Crepes with chard, olives and tarragon-almond “ricotta”

Crepes with chard, olives, and tarragon almond "ricotta"

Crepes with chard, olives, and tarragon almond “ricotta”

Apparently it’s National Book Day! In keeping with the situation, we’re going to have another installment of our award-winning series, Minor Characters from Major Works of Literature. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Pierre Bezukhov. Needless to say, this is a character I love. Flawed, thoughtful, questing. I love the way his world and everything he believes is constantly falling apart around him, only to be rebuilt again. Later in the novel, after he’s captured by the French, after he’s witnessed acts of unspeakable cruelty and violence, this happens once again, “Sounds of crying and screaming came from somewhere in the distance outside, and flames were visible through the cracks of the shed, but inside it was quiet and dark. For a long time Pierre did not sleep, but lay with eyes open in the darkness, listening to the regular snoring of Platon who lay beside him, and he felt that the world that had been shattered was once more stirring in his soul with a new beauty and on new and unshakable foundations.” And this Platon, this snoring man, helps him to build a strong and lasting peace of mind upon which to rebuild his world.Platon Karataev is a peasant who has been sent to war as a punishment for stealing wood. I think he’s a beautiful character, and I’ll share a selection of my favorite quotes about him. Ready? Begin.

    “He would often say the exact opposite of what he had said on a previous occasion, yet both would be right. He liked to talk and he talked well, adorning his speech with terms of endearment and with folk sayings which Pierre thought he invented himself, but the chief charm of his talk lay in the fact that the commonest events—sometimes just such as Pierre had witnessed without taking notice of them—assumed in Karataev’s a character of solemn fitness. He liked to hear the folk tales one of the soldiers used to tell of an evening (they were always the same), but most of all he liked to hear stories of real life. He would smile joyfully when listening to such stories, now and then putting in a word or asking a question to make the moral beauty of what he was told clear to himself. Karataev had no attachments, friendships, or love, as Pierre understood them, but loved and lived affectionately with everything life brought him in contact with, particularly with man—not any particular man, but those with whom he happened to be. He loved his dog, his comrades, the French, and Pierre who was his neighbor…”
    “Sometimes Pierre, struck by the meaning of his words, would ask him to repeat them, but Platon could never recall what he had said a moment before, just as he never could repeat to Pierre the words of his favorite song: native and birch tree and my heart is sick occurred in it, but when spoken and not sung, no meaning could be got out of it. He did not, and could not, understand the meaning of words apart from their context. Every word and action of his was the manifestation of an activity unknown to him, which was his life. But his life, as he regarded it, had no meaning as a separate thing. It had meaning only as part of a whole of which he was always conscious. His words and actions flowed from him as evenly, inevitably, and spontaneously as fragrance exhales from a flower. He could not understand the value or significance of any word or deed taken separately.”

To Pierre, Platon Karataev is “an unfathomable, rounded, eternal personification of the spirit of simplicity and truth,” and he helps Pierre to find the tranquility he has been seeking for years.

    “In burned and devastated Moscow Pierre experienced almost the extreme limits of privation a man can endure; but thanks to his physical strength and health, of which he had till then been unconscious, and thanks especially to the fact that the privations came so gradually that it was impossible to say when they began, he endured his position not only lightly but joyfully. And just at this time he obtained the tranquillity and ease of mind he had formerly striven in vain to reach. He had long sought in different ways that tranquillity of mind, that inner harmony which had so impressed him in the soldiers at the battle of Borodino. He had sought it in philanthropy, in Freemasonry, in the dissipations of town life, in wine, in heroic feats of self-sacrifice, and in romantic love for Natasha; he had sought it by reasoning—and all these quests and experiments had failed him. And now without thinking about it he had found that peace and inner harmony only through the horror of death, through privation, and through what he recognized in Karataev.”

Karataev helps Pierre to appreciate the taste of a simple potato, and in honor of that scene I made some potatoes simply boiled with butter, salt and pepper. But that’s not a very interesting recipe to tell you about, so Instead I’ll share the recipe of what we ate them with. For our Mardi Gras meal we had crepes stuffed with sautéed chard, castelvetrano olives, tomatoes and mozzarella and a sort of “ricotta” made from almonds, tarragon, and capers. Delicious!

Here’s Dig It, by the Coup. I’m not sure why, but it just seems to fit. And I love it.
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Crepes with spinach, pecans, tart cherries and gjetost cheese

Spinach, tart cherry and gjetost crepes

Spinach, tart cherry and gjetost crepes

Happy valentine’s day, everybody. Here’s a love story for you. Once there was a person named Claire. She was skinny and odd-looking with wispy blond hair, and she dressed like an old blues musician. An old male blues musician. She was twenty-three, but she didn’t know what that meant, the foolish child, because she’d never been forty-three yet. In May spring came to her dirty little city just as it came to all the greener and pleasanter places of the world. Claire walked around town constantly, and she loved the hopeful light, and the warm, sweet air, sweet with more than the fumes of the local candy factory, this time of year. And she started to notice a boy named David. He was a strapping fellow, with sideburns and doc martens and huge blue-green eyes with gold in the center. She started to see him everywhere, and she talked to him, from time-to-time, when circumstances and her wildly beating heart allowed. He didn’t seem all that interested, but she was fairly persistent, and one evening her mischievous roommate, Big Dan, to Claire’s terror and delight, asked David if he’d like to go on a bike ride with them next morning. They went to a towpath, with fields stretching for miles on either side – fields awakening with spring, fragrant with grass and wet dirt and expectation. They couldn’t know that this towpath connected, miles and miles away, with one that they would live along in their own house, with their own family, years from now. David didn’t need to be the fastest or ride the farthest, and he noticed everything – the turtles and frogs and snakes. The trees were full of birds, bright tanagers and warblers and orioles, singing their hearts out. But David and Claire didn’t know that, yet. They did not yet recognize the songs, or know to look for the sweet swift movements in the shifting leaves, just as they couldn’t know about the hours and days and years of love and joy and pleasure they would share, or of their own two bright boys, who would run along the towpath, singing their hearts out. They couldn’t know that yet, but it was there. That very night, Claire went to a party at David’s apartment. He stayed by her side the whole time. He said, “Do you want to see the art?” and laughed, but there was art, everywhere. And his room was like a museum, full of odd and interesting things. He was shy, but never awkward. He didn’t talk much, but what he said was always thoughtful or witty. A drunk Russian boy fell down in the kitchen, and a Joycian scholar took umbrage when Claire described Joyce as an awkward adolescent. At 3 am, David walked Claire to her car. They looked for Orion in the sky, but the hazy warm lights of the city obscured the stars. David said I bet we could see Orion from the field by the towpath. Claire drove through a red light on the way, and didn’t even notice. David laughed and said, “no cop, no stop.” At the field they joked about ghostly deer. David asked if Claire saw any shooting stars. She looked up in the sky and a star shot across it. The first she’d ever seen. He asked if she saw any more, and she saw another. David, who was quite a bit taller, lifted her off the ground and kissed her. Years and years later, Claire, who never stopped thinking and never stopped talking, pondered the appeal of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. Why do we get so much pleasure from reading and re-reading these romances with happy endings? She asked. Well, you’re living in one, said David.

Arugula, gjetost and castelvetrano salad

Arugula, gjetost and castelvetrano salad

And day after day, year after year, David gratefully and happily ate all the strange food that Claire put on the table. Even if it had odd combinations like spinach, tart cherries and gjetost cheese. Everybody is talking about gjetost cheese, at the moment (or brunost if you prefer) because its publicist wisely had it catch on fire by the truckload in a tunnel. It’s a dense sweet, caramelly cheese. I’ve heard it described as having umami flavors, and it does. It’s very intensely weirdly wonderful. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s oddly addictive. The first time we tried it, we paired it with salty bright castelvetrano olives in a salad with arugula and pecans. Nice. The next night I made crepes and filled them with spinach, tart cherries, and a combination of sharp cheddar and gjetost cheese. An odd combination, but I liked it! I love greens with raisins, so I thought cherries would be a sort of logical next step. And the caramelly gjetost went nicely with the browned-butter flavor of the crepes. And that’s that!

Here’s Mellow Mood, by Bob Marley. It’s our song.

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