Roasted beet, mushroom and butterbean galette with walnut crust

Roasted beet, mushroom and butterbean galette with walnut crust

Roasted beet, mushroom and butterbean galette with walnut crust

Today we’re going to do a cheater’s version of Saturday storytelling time. I didn’t actually write a story this week, but I’ve thought about it a lot. Incessantly, so surely it’s only a matter of time before it pops out of my head fully formed. So this is a story I wrote a few years ago. In honor of Halloween, it’s a monster story! It’s a story for children (childrens’ book publishers form an orderly queue) about a boy and his monster. Here are some pictures I did for the story. The text is after the jump.
stairwelllo
flying-monster

And, as ever, we have a recipe, too! This is an autumnal galette. The crust has walnuts and black pepper, and the inside has roasted beets and roasted mushrooms, as well as butterbeans sautéed with chard. It’s all topped off with smoked gouda. Lots of warm, sweet, earthy, smoky flavors!

Here’s The Boogie Monster by Gnarls Barkley

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Arugula and balsamic tart with a walnut crust

Arugula and balsamic tart

Arugula and balsamic tart

If you’re following along at home, you’ll remember that yesterday I very nearly told you the secrets of the universe. I very nearly had it all figured out. But then housework got in the way. It’s hard to ponder the meaning of life while you’re trying to remember not to forget to buy all the boring non-food items in the grocery store. Especially if you’re feeling slightly saddened to realize that the edgy alternative music of your teenage years is now supermarket soundtrack material. Sigh. I haven’t quite collected myself to return to the BIG QUESTIONS, but I have found myself pondering this medium-sized question. I’ve been wondering if the reason that we have so many great men explaining the inner workings of the human soul and mind is that the great women were off cleaning their houses and raising their children (or managing the people they hired to do those tasks). As any mother will tell you, it’s hard to complete a sentence, let alone a major work of philosophical importance, when you have a child bopping around you saying, “Mom, guess what? That’s what!!” and dissolving into giggles and then doing it again. And again. It’s hard to remember all the brilliant thoughts you might have had, when you can’t sit still and write them down until you’ve mopped a few floors and scrubbed a few toilets. It’s hard to look sufficiently erudite in your author photograph when you can’t grow a flowing white beard. For centuries, women haven’t had a voice, because their thoughts weren’t deemed worth hearing. It’s hard to fight against that sort of prejudice and shout, “This is what I know to be true,” when you’re tired out from all your chores and your children won’t eat or sleep the way they’re supposed to. It’s hard to think beyond the tangled present, the cluttered day-to-day. Which I think is a shame, because I think it’s impossible to really figure anything out, if you haven’t spent some time struggling through the humbling sameness of our days. It’s hard to understand how humanity works if you haven’t spent some time raising or cleaning up after humans. It’s hard to understand our place in the world if you shut yourself off from everything real in that world. Obviously, having children and being around children changes your perception of everything forever. It opens doors inside of you, and gives you a glimpse into the pure heart of our place in the universe. It gives you a real feeling of being an animal, full of elemental needs and wants, but it also teaches you about the transcendent quality of love, which connects you to everything else on some indefinable spiritual level. (I’m sorry if this sounds cheesy, but I swear it’s true.) The jobs that are traditionally considered “women’s jobs,”–teaching, nursing, nannying–are not only arguably the most important jobs, they are also the jobs that give you the clearest insight into all of the complicated ways that our minds and bodies grow and work. It’s all very fine to lock yourself in your study and collect your serious thoughts and your beautiful words, but don’t forget the messy, teeming life outside that door. Don’t forget the children screaming at each other in the kitchen, because they understand a lot of things you’ve forgotten. Don’t forget the world outside your window that’s slowly and inevitably rolling and growing and dying and growing and dying and growing again, whether we understand it or not.

Arugula balsamic tart

Arugula balsamic tart

I’ve been craving arugula and balsamic salads lately! Something about the slightly bitter nuttiness with the slightly bitter sweetness is just such a perfect combination. So I decided to combine them in a tart, because that’s what I do. I added a crunchy walnut crust. I reduced the balsamic and mixed it right in with the custard. I added some sharp cheddar and small cubes of mozzarella. And I added some caramelized onions I made last summer and froze. If you don’t have caramelized onions on hand, and don’t have time to make them, you could always mince up a shallot and cook it with the garlic, if you liked.

Here’s Buddy Holly with I’m Changing All Those Changes, because it just came on as I’m typing, and I like it, and I can’t think of a song about female philosophers or arugula tarts.

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Parsnip and juniper berry tart with a walnut crust

Parsnip tart with a walnut crust

Parsnip tart with a walnut crust

In mid-February, a meteor streaked across the sky in Russia’s Ural mountains, which is news to absolutely nobody at this point. It’s one of those events that is almost too big to worry about – it’s so completely out of our control and (apparently) unpredictable. It’s one of those events that makes you see your day-to-day concerns in a new light. All of those gnawing anxieties, which you lie awake trying not to think about – are they suddenly incredibly important, or completely inconsequential? Typically, I have only a foggy notion of the facts relating to the case. What sticks with me is this video, which I’m sure everybody has seen. It’s a series of shots cobbled together from surveillance cameras mounted on cars and buildings. I find it so beautiful as a film! I find it so moving – the first time I watched, it made me weepy. (If you’re thinking to yourself “Pshaw, that’s no uncommon feat these days!” you are, of course, absolutely correct.) The landscape is austere and wintery, bare trees silhouetted against a pale sky. And the camera’s lens distorts the shot to focus everything on the horizon, the distant space where the sky meets the road, where the colors deepen. On the horizon the light changes in colors of dawn or dusk, which makes the road seem strangely lonely. We get a glimpse into the life of a series of strangers as they see it themselves. We hear what they’re listening to, we see what they’re seeing, we catch a hint of their voices. Each one is different from the other, and so distant from my life, so literally foreign. The scene repeats, starting from the same point in time. The light changes, the music changes, but the movement of the car and the movement of the meteor form a pattern, a rhythm that we follow across the sky. And they couldn’t have known about the meteor! As we watch, we know what it is, we know what happened, but the people in the cars, the people in the apartment buildings and walking by the side of the road, they didn’t know. They didn’t know what it was, where it came from or where it would go – this awesome, frightening, oddly beautiful glow. It moves across the sky, transforming the light like the hours of the day or the seasons of the year, but all in one smooth arc, all at once. The silent shots from buildings, with huge flickering shadows giving way to a burnishing radiance that obscures the scene entirely as it passes over, feel like a dream of a memory – too strange and huge to be real, and yet it is.
Walnut-crusted parsnip tart

Walnut-crusted parsnip tart

Last week I wrote about the fact that I didn’t have juniper berries. That same day, my generous friend Diane left a little jar of juniper berries in my mailbox! I’m so excited. They’re lovely, a little piney, a little citrusy. I decided to use them to flavor this parsnip tart. I kept the tart very simple otherwise, so that I’d be able to detect the juniper flavor. So the only other seasoning is thyme. And the only other ingredients are shallots and garlic, which play more of a starring role in this tart than I usually allow them. I used gjetost cheese, because I had some left from the other week, but you could easily substitute cheddar or mozzarella, or whatever else you like and have on hand. (And if you don’t have juniper berries, the tart would still be tasty. You could substitute a bit of rosemary, if you have some lying around.) This isn’t a light and fluffy tart, it’s dense and flavorful, and very delicious!

Here’s Regina Spektor with On the Radio, in honor of the curiously effective soundtrack of the video.

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Summer tart

We drove through the pine barrens on the way to and from Cape May. There are a lot of religious radio stations down that way, and signs along the road, and trucks with religious messages painted on them. In keeping with the burnt and barren landscape, the messages are all fairly dire and doom-filled. We were driving back in the lightning-lit gloaming of one of the longest days of the year, and I saw a sign that said, “God still talks to us.” And then we passed a darkened field under a sky cut across by strange horizontal lightning, and the field was filled with the slow glow of lightning bugs. I’m not very religious, in any traditional sense of the word, but it occurred to me at that sleepy moment that if God talked to us it would be through fireflies. Not that they’d communicate a message in some sort of coded pattern, but that God could say, “See? Lightning bugs.” And that would be that. This is the time of year for fireflies. The fireflyening. We were talking about them last night, sitting in our dusky garden, the boys reaching up from their seats and catching fireflies, which is really just letting them land on your hand for a moment. Or maybe them letting you feel their nearly imperceptible weight as a kind of blessing. We were imagining how they make themselves glow. Do they screw up their little faces and clench their little fists with the effort of lighting up their little butts? I was thinking of that phrase from It’s a Wonderful Life, “She lights up like a firefly whenever you’re around.”

Surely one of the nicest moments in life is when somebody is glad to see you. There are a gazillion people in the world, and when one of them has a face that brightens at the sight of you, it’s a gift. When somebody wags their tail when they see you, it makes you happy. This is why babies are nice. You might only be away from them for a few hours, but when you come back to them, although they don’t tell you in words, they let you know that you are their link to the universe, and they feel a little lost without you. Older children, however, are a little different. You could be gone for weeks, lost in a desert, fighting for your life, and when you walk into a room they would look up from the couch and say, “Mom! What do we have for a snack? I’m thirsty! Why don’t we have anything good to drink?” I remember many years ago I was talking to my dad, and without looking he knew David had walked into the room behind him, because, he said, my face never lit up that way for anyone else. I still feel that way! Yesterday when I came home from work, David seemed really glad to see me, and instead of appreciating that moment and letting myself feel happy, I let loose with a long stream of curses because I’d had such a rotten day at work. I brought everybody around me down into my tightly knotted coil of crankiness. Damn!

Well, one of the reasons I was cranky, is that I’d bought some new tart pans in Cape May, and I really wanted to be home making tarts! Silly, I know. In the end I did get to make this tart, and we sat outside and ate it, and then we built a fire and watched the sparks float up into the night and talked about fireflies. The tart has a white pepper walnut crust (I bought white peppercorns in Cape May, too!), which is a nice grounding, savory container for all the summery insides. In a garlicky basil custard, we have a little bit of fennel, some fresh tomatoes, and some thinly sliced zucchini that has been browned in olive oil. Simple!

Here’s Nina Simone’s Jellyroll, because it’s one of the best songs ever, and she says, “you could wrap me up in black, and still I shine and glow!”
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