Broccoli rabe with butterbeans, tomatoes, and mozzarella

Broccoli rabe and butter beans

Broccoli rabe and butter beans

I apologize in advance for this. Earlier in the week I was unkind to poor Jack Kerouac, and now I feel another ungenerous rant come along. I do genuinely want The Ordinary to be full of things I love, not complaints about things I don’t like, but I’ve been talking in my head about this for a few days, so it has to come out. How has this happened? Jonathan Franzen has got me so upset. Last week he wrote a long whingey article in the Guardian (admittedly the place for long whingey articles.) What’s Wrong with the Modern World, though ostensibly about the essays of German satirist Karl Kraus, is really about Franzen himself. In a strange turn of events, the day the story came out, before I’d even seen it, I’d spent the morning talking to Franzen in my head about all of the ways I think he’s bad for American literature. I told him all the things I don’t like about his novels, how I find them insincere and soulless, smugly & coldly well-researched and clever. How he likes to know things about people–he fancies himself an expert–but how I’d turn the tables on him and say that I know him, I know men like him, prowling college student centers all over the country in their blazers, with their sad mix of arrogance and insecurity, trying to pick up women by twisting their words and bewildering them, and then saying, “I know you, baby.” And then along comes this article, and Franzen knows Karl Kraus, he relates to him, and he’ll explain him to us, because we’re probably not smart enough to unravel Kraus’ deliberately difficult prose. He tells us that Kraus said, “Psychoanalysis is that disease of the mind for which it believes itself to be the cure,” and then he goes on to psychoanalyze Kraus, to try to understand why he’s so angry. Franzen was angry himself, once, he tells us, and his anger made him cruel to old, poverty-stricken German women, but in a clever and poetic way that was significant for Franzen himself. And we suspect that this entire article is Franzen’s way of publicly stating, decades on, that when he didn’t have sex with “an unbelievably pretty girl in Munich,” it wasn’t a failure on his part but a decision. This is not anger! This is petulance, this is brattishness. And he tells us his anger subsided when he started to become successful as a writer, just as a spoiled child’s does when he finally gets his way. And now his anger is directed to the noise of the modern world, at people who tweet and leave inane comments on facebook and amazon. At the people who self-publish their novels and then brag about them on Amazon in the hopes that anyone will read them. But Franzen’s lengthy whinge in the Guardian ends thus, “The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen is published by Harper Collins on 1 October. To pre-order it…” He’s privileged, he doesn’t have to stoop to leaving flattering reviews of his own novel on lowly websites, and he can be disdainful of anybody that does, because he has the Guardian UK for his bragging platform. And, in truth, twitter, facebook, Amazon, I don’t love them, I agree that they’re noisy and distracting, but they’re easy to tune out. They’re easy to ignore. Franzen’s novels are more dangerous because they aren’t easy to ignore. I’ve wasted valuable hours of my life reading 1 1/2 of his novels, and I’ll never get that time back, I’ll never unread them. I read them because I had been told that they were good, that they were fine, they were literature, despite the fact that Oprah was suggesting them to housewives, to Franzen’s dismay. Franzen talks about how things are changing so fast that we have no sense of the past or the future any more. “If I’d been born in 1159, when the world was steadier, I might well have felt, at 53, that the next generation would share my values and appreciate the same things I appreciated; no apocalypse pending. … And so today, 53 years later, Kraus’s signal complaint – that the nexus of technology and media has made people relentlessly focused on the present and forgetful of the past – can’t help ringing true to me.” In 1159, few people made it to 53, and few people would have had any knowledge of the past, of the history of the world, or even their part of it. For them time passing was measured from meal to meal, from dark to dark, in the cycle of the seasons. They must have had dreams of the future, but those dreams would have been darkened by the inevitability of hunger and disease and war, by their own personal apocalypse. Franzen’s anger, in this pitch to sell his new book, lacks any real depth or substance or sense, just as his novels do for me. They lack soul, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of something warm and truthful, human and enduring. Franzen’s novels are painstakingly about his present, but they don’t possess a sense of memory, there’s no life inside, no quick, to persist when the dry words have crumbled to dust.

broccoli rabe and butterbeans

broccoli rabe and butterbeans

Bitter? Me? No, no, it’s broccoli rabe that’s bitter. But tender and delicious. Tender is the key word here, I wanted everything to be tender–the greens, the big juicy butterbeans, the little melting chunks of mozzarella, the cherry tomatoes fresh from the farm. The pine nuts add a little contrasting crunch, and that’s that!

Here’s Billie Holiday with Tenderly
Continue reading

Advertisements

Kale with capers, walnuts and fresh basil

Kale, walnuts and capers

Kale, walnuts and capers

Here at The Ordinary, we’ve decided to revive a worship of ancient Greek deities. We’ve been building oracular shrines and temples in our back yard…making little piles of stones for hermes, eating pomegranates for Hera, and worshipping owls for Athena. We’re sending the boys to vacation Zeus camp. I’m kidding, of course, but I have been reading the boys’ copy of D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, and I’m completely smitten. The stories are so rich and strange, and yet so familiar. They’ve got a flood, with one couple building a boat that carries them safely through it. They’ve got people being made from other people’s body parts. They’ve got an all-powerful god who is strangely incapable of avoiding death and misery for everyone around him. The scope and balance of Zeus’s power and his limitations is so fascinating to me. He wants to change certain situations, but he can’t, because it’s against the rules. But which rules? Who made them? Who is more powerful than Zeus, to dictate what he can and cannot do? He can’t stop himself from killing his mortal wife by revealing himself to her in all his deadly, brighter-than-the-sun-glory (he promised!). But he can take her unborn son from her burnt body and complete its gestation in his leg, and he can eventually bring her back to life and give her a home on Mount Olympus. He’s powerless against the jealous anger of his godly wife Hera. In one story, he falls in love with a mortal named Io, and when Hera comes down to investigate, he turns the woman into a cow. She’s a very pretty cow, though, just as she was a very pretty mortal, and Hera is jealous. So she asks for the cow as a gift, knowing that Zeus won’t be able to turn her back into a real girl. She has her servant Argus watch over the cow. Argus has hundreds of eyes all over his body. So part of him can sleep while part of his watches the pretty cow. Zeus sends Hermes down to take care of Argus, and Hermes bores him to death! He tells such dull stories that half of Argus’ eyes close, and then he continues to tell such dull stories that the other half of Argus’ eyes close, and he dies! And Hera puts all his eyes on peacock tails! How can you not worship gods with stories like this?

This is a completely simple preparation of kale, but it’s quite pleasant as well. This time of year I love mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil (I know, I know, everybody does.) This sees that combination piled atop kale that’s tender but bright and tossed with capers and walnuts. A little crunchy, a little tangy, and satisfyingly fresh and green.

Here’s Hermes Tri by Jorge Ben, I think there’s a connection to Hermes the god, but I’m a little confused by the story, since I don’t speak Portuguese.

Continue reading

Savory cake with tomatoes, mozzarella and olives

Savory cake with olives, tomatoes and mozzarella

Savory cake with olives, tomatoes and mozzarella

Have you ever discovered a wonderful new way to start a story? Cause I have, and I’ll tell you about it. Did you see? Did you see what I did there? I asked a question and then I told you that I’m going to answer it for you! Where did I discover this ingenious new rhetorical method? Why, in the piles and piles of paper Malcolm brought home on the last day of school, of course. I love going through all the boys’ papers. It’s so funny to see their odd ideas and their mad doodles. Sometimes I think all of the little notes and drawings, which are probably dire signs that they aren’t focussing, are my favorite part of their work. And I love to learn what they’ve been thinking about–that Isaac’s major interests this year were bats and his big brother, and that his heart murmur makes his heart have an echo, and that makes him feel special. Malcolm’s writing journal is a treat. It’s a chaotic pile of ripped pages and tiny pictures of his favorite recurring character, a fez-wearing fellow named madman. But it gets neater as it goes along. The writing is more even, the stories are longer and more carefully formed, but the spelling is as erratic as ever, which is definitely a sign of genius, right? Towards the end of the journal, all of the stories start with the “Have you ever…? I have, and I’ll tell you about it” pattern, which I actually love. I’m never going to sit around worrying about how to start a story again! This technique, so confiding and conversational, pulls you right into the story. My favorite of his essays begins like this. (Spelling and grammar have been cleaned up to ease comprehension.) “Have you ever had a favorite window? Cause I have and I’ll tell you about it. It is a green window that has a radiator next to it so when I look out I am warm. Speaking of looking out, I always see a white parking lot or [unintelligible] normal [trails off here]. I feel happy Jumpy when I look out that window…” And that’s pretty much it. It’s an unfinished work. I love it though, and I’m going to tell you why. First of all, I love windows in literature, and in photographs and films, and I’m proud to think of Malcolm joining this fine tradition. Furthermore, I know which window he’s talking about, and I like it too. I like to think of Malcolm, warm in his room, looking through the cool green window with his big green eyes, watching the world go by. I like that he feels happy-jumpy, whatever that means. Malcolm is a boy who will go anywhere with you. He never needs persuading, he’s ready and out the door in a flash, and I like to think about him sitting there thinking of all the places he’ll go. And funnily enough, I’d made a little film of this very window as part of my series of small videos that I’ve told you about in the past. They’re like Ozu’s pillow shots without the film all around them. “I started making short, static videos. I gave myself some rules…they had to last about a minute. I couldn’t change the frame. The sound would be whatever naturally occurred for that minute. I focused on leaves, or water, or shadows, even dirty dishes in the sink. The sound generally involved my children yelling for me and trying to get my attention, which was an idea that I liked a lot. It captured my life at the time (and to this day.) There was nothing brilliant about the videos, but I liked the way that shooting them made me think about how long a minute lasts, how hard it is to be quiet and still, how my life sounded, how pretty small things could be.” One night about a month ago, when we were putting the boys to bed, I was very taken with Malcolm’s green window. It was a cooly glowing spring dusk, and the light in the room was warm and creamy, and the light outside the window so cool and evening-blue green.

Because my birthday is in June, it has become a tradition to make a dinner of bread, tomatoes, mozzarella and olives. Just to sit and snack and have a slightly nicer bottle of wine than usual. This year, because it’s a sweltering and humid 95 degrees every day, I thought it would be a good idea to bake something. But I wanted to retain the basic idea of tomatoes, olives and cheese. I’m savory-cake mad at the moment, so I made a yeasted, herbed chickpea flour batter, and then I piled fresh tomatoes, herbs, mozzarella and castelvetrano olives in the middle, and then I baked it all. Delicious! We had it with tiny boiled potatoes from our CSA and some bright sauteed pattypan squash and asparagus. The boys liked it, too, because it resembles pizza. I actually left the batter in the fridge over night, but you could just do an ordinary afternoon-rise, if you like.

Here’s Brianstorm, by the Arctic Monkeys, which is Malcolm’s favorite song.

Continue reading

Spicy smoky zucchini & tomato tart

Smoky zucchini and tomato tart

Here at The Ordinary, we have acquired our first real food processor. It didn’t come with instructions, but we are performing exhaustive experiments in our extensive underground kitchen-laboratories to determine its function and capabilities. We have puréed paper, grated legos, and julienned our entire DVD collection. We would like to inform you that from this point onward, every thing we cook will be diced and sliced to within an inch of its life. You have been warned!! I’m joking, of course, but I’m very excited to finally have a food processor. My friend Jenny gave me her old cuisinart. I brought it into the house and Malcolm said, “Oooooh, what’s that?” And then he and I gathered around our new toy, and tried to figure out how to use it. Did you know that every little piece has to be locked into place, in a certain order, or it won’t work? I didn’t! I kept loading it up, pressing the button, expecting a huge loud noise, and then….nothing! We finally got it all figured out, though. And before I knew it Malcolm had grated two large zucchinis. And then I had to try the knife-type blade, so we chopped up some basil, cilantro, tomatoes, almonds and hazelnuts. We made a chunky sort of sauce. Very smoky and flavorful, because I’d put every smoky thing I could find in … black cardamom, nigella seeds, smoked paprika. We ate it with saltine crackers, and it was very tasty! The next day, I decided to further test the abilities of my processor, and I pureed this chunky sauce till quite smooth, then added some eggs and milk, put it all in a biscuit-like crust with smoked paprika in it, added some fresh cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and made a tart! What with the nuts and all, it’s almost like a savory frangipane. We ate it with potatoes roasted with tomatoes and shallots, which were sort of saucy, and everything went well together. You could make this with a blender and a regular grater, if you don’t happen to have a food processor.

Smoky zucchini/tomato/nut sauce

Here’s Sly and the Family Stone with Thank You Fallettin Me Be Mice Elf Again to dance to while you puree, grate and julienne. Thanks for the food processor, Jenny!!
Continue reading