Butterbean and greens dumplings

Butterbean and spinach dumplings

Butterbean and spinach dumplings

Dear Sir and or Madam: I am writing to apply for the job/ the grant/ the fellowship/ or to submit a story for publication. I realize that roughly a million other people are applying for the position and that they’re at least as skilled and qualified as I am, and all just as passionate about attaining the position/grant/fellowship/publication. I realize that I have absolutely no qualities to recommend me over these other million people, and that they’ve probably graduated more recently with higher honors, and have probably worked in the field some time in the past decade, as I have not done. They probably have more powerful friends to recommend them, more scintillating personalities and better networking skills. They’re probably better at ironing their clothes, being team players and using the latest computer programs. They probably smile more often and more convincingly, they’re probably bubbly. They’re probably effervescent. However, I hope you will take the following information into consideration when making your final decision: My dog really likes me. No, she hasn’t told me so in so many words. She hasn’t put it in writing, and I can’t give you her contact information so that you can determine the veracity of my statement. But it’s true, I tell you! You should see how happy she is when I come home from work or even from a walk around the block. She leaps! She sings! She wags her tail so vigorously you’d think it would fall off! If I’m in the house, she’s likely to be near by me, and I’m fairly sure it’s not just because I’m always eating or playing with food. When I sleep, she’s always practically on top of me, and when I wake and come downstairs, she does too! Sure, she likes everyone she meets, and I can’t guarantee that she likes me more than anybody else, but it’s not a contest, is it? Oh, it is. It is a contest. The whole world is a competition. I see. And maybe everybody’s dog loves them as much as I think she loves me. It’s probably true, I understand. I’ve decided not to attach my resumé, because despite a promising beginning and lots of opportunities, it seems to taper off somewhere in the middle and the last decade or so is frankly… Well, instead I’ve attached some pictures of my dog! And proof that she has her license and rabies shot! If you need any more information about her, or would like to set up an interview with her, just let me know! She won’t mind, she loves meeting new people. She’ll tell you all about how good I am at going for walks and napping and putting kibble in her bowl and singing every song ever written as if it was about her. Well, she would tell you if, you know… In summation thank you for your consideration, and I hope you’ll look at this whole process from my dog’s point of view, if only for an hour or two.

butterbean and greens dumplings

butterbean and greens dumplings

We’ve had more icy weather, the boys are home from school for the second time in three days. It’s a long long winter. I felt like eating something plump and savory and comforting, and that’s just what these little dumplings are. They’re fairly simple: kale, spinach, butter beans and cheese baked in a crispy crust. Obviously, they aren’t steamed yeasted dumplings, and they’re probably not officially dumplings in any sense of the word, but that’s the name that their shape suggested to me.

Here’s I Wanna be Your Dog by Uncle Tupelo. I love this version!

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Bright stew (with tiny potatoes, white beans, castelvetrano olives and meyer lemon) and 3-wheat medley (with farro, bulgur, and freekeh)

potato, olive, white bean and meyer lemon stew

potato, olive, white bean and meyer lemon stew

It’s a winter storm! It has a name, and I think it’s Janus, which is fitting, I suppose, this being January. Janus was the god of beginnings and change, of gates, doors, passages, journeys, endings, and time, the future and the past. But sitting here, looking out upon snow upon snow upon snow, I don’t feel inspired to start anything new, to embark on any journeys, to open any doors, be they real or metaphorical, and let the icy winds blow into my home. More arctic cold is predicted for the rest of the week. That’s right, it’s winter and we’re experiencing wintery weather. And everybody is talking about it, which is fine by me because I heartily approve of talking about the weather, I think it’s a weighty and important subject. But I also believe that if people have a problem with this weather, it’s because they made the wrong choice in being human. Obviously, they should have been dormice. I’m dormouse-obsessed at the moment. I saw a picture of a hibernating dormouse in Isaac’s magazine, and I’m completely enamored. Listen to this wisdom. They sleep all of winter and a good part of fall and spring. They don’t scurry around hoarding food, they just eat it! And get (relatively) plump! And then they curl up and sleep very soundly for months. Plus, they’re arboreal. They’re mice who live in trees. They have extravagant whiskers. They have bright dark eyes. They eat hazelnuts and berries. I want to eat hazelnuts and berries! They have little hands and feet and fluffy tails. They sleep so soundly that people can pick them up and record the sound of them snoring, which is apparently a thing that people do…

(look at his little hands and feet tremble!)

This is a juvenile dormouse in a torpid state.

If it’s snowing where you are, or raining, or the least bit cold, you should probably just stay inside and watch these BBC dormouse videos.

Or you could make this nice bright stew. It has tiny potatoes, but you could use larger potatoes and cut them up. It has small white beans, and white wine, and rosemary, thyme and sage. It has spinach and castelvetrano olives, and the juice of a meyer lemon. It’s nice in winter, because it’s savory and satisfying, but vivid and green and juicy as well. It would be nice in spring or summer with fresh new potatoes and baby spinach. I served it over a medley of wheat grains…bulgur, farro, and freekeh. I thought they were nice together because they each have a different texture. We had some goat cheese caper toasts, too, which I might tell you about another time.

Your song for today is this whistling dormouse.

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Greens with pine nuts and roasted beets

Greens with beets and pine nuts

Greens with beets and pine nuts

“In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.” – Albert Camus.

Today was a sad day for justice in America, a heartbreaking leap backwards. I’m sure that wiser and more articulate people than me will discuss it at great lengths, and I hope that before long a change will be made, we will have a new verdict, and we will have the kind of peace that can only come with justice. So today’s Sunday interactive playlist is on the subject of justice. Cries for justice such as Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights or stories of justice gone awry, such as Bob Dylan’s Seven Curses. If you can think of songs about justice being correctly meted out, those would be more than welcome, but I declare that I’m too saddened and discouraged to think of any at the moment!

And a recipe to go with our playlist, because even on a day such as this, we need to keep our strength up and nourish one another. Beets and greens, beets and greens. It’s been that kind of spring. This is a variation on my favorite dish, which is greens with raisins and pine nuts. Instead of raisins, we have lovely little sweet morsels of roasted beets. I used garlic scapes because I had them, but you could use regular garlic. I flavored this with fresh sage and rosemary from the farm. And I used chard and beet greens, but you could use spinach, kale, or even collards, if that’s what you’ve got. If you use kale or collards, you’ll want to parboil them for five or ten minutes to soften them up.

Here’s a link to your interactive playlist. Please add what you’d like, or leave a comment and I’ll add the song.

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Spinach and mozzarella cake

Spinach mozzarella cake

Spinach mozzarella cake

“I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright.”- James Baldwin
Well, I love this quote! I’d been thinking about these things – the mutability of morality, the shifting quality of truth, the unreliability of words. It struck me as so similar to Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day” (Thank you, universe, for making everything connect.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m a very vague person, I’m blurry at the edges, and I see the world this way. I think it’s dangerous to decide the world is a certain way, and that we have to act in a certain way in the world, according to a strict set of rules. The idea that morality should come from within – that we need a core of strength despite the fact that the outlines are shifting – is so hopeful about humanity, but it’s a little frightening, too. It would be a comfort to believe that there’s some larger system to decide right and wrong – to reward the good and punish the wicked. But how often have these ideals been corrupted by the people that claim to interpret them for us? How dangerous it is to stubbornly hold onto conclusions to the point where we act out of habit, thoughtlessly, without consideration. How much better to constantly question, to actively seek answers, even though they might not exist in any definitive form, or they may shift and change the moment we catch up to them. And to struggle to express ourselves and share our thoughts, even though the words themselves are as transparent and mutable as water. The world is constantly changing, time is streaming by us, we’re never grown-up, we’re never done. It’s a silly notion, but I have a dream-like image of people as spirits, moving through the world, with some sort of light of truth inside of them, burning strong. What nonsense I’m spouting today! What extra-special foolishness! Happy shrove tuesday! A day that we confess our sins and eat pancakes! I like the idea of pancakes as absolution. I know it doesn’t quite work that way, but it’s a nice notion, anyway. I believe the original habit of pancake-eating on shrove Tuesday began as a way to use up all the fat and sugar in the cupboard before then lenten fast began. Or, more likely, it was because it was February, and everybody wanted something simple and comforting. Like this Seussically green, fat, cheesy pancake! We had some saucy chili left over, and I wanted something to eat it with. Something the boys would like, that would contain vegetables and protein, but in a non-objectionable way. And so we have this cake. It has some almonds, for flavor, texture and protein. It’s got flavorful herbs, it’s got a bit of cheese. And it’s BRIGHT GREEN for spring. After all, supposedly “lenten” comes from the old English for long, because the days are getting longer at the moment, and have such a hopeful light about them!

Here’s The Meters with Mardi Gras Mambo.

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Roasted butternut-choux nests with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Butternut choux nest with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Butternut choux nest with spinach, pecans and smoked gouda

Last night Malcolm and I walked down to the river. It had been cloudy all day, and the sky was still thick and pale and glowing. When we reached the middle of the bridge, Malcolm told me to look down the river upside-down, so I did. Dizzyingly beautiful! The clouds and the water stretched away from us in swirling rivulets, reflecting in each other and cutting a silvery moving hourglass shape into the sharp black pattern that the land made on both sides of the river, stretching together in the distance. While we walked home, Malcolm told me his plan to replace war with a giant nerf gun competition. If you’re hit by a nerf dart, you have to sit down and let the others keep playing. This way all of the conflicts of the world would be solved, and nobody would be hurt. He’s heard a lot about guns, lately. We all have. we’ve all been thinking about it a lot, or trying not to think about it. Prepare yourself to hear something very shocking, because, here at The Ordinary, we are ready to come out very strongly in favor of gun control! I know! It’s hard to believe that the proprietoress of a vegetarian food blog would take such a stand! This is one of those issues that makes me feel slightly crazy, because I don’t understand how it can be an issue at all. In the same way that I don’t understand why we sill fight wars, I don’t understand why guns are even an option. Honestly, I have two little boys, I’m aware of the fascination that guns hold for them. If you take their toy guns away, they’ll use sticks as guns, if you take the sticks away, they’ll use their fingers. So they have nerf guns and water guns, and I do see why these are fun – it adds a moving target to a game of tag. But nerf guns and water guns don’t hurt anybody, and that is, really, the only purpose of a real gun – to hurt or to kill. (I suppose you could use a gun to smash garlic, but how practical would that be?) And you can go ahead and blame movies and video games that glorify guns as well, because, guess what?! I’m not a huge fan of those, either. If we didn’t have guns we wouldn’t have to criticize video games for making them look appealing. I realize that I can’t add much to the conversation on gun control that hasn’t already been said, but I’d love to move it to the left, to reframe it, so that when we meet at the middle, the middle doesn’t seem like the frightening place that it is now. I’ve seen lots of so-called “gun nuts” spouting lots of, what’s the word? shall-we-say, vociferously-argued arguments. Well, I’d like to be an anti-gun nut. I’d like to say that merely wanting a gun should qualify you as too crazy to own one. I’d like to say that when the “rational” rationale for owning a gun is that you want to kill animals with it – that’s not rational at all, it’s horrible and depressing and should also qualify you as too crazy to own a gun. I’d like to say that no stubborn, paranoid misreading of our constitution or any other document makes a good argument for carrying guns. Surely the whole point of the constitution was to establish a government based on intelligent understanding and measured reasoning, with enough checks and balances that an armed revolution would never be necessary, as long as people behaved decently and rationally. If you want a gun just because somebody might take it away from you, you’re crazy, you can’t have one. If you want a gun because you don’t understand how government works, and that makes you nervous, you’re crazy and you can’t have one. If you want a gun because it makes you feel powerful, you’re crazy and you can’t have one. I want to turn the whole conversation upside down, starting from a place where people are generous and gentle and kind and expected to behave that way. Where the mistrust that makes people cling to their guns is directed at the gun companies who try to keep them in fear and ignorance for their own profit, so that not buying a gun is an act of rebellion and independence. I’d like to live in a world where we don’t need to talk about gun control, because nobody wants a gun, because they love all people and animals too much – because they understand the value of life. I’d like to believe that this is possible, that this is what most people want.

butternut-chouxAnd I’d like to live in a world where the most fun toy is not a gun but a pastry tube set. Holy smoke, I got my first set yesterday, and I’m so excited! It’s so much fun, so seussically nonsensical, so full of possibilities. And yet practical as well, because you get to eat whatever you make! These little butternut choux nests are among my favorite meals that I’ve made in some time. I used a fairly basic choux recipe, and added some roasted garlic and roasted butternut squash puree and some fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, smoked paprika and nutmeg. Then I piped this dough into lovely nests, about 4 inches across, and before I baked them I piled in some baby spinach, toasted pecans and smoked gouda. They turned out puffed and crispy on the outside, nice with the crunchy pecans. And soft and flavorful and comforting inside. Even the boys liked them! If you don’t have a pastry tube, you can easily make these by dropping little mounds of dough and pushing the center down with your hands or a spoon. It won’t be as pretty, but it will still taste as good.

Here’s When the Gun Draws by Pharoahe Monch It’s sweary, but he’s angry.

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Turnip & leek pie

Turnip & greens pie

I like to try to eat local, seasonal vegetables, but I know in the winter it’s just not possible. Oh, sure, I buy winter squash and kale and other cold season veg, but I’m fooling myself if I think it’s grown any where near here. And that’s why I’m absolutely thrilled to belong to a CSA! In the summer I know my vegetables are local and seasonal! Veggies that grow together taste good together!

I love the idea of community gardens and alotments – shared patches of land that people work together to grow food. Eating is such a communal activity, it seems right that growing food should be as well. We get a box of vegetables delivered to us each saturday, and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning as I lift out all of our treasures. And then through the week we visit the farm to pick certain crops that are in season. The boys like to come, too (especially when it’s raspberry season) and they’re a big help in filling up my baskets. It’s a joy to watch them meander through glowing green rows of sweet peas and tomatoes, following the dizzy paths of bees buzzed on sunshine; so pleased with themselves when they find plump, warm vegetables. It’s wonderful to get vegetables I know we love, of course, but it’s a fun challenge to get some we’re not as familiar with, as well. I love dreaming up recipes that will make any vegetable taste good.

This first week wasn’t a challenge at all! I love everything we got – spinach, chard, kale, leeks and … turnips!! Turnips are among my favorite vegetables. And these were beautiful little spring turnips, creamy white and sweet. They didn’t need to be peeled. And their greens were in great shape, as well, which is something I almost never find at the grocery store. I think that turnips, thyme and sharp cheddar are a nearly perfect combination, and I decided to bake that combination into a pie. I like leeks with thyme and cheddar, too, so of course I added those. I wanted to cook the turnip greens into the pie, and I added a big helping of spinach, to soften their sharp flavor. I decided to make a buttermilk crust, just for a change, but you could easily use a regular pate brisée crust, if you wanted something flakier.

Turnip pie

Here’s The Coup with Heven Tonite, because he says, “let’s give everybody homes and a garden plot.” I love this song – it’s the prettiest revolutionary rap song ever.
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Eggplant pie with greens, quince, and hazelnut

Eggplant pie with greens, quince & hazelnuts

We started bird watching back in our courting days. We’d wake up as close to dawn as we could muster, we’d stop at Dunkin Donuts for some sweet coffee, and we’d listen to the Sudson Country radio show on the way out. Despite having been born in Kansas, I’d never listened to a lot of country music, and I’d never heard the classics. Kitty Wells, the undisputed queen of country; Lefty Frizzell, with his sweet, gentle voice; Hank Williams, with his twangy sass – they all seemed to fit, somehow, with our sleepy mood and the slanting morning light. Then we’d find our field or our trail, and we’d begin the slow, silent walk, stopping at every flutter of wings in the trees over our heads. It’s hard to describe the thrill of seeing your first yellowthroat, your first oriole, warblers, vireos…good lord – wood thrushes and veeries – with their hopeful, haunting songs. It boggled my mind that all of these birds had been here, all along. They weren’t new. I’d never bothered to look at them, I’d never taken the time to look up, and discover the teeming world in the tangled branches of the trees. We’d come home and write our finds in a little turquoise-covered blank book that I’d been saving for years for something special. Then we’d check each other for ticks. Birdwatching is a little like falling in love, in a way – you catch a glimpse of something bright and beautiful. You can’t believe it’s really alive, with its small warmth and its fast-beating heart. You’ve heard about it; you’ve read about it in your bird book. Other people claim to have seen it, but, frankly, you’re a little skeptical. You’re not convinced it even exists. Then when you’ve got it, you hold it in your sight, you know you’ll never understand it, but you try to identify it, this wild, fragile, lively thing.

We don’t have a lot of chances to go bird watching any more, what with children and real life and all of their demands. But we went on a lovely bike ride this morning, and it makes me happy to know they’re all still there. We can still catch a glimpse of a bird and know what we’re seeing. We’ll hear a sweet little song, or a hoarse call, and we know what we’re hearing. We’re still part of their world, and they’re still part of ours.

Eggplant pie

So! Eggplant pie! It’s got thin layers of crispy rosemary/balsamic-marinated breaded eggplant. It’s got layers of chard and spinach, sauteed with garlic and red pepper and mixed with quince jam. It’s got layers of crispy toasted hazelnuts, and it’s got layers of melted cheese. Odd combination, you say? Oddly perfect together!! All in a crispy crust. If I do say so myself (when have I not, eh?) it turned out really delicious. I think this would be nice for a party or a picnic, because it tastes good even when it’s not hot out of the oven, and it holds together well for carrying around with you. So you can take it for an evening-time picnic, and walk around with it as you look for all the birds that come out at in the gloaming!

Here’s Left Frizzell with I Love You A Thousand Ways.
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Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa? Aw, man, I was totally into quinoa back when nobody knew about it. Back before it became all popular. I used to buy it at this small store that was, like, all hardcore vegetarian stuff, and, like imports. Quinoa was so cool – it was my favorite, and it totally spoke to me. It was my perfect food, man. And then it started getting bigger, and playing the big stadiums, like shoprite, or, you know, pathmark, and suddenly everybody’s eating quinoa. And it’s in cookies, and, pancakes, and bread, and in mother-flippin statues of Mount Rushmore probably. Totally sold out. It’s so sad when that happens to a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. So sad.

That’s right, I ate quinoa in 1993! That’s got to make me one of the first wave of quinoaers, right? Old school! Except for maybe the Incas. They might have come first. When I first met David (in 1993) he made a quinoa-barley soup that his co-worker had recommended. And it was really good! I have to admit that I don’t cook with it as often as I should, and I’m ashamed to admit that it might be because it’s so popular now! It’s so earnestly vegetarian, which is a quality I admire in a food, but sometimes it makes me take a step back from it for a while. Silly, I know!!

If you’re looking for a way to introduce quinoa to somebody who hasn’t tried it, this might be it, because the quinoa is so much a harmonious part of everything going on around it. Malcolm asked what the little floating curls were, and I said, “sea monkeys!” Fortunately he’s too young to know what those are, so I revised my answer to “the ultimate Incan super-food, that made them into superheroes!” He liked the soup a lot, anyway.

I think this soup turned out really well! I’m quite proud of it! It’s got a really pleasing flavor and texture. Very savory, soft, but substantial, and comforting. I grated the zucchini, which, once cooked, gave it a perfect sort of texture. And I puréed half the spinach and chopped the other. I used the broth left over from cooking french lentils, but I think you could make a simple vegetable broth and it would be fine. It’s as close to chicken soup as I’ve come since I stopped eating chicken soup. And probably better for you! It’s simply seasoned with fresh thyme, nutmeg and cinnamon. I wasn’t sure this combination would work, but I went ahead with it on a whim, and it’s really good!

Here’s Carnaval ayacuchano from an album called Peru: Kingdom of the Sun, the Incan Heritage. I love this song!
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Cornmeal crusted pies with roasted chickpeas

Roasted chickpea pies with cornmeal crust

I had a dream the other night about chickpeas roasted with thyme. I could pretend that this represented something else. Say the chickpeas represent my sons (in truth, when they were born we called them chickpea-head, because they had such lumpy little bald heads they looked like chickpeas!) and thyme represents time, which is running and passing, running and passing. But let’s face it, in reality I just dream about food! The nice thing about dreaming about food, is that if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, you can think about how you’d make the food in your dream. A good way to take your mind off the more stressful goblins you can’t help chasing down dark and winding alleys at three in the morning. So I thought about chickpeas roasted with thyme, and thyme is part of the jerk spice family, so I thought I’d add some allspice and cayenne (don’t have scotch bonnet peppers!) And then I thought I’d add something green, like spinach, and something fresh, like parsley, and put it all in a cornmeal crust. (I had to resist the urge to use masa harina again! I can’t use it every day, can I?) Not hard to make, and tasty and fun to eat. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, because I have to be at work soon.

Here’s The Clash with Long Time Jerk, to go with the jerk seasoning. It’s strange, I’d never really listened to the lyrics to this before, but I just did the afternoon before I made this dinner. They seemed so strange and beautiful to me! About memory and desire and time passing.
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Mushroom white bean bisque

Mushroom white bean bisque

In art and music people speak of combinations that are almost magical. Certain musical pitches combine to make chords that profoundly affect the emotions. Certain colors, when combined, seem to hum in your vision. I believe there are flavors like that, too. Some flavors just seem to go together so perfectly that they become a more perfect whole. Sometimes it’s unexpected flavors, and I’m constantly hoping to discover some brand new-good-for-you combination that makes your taste buds do a little dance. Sometimes it’s a well-known mix of flavors that just makes sense. White beans, sage and rosemary, for instance. With olive oil and balsamic, garlic & shallots. Or mushrooms, sage and rosemary. So, I thought to myself, one long day at work, dreaming about what I’d make for dinner when I got home…why not white beans, mushrooms, sage and rosemary? I had quite a bit of couronne bread left, and I thought I’d make a soup to go with it. I like mushroom soup, but I don’t make it very often, because I use my mushrooms up so quickly in other ways. Plus, it’s hard to make it very pretty. So I decided to combine it with white beans. I know! They’re not very pretty in soup either! But…I added two handfuls of fresh baby spinach, and suddenly it was a lovely pale green color. A sage green color, appropriately! Not a hard soup to make, and very satisfying…light yet substantial, very savory and flavorful.

Here’s Hummin, by Cannonball Adderly, because that’s what the perfect combination of elements seems to do!
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