracted and stop paying attention?” Because we’d just come from a conference with his teachers, all of his teachers. The poor boy was sitting at a tiny table with his long legs wrapped around a tiny chair, and he was surrounded by six adults, and we were all talking about him. It’s a familiar story, Malcolm is bright and creative and imaginative (or so say all of his teachers) but he has trouble focussing, and showing his work, and listening and following directions. I know that all of his teachers only want the best for him, and its their job to prepare him to take these epic standardized tests, but I had such a raw feeling of heartache, sitting next to Malcolm, looking out the window at the moody changing weather, listening to him trying to explain himself in his slightly husky voice, which has never really sounded like a small child’s voice. They asked him if he knew what an essay is, and I wanted to tell them all about my understanding of the word “essay,” which means to try something, and not to be crippled by fear of failure. But he said “it’s something really long,” and that’s the answer they were looking for. And as Colbert told us yesterday, the essays on standardized tests are soon to be graded by computers, “You see, tech companies have developed an automated reader which can grade 16,000 essays in 20 seconds…these essays are being compu-graded by evaluating critical elements like: How long the average word is; how many words are in the average sentence; and how long is the essay. Because as Shakespeare wrote, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit but splendiferous loquaciousness is paramount to acing your Lit final.’” You like to think about what sort of score Hemingway would get for his Nick Adams stories! And then you want to cry thinking about how little creativity and imagination matter in a world where ideas are graded in this way, and in which children are taught to write essays that will be graded this way. The teachers were talking about the importance of following directions, and they said, “If you were cooking something you’d need to follow the directions exactly, or what would happen?” Hoo, boy. I felt like yelling out, “You’d come up with something potentially a million times better! And it would have flavors you like, that combine in unexpected and wonderful ways, and it would use ingredients that you have, that grew in your garden, maybe, and it would be different from anything anyone had made!” Part of the reason I love cooking with Malcolm is that he’s not tethered to preconceived notions of how to cook or which flavors taste good together. His recipes are always completely fresh and unusual and delicious, and they always makes sense in some perfect, strange way. But I didn’t say anything, because I understand that you have to be able to follow directions before you can change them. You have to understand what’s expected of you before you can make something unexpected. You have to know all the rules, and be able to follow them, before you can allow yourself to break them. And I know Malcolm can do it, because my Malcolm, as I know him, is one of the cleverest, most observant and most capable people I know. He notices everything, and he understands how things work, and what he needs to do to make them work. He might be able to travel to different worlds in his head, he might have mighty castles in the air, but they have strong foundations rooting them to the earth. He might be able to see the world from a lot of different points of view, but he’s very strong in himself, he knows who he is and what he’s good at, with a sort of common-sense coolness that I aspire to, myself. When the teachers asked Malcolm what would happen if you didn’t follow a recipe exactly, he said with a smile, “It depends on the recipe.” I love this boy! He’s got a lot of work to do reining in his energy and imagination, but I know he can do it, and when he gets home we’ll cook up the craziest most unusual meal ever, and eat it with great delight.

Romesco paté

Romesco paté

I’ve always loved romesco sauce, the smoky, tangy mix of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, hazelnuts and almonds. I decided to try to make it into a sort of soufflé or paté. So I added some milk and eggs and cheese, and baked it in the oven. It puffed up like a souffle, but deflated pretty quickly. It was nice as a sort of side dish, but I think it would be good spread on crackers or toast as well.

Here’s They Might Be Giants, Malcolm’s current favorite band, with We Want a Rock.

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Pearled couscous & french lentils with yellow squash, and burgers!

Pearled couscous and french lentils with yellow squash, tomatoes and fresh herbs

Pearled couscous and french lentils with yellow squash, tomatoes and fresh herbs

I’m in a little bit of a blue funk these days. MId-summer slump? Mid-life crisis? A skewed perspective? I’m anxious about the future and regretting a past that hasn’t even happened yet. I’ve been looking at my life from the outside too much, maybe, and that’s never a good thing. You can’t think about it too much, right? You just have to splash through it like it’s cool creek water, try not to slip on the mossy rocks, and enjoy the dousing you get if you do. But I’m not going to talk about that, because who cares!! I’m going to talk about Adventure Time, again. I just love it, as Malcolm would say. I find it such a comfort…it makes me feel happy. I love the friendship and the humor, and the way that the whole world of the show is morally complicated but ultimately righteous. We bought the second season the other day, and we got a few Tintins at the same time (I have to tell you that we got some real books, too, with lots of words and chapters and the like, just so you don’t worry too much about the boy’s intellectual development.) And I had a major revelation! I love Adventure Time the way I used to love Tintin, and maybe haven’t really taken to anything else since. It makes me happy in the same way: watching it reminds me of being little with a new Tintin and a plate of fries, which was such a good feeling. (It’s not fries anymore, it’s grolsch and punjabi mix, which we had yesterday during a thunder storm, and which will surely be one of my best memories of this summer.) Well, I started to think about similarities between Adventure Time and Tintin, and I think I’ve gathered enough that I could write a thesis on it. A nice thick scholarly thesis. They both wear the magical Tintin blue. They’re both drawn in bright solid colors, they both have yellow-blonde hair. They’re both young boys who live, improbably, in a dangerous adult world, with only a dog for a companion. In both cases the dog is a sort of saltier, more mature individual…Snowy with his whisky drinking, and Jake with his gruff voice and tail-wagging appreciation of imaginary cute girls. The dogs are like manifestations of the maturity that these strangely independent boys lack but need to survive in the world. Tintin and Finn both cheerfully and eagerly face every challenge, and it’s this very enthusiasm that helps them to win the day. Yes, I love these boy-and-their dog stories, but it got me thinking that what the world needs now is a girl-and-her-dog story. It will be about Clio and me! A perplexed overgrown child, strangely out of place in the complicated and often sinister adult world, and her wise-cracking canine companion. Of course in this scenario, it’s Clio who has all of the enthusiasm, gumption and curiosity, but she has enough for two, so that’s alright. Our adventures will be slightly more low-key than those of Finn and Tintin. We’ll sleep an extra hour after the alarm goes off! We’ll chase cats (and squirrels and birds and dried leaves) on the tow path! We’ll walk the boys home from school! Can’t you just see it? Can’t you hardly wait to read about our exciting adventures?

Couscous french lentil burgers

Couscous french lentil burgers

We got some big beautiful yellow squash from the farm, along with some pretty plum tomatoes, and lots of fresh herbs. I wanted them fresh and flavorful, so I only sautéed them lightly, and I made a sort of pilaf of whole wheat pearled couscous and french lentils as a sort of base for the bright vegetables. We topped it all with pine nuts and grated mozzarella. Nice summery meal. Everybody liked it, even the picky boys. The next day, I combined the leftovers with some romesco sauce to make burgers, and they were almost better than the initial meal! Juicy and flavorful. We ate them with fake bacon, smoked gouda, lettuce and sliced tomatoes. If you don’t happen to have romesco sauce lying around, it’s worth making some just for these, but also because it’s so delicious in its own right.
Couscous and french lentil burgers

Couscous and french lentil burgers

Here’s Finn’s Baby Song, it’s been stuck in my head for days!

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