Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes, and butter-fried croquettes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

Navy beans with fennel and roasted sweet potatoes

“He wouldn’t listen to her, and he clasped her desperately, his heart drowning in an immense sadness. A need for peace and an uncontrollable need for happiness invaded him; and he pictured himself married, in a nice clean little house, with no other ambition than for the two of them to live and die together inside it. They would only need a little bread to eat; and even if there was only enough for one of them, he would give her the whole piece. What was the point of wanting anything else? Was there anything in life worth more than that?” Indeed! Well, I haven’t finished the book yet, but I know how things turn out. I always read ahead, I read a few pages here and there in the middle, and I read the end. I always have, somehow knowing how it will end makes the story more compelling for me, even if it ends sadly, as this one does, I’m sorry to say. They are, of course, Etienne and Catherine from Germinal. They’re sitting on the edge of the bed in icy darkness, preparing to go back down the pit. After a winter of sickness and strife, starvation and deprivation, after months of physical and emotional abuse from her cruel lover, after ages of liking and loving and longing for each other, all unspoken, they’re at a crossroads. “Don’t do it!” You want to yell at them. “Don’t go down the mine. Run away!!” When I was little I used to imagine an island people could go to when things weren’t going well for them in plays or books or movies. An island for star-crossed lovers where everything aligned a little more benevolently, and all of the outside forces that kept them apart were nowhere to be found. It would be a place you could go despite your obstacles–money troubles couldn’t keep you away, and neither could overbearing relatives or jealous lovers or fickle fortune. And once you got there you’d be free to live out your days with your lover, just as you choose. You would grow old together. And maybe this would be hard for some of the couples that wind up on the island, because they hadn’t known each other very long in the old world, but I think they’d be glad to have the chance. After all, we each have to grow old, and it’s nice to have somebody to do it with. Romeo and Juliet were so young when they died. Juliet is thirteen. So maybe on this island they would grow up together, they would become adults together and be good friends. Catherine and Heathcliff–well, I just don’t know. They started as friends, they did grow up together, but weren’t they disappointingly cruel to each other and themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think even a magical island could provide them with a cheery future. Catherine and Etienne, though, I think they’d be okay. They’ve both suffered so much and worked so hard that they’d be glad of the peace and freedom to be kind to one another, to really love each other. They’d delight in any small warmth that they could find, and they’d kindle such a bonfire of pent-up affection they’d be able to light up a whole wintery mining village. And they wouldn’t be ignorant but happy, either. I think about Catherine a lot, about how bright and interested she is, and about how her only hope in life is to earn enough money to survive, and that her cruel man won’t be too cruel to her. I like to think about her writing stories in her head, down in the pit. But Etienne has taken such pleasure in learning, and in educating himself, and you know he’d love to teach her, too, and that he’d take pleasure in doing it, and be proud of all she learned. I like to think about what she might do, if she had some knowledge. I like to imagine them happy. They don’t expect much, and they deserve the world.

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Butter-fried vegetarian bean loaf

Here we have another meal that started as a bean and vegetable stew and ended up as croquettes. THe first night we had a bright, sweet, tart stew made of navy beans, fennel, and roasted sweet potatoes. It also had lemon thyme, lemon, caper, and a handful of raisins. Very delicious! And we ate it with bulgur. The next night I smashed all the leftovers together with bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, and smoked paprika, and baked it in a loaf pan. Then I sliced it (or tried to, it fell apart a bit) and fried it all in butter. The boys said it was like hotdogs, and it kinda was! Very good, though!

Here’s Louis Armstrong with Song of the Islands

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Roasted mushroom “steaks” with walnut black truffle sauce

Mushroom steaks

Mushroom steaks

I’ve been thinking a lot about competition, lately. Mostly from watching my boys play basketball, I guess. I want them to do well, I want them to want to do well, I want them to care, but I don’t want them to be overly aggressive or mean about it. I don’t want them to think only about winning, at the expense of Love of the Game and all of that. I don’t want them, like MacBeth to be ambitious just because they’re ambitious, “I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself/ And falls on the other.” We all know that doesn’t end well! But I don’t want them to be afraid try! I don’t want them to feel discouraged because they’re scared they might not do well, or because they’re my sons and it’s contagious. When I see Malcolm get the ball on the court, I have a little panicky voice in my head saying “get rid of it! get rid of it!” because that’s how I would feel. But I don’t want him to feel that way! I want him to make a brilliant team player-y pass or run gracefully and confidently to the basket and make a beautiful lay-up. I’m conflicted about competition! I’m ambivalent about ambition! And I actually find it a little frightening to think about how everything seems to be a competition. School, work, games, everything. You can only do well at the expense of others. You can only succeed if others fail. That doesn’t feel good. When you submit a film to a festival it’s not about sharing a lovingly created work of art and watching other people’s lovingly created works of art. You’re judged when you submit it, and once you get in, you’re judged again! I think it’s no secret that anything created just for the sake of winning a competition (any competition – the race for money, the race for popularity, the race for fame) is not going to be as soulful, substantial or honest as it could be. I’ve never responded well to this kind of pressure, because I’m a contrary curmudgeon. I went to an extremely competitive high school, and it didn’t make me want to do better than everybody else, it made me want to be a rebel and stop trying. But I don’t wish that for my boys. I hope they’ll be able to do well at everything – do their absolute best – and I hope they’ll be able to achieve everything they want. And I hope that they’ll be able to do all this without wishing that others do badly. I hope they’ll love what they do with a passion, and pursue it with the purity of kindness and generosity.

So this week’s Sunday collaborative playlist is about competition, ambition, or the lack thereof. We’ve got songs like Toots and the Maytals’ journalistic Desmond Dekker came First, which tells how everybody placed in the intensified festival. Songs like Perhaps Vampire’s is a bit Strong by the Arctic Monkeys bemoaning the fact that everybody wants them to fail, and songs like Ken Parker’s Grooving Out on Life, about sitting aside from it all…

    I get my kicks from watching people
    Running too and fro
    And if you ask them where they’re going
    Half of they don’t know
    They`re the ones who think I’m crazy
    ‘Cause they don’t realize
    That I’m just groovin’, oh, groovin’
    Grooving out on life

And, finally, to the food! Why it’s the best meal anybody has made every and way better than everybody else’s!! I’m joking, of course, but it was very good! I wanted to make something special with my black truffle butter, so I decided to make these mushroom and walnut “steaks.” They might actually be closer to a sort of vegetarian meatloaf, or an old-fashioned nut roast. But I sliced them thick and lightly fried them in olive oil, and they’re substantial and satisfying, crispy out, tender in. The sauce is mostly walnuts, white wine and truffle butter. If you don’t have truffle butter, you could make the same sauce with some garlic and shallots. Or just serve these with a simple tomato sauce, or any sauce you like, and it would be just as good.

mushroom steaks with walnut sauce

mushroom steaks with walnut sauce

Here’s your collaborative playlist. It’s a pretty broad topic, so have fun! And feel free to add anything you like!
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