Potatoes with capers, olives, artichokes, almonds and paprika

Smoky spicy potatoes with olives capers and artichoke hearts

Smoky spicy potatoes with olives capers and artichoke hearts

We go to the river most days in the summer, so the boys and dog can swim. You can probably hear me, from wherever you happen to live, yelling to them to come back, closer to the shore, closer to me. Once upon a time a grown man came and plunged into the water with them. At first his small dog nervously swam out to reach him, crying with each stroke, as nervous swimming dogs do. But the man swam farther and farther out, he was more than halfway across the river, and he was floating away with the current, down the river towards the bridge. It was, at once, a most peaceful and a most anxious sight. He seemed fine, he was fine, he probably just wanted to know what it was like to hang out on the pylons with the turtles, and who hasn’t wanted to do that? But I’d been standing in the sun for a long time, and reading my book of Egyptian literature, and feeling a little dazed. I imagined him having existential thoughts. Not a crisis, just a pondering, a “Why not float out to sea?” moment. The center-piece of my Egyptian literature book is a “remarkable Middle Kingdom text” called The Man Who Was Tired of Life. It’s a dialogue between a man and his soul. I know what you’re thinking, plenty of people have written dialogues between body and soul. There’s Andrew Marvel’s A Dialogue Between the Body and the Soul, and Yeats A Dialogue between Self and Soul. But this is early, this is from the middle kingdom of Egyptian literature, and that’s…that’s…well, I honestly have no idea when that was, but it’s really early. And this man is so strangely relatable. I imagine most people have felt like this at one time or another. He’s feeling down. Partially in the “I think I’ll go eat worms,” way. “Behold, my name is detested, Behold more than the smell of vultures/ On a summer’s day when the sky is hot.” (More than the smell of vultures!) But he’s also feeling discouraged about people, about all of humanity.

“To whom can I speak today?/ Faces are averted,/ And every man looks askance at his brethren.
To whom can I speak today?/ Hearts are rapacious/And there is no man’s heart in which one can trust.
To whom can I speak today?/ There are no just persons/And the land is left over to doers of wrong.”

The strange thing…when we came home from the river, I sat in our cool store and continued to make my slow way through Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and I happened to be on a passage in which thirteen-year-old Kolya says to Prince Myshkin, “Honest People are terribly scarce here, so that there’s really nobody one can respect…We are all adventurers nowadays…they are all money-grubbers, every one of them.”
And then, if you read the news, especially lately, it’s hard not to get down about humanity, it’s hard to keep from being discouraged and cynical and pessimistic. But it’s important to remember that for every piece of tragic news, we can cling to hope in the response of most of the people who¬†hear it: in the outpouring of sympathy and love and even anger, all of these things that will combine to push us towards justice. “Hate won’t win.” And the man on the river made it easily to shore, and stood on the bank joking with whoever was standing there. And the soul persuades the Man Who Was Tired of Life to carry on, and to “Cast complaint upon the peg,…and cleave to life.” And Myshkin, who notices everything and understands everything, says, “What could I teach you? At first I was simply not dull; I soon began to grow stronger. Then every day became precious to me, and more precious as time went on, so that I began to notice it. I used to go to bed very happy and get up happier still. But it would be hard to say why.” We have to cleave to hope, even if we can’t say why.

Here’s Amazing Grace by Blind Willie McTell

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Brussels sprouts and potatoes with tamari and honey

Brussels sprouts and potatoes with tamari and honey

Brussels sprouts and potatoes with tamari and honey

I dialed the number but I didn’t expect anyone to answer the phone. Somebody answered the phone. I instantly forgot the name of the person who gave me the number.
“Hello! Um. This is Claire. Your, um, I’m sorry, your…partner? maybe? told me to call this number. I’m friends with Jen! Um, I’m not sure how to pronounce her last name? Um…”
“I’m sorry,” Said a kind voice at the other end of the line, “I think there’s something wrong with my phone, you sound like an incoherent fool.”
“No, no, that’s me!”
“And how can I help you?”
“Well, I’m not sure, I was told to call you by two different people, so I did. I, um, made some food for Jen, once and she said it was ‘yummy’ and she said you were opening a restaurant, and I’ve never cooked in a restaurant, but I’ve worked in lots of restaurants, and I’m not sure what you’re looking for…”
“Did you want to be a line cook?”
“God, no, I’ve seen what that job does to people! They go in pleasant enough, but they emerge twisted and bitter, likely to lose their tempers at the slightest…”
“Did you want to wait tables?”
“Well, I’m a waitress now, and after four years in the same place I’ve got things pretty much exactly as I like them…I’ve trained all the nice people to request that I wait on them…”
“I’m sorry, what exactly do you want?”
“Well, I want to write for the Guardian UK, but they won’t let me. I want to be the next Andre Bazin, you know? And I really really wish that somebody would pay me to write novels and make movies, but obviously that’s not going to happen. I’ve always wanted to be referred to as ‘my esteemed colleague,’ so that would be a good thing. It would be nice if somebody paid me to make meals and write about it on my blog. Oh yeah, I have a food blog, which is pretty exciting, because I’m fairly sure I’m the only person in the country that thought of that bright idea….”
“Did you want to talk to our executive chef and arrange a time to meet?”
“Talk to another human being on the phone?!? I’m sure you didn’t notice, but I’m not at my sharpest on the phone. I’m not so good at telephone conversations, and I’m fairly certain talking to another person at this point would do me in.”
“Why don’t you come in tomorrow when we’re all here.”

Nailed it! I hope you were taking notes, kids, because that is how you call somebody up to ask for a job! After all of my awkward rambling, I actually have an interview today, which is sort of hopeful, because the woman I spoke to must be the kindest, most patient person on the planet. I’m nervous! I was up all night being nervous! Mostly because I don’t have any idea what I want to do, but I can imagine dire complications with any scenario I come up with! Oh yes, the full worry-Claire treatment. I’m excited to learn about a new restaurant, though. It’s always nice to meet new people. I suppose the worst that can happen is that I waste a little bit of their time.

Everything I’m cooking lately seems to have tamari and honey in it! I must be addressing some sort of tamari-honey deficiency. Actually, it’s a magic combination that makes my boys eat vegetables, and I’ve been wielding it a lot lately. This dish is no exception. The potatoes are soft and comforting, the sprouts bright and crispy, and everything was quite nice together. I added some red pepper flakes for heat, some balsamic for acid, and of course we have honey for sweet and tamari for…is that umami? I’m never quite sure. This was a very simple dish, and the boys did like it.

Here’s The Clash with Career Opportunities. I have to say, I’ve always thought that making tea for the BBC doesn’t sound like such a bad job.
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Zucchini, chickpeas & pinenuts/ Zucchini, coconut & cashews

Zucchini, cashews

We watched the Wimbledon final at work, with the sound down. I was surprised and moved by Andy Murray’s tears, possibly more so because I couldn’t hear what he was saying. And I felt a little bad for Federer, he looked so apologetic. I think that’s how I’d be. I’m not competitive at all. My idea of a fun game of tennis is hitting the ball back and forth to each other for as long as possible. I don’t really like to beat people at anything – especially if I like them, which, let’s face it, is usually the case when you’re playing a game with someone. I let my kids win at races and board games. I know there’s a school of parenting that insists I’m setting up unrealistic expectations for them, but I’m not too worried about it. The world will knock them down soon enough, sadly. And, increasingly, I’m not letting them win! The few times in my life I’ve felt myself get all competitive, it felt horrible. I recognized that it was coming from insecurity or envy, and I said to myself, “what the hell, self! Cut it out!” It’s strange to think about how much competition is a part of our lives, as Americans. The assumptions about human nature inherent in setting up such a system bewilder me a little. But I’m okay watching from outside of it all, with the sound down.

Last night we sat in our yard in the evening, and made a fire. The boys dashed around catching fireflies. Malcolm twirled Isaac around at arm’s length (by the fire! So dangerous!), and he came flying into my lap. I thought he’d be hot and sweaty from all the mad running, but he was as soft and cool as the dusk. One of the boys said, “I wonder who turned firefly-catching into a sport?” I said, “Ah, yes, the firefly catch, I saw that in the olympic trials last week.” And David said, “No…the firefly toss. Can you imagine what a quiet, gentle sport that would be?” People standing near each other, in the gloaming with their hands in the air, waiting for the firefly to climb to the fingertips and take off into the night, at their own twirly dreamy pace. I love that idea!

What!? Talking about fireflies again! What!? More zucchini recipes!?! Haven’t we just done all that? Yes. Yes we have, people, this is summer!! The first zucchini recipe we ate as a side dish, but it would be good as a meal over rice. It was very quick and simple, like most good zucchini recipes. It involved sauteeing the zucchini with some frozen peas. We added a little cumin and ginger. And then we tossed the lot with cashews, sweetened flaked coconut, and, lime, and fresh basil. Ta da!! The second zucchini recipe is actually a pasta dish. Despite being vegetarian, we don’t eat pasta very often. I’m drawn to things with more intensity of flavor. The boys love it, though, so I’ll make pasta, and I’ll eat the sauce as a sort of soup or stew. Anyway – this pasta dish. We made orchiette, and then we made a summery mix of quickly cooked zucchini, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, fresh basil, and pine nuts. Simple, substantial, and super.

Zucchini, chickpea, pine nut

Here’s Belle and Sebastian with Stars of Track and Field. I like how someone became a runner simply to feel the city air rush past their body.
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Potatoes, sofrito, fennel, mmmmmm

Potatoes, so mild-mannered and comforting, meet some spicy, vibrant friends in this very pleasing, intensely flavored dish. The potatoes are sliced thinly, and layered with sofrito, olives, capers and fennel, and they all combine to create wonderful tastes and textures.

I just discovered this song, but I really like it! Tony Touch, the Beanuts and D’Mingo with Sofrito Mama.
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