Mr. Stanton was my fifth grade teacher. A World War II vet, he had lost a leg in the war. Whether his replacement leg was made of wood or something else was the topic of much discussion among us 11-year-olds.
Whatever the new leg was made of, neither the amputation nor the prosthetic hampered him much. As I remember, he rarely sat in class. Step-drag, step-drag, he often limped up and down the rows of desks and chairs – his suit jacket unbuttoned and flapping as he progressed – all the while quizzing us or checking our work or enlisting us in a mandatory end-of-the-day singalong. Every day Mr. Stanton would lower the record player’s needle onto a vinyl record and for the last 15 minutes of class we sang with him leading us in a booming tenor voice. Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, Daisy – we belted out those songs and more, and as we did, shy students got a voice, domineering students felt a little less secure, and people who otherwise weren’t friends found one thing in common: singing.
As memorable as all this was – the wooden leg, the baggy suit coat, the great equalizing effect of music – Mr. Stanton is on my mind now because of something he once said that I had a reason to remember just recently.
“Some of you,” he said, “are natural learners. The work, the right answers come easily to you.
“Others have to plug away. The work doesn’t come easily, you may make mistakes. But if you keep plugging away despite the mistakes, you will have learned a great deal.”
Well, I made a huge mistake while preparing our Christmas dessert on the Saturday before the holiday Sunday. And I made the mistake while doing something I’ve warned readers not to do several times in this very blog. I didn’t follow my own advice, which was probably the dumbest mistake I could make, and one that led to wasting a lot of good ingredients and my time. Shaming.
But only briefly.
It was only dessert, I told myself after a short period of grieving the results of my stupid, stupid errors. I also reminded myself that I had time to make another dessert on Christmas Day, and so I did. A different, better, edible one. My daughter wandered into the kitchen as I was well into the second effort. She asked what I was up to and I told her everything that had happened.
“You,” she said when I finished explaining, “are indefatigable.” She said it two more times.
Sometimes I am, I thought to myself as she left the room. Indefatigable in dessert, in work, in life, willing to keep going even if the custard doesn’t set or someone rejects a piece of writing or my character or psyche needs a bit of work.
In this new year, I wish you all to be happy and healthy. I also wish for you to try and fail and try again tirelessly as you reach for the best in everything you do.
Falafel, Not Hamburgers
My son has been clamoring for homemade hamburgers since arriving home for his winter break. For the burgers we use really good ground beef from Tendercrop Farm, and I’m usually as big a fan of these as everyone else here at home. But not this week, not after we spent a couple of days polishing off an equally fine quality tenderloin roast from Butcher Boy in North Andover.
The family had burgers; I had chickpea fritters, aka falafel, made flavorful with cumin, cilantro, chives, and lots and lots of fresh garlic.
Crispy outside, creamy smooth inside, the spice tamed by tangy yogurt sauce, give these patties a try when you crave a substitute for meat.
For the patties:
- (1) 15 ounce can of chickpeas (garbanzos) drained (or about 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, if used dried beans)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
- 2 Tbsp. cilantro leaves, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. roughly chopped chives
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 large egg, beaten
- olive oil
For the sauce:
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yoghurt
- 2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
- oil for frying
- salt and pepper
- pita bread, tomato, lettuce for serving
Make the yoghurt sauce first. Combine the yoghurt, cilantro, garlic cloves, lemon juice and cayenne pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, or in the glass jar of a blender. Mix well to chop the vegetables and blend with the yoghurt. Taste and salt and pepper the sauce as needed. Set aside to chill.
Clean the food processor or blender. Add to the work bowl fitted with blade the chickpeas, flour, cilantro, chives, cumin and egg.
Process to blend well. Drizzle in a few drops of olive oil if the mixture looks dry or stiff.
Heat either vegetable or olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until very hot but not smoking. Form small patties with the chickpea mixture using either a small scoop or tablespoon.
Flatten balls slightly into patties. Slide these gently into the hot oil, six patties at a time, and fry until golden on both sides. The recipe makes about 12 in all.
To serve, place two or three patties into a pita. Add lettuce, tomato and yoghurt sauce to taste, and enjoy.
©2011 Jane A. Ward