I love a leap year.
In this era where nearly everything can be adjusted to suit standards that seem more exacting by the day, where we calculate our time down to the second on a regular basis and even a baby’s birth can be scheduled, there is something to be celebrated – something pleasingly archaic if slightly bizarre – in the continuing existence of February 29th.
The only down side is that it prolongs the end of this dreary month, which, as far as I am concerned, could not come soon enough.
Just when I thought I had endured this balmy winter largely unscathed, I was beset recently by the dreaded seasonal slump – I’ve mentioned it before, and I even had the temerity to suggest that I had avoided it this year; but that was sadly not the case (as evidenced in part by the recent waffle-mania that has overtaken our house).
So we aren’t celebrating the extra day in February, exactly.
It’s been an eventful few years – which coming from me, having lived a fairly unconventional and action-packed life, is saying a great deal – and although there were some harrowing times that I could certainly have done without, most of the time I marvel at how far we have come.
This recipe takes me back to the early days of my first pregnancy, and the beginning of my time here: a time when I felt utterly unmoored, far from everyone who knew me well and overwhelmed by what I had undertaken when I decided to embrace this new life, new love, new neighbourhood – and vastly empty new home.
But before it did I made a batch of socca one cold, bright March afternoon and ate it off a paper towel with my fingers, sitting on the floor all alone and looking out the bare kitchen window and shaping, in my mind’s eye, a life.
A long way, indeed.
I have made one addition to to this simple recipe, and fiddled somewhat with the method, so if you are a stickler you’ll find the original here. This is a southern French dish, ideally paired with cold rose served in tumblers in the heat of an August afternoon, but for some reason it always comes calling for me at this time of year.
2c chickpea flour
2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 tsp ground cumin (I am currently obsessed with roasted cumin and would recommend that if you can find it, but regular ground cumin is of course more than fine)
a generous grinding of black pepper
2c warm water
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced, lengthwise
2-4 tbsp olive oil (not necessarily extra virgin, since it’s going into a very hot pan)
Sift flour into a large mixing bowl. Add salt, cumin and pepper and stir to combine, then slowly whisk in water to form a smooth batter. Whisk in extra virgin olive oil. Cover and let the batter sit for as long as possible, ideally an hour or two and overnight if it comes to that.
Set a 10-inch cast iron skillet on a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Stir onions into batter.
When oven and pan are hot, remove pan from heat; swirl about a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan, then add a scant ladleful of batter, tilting the pan so that the batter reaches the edges and thinly coats the bottom. Return pan to oven and cook 8-10 minutes, until batter is golden around the edges. Gently flip the socca in the pan; return to the oven and cook a further 3-4 minutes, until golden and crispy on both sides.
Slide socca onto a plate and eat (or serve) immediately.
Repeat with remaining olive oil and batter.
Makes six beautiful socca.
Friends, where to begin?
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who asked me whether I planned on returning to blogging.
It’s a reflection of the slightly deluded state I’ve been living in this past while that, until she phrased it that way, it didn’t occur to me that I had been absent from these pages long enough that a reader might have fair cause to wonder where I had gone, and whether, indeed, I was likely to return.
Posting has been on my list of things to do for – well – now I am embarrassed to say how many months. But I don’t need to tell you that; you can see the date stamp on my last post.
And if I were to launch into the litany of reasons for my absence, it would likely end in tears and be enough to put me off posting at all – which is how we got here in the first place.
But I will tell you this: I have an amazing mother. She’s truly extraordinary, and if you were to ask me to tell you about my favourite people in all the world, she would be one of the first, right up there with my children and my husband.
And she has been very, very ill.
I feel I can tell you about it now, because she has just lately begun inching her way back to good health. But it has not been an easy road for her, and nor for those of us (and there are many!) who love her dearly.
All that to say, I have been a little distracted.
Still, I haven’t left the kitchen completely, and I have many things to share with you over the next little bit. While I am getting my ducks in a row, I’ll leave you with these gorgeous images of the town of Todos Santos, which is where my mom lives and works (that’s her shop with the soap in it!) in the winter time.
All images via At Home At Home.
Enjoy! And I’ll see y’all shortly!
I woke up this morning feeling a bit leaden.
I’ve been spoiled this past week, with generous amounts of delicious food and wine; feverless children; numerous family adventures; and time.
It often seems that there could not possibly be enough hours in the day to finish (let alone start) any one of the things on my various to-do lists. It can be difficult to live in the moment when one’s mind is constantly leaping forward to what the next moment, and the one after that, might hold.
This is, I think, a mother’s dilemma, and not an uncommon one at that.
But last week, my husband had some time off, and we slowed things right down. We did our best to accommodate the inevitable wildness that “springing forward” wrought on our kids’ sleep schedule. We put away our lists, and made no plans.
For seven whole days, and for the first time in what seemed like ages, it really felt like time was on our side, and it was nothing short of wonderful.
So I felt leaden this morning partly because our magical week had come to an end, and all of the pressing things that I had been ignoring were suddenly looming; partly because the view outside my window was an unpromising dull grey.
But I also woke up thinking about Japan, with the kind of helpless, hand-wringing horror that is the sole province of the distant bystander.
In my own life, lately, I have come to think of time as being the greatest and most elusive of luxuries, and I am grateful to have been able to revel in it last week.
But of course, as far as luxuries go, for my safe, beautiful, healthy family and me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Devil’s Food Birthday Cake
adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “Kitchen”
I bet you think that I have been cooking my way through Nigella’s latest book, and you are right. I have been, and I had been loving every minute of it, until it came time to ice this luscious cake. The ganache-y topping that Nigella suggests took nearly four hours (and counting) to set, at the one moment all week when time was most definitely not on my side. So I’m offering up the icing that I made at the last possible minute as a replacement. The cake was perfect, and I bet the ganache-y icing would have been divine too, but I wouldn’t know.
For the cake:
50g cocoa powder
100g brown sugar
1c boiling water
125g soft unsalted butter
150g granulated (white) sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
For the icing:
175g best quality dark chocolate
675g icing sugar
350g soft unsalted butter
1-4 tbsp milk, as needed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. lightly butter the bottoms and sides of two 8″ layer cake pans; line bottoms of pans with parchment.
Combine cocoa powder and brown sugar in a medium, heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over cocoa mixture and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. In a separate small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda.
Beat vanilla into butter mixture, then add one egg with mixer running. Keep mixer running while adding a scoopful of flour mixture, then second egg. Continue mixing while adding the rest of the flour mixture. Finally, scrape cocoa mixture into bowl, and beat well to combine.
Divide batter evenly between the two prepared tins and bake 20-25 minutes, rotating once halfway through cooking time, until a tester inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
Let cakes sit in their pans on a rack 5-10 minutes before turning out onto rack to cool completely.
While cakes are cooling, make icing:
In the top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, gently heat chocolate until just melted, stirring frequently.
Place icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to remove and lumps. Add butter and process until smooth. Scrape in cooled chocolate mixture; icing should be thick and spreadable, but if it is too pasty, add milk a few drops at a time until desired consistency is reached.
Place one cooled cake, top down, on serving plate. top with a generous dollop of icing, then place second cake on top, right side up.
Used remaining icing to frost the top and the sides of the cake.
Decorate, as my daughter did here, with coloured sugar, and serve with large glasses of milk.
I didn’t (thank goodness) have a particularly ambitious agenda, and nothing really disastrous happened, so it’s not that things went terribly wrong – but they also didn’t go terribly right, and by day’s end, even I was tired of hearing my own voice uttering variations on the word “no.”
The (not very pretty) quesadillas you see here sum things up:
They were delicious, a hot, quick, and relatively nutritious lunch; but only my husband and I ate them. My kids wouldn’t touch them!
And the salsa fresca that I envisioned accompanying them? Mealy and watery, and somehow both tasteless and excessively garlicky all at once.
No tragedy. But an uphill battle all the way.
Still, by day’s end, there were sleeping children, wine, a delicious soup (which I forgot to photograph), and some long-overdue adult conversation.
Also, the promise of a better day tomorrow.
And this way of preparing black beans, which was the delightful discovery that would, on a normal day, have turned things around.
Slightly Redeeming Refried Beans
I come from a long line of women who can’t stand refried beans, but I love these, and they keep well, so a quick hot lunch can be had in the time it takes to heat a tortilla in a pan.
1/4c olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or mild)
2 – 540mL cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2c – 1c chicken or vegetable broth
In a large, shallow saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until golden, 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic; saute another minute or so, then add cumin, coriander, paprika and oregano. Stir well. Add beans, then 1/2c broth, Simmer 5-8 minutes, or until beans are soft (I’d taste a bean at 5 minutes – personally I prefer them not too mushy). If they seems a little dry for your taste, add the remaining 1/2c of broth and cook until heated through.
Remove from heat, and mash as much or as little as you’d like (I used a potato masher).
Makes about 6 cups.