Yellow squash in brown butter with jalapeños and chives

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yesterday was a near-perfect summer day. Bright round  blue sky, wispy clouds; not too hot, not too humid, with just an edge of autumn in the breeze that stirred the leaves. The kind of day on which it feels like a crime against time passing to spend even a moment indoors. On this perfect day, Malcolm and I found ourselves in the chilled fluorescent tin can that is the grocery store. Not ideal, but it has to be done. And I was with Malcolm, which is always a good thing, and we were pondering ice cream flavors, and there are worse places you could be. Malcolm said, “a little while ago I decided to start a career as an optimist.” !!!!! Of course I had a million questions! What made him decide to be an optimist? Where was he when this career path occurred to him? I hadn’t gotten as far as “how do you define ‘optimist?'” when I saw that look on his face that says, “Why do I bother telling her anything? So many questions!” So I stopped asking. He said it got hard to be an optimist because he felt sad about something, but he’s going to take it up again, because he is an optimist. Aside from the obvious joy I felt to hear that my occasionally broody 13-year-old son considers himself an optimist, I just love the idea of optimism as a career. I can imagine his guidance counsellor saying, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” And Malcolm replying, with that bright, clever look he gets, “An optimist!” And at career day he’ll pick up pamphlets from the optimists’ table, maybe set up between the army recruiters and the guys offering careers in pharmaceutical companies, and the pamphlets will tell him about which colleges have the best optimism courses and what kind of jobs that will be available when he graduates with his optimism degree. I like to imagine a world in which optimism is a career option. It’s not that far-fetched. Did you know that Epictetus began life as a slave, but through studying and teaching stoicism he obtained his freedom and started his own school? Surely optimism is an easier sell than stoicism! And Malcolm is no idealistic fool. He’s shrewd, he’s savvy. He hears everything and understands everything–the bad as well as the good. So his brand of optimism will have depth and value. It won’t be some shallow meme-worthy advice telling you that if you smile a lot money will drop in your lap and all your problems will be solved. It won’t be that. What will it be? I don’t know, don’t ask me! I haven’t had a career as an optimist! We’ll just have to wait and see.

This dish was extremely easy to prepare, extremely simple, and full of flavor. If you decide to use lemon thyme and a dash of fresh lemon juice, it will have a bright spicy flavor. If you decide to use balsamic and regular thyme it will be more round and earthy. Delicious either way! We had this mixed in with some fresh tomato sauce. It would be good on a  bed of baby spinach. Or just as it is, simple, as a side dish.

Here’s Nina Simone with Ooh Child. It’s the best!

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Zucchini and cornmeal croquettes

Cornmeal and zucchini croquettes

Cornmeal and zucchini croquettes

Malcolm and I have an ongoing joke. He’ll show me something–a picture he’s drawn, something he’s made out of legos, a frog, a handful of sweet ferns. And I’ll cry, “look at your fingernails!” Yeah. Actually Malcolm doesn’t think it’s a very funny joke. Malcolm is growing fast, and so are his fingernails. Moments after he cuts them they’re already a quarter-inch long and caked with dirt. This is only a slight exaggeration. The thing is, I never used to mind dirty fingernails. I used to say they were a sign that you’d had a good day, that you’d gotten out of the house and climbed a tree or played in the dirt. How much more true is this for a boy in this age of video games and nonstop screen-related entertainment. He could spend the whole day indoors staring at flickering glowing surfaces of varying sizes and never move at all. So I should be glad when he has a little dirt under his fingernails, or when he has mud on his shoes that he’s tracking all over the house. I’ve never been a super-tidy person or a stickler for cleanliness, so why did I become a person who sees the dirt on the hands and not what they’re holding? I resolve to change the situation from this moment forwards. I won’t see the dirt for the ferns. I won’t be distracted from the truly important things by trivial matters of personal grooming. I will fully appreciate the gesture of somebody raising cupped hands towards me to share something that is remarkable or precious to them. I will see the beauty of the outstretched palm. When I see muddy prints on the floor, I won’t grab the broom, I’ll ask for the story instead, I’ll ask where he was walking, where he gathered this mud, and what he was thinking about as he walked, who he was talking to, where he was headed.

It’s the season of summer squash and tomatoes. What a wonderful season! I like zucchini croquettes. I wasn’t sure what to call these, in point of fact, because they’re almost like dumplings. They’re soft inside, crispy outside, with a pleasant denseness. They’re very flavorful with golden raisins, sage, oregano, garlic, pine nuts and a bit of sharp cheddar. They’re nice dipped in or covered with a sauce, and this time of year of course it’s going to be a tomato sauce! We ate them one day with fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, olive oil and balsamic, and one day with a simple cooked fresh tomato sauce. Good either way!

Here’s Dirt Dauber Blues by Memphis Minnie. We found such a large blueblack wasp in our store today! Nearly two inches!!

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Summer squash and chickpeas with olives, raisins and basil

Summer squash with chickpeas, raisins, olives and basil

Summer squash with chickpeas, raisins, olives and basil

Both boys have friends over. The little ones are playing together and describing very unlikely and very funny scenarios. “What if somebody was singing ‘Let it Go’ to a guy hanging off a cliff?” or “Who wants lunch?” “Me!” “I was talking about you being my lunch!” And the bigger boys, who have phones, are staring at their phones. We got Malcolm a phone for his birthday. It’s not a fancy one, it doesn’t do much, but I think he likes having it. Of course it’s depressing to see people lost in their phones, unaware of the world around them, shut off from nature and from living human society. It makes me sad that we’re all losing the ability to sit and do nothing and receive no information from the outside world beyond what we can see and hear and smell immediately around us. I’d rather see the boys “playing with their imaginations,” as Isaac says. As a word lover I’m not a huge fan of texting with its lazy abbreviations and insipid content. However, also as a word lover I’m so happy to exchange texts with Malcolm! He’s so funny and sweet. He texts us from across the room, from up the stairs, from the back seat of the car. And he texts from his friends’ houses when he’s far from home, so we know how he’s doing.
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I can’t help thinking (again) of René Clair’s enthusiastic praise of film as a new technology, “In this era, when verbal poetry is losing the charm it exerted on the masses … a new form of poetic expression has arisen and can reach every beating heart on earth … a poetry of the people is there, seeking its way.” And there is poetry in short lines exchanged between people, when they’ve whittled their words down to express only the most important message, when they’ve tightened their language to convey the most meaning. There’s wit and poignance even in the inevitable misunderstandings and misspellings. Even the words themselves have been distilled to their essence. It reminds me of this poem by Robert Creeley:

I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, — John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

“In saying his poems, Creeley stops briefly at the end of each line, though without dropping the pitch of his voice. This gives it a jazzy, syncopated rhythm, very nervous. Thom Gunn calls it ‘a kind of eloquent stammering,'” which is how you could describe the rhythm of text conversations, although truly they are not always eloquent. Phones are here to stay, and are only going to become smarter and more engrossing as the years go along. We might as well embrace their brief rough poetry, we might as well be thankful for the way that they connect us.

It’s summer squash season! I like summer squash, but sometimes it’s hard to get excited about cooking it day after day. This was an exciting dish, though. Full of flavor and nice textures. I like the combination of jalapeños, raisins and olives, sweet and spicy and salty. I like grated zucchini and yellow squash, because they tend to melt into a dish, imparting their fresh summery flavor.

Instead of a song today, I’ll give you a video of a man using his phone to make little films that make the ordinary more interesting.

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Saucy summer vegetables with lemon, basil, and ginger

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

Summery sauce with lemon, ginger, basil, and cilantro

We’re having a heatwave! It’s been one scorcher after another, with little relief even at night. I don’t mind it so much. I like to hole up in our one air-conditioned room and read or write, and then strike out in search of water for the boys to swim in. But it does make you feel a little weary, after a while, and leave you longing for crisp, energizing weather. You might expect this week’s Sunday interactive playlist to be about hot songs, right? But no! We’re going to cool it down with songs about coldness, winter, ice and snow. What’s cooler than cool? Our ice cold playlist to chill out to.

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

summery sauce with lemon, basil, and ginger

This is a light, bright way to use up some vegetables from the farm without heating up the kitchen too much. I used golden beets, pattypan squash, golden and red tomatoes and fennel, because I like the combination of flavors and that’s what we had, but you can use what you like. It’s very flavorful, with ginger, coriander, basil, cilantro and lemon. We ate it with soba noodles, and it looked very nice and colorful against their slate grey background, but you could eat it with rice, or over greens, or as a sort of side dish.

Here’s a link to the ice cold playlist. Add what you like, or leave a comment and I’ll add it for you.

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Summer squash “jam” with olives and pine nuts

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

summer squash jam with olives and pine nuts.

Well alright! Wh’apen? Hey ya! Gabba gabba hey! I’m not sure what you’d call these sayings…catch phrases, maybe? But they’re all the titles to some very good songs, and they’re the subject of this week’s playlist. The rules are quite flexible, but what we’re looking for is some collection of words that stands on it’s own in a conversation or greeting, that’s more than just the title of a song. Here’s the start of the playlist. I’m sure there are a million more, but I’m late for work!

This is a good dish for people who are looking for something different to do with summer squash. It’s not just sliced and sautéed, it’s grated first, and then cooked for a while with scallions and fresh herbs, so that it turns soft and saucy, almost like a jam. Then olives and tomatoes and pine nuts are added for a bit of texture and a kick of flavor. This would be nice on the side like a condiment, almost, but I think it’s best on toasts or crackers or spread on crusty bread.

Here’s that playlist again.

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