Red beans in red wine & tamari sauce, with roasted mushrooms and potatoes

Nobody stands on the beach getting teary-eyed over the sea birds. That would just be silly. Certainly I would never do that! This week when we were at the beach, I saw something I’ve not seen in many decades of beach-going. The seabirds followed a school of fish so close to the shore that the lifeguards pulled everyone out of the water. The birds frantically ate, circling and calling – two kinds of terns, two kinds of seagulls, farther out large brown pelicans. Small silver fish leapt through the waves, where we had just been swimming. The dolphins had been following the fish, too, but they didn’t swim in as close to shore. It was a dizzying spectacle – the sun white bright on the sand, the horizon heaving and changing with each wave, the birds wheeling in fast flowing arcs, blurring your vision. I found it incredibly moving. The ocean moves me, anyway…literally, with each wave that sweeps me off my feet, high above the sand, and then sets me down again, where and when it chooses; and emotionally, with its vasty vastness and beauty and mystery. Somehow seeing the sea birds made me more aware of just how unaware we are of the life in the ocean. Their frenzied activity hinted at the world in the waves, but we’ll never know what’s in each smoky green swell of water, and what’s living where there are no waves, where the ocean is deep and dark. The birds know…they seemed to sense, as a group, when it was time to move on. (And it just killed me, that in the midst of all of this activity, a handful of gulls stayed apart, floating cooly on the water, not bothered at all.) By contrast, the humans on the beach suddenly seemed endearingly foolish – with our garish colors, our strange skin, our beach chairs and umbrellas and toys and snacks, our lumbering movements into and out of the waves. (I say this as somebody who gets knocked over by 2 feet of water!) We think we know, we think we’re in control, but we have no idea. I love that moment of recognition – I HAVE NO IDEA! – but it’s frightening as well.

And, of course, you love the birds and the dolphins, but you feel a little bad for the small silver fish, leaping through the waves. It’s the unavoidable cycle of life for the birds and the dolphins, but not for me, so when we got home, I cooked up some beans. But these are very very special beans!! They’re in a sauce made with red wine, sage, rosemary, and tamari. It’s a very savory, meaty, delicious sauce (umame-y?) I made it quite brothy. I served it over millet (we love millet!) which I’d made with the same broth that’s in the sauce, and I roasted some mushrooms and potatoes to mix in. I’d thought about cooking the mushrooms and potatoes with the sauce, as a sort of stew, but I really like them best when they’re crispy and flavorful, so this is how we did it. We topped the whole thing with fresh smoked mozzarella and fresh basil from the garden. A simple salad of baby arugula and walnuts was the perfect crunchy bright accompaniment, and a good loaf of crusty bread was on hand to sop up the juices. The broth was the star of the show, and I will make it again! But Isaac loved the beans, and ate them very sweetly one at a time, between spoonfuls of millet.

Red beans in red wine, tamari, sage sauce

Here’s J Dilla’s hypnotic Waves

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Cabbage and potato galette with a walnut crust

Cabbage and potato galette

We’re making great leaps in swimming this summer, here at The Ordinary. Isaac learned to swim. It’s a breath-stoppingly cute move. His be-goggled face takes on a look of fiendish glee as he plunges into the water. He squiggles and flounders his little arms and legs until you don’t know if he’s rising or falling, and then he pops up, triumphant and joyful. And Malcolm, who can now do a front flip off the diving-board, invented a new stroke suitable to his sleek water animal status. No splashing, no flailing, just a smooth squiggle move that propels him through the water. We were at a pool in the poconos this week, and I was catching my bubbly little Isaac as he popped out of the water, when I chanced to hear the words “cabbage,” and “beets.” Well! A food conversation. I decided to eavesdrop. Four older men and women were bobbing tranquilly in the water, oblivious to the childish chaos all around them, sharing recipes for stuffed cabbage. They all had very definite ideas about how it should be made. One suggested the importance of making your own lard. He buys a slab. A slab of pig? Exactly. A woman in a purple bathing cap, balancing with odd solidity on a giant purple styrofoam noodle, declared that she doesn’t use lard, because she “doesn’t eat the fat.” Klondike bars, however, she’ll eat five a night! Despite the triglycerides! They decided to get together for dinner. To cook. I’d love to see that! I really would.

I have some cabbage from the CSA. I decided against stuffing it with klondike bars and lard, and opted instead to make a galette. I wanted it to be sweet and cripsyish, but also soft and comforting. I like cabbage when it’s very lightly cooked, so that’s how I approached this galette. I made a walnut crust (surprise!) and threw a few handfuls of toasted walnuts into the filling as well, for crunch. I was determined to add potatoes to the filling, and so I did, after frying them in olive oil. They were lovely! I flavored it with tamari (in a nod to moo shoo vegetable, which is one of the few cabbage dishes I like), white wine, and basil, tarragon, and thyme. I think it turned out really tasty! David liked it, too, and he’s not a fan of cabbage in any form. Score!! It’s not the prettiest thing you’ll ever make, so serve it with something colorful and crunchy, like a crispy salad with lots of fresh tomatoes and basil.

Here’s Goin up the Country, by Barbecue Bob.
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Summery almond sauce with lime, mint, basil, and tamari

Summery almond sauce

I’ve decided to write an opera. Follow along, gentle reader, as we set the scene for our drama. It’s the tale of two brothers. It all begins on a balmy summer evening. The older brother discovers a magical island in the middle of the river. It’s an enchanted island that only the dogs know about. But the boy is partly wild water dog himself, and they let him swim. The boy sings a happy song, in which he promises to bring his little brother the very next day, as soon as he’s done with summer rec camp. But the next day dawns, and the little brother is tired and contrary. (Perhaps because he kept his mother up half the night claiming to be scared of Tintin. As if Tintin had ever scared anybody!) Little brother won’t go to the river! And this is the dramatic heart of the opera – it gets louder and louder! The orchestra rages! The brothers threaten to hurt themselves and each other. They slam doors! THey run up and down stairs! They cry and they wail! They threaten not to invite each other to their birthday parties EVER AGAIN!! In one touching aside, the mother (a comic character – a buffoon, if you will…) foolishly promises the younger son all sorts of things she can’t really give him if he’ll just walk down to the goddamn river and sit on the bank for half an hour. But he’s deaf to her promises. HE WILL NOT GO! And then, inexplicably, for no apparent reason, he decides to go after all. The dogs of the island welcome him as one of their own. The brothers swim, they have fun, they sing a reprise of the older brother’s happy song, but as a duet this time. The mother stands with her feet in the cool water, feeling like an idiot because she always forgets sunscreen, and they all go home when the little brother has to pee. EXEUNT OMNES!!

The opera will last about five hours, and in the interval we’ll serve this sauce in chilled champagne glasses. I liked this sauce quite a bit! It’s one in a long line of creamy nut-based sauces I’ve made, I’m a nut-sauce fan!! I like this one because it seems like a concentration of a lot of flavors I’ve been using lately. I’ve been putting lime in everything. I’ve been putting basil in everything. The boys have been eating tamari like it’s going out of style. And every once in a while David and I will treat ourselves to dark-and-stormy-mojitos. That’s ginger beer, rum, lime, ice and fresh mint leaves. Oh yum. So this has a lot of those flavors in it. And they’re all really nice together. I’ve eaten it with roasted vegetables (it’s nice with earthy beets and potatoes!) I’ve eaten it on green salads. And I made a nice, fresh and juicy salad of cucumbers, carrots and basil, that I coated with this. Very refreshing!

Cucumber carrot salad

Here’s Marvin Gaye with What’s Happening, Brother?

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Steamed dumplings with beets, black beans and lime

Beet dumplings (these have been toasted, on day 2, so they’re a little browned on top!)

As Oscar Wilde famously said, “When a person remakes beet dumplings after having ruined the first batch by dropping the entire thing on the ground, this illustrates the triumph of hope over experience.” Well, he may not have used those exact words, but the sentiment was there. Can’t you just see him in a beet-red velvet suit? Maybe not on a day as hot as this one!! Anyway, here at The Ordinary, we believe in second chances. If, at first, you ruin your entire dinner and waste a bunch of ingredients, try try again, but this time let somebody else carry the food out to the table. That’s our motto. So David cleverly fixed the broken bamboo steamer, and we decided to spend one of the warmest days of the year standing over a steaming wok. Actually – you don’t need to spend much time over the stove at all, making this. You just leave the steamer on the wok for twenty minutes, and that’s that! Ever since The Dinner of Disaster, I’ve been wanting to try the combination of beets, black beans, tamari, lime and basil. It sounded like such a nice earthy/sweet/tart/salty combination. And it seemed like it might turn out quite pretty, judging from the mess of innards we cleaned off the ground.

Tamari – lime – basil dipping sauce

It turned out very delicious! The dumplings are plump and juicy, pleasingly soft, but with a bit of crunch from the pine nuts. The star of the show, for the boys, was the tamari dipping sauce, which we made with balsamic, brown sugar, lime, basil and hot red pepper flakes. They’ve been eating it on everything – rice, long noodles, green peas. The dumplings were very pretty, too! Dark, rosy, and with a hint of green. If you don’t have a steamer, you can make these in a regular vegetable steamer, of even bake them in the oven. They come out a little crisper that way.

Inside a beet dumpling

Here’s Byron Lee and the Dragonaires with Scorcher.
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Noodles with broccoli, scallions and black beans

Broccoli, black beans, and scallions

My little Isaac has mastered the art of bicycle riding. It’s not just that he can ride a two-wheeler, but that he rides his bike exactly as a bike should be ridden. It’s all about the journey, with him. Isaac is not a practical man. He’s dreamy and glowy and delightfully meandering, and that’s how he rides his bike. He’s like a little gnat, flying along in dizzy spirals, darting unexpectedly at passersby, weaving happily from side to side. Sometimes he’ll take off at top speed for about half a block, and then he’ll stop to take off his itchy helmet for a moment, and ask me what my favorite dinosaur is, and if it has little yellow eyes. Then he’ll laugh and say, “You couldn’t know that! Nobody could know that.” Then he’ll get himself going again, and sway happily down the street. He has no sense of urgency about getting to school on time. I feel like such a traitor to the world of childhood when I hurry him along, and lecture him about lateness. I feel like the kind of person who would use the word “tardy,” I feel like I’m working for the man.

Isaac is not a very practical eater, either. He seems to live on fruit and sunshine. He’s a vegetarian who doesn’t like many vegetables. He’s not hungry at mealtimes, but he’ll be ravenous fifteen minutes later. He only likes certain shapes of pasta, and swears that every pasta has its own flavor. He does eat a lot of pasta, so maybe he’s preternaturally discerning. As David said, “fifty words for snow…” When Isaac does eat something of a substantial meal-like nature, with vegetables and protein, it’s like seeing a rare and wonderful bird. I’ll point it out to David with quiet gestures, and he’ll gesture back not to disturb the exotic creature at the watering hole, or he’ll bolt, and leave his meal uneaten. Last night I decided to cook up some scallions and broccoli I’d gotten from the CSA. I was extremely tired after a ridiculously busy shift at work. This was quick, and had a nice mix of salty, hot, and sweet. Isaac approached it slowly. First he picked out the broccoli. Then the beans, one at a time, then he began to eat everything together, by the forkful. Huzzah!!

I’ve been waiting to cook with scallions so I could post Booker T’s Green Onions.

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Homemade noodles with black beans and tamari

Black bean noodles

There’s a special kind of joy in discovering a movie by accident. A movie you haven’t watched trailers for, or read reviews of, or looked forward to seeing. The other night we watched a Korean film called Castaway on the Moon. Knew nothing about it. What a nice surprise! A delightful mix of very human, and slightly but magically surreal. I’ll try not to give too much of the plot away, but here’s the basic story. A man jumps off of a bridge over a river in the heart of a bustling city (Seoul). He washes up on an island in the middle of the river. He might as well be in the middle of nowhere. He becomes an unlikely Robinson Crusoe. And he becomes obsessed with black bean noodles. To him they represent hope. Of course, after watching the movie, I, too became obsessed with black bean noodles. It turns out real Korean black bean noodles don’t have black beans as I know them, but a paste made of black soy beans. Too late! The idea of black beans and noodles was firmly implanted in my head. It seems they sometimes add meat or seafood to the black bean noodles, so I thought of my black beans in that capacity. Apparently the soy bean paste is mixed with caramel. So I made a sort of caramelized soy sauce with tamari and raw sugar. Malcolm, who is a big fan of noodles with tamari, helped me pick the spicy spices. We decided on garlic, ginger, basil, red pepper flakes and scallions. Delicious! Black beans and tamari are wonderful together. Why didn’t I think of it sooner?

We didn’t go to all the trouble that the man in the movie did, to make the noodles, but we did make them ourselves. It turned out to be very easy and very very fun. Not as easy as opening a cardboard box of dried noodles, but much more delicious. We’ll be making more noodles, soon. And different shapes, too. Watch out!

Castaway on the Moon.

Here’s Culture’s beautiful I’m Alone in the Wilderness.

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Magic broccoli

Magic broccoli sauce

NEW JERSEY MOM REVEALS ONE SIMPLE TRICK TO COOKING BROCCOLI YOUR KIDS WILL BEG YOU TO MAKE!

Heh heh. That headline will probably only be funny if you get the same ads popping up all over the place that I do. And they’re spookily specifically targeted, so odds are it doesn’t make sense at all! But let me tell you about this broccoli. The other night, I got home from work latish, I was tired, I wasn’t up to making anything elaborate. But I did feel a little guilty about the dearth of vegetables in my vegetarian sons’ diets, so I decided to make some broccoli. I threw some in a pot with a little water, cooked it till it was bright and just starting to soften, drained it, but not very carefully, and added four ingredients. That was it!

The boys loved it! The fought over the last piece! They poured the broth on their plates and mopped it up with bread! They asked me to make it again the next night. Which I did. And I’d like to have saved some to take a picture of, but there wasn’t a morsel left. If you served this over rice or noodles, you’d have a meal! You could always add tofu or chickpeas if you wanted a bit of protein. And you could add nut butter, or hot pepper, or garlic… I had to stop myself, because I think the beauty of this recipe is its simplicity.

It’s magic!

Here’s Junior Murvin with Magic Touch.
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