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.
I have attempted several times to write about our holidays thus far, and each time it’s been a struggle to express the balance of joy and relief and heart-filling happiness and exhaustion – and also the sense that memories are being made every second, and the need to document them while still being fully present in the moment – that is Christmas time with young children.
It’s been wonderful, and zany, and at points overwhelmingly emotional.
We have missed family, and shed tears for lost loved ones. We have ached for friends who are enveloped in grief.
We have celebrated our good health and our good life and our great good fortune, to have all that we do.
And today – blessed first of January! – we cracked into a brand new year.
I got out first thing, before it started to rain, and when I got home we drank the last of the bubbly and said a fond farewell to our Christmas tree.
And we ate an enormous breakfast, which we all enjoyed…
And then there was dancing.
Giant Baked Blueberry Pancake for Auspicious Beginnings
3/4c whole milk
3/4c light spelt (or all purpose) flour
1 tbsp plus 1/4c granulated sugar
1/4c (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4c soft unsalted butter
scant 3/4c frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and milk together, then add flour and 1 tbsp granulated sugar. Whisk to combine (batter will be slightly lumpy). In a small bowl, stir together remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Pour batter into pan and scatter blueberries over top.
Bake 8-10 minutes, until edges of pancake are puffed and golden but centre is still slightly runny. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture.
Dot with remaining 2 tbsp butter, and carefully turn the pancake over in the pan. Return pan to oven and cook a further 3-5 minutes, until pancake is risen and golden and sugar has turned to syrup.
Remove from oven and invert pancake onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
When confronted with them, I don’t find myself inspired to create marvelous dishes that are greater than the sum of their parts; instead, I think longingly of those food disposal units that would allow me to stuff the uneaten portions of our meals down the drain and grind them into oblivion.
For some reason, I find opening the fridge to the sight of shelvesful of little containers a bit anxiety-provoking, and I would be quite happy if they were to simply disappear without my having to give them a thought (and to be fair, they often do, thanks to my husband, whose appetite is tremendous and somewhat less discerning than mine).
The leftovers problem becomes complicated when I acknowledge that generally, when cooking, I prefer an abundance of ingredients. Because we are only four, and only two of us can really be said to actually consume our meals, the result is that I tend to make quantities of food from which leftovers are inevitable.
So basically, I go to as much trouble to generate leftovers as I do to avoid dealing with them once they’ve been created.
I know, it’s a problem.
But we’re not here (well, not really) to delve too deeply into my complicated relationship with food. We’re here to celebrate the fact that, when I was dispirited by the bits and pieces floating around our fridge one recent rainy day, I decided to make these pancakes for lunch. All four of us gobbled them up, and there wasn’t a leftover to be had.
Corn and Cheese Pancakes
I processed the corn kernels in deference to our baby, but you could just as easily leave them whole and stir them in at the end with the cheese.
1c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2c olive oil
2 tsp sugar
1c whole wheat flour
1/2c corn meal
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 heaped cup grated cheese (I used cheddar)
a little butter, for the pan
Process corn kernels in the food processor (if frozen, they will make quite a racket). Add eggs, oil, buttermilk and sugar and process until combined.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, corn meal, baking soda, and paprika. Add corn mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in cheese.
Heat a large heavy pan on medium-high heat. Melt a little butter in the pan.
Make pancakes in batches, using a quarter-cup measure. Cook each pancake about 3 minutes per side.
My husband and I ate ours with salsa and sour cream, my daughter had hers with maple syrup, and the baby ate his au naturel.