Chickpea and sweet potato tacos

Sweet potato chickpea tacos

Sweet potato chickpea tacos


I’ve been thinking lately that hope is some sort of involuntary muscle. We have absolutely no control over it. You can tell yourself not to get your hopes up. You can believe that you’re not getting your hopes up. You can lie to yourself about it so cleverly that you don’t know you’re doing it. But when you’re disappointed, and you feel your hopes crashing to great depths, you realize that you’d been hopeful all along, despite your best intentions. And when your hopes come to rest, down there in the deep depths, you can tell yourself that you’ll keep them down this time, you’ll suppress them and block their every attempt to rise again. But it won’t work. You can’t keep them down any more than you can stop your heart beating just by thinking about it. Your hopes will rise again all around you, though you can’t see them and maybe even can’t feel them, and before you know it you’ll be working on something again. You’ll forget the rejection and disappointment, and you’ll try to make connections. You’ll try to give your hope something solid and substantial to float on, something not so easily dashed and capsized. This must be true for everybody, however cynical they are, however much success and riches and love they have. They must feel the same cycle of hopes rising and falling and rising again, for all things big and little in their life. It must be involuntary for everyone. Doesn’t it seem sometimes that hope is necessary for survival, as necessary as air?

Sweet potato and chickpea tacos

Sweet potato and chickpea tacos

These tacos are very autumnal! Warm colors, warm flavors, smoky sweet and spicy. Quick and easy to make, too. We ate them with warm tortillas, grated sharp cheddar, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced avocado. All the usual suspects! And basmati rice of course. You could just eat it over rice, as is. Or you could add some broth and make it saucier, and eat it as a soup or stew with crusty bread. Vegan if you leave the butter out!

Here is Jordil Saval with Good Again by Tobias Hume, which comes after a song called “My hope is decayed.”

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Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes, and butter-fried croquettes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

“He wouldn’t listen to her, and he clasped her desperately, his heart drowning in an immense sadness. A need for peace and an uncontrollable need for happiness invaded him; and he pictured himself married, in a nice clean little house, with no other ambition than for the two of them to live and die together inside it. They would only need a little bread to eat; and even if there was only enough for one of them, he would give her the whole piece. What was the point of wanting anything else? Was there anything in life worth more than that?” Indeed! Well, I haven’t finished the book yet, but I know how things turn out. I always read ahead, I read a few pages here and there in the middle, and I read the end. I always have, somehow knowing how it will end makes the story more compelling for me, even if it ends sadly, as this one does, I’m sorry to say. They are, of course, Etienne and Catherine from Germinal. They’re sitting on the edge of the bed in icy darkness, preparing to go back down the pit. After a winter of sickness and strife, starvation and deprivation, after months of physical and emotional abuse from her cruel lover, after ages of liking and loving and longing for each other, all unspoken, they’re at a crossroads. “Don’t do it!” You want to yell at them. “Don’t go down the mine. Run away!!” When I was little I used to imagine an island people could go to when things weren’t going well for them in plays or books or movies. An island for star-crossed lovers where everything aligned a little more benevolently, and all of the outside forces that kept them apart were nowhere to be found. It would be a place you could go despite your obstacles–money troubles couldn’t keep you away, and neither could overbearing relatives or jealous lovers or fickle fortune. And once you got there you’d be free to live out your days with your lover, just as you choose. You would grow old together. And maybe this would be hard for some of the couples that wind up on the island, because they hadn’t known each other very long in the old world, but I think they’d be glad to have the chance. After all, we each have to grow old, and it’s nice to have somebody to do it with. Romeo and Juliet were so young when they died. Juliet is thirteen. So maybe on this island they would grow up together, they would become adults together and be good friends. Catherine and Heathcliff–well, I just don’t know. They started as friends, they did grow up together, but weren’t they disappointingly cruel to each other and themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think even a magical island could provide them with a cheery future. Catherine and Etienne, though, I think they’d be okay. They’ve both suffered so much and worked so hard that they’d be glad of the peace and freedom to be kind to one another, to really love each other. They’d delight in any small warmth that they could find, and they’d kindle such a bonfire of pent-up affection they’d be able to light up a whole wintery mining village. And they wouldn’t be ignorant but happy, either. I think about Catherine a lot, about how bright and interested she is, and about how her only hope in life is to earn enough money to survive, and that her cruel man won’t be too cruel to her. I like to think about her writing stories in her head, down in the pit. But Etienne has taken such pleasure in learning, and in educating himself, and you know he’d love to teach her, too, and that he’d take pleasure in doing it, and be proud of all she learned. I like to think about what she might do, if she had some knowledge. I like to imagine them happy. They don’t expect much, and they deserve the world.

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Here we have another meal that started as a bean and vegetable stew and ended up as croquettes. THe first night we had a bright, sweet, tart stew made of navy beans, fennel, and roasted sweet potatoes. It also had lemon thyme, lemon, caper, and a handful of raisins. Very delicious! And we ate it with bulgur. The next night I smashed all the leftovers together with bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, and smoked paprika, and baked it in a loaf pan. Then I sliced it (or tried to, it fell apart a bit) and fried it all in butter. The boys said it was like hotdogs, and it kinda was! Very good, though!

Here’s Louis Armstrong with Song of the Islands

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Farro with smoked sweet potatoes, french lentils and pinenut lemon aioli

smoked sweet potatoes with farro and lemon aioli

smoked sweet potatoes with farro and lemon aioli

Further Tales from the Towpath. Every morning since the boys have been back in school, David and I have been going for a bike ride on the towpath. Flying down this green tunnel with the man I love, on the bike he bought for me the year we got married, seventeen years ago, is an every day thing, but I don’t have to remind myself of how important it is, how valuable. You think about all the things that have changed and are changing every day, and all of the things that have not and will never change. Riding a bike still feels like flying, it’s still exhilarating, just as it was when I first learned. The air is colder every morning, the sun lazier each day to climb up and burn off the chill. This morning was the kind of cold that makes your ear-bones hurt and renders your fingers useless. As David said, it was miserable and beautiful at the same time. The mist rose off the water in small smoky tornadoes, and it revealed hundreds of spider webs all around us. It was as though we’d put on spider-sensing glasses. In the grass some webs are vague and formless, like tiny tactile clouds you could scoop up with your hands, and some look like small tents or funnels, as if a little circus had pulled into town. In the bushes and trees, the mist clung to Halloween spider webs in little clusters of light. Hundreds!! I like to think about this arachnid community, which is always there, though we don’t see it and think about it. I like to think about them busy with their lives, going about their business just as we are, all the humans on the canal, walking with purpose or ambling along, alone with our thoughts or deep in conversations. When we went camping one night, we discovered that if you shine your flashlight in the grass, a wolf spider’s eyes reflect back bright and green. It was as if the grass was full of sparkling emeralds! Full of them! Who knew there were so many spiders about! Earlier in the summer, we let a baby tree frog, raised from a tadpole, free in our back yard, and the other day, David found a big healthy tree frog, who clung to his hand like it was a warm and solid comfort. The same frog? We’ll never know. And that same night we saw screech owls wheeling around in the trees, and heard their tremulous song all night long. They live in our neighborhood! They hang out in our yard, whether we hear them or not. Well, I feel lucky that they’re there, grateful to get a glimpse of them from time to time, and glad to be reminded again that we’re not the center of everything, we’re not the most important, we’re part of a big teeming world at work all around us.
Lemon pine nut aioli

Lemon pine nut aioli

One day last week David made a fire in the back yard and the boys helped him burn up all the little twigs and sticks. Because I’m always thinking about food, I decided to try to smoke some sweet potatoes I’d gotten from the farm. I peeled them, wrapped them in foil, and buried them in the bottom of the fire, where I let them smolder for an hour or two. They turned out very nice! Soft inside, crispy outside, smoky and good. I made some french lentils and then cooked the farro in their broth. We had arugula under and tomatoes on top, like a big warm salad. My favorite part might have been the lemon pine nut aioli we drizzled over. Vegan, creamy, tart-sweet and delicious!!

Here’s Slim Gaillard with Sighing Boogie, just because I like it!
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Black quinoa & beluga lentils 2 ways; And semolina buns!

Black quinoa & beluga lentils

We ate quinoa a few times last week, and – as I promised the boys – we turned into Incan super heroes. (It is a “superfood,” you know!). Oh the adventures we had! I’d love to tell you about them, but I’m legally bound to silence, because they’re going to make an animated series based on our exploits. The animation will be a collaboration of Ray Harryhausen and Jules Bass, the music will be supplied by Damon Albarn and Harry Mancini, and Saul Bass is working on the credit sequence as we speak. Each episode will follow a set of normal, modern characters who will suddenly find themselves faced with a problem that only a family of Incan superheroes can solve. When our super powers wane, we eat mounds of quinoa to restore them. (Quinoa companies are currently duking it out for endorsement contracts) In one running gag, the littlest Incan super hero, based on Isaac, refuses to eat his quinoa, and the rest of us say, “We’ll have to go on our adventures without you!”

But let’s get back to the food, man. I remember when it was all about the food. I went to Whole Foods a few weeks back, and I stocked up on black grains. Black barley, black rice, black quinoa… (What, quinoa is not actually a grain, it’s a “pseudocereal”? Good god.) I like black grains and grain-like products because they’re very pretty, and because they usually have a nuttier, meatier taste than their paler cousins. Black quinoa is no exception. It stays a little crunchy, it turns a lovely garnet color, and the little pale squiggly spiral comes out to tell you that it’s done. I thought the quinoa would taste nice (and look good!) with beluga lentils. I wanted to try something a little different with the seasoning, because I feared I was getting stuck in a rut. So I opted for tarragon, fennel seed and ground coriander in a sauce made from white wine and orange juice. Fruity, citrus-tart/sweet, and anise-y! I thought it was nice! I thought it would go well with sweet potatoes and carrots, so I added some of those, too. And I threw in handfuls of baby spinach at the end, because everything is better with baby spinach! We ate it with basmati rice and a salad of arugula and more baby spinach. The rice is probably overkill with the quinoa, but it was one thing I was sure the boys would eat. I grated some sharp cheddar on mine, and I thought it was a nice addition.

Quinoa burgers


We had some quinoa mixture left over, and some extra beluga lentils, so I decided to make them into burgers. I added a little smoked paprika and tamari, for that smoky, meaty edge. I added an egg and some bread crumbs, for substance, and I fried them in a little olive oil. Delicious! They’re a little delicate, but very tasty. I wanted to make rolls for my burgers, so I made some out of semolina. I wanted to keep them simple, but I kept thinking how nice the chinese dumplings we made were, with a little extra sugar, and a touch of vinegar, so I added that. The rolls were tasty, but quite dense. Which was a funny combination with the delicate burgers, but I liked it, although I concede that nice soft store-bought hamburger buns might make more sense in this instance. I heaped some lettuce and fresh spinach and fresh sliced tomato on, and I ate my whole burger! The boys ate them with barbecue sauce, and we made some oven roasted fries to go with them.

semolina buns

Here’s Talib Kweli & MF DOOM with Old School. It’s about cartoon superheroes, and it’s one of my favorites ever!
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Cousous, sweet potato, goat cheese croquettes

couscous croquettes

For these tasty croquettes I repurposed some lovely vintage articles that had been artisanally handcrafted a couple of days ago. That’s right, I used leftovers. Red beans left over from the stew, sweet potatoes left over from the fries, and couscous left over from a meal I didn’t even tell you about! The advantage to this, of course, is that everything’s already made, so you can throw these together when you have very little time after work, which is exactly what I did. Plus, everything already has its own seasoning from the previous meal, and they all happen to taste wonderful together. I think this would work well as reverse leftovers, if you know what I mean. You could make a batch of fries, a batch of couscous, and open a can of beans, make these lovely little croquettes, and then use the remaining ingredients for different meals in the weeks to come. You can always throw couscous and beans into a salad the next day, if you’re looking for an easy way out. Any way that you do it, these are worth making! They’re subtly sweet, because of the sweet potatoes, but this is balanced by the goat cheese, which has its own way of tang-ing up a dish, doesn’t it? We had these with warm tortillas, grated sharp cheddar, chopped romaine, the leftover stew, and with a nice spinach cashew sauce I’ll tell you about later. But I think they’d be nice with a simple tomato sauce, or romesco sauce, or chermoula sauce, or even BBQ sauce! I’m going to tell you how to make these as if I’d started from scratch, and the couscous and sweet potatoes will make a little extra for another time.

Here’s Tom Waits’ Yesterday is Here. Yesterday’s dinner is, anyway!
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Kale, sweet potato & chickpea stew with cumin, paprika & lime

Kale :& chickpea stew

Kale is not one of those shy and retiring greens that wilts away to nothing at the first sign of attention. I admire that quality. The presence of kale in this dish is probably what makes it a stew rather than a soup. The kale retains its curly, assertive texture to make this thick and hearty. The sweet potato and golden raisins add a touch of sweetness, and the chickpeas – well, you can’t go wrong with chickpeas, can you? The broth of this stew is a lovely mixture of flavors…it’s the broth that transforms humble, potentially stodgy ingredients into something exciting to eat. Smoky paprika, earthy cumin, spicy red pepper, and bright, tart lime. We ate these with pumpkin popovers.

Here’s DJ Food with Stealin Stew

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Sweet potato buns

I made these sweet potato buns with the last of the veg from our CSA. They’re a lovely rosy color, have a crisp crust and a fine crumb. I added a little cardamom and paprika, so they have a subtle sweet/smoky flavor that seems to go with their color. Yesterday was a day of freezing dampness, and it was nice to have a fresh-baked bun at the end of it.

Good with black bean burgers!

Here’s Mikey Dread’s Hot Cross Bun to listen to as you wait for the dough to rise.

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Chickpea/sweet potato/red wine stew

chickpea stew with rosemary dumplings

We’re still working our way through the sweet potatoes and carrots from the CSA. And I’m still fascinated by star anise. This is a nice way to incorporate both. The pleasing texture of chickpeas goes well with the sweet potatoes and carrots. The mild sweet flavors blend with the slight dryness of the wine to make a rich, unusual broth. Sage and thyme, star anise and cinnamon – delicious together. I made cornmeal dumplings, but lighter and less stodgy than you would expect.

Did you know that Neil Diamond wrote Red Red Wine? It’s true, he did!
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