Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

American Mythologies, #4: Catcher in the Rye is a sophomoric over-rated novel about teen angst.

    The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. A controversial novel originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angst and alienation.The novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion.

Thus speaketh Wikipedia, and although ordinarily I would eschew Wikipedia as a less-than-scholarly source, when dealing with American mythologies, it is the authority, the ultimate collection of all of the opinions that have gathered over the years to become myth. Whether or not you like Catcher in the Rye, I think we can all agree that it has achieved mythic status in the pantheon of American literature. And Salinger’s legendary reclusiveness has only added to the mysterious air of cool that clings to the novel. I would argue that, over the years, our ideas of what the novel is about have taken on a life of their own, so that now they seem more real in some ways than the original story, and they bear little relation to it. Now we think of Holden as a rebel, a maverick, and if they ever made the book into a movie (which, mercifully, they never will) it would star James Dean or a young Marlon Brando. Wikipedia tells us, “Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States,” because Holden was a bad role model, further adding, “Often the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself.” No less than three shootings have been somehow associated with the book. Of course none of this has anything to do with anything that actually happens in the book. The very phrase, “teen angst” is disparaging; it suggests that the nature of the angst is trivial and misguided, a self-centered foolishness to be outgrown, born of boredom and a bratty hatred for everything and everybody. Teen angst is all about ME, and why I’m so unfortunate. And I think Holden is thinking about everyone around him: his elderly teacher, the ducks in Central Park, his kid sister, his old friend, his dead brother, children in some mis-heard song, some miserable kid prostitute in a green dress. I think that’s why it’s beautiful. I don’t think Holden hates anyone, I think his problem, the source of his pain, is that he loves everyone he meets. Even with the people he doesn’t like he finds something to love. The kid who is a terrific bore is an excellent whistler, “So I don’t know about bores. Maybe you shouldn’t feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them. They’re don’t hurt anybody, most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.” He loves everybody: the mother he meets on the train, the nuns he meets in the station, the grippey teacher who yells “good luck” at him, the girl whose roller skate he tightens. He’s not the scowling kid who scrawls “Fuck You” every where he goes, he’s the kid who gets depressed when he sees that somebody else has done that. He doesn’t hate school because he’s too cool for it, it’s just the opposite, he hates the fact that people are forced to be more cool, more contained, to dim their enthusiasm. “What I mean is, lots of time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most. I mean you can’t help it sometimes. What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.” He doesn’t mistrust adults or authority figures, unless they’re hypocritical or tyrannical. I think he recognizes that they’re as confused as he is, that you never really outgrow the bewilderment caused by human connection, by sex, by loss, by loneliness. I think Holden is a teenager in the way Calvin is a six-year-old, his age allows him to say things we’re all feeling, as does the fact that he keeps calling himself a moron and a madman. There’s a passage in the book in which he’s talking about Laurence Olivier’s performance of Hamlet and he says, “He was too much like a goddamn general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy.” And I think Holden is that sad, screwed up type guy, too, not a fighter, not a rebel. And he’s got good reason to be sad. In Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the title characters go through the long list of woes that have afflicted Hamlet, and then they say, “And why are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?” It’s like that with Catcher in the Rye, too. His brother died at the age of eleven, when Holden was only thirteen. Three short years prior to the time that the story is set. He’s been in one boarding school after another since that time, alone, lonely, homesick, mourning. It’s Christmas time and he’s afraid to go home because he’s failed out of another school. Why would he behave in this extraordinary way? Why would he have a breakdown and become sick and sit in the park thinking he was going to die? Why would he talk aloud to his dead brother, wracked with regret over the one time he didn’t let him ride to his friend’s house years ago? How could he not! He’s searching for some sort of meaningful connection, and he’s disappointed by people who pretend to be something they’re not, or hide who they really are. But he loves them anyway. I know I quote this passage too much, but he reminds me of Alyosha in Brothers Karamazov, “Do you know, Lise, my elder told me once to care for most people exactly as one would for children, and for some of them as one would for the sick in hospitals.‚ÄĚ Holden feels sorry for people a lot, and I think that’s a form of love. At the end of Franny and Zooey, when Zooey, as an adolescent, says everybody is a moron, his brother Seymore tells him to shine his shoes or be funny for the fat lady, and then Franny and Zooey get this idea of a cancer patient somewhere, listening to them talk, and then Zooey says the fat lady is christ, which means that everybody is christ, but they’re Jewish, so it’s not in any Christian sense of the word. It’s about loving everybody that you meet. And I think Holden does that. In Brothers Karamazov Ivan talks at great length about the suffering of children, and he asks Alyosha if he would kill one child to bring peace to the entire world. Alysosha wouldn’t, he would save the child, and Holden, standing on the edge of a cliff, would save all the children if he could, as they come running through the rye.

I’ve gone on and on, and I could go on even more! I could write a book about this book. But I won’t. I’ll tell you about this pizza instead. I think it had nice flavors, sort of nutty from the salsify and asparagus, and bright from the tarragon. We grew salsify in our garden this summer, and we’re just harvesting it now. It’s a funny sort of root, with a mild sweet nutty flavor. It’s quite hard to find in stores. You could replace it with parsnips if you can’t find salsify. It’s similar, and much easier to clean. Or you could leave it out altogether. This would still be tasty.

Here’s Just One of Those Things by Art Tatum, because it’s a song Holden likes.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Pizza with pumpkinseed-tarragon pesto, chickpeas and arugula

Pizza with tarragon pumpkinseed pesto

Pizza with tarragon pumpkinseed pesto

It’s the summer solstice and the first day of summer vacation. After a spring that saw hot humid days alternate with days of freezing rain, the weather is finally perfect. And I found myself in the worst mood. Cranky, anxious, discouraged. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could, but then I’d have to think about why, and that won’t do no one no good. I always feel horrible when I’m dejected and sweary around the boys, it feels almost abusive. And some part of me begrudged the time I have alone when they’re in school, when I can be as indulgently miserable as I want. But not today, today it was not okay, I could feel that in the way the boys kept giving me little sidelong glances and gentle pats on the back. And now I’m going to share the saga of my changing mood. This morning I went for a scamper with Clio, and when came to the end of our journey we found a dead tree bathed in golden light, stretching upward with branches like the rungs of a ladder. Each branch held small swallows, making grumpy buzzing noises. When bigger swallows flew above them, they flew up and kissed in mid-air and then then swooped away, as in some mad beautiful dance. And then I was in a foolish rush to get things done, but I was arrested by the sight of a sleek grey dog lying in the sunshine outside the door, golden and blinking, and Malcolm stopped in his backyard racing to cry, “Mom, look!” Black currants! Our bright bramble of currants is laden with fruit. I had so much to do, so much to get done, and I just stopped and picked black currants with the boys, deep in their odd acrid fragrance, trying to convince myself that this was the most important thing to be doing right now. Then Malcolm had a crazy idea of how to cook the currants, and we worked on that, but I was still in a state and cursed like a madwoman in front of the boys when the semolina flour fell out of the cupboard into our batter. (Why right in there? Why?) And then we went up to David’s shop to build boats to take to the creek. David’s shop is like an inspiring museum of craft and creativity housed in a small post-apocalyptic compound, surrounded by miles of beautiful countryside. The man that rents him space also rents out construction equipment, and you’ll find oddly beautiful piles of giant rusted metal rings that you could walk into, and drill bits the size of cars. In the back of David’s shop, a door opens onto a long corridor where barn swallows nest. If you stand in the doorway, they’ll fly around your head in dizzying loops, with humbling speed and agility, and it’s so beautiful that you want to make a film of it, but you can’t, you can’t capture it, just like Isaac will never catch a swallow in his hands, even if he calls to them in his high bright voice that is strangely like their call. And when I went back into the shop, Isaac leapt onto my back like a little monkey, and he said, in his way of talking that makes everything sound like a poem

Do you remember
When we went to the park
And you held my hands
And spun me around
And it felt like flying?

And they made clever boats and now we’re going to the creek, and I will sit on a rock and watch them, and do absolutely nothing, and try to recognize the momentousness of the situation.

Pizza with tarragon-pumpkinseed pesto and chickpeas

Pizza with tarragon-pumpkinseed pesto and chickpeas

I like to make pizza in the summertime. Well, I always like to make pizza, but in the summertime it’s fun to play around with different pesto sauces with which to top it, and to think of ways to add vegetables. So this time I made a pesto of pumpkinseeds, capers, arugula and tarragon. All very strong flavors. The pesto was delicious and unusual, with a slight edge of bitterness from the arugula, but in a pleasant way. Because the pesto was so strong and bright, I added chickpeas, because they’re simple and comforting. Not bland at all, but not overwhelming. The crust is thin and crispy, as ever.

Here’s The Ink Spots with When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.

Continue reading

Thinly sliced potatoes baked with kale, artichoke hearts and pesto ricotta

Potatoes layered with kale, artichoke hearts and pesto ricotta.

Potatoes layered with kale, artichoke hearts and pesto ricotta.

It’s that time again, everyone! It’s Saturday storytelling time. As you will no doubt recall, each Saturday we post a found photograph, a vernacular picture, and we write a story about it, and invite everyone else to write one, too. And then, in theory, we all read each others’ stories and offer wise editorial advice. Today’s picture is quite cryptic. There’s no human in this one, no subject, so you can imagine the characters however you’d like. And here it is… Send me your story and I’ll print it here, or send me a link to share, if you have somewhere of your own to post it.
482433_10151466397389589_2027213003_n

So, kale and artichoke hearts and tarragon pesto layered with sharp cheddar and thinly slice potatoes. A meal in a dish. I suppose it’s a little like lasagna with potatoes instead of pasta. It was very comforting and warm, but tarragon, artichoke hearts and sharp cheddar added some brightness. If you don’t have tarragon pesto, you can use regular old basil pesto, or you can just add some herbs as you like them to the ricotta.

Here’s Hey Hey by Big BIll Broonzy, my new favorite.

Continue reading