Black Rice and French Lentil Tacos with Pistachio Herb Sauce

Black rice, french lentil tacos

Black rice, french lentil tacos

There’s a scene in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot in which the titular idiot, Prince Myshkin (who, of course, is not an idiot at all but the wisest man in any room) tells the story of a condemned man. He describes, in great detail, the thoughts going through the condemned man’s mind, minute by minute. “He said that nothing was more oppressive for him at that moment than the constant thought: ‘What if I were not to die! What if life were given back to me–what infinity! And it would all be mine! Then I’d turn each minute into a whole age, I’d lose nothing, I’d reckon up every  minute separately, I’d let nothing be wasted!'” And someone asks Myshkin what happened to the condemned man after his punishment was changed at the last minute, and he was granted “infinite life.” Did he live reckoning up every  minute? “Oh, no, he told me himself–I asked him about it–he didn’t live that way at all and lost  many, many minutes.” The condemned man is Dostoesvsky himself! This exact thing happened to him when he was 29 years old–he was before the firing squad when a reprieve was delivered. So the account of the rest of his life must be about him, as well, he lost many, many minutes, as we all do.

I love the fact that Myshkin knows Dostoevsky, not by name, but as a man he’s spoken to, at one time or another. And one of the things I love most about The Idiot is just how much Dostoevsky seems not to know Myshkin, from time-to-time. He loves him, clearly, as does everybody who meets him, even the angry anarchists who don’t want to love him at all. And at moments he has beautiful flashes of insight into Myshkin’s thoughts and feelings–just before his epileptic fit, for example. Because, of course, Myshikin is Dostoevsky, in part, his creation, born of his imagination. But there are times when Dostoevsky says, regarding the Prince’s actions and emotions, “…we can supply very little information.” He doesn’t know where the Prince disappeared to, or why he left! He doesn’t know, and he gives us only the hints and rumors that any of the other characters would be privy to. And at the end, when we wonder why the Prince acted the way he did in a certain crisis, he says, “And yet we feel that we must limit ourselves to the simple statement of facts…because we ourselves, in many cases, have difficulty explaining what happened.” Of course this has the effect of allowing us to see Prince Myshkin as a strange and inexplicable creature in a society in which people have certain expectations for the way people will act and speak. But it’s also a beautiful description of the creation of a character who becomes alive for the writer and the reader, a character you think long about after you’ve finished the book.

When Dostoevsky wrote he didn’t know what would happen next in his story, so that he was just as surprised by it as the reader. And the first parts of the book were published in journals before he’d written the next, so he couldn’t go back and change his mind. The story becomes as inevitable as our lives. The Idiot is meandering and strange and strangely written in a way that I find thrilling. In a clumsy, beautiful, heartfelt “explanation,” Ippolit, the angry anarchist, who considers himself condemned to death by the last stages of consumption, tells us about the joy of traveling when you don’t know where you’re going, and of trying to understand things and express things  you will never be able to understand or express, “Ask them, only ask them one and all, what they understand by happiness? Oh, you may be sure that Columbus was happy not when he had discovered America, but when he was discovering it; you  may be sure that the highest moment of his happiness was, perhaps exactly three days before the discovery of the New World, when the mutinous crew in their despair almost turned the ship back to Europe, right around! The New World is not the point here, it can just as well perish. Columbus died having seen very little of it and in fact not knowing what he had discovered. The point is in life, in life alone–discovering it, constantly and eternally, and not at all in the discovery itself. But what is the point of talking? I suspect that everything I am saying  now sounds so much like the most common phrases that I will probably be taken for a student in the lowest grade presenting his easy on ‘the sunrise….’ But, nevertheless, I will add that in any ingenious or new human thought, or even simply in any ernest human thought born in someone’s head, there always remains something which it is quite impossible to convey to other people, though you may fill whole volumes with writing and spend thirty-five years trying to explain your thought; there always remains something that absolutely refuses to leave your skull and will stay with you forever; you will die with it, not having conveyed to anyone what is perhaps most important in your idea.”

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

Black Rice, French Lentil tacos

I love the flavor or black rice, so nutty! And I especilaly love it mixed with a bit of smoked basmati, which makes it ridiculously tasty. And of course I love French Lentils! I made both of these separately, then stir fried them with some garlic, added spinach and cannelloni beans, and seasoned with smoked paprika and garam masala. We ate them with warm tortillas, grated mozzarella cheese and an herbaceous pistachio sauce. Really nice! It was also very easy to make, and tonight the leftovers will turn into croquettes.

Here’s Idiot Wind by Bob Dylan

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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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Cool tacos for a hot day

Black bean, pepper and avocado

Black bean, pepper and avocado

SUMMER JOURNAL

I haven’t had much time to write lately. It’s strange how summer days can fill up with delightful clusters of nothing-too-important but something you wouldn’t miss. Of course I’ve been thinking of writing, and I’ve saved up a million small summery ideas, and I’m going to share them with you now, summer-journal style. This morning I saw the baby eagle fly! As you’ll no doubt recall, his nest is at the top of a giant metal tower. He’s a hulking baby, nearly as big as his parents. For weeks now He’ll stand in his nest, testing his wings. This morning he stretched them out, and then he flapped them, and he flew! Only a few feet, he landed again in his nest. It was so beautiful my eyes filled with tears and I was trying not to foolishly cry outright in front of two men who had stopped in their bike ride to discuss features that all raptors wings have in common. I had told them minutes before that this was a bald eagle, they thought it was “some sort of hawk.” One of them was wearing a shirt for the Eagle Diner, and it had a nicely drawn picture of an eagle as its logo.

I’ve been having a hard time staying away from the local ice cream parlor. One day, after an especially hard day of work, Malcolm and I walked down. I waited outside with Clio and Malcolm went in. I told him I didn’t want any ice cream, and I almost believed myself. Luckily he didn’t and he walked out with the exact ice cream cone I would have ordered myself. We walked home in the warmsummerevening air, and when he got to the last half inch of his cone he gave it to me, as he always does, because he knows it’s my favorite part. It’s the part that makes you want more ice cream. And I always eat it, even though he has summer boy hands, which have handled frogs and toads and plenty of dirt, and probably haven’t been washed all day.

I love fireflies. I love their gentleness and their seeming modesty in the face of their own beauty. I love their seeming patience in the face of human hands reaching out to give them a place to land, over and over again. The other night we sat out in the yard and watched them fly all around us and I saw one lying in the grass, glowing. David says this is a thing they do. Some of them sit in the grass and glow, and some of them fly around looking for their glowing friends in the grass. Maybe I’d seen it before, but at that moment I thought I was seeing it for the first time and it struck me as a wonderful thing to be forty-five and see a firefly glowing in the grass for the first time. We imagined a scenario in which fireflies somehow bite you the way mosquitoes do, although of course it would be much gentler and completely painless. We imagined that instead of swelling and itching, the place where they bit you would glow. And then we thought that people would probably devise a way to get fireflies to bite them in patterns all along their skin, to make a glowing tattoo.

I love the fact that Malcolm will jump into any body of water we encounter, fully clothed, and instantly submerge himself. But Isaac, even for a water gun fight, likes to have a swim shirt and swim shoes and swim suit and goggles. I love that they’re different that way. We’ve been creeking a few times now, of course, because that’s what summer is all about. Malcolm’s in the middle of the creek in a moment, but Isaac hangs by the edge looking for frogs and toads. The other day he asked David, “What’s the biggest toad you’ve never caught?” Which I think is a beautiful question.

Red beans, olives and tomatoes

Red beans, olives and tomatoes

We’ve had a couple of blisteringly hot days, the kind when you don’t want to cook at all, and inspired by my new Ordinary friend Tom, I made these cool tacos. Tom makes his into quesadillas, which are vegan because he uses hummus instead of cheese to hold the quesadillas together. I think this is genius! It was too hot even to turn the stove top on, so we made them into soft tacos instead. I warmed the tortillas in the toaster and I made some rice for the boys, but other than that no heat was required to make these tacos. We’ve had them several times now. Once with black beans, peppers (hot and sweet) and avocado, once with red beans, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olives, and lots of herbs. You can make them vegan without cheese, or add feta or cheddar or goat or any cheese you like. I made a lemony herb hummus to go with them,
lemony herb hummus

lemony herb hummus

smoky pumpinseed sauce

smoky pumpinseed sauce


as well as a smoky toasted pumpkinseed sauce. All vegan if you leave the cheese out!

Here’s Jimmy Smith with Summertime.

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Roasted butternut, mushroom and white bean tostada with pecan chipotle sauce

Buuternut, mushroom and white bean tostadas

Buuternut, mushroom and white bean tostadas

weathered bones
just thinking of the wind
it pierces my body
– Basho

All night long the wind seemed to shake the house. It sounded as though it was rushing through the neighborhood, rattling chains and knocking things over. It sounded like somebody drumming on empty barrels, and then racing away up the street. I lay awake for a while, worrying. Not about the wind, but about getting older and about disease and decay. It sounds foolish, it is foolish, and yet I lay awake letting my thoughts move from one thing to another, just like a visit to the doctor at a certain age results in one test that leads to another and another. I had no concrete cause for concern, I don’t know where the worry came from. I finally fell asleep and dreamt about owls and woke up confused. The wind was still wild this morning, blowing through us like icy knives on the way to school. When Clio and I walked home, empty garbage cans rolled around the streets, and made Clio crazy. She stopped and startled and then took off like a shot. Her hackles were raised, she refused to go down certain streets and she barked down others. She was in a panic. It struck me as strange that it’s so easy for us to recognize when somebody else’s fears are ungrounded or misplaced. It’s so easy for me to see that Clio is not going to be attacked by a garbage can, and I know that cars are dangerous for her, though she does not. It must be like that with my own worries as well. I’m barking down alleys at shadows, losing sleep over empty cans.

Roasted squash, mushroom and white bean tostadas

Roasted squash, mushroom and white bean tostadas

You know what makes these special? The patented Ordinary method of grating and roasting vegetables. It works for squash, beets, mushrooms, turnips, and many many others. It produces a nice texture and a completely roast flavor. In this recipe mushrooms and butternut squash are grated and roasted and then mixed with white beans, to create a sort of mince. This mixture is layered on top of a crispy tortilla in a cold/warm/cold/warm stack. First cool spinach leaves, then warm beans, then melted cheese, then cool avocado and tomatoes and spicy smoky pecan chipotle sauce. And that’s that!

Here’s Skip James with Worried Blues.

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Tacos with broccoli, chard, and kidney beans in chipotle-coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

Chard, broccoli and kidney beans in coconut curry sauce

I got an iPhone four years ago. In the time since I’ve developed a nervous habit of checking my e-mail every few minutes. I don’t do it while I’m talking to people, of course, or at a meal or a gathering of any kind, but if I’m waiting on line, walking the dog, trying to write, if I’m actually just trying to check the time, I’ll always check my e-mail, too. It feels sort of hopeful and foolish. Any minute now, somebody is going to tell me they’d like to offer me a big advance to write a novel or make a feature film, and obviously they’re going to do it via e-mail, and it’s going to be totally legitimate, and if I don’t respond immediately I’ll lose the opportunity. Yeah. We got new phones, the other night, and now I get a gentle little chime each time I get a new e-mail. This means I don’t need to check!! This means that I know immediately that I got an important message from staples or toys r us or astrocenter (what the hell is astrocenter? Why are they bothering me?). Well, it feels strange. It’s vaguely disappointing, somehow. I no longer have the feeling that I could be getting good news at any time, because I know I’m not. Now I feel much more foolish than hopeful. And all of this got me thinking about mail, and how nice it used to be to wait for real mail from the mailman, and to write real letters, that required time and thought. And then I started thinking about photos, and how precious they used to be. People used to have special ways to keep photographs, little frames and boxes they would carry their one or two precious pictures in. Now we have phones loaded with snapshots. It used to require time and patience to take a photograph. The process was half skill, half luck in capturing the perfect moment. Now it’s all luck, the camera takes care of all the rest, and we can snap a billion shots a day. We have a much higher chance of capturing a randomly beautiful moment. I’ve been thinking about this quote I scribbled in my notebook a few years ago. It’s from René Claire, a filmmaker and writer who worked at the very beginning of cinema. He wrote essays about this miraculous new art form describing how passionately he felt about the direction it should take. He held it as a great responsibility to make films a certain way that would ensure that cinema lived up to its potential. Here’s the quote…

    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.

It’s easy to feel down and discouraged about the overwhelming barrage of messages and photos and news and information that we receive every single day, whether we like it or not. It’s easy to regret the days when a letter or a photograph was a rare and precious thing. It’s easy to be sad about the bloated, disappointing state of American film. But maybe it’s better to think about this new endless procession of snapshots, which capture an instant, are taken in an instant, and are shared in an instant, as a form of poetic expression available to most, and capable of reaching every beating heart on earth. Equal parts hopeful and foolish.
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We have tons of chard from the farm, which makes me very very happy, because I love chard. I decided to try something different with it, and cook it in a chipotle coconut milk sauce. It turned out really tasty! I added broccoli and kidney beans for substance, and lime and spices for flavor and brightness. We ate this with basmati rice, warm wheat tortillas, and a fresh salad made of avocado, cucumber and tomatoes, but you could eat it just with rice or any other grain you like.

Here’s Photo Jenny by Belle and Sebastian

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Butternut squash steaks with port wine/portobella/sage sauce and Hash browns with pistachios

Butternut steaks

Butternut steaks

Malcolm is home sick from school, and I’m not feeling 100% myself. We’re having such a nice day! We had a lot of big plans, but we’re not doing any of them. Mostly, we’re sitting on the couch, glad to be together, and reminiscing about the time Clio sneezed 6 times in a row.

I thought this was such a nice meal. It started as a mistake, almost, so it’s an example of taking a culinary wrong turn and finding yourself on an even better road! I had the idea of roasting “steaks” of butternut squash. I thought I’d try marinating them. I know they wouldn’t absorb as much marinade as, say, eggplant or mushrooms, but I thought they might absorb some. So I cut them about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Then I made a marinade of rosemary, sage, garlic, port wine, balsamic and olive oil. I let them sit for more than an hour, turning them once. They did take on some of the color and flavor! Then I had the bright idea of trying to dip them in egg and bread them, in the manner that I make eggplant. This didn’t work at all! I think if I’d steamed them first, they would have absorbed more of the marinade, and been better able to hold onto their crust. As it was, the crust turned crispy and delicious, and then came right off the steaks. Did I panic? I did not. I scraped the crust (made from bread crumbs and pistachio kernels) right off of the steaks, and I mixed it in with my mashed potatoes! I’d been planning to make hash browns with some leftover mashed potatoes, because Malcolm likes them. I didn’t know he did, but he told me at the reader’s breakfast at school he ate all of his hash browns, and Isaac’s and some other friends, too!! It’s funny when you learn something new about someone you know so well! They’re a bit like croquettes, I guess with the crumbs and nuts added in. I suppose if you put some cheese in, you’d have a meal! Anyway…the butternut steaks roasted up nicely without the breading – they were soft on the inside, and just browned and a little crispy and caramelized on the outside. And I used the marinade sauce, combined with some roasted mushrooms, to make a sort of gravy for the steaks. Everything was very nice together – a real meat and potatoes meal!

Leftovers tacos

Leftovers tacos

The next day, after work, I combined leftover hash browns, leftover mushroom sauce, and diced leftover roasted squash with black beans to make a filling for tacos. We ate it with warm tortillas, crisp romaine lettuce, basmati rice and some grated extra sharp cheddar. Also very delicious!! It was so good it would be worth making from scratch! It would make a good filling for a savory pie!

Here’s The Joe Morello Quintet ft. Art Pepper with Pepper Steak
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Tacos with chickpeas, black beans and pumpkinseed basil sauce

Chickpea & black bean tacos with pumpkinseed basil sauce

I’ve moaned many times about the death of American Independent cinema. The way I see it, the thrilling golden era of the seventies and eighties (Jarmusch! Lee! Sayles! Hartley!) gave way to an era of derivative, overblown hollywood-wannabes. American independent cinema is dead – killed off by two clever young men who made flashy little hollywood movies, and by the generation of filmmakers following them, whose knowledge of film history went back no farther than these clever young men. Independent filmmaking became an industry – the films were products, the filmmakers wanted to be stars. But the films were like fast food, at once too much and too little – insubstantial and unsatisfying. Rather than carry on with this cantankerous whinge, I’ll tell you that lately I’ve been very excited to discover that American independent cinema is alive and well – it’s just not living in North America.

We’ve watched a number of films lately from Latin America that give me so much hope – engagingly human, unforgettable, and inspiring. Despite being low-budget, and not containing celebrities, each of them achieve some level of perfection of production that I find thrilling. Acting, camera work, music, writing – all carefully combine to make films that glow on the screen, and in your memory. All of the films share a quality that made them especially dear to me. They are ordinary – stories of ordinary people, of their day-to-day-life, of the food they make, their mundane jobs, but they are so beautifully presented that they become extraordinary and compelling. Like a well-made meal, the films are simple, but the ingredients are exactly as they should be, and they’re sustaining and memorable.

I’ll tell you about a few! Duck Season has become one of my favorite films of all time. It’s the first feature by director Fernando Eimbcke, and it tells the story of two boys in a high-rise in Mexico. It’s Sunday, they’re stuck in their apartment, and the power is out. It’s a really ecstatic film, and we watched it twice in two days!

From Brazil, we have The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, by director Cao Hamburger, about a boy who goes to stay with his grandfather and develops an unlikely friendship with his neighbor. A perfect example of how attention to every detail of production can make a simple film resonate.

I’ve already mentioned Adrian Biniez’ Gigante, from Uraguay, because it inspired me to make pizza with faina! A lovely movie with an underwater glow about the lighting and the pacing. And Whisky, a disarmingly dry, touching, and funny movie from Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll. The same directors made 25 Watts, a day in the life of three friends that’s low key, funny, thoughtful, and that you’ll think about long after you’ve seen it.

One more! From Argentina, the tale of a housekeeper and her over-bearing employer – Live in Maid, by Jorge Gaggero. It’s a quiet film, but the small telling details, which examine the routines that shape these two women’s lives, make them alive for us. The film is a very human and immediate way of describing what’s happening in the larger world of politics and economics.

All of these films are like little gems – it’s so wonderful to discover them. They allow you to travel to another part of the world, and give you such an intimate glimpse of the people that live there, and do so with such generosity, humor, and subtlety, that you feel fortunate to spend some with them.

Your song for today is from Lake Tahoe, another remarkable movie by Fernando Eimbcke. The song is La Lloroncita by Los Parientes de Playa Vicente, and it’s gorgeous.

And your meal for today is tacos made with black beans, chickpeas, yellow squash and corn. Everything is combined in a sauce of pumpkinseeds and fresh basil – a sort of pumpkinseed pesto, but lighter. We ate it with warm tortillas, chopped tomatoes, avocado, romaine, and grated sharp cheddar. I have to admit that it’s a little funny-looking (David laughed when I brought it to the table) but look beyond that! Because it tastes very good! Sweet, savory, a little smoky, a little spicy.

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Beet & zucchini tacos with chipotle & queso blanco

Beet and zucchini tacos

Ever since the last time, I’ve been thinking of quotes to use this time. The last time, I chose the quotes at random, and was curious to see how they made connections with each other. This time, I’ve chosen quotes that have been stuck in my head one way or another over the years. And one from the book I’m currently reading. And one from Isaac, which he said while I was typing this up. Do you have quotes that get stuck in your head, and surface at the strangest times?

Mom, make your hand a fist and pretend it’s the world.”- Isaac.

He ain’t God, man.” – Chili Davis, on Dwight Gooden

Hwaet thu ece God !” – King Alfred

Now, on a Sunday morning, most of the windows
were occupied, men in their shirtsleeves leant out smoking, or carefully
and gently held small children on the sills.
” – Franz Kafka, The Trial

One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her
?” – Shakespeare, Hamlet

It took me like three hours to finish the shading on your upper lip. It’s probably the best drawing I’ve ever done.” – Napoleon Dynamite

The more stupid one is, the closer one is to reality. The more stupid one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Educated no, stupid yes,
And when I say stupid I mean stupid fresh
” – The Beastie Boys

And here are some tacos to use up some of the beets and zucchini you got from your CSA/garden!” – Claire
I was excited all day about making (and eating!) this. I bought some queso blanco at the grocery store. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for ages, but it’s a bit of a splurge. It wasn’t universally popular in my family. I like it – it’s mild, and salty. If you have feta, that would work well, too (it goes nicely with the earthy sweetness of the beets.) And, actually, grated jack or sharp cheddar would be tasty in this as well! I thought this turned out really pretty – the beets go so nicely with the dark kidney beans, and they color everything around them, but there are flashes of green here and there to set them off. The flavors were nice – smoky, spicy, sweet. The recipe calls for cooked rice. I definitely recommend basmati or something else with distinct grains – anything else would make the mixture too sticky. Wild rice or black rice might be even better! I just made a big pot of basmati, mixed some in, and left some separate for the boys, who like a higher rice to bean ratio. I think tacos are the most fun to eat! And the quickest and easiest to cook! I have some leftover beet/zuke/bean mixture, and I think it would make a nice bisque, if puréed with some good broth. Will I try it? I don’t know! It’s very hot, still!

Here’s Trenchtown Rock, from Bob Marley. There was a train bridge in New Brunswick, back in the day. A beautiful old train bridge. And somebody had painted in large white letters, “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” I mother flippin love that bridge, that quote, that song…

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