Roasted pepper and tomato tart with almond-hazelnut crust

Pepper and tomato tart with hazelnut almond crust

Pepper and tomato tart with hazelnut almond crust

I fell asleep while watching cave of forgotten dreams. I regret it, of course, but at the time I was powerless against the great wave of sleepiness. I’d worked all day, and we’d been busy, and the film is so quiet and dreamy, Herzog’s narration so sweet and sleepy…well, that’s my excuse. I didn’t miss much, I didn’t sleep for very long. In a way, though, it seems perfect to have fallen asleep during this film, this beautiful film. It’s as though the film itself became a part of my dreams, dreams I will never forget because they’re marked on stone and captured on film. The movie has a sort of dream-like logic to it that I love: When faced with something that you don’t understand, follow it farther and deeper than you would have thought possible. Even as you’re exploring, and you realize that you will never understand, you keep looking, because the mystery itself is so beautiful. As circus performer-turned-archaeologist Julen Monney tells us, “it’s a way to understand things which is not a direct way.” This is exactly what I love. I love the idea of looking at something from the side, or from some angle we can’t even imagine. Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a small glimpse into the Chauvet Cave in Southern France. These caverns contain the oldest cave paintings yet discovered, and they’re remarkable. They show bears and lions and rhinoceros and jaguars, creatures you can’t imagine living in the South of France. The pictures are layered one upon another in a marvelous design. The paintings are beautifully rendered, stylized but so well-observed you believe whoever painted them must have spent hours watching the animals. Their faces are wise and almost sweet, or so it seemed to me. They’re almost all in profile, except for one bison who looks right at you. Some are surrounded by layers of rippling silhouette as if to show movement. There are no paintings of human figures, and no human bones were found in the cave. The only sign that these marks were made by humans is a wall of palm prints, made by distinct individuals, and a footprint made by an eight-year-old boy. The boy’s footprint is next to that of a wolf, and we’ll never know if they were friends or prey. I think I must have fallen asleep through the part of the film in which they discuss the humans of the time in greater detail. I have glimpses of memory of this. But I’m almost glad to have missed this part, because to me a huge part of the wonderful power of the paintings is that they seem deeper than human achievement or understanding. Julien Monney went down in the cave for five days, and then he decided not to go down any more. He said it was too moving, too powerful. Every night he was dreaming of lions–real lions and painted lions. He wasn’t scared of them, but he had a feeling of powerful things and deep things. He said that we need to find a way to look at the cave paintings. Where would he start to look for this new way of looking? Everywhere. He tells the story of an archaeologist in Australia traveling with an aboriginal guide. They came upon some cave paintings that were thousands of years old, and fading and crumbling. His guide started to touch up the paintings. The archaeologist asked him why he would do that, and he replied that he wasn’t doing it, he wasn’t painting, it was only the hand of the spirit. You have the feeling, when looking at the Chauvet paintings, that this is the only explanation for this beautiful series of pictures. They were painted in the same style, but hundreds of years apart. Cave bears have scratched at the walls below the pictures and across the pictures, as though they were trying to add to them, or to make them disappear. I’ve always believed that humans aren’t the center of everything, that there’s some spiritual force in the earth and the air that we can’t control or understand. Maybe the animals understand it better than we do because they’re not always making noise like we are. In a strange way these cave paintings seem to reinforce these ideas. Whatever was captured in the cavern, we were part of it, but not the only part, not the most important part. And Herzog ends with shots of a nuclear power plant near the caves, and he tells us that in Lascaux, mildew formed by the breath of tourists caused the paintings to deteriorate. It gives you a powerful feeling that we have to stop destroying things, stop making noise, stop taking things apart in order to understand them. We have to keep silent, and watch and listen and feel.
Roasted pepper tart with tomatoes, olives, and hazelnuts

Roasted pepper tart with tomatoes, olives, and hazelnuts

This tart was loosely inspired by romesco sauce. The hazelnuts, almonds and smoked paprika are in the crust, and the garlic, roasted peppers and tomatoes are in the filling. And all the flavors blend nicely together. I also added some different kinds of cheese–goat cheese and smoked gouda, and some olives and capers for briny goodness.

Here are some songs from the soundtrack of Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It’s very haunting!

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Thin crispy roasted potatoes piled with chipotle black beans, spinach, smoked gouda, jalapenoes, and guacamole

Thin crispy potatoes with black beans and guacamole

Thin crispy potatoes with black beans and guacamole

“Why is it okay to be scruffy when you’re real?” This is a question Isaac had to answer for class, and in solidarity with the lad, I’m going to try to answer it myself, here. I should start by saying that I haven’t read the book, so if it seems like I’m desperately flailing to sound relevant (to anything), that’s because I am. I would posit, however, that this is the nature of all communication after first grade, and thereby acceptable for the matter at hand. So. “Why is it okay to be scruffy when you’re real?” I believe that not only is it “okay” to be scruffy when you’re real, but that scruffiness is an indicator of reality. And not just an indicator of realness as opposed to imaginariness, but also of realness in contrast to fakeness. Real meaning “actual” as well as real meaning “genuine.” Anything that is too perfect or symmetrical seems plastic and artificial. Something may be perfect in your dreams or your imagination, but when you’re awake and viewing the real thing, you notice flaws and oddities. And these are the aspects that make you know that the object is yours, and these are the things that make the object beautiful in your eyes. Any slight imperfection makes an individual more interesting and appealing, makes it stand out from all others, makes it, in fact, individual. It is hard to love something that is exactly like every other such something in the world. It is hard to even recognize that it is yours. If every car in the world was the same, you might identify yours because of a scrape on the fender or a dent in the bumper. This scruffiness helps you to recognize that the car is yours, and the very state of being yours makes it more appealing than every more perfect car in the world. If every child in the world was identical in mind and body, you might feel a vague affection for all of them. But it’s the child you’ve nursed when they were ill, whose snotty nose you’ve wiped, whose strange thoughts you’ve listened to, that you love with a fierce passion. It’s the child whose dirty face and muddy fingernails you love, because it means they’ve had a good day playing in the yard or climbing trees. Because another definition of “real” is alive, animate, as in “a real boy.” And when you’re alive you’re subject to messiness, illness, and aging. But these things, as manifestations of life and liveliness, become poignant and beautiful. Scruffiness is a sign of change. It’s a sign of growing and living, of adventures and mishaps, of stories to tell. These are the things that make a creature interesting and alive. Mint-condition perfection can only be achieved through stasis and isolation, and few things in life are actually better for being static and alone. Scruffiness is okay when you’re real, because it is both symptom and source of a real love, such as can only be experienced by real people in real time. Scruffiness is vulnerability, it is showing yourself to another when your guard is down and your mask is off, and this rawness and openness is the only possible path to intimacy. Scruffiness is banal and day-to-day. It is tedious and unspecial, but when you share this ordinariness with someone, you become more real, your relationship becomes real. You delight in the habits that you share, and you slowly grow and change together, becoming more real and alive and wrinkled and eccentric and lovely with each passing year. By heaven, you’ll think your love more rare and real than any based on false illusions of perfection. And this is why it is more than okay to be scruffy when you’re real.
Thin crispy potatoes with chipotle black beans and guacamole

Thin crispy potatoes with chipotle black beans and guacamole

This was a yummy dinner!! I roasted some thinly sliced potatoes with sage and olive oil. Then I piled them high with roasted mushrooms, black beans, corn and spinach sauteed with chipotle puree, smoked gouda, sharp cheddar, pickled jalapenos and fresh, chunky guacamole made of avocado, tomato, cilantro and lime juice. Smoky, earthy, fresh, satisfying. It was fun to eat this! We ate it like nachos. The boys stuffed the black bean mixture in some soft tortillas.

Here’s Linton Kwesi Johnson with Reality Poem.

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Collards with walnuts, corn and smoked gouda

Collards with corn, walnuts and smoked gouda

Collards with corn, walnuts and smoked gouda

Sometimes I’ll get a little speck of light in my vision, like a sunspot. And it will grow, and start to shimmer. It will take the shape of a laurel branch, climbing up the side of one eye. It will be jagged and flashing and electric. I can see around it, but I can’t see through it, and half of my vision will be obscured. Between me and the world is an odd animate light, sparkling and growing. It’s a little rip in the fabric, a small malfunction of the wiring. If this was a science fiction movie, it would be that moment when you’d say, “My god, I’m a robot! How long has this been true? Is anything real? Are my memories my memories? Have I actually felt all that I’ve felt and done all that I’ve done?” And then you’d look in the mirror and part of your skin would be torn off, and wires would be poking out, and sparks would start shooting all over the place! But it’s not a science fiction movie, and so it’s not the moment that I discover that I’m a robot, but that I’m a human, which is equally strange. Maybe more so. The frantic glow fades, eventually, but I always feel discombobulated for some time – sensitive to light, and wary of another episode. It’s hard to shake the strangeness of realizing that you’re a person, a bundle of thoughts and recollections and hopes and worries and tastes, looking out at the world through this strange, warm, vulnerable, incomprehensibly busy body. It feels so odd to discover that what I see – the world around me, my vision – is who I am. My impressions of the world, gathered from all of my senses, are more closely connected to my sense of myself than other people’s impressions of me, and this must be true for everybody! Each person is the world that they create around themselves as they experience life! It’s a weirdly freeing thought! (What is she going on about?) This morning I had the little shimmering light in my eye, but it never grew, it faded without incident. Obviously, it still left me feeling a little blurry, though, or I wouldn’t be rambling on in this ridiculous fashion!

Let’s talk about collards instead. This is all part of my fiendish plan to make collards as popular as kale. Why does kale get all of the attention? Just cause it’s frilly and pretty? Well, collards are delicious, too, despite their dull surface and flat leaves! I do love collards, they’re so nicely substantial. I mixed them, in this instance, with walnuts and corn, for a little crunchy sweetness, and smoked gouda, for a little melty smokiness. I also used pomegranate molasses, which is just enough strange and sweet to lively up this dish! This is a good side dish, but if you ate it with some rice (and beans, even) it would make a good meal.

Here’s the Ink Spots with When the Sun Goes Down (you don’t get sunspots any more!!)

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Roasted mushroom, white bean, pecan burgers (grillable!!)

roasted mushroom burger

Here at The Ordinary, we are melting. The boys come down in the morning and throw themselves on the couch, their hot little arms and legs hanging off the edges of the furniture. They sit next together and melt into one another to become a languid needy lump of little boyishness, from which emanates demands for water and for the horrible sugary cereal we bought as a special treat. We’re in the middle of a heat wave and there’s no end in sight. The sidewalks are hot enough to cause blisters on bare feet, the streets are black and sticky, we’re all turning into wobbly mirages of our former selves. This summer is oddly like winter, in its cabin-fever inducing quality. I don’t mind so much, though. As with being snowed in, there’s something nice about finding ways around it – coming up with projects that take us from one cool place to another. Sitting very still and appreciating every slight breeze. And going to the creek!! This has been our summer of creeking. Sometimes we walk to the creek on the edge of town, sometimes we go farther afield, on creeking adventures. We take lunch, and we walk for a few hours in the shade, in cool water. Malcolm can swim in a few feet of water, and he’ll go along beside you like a sleek little otter, splashing and happy. Isaac walks slowly, his glowing little torso almost painfully beautiful with small sharp shoulder blades, xylophone ribs, and round belly. He fills his pockets with stones, which slows him down even more. He tells us he wants to live in mother nature, and so do we. These days glow like memory and anticipation. They feel like summer. And then I tripped on some sticks and slipped on some clay and dropped the camera in the water. Yup. “Lady graceful,” they call me. Sigh.

A while back we promised to try to make grillable burgers with roasted mushrooms. Yesterday, we did just that! They were super-tasty! We wanted to roast the mushrooms first, but we didn’t want to turn on the stove, the temperature being what it was. So we plugged the toaster oven into an outdoor socket and roasted them outside. Pretty clever, sis. Aside from roasted shallots and mushrooms, the burgers have white beans, pecans, and smoked gouda. They’re seasoned with sage, rosemary, smoked paprika, and a bit of tamari and marmite. They were slightly softer than the beet burgers, but they grilled up nice and brown on the outsides, and were very plump and juicy.

Here’s Jelly Roll Morton with Deep Creek
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Trumpet mushrooms with chard, brie, and smoked gouda

Trumpet mushrooms and chard

It’s hot as hell, they’re doing construction on the house attached to ours, which apparently requires loud bad radio and lots of cigarette smoking, and the boys are trying to knock all the plaster off the walls and yelling about how mean I am. I’m going to give myself a time out.

Last night we started watching a film by Yasujiro Ozu. He uses these beautiful still “pillow shots” between scenes. They’re shots down hallways, of empty rooms, along an alleyway. They’re not entirely static – the camera is still, but there’s movement of light, or of people walking by, clocks ticking, curtains blowing. You sense that the story is playing itself out somewhere nearby. The shots are so cool, so quiet but not silent. I find them incredibly compelling. I’m a huge fan of stillness in films, and quiet moments. Whether they last the whole film long, or they form a small pocket in a louder busier film. I wish the word “moment” wasn’t overused in precious greeting cards and knick knacks and self-help-speak, because it’s such a good word. A few years ago I submitted a series of short videos to an online gallery run by the remarkable Peter Ferko, a New York artist. The series was called Now:Here:This, and it involved art made in a moment (or a few moments) by people all over the world at roughly the same space in time. I started making short, static videos. I gave myself some rules…they had to last about a minute. I couldn’t change the frame. The sound would be whatever naturally occurred for that minute. I focused on leaves, or water, or shadows, even dirty dishes in the sink. The sound generally involved my children yelling for me and trying to get my attention, which was an idea that I liked a lot. It captured my life at the time (and to this day.) Children always want your attention most when you’re doing something else. When you’re on the phone, or making short videos, or writing about trumpet mushrooms on some stupid blog! I became very taken with making the videos – there was nothing brilliant about them, but I liked the way that shooting them made me think about how long a minute lasts, how hard it is to be quiet and still, how my life sounded, how pretty small things could be. And then Ozu went and stole the idea from me! I’d like to stop and look at my house, for moments at a time, from down a corridor, when nothing is happening. Of course it wouldn’t be quiet and clean and cool, like in Ozu’s films. It would be a warm messy muddle.

Segue! This meal is a sort of warm/cool combination. A warm salad, or a cool stir fry. I went to the Stockton market. I bought some trumpet mushrooms. They were ridiculously expensive. I felt a little foolish, clutching my brown paper bag of precious mushrooms. The meal turned out very tasty, though, so it’s okay, I think. I sauteed some chard with garlic, red pepper, castelvetrano olives and fresh basil. I mixed in some brie, smoked gouda, and goat cheese. (Three cheeses! So extravagant! They were very nice together, and gave the meal a warm, creamy, tangy smokiness that was lovely. But you could use what you have.) The mushrooms I sliced very thinly, and then sauteed in olive oil with fresh sage leaves. The mushrooms and sage leaves became nice and crispy. I said the mushrooms tasted like bacon, and David said…”better than bacon – like steak and bacon. Steakon!” The pine nuts added a lovely crunch. They always have a little bit of a smoky, bacony taste to me, too!! You could easily make this with portobellos, spinach, and whatever cheese you happen to have.

Trumpet mushrooms

Here’s Louis Armstrong with Tight Like This. Geddit? Trumpet mushrooms! Plus this remarkable piece is full of perfect moments.

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Thin-sliced potatoes, 3 ways

Potatoes with rosemary, sage & smoked paprika

This is my 300th post! Considering I post a recipe almost every time, and sometimes more than one per post, that’s gotta be nearly 300 recipes. Phew. I’m simultaneously giving myself a little pat on the back and wondering why I spend so much time on this! For my 300th post, I’ll talk about something simple and enduringly good. Potatoes. I love potatoes. I don’t remember always loving them, but in the last few years, I feel like I want to eat them every night! They’re so comforting, and versatile, and they have a wonderful, subtle flavor all their own, but they’re so generously accommodating to other flavors. I like them roasted – any size. Cut into large chunks and tossed with rosemary; cut into nice thin roasted slices; cut into tinsy pieces, and then roasted till they’re little crispy nuggets. I love them mashed. Mashed potatoes are as fun to play with as they are to eat. You can make mountains and moats and volcanoes, with little pools and rivulets of melted butter. I’m something of a mashed potato purist, (butter, salt, pepper) but tarragon-roasted garlic mashed potatoes are very nice, too. I crave french fries, sometimes. I don’t drink beer, very often, but sometimes I like the idea of going to a bar in the afternoon and having a big plate of french fries and a pint of beer. David and I have a small tradition of going into New York and finding a place to have french fries, hummus, and a glass of red wine. There’s nothing better after a day of walking and looking. I don’t have a deep fryer, but I oven-roast french fries from time to time. I like them with a savory vanilla sauce. It’s my tribute to fries and a vanilla milkshake.

One of my favorite ways to eat potatoes is to slice them quite thin (1/4 inch-ish) parboil them, and then layer them in a dish with herbs, herb-infused milk, or butter, and bake them till they’re crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. In this scenario, the possibilities are endless. You can use any herbs or spices that you like. You can always add cheese, if you’re in the mood. One elaborate version is this with sofrito and fennel. I’m going to suggest a few versions here, but your imagination and your taste are the limit.

I’ve never heard this song before! Bob Marley sings Milkshake and Potato Chips!! How wonderful!
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Flakin’ bacon

Flakin Bacon

Don’t think I’m crazy, but I had a recurring dream about this. (I told David and he said, “Dream kitchen!” Which seems like such a nice idea to me!) And then I spent several nights sleeping very strangely, because my mind was busy trying to figure out how to make this!

I don’t talk very much about being a vegetarian. It’s so much a part of my life, that it doesn’t really seem notable any more. But I’ve been thinking lately that I’d like to tell the world about my idea of being a joyful vegetarian. Not depriving myself of anything, but so completely happy and satisfied with the ridiculous amount of good things to eat that don’t involve killing animals, that there’s really no need and no time to eat an animal at all. However…when I smell bacon cooking, I do miss it a little bit. Which might be why I dreamed this! I’d like to say it has everything that bacon has, minus the blood and bad-for-you-ness. It’s smokey and salty and crunchy.

I must have been reading about rusks, because in my dream I baked these at an incredibly low temperature for a very long time. But in reality, I didn’t want them to be so hard you had to soak them in water before you ate them. I wanted them to be very very crispy, and a little bit chewy on the inside. So then my mind turned to different possibilities. I thought about pizza crust, I thought about crackers. I thought about naan. In the end I decided to do some combination of naan and pastry dough and maybe a little pizza crust, though no yeast. I even did streaks of smoked gouda to give you some of the different streaks of color one might encounter, you know…in bacon. And I pan-fried them in olive oil. Mmmmmmm.

Here’s Cisco Huston with Beans, Bacon and Gravy. I’m sorry, Cisco, but I never get tired of beans!
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Gallette with chard, porcini mushrooms and savory almond custard


Savory almond custard? That’s right! Savory almond custard. Every once in a while I’ll start to muse about why some things are sweet, and other things are savory. Usually at 3 am. Vanilla, for instance. Why always sweet? Why? The other day, as I was making a bakewell tart, I started thinking about frangipane, or almond custard. I love almonds in savory situations, be they ground or slivered or chopped. So why not in a sort of custard? And then came the day I started watching youTube videos of french pastry chefs creating Galettes des Rois – a tart made with puff pastry and sweet frangipane. I got a bee in my bonnet to try to make a savory version. And so I did.

I added chard and mushrooms (porcini & white), because they’re nice with almonds, and I like them together, and I like them in pies! The pie was delicious with chard and mushrooms, but it overshadowed the almond custard a little bit, so I fully intend to someday make a version with only the almond custard. Oh, and I added cheese, too, because I like cheese! I was full of indecision on this score. I could imagine any number of varieties of cheese tasting good here. In the end I decided on smoked gouda, because as I walked the boys home from school the smoke from fireplaces all over town incited a craving.

I used the soaking water from the porcini mushrooms to make a sauce. I combined it with port wine, shallots, herbs, and a tiny bit of cream.

I should mention that my puff pastry didn’t rise as dramatically as the ones in the youTube videos of French pastry chefs. It was very crispy and flaky and delicious, but it wasn’t made up of millions of little layers, and it wasn’t toweringly tall. I’m ordinary, I tell you! I use ordinary flour! I don’t take the temperature of my butter! (You could always buy puff pastry, I suppose!)

Here’s Monty Alexander with King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown. I’m sure he brought them a galette des rois! (Thanks, Tony!)
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Ricotta tart with tarragon, smoked gouda and roasted mushrooms

ricotta tart

Mushrooms smell so good when they’re roasting. It really does make your house smell like a holiday. And their nice, meaty, roasty flavor goes so well with smoked gouda! We’d been eating soups and stews and saucy dishes all week, and yesterday I cracked! I made something with a crust! Because I’m crazy! Actually, it’s because I bought some fresh ricotta at Trader Joes earlier in the week, and I was eager to use it. And I bought tarragon earlier in the week, and I was eager to use that as well. I like tarragon with eggy cheesy meals, something about its bright surprising flavor harmonizes well with comforting foods. And this tart is comforting, but also complex and delicious and even elegant. And also fairly easy to make! It has a toasted walnut crust (because walnuts and tarragon play so nicely together) which makes especially good Isaac crackers. All-in-all, a nice winter meal, with potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary, and a crisp arugula salad.

Here’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, by Thelonius Monk.
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