Gougere ring filled with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella

Gougere ring

There’s this strange thing that happens sometimes – a poignant shifting of time and memory, that leaves you feeling an instant nostalgia. This happens a lot when you have children. You’ll watch them do something beautiful – they don’t even realize how beautiful – you’ll want to find your camera, but you know you can’t capture the moment, and in an instant it’s passed. It’s the past, and you think about yourself much older, remembering that moment. You’ll think about your children when they’re older, which is something you can’t know. It’s not unpleasant, not painful, exactly, but you very nearly regret the instant that you’re living in now, as it passes. It’s not the big events that people pose for and record, but the small, ordinary things your children say, their characteristic gestures, that you can’t be sure you’ll remember, because they’re so dear and familiar you almost forget to notice them. This time of year is ripe for these sea-shifting feelings. It’s pure summer – we’ve had such a spate of perfect summer days – but part of you misses all the summer days leading up to this one, and part of you anticipates autumn on its way.

I just learned that “poignant” meant, archaically, strong smelling or tasting, which seems sort of perfect, because taste and smell are such triggers for memory. If one vegetable was the embodiment of this ripe, sweet, late summer anxiety, surely it would be the tomato. You have almost more than you know what to do with, and they’re plump and perfect now. You want to can them and freeze them and save them to warm you in the middle of winter, but you know they won’t be the same! I feel the same way about basil – we have a garden-full. I made some pesto and froze it, but it’s not the same as picking up a ball the boys have kicked into the basil patch and being enveloped in basil-fragrance. Not surprisingly, these tastes are famously perfect together. I made a ring of gougeres – cheese-tinted choux pastry balls – as a crown for my tomatoes and basil. Gougeres are actually quite simple to make, and they’re very comforting and pleasing – soft and eggy. They deflate fairly quickly (at least mine did!) but they’re still plenty tasty. Served like this, they soaked up some of the lovely tomato & olive oil juices, which is one of my favorite parts of eating tomatoes!!

Here’s Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.

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Two summer salads with feta

Arugula salad with apples, pecans and feta

We find ourselves in the delightful position of having too much to tell you about! I can’t keep up! I’ve also been talking too much lately. So, first of all, I apologize for posting several times in one day. Second of all, these are salads. Salads should be quick to make and pleasing to eat, and you shouldn’t waffle on about them for hours and hours. So I won’t! I’ll give you some recipes, and some good music, and set you on your way.

Chickpea, tomato, olive, feta salad

My boys loved both of these salads and fought over the bowl. The first is green and light, with arugula, romaine, pink lady apples, feta, and pecans. The second is a little heartier and quite savory. It’s got chickpeas, feta, kalamata olives, capers, pine nuts and fresh juicy tomatoes. We ate it with crispy eggplant rounds, as a nice meal.

And here’s a playlist featuring songs with horns. Horn-y songs. I love songs with horns! If anybody would like to suggest other songs with horns to add the list, I’m all ears!
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Crispy cornmeal crusted eggplant and chickpea ratatouille

I love gestures. I love that we can convey meaning without words. I like carefully planned and highly stylized gestures – the kind you see in old movies or certain ceremonies. I like gestures unwittingly made – graceful movements of the hand or head that say things we don’t even know we’re saying. I try to pay attention to gestures, but it’s difficult because there’s so much noise. It’s the words that you notice. And sometimes, of course, we misread people’s movements. The other day I took Malcolm down to the river to swim. A couple floated by, each in their own giant tube. They were floating next to each other, and I watched curiously as they touched each others hands, and then their own lips. Touched hands and then lips, touched hands and then lips. They seemed very happy, and it struck me as odd and beautiful. And then it dawned on me that they were sharing a smoke of some sort of other. Heh heh. We were at the shore the other day, and I spied a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are beautiful, clever-looking, sweet, flashy birds, with white-patched-wings and long tails. This particular mockingbird landed not far from us. He raised his wings, half open, in a precise and snappy fashion, and then he opened them further and held them in a sort of arc away from his body, then opened them fully and held them stretched, then closed them. Four jerky, careful steps. Then he turned and faced a new direction and did the same thing. He flew from place to place – fence post to ground to rooftop – performing the same series of gestures, turning in a different direction each time. It was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I followed him for a while, watching him show off his lovely white wing patches. When I tried to film him, he flew to a wire, pumped his tail a few times and left. I’m so enamored of this mockingbird and his beautiful gestures! I read a bit about mockingbirds. Did you know that they’re very social, and they’ll play with birds of a different species? They play with their young. And, apparently, this series of gestures is a display to attract a mate. I didn’t see any other mockingbirds around, though. Maybe he was practicing. Maybe, like me, he just likes the feeling of stretching out his wings. Maybe he’s sharing his beauty with the world. I’ve been feeling a little discouraged lately. I feel overwhelmed, sometimes, when I think about everyone trying so hard, working so hard to say something to people, or show people something they think is worth seeing. But everybody’s talking so loudly we can’t hear what anyone is saying. Or maybe we hear but we miss the gestures. When I think about all of the words in all of the books in all of the world, and all of the work and passion that went into recording them, I become completely exhausted. One could almost ask oneself, “why bother?” But now I think, when I feel that way, I’ll think about the mockingbird, and his perfect dance for no bird audience.

And, thus, I’ll keep on telling you about these crazy recipes. This one was gooooood. Everybody liked it, even little Isaac, our toughest food critic here at The Ordinary. It’s very simple and summery. It’s not ratatouille exactly, I know that. But it’s a sort of take-off on ratatouille, in that it involves eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs like thyme and rosemary. I’ve kept the eggplant separate, and coated it with a crispy cornmeal coating, and roasted it till it’s like a crispy chip. And I’ve added chickpeas and olives, which are really lovely together, really lovely with eggplant and olives. Isaac used the eggplant slices like little taco shells, picking out a few chickpeas and olives to stuff inside. David made little stacks of eggplant and ratatouille. I put the eggplant chips on top, like a sort of crispy topping. However you do it, you can’t go wrong!

Chickpea ratatouille

Here’s a blurry sort of video of a mockingbird doing his displaying dance.

And here’s Aretha Franklin singing Mockingbird. Happy song!

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Goat cheese & caramelized onion tart with arugula & pine nuts

Tall crust goat cheese and arugula tart

Some days feel like time-outs. If life is like a giant game of tag, and “it” is pursuing you relentlessly, and you’re giggling, breathless, with that small edge of real fear that tag-playing elicits, and you’re miles from base: sometimes you have to call time-out. The last couple of days have felt like that. Isaac and I have been on a team, and we’re taking a little time out together. He’s under the weather. Monday we spent a couple of useless hours at the doctors’ office, and I got antsy, and thought, “Dammit, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” Yesterday he had a fever, and the whole house was hot as hell except for his air-conditioned room. He didn’t want to be alone, so I lay on his bed next to him, and thought, “Oh dear, I’ve got important things I need to be doing!” And then I realized that I really don’t. It’s an interesting fact about a time-out, that sometimes from this point of view you see the game more clearly – everybody else running around frantically, in a red-faced tizzy. As I lay there besides Isaac, with his hot little head touching mine, I realized that I don’t really have anything important to do. The realization was a little sobering, a little liberating. I was very tired, because I don’t sleep much when there’s a fever in the house, and for the moment it felt good to lie next to Isaac, and listen to him explain Isaac-y things to me in his sweet serious way. Their room is bright, with sea-green trim and pale curtains that hold the light. It felt a little like floating in cool water for a short while. And, of course, this little glowing ripple of a moment is the most important thing I need to be doing.

Tall crust tart

I’m always a little crazy when the boys aren’t feeling well. I don’t sleep much, I get that weird tired-nervous energy. It makes me want to bake! In the winter time I’ll bake cookies with the boys. It was, frankly, a little hot for baking yesterday, even for me! But I’d had this thought in my head for a while of a tart that would be fun to make and fun to eat. I’m very excited about this one! I think it turned out really well. Really perfect combination of tastes and textures. I’ll tell you all about it. It’s a peppery hazelnut crust, and it’s a very tall crispy crust. Inside of that, we have a thin layer of goat cheese custard with thyme and caramelized onions. Simple. The whole thing is served slightly warm and inside is a mess of cool, lightly dressed baby arugula with pine nuts and fresh tomatoes! It’s like a salad tart! Perfect for a hot day, cause you can make the whole thing in advance. I love goat cheese with arugula. I love hazelnuts with arugula. (If you don’t have pine nuts, you can use toasted chopped hazelnuts instead.) This is a nice thing to eat when you’re taking a time out. Be it a summer-day time out, or a stop-and-enjoy-your-nice-dinner-and-glass-of-wine time out.

Here’s Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.
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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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Tomato & basil toasts

The sky is flat, dark, slate grey, gathering over the roofs and trees to the southwest. The sky is bright on the other side of the horizon, but the rooms of our house are becoming dusky-dark. The bright green leaves are showing their pale undersides, and a spattering rain is edging over the house. The wind smells remarkable – cool and green and sharp, after a day of damp and heavy air. A storm is coming! I’m a little phobic about storms. It’s tedious for my family. I won’t leave the house if a storm is predicted. Well – that’s not quite true any more, because they predict storms every day from May to September in this day and age, and I do leave the house in every once in a while during those months. The truth is, though, that I love a good storm, if all of my people are safe and sheltered. Storms seem to capture so many seasons and hours of the day in their cycle of anticipation and relief. The heavy stillness that precedes them, which you can feel weighing you down; the drama of the storm itself; the clearness of the world when it’s all over. And storms are creatures of the summertime, of course. Warm and ripe and bursting – like summer tomatoes. We don’t have any summer tomatoes, yet, but we do have lots of basil! And half a ciabatta baguette to use up! So I made these tomato basil toasts. This could probably be called bruscetta, actually. And it’s one of those things that’s so simple, you feel silly posting a recipe. But it’s perfectly delicious. I add capers and roasted garlic, to the trinity of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. The juice of the tomatoes mingles with a bit of olive oil and balsamic to create a lovely juicy sauce to dip your bread in. And that’s about it!

Here’s The Storms are on the Ocean by The Carter Family. I really love this song! It’s so driving, in their understated way.
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Avocado, olive & basil salad

Avacado & olive salad

[I apologize for posting a couple of times today. We’re going away for the weekend, and I don’t want to fall too far behind!]

My boys have a book called Mixed-up Animals. Each page has a picture of an animal and is broken into three sections. You can turn a part of the page to line up another animal with the first. In this way, you can make a creature with platypus feet, an armadillo body, and a caribou head. A platadillibou. They’ve also always loved the game exquisite corpse, in which each person draws part of a creature without seeing what the others have drawn. Isaac still gets very excited when the paper is unfolded to reveal a mis-matched monster! This salad reminds me a little of that. It’s part tapenade (olives & capers) part guacamole (avocado & tomato), part pesto (nuts & basil), and part caprese (mozzarella, tomato, basil). I had a just-ripe avocado, and a small bowl of nicoise olives. These got the rusty little wheels turning in my brain, and the rest just sort of fell into place!! So you end up with guacenade. Or tapamole. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious! We had it with some crusty bread, but you could make it into crostini, or serve it with big chips. Or just throw it onto a pile of mixed lettuces and call it a mixed salad!

She’s Strange – she’s got two double heads, two left legs, and her nose looks like the knees of a nanny goat, but Screamin Jay Hawkins loves her!!
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Remy’s soup

Remy's soup

Have you ever wondered what Remy puts in the soup that Linguini nearly ruins in Ratatouille? Of course you have! We all have. Well, here in the test kitchens of The Ordinary, we’ve done exhaustive research to arrive at the definitive version of the soup, with the precise ingredients that Remy used. Precisely definitive! We watched this scene dozens of times. We’ve listened to characters’ descriptions of the soup, and we’ve analyzed the inner workings of the kitchen to arrive at a soup that is a “spicy yet subtle taste experience.” Let us walk you through it. To begin with, when Linguini nearly knocks the pot off the stove, the soup looks like tomato sauce. We determined, decidedly, that it’s probably some sort of tomato soup. We kept that part simple, but we did add a spicy element, because nothing we saw Remy add could be described as “spicy.” Linguini adds tap water, an entire bunch of scallions, white wine, and salt, lots of salt. Noted. Remy adds broth, cream, garlic, thyme, black pepper, cubes of potato, leeks, parsley, chervil, more salt, bay leaves and, we believe, basil. He later states, when questioned by Linguini, that he DID NOT add oregano or rosemary, which they both identify as “spices,” although we, here at The Ordinary, would call them “herbs.” The soup turned out delicious! Spicy, yet subtle. My son, something of a Ratatouille scholar himself, ate three bowls, but declared that the color was too rosy. I’m not an imaginary french rat, for heaven’s sake! I’m not actually going to add an entire container of cream!

Here’s Souped Up from the Ratatouille soundtrack to listen to as you leap over the pot, gleefully adding ingredients.
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Roasted butternut & tomato bisque

roasted butternut bisque

Remember Bob Ross and his happy accidents? This soup was the result of a happy accident, in some ways. NO I DIDN’T PUT TOO MUCH BURNT SIENNA ON MY FAN BRUSH!! I just made the roasted red pepper-almond sauce too hot and spicy. That’s right, the one we made with our empanadas. So last night, with fiendish cleverness and calculation, I decided to use the sauce as a base for a soup! Thus spreading the spicy joy around, and rendering it more palatable. I decided to add roasted butternut squash because it’s so mild and sweet that it could easily accommodate a bit of heat. And then I thought about all the roastiness going on, with the pepper, and the chipotle, and the squash, and I thought fire-roasted tomatoes would go well (from a can, unfortunately – it being February). So I made this lovely, velvety, sweet, smoky, spicy bisque.

Here’s Lee Perry with Roast Fish and Cornbread, because, let’s face it, I’m never going to have recipe for roast fish, and this song is wonderful!
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Black bean & tomato soup

This is basically a two-can soup (can of beans/can of tomatoes), but it’s got a deep rich flavor, and a lovely, deeply richly colored broth (black bean soups can be so drab-looking sometimes, but this has a warm mahogany hue). Simply made, but complexly flavored.

Here’s JJ Allstar’s Soup. I found a surprising number of songs about soup. Can you think of any that you like?

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