Roasted butternut squash and black beans in coconut milk

Roasted butternut squash and black beans in coconut milk

Roasted butternut squash and black beans in coconut milk

Yesterday, despite my advanced years, the intimidating gravity of my demeanor, and my preeminently eminent status among the scholarly scholars of the world, I was scolded like a child. Like a bad child, I tell you! Like an impertinent middle schooler. I was made to iron my shirt, I was forced to roll silverware into linen napkins in the basement! (To be fair this is all part of my job, anyway, but it sounds so much more dramatic like this.) Obviously I only took this job so that I would have sympathy for all the scolded children of the world, so that I would learn the virtues of humbleness, obedience, and biddability, and yesterday my fiendish plan paid off in spades. So this week’s interactive playlist is scolding songs, songs that tell you to be good, get a haircut, fall in line, straighten up and fly right, or generally obey the rules and laws of society.

And this was a nice sweet and tart curry of roasted butternut squash, roasted peppers, black beans coconut milk and lime. Earthy and warm and autumnal. Good with basmati rice. Very very versatile…you could add any kind of greens you have, or tomatoes, you could substitute sweet potatoes for butternut squash.

Here’s a link to the interactive playlist. Add your own songs, or leave a song in the comments and I’ll try to remember to add it.
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Freekeh! And chard, chickpeas and sweet potatoes

Chard chickpeas and sweet potatoes

Chard chickpeas and sweet potatoes

It’s strange how some moments can leave you feeling unexpectedly raw. Some days I’ll be walking along through the world, fully possessed of my maturity and composure and whatever other calloused armor lets us walk through this world in a capable and functioning fashion, and some small gesture will undo me. It’s usually something seemingly insignificant, something I could easily pass by without noticing at all (they do call me “oblivia” after all). But it will leave me a weepy puddly mess, for a minute or two.

Sometimes on our bike rides we pass what seems to be an entire school out exercising (it’s a very small school.) This is always a somewhat touching scene, just to see the glowing happy running faces, and the reluctant trudging faces, and everything in between, just to see the way the children arrange themselves in little groups, or end up by themselves, and to remember what that felt like. One day the teacher had organized a different sort of exercise, and as one group of kids ran out, another was returning to the starting line. They had to slap hands with the kid they passed. That was it, that’s all that happened, and this gesture of children touching hands with other children as they ran by was enough to make me hope the kids wouldn’t look up in my red and tear-y face as they trotted by.

Today I walked Isaac to school, like I do five days a week. Malcolm came running up, all bright-faced and happy. The power was out! They were being bussed to another school! They might have to have pizza for lunch! The excitement was palpable, and the noise was thunderous, as an entire school-yard full of children looked forward to the strangest, best day ever. Such a confusion! Such a botheration! Children large and small, making noise, tangling everywhere! No bell to get their attention, and the poor safety-patrol overwhelmed by children bouncing and bubbling all around them. It was chaos, I tell you! Cheerful chaos! And suddenly the remarkable music teacher walked out and clapped a rhythm. All the children around her clapped the rhythm, and then every child in the courtyard followed. Silence ensued. And what the heck, man, I’m suddenly the crazy mom standing on the edge of the courtyard with a mad grey dog, trying to think of an excuse for my red nose and watery eyes. I came home and told David about it and got weepy all over again! I’m weepy now, writing about it! What is wrong with me?

Oh, I could go on, I could tell you about how last week when Malcolm went to his friend’s house for breakfast (with all of his other friends) I made him some apple sauce to bring, and he said it was so good he could have eaten it all by himself. And last night he asked me to make more, and I assumed it was to bring to breakfast at his friend’s house again, but he said, “No, nobody else would eat it,” which means that he was asking me to make applesauce out of kindness to me, because he liked something his strange mother made even if nobody else would try it! That kills me! And that’s it, that’s all it takes.

I suppose it’s moments of connection, if I stop and look at it rationally, that strike such a tender chord; moments of communication or thoughtfulness. And they’re everywhere! They’re all around us! I feel crazy for getting so emotional about small things, but maybe we’re crazy for not being constantly undone by these moments, for not being constantly aglow with emotion set off by these small gestures. I don’t suppose we’d get much done, though, throughout the day.

Freekeh! I saw it at the grocery store in the bulk food bins. I’d never seen it before and it looked interesting, so I bought some! I did some research, and it seems to be the new, next super grain. I’m cutting edge! It’s wheat, but not as you know it. Well, it’s similar to bulgur, but it’s…well, I’ll let wikipedia tell you, “The wheat is harvested while the grains are yellow and the seeds are still soft; it is then piled and sun-dried. The piles are then carefully set on fire so only the straw and chaff burn and not the seeds. It is the high moisture content of the seeds that prevents them from burning. The now roasted wheat undergoes further thrashing and sun-drying to make the flavor, texture, and color uniform. It is this thrashing or rubbing process of the grains that gives this food its name, farīk or “rubbed.” The seeds are now cracked into smaller pieces so they look like a green bulgur.” I cooked it like I cook bulgur, toasted it in butter with some herbs, then simmered it till it was fluffy. I made a sort of stew of chard, sweet potatoes, herbs, and tomatoes from the farm, threw in some raisins, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, smoked paprika and nutmeg, and that’s what we at with the freekeh. The next day I mashed up the leftover stew, stirred in the leftover freekeh, some pecans, some bread crumbs, and an egg, and made croquettes.

Here’s the Beastie Boys with B Boys making with the Freekeh.
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Red quinoa with chard, sweet potatoes and white beans

red-quinoa-white-beanYesterday was Nina Simone’s birthday. Today I want to write about her, but I don’t know where to begin. It’s hard to talk about something that you love as much as I love her music, it’s hard to talk about something that means so much to you. I suppose everybody is familiar with the autobiographical facts, so I’ll keep it brief. She was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933. Her mother was a methodist preacher and a housemaid, her father was a handyman. From a very early age, she was determined to be a concert pianist. Her mother’s employer provided funds for piano lessons. After high school, she applied to the Curtis Institute, in Philadelphia, but was rejected. She moved to New York and studied at Juliard, supporting herself by playing piano in a bar, where she took the name Nina Simone to hide her profession from her mother. She was discovered, had a hit with I Loves You Porgy, and continued to record and play, jumping from one record company to another for most of the rest of her life. Her friendship with Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and others helped to focus her fire, and she worked for civil rights with characteristic passion. She wrote the blistering song Mississippi Goddam (which has come to mind more than once this week!) in response the the murder of Medgar Evers and to the death of 4 black children after the bombing of a church. She eventually grew disillusioned in America, and moved abroad. She would live in Barbados, Liberia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, London, and finally the South of France, where she felt peaceful and free, and grew grapes, peaches, strawberries and raspberries. She was known to be temperamental, moody and volatile. She was a hypnotic performer, but an unpredictable one, and on more than one occasion she would berate the audience for talking. “My original plan was to be the first black concert pianist–not a singer–and it never occurred to me that I’d be playing to audiences that were talking and drinking and carrying on when I played the piano. So I felt that if they didn’t want to listen, they could go the hell home.” She defied labels, combining jazz, pop, blues, classical, gospel. She disliked the term “jazz,” which she saw as a way for white people to define black people, and she preferred to think of the genre as black classical music. Her voice is unmistakable and indefinable, deep, rich but light, raw and full of emotion, but with an odd, edgy coolness that cuts right to the most vulnerable part of you. She can take the sappiest song and make it speak to you about the human condition in such an intensely honest way that you feel she understands. She brings a magnetic dignity and gravity to everything she does, but she’s funny as hell, too, and light-hearted and surprising. After I’d had Isaac, Malcolm got very sick, and I was struggling with some poisonous combination of anxiety, postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. I felt down. I listened to Nina Simone sing Ooh Child, her voice full of compassion and gentle triumph, over and over, and I believed her, I believed things would get better. I knew that she’d been down, too, and she knew what she was talking about. “I feel what they feel. And people who listen to me know that, and it makes them feel like they’re not alone.” Langston Hughes, who wrote her song Backlash Blues wrote of Simone, “She is strange. So are the plays of Brendan Behan, Jean Genet and Bertolt Brecht. She is far out, and at the same time common. So are raw eggs in Worcestershire. She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl, so is Ernie Banks. You either like her or you don’t. If you don’t, you won’t. If you do — wheee-ouuueu! You do!” Well that’s it! Whee-ouuuueu! She’s strange in a way that makes it good to be strange, for all of us to be strange, and in a way that feels so perfect and necessary that it almost seems normal. Or what normal should be – with that much inspiration, intelligence, intensity, wit, and passion. Nina travelled the world looking for freedom – freedom from oppression and greed, maybe freedom from her demons. In a remarkable performance of I Wish I Knew How it Feels to Be Free (which I’ve talked about before), she defines freedom as freedom from fear, as a new way of seeing, as a chance to be a “little less like me.” She’d learn to fly, and she’d look down and see herself, and she wouldn’t know herself – she’d have new hands, new vision. She tells us that the Bible says be transformed by the renewal of your mind. And her songs create a world with their intensely honest eccentricity, a world where you feel moved to your soul, and inspired to renew your mind, and be brave enough to see things anew, as they really are, or as they could be.

I’ve made a small playlist of some of my favorite songs. Including House of the Rising Sun, which she did before Dylan or the animals or Von Ronk; and Feeling Good, which is the best invocation of spring I know; and Nina’s Blues (two versions!) which is my favorite song of all. Beautiful, sad, and triumphant.

Oh yes, and here’s a recipe for red quinoa, chard, white beans and sweet potatoes. A nice combination of sweet, savory, earthy and bright. The boys liked it, which was all part of my evil plan, because I want them to eat more protein. I used great northern beans, because they’re nice and meaty, but you could use any manner of white beans you like. I made this like a thick stew, but you could add a bit more water and have a brothy soup, or add less water and have a nice side dish. We ate it with cheese toasts!

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Red bean, sweet potato & hominy stew and Olive oil rosemary biscuits

Red bean & hominy stew

Red bean & hominy stew

Well, it’s been a day of catching up after working all weekend. A day of laundry and grocery shopping and trying to get the boys to clean their room. It’s been a day of thinking about Martin Luther King Jr, of driving on the grey wintery streets, listening to fragments of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech on the radio, moved to tears. Obama’s first election was fueled by hope, it was buoyant with hope. And despite snide comments about hopey changey stuff, despite the sort of fatigue and discouragement that four hard years of dealing with Bush’s financial crisis have brought upon us, at this moment I feel more hopeful than ever. It’s not a hope as bright and far-reaching as that of the first election – but it’s a stronger, fiercer hope, based in reality and hard work. I don’t agree with all of Obama’s decisions, I don’t love every action that he’s taken, but I feel so grateful to him for starting conversations about health care, gay rights, women’s rights, gun control, climate change. Of course we should talk about these things! It’s remarkable to me that in 2013 these are issues we still need to address, let alone issues that take extraordinary courage to address. I think it’s difficult to understand just how brave Obama is for speaking publicly and openly about gun control and gay marriage. Despite petty political squabbling, despite ignorance, hatred and fear, we are taking small steps in a good direction, towards a world that must be inevitable if people are as kind and thoughtful as they have the potential to be. Martin Luther King spoke of non-violence with these words, “In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.” I hope that this is true, with the deepest weightiest and yet most buoyant hope imaginable. Obama ended his speech with these words, “Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.” And that birthright is not a possession or privilege unique to Americans, but a natural or moral right possessed by everyone, the world over – to work for freedom from the darkness of fear, ignorance, and cruelty.

I felt a little silly posting a recipe today, (and doing laundry, and cleaning, and all other trivial chores). But, maybe that’s part of what it’s all about – about the freedom to get on with these things. These chores are trivial to me, but are luxuries for some people. To buy healthy, nourishing food for your family, to cook it up in a way that you feel good about. To have a safe, warm home to serve it in. Everybody deserves these things! In that spirit I present to you a recipe for a warm, comforting stew full of flavor. I bought pomegranate molasses for the first time, and I’m having fun playing with the sweet/tart continuum. I decided to pair it with a tiny bit of mustard, balsamic, sage, red pepper flakes and smoked paprika, to make a spicy, sweet, tart, smoky sauce. And the biscuits are incredibly easy to make, and very tasty, too. They’re butter-free, and the taste of olive oil in a baked good is always surprising and pleasant.

Well, there are quite a few songs I could choose for today’s post, but I’m going to give you Mos Def’s Fear Not of Men. It’s based, of course, on Fela’s Fear Not For Man, the lyrics of which go thus…

    Brothers and sisters
    The father of Pan-Africanism
    Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
    Says to all black people
    All over the world:
    “The secret of life is to have no fear”
    We all have to understand that

Mos Def’s song isn’t explicitly about Martin Luther King’s Day, but the lyrics have always resonated on this day of all days. He says, “A lot of things have changed, and a lot of things have not.” And there’s no doubt that this is true, for better or for worse. But the song is about courage in the face of danger, courage to work towards something that’s bigger than all of us. And it’s about a universal rhythm that beats through all of us, surely leading us inevitably in the same direction.

    All over the world hearts pound with the rhythm
    Fear not of men because men must die
    Mind over matter and soul before flesh
    Angels for the pain keep a record in time
    which is passin and runnin like a caravan freighter
    The world is overrun with the wealthy and the wicked
    But God is sufficient in disposin of affairs
    Gunmen and stockholders try to merit your fear
    But God is sufficient over plans they prepared.

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Power! and hurricane chili with sweet potatoes, red beans, kale and pumpkin ale

Clio sleeps on Malcolm

The Ordinary has power!! POWER! All the lights shut off the evening of the storm, and yesterday, on DAY TEN (!) they came on just as the first snow started to fall. I cried like a baby! First of all, I know we’ve been very lucky in many ways. Our home and our family are safe and sound. But it’s been such a strange week and a half! So memorable – certain vivid moments glow in my head – and yet altogether such a blur, each day melted into the other, and now it all feels like some strange dream. We had some fun, even euphoric, moments, but mostly it was stressful. I’m exhausted, despite having done very nearly nothing for ten days. I spent ridiculous amounts of time sitting and waiting. We went for lots of walks, and played games and wrote stories and read a little. We stayed a few nights with our kind warm-homed, warm-hearted families. But I felt foolishly incapable of concentrating. And then it got too cold to hold a pen. I was embarrassingly frazzled by the whole situation. It was as though without electricity I couldn’t do even simple non-electrical tasks like cutting my nails. I spent a lot of time sitting and thinking, and you know you’re going to hear all about that! The past day and a half have been spent trying to catch up – cleaning out the tank of dead fish and the fridge full of spoiled food, scrubbing down the toilets after two little boys have peed in the dark for more than a week. And then filling the fridge with good food and baking anti-depressant oatmeal-chocolate chip-spice cookies to warm up our kitchen and fill it with good smells. I missed cooking! I missed writing! I missed writing about cooking! So I’ll tell you all about everything, eventually. Whether you like it or not!

But for now I’ll leave you with a recipe for the chili I made last Monday before the power went out. It has sweet potatoes from the farm, red beans, yellow split peas, kale, corn, pumpkin ale, sweet spices, spicy spices. I started it early in the afternoon in case the power went out, and it sat on the stove for a few hours, but we could have eaten it sooner. I kept throwing other things in as the day wore on, so it ended up with quite a few ingredients! Use what you have! We ate it with basmati rice and cheesy garlic bread. The next day we spread some inside of tortillas with sharp cheddar, folded them over, wrapped them in foil, and cooked them in a fire in the back yard. Good as well! I didn’t take a picture of the chili, because I was worried about batteries in the camera, and I was just too off-kilter to remember! So you get a picture of Clio lying on Malcolm’s head instead, during the storm. He makes her feel safe, and she was protecting him, too, I think. She fell asleep like that!

And here’s a list of songs about power and electricity. Can you think of any I should add? Some of the songs might be a little sweary. Listen to the first one, at least, though. Curtis Mayfield with the demo version of Power to the People. (Who gave me that? I love it to pieces!!)
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