I have a confession. I’m reading Twilight. It’s ironic in a lot of ways. When I was teaching, my students were always dying to get me to read it. Nah, too busy kids. Translation: SO below me. But I’ve been sneaking around, reading it deliberately face down in public places and keeping it on the DL when talking to friends. I know it’s silly. I shouldn’t be ashamed. But for someone who has an advanced degree in English literature and is generally a little snobby about their reading material… it’s a new thing for me. And you know what? It’s amazing.
I can’t remember the last time I read something for no other purpose than to escape. Obviously I read for information or for a nice story/plot, but more often than not, I read to admire the craft of an author. So as I’m still struggling to find a full-time job and getting a little more antsy with each passing day, I’ve also decided to try and be gentle with myself. It’s cool. Watch Mad Men in the middle of the day. Why not? Someday (hopefully soon) I’ll look back on this day and marvel that I had the time to do such a thing. And in that vein, I’ve decided to loosen up the reading reigns and have at a little trash. Why not? Got something better to do? So I’m unstoppable now. As any Twilight reader will tell you, these books are rather addicting. No they’re not written well…at all. But there’s something appealing about Stephanie Meyer’s quick prose and the way she taps into your long-lost high school psyche.
Yesterday I wanted to whip up a little snack to go with my daily dose of vamp-lit. And I knew exactly what it would be: I bought this sweet little apple pie mold at Williams Sonoma and had been waiting for just the right time to make these individual pockets. It turns out they’re the perfect companion to shameful afternoon reading.
There’s also something charmingly nostalgic about them. Remember those awful filled pies that kids (with the exception of me) got in their lunch boxes? They were filled with lemon or chocolate and were covered in a pie crust–I was always in awe of the kids that got those pies. They seemed mysterious and I figured, for sure, those kids had cooler moms than mine. Now, I’m whipping up my own version without the nuclear-colored fruit and trans-fat filled crust. So whether they bring you back to childhood, convince you to enjoy some shameful reading, or just help you usher in fall–enjoy. And let me know if you have any bad (but oh so good) reading recommendations. I’m on a roll.
Now generally I don’t like to post recipes where you need special equipment. But this is an exception. If you don’t have a hankering to spend $9.99 on your own individual pie mold, no worries. This recipe would still be great for individual apple pies or tarts. The recipe for the crust actually comes from the back of the William Sonoma box, and the recipe for the filling comes from yours truly. Now I usually only use Martha Stewart’s recipe for pate brisee, but I strayed this time and I’m so glad I did. The trick is to get a super crumbly consistency by adding just the right amount of ice water (see center photo below of dough texture).
For Apple Filling
In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and the 2 Tbsp. sugar until combined, about 5 pulses. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Add 6 Tbsp. ice water and pulse twice. The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers but should not be sticky. If it is crumbly, add more water, 1 tsp. at a time, pulsing twice after each addition (I added 9-10 Tbsp when all was said and done). Divide the dough in half, wrap with plastic, and press each into a disk. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Then when ready to begin assembling, let the dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll out 1 dough disk into a round 1/16 to 1/8 inch (2 to 3mm) thick. Brush off the excess flour. Using the Pocket Pie Mold, cut out 8 of each shape. Reroll dough scraps if necessary and cut out more shapes. Repeat with remaining dough disk.
Place a solid dough shape in the bottom half of the cutter and gently press the dough into the mold. Fill the center with 1 to 2 Tbsp. pie filling and brush edges of the dough with the egg wash. Top with matching shape. Press the top half of the cutter down to seal and crimp the edges of the pie. Remove the pie from the mold and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Freeze the pies 20-30 minutes.
To bake: Preheat oven to 400 F. Brush the pies with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is gently bubbling, 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.