Pumpkinseed oil! (in a sauce with pumpkinseeds, almonds and lime)

IMG_5763The other day I went on and on about superheroes, and I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. But it’s not my fault, I’ve been conditioned by society: Society is to blame. One day in the winter, Malcolm and I went for a walk on yet another snowy day, which is almost hard to imagine, on a day as warm and jewel-bright as this one. Malcolm started telling stories, as he does, and he came up with one of my favorite superheroes ever. This superhero, this guy, can only exercise his super power after he’s walked a mile! How perfect is that?! Inconvenient, maybe, but perfect. Malcolm came up with this idea because all of his best stories come to him when he’s out walking, which is a thing I’ve noticed too, for myself. If I go for a walk or a bike ride and don’t actively try to think about something I’m working on, sometimes that’s when the best ideas surface. But it also seems like a good idea to step away from the conflict, to take a walk and think about it, so you can respond rationally to the situation and not just wield your super power in the heat of the moment. How many super heroes have responded with excessive violence in violation of their self-imposed code, only to regret it later during long hours of heartfelt introspection? If you’re going to take justice into your own hands, you should probably be cool and collected about it. Maybe while you’re out walking you’ll come up with another way to resolve the situation, without using your super strength or weaponized tech or kung fu skills, or whatever your super power happens to entail. Perhaps you’ll think of a different way to end the story. Presumably you also get to freeze the moment when you’re out walking, which is a nice idea, too. You can take a moment of passion and urgency and hold it for a time–it’s almost like taking a photograph of the emotions. I also like this idea because the way Malcolm framed it, it almost sounded like his super power is telling stories. That’s a super power I would like to have! Especially if I needed to walk a mile before using it. While I’m on this meandering tale of superheroes, I’ll tell you about another super power I’d like to have. I thought of it this morning, when I sat on the couch and absentmindedly patted the cushion beside me. Clio heard it, wherever she was, and raced into the room and squashed herself next to me. It’s a super pat! Yes, that universal gesture that calls dogs and people to your side! You can wield it from miles away, to draw people to come and sit next to you, wherever you may be. The applications of this practical ability are endless!

My friend Neil, who lives in Germany, sent me a bottle of pumpkinseed oil. I’d never tried it before, but now I’m completely addicted! It’s so delicious, mild and nutty, with a kind of warmth. I’ve eaten some every day. Mostly on a salad of arugula and avocado, with a little balsamic and salt and pepper. But it’s good drizzled on warm greens, too. And I combined it with actual pumpkin seeds as well as some almonds and a little chipotle puree to make this pretty sauce. We ate it with tacos one night and empanadas the next. You could use it as a dip, too, or a salad dressing. You can’t really tell in the picture, but it was bright green. One of the most magical things about pumpkinseed oil is that in a thin layer it’s bright bright green, but when it’s thicker it’s a beautiful rusty red. Lovely!

Here’s Make the Road by Walking by the Menahan String Band

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PIne nut and sundried tomato sauce

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

Pine nut and sundried tomato dip

When I was in high school, our English teacher handed us a xerox (or maybe it was a mimeograph, this was a long long time ago). It contained words in sentences, but there was nothing to identify it. No title, no author’s name. We didn’t know if it was fact or fiction, we didn’t know when or why it was written. The sentences were short, simple and strangely repetitive. The words were small plain words, and a few of these unimportant words were repeated from sentence to sentence or within sentences. The story was disarmingly uneventful. The teacher asked us what we thought of the writing, and we were all under-impressed and thought the author had a lot of work to do, tightening the writing and combining sentences and working a little harder to keep our attention, making it a little easier for us to get through the story. We’d been fed certain rules of effective writing for over a decade and we had thoroughly absorbed them. I didn’t think about this at the time, but I’m fairly certain that if the author had sent the first few pages of his manuscript to an agent or publisher today, they’d have given up after the first paragraph, and he’d never ever hear from them. Well, guess what? The author was Ernest Hemingway. That’s right, Ernest Hemingway. And though I doubt any of us had read enough Hemingway to form any kind of opinion about him at that point, we’d heard of him. We knew that other people liked him. He was well-known and well-respected. And suddenly we saw everything differently. The simplicity of the story seemed significant, even profound. The simplicity of the language seemed elemental, important. The repetition made beautiful, resonant little circles of words. And everything we’d learned about writing was bullshit. Well I’m very grateful to this teacher, because I think the understanding we gleaned from this lesson applies to all things, at least all things creative, and I consider life the biggest creative endeavor of them all. Don’t trust platitudes, be wary of easy advice. Don’t “kill your darlings,” your darlings are what make your writing yours. What would the world be like if Dickens or Nabokov had been more restrained, or had edited their work till it was spare and sellable? “Write about what you know” doesn’t mean write about the clumps of dirt in your backyard, it means write about what you know to be true, write with honesty about how it feels to human, even if you’re describing life a hundred years ago, a hundred years hence, or in a world that never existed. Speak with the rhythm in your head, even if you think people won’t understand it or be able to keep up with it or slow down to it. They might find it beautiful in the end. When they realize who you are. And read everything you encounter, everyone you meet, as if you’d love what they do, if you knew who they were.

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Sundried tomato and pine nut sauce

Speaking of simple! This is one of those simple yet delicious dishes. I bought a little bottle of sundried tomatoes in olive oil. If you buy dried sundried tomatoes, you might want to soak them in hot water (and then drain them) before using them in this recipe. This is a creamy vegan sauce with lots of flavor. You could add smoked paprika or roasted garlic if you want, they’d both be nice here. We ate this with roasted vegetables and chard croquettes one night, and with tacos the next night. You could dip things in it, or spread it on things, or toss it with pasta or rice. I think it would be fine however you’d like to use it!

The Hemingway I spoke of earlier is from his Nick Adams stories, or In Our Time. To this day, I’m not his biggest fan, but I love these stories. Here’s a sample of the language.

    As he smoked his legs stretched out in front of him, he noticed a grasshopper walk along the ground and up onto his woolen sock. The grasshopper was black. As he had walked along the road, climbing, he had started grasshoppers from with dust. They were all black They were not the big grasshoppers with yellow and black or red and black wings whirring out from their black wing sheathing as they fly up. These were just ordinary hoppers, but all a sooty black in color. Nick had wondered about them as he walked without really thinking about them. Now, as he watched the black hopper that was nibbling at the wool of his sock with its fourway lip he realized that they had all turned black from living in the I burned-over land. He realized that the fire must have come the year before, but the grasshoppers were all black now. He wondered how long they would stay that way.

Here’s Simple Things by Belle and Sebastian.

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Tarragon and walnut pesto

tarragon and walnut pesto

tarragon and walnut pesto

Hey, kids! It’s Saturday storytelling time! As I’m sure you recall, this means that along with your daily recipe and song, you’ll get a story, too! Each week, everybody in our small salon of auteurs (well, generally me and one or two other people) writes a story based on a found photograph. If you’d like to write a story about it, and I hope you do, send me a copy and I’ll post it here, or send me a link if you have somewhere of your own to post it. Who are these men? Where are they? What are they reading?
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I bought a bunch of tarragon. I put some in a tart, and I had a lot left. I love tarragon, but I can’t put it in every single meal! So I decided to use it all in this pesto. We ate it with flatbread, beans and greens. You could toss it with pasta, or spread it on a pizza, or even serve it as a dip with chips or crackers. Strangely, Malcolm has said in the past that he doesn’t like tarragon, but he loved this, an gobbled it right down. It is very tarragon-y. This is vegan, but if you wanted it to be more like a traditional pesto, you could add parmesan, if you liked.

Here’s Duppy Conqueror by Bob Marley. It’s about ghosts, you know.
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Chard, raisin, pecan pesto & black pepper pasta

Chard, pecan, golden raisin pesto

I had a little tantrum yesterday. It was not my proudest moment. It was about ice cream – I was like the kid that drops the ice cream cone, except that instead of tears there was lots of swearing and self-pity. Why did this happen? Let’s take it back. As they say in the TV shows, 18 hours earlier…

The night before I’d mixed some yeast and sugar and a little bit of flour – I’d made a starter. Then I’d gone to bed and thought about all of the interesting things I could make to go with my bread. The next morning I’d added all the other ingredients for the bread, and I had, almost simultaneously, made a brown butter caramel custard to turn into ice cream later in the day. For some reason, I cooked the heck out of everything in the house yesterday! I wanted to make everything from scratch. Bread, pasta, sauce, ice cream. Why? I don’t know! I was seized by some dormant Little House on the Prairie-longing, perhaps. But it all seemed so easy and pleasant. Everything was just a little bit of effort now, a little bit more later. I had fun kneading the dough, I didn’t panic whilst making the custard. I felt positively light-hearted!

Then things started to go wrong, as they usually do. But I couldn’t take it in stride, for some reason. The bread had a really nice crust, but the inside didn’t have the big holes I was hoping for. I really want to make bread with big holes. The pasta was fine, I think, but Isaac wouldn’t even try it. He always eats pasta, and he would not take one bite. Not one! Malcolm ate his pasta like a dog, which is probably normal behavior for a nine-year-old boy, but it did me in. He relented and ate with a knife and fork, but I’d gone to the dark side, by then. And then the mother-flipping ice cream wouldn’t freeze. I have a child’s toy of an ice cream maker from the 80s. It’s not ideal, but it does the job, usually. Not last night. Sigh.

I sat in the backyard enjoying the silence and the greenness and the smell of our lilacs and roses, and the sight of tiny little fireflies. (Why have I never noticed them before? Are they just young fireflies? They’re lovely!) The boys came out and asked for dessert. Goddamn dessert. Then came the cursing, the regret over wasted ingredients, the desire for one peaceful meal, the wistfulness for the ice cream that might have been. I threw squares of bittersweet chocolate at them, which they absconded with happily. Hopefully they’ll remember that, rather than be scarred for life by their mother’s moodiness.

This pesto is really tasty, though, I think! One of my all time favorite combinations is greens, raisins and nuts. (I’ve said it many times, I know!) I’ve baked it into savory pies plenty of times, and it was time to try something different. I thought to myself, why not put it all together? I love pesto, and I like to experiment with different kinds. So that’s what I did. You’ve got chard, pecans, almonds (because I didn’t have many pecans left), golden raisins, roasted garlic, rosemary and smoked paprika. Savory, sweet, and a little smoky.

Here’s Tom Waits with All the World is Green. I love this song, I’ve listened to it so much lately. And all the world is green, right now! And this pesto is a lovely, mossy sort of green.
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Roasted red pepper & pecan sauce

Roasted red pepper pecan sauce

In some movies, the lead actors are good but not surprising or remarkable, but one of the supporting actors just knocks you off your feet. Take High Fidelity, for instance. John Cusack was good (isn’t he always?) but Jack Black was unforgettable – zesty, funny, feisty. Thus it was the other night with my dinner. I had about 2 cups of leek risotto left over from the night before. I added 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 egg, and I made little cakes that I fried in butter on a griddle. Quite tasty! Even my boys liked them. But (dot, dot, dot) I also threw together a few ingredients in great haste, thinking that a sauce would be nice with my risotto cakes. In my small food processor, I combined some roasted red peppers (from a jar) some pecans, and some chipotle purée. Holy smoke (geddit? chipotle is smoky? So are roasted peppers?) It was delicious! (Or so I thought) Smooth but not too smooth, bright, smoky, with that wonderful taste that pecans have that’s hard to describe. It’s like sweet and savory at the same time. This sauce is quick, this sauce is easy, and I can think of about a million ways to use it! With french fries, pasta, with croquettes, with enchiladas, with savory pies, I think I could actually make a very nice soup out of it as well, with a small amount of tweaking.

Here’s Nat King Cole with Frim Fram Sauce
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Spicy spinach cashew sauce

spinach cashew sauce

I’d like to apologize in advance for posting so often today. I’ve got so much I want to tell you about! I don’t know if I’ll get to it all, but if I don’t then I’ll forget how I made it, and then I’ll just have to post more tomorrow… Goodness gracious, I can’t keep up with my own self.

This one will be quick, though. Just like the sauce. It’s very flavorful, very easy, and probably very good for you because spinach and nuts have protein and iron and… other things, that are good. You’re the boss, with this sauce. You can make it quite thin and creamy, and have it with pasta or rice. Or you can make it quite thick, and use it however you would use pesto. I made it spicy, because I still have a cold, but that’s adjustable as well. It’s a nice dipping sauce for croquettes or kofta, and it’s very good with roasted vegetables, such as winter squash or sweet potatoes. It would make a nice meal with boiled diced potatoes stirred in. It’s creamy, yet vegan. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Duke Ellington with Spongecake and Spinach.
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