1.26.2013

a special treat


Sometimes, in the morning, when I'm trying to rush myself or the boys to move-move-move and maybe today make it out the door on-time for school and work, I remember with a smirk how naive I used to be of Mornings With School-Aged Kids before I'd experienced them. Mornings back then were still groggy and too-early, but they were filled with options. One could choose to be lazy or industrious, grumpy or grateful, but it all happened within the closed-in cocoon of home. There was a safety in that, knowing that mistakes made could be recovered from in due time, and that moments lost to dozing off or lingering over a warm mug were non-crucial to begin with. They were a generous start to the day. And I arrogantly and ridiculously assumed that, once we were on that path, that would just be how things worked in this family.

Now, of course, things have changed. Mornings - weekday ones, anyway - are humbling, lorded over as they are by the clock, counting down the precious and dwindling moments before we are pushed roughly out. Out of sleep, out of bed, out of the house. And once we're out, we're running, joining up with the rest of the world in the work of the day, so we'd better be ready for it. There is nothing generous about these mornings, nothing gently rubbing the small of your back, reassuring you that it is okay to rest a bit more, to take your time with your coffee. They are all about getting us geared up, revved up, because everything outside these four walls is not waiting for us. It's time to go.

This doesn't always bother me. I get a certain bizarre satisfaction from getting everyone up, dressed and fed, along with lunches packed and animals cared for, in 45 minutes. And it (usually) puts me in a productive mindset right from the get-go, which certainly can't be said of those languorous dawns of my past.

But every once in a while, as I plunk down yet another bowl of cereal or plate of peanut butter toast in front of my kids, I worry that my limited kid-approved and ready-in-a-hurry breakfast repertoire is hard on my family. I, after all, am the one who used to rise early to make biscuits for our morning meal, or scones or even eggs and home fries, with sides of thick-cut bacon that had been cooked slow and gentle over a low flame, to help it brown and crisp evenly without its edges shriveling up and burning in the panic of high heat. But that was when our mornings could start at 8:00, or 8:30, or even 9:00am, with no ill effect. Not now.

Now we have places to be and people expecting us, and we're more interested in making sure everyone remembers to brush their teeth than in waiting for the oven to preheat. And so in the scurry and rush of it all, I wonder if it might look like I've lost my love of breakfast.

I try to make up for it on the weekends, with yeast waffles and breakfast tacos and spiced oatmeal cooked slow slow slow, without stirring, so that it retains its identity and toothsomeness, instead of turning to glue. And my kids don't seem to mind the food I serve on those harried mornings; on the contrary, boxed cereal still has an aura of being a special treat, despite my insistence that they choose one with no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving. (This leads to some interesting times in the cereal aisle.) But me, I still sometimes feel like I'm letting someone down, even if it's only the irrational expectations of my unsuspecting former self.


All this rambling is to say: a couple of months ago I discovered yeast pancakes. Now, I realize I'm probably the last person to figure those out. Even with all my experience with and promotion of yeast waffles, I hadn't yet grasped the notion that the technique of an overnight yeast batter could be applied to other breakfast batters. But when I finally did, and found out that they're even easier to make than yeast waffles (no waiting for an hour before the batter can be stuck in the fridge!), well, it was an exciting moment to realize that we can occasionally have a "real" breakfast at 7:30 on a Tuesday morning.

The other thing that's so great about these pancakes is that they're really great pancakes. They're luxuriously big and puffy, but not leaden in your stomach like the pancakes of his childhood that Josh stills complains about. The mix of whole grains and spices, along with the tang of the yeast, gives them a hearty, healthy flavor, so that pouring on some maple syrup is a welcomed complement, rather than an unnecessary extra layer of sweetness. And I still get a little thrill every time I open the refrigerator in the morning and find that, once again, the yeast has worked its magic and the airy, fluffy batter is practically to the top of my mixing bowl.

I will admit that I still don't make these as much as I'd like. Putting together breakfast the night before doesn't often occur to me on a busy weeknight. But simply having them tucked away in my arsenal, knowing that I could — and sometimes do — make a "fancy" breakfast for my boys on a school day? Well, it makes me feel like I'm that much closer to our leisurely, fairytale-hued breakfasts of yore.


Yeast Pancakes
Yields 10-12 pancakes

These pancakes are so easy, they barely warrant directions a simple ingredient list should be sufficient. Just make sure you mix up the batter in a large bowl, as it's going to grow overnight. And it should go without saying that, like all pancakes, these take well to a variety of fruit additions. Also, I should tell you that this recipe makes such thick, fluffy pancakes that you really need to cook them over low heat in order to not burn the outside before the center is fully cooked. In my house, this longer-than-normal cooking time works out just fine, since I can have lunches made and breakfast on the table by the time my kids are finally dressed and downstairs. And once they're ready, these pancakes are quickly devoured.

320 grams gluten-free flour blend (Your choice here, but lately I've been leaning towards a multi-grain blend, with brown rice and teff and buckwheat and sometimes gluten-free oat flour. I usually keep to a ratio of 70% whole grain to 30% starch when I'm mixing it up.)
1¼ teaspoons psyllium husks (or xanthan gum, or a combination of the two)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 packet rapid rise yeast
scant ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (I just grate some over the bowl)
12 fluid ounces lowfat buttermilk, warmed to about 100ºF. (I was low on buttermilk one night, so used 8 fluid ounces whole milk and 4 fluid ounces buttermilk, and the pancakes were still great.)
56 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
3 Tablespoons maple syrup (grade B, if available)
1 large egg, lightly whisked
1 teaspoon vanilla

The night before you want pancakes, get out a large mixing bowl and whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients, and mix with a spoon until well-blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready for pancakes, remove the bowl from the fridge. Heat a large sauté pan or griddle over low heat, greasing it with the fat of your choice. When the pan is hot, give the pancake batter a quick whisk and then drop it by the quarter-cup-full onto the pan and nudge it into a circle-ish shape. (It will be quite thick.) Cook until the underside is a caramel brown, the edges are dry, and bubbles have just begun to emerge on the surface. Flip the pancakes, and cook until the other side is nicely browned. Serve immediately, with good maple syrup. Any leftovers may be wrapped and left on the counter; they make a good snack later in the day, heated up and spread with peanut butter.
   

1.17.2013

back on the bandwagon


"I'm making soup too!"

"What kind?" My mom texted back.

"A made-up kind. I roasted a kabocha squash, and while it was cooking I sautéed carrots, celery, onion & rosemary in olive oil until soft. I added the roasted squash and a mix of chicken broth and duck stock. I had also roasted a bunch of garlic cloves, and I smashed half of them and added it to the pot (the rest are going into soft butter for garlic bread). Soon I'll purée the squash mixture with some more duck stock. I've also cooked shaved Brussels sprouts with bacon to garnish/stir into the soup. I'm really looking forward to it, though the boys will balk!"


That was three weeks ago. The boys did not, in fact, balk, and the soup was rich and earthy and belly-warming and the garlic bread was pungent and soft, and it was such an all-around pleasant affair, what with the swirling snow outside and the glowing candles inside, and the flame-orange soup served in the much-loved childhood soup bowls that I inherited at Christmastime.


It snowed again yesterday and now the weather has turned stark and severely cold, and after the other night's child-led rejection of kabocha in a different form (mashed, with lots of herbs and more of that garlic butter, and I for one loved it), I'm thinking we may need another round of roasted squash soup, just to get everyone back on the bandwagon.

11.20.2012

not quite done


 My kids have started listening to Christmas music. Which, by extension, means that I have also started listening to Christmas music.

I didn't stop them when they asked. I may have even encouraged it, by subtly humming under my breath some of my favorite Burl Ives tunes. And certainly, I was the most excited of us all when we drove past two little pine trees, all lit up for the holiday. The first of the season.

But still.

With my boys getting more and more into the swing of it (Christmas music every day! Drawing Christmas pictures! Playing Santa games!), I'm realizing I wasn't quite ready. I love Christmas, I really do. But I also love deep fall. It might be my favorite time of year. I love the lull between seasons, the pause between the crazy of late summer and the crazy of the holidays. I love the color show, the one that explodes naturally in my backyard, no extension cords and spare bulbs needed. I love the parade of birds that passes by my windows, making pit stops in my normally sparrow-dominated yard to gorge on berries and sunflower seeds as they go about their seasonal travels. Cedar waxwings, purple finches, tufted titmice - these guys are just as exciting to me as any downtown holiday window display. I even love the temperature change. My house feels cozier with the heat turned on, and it makes me want to light candles and roast something delicious. This is a different — perhaps better? — cozy than Christmas Cozy, more wool sweaters and hunkering down, less tinsel and expectations. Even walking across the lawn after a frost, hearing the blades of grass crunch under my feet and feeling the nubs of exposed dirt crumble from the shifting pressure of my shoe, even that bit of unremarkable normalness is a sensory delight I never tire of.

But to embrace Christmas means embracing winter. And winter it is not. I only just yesterday finished raking the mounds of leaves shed by our towering maples, and underneath I found sprightly green grass and a lone, brave dandilion! Wylie took his coat and hat off while playing outside the other day, and didn't get chilled. And while I have to break a film of ice off the hens' water each morning, it's never cold enough to freeze back up during the day.

Deep fall. Not winter.

And besides, I haven't quite finished all my fall activities yet. There are those leaves, for one, now pushed into piles scattered blatantly across the yard, that I still have to contend with. Speaking of leaves, the boys and I have only managed to make one leaf rubbing so far, but with still more leaves coming down every day (our trees hang on to their summer garb longer than anyone else in the neighborhood!), we should be able to find time for a few more. There is also the cider situation. We haven't had nearly enough warm cider this year. And what about the caramel apples that Wylie has repeatedly pressured me for?

I'm just not quite done with fall. Give me one more day of yard work under a warm sun, a couple more intensely cold and crisp apples eaten out of hand, and another batch of pumpkin spice bread, and then I'll be ready.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Wishing all of you good food, warm homes, and plenty of cozy as we make the transition to winter and the holiday season.


Pumpkin Spice Bread
Yields two 8x4-inch loaves

It was my turn to bring snack to Wylie's preschool last week, and since we didn't have any super-ripe bananas for banana muffins, pumpkin bread was his second choice (along with sliced apples and bananas and super-sharp cheddar cheese - those kids are enthusiastic eaters!). And what a good second choice it was! The house smelled amazing as it was baking, and the kids at school devoured it. It was also oh-so-satisfying from a baker's perspective, as the batter only filled the pans halfway but rose to glorious heights once tucked away in the oven, cresting almost two inches above the lip! But there wasn't nearly enough leftover for my own family, and given how easy it is to throw together (I made the first batch right before bedtime) and the fact that there is a can of pumpkin just sitting in my cupboard, denied its appearance at this Thanksgiving in favor of a sweet potato pie, I think there is more pumpkin bread in our very near future.

455 grams Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour blend, or your favorite all-purpose blend
2 teaspoons baking soda
1¾ teaspoons xanthan gum or psyllium husk powder
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling), or homemade pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
250 grams unbleached cane sugar
150 grams light brown sugar
150 grams water
135 grams unsweetened applesauce
95 grams canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease two 8x4-inch loaf pans and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, xanthan/psyllium, salt and spices. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining ingredients and mix on medium speed until well blended. (You could also use a handheld electric mixer for this.)

Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix on low to blend, then increase the speed to high and beat for one minute.

Divide batter between the prepared pans and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then remove the loaves from the pans and finish cooling on a wire rack. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature, for up to four days.

10.31.2012

that primal, wild part of you



 Apple season is coming to an end around here. Maybe it’s just in Maine, but Halloween always feels like the turning point, when the once-vigorous, crisp days of early fall abruptly launch their descent into the truly frigid, gloves-and-hat weather of deep fall. The foliage show is past its peak (and we can usually count on there being at least one big storm on the horizon to barrel through and rip off any leaves refusing to give up the ghost), and the apples have matched pace and all fallen or, more likely, been plucked.


It’s been a busy fall for us, and half of our little family never made it to our local orchard. Wylie and I, though, went on an apple-picking field trip a couple weeks ago with his preschool class, and were very productive. Most families paid their $5 and were given small, kid-sized paper bags to put their pickings in. Wylie, however, announced repeatedly to anyone who would listen that he was going to pick “a billion” apples, and thus we needed the giant plastic bags the orchard also had on hand. In the end, Wylie proved a bit optimistic in his estimate, but we did walk away with over twenty pounds of Macoun apples (some of my favorite, second only to Northern Spy), along with a jug of tart, fresh-pressed cider.


The day was gorgeous, clear and bright with an early chill in the air that had receded by the time we were deep among the apple trees. We rounded up all the little ones after a brief cider-making lesson, head-counted thrice for good measure, and started off. Walking the wide path through the front orchard, we passed the barely-trickle of a stream and the red-orange berries of the hawthorn trees, and continued up the curving hill, all eyes peeled for the pink ribbons on the end of the rows signaling we had reached the Macouns. Eighteen children eagerly set upon the trees, weaving and ducking under the lowest bows, excited to see how quickly they could fill their bags with the abundance surrounding us.

The five-pound totes were quickly filled from trees so bursting with fruit that their canopies were just as much red as green. Harvesting complete, the kids set about playing in the orchard, something I don't think grown-ups spend nearly enough time doing. Hide-and-seek among the heavy, low-hanging branches, racing down the rows, "testing" the apples to find the one with just enough snap, sweetness and bite to be deemed Perfect - all were natural inclinations for children let loose among the apples, unaware as they were that for some people, row upon row of laden fruit trees equals many days of manual labor.

As I watched them, first in the orchard, then later as they sampled cider, and finally when the class trekked to the playground across the street for snack and play time, I noticed how freely all the children just . . . were. They barely noticed the yellow jackets wizzing around their heads, who were looking for their share of the sweet, fermented fruit; the adults' hands waving the wasps away were a much bigger nuisance. They made no pains to avoid the oversized ruts of soft, cracking mud left behind by the tractor. They were unencumbered by worries about how far one could run away before crossing the line into "too far." They were outside in October and the sun was shining and it was good. And as I took it all in, it occurred to me that children are often a lot better at what they do than we grown-ups are at what we do.


 It's partly the nature of the beast, I know. But I can't help feeling that it's too easy to let obligation and responsibility and inhibition creep unhindered into our lives, until it sometimes seems as though those are the things that define our lives. When was the last time you bent down close to watch a wasp have a drink? Or got excited about the geometry and texture of giant tire ruts stamped into the earth by farm machinery? Or even swung as high and fast as your legs would pump you? Because really, I don't think many of us actually outgrow "kid" stuff. We just tell ourselves we do, in our eagerness to grow up and prove ourselves to be far too mature to appreciate the silly things that occupy the time of a four-year-old.

We are doing ourselves a disservice.

The heaviness of adulthood, the worries and requirements, distractions and ambitions, could be put in better balance if somewhere along the way we could remember that, even in grown-up hands, play dough feels good. And running through a field can release that primal, wild part of you that gets repeatedly tamped down under towering piles of "I ought to do . . " And that some of the most fascinating things we will ever see often take place on a very small scale, way down at ground level.

I wish we went to the orchard more. Without an agenda, without time constraints, without fear of wasps. Because, amongst the apples and the bugs and the funky-sweet scent beneath the trees, it can be beautiful to just be.

 
Apple Snacking Cake
Yields one 11-inch cake

After making two apple pies, a batch of applesauce, eating numerous apples out of hand and with our stash dwindling, I needed a more substantial, but less dessert-y vehicle for my apples. Most years, I'd turn unthinkingly to Louisa May Alcott's apple slump, but this year I wanted something a bit more refined, though not too fancy. Enter the snacking cake. Equally at home first thing in the morning or alongside a cup of tea in the afternoon, this cake is a lovely study in contrasts. Soft apples are held in place by a sturdy batter, a batter which manages to be both delicate (due to the spices) and hearty (thanks to the relatively small amount of sugar). It's inspired by Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake, from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, but the end result is a very different cake indeed. Though it is delicious on day one, after having a full day to settle into itself it becomes even better. But, be forewarned, it is almost too moist to enjoy by day four. Not that you'll have any left by then, anyway.

202 grams Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon psyllium husk powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch fine sea salt
2 large eggs
100 grams light brown sugar
114 grams butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large, tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

 Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 11-inch removable bottom tart pan (a springform pan would also work here).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, psyllium husk powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and sugar on high speed until pale yellow and thick. Add the melted butter and vanilla and whisk to blend well.

Switching to mixing by hand with a wooden spoon, stir in the sliced apples and then add the dry ingredients and mix to incorporate. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until golden brown. Cake may be served warm or at room temperature, and you will find that no one objects to a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Store cake, wrapped airtight, at room temperature for up to three days.

10.03.2012

brimming with tradition


Some notes from around here:

Two of my favorite women each just had a baby, and my family went to The Fair. (Though not necessarily in that order, that is certainly how their importance is ranked in my mind.) And they have both, for good reason, put my mind on a children-and-traditions sort of path.


Every single time someone I know has a baby, I am immediately rushed back to my own early experiences with motherhood. All those little details that made up the bulk of my bleary, milky first and second and third days as a mother, and then a mother again — the fiercely protective cocooning impulse that descends on the house, the funny way that nursing and my own thirst became urgently, critically synchronized, stroking the satiny tops of my babies' heads and their rumpled fingers, the strangeness of being utterly exhausted yet also too paranoid to sleep soundly — all the things that never flash across my mind during the regular goings-on of my life, they all seem suddenly and completely relevant again and in need of a good reminiscing. As if it was me who had just given birth, I am driven to obsessively rehash my own labor and delivery stories, their individual challenges and triumphs, even — or especially — when my only audience member is the appreciative voice inside my own head.

And then once I've really fleshed out my own transformation into Mama, I start thinking about my boys, and what their experiences as members of this family have been like. Wondering what things they'll remember, what in particular is going to stick out of the busy whirlwind of early childhood. Their own rambling chatter suggests that they've been paying close attention.

"Do you remember when I was a baby, Mommy, and I always wanted you to read me Oh, The Places You'll Go!"

"When I was very little, I didn't know how to say scavenger hunt."

"Wylie, when you were a baby, your favorite food was avocado. You mushed it everywhere."

So yes, they notice things. In fact, at this age their memories of their childhoods are probably sharper and brighter than mine are, mine which have already been smudged around the edges — and in some cases obscured altogether — by the competing need to multitask my mothering with the rest of the demands of adult life. There's just no way to retain it all. And yet I am always chagrined when they ask, "Remember when I was little and I  . . ." and I don't. I don't remember. I wish I did, and I am so thankful for their reminders of the things I've let slip. Seriously, I am often surprised and touched by how many small, seemingly insignificant things they do remember.




And that's where I think traditions come in. For helping all us aging grownups to remember, and to connect, again and again, with our loved ones. Repetition, you know? Because while I thrill in watching my boys enjoying and looking forward to the traditions we've created for them, it is certainly me who finds a deeper meaning in it all, and who feels the burning urgency to keep these customs going. As much as I want my kids to experience the security and sacredness of family traditions, even stronger is my own desire to want to remember my boys taking part in them. I need to remember. And I want to know that the heritage I am passing on is one rich with established practices, ways to mark the year that say, repeatedly, this is who we are. I want to know that we did these things together.

 



Which brings me to The Fair. The Common Ground Country Fair began in 1977, making it just barely a year older than I am. And while I haven't attended every year, it's safe to say that I've been at least twenty times, probably more. Certainly long enough for it to be established, as securely as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, as yet another way in which we celebrate and mark the rhythm of our year. And just as The Fair itself has morphed and evolved over the years, so too has my experience of it, culminating in this year, when Kalen emphatically informed me that, when you have kids, the whole point of going to The Fair is to spend as much time as possible in the Children's Area. Seeing as much of what I remember about my own early Fair days are children's activities and entertainment, it would seem that he's entirely right.








So while this year I may have missed out on some excellent presentations, didn't really shop at all, skipped the sheep dog trials, and never even set foot inside the main building to ogle all the prize-winning vegetables, I still had a brimming-with-tradition Fair experience. The garden parade, fresh-cut potato chips, live music, wagon rides, ice cream, face painting . . . it was all there, just as I'd remembered it, just as I want my children to remember it. Because while going to The Fair is fantastic in itself, it's the memories of being there with my growing family that sustain me throughout the rest of the year. That help me to remember all the other Fairs I've been to in my lifetime, and that, most importantly, bind me to the friends and family I've shared them with.


Indian Pudding
Serves 6-8

One thing that always says "Fair" to me is warm Indian pudding, with barely-sweetened whipped cream melting down its sides in milky white ribbons. For some unknown reason Indian pudding, although a traditional New England dessert, has never played much of a role in my life outside of The Fair. I treasure this fact, since part of the charm of The Fair for so many of us is eating foods that we only encounter that one weekend a year. This year, though, due to the confluence of my traditional dish of ice cream and an I'm-hoping-becomes-traditional fish taco on a freshly-pressed corn tortilla with homemade sriracha, I didn't have the appetite for more than a couple bites of Indian pudding. This resulted in me moaning to the boys, days later, that I didn't have nearly enough Indian pudding to get me through to next year, and so we were going to have to make some. This went over well enough until we dug into the first servings, at which point we all realized that what I'd made was not the Indian pudding from The Fair. (Keep in mind, I never make Indian pudding. I didn't know what I was doing.) So Round One went into the trash (it was way too sweet, with a texture that was equal parts broken custard and watery syrup), and after significant alterations to the recipe, I landed on a dish that we all agree tastes and looks much more like the one ritually eaten every September. It was just what I needed to close out the month. And while the technique — more polenta than pudding — might not be historically traditional, it wins points for being an entirely stovetop affair. A keeper for sure, even if I hardly ever end up making it again, in order to preserve Indian pudding's special status as an annual Fair Treat. I wouldn't want to break too much with tradition, after all.

834 grams whole milk
133 grams heavy cream
140 grams yellow cornmeal
170 grams maple syrup (preferably grade B)
150 grams molasses (use blackstrap molasses for more authentic "Fair" flavor)
30 grams unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ heaping teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

In a large heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat, scald the milk and cream. Rain in the cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent clumping. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring, for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of thin porridge. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to thoroughly combine. Cook at a low simmer, whisking every 10 minutes or so, for up to 2 hours. You're looking for the pudding to be quite thick and reduced, and when you scoop out a spoonful for testing, it should firm up as it cools. Once you're determined that the pudding is thick enough, it's ready to be served right away topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream, or transferred into another baking dish, plastic wrap pressed on the surface, and chilled for up to three days. The pudding will be very firm when cold, but can be gently reheated over low heat and stirred to return to its creamy state. And to state the obvious, it makes a fabulous hearty breakfast on crisp Fall mornings.

9.06.2012

how greatly i appreciate


I sat here for a long time wondering what to write. Wanting to pick up right where we left off, but unsure of where that was, exactly.

There was a gin and tonic next to me, which was slowly drained until nothing but the spent lime wedge bumped against my lips as I futilely tipped the glass to my mouth. Still dripping rivulets of its own sweat, there was then more water pooled around the base of the glass, spreading across the forest green nightstand, than there was left in it, the inevitable outcome of a chilled highball meeting the still-warm breath of a late-summer night.

The dog was stretched out on the floor next to me, the front half of her body hidden under the thrifted bird-print chaise in the corner of my bedroom, a recently-discovered-but-now-favorite napping spot.

The boys, asleep across the hall, were mostly quiet, save for the occasional dream mumbling and thrashing about of duvet-bound legs.

I ordered Wylie's birthday present. (A personalized super hero cape. If it's half as cool as it looks online, he's going to be over the moon.) I became the last person on earth to set up a Paypal account. I fought with Paypal a bit while trying to retrieve money I had been sent. I thought a lot about pie.


I think about pie (and its close relatives) a lot lately. My Instagram feed seems full of them these days, all the scattered-about people I follow taking advantage of the late-summer berry and stone fruit harvests with pies and tarts and galettes. And practically every day at work, I'm rolling dough, cutting out circles, folding up the edges on individual black plum and walnut frangipane crostatas. Pie is my constant companion right now.

Which is why I was disappointed in myself when I realized that it had been ages since I'd made anything in the pie family for my family to eat. Not in over two months, not since the Pie Party. Seems that when I have my hands on dough every day, feeling the smooth coolness of it stretch under the gentle, rhythmic pressure of my rolling pin, smelling the intoxicating scent of nubs of butter melting and browning as the pastry bakes, I forget that none of it is for me. I forget that there are people in my life more important to me than restaurant customers who might enjoy some pie of their own.


I thought about all of this for a while, and when I had myself feeling good and guilty for all that lack of family pie-making, and had held my own virtual pie making session, mentally mixing and matching fruits and spices, assembling a cornucopia of crave-worthy pies, after all this pie obsessing, I ran downstairs and transferred a disc of pastry dough from my freezer to the fridge, to thaw overnight.

The next day, there would be pie.

But first, the next day there was a lot of non-pie business to attend to. Wylie's new preschool held an Open House. Which might as well have been an Open Play Day, for the amount of time the boys insisted upon staying there. Trying to quell the impatient, nagging voices inside my head, I told myself that it was very important for him to feel fully comfortable and at home there. Later, I frustrated myself to no end trying to track down a very specific style of baking dish, one which a Google search would lead me to believe exists only in the UK, except for the fact that twelve of them currently reside at 40 Paper. I had to fit in a couple hours' of work at the restaurant. At around the same time, I may also have forgotten to feed the boys lunch until it was loudly pointed out to me that they were starving, and there was the inarguable fact that I didn't have any fruit in the house to make pie with. Just a typical day, in other words.

Still, early on I had let the boys in on my pie-making intentions, and they had immediately picked up on my urgency. "When are we going to go home so we can make pie?" was the refrain my hectic day kept looping back around to, pushing me not to lose my resolve or my eye on the clock.


We managed to get to the market before it closed. We had a heated discussion about fruit, whether it was better to use summer-y fruit that wouldn't be around much longer, or dive into fall with the first local apples of the season. Summer won out, with the promise of an apple pie very soon helping to console the looser. Knowing that pie-making would seriously cut into dinner prep time, we picked up a box of what might as well be called Mother's Little Helpers, for how greatly I appreciate their assistance in getting vegetables into my boys on hurried, complaint-laden nights. We rushed home and turned on the oven.

Donning our aprons, we talked about pie dough.

"See all those yellow polka dots in the dough? That's butter. We need that butter to stay cold. Let's be gentle with the dough."

Starting with the rolling pin in the center of the dough, Kalen and Wylie took turns exerting uncharacteristic muscle control to maintain a light, even pressure as they passed the pin back and forth, top to bottom, each finding their own rhythm, pausing to shift the disc a quarter turn, dusting it with more flour, patting and smooshing any cracks that were forming.

"Wylie? Remember how we're being gentle? Please don't dig the butter out with your fingernail."

The kitchen heated up; our oven is an ancient and inefficient old restaurant range, which does double-duty as a furnace when it's turned on. The dough was getting soft, squishing under the occasional too-firm pass of the rolling pin.

"Kalen, can I take a turn? I want to figure out what size circle we need, so I can give you and Wylie the scraps."

I eased our roughly 12-inch diameter circle of dough onto a sheet pan and quickly shoved it in the fridge to regain its composure. The boys got out their little rolling pin to practice with their golf ball-sized pieces of dough; rolling was fun, the liberal, frequent application of flour turned out to be more fun. It got goofy. Pastry dough has a fairly short life span in a hot kitchen, though, so this stage of the show was brief - after all, they wanted to be able to eat the pie crust cookies they were making!

We moved on to the fruit. Wylie has been garnering much praise and admiration around our house lately for his "fruit salad." Simply bananas and peaches, what makes it remarkable is that he does it all himself, working diligently to make sure all the pieces of fruit are cut to the proper size. Kalen has been warily watching from the sidelines, not sure what to make of all his brother's unassisted-sharp-knife use, but apparently pie is a bigger motivator than salad, and he and Wylie went to town chopping up a handful of late-season nectarines.

This took a while. And a while longer. I was glad I had bought those veggie-patty-things, as I scurried around behind my pastry cooks, popping a trayful of animal shapes into the toaster oven and getting some chorizo sizzling in a skillet. Dinner was going to be haphazard and late, but at least it would be more than just pie.


And about that pie. I keep calling it pie because that's what the boys kept calling it. Technically, due to the fact that it only had a bottom crust and was going to be a free-form affair, we should have been calling it a crostata or galette. But it's hard to change the terminology after you've been talking about making pie all day, so pie it was.

We tossed the chunks of nectarines with wild blueberries, cane sugar, lots of lime ("That's sour, Mama! Put in more sugar!" "No, trust me, it's going to be fine after it bakes."), ground ginger, and some tapioca starch for thickening. The boys stirred, and stirred and stirred, and I was glad we hadn't started out with lovely crescents of nectarine, which surely would have been broken and pulpy by the time it was determined that sufficient stirring had taken place. The whole lot was dumped in the center of our dough circle, minus a lot of the liquid that had amassed during all that stirring. And then my perfectionist, control-freak pastry chef side reared its head, and I shooed the boys away as I commandeered folding and pressing the edges of the dough up around the fruit, tucking it in as gently and lovingly as I would soon be doing to my own boys.


Because wouldn't you know it, pie-making when your kids are in charge can take you way past bedtime, way past an acceptable time for six- and almost-four-year-olds to be eating dessert. Which is why those pie crust cookies were so important, as was the vanilla ice cream bought to go with the pie. For two little boys, presented with bowls of sweet, flaky crust and rich, intensely vanilla-y ice cream, along with promises that breakfast would be the pie that was still tantalizingly bubbling away in the oven, all was still right with the world, and the pie-making had been a success.


End of Summer Pie/Crostata/Galette
Yields one roughly 10-inch diameter "pie"

1 disc gluten-free pastry dough
5 nectarines, skin on, pitted and roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
1½ cups wild Maine blueberries (frozen is fine)
1 cup cane sugar
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
zest and juice of one lime
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of fine sea salt
egg wash, for brushing crust
granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a sheet tray with parchment or a silicone baking mat and set aside.

On a gluten-free-floured board, using gentle pressure and additional gluten-free flour as needed, roll out the disc of pastry dough to a roughly 12-inch diameter circle. Rotate the dough after every couple of passes of the rolling pin, to make sure it's not sticking to the board. Depending on how rustic you want your pie to look (and whether or not you want scraps to make "cookies" with), you may want to use a paring knife to trim the scraggly edges of the circle. Gently transfer the dough to the prepared sheet tray, patching any cracks that may form. Refrigerate if you think it may be a while before you're ready to pile fruit onto it.

In a medium bowl, gently combine the nectarines, blueberries, cane sugar, tapioca starch, lime zest and juice, ground ginger and sea salt. Spoon this mixture into the center of your pastry circle, reserving any accumulated juices. Spread the fruit out to within 1½ inches of the edge of the dough. Carefully fold the dough up around the fruit, brushing with egg wash as you go to help seal the edges of the folds to each other. Press together any cracks that form. (If your dough is too cold, it will be too stiff to bend and will just break. Let it warm up a bit until it feels smooth and pliable.) Give the whole crust one more brush with the egg wash and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Refrigerate the pie until cool and firm, 15-20 minutes.

Remove pie from fridge. Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved fruit juices over the filling. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown all over and the filling is thick and bubbling. Cool on the tray. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream if it's dessert or with coffee if it's breakfast. Pie keeps, wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature, for up to three days.

8.01.2012

all the stars


"I know!" he proposed. "Why don't we all take naps, and then tonight you can work on your blog and I can go see the new Batman movie?"

The nap part sounded nice. But there's this thing that has happened around me and writing and this blog. I don't want to do it at 11pm anymore, which has been my modus operandi since I started writing here. I don't want to sit bleary-eyed in front of the computer at the tail end of an exhausting day, forcing myself to push out legible sentences. (Which, by the light of the following morning, are never as legible as I'd thought.) I want to give myself permission to relax a bit after working so hard, to read a book or pull up an episode of The Daily Show or even - incredibly - go to bed early without feeling guilty. I want down time, and I want it at the end of the day, when my body itself is naturally cycling down, along with the rest of my house and the world outside, when even my favorite radio station has switched over to the kind of mellow, contemplative programming that goes best with a glass of wine and soft, gentle lighting, without a side of self-induced pressure to work.

So when Josh suggested I schedule some writing time that night, after the boys were asleep and he was off to a late-night movie? I felt something inside me tense up and take a step back, refusing to commit. I didn't tell him that, though. Instead I made excuses, about how I don't have any good recipes to give you, and haven't been taking any pictures related to food, and the only post that I've been working on lately is rambling longer and longer, when really it all boils down to two sentences. (This is, in fact, all true. And to spare you from having to read my insufferable blabbering, here are those two lines: I'm so sorry, I haven't meant to stay away from the blog for so long, it just happened without my having time to notice it. My life, what with summer and kids and the restaurant and hen-raising, is ridiculously, overwhelmingly busy and exhausting and often frantic right now. There you go; now you're getting two blog posts in one.)

What I should have said was, "If the rest of my house is going to be sleeping, in the middle of an afternoon in which there is nowhere I am required to be, no less, then that is when I want to be writing. Plus there is the fact that the rain has just started up again, so I need to make a cup of lapsang souchong tea, which, as everyone knows, is the best-ultimate type of tea to drink on rainy days, particularly quiet ones. And also, there are wild blueberries on the kitchen counter, gifted to us by my just-departed in-laws, and I would love to be alone as I gorge on them, so as not to have to share with the little fingers that squish the neighboring fruit as they dig around for the perfect handful."

I should have said all that. Instead, I did all that. And it has been lovely.

For you, in this spirit of taking advantage of any and all available downtime, I'm presenting images from a recent (i.e. several weeks ago, which really does feel recent, given the pace of our lives) sail we took with a friend, when all the stars lined up and gave us free time and beautiful weather and happy children and chilled rosé. There is nothing like being on a classic, old boat sailing away from the shore (along with everything waiting for you at home), to remind you that your only job right now is to relax and enjoy yourself. May we all be reminded of that more often.

(There is also some food-related stuff down at the bottom. Not actually a true recipe as such, but more like a food chat, instructions and inspiration if you're looking for that type of thing. And it's about really satisfying food and the type of meal you can eat for days on end without tiring of it, so it's got that going for it.)















Bringing Back the Supper Salad


The other evening, in the middle of feeling defeated once more by the crushing pace of our days, I somehow managed to get a second wind. (Or it might have been my eighteenth, but who's counting?) Instead of tackling the mountain of laundry, or forcing the mower through the calf-high grass, I used the energy to make sure that dinner would not again be a randomly thrown-together, hurriedly-eaten affair, one best forgotten as soon as it was over. I gave myself permission to think for a moment about what I most felt like eating, and promptly decided to make a salad. Growing up, I remember having many salad-for-supper nights. I'm not sure why I'd apparently forgotten that option still exists, though Kalen's dismissal of all things "salad" can certainly explain part of it. No matter, I emphatically want this to be part of our summer meal rotation now. But while the dinner salads of my youth were heavy on veggies from our garden, with cubes of cheddar cheese tossed in for protein and lots of Catalina dressing poured over it all, I unfortunately have no garden this year, and besides, what I was craving that night was a little more refined.

Our local grocery store chain sells an "herb salad mix" that has a wide variety of baby greens in it, things like tat-soi and kale and two kinds of chard and mizuna, all of it punctuated by tufts of parsley and lacy dill. I am usually very picky about where I'll accept the addition of dill, but I have discovered that I love it — in fact I adore it — in my salad. It's zingy and green and earthy in all the best ways, and to date it's complemented everything I've scattered on top of it. Put some dill in your next salad. It's better than you can imagine.

With a fluffy pile of this salad mix as my starting point, I looked around to see what else I had. An avocado, three pieces of bacon, two ears of corn, and half a dozen eggs. Perfect. In retrospect, I would have preferred the corn cut off the cob raw and sprinkled over the salad, to give it a bit more crunch and sweet pop. But the boys like their corn steamed, so that they can gnaw away at the cobs. You've got to give in to your kids somewhere, I figured.

The biggest accomplishment of this salad for me was the eye-opening experience of a perfect soft-boiled egg. Creamy and more custardy than a hard-cooked egg, without the underlying fear of that glob of uncooked egg white that sometimes hides inside a poached egg, this is the egg I want on all my salads from here on out. I used the technique explained here, and have no need to elaborate on it; it is without reproach. I, on the other hand, received a stern self-talking-to, for having ignored this vantage point of egg consumption for so long.

While the eggs cooked, I had just enough time to throw together a vinaigrette. Good olive oil, white balsamic vinegar (classic recipes will advise a 3:1 ratio; I always go a bit heavier on the vinegar), a clove or two of crushed garlic, some mustard powder, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper all went into a canning jar, and a vigorous shake brought them together in a quick emulsion that held its shape just long enough to get it onto the greens. Topped with a still-warm egg, it was just the salad I'd needed, and the one I've been pining after ever since.

What have been your favorite salads this summer?

 
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