White beans with sorrel and chard

White beans with sorrel and chard

White beans with sorrel and chard

It’s so strange sometimes to be an American. In many ways we’re taught that we’re the center of the universe, the richest, smartest, most advanced, most imitated, most moral country in the world. With the biggest, best-prepared military. No amount of statistics will prove otherwise, because this is just something we know, it’s a gut feeling. And although we’re proud of the fact that America was founded by a bunch of rebellious forward-thinking intellectuals, we seem to have arrived to a point where it’s treasonous to question anything. These last few days I’ve found myself unaccountably moved by the story of Bowe Bergdahl and his father, Robert. I suppose, on one level, it’s not that surprising that as the mother of two boys I sympathize with a man saddened and anxious that his son is a prisoner in another country. And admittedly I don’t know many of the facts of the case, but nobody else seems to, either, and that doesn’t seem to stop them speaking with self-righteous idiocy about it. I believe that, in part, I’m reacting so strongly because the whole affair seems to demonstrate how skewed our values have become, or at least how different from my own. How can we accuse a young man of cowardice for questioning the legitimacy of a war we know we know we should never have started in the first place? How can we question his morals and judgement instead of jailing members of the administration that cynically lied to us to persuade us to enter an unnecessary conflict that would result in the deaths of thousands of Americans? I’ve heard Bergdahl criticized for saying that he’s ashamed to be American, but sometimes it seems impossible not to be. I’m ashamed to be American every time someone on Fox News claims to speak for all Americans. This passage is (supposedly) from en e-mail Bergdahl sent to his parents, “I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live. We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks…We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them…I am sorry for everything.” Who would tell their child to shut up and carry on in this situation? Who would tell them to stay put and not to question anything? Who would tell them that it would be cowardly to leave? The same people who criticize him now as a traitor and a coward, the same people who have never lost a child or witnessed the nightmarish chaos of war. I suppose it’s easy to have clear-cut answers to questions you don’t let yourself ask. Robert Bergdahl describes this decade of war and what led to it and what we’ve taken away from it as “the darkening of the American soul.” Right now it feels that he is not wrong.

White beans with sorrel and chard

White beans with sorrel and chard

I’m sorry to go on and on, by by god, it’s been on my mind. We will turn, instead, Candide-like, to our garden. We have such a lovely garden this year, and it’s a great solace to walk through our tomatoes and peppers and salsify and herbs. We’re growing sorrel. I love the word “Sorrel” and I like the idea of it as an herb. It’s lemony to bitterness when raw, but it mellows when cooked to add a bright tart citrus-y bite. I included it with mellow-flavored potatoes and white beans and earthy chard. I kept the seasoning quite simple–white wine, salt, pepper, and a little rosemary. We ate this over farro, but it’s hearty enough to eat as is. Or you could eat it with rice, couscous, bulgur, anything you like!!

Here’s Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie, which I heard all the way through for the first time just the other day.

Continue reading

Leek, potato & butterbean stew

Leek, potato and butterbean stew

Leek, potato and butterbean stew

    “His little treat, when he was nice and clean…was to leave his chest bare for a while. His pale skin, as white as that of an anaemic girl, was covered in tattoo marks scraped and scored by the coal, “cuttings,” as the miners call them; and he displayed them proudly, flexing his strong arms and broad chest, which gleamed like blue-veined marble. In summer, all the miners sat out on their doorsteps like this. Despite the day’s wet weather, he even went outside for a moment, to exchange ribald remarks with another bare-chested neighbor, on the other side of the gardens. Other men came out too. And the children, who had been playing on the pavements, looked up, and laughed with pleasure at the sight of all this tired flesh released from work and at last allowed to breathe in some fresh air.”

I’ve been reading Germinal by Emile Zola. I’ve never read anything by him before, and I’m so happy to have discovered him. It’s like Dickens with more sweat and pee and nakedness. Germinal is the tale of French miners in the late 19th century. They work more than five hundred meters below the earth, in cramped, dangerous, miserably hot, miserably cold, horribly dark and dangerously coal-dusty conditions for less than a living wage. They live crowded together into a cramped two-room house where they have no privacy and little peace. Their cupboards are literally bare, and their breakfast is hot water poured over yesterday’s coffee grounds. They’re all tired and anaemic and tubercular. And yet they’re very much alive, and full of humor and affection and desire. The story of their day-to-day life, the work the men and children do in the mines, the work the women do in their homes, is told in detail so rich and gripping you’ll find yourself hanging on every word, waiting impatiently to see what happens next. All of the characters are described with such warmth and generosity that I feel I’d like to know them, though I’d have trouble justifying the comfort in which I live, in which I expect to live.

Potato, tomato and leek stew

Potato, tomato and leek stew

When La Maheuse finally manages to beg and plead for some supplies, she makes a soup of potatoes, leeks and sorrel. We just got some leeks and potatoes from the farm! So, of course, I had to try to make a French coal miner’s stew. I added herbs and butterbeans and wine and red peppers tomatoes. I don’t have sorrel, so I used lemon juice to attain that lemony flavor. I thought it turned out very tasty! I made a big round loaf of bread to go with it, but you could always just buy a baguette.

Here’s Driver 8 by REM, because the passage I quoted above reminds me of the line, “The children look up all they see are sky blue bells ringing.”

Continue reading

Summer stew with white beans, potatoes, crispy eggplant and basil-pistachio pesto

Summer stew with white beans, potatoes and tomatoes

Summer stew with white beans, potatoes and tomatoes

This morning Malcolm and I went out for a long walk on the tow path. He told me about a dream he’d had. The water turned to air and the air turned to water. So the fish swam in air below us, and we walked through water as though we were flying. There were strange creatures in the water that we moved through: tadpoles with teeth, ducks with oddly shaped wings, lizards with tongues longer than their bodies that lived on our backs and were our friends. In this new world we walked though forests of “wimping trees,” that had fallen over, swooning, and were easy for us to climb. The water rose up into space, but an evil wizard had rented out all of space, so there was no space for rent, no space for rent. As we walked it became less the memory of a dream and more the telling of a story. We saw a clicking kingfisher and a bright swooping gold finch. I was hazy from sleep and felt that I might be moving through water, rippling with Malcolm’s words of a world turned upside down. The trees and bushes had bright flashes of crimson and pale gold, which seems too early but is not unwelcome.

So today’s interactive playlist is on the subject of dreams. Songs about dreams, or songs that that just seem dreamy. Add them to the list yourself, or leave a comment and I’ll try to remember to add them through the week.

Basil pistachio pesto

Basil pistachio pesto

This is my favorite kind of meal! Something saucy and flavorful made from potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and herbs fresh from the farm, with a big loaf of crusty bread to mop up the sauces. I served olives, grated mozzarella, pesto and crispy eggplant on the side, to add as you like. I used french-lentil cooking broth, but you could use a simple vegetable broth or even water, and it would still have nice flavor.

Here’s a link to the dreamy interactive playlist.
Continue reading

Millet and summer stew with black beans and hominy

Summer stew and millet

First we see a beautiful black and white shot of majestic mountains. Into the frame come the head and shoulders of a samurai, his back to us. He stands and looks up at the mountains for a few moments. And then he hunches his shoulders and scratches his head. He’s got fleas! We follow the back of his shaggy head as he walks, and without even seeing his face, we learn so much about him, from his posture and his gait. It’s Toshiro Mifune, baby! Surely one of the most charismatic actors of all time! As he walks, he comes across a farmer berating his son. The son wants to go off and join a gang of gamblers because, as he says, it’s better than a long life eating gruel. The film, of course, is Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa. It’s an action-packed film, with plenty of sword fights and intrigue, but, as with many of Kurosawa’s films, the real struggle concerns extreme poverty and deprivation. In this film, as in Seven Samurai, the inhabitants of a small rural town literally have nothing to eat but rice or millet, and they’re in danger of losing that. The samurai that fight for their lives and often to their deaths, are fighting for grain, fighting so that the son of a farmer can have a long life eating gruel. As with all of my favorite films, it’s the humanity and humor mixed with the drama that resonates. We love the samurai as much because he’s rootless, confused, and has fleas as we do because he’s charming and a brilliant swordsman. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m a peaceful person of low ambition, and I think I could enjoy a long life eating gruel, if the gruel was as tasty as I could possibly make it!

It was partially because of Kurosawa that I went out and bought some millet. I’ve made it in the past, but not very well. I wanted to try again. I used a basic technique, described by Madhur Jaffrey, of toasting and then steaming the grains. But I cooked them in broth instead of water. It turned out delicious!! Everyone in the family liked it! Soft, but fluffy and flavorful. I’m a millet fan! I also made a sort of summery stew of lots of vegetables mixed with black beans and golden hominy. (You could easily substitute white hominy!) You could call it CSA stew, because I used up a lot of the veg we got this week. I seasoned it with smoked paprika, sage, and chipotle, and we ate it with toasted strips of tortilla. Everybody liked everything!!

One of the absolute best things about Yojimbo is the soundtrack. It reminds me of RZA’s soundtrack for Ghost Dog. (High praise indeed!!) Here’s Big Trouble, from the sound track.
Continue reading