Soba noodles with potatoes, black beans and spinach in red pepper sauce

Roasted red pepper and black bean sauce

Roasted red pepper and black bean sauce

Each day on our way to school, Isaac and I pass a house that half-burned down a few years ago at Christmastime. Apparently it will be torn down before too long, but now it’s oddly beautiful with its charred, inside-out appearance. Many of its lovely architectural details remain intact, but now it feels as though you can catch a glimpse of its pretty bones. The last few times we’ve passed, a giant black vulture has peered down at us from the roof. I happen to think black vultures are remarkable birds–beautiful in their black-upon-black scruffiness. We have a lot in our area, and we’ll see them lined up with gothic gravity on abandoned barns and silos, or perching with unlikely balance on slim branches their weight should snap. They seem social, as they all stand together, long wings stretched in a wide arc to catch the sun. When we passed our local vulture today, my little modern-day Ben Franklin said that he likes turkey vultures better than eagles because eagles kill their prey, whereas vultures just take what’s already dead. They just clean up. So between Franklin and Isaac, we’ve established that bald eagles are thieves and murderers, whereas turkeys are brave, and turkey vultures mild and helpful. It’s funny that we saw the vulture just now, because my boys have spent the week scavenging. Not for carcasses of course (we’re vegetarian!) but for junk. It’s sparkle week in our town, which means that people put out their still-sometimes-useful garbage, and other people pick it up and take it home. It’s a nice idea, really, and many people I know have furnished their house this way, and in quite a stylie style, too. However, if you have two small pack rats, it can become dreadful. Isaac is sparkle-obsessed. He wants everyone else’s half-broken toys. He flies from garbage pile to garbage pile shouting “sparkle! sparkle!” Like some mad trash fairy. He roots through broken glass and dog crap, convinced that a treasure awaits if he only looks hard enough. Malcolm is an admirably efficient sparkler. He found a working door knob, a working watch, a perfect darth vader mask, and any number of small, intriguing objects. I suppose this bodes well for his chances of surviving in a post-apocalyptic landscape. He’ll build us a home of packaging foam and old dressers, and we’ll cook our food on abandoned grills and dismantled ovens. Personally, I’ve always been a little wary of used goods and thrift-store clothes. I can’t shake the idea that they take on the personality of the people that owned them. That they’re imbued with the sadness or happiness of the lives they were part of, and that they become spirits of their own as they pass from person to person. It’s silly, I know! I should saunter down the street, like Malcolm, hand in pocket, flannel shirt catching the breeze, coolly appraising each pile of reusables, happy to be part of the cycle of renewal that takes place each spring in our small town.

Soba noodles with roasted red pepper sauce, black beans, spinach and tomatoes.

Soba noodles with roasted red pepper sauce, black beans, spinach and tomatoes.

I seem to still be making warm and earthy meals, despite the fact that on paper it’s springtime. We’ve had a damp and chilly spring, and I haven’t found mounds of sweet peas, fiddleheads and ramps. Even the asparagus looks thick and woody, and costs a bundle for a bundle. So I’m still in the warm and saucy world of food. I think this would make a nice summer meal, though. It has the appealing color of a sun-drenched brick wall in summertime. It involves red pepper, which is summery, which I roasted under the broiler, but which would be even better grilled. Malcolm loves soba noodles. They’re made of buckwheat, and they have a nice nutty flavor. They go nicely with earthy potatoes and black beans, and I mixed them, in this instance with smoky peppers, smoked paprika and spicy red pepper flakes and jalapenos. You could eat this over rice with tortillas, or even on it’s own as a sort of chili.

Here’s Decemberists’ Sweet Clementine, because I borrowed a phrase for my essay today!

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Soba noodles with arugula pecan pesto and sauteed brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives

Soba noodles with arugula-pecan pesto and sauteed brussels sprouts

Soba noodles with arugula-pecan pesto and sauteed brussels sprouts

Malcolm’s teachers talk about making “smart choices.” It’s something he needs to work on. Because I’m a terrible parent, the phrase seems to have lodged itself in my head as something almost funny, and I find myself using it in less-than-serious situations. I had to have a talk with Clio because she doesn’t make smart choices in the throes of separation anxiety, and she’s become a danger to herself and our furniture. (I’d like to state for the record, before I continue, that I agree with his teachers that “making smart choices” is something Malcolm needs to work on (as do we all!), and I respect their efforts to remind him of that!) I worry a little bit for him, because he’s my son, and I have a lifelong history of crippling indecision and poor choices. Why would a person drop out of Oxford a third of the way through? Why would a person apply to film school, get in, and then not go? Why would a person waste time and money on a second independent feature when the first was a big failure? Why would they do it? Although on paper it may seem that I have made dumb choices, I have no regrets. I think it’s impossible to harbor regrets once you’ve had children, because every single decision that you ever made your entire life–massive or minute, important or seemingly inconsequential–resulted in their creation. It boggles my easily boggled mind! It makes a person think about fate! I believe in fate in the sense that it’s the same thing as history looked at from the other end. Once something has happened, it was obviously meant to happen and it becomes part of the pattern that connects one life to every other life on the planet, as we all move inexorably in the same direction. But I also believe that we control our fate, at least in part, by the smart and dumb choices that we make. And we determine the quality of our lives, as we’re swept along on our fateful journey, by these choices as well. I’m fascinated by the word “fate,” which is closely related to the word “faith,” and to the words “fay” and “fey.” I’m comfortable with the idea that whatever we think about fate, generally, and our own fate, specifically, we have to understand that we’ll never fully understand it, and we have to accept that we’re frequently powerless to control it, as it rolls ceaselessly over us. I also believe that what may seem like a dumb choice if you’re looking at your life from a certain angle at a certain time, might seem like the smartest possible choice looked at any other way. (Hence the lifetime of indecision!) Although small choices have always rendered me a useless mass of anxiety, as I look back on my life I realize that the big choices, like being with David, were simple. There was only one option, only one wise choice. That feels like fate! That gives me faith! And I have faith that Malcolm will make good choices. They might not always be smart and practical choices, but they’ll be brave choices, and (hopefully) kind choices.

Soba with pesto, brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives

Soba with pesto, brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives

Malcolm loves soba noodles. He gets very excited about them. He likes them plain, with tamari, so that’s how we most frequently eat them. This week, I decided to augment their sweetly savory nuttiness with a pesto made from pecans and nutty arugula. I added some smoked gouda, because I thought that would be nice, too. And it was! The pesto also has a bit of sage and honey, to balance the sharp strong flavors. Brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives are pretty together. They’re so GREEN! And this pesto was very GREEN! This whole meal had a solid-earthy-wintery-melting-into-summmery flavor. If you know what I mean.

Here’s Once in a Lifetime by The Talking Heads, because it seems to fit!

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