I tend to greet the first month of the year less than enthusiastically.
I am wont to feel a little bitter about the end of the holidays and the return to routine (as a friend recently said on a Tuesday morning, “where are my pancakes? Where is my bacon?”) and I cringe at the thought of dark mornings and foul weather stretching out two or three more months.
But, now that we’re well into February, I have to tell you that the last day of January this year filled me with nearly as much hopeful enthusiasm as I felt for the first. And the seasonal ennui that usually causes my body to demand bread and butter and cheese, in such quantities that every meal feels like a battle of wills, has been largely absent.
I know that this is at least partly because the temperatures in our city have regularly crept nearly into the double digits (that’s above zero), accompanied occasionally, if bizarrely, by enough snow for my children to get their 45-minute fill of snow-angel-making and snowman-building. I went running outdoors last week in cropped pants, and left my coat open on an afternoon walk with my husband.
So the weather has helped.
But the first several weeks of 2012 have also flown by very quickly, a fact for which I am extremely grateful.
I can actually barely remember the first 14 days or so, which were taken up by my attempt at a January cleanse.
(I have nothing good to say about that experience, unsurprisingly, except that now that I am back to eating and drinking normally, if not with abandon, each meal seems to bring with it a fresh opportunity to consume something delicious.)
But aside from that brief donning of the proverbial hair shirt, my resolutions for the new year have taken a while to take hold, as they usually do.
And I know you know me well enough by now that, despite its title, you aren’t expecting any kind of crisp, leafy goodness from this post
(indeed, you could be forgiven if you are not welling up with enthusiasm for the dish you see photographed here. The ravenous hordes – my husband and I – had been waiting for it to come out of the oven for what felt like far too long for me to do its gloriousness any kind of photographic justice last night, and to be fair, it actually didn’t look any better the next day when I put slightly more effort into trying again.
And if all of that doesn’t make you want to spring into action, I understand completely, but I will still heartily encourage you to make this dish. It’s that good, if not that pretty).
What I can offer up is winter comfort food at its finest, a little bit lavish but not enough to irrevocably derail any food-related resolutions you may, like me, have high-mindedly made a few weeks ago.
A kind of quasi-fresh start, if you will.
I have to stop short of calling this a pizza, but pizza is what I had in mind when making it. I was in a rush, though, so needed to rethink the crust completely, which led me to a lovely old stand-by dish of Nigella’s called Supper Onion Pie.
For the filling:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
425g lean ground lamb
1 yellow pepper, finely chopped
a handful (about a cup) of fresh baby spinach leaves
3-4 tbsp sundried tomato pesto
salt and pepper, to taste
225g soft goat cheese
For the crust:
1 2/3c whole spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
scant 1/2c milk
1/4c olive oil or melted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium – high heat. Add onions and saute until softened, then add garlic. Cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, just a minute or two; then add lamb to the pan. Cook, stirring, until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer lamb mixture and any accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.
Add pepper to pan and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes, until slightly tender. Transfer to bowl with lamb mixture; add spinach leaves and toss gently. Add pesto and toss well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.
Spread this filling into a 10-inch cast iron skillet or deep-dish pie plate. Top with goat cheese.
Now, onto the crust. I made mine in the food processor because I was feeling very pressed for time, but mixing it by hand would also be no trouble at all. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and whisk well to combine. Stir wet ingredients into dry, just until a firm but sticky dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a round roughly the same size as your pan. Gently transfer dough onto filling and press firmly on the edges to seal.
Bake in 400 degree oven 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees and cook a further 10-15 minutes, until crust is golden and firm.
Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate.
I can scarcely believe that, in effect, an entire season has just passed without my contributing a thing around here.
I have been trying to figure out how to address this last epic silence from my end; as these things go, the longer I thought about it, the more ambivalent I was about addressing it at all, and then the silence itself started to feel so insurmountable that I nearly gave up on the idea of blogging altogether.
But then, December arrived, and my husband returned home after months of (more and less) lengthy absences.
And, just like that, the festive season began around here.
My children woke up this morning to the first real snow of the season, and I woke up to the promise of a long bath, a new magazine, and coffee drunk while it is still hot.
Friends, we have so much to catch up on!
Even while single-parenting, I can’t resist the outlook-changing lure of a fresh-baked breakfast. I have been using spelt or light spelt flour of late, but for these I tried a combination of light spelt, coconut, and whole wheat flours, because that is all I had on hand!
1c large flake oats
1 1/2c flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick (1/2c) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4c brown sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1/4c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Combine oats and buttermilk in a glass measuring cup, stir well, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and a pinch of salt, if desired. Cut in butter and brown sugar until mixture is fairly uniform and resembles small peas.
Add oat mixture, banana, chocolate chips and craisins to bowl and stir just to combine into a sloppy dough. Turn out onto a well-floured piece of parchment and knead 3-4 times to help the dough come together a bit.
Roll (using a well-floured rolling pin) or pat dough into a round about an inch thick. Cut out shapes using an approximately 3″ cookie or biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet; re-roll or pat the dough and cut out more shapes, until you’ve filled the baking sheet – I usually get somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16-18 biscuits.
Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Cool a few minutes on pan, then transfer to a rack and serve very warm, while the chocolate is still gooey.
I’m grateful that it seems to be nothing serious, just a bad cold and a bit of a fever; and although it has resulted in such an astonishing lack of sleep at night (even for us) that I have been stumbling through my days woozy and disoriented, I’m less bothered about that than one might expect.
I am actually a little bit grateful, because in the long nights and (even longer, frankly) days that he’s not been feeling well, he and I have been stuck together like glue.
I love everything about holding him so close, constantly – and it’s a rare treat given that he is my second child and my affections, considerable though they are, are (necessarily) usually divided between him and his sweet sister.
I’m grateful to have had some extra moments to inhale his sweet-apple scent and wonder that he won’t take a soother – so unlike his sister! – and that he gets panicky, just like I do, if he doesn’t have one foot uncovered in bed.
I am also grateful because as I write this, he is asleep.
He stayed asleep (mercy!) when I slipped out of bed.
And the rest of my family is still sleeping, too, giving me an unfettered moment to enjoy a luxuriously hot cup of coffee (I’m on decaf these days, but the placebo effect is remarkable) and make everyone pinwheels for breakfast.
When I was growing up, we had pinwheels for breakfast when we were out of eggs so pancakes or muffins were not an option – because we never knew when they were coming, these resonate in my memory as the best kind of treat. The recipe, of course, is Gwenn’s.
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1c all purpose flour
1c whole what pastry flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2c + 2 tbsp butter
6 tbsp soft brown sugar
cinnamon, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine milk and vinegar and let stand while you get on with the making the dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in 1/2 c butter until it is the size of peas and dough is crumbly.
Pour in soured milk and mix just until it clumps together. Turn out onto a floured board and knead gently 11 times (not more, not less. Seriously! This is the key to the success of your pinwheels!). Add more flour if the dough seems excessively sticky.
Roll dough into a rectangle about 14″x10″. Melt remaining 2 tbsp butter and brush evenly onto dough. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter, and dust with cinnamon.
Roll dough up longwise, to form a cylinder, and pinch along long edge to seal. Cut crosswise into slices about 1″ thick.
Place pinwheels on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, until golden.