Roasted tomato-pinenut sauce and potatoes baked with tomato broth and leeks

Potatoes and leeks in tomato broth

Potatoes and leeks in tomato broth

My kids are the most bright and beautiful. Just like everybody else’s kids. Do I tell them they’re bright and beautiful? Of course I do! Every time they say something funny or make something clever, every time they act wisely or kindly. Every time I feel it, which is all the time. Am I worried that I’m going to turn them into entitled little narcissists? Honestly, I’m not. The world will knock them down. People can be so cruel, and they’re just teetering on the precipice of the valley of nauseating self-doubt and insecurity that is the teen years. The world will knock them down, and they’ll be strong enough to get back up again.

There’s some article making the rounds advising that you shouldn’t tell your child they’re special. Of course your child is special! Everybody’s child is special, and we’re all somebody’s child! We’re all special in the way that we’re all unique, that is, equally so. You can’t be more unique or the most unique, it doesn’t make sense–the laws of grammar and nature don’t allow it. So it is with specialness. But my children are also special to me, each of them, in a way that nobody else in the world is. I feel that this is something I’ve earned. It’s the gift that comes along with all the worry and trouble and sleepless nights. Do I tell them this? Not in so many words, I suppose. “Special” is such a strange word, so overused and undervalued, with such shifting meanings. But I hope that they understand it, in the way children understand a million things that we don’t say to them in so many words.

So I will praise my children, I want them to feel good about the things they do well, I want them to feel brave about trying things they might not do well. I want them to feel good about themselves. Insecurity is a dangerous quality, in my experience, and can cause people to behave in petty or destructive ways. When you feel bad about yourself it’s tempting to make other people feel bad about themselves, too. The big hope, of course, is that they’ll love themselves, and they’ll love everybody else, too. Which is where empathy and respect enter the equation. You teach them about empathy and respect by the way you treat them as though they’re special, and you treat each other that way, and the dog, and your neighbors, and everybody that you meet. Praise your children! Tell them that they’re smart and funny and beautiful. Respect them, show them love any way you can. Tell them that they’re special. To you, and in the world. It will make them stronger. And while you’re at it, praise someone else’s children as well, praise everybody’s children.
Roasted tomato and pine nut sauce

Roasted tomato and pine nut sauce

These two dishes go together! Partly because you use the broth from one to cook together. Partly because they’re both a tribute to late summer produce. We have (almost) more tomatoes than we know what to do with. And from our lovely farm we’ve got heaps of tiny potatoes, beautiful leeks and red and yellow peppers. If they grow together, they taste good together, right? I like to make oven roasted tomato sauces because it’s so easy to pick the peels out when they’re done cooking, rather than do that whole boiling and peeling thing before you make the sauce. But if you use all the juices from the tomatoes in the sauce it turns out quite thin. I decided to save the juiciness to baste some tiny potatoes and some braised leeks–simple, with only lemon thyme, white wine, and a lot of salt and pepper. The tomato sauce, then is much thicker, and it’s thickened still with toasted bread and nuts. Almost like a romesco sauce, but with pine nuts instead of hazelnuts, and far more tomatoes than peppers. You can use whatever tomatoes you happen to have in abundance at the moment. I used a mix of red, yellow, black. It’s nice spread on bread or roasted eggplant. It would make a nice sauce for pizza. Or you could just dip things in it. Whatever you like!
Here’s Top Special  by the White Stripes

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Crostini with roasted red pepper/hazelnut sauce, capers, and olives

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Red pepper and hazelnut crostini

Malcolm yelled “Good luck!” to the bald eagle. Before work on Sunday, the first and only really lovely spring day this year, Malcolm and Clio and I went for a “run.” It was more of a fast walk, because he’d just eaten pancakes, but that suited me exactly. We came to the place where a bald eagle had built a nest across the canal. A big, random-looking pile of sticks on the top of a huge metal tower.
The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?

The tower last year, before the nest was built. What are these things called?


I hadn’t actually seen an eagle there, but I stopped to look every time we passed. This time I saw a big hulking bird farther down the tower, and I asked Malcolm if it had a white head, because I couldn’t see that far, and it could have been a vulture. It did! It did have a white head! We walked back on the other side of the canal, to get a closer look. Malcolm was talking cheerfully about his schemes for the future, and I was thinking how good it felt to go for a walk with him again, and hear his zany chatter, after a long, shut-in winter. When we got to the tower, the eagle was gone, but we stood for a moment looking up into the bright blue sky. You could feel the earth getting warmer all around us, waking up and coming to life. And then the eagle flew up out of the river, and landed very low on the tower, where we could see it perfectly. It was a stunning moment, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it felt as if my heart soared up with the eagle. We watched it for a while, sitting there so beautiful and impossibly large and completely cool, and then Malcolm yelled, “Good luck,” and we walked home. It felt so sunny, to hear him say that, to think about Malcolm encouraging this huge unruffled raptor. It seems so precarious to try to raise chicks on the top of a tower that holds power lines, in a world full of people, it feels like such a hopeful thing to do. I’ve been feeling vaguely anxious lately about equally vague events that may-or-may not happen. Worried about the future more than usual, troubled by time passing though I know there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. It feels good to take a walk, and see the eagles and the geese sitting on their nests in the sunshine, everybody is doing what they have to do, getting on with their lives, waking with the spring. Isaac recently showed me the sign for “All you need.” You hold your hands together in front of you, and then spread them to your sides. It’s a beautiful gesture, particularly as performed by a serious eight-year-old. It seems like a good gesture to make when you’re feeling anxious, to remind yourself of what you have, and that all you can do is what you have to do, and try feel good about what you’re working on and where you’re going. It’s a gesture like spreading wings in the sunshine.

Isaac likes crostini. I made these last week after he’d been sick for a few days and eaten nothing but toast. These were like a step up from toast, and Isaac ate quite a few. The sauce itself is inspired by romesco sauce, and it’s sweet smoky nuttiness goes well with the sharp saltiness of capers and olives. It made a nice meal with a big salad.

Here’s All I Need by Radiohead.
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Crepe stack with roasted mushrooms, romesco, spinach, and ricotta

Crepe Stack

Crepe Stack

The other day on the way to school Isaac said, “You know how we’re supposed to be as jolly on Christmas day as Clio is every day?…” as if it was a truth, universally acknowledged, a rule that we all accept. He is, of course, speaking of Clio’s tendency to love everybody she meets, even if they’re complete strangers (unless they’re wearing hats or sunglasses. Very supsicious! Very suspicious! What are they hiding?) He was talking about the fact that she makes you happy because she’s so happy to see you. She’s so easily pleased with small things…walks, a bowl of kibble, a warm lap. She’s not afraid to show she loves you, and this makes her nice to be around. Isaac’s kind of like that, himself, all year long. And so, in the light of all this Christmas Jollity, I’d like to propose a new business plan, based on this: “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” According to the specifications of my new business plan, the curriculum of our business schools will change somewhat. We’ll have courses examining the philosophical and practical applications of charity and generosity. We’ll learn how to combat ignorance and want. We’ll learn to share what we have and we’ll learn that we don’t want more than we need. Internships will be at shelters and soup kitchens or anywhere that people are in need of aid and support. Business acumen will describe the ability to sense when a person needs kindness or encouragement. Big business will mean that everybody is acting together as a community of epic proportions to spread happiness and good will. And even when we mind our own business, we’ll be minding the people around us, because they are our business! And business as usual will be benevolence, jolliness and cheer the whole year long; the whole year will be “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people around them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

It’s a crepe stack!! It’s layers of peppery crepes sandwiched with romesco sauce, roasted mushrooms, sautéed spinach, and ricotta mixed with mozzarella, eggs and artichokes. I thought it was very tasty…lots of nice flavors together. It looks quite complicated by it’s really not hard to make. You can, of course, alter the fillings that you use, and put anything you like in between the crepes. You could also make this as a lasagna, layering all the fillings between cooked lasagna noodles, if you don’t feel like making the crepes.

Here’s Tom Waits with God’s Away on Business.

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Not necessarily hummus

Hummus is delicious – but the lovely subtle chickpea lends itself to all sorts of flavor combinations. Nothing could be easier than to whip up a chickpea dip, and it’s a wonderful recipe to have on hand to feed unexpected guests. In the summer, when it’s too hot to cook, or after work, when you just don’t have the time or energy to cook, this makes a nice dinner with some good bread and a good salad. Hummus, french fries and red wine is actually a favorite meal of ours! Store-bought hummus is surprisingly expensive. But a can of chickpeas is very cheap, and dried chickpeas are even cheaper. I tend to use canned – I do for most beans. I like to cook them from dried, but I don’t always decide what I’m going to make early enough to provide for soaking & cooking time. I’ve found that the secret ingredient to making a hummus with a light pleasant consistency is … water! A little bit of water added at the end and blended in really pulls everything together in a surprising way. Yup.

Here’s Hank Mobley’s The Dip, to listen to while you decide what to add to your chickpeas.
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