Pistachio, almond and tarragon “mayonnaise”

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

We have another storm predicted for tonight, with the snowing and the blowing and the icy raining and the cries of near impossible travel conditions! and temperatures well below zero! I suspect they make it sound more dire than it will be because they want you to watch the news, but I feel mildly panicky anyway. I’m scared we’ll lose power, because I didn’t deal with it very well last time, and that was autumn, it wasn’t even all that cold yet. We’ve had a long winter and I’d love to see a few blades of grass, or step out of the house and feel the warm sun on my face. But it hasn’t been so bad. I don’t mind staying inside and writing and baking and reading and snoozing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about accounts I’ve read of storms in the midwest back in the days of pioneers and homesteaders. Letters home of blizzards that last for days and bury entire flocks of cattle, entire houses and towns. Snow that makes its way into houses made of sod or held together with mud or dug into a hillside. They didn’t fear losing power, because they didn’t have it to begin with, and it must have been hard to keep their fire going and their wood dry for days and days on end. I think of The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I didn’t read the Little House on the Prairie books until I was an adult, but when I finally came to them I fell for them hard. I read them at a strange point in my life–I was feeling a little lost and lonely and down, and something about the simplicity of the tales appealed to me. Their work was so hard and so endless and they faced it with such energy and thrift and cheerfulness. When they had nothing they found something to be thankful for, they found a way to make themselves what they needed. I love the straightforward language and the detailed descriptions of everyday activities, so fascinating to us now, though they must have seemed dreary and dull enough at the time. I love Laura, so funny and strong and smart and flawed. But mostly I love the unexpected poetry in the stories. I love the moodiness and mystery the sense of some force that comes from nature, but is bigger than anything we understand. I love Laura’s strange thoughts and the beautiful way that she expresses them.

    Outdoors the sun-glitter hurt her eyes. She breathed a deep breath of the tingling cold and squinted her eyes to look around her. The sky was hugely blue and all the land was blowing white. The straight, strong wind did not lift the snow, but drove it scudding across the prairie.

    The cattle were standing in sunshine and shadow by the haystacks—red and brown and spotted cattle and one thin black one. They stood perfectly still, every head bowed down to the ground. The hairy red
    necks and brown necks all stretched down from bony-gaunt shoulders to monstrous, swollen white heads.
    “Pa!” Laura screamed. Pa motioned to her to stay where she was. He went on trudging, through the low- flying snow, toward those creatures.

    They did not seem like real cattle. They stood so terribly still. In the whole herd there was not the least movement. Only their breathing sucked their hairy sides in between the rib bones and pushed them out again. Their hip bones and their shoulder bones stood up sharply. Their legs were braced out, stiff and still. And where their heads should be, swollen white lumps seemed fast to the ground under the blowing snow.

    On Laura’s head the hair prickled up and a horror went down her backbone. Tears from the sun and the wind swelled out her staring eyes and ran cold on her cheeks. Pa went on slowly against the wind. He walked up to the herd. Not one of the cattle moved.

    For a moment Pa stood looking. Then he stooped and quickly did something. Laura heard a bellow and a red steer’s back humped and jumped. The red steer ran staggering and bawling. It had an ordinary head with eyes and nose and open mouth bawling out steam on the wind.

    Another one bellowed and ran a short, staggering run. Then another. Pa was doing the same thing to them all, one by one. Their bawling rose up to the cold sky. At last they all drifted away together. They went silently now in the knee-deep spray of blowing snow. Pa waved to Laura to go back to the shanty, while he inspected the haystacks.
    “Whatever kept you so long, Laura?” Ma asked.
    “Did the cattle get into the haystacks?”
    “No, Ma,” she answered. “Their heads were . . . I guess their heads were frozen to the ground.”
    “That can’t be!” Ma exclaimed.
    “It must be one of Laura’s queer notions,” Mary said, busily knitting in her chair by the stove. “How could cattle’s heads freeze to the ground, Laura? It’s really worrying, the way you talk sometimes.”
    “Well, ask Pa then!” Laura said shortly. She was not able to tell Ma and Mary what she felt. She felt that somehow, in the wild night and storm, the still-ness that was underneath all sounds on the prairie had seized the cattle.

    Laura’s future husband Almanzo also sees the world around them as almost a living thing,

    “But he had a feeling colder than the wind. He felt that he was the only life on the cold earth under the cold sky; he and his horse alone in an enormous coldness.

    “Hi-yup, Prince!” he said, but the wind carried away the sound in the ceaseless rush of its blowing. Then he was afraid of being afraid. He said to himself, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He thought, “I won’t turn back now. I’ll turn back from the top of that next slope,” and he tightened the reins ever so little to hold the rhythm of Prince’s galloping.

    From the top of that slope he saw a low edge of cloud on the northwestern sky line. Then suddenly the whole great prairie seemed to be a trap that knew it had caught him.”

And Laura’s father is the same way, he hears the strange voices, too, and he sees the sign. And he works hard to keep the darkness away from his family. Pa rose with a deep breath. “Well, here it is again.”
Then suddenly he shook his clenched fist at the northwest. “Howl! blast you! howl!” he shouted. “We’re all here safe! You can’t get at us! You’ve tried all winter but we’ll beat you yet! We’ll be right here when spring comes!” And there you have it…it’s been a long winter, but we’ll be right here when spring comes.

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

Pistachio tarragon mayonnaise

Speaking of spring, David said that this tasted like spring. And it does, it’s delicious, I could eat it with a spoon. It’s a little like mayonnaise, but it’s vegan. It’s only got pistachios, almonds, tarragon, capers, lemon juice and olive oil, but it’s creamy and flavorful and quite lovely. We ate it with asparagus, but you could have it with potatoes, or spread on a sandwich, you could dip chips in it or use it as a salad dressing. Pretty and green and tasty.

Here’s Footprints in the Snow by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
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Pistachio tarator sauce and roasted fingerlings

Pistachio tarator sauce and roasted fingerlings

Pistachio tarator sauce and roasted fingerlings

It’s time for your second installment of “Claire’s favorite kitchen sink films.” Today’s feature is a beauty called Taste of Honey, from 1961. The film, directed by Tony Richardson, was based on a play by Shelagh Delaney, which she wrote when she was eighteen years old. It tells the story of seventeen-year-old Jo, who is clever and funny, but something of an outsider, she awkward and acerbic and she doesn’t fit in easily. Her mother is a hard drinking playgirl, and they move from flat to flat and man to man, avoiding landladies and bill collectors. Jo meets a sailor named Jimmy. He’s kind and cheerful, and he obviously likes her a lot because he tells her, “I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice.” They spend a few days together, and then he has to return to sea. She’s pregnant and alone, but she’s fine, she’s better than ever. She finds herself a home of her own and a job in a shoe store…a job she’s good at. She meets a textile student named Geoff, and he becomes a good friend, he takes care of Jo and he’s almost more motherly than her actual mother. The film is a masterpiece of acting, writing and filming. It’s so aesthetically pretty, and so beautiful in its honesty and heart and wit. Jimmy is black and Geoff is gay, but aside from a few hastily mean outbursts on Jo’s part, which you know she regrets, this is not an issue. These are not their defining characteristics; they’re warmly, richly written characters and you think about them long after the film is over. And Jo herself, played by the amazing Rita Tushingham, is kind and cruel, strong and confused, loving but guarded. She’s made a life for herself and she’s justifiably proud, but she’s also terrified of having a baby, of being on her own, of having a baby on her own. She’s perfectly, endearingly human.

Pistachio tarator sauce! I’m really proud of this one. We got some lovely rosy fingerlings from the farm. I sliced them into thin wedges and roasted them until they were crispy, all pink and golden. And then I made this pretty green sauce to go with them. It has pistachio kernels, baby spinach, rosemary, sage and roasted garlic. Simple, but distinctive and very delicious. It’s creamy but it’s vegan. I roasted the garlic on the tray with the potatoes, but you could toast it in your toaster oven if you’re not making the potatoes. This would also be good with greens or any other roasted or fried vegetables, or even as a sauce for pasta or rice.

Here’s Herb Alpert’s Taste of Honey. It has nothing to do with this week’s movie, but for some reason I love the song and the video.

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Chickpea pot pie & sweet potato hashbrowns

Back when I had a real job, about a million years ago, I was project editor on a book that revealed the secrets of being a successful entrepreneur. It was all about money, obviously, with a lot of attention devoted to marketing. People were consumers, first and foremost, and they could be manipulated into buying things if you made them feel a lack or made them feel bad about themselves in some way. It struck me as so sad and cynical, and I still think about it, particularly this time of year when the market-targeting-messages are coming thick and fast. It’s holiday season, and we’re all taking the time to be thankful. This year, I’ll tell you that as well as being incredibly grateful for the things I have, I’m going to declare my gratitude for the things I don’t have, that I don’t want. I’m grateful that I’m at a place in my life that nobody can shame me into wanting something I don’t need, or make me feel so bad about myself that I believe somebody can sell me something to make everything okay. Believe me, I still have plenty of insecurities, but I know what they are, they’re my familiars, and I will not let anybody exploit them for financial gain. I do not want longer eyelashes, I do not want perfect children, I do not want my children to have everything that they think they want, I do not want a bigger house or a cleverer car, I do not want quilted toilet paper, I do not want to be the life of the party, most of the time I don’t even want to go to the party any more, I do not want a smarter faster phone, I do not want cheaper cable TV, or any cable TV, because I do not want to watch your commercials. I’m thankful to be liberated from fabricated need!!

Chickpea pot pie

I do want to bake nice warm comforting meals that I dream up in the nice warm comfort of my happily eccentric brain. This is (obviously) modeled on a chicken pot pie, but it has chickpeas in it!! I made the chickpeas myself, from scratch, and weirdly, this is the first time I’ve ever done that. You could easily make this recipe with a can of chickpeas, though. This pie would be vegan if you used margarine instead of butter in the crust. I used a bit of olive oil in my crust, because the other week I didn’t have enough butter, and added olive oil and it turned out nice and flaky, so I thought I’d try it again. I thought the sweet potato hash browns turned out well!! I’ve never quite taken to sweet potatoes, because they don’t seem to get crispy like regular potatoes. They did this time!! I fried them in butter, with a bit of cheddar and rosemary, and they were lovely!!

Sweet potato hash browns

Here’s Tom Waits with Step Right Up. Live, in 1977!

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Spicy thin-sliced potatoes with cilantro, jalapenos, and olives

I hope everybody had a happy dragon day on Saturday! What’s that? You didn’t know it was dragon day? Didn’t you get the card? Oh, well I’ll share mine with you…

Happy Dragon Day!

Isaac drew these pictures! It’s two sides of the dragon’s day card. They kill me! I love the technique of course. I love the way he fills the page with his imagination. I love the way he did a little dotted-line arrangement for his writing. I love the little pile of knight stuff – shield, chain mail, helmet – that the dragon has dispatched. I love the idea of dragon day – you have to play dragons, draw dragons, pretend to be a dragon, talk about dragons or think about dragons – as if we didn’t all do that every day already! But most of all, I love the fact that Isaac asked me to write the date on it. So I did. Then he said, and the day, what day is it? Saturday. And then he wanted the exact time of day. So I wrote that. And then he said, but what day is it? I’m not sure what you mean. Is it the last Saturday of summer? Well, I checked the calendar, and I’m fairly sure it was the last Saturday of summer. Isaac said…write that on there, too. The boys seem so blissfully unaware of time passing – except that when they’re doing something fun it goes too fast, and bedtime comes too early. Something about Isaac asking to record this exact moment, at the end of the summer, and the beginning of the school year…I tell you, it killed me!

Spicy potatoes and olives

And this dish of spicy potatoes – I was unexpectedly smitten with this as well. I was inspired by vague ideas about Peruvian presentations of potatoes, and vague ideas of spicy Peruvian sauces. Basically, it’s potatoes, thinly sliced by the food processor, baked in layers with a spicy sauce of tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos, cilantro, a touch of lemon and a touch of sugar. I’m not kidding – I couldn’t stop eating it! It’s weirdly addictive! Malcom liked it too!

Here’s Flight of the Conchords with Friends, because it’s stuck in my head, because I wish I could watch all of this show again without having seen it, and because Isaac is such a good friend to have.
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Zucchini chickpea kofta

Zucchini & chickpea kofta

Malcolm and I were walking the hot streets of town the other day when we came across a basket of GI Joe figures in front of an antique store. It made me think of the movie Marwencol. It’s a fascinating, absorbing documentary – the kind you think about for a long while after you’ve seen it.

I couldn’t get it out of my mind, yesterday, and yesterday being independence day, the story of Mark Hogancamp became, in my melting little brain, a sort of allegory for America’s struggle for independence. In the face of violent intolerance, Hogancamp created his own country, with its own rules. The country, Marwencol, is hopeful, frightening, imperfect and evolving, and it’s the place where Hogancamp can escape from the physical and emotional reality of who he is, to be a different, better version of himself. And to pursue the justice that eludes him in the old world – the real world.

He’s a true eccentric, just as the people that first came to America must have been, and the people that created our country, and forged a path out west, surely were. It’s the creativity and passion attached to his eccentricity that make his new world possible. And the story of the new world is beautiful and hopeful, but it’s also violent and disturbing at times. Of course, the story of Independence Day is the struggle for freedom, just as the story of Marwencol is Hogancamp’s quest for freedom from who he is and from all that he’s lost.

David found a remarkable version of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Feels to Be Free. She talks about what freedom means. She says it’s freedom from fear, it’s a new way of seeing something. There’s a line in the song in which she says that freedom means feeling a “little less like me.” She’d learn to fly, and she’d look down and see herself, and she wouldn’t know herself. She’d have new hands, new vision. She tells us that the Bible says be transformed by the renewal of your mind. God, she’s brilliant – she makes me speechless. But this is what I was thinking about on the 4th of July – eccentricity, creativity, the freedom to create a world for yourself and reinvent yourself. A new way of looking, and of seeing.

Speaking of eccentric! Speaking of yankee ingenuity! I envisioned this zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. They were all out of chickpea flour at the grocery store. I pretended to be a stubborn child, who wouldn’t leave the aisle till I got chickpea flour, the boys pretended to be stern parents. We all had a giggle. And I went home and made these croquettes with mashed up chickpeas. Which might even have had a better flavor, and a lighter, more pleasing texture. We ate these with pita bread, tomatoes chopped with mozzarella and basil, lots of fresh lettuce from the CSA and pecan tarragon sauce. You could use any kind of sauce you like, though. Something with tahini would probably work well! I seasoned these with sesame seeds, thyme, and sumac (zatar, baby!) All-in-all a nice summer meal.

Here’s that remarkable version of I Wish I Knew How it Feels to be Free.

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Creamy vegan cole slaw

Vegan cole slaw

The first apartment that David and I rented together was the second floor of a two-story house. The first floor was occupied by our landlady. She was a nice elderly woman who was very very anxious about the well-being of her second-floor apartment. When it rained she would call and tell us to close the windows. When something broke, she would trundle up the back stairs with a big roll of tape and put it back together. “To tape!” she would exclaim, giving us an insight into her home improvement methodology. With admirable regularity, she cooked a dish that, apparently, took the whole day to make. Starting early in the morning, the fragrance would waft up our back stairs and wend its way into our open windows. We called it “rubber glove stew.” The smell got stronger as the day wore on, and it clung to our furniture for days. I’m fairly certain that the stew contained cabbage, and, to this day, the smell of over-boiled cabbage makes me feel a little queasy. Poor stinky brassica! I do like cooked cabbage in certain situations, of course – quickly sauteed and wrapped in moo shoo pancakes is always nice! But when we got a lovely head of cabbage from our CSA, I decided to keep it raw and make (more) coleslaw. I’ve made lightly olive-oil-and-balsamic-dressed slaws recently with various fruits, nuts and cheeses to mix things up a bit. This time I wanted to make something that tasted more like a traditional cole slaw, but with a creamy almond dressing instead of mayonnaise. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I think it came out really well! Nice and sweet and crunchy and tangy and savory. The slaw is something of a prototype, because I kept it very simple. You could easily add any other thing you generally like in coleslaw. You could easily add roasted garlic or herbs to the dressing.

Here’s Cab Calloway & Dizzy Gillespie with Pickin’ the Cabbage. According to the scholars of youTube this is Gillespie’s first composition! He was 22!
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Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa, spinach & chickpea soup

Quinoa? Aw, man, I was totally into quinoa back when nobody knew about it. Back before it became all popular. I used to buy it at this small store that was, like, all hardcore vegetarian stuff, and, like imports. Quinoa was so cool – it was my favorite, and it totally spoke to me. It was my perfect food, man. And then it started getting bigger, and playing the big stadiums, like shoprite, or, you know, pathmark, and suddenly everybody’s eating quinoa. And it’s in cookies, and, pancakes, and bread, and in mother-flippin statues of Mount Rushmore probably. Totally sold out. It’s so sad when that happens to a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. So sad.

That’s right, I ate quinoa in 1993! That’s got to make me one of the first wave of quinoaers, right? Old school! Except for maybe the Incas. They might have come first. When I first met David (in 1993) he made a quinoa-barley soup that his co-worker had recommended. And it was really good! I have to admit that I don’t cook with it as often as I should, and I’m ashamed to admit that it might be because it’s so popular now! It’s so earnestly vegetarian, which is a quality I admire in a food, but sometimes it makes me take a step back from it for a while. Silly, I know!!

If you’re looking for a way to introduce quinoa to somebody who hasn’t tried it, this might be it, because the quinoa is so much a harmonious part of everything going on around it. Malcolm asked what the little floating curls were, and I said, “sea monkeys!” Fortunately he’s too young to know what those are, so I revised my answer to “the ultimate Incan super-food, that made them into superheroes!” He liked the soup a lot, anyway.

I think this soup turned out really well! I’m quite proud of it! It’s got a really pleasing flavor and texture. Very savory, soft, but substantial, and comforting. I grated the zucchini, which, once cooked, gave it a perfect sort of texture. And I puréed half the spinach and chopped the other. I used the broth left over from cooking french lentils, but I think you could make a simple vegetable broth and it would be fine. It’s as close to chicken soup as I’ve come since I stopped eating chicken soup. And probably better for you! It’s simply seasoned with fresh thyme, nutmeg and cinnamon. I wasn’t sure this combination would work, but I went ahead with it on a whim, and it’s really good!

Here’s Carnaval ayacuchano from an album called Peru: Kingdom of the Sun, the Incan Heritage. I love this song!
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Spicy spinach cashew sauce

spinach cashew sauce

I’d like to apologize in advance for posting so often today. I’ve got so much I want to tell you about! I don’t know if I’ll get to it all, but if I don’t then I’ll forget how I made it, and then I’ll just have to post more tomorrow… Goodness gracious, I can’t keep up with my own self.

This one will be quick, though. Just like the sauce. It’s very flavorful, very easy, and probably very good for you because spinach and nuts have protein and iron and… other things, that are good. You’re the boss, with this sauce. You can make it quite thin and creamy, and have it with pasta or rice. Or you can make it quite thick, and use it however you would use pesto. I made it spicy, because I still have a cold, but that’s adjustable as well. It’s a nice dipping sauce for croquettes or kofta, and it’s very good with roasted vegetables, such as winter squash or sweet potatoes. It would make a nice meal with boiled diced potatoes stirred in. It’s creamy, yet vegan. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Duke Ellington with Spongecake and Spinach.
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Guacamole soup

guacamole soup

Coriander is an interesting herb, isn’t it? It shows up in so many different cuisines throughout the world. You can use every part of the plant, and the leaves and fruits taste quite different from each other. I’ve never encountered the root, but I’ll keep an eye out for it, because it sounds intriguing. Apparently, coriander was cultivated by ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They’ve found traces it at various archeological sites. It’s hard to get my mind around that, in so many ways! Coriander is also fascinating, I think, because the leaves taste so different to different people. To some they have a lovely herby, slightly citrus-y flavor. To others they taste like soap or stink bugs. (I love stink bugs, I really do, I think they’re adorable, but I wouldn’t want to eat them. I’m a vegetarian for heaven’s sake!) It’s such distinct proof that humans experience the world differently.

This soup came about because I bought a job lot (as Thompson and Thomson would say) of avocados. Avocadoes? Avocadi? They were at that moment of perfect ripeness. The first night we had one on a salad, but I continue to be bitterly disappointed by lettuce and tomatoes this time of year. So the next day, whilst whiling away the hours at work, I had the idea to use them in a soup (the avocados, not the whiled-away hours. I wonder how whiled-away-hour soup would taste?). When I considered the various flavor combinations I could use, I kept returning to the seasonings I use for quacamole (I make a mean guacamole). Viz: Cilantro, cumin, chile, lime and honey. So that’s how we did it. I added cauliflower, because I seem to be incapable of making soup without cauliflower lately, and because I thought the puréed cauliflower would save the soup from a certain slimy texture that puréed avocados sometimes attain. (I’m sorry, avocado, but it’s true) Well, the soup came out very nice. A little of the warmth of summery flavors combined with the warmth of a wintery soup.

Here’s MF DOOM’s Coriander.
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Salad of warm greens, french lentils and wild rice

warm kale salad

We’ve had a reprieve in the weather lately. In the afternoons you actually feel the warmth of the sunshine, and there’s a hopeful light that makes you forget we’ve got all of February to get through. And then you buy lettuce or tomatoes, and the iciness comes back to you. Luckily we’ve still got warm salads! This is a very substantial one – with flavorful french lentils and wild rice tossed in, and a handful of almonds thrown on at the end to add crunch. I made a sort of dressing with plum tomatoes briefly sauteed in olive oil and balsamic. This salad is a meal, and this meal is vegan. Cheese would make it taste even better, in my opinion – goat, or fresh mozzarella, or some grated sharp cheese. But then it wouldn’t be vegan, obviously! Anyway, it was quick to make, so I’m going to keep it quick now. (Yup, I’ve got to go to work!)

And here’s Big Daddy Kane with Warm it Up, Kane to sing to yourself while you warm up your kale.
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