Do you ever play the ‘if only’ game with yourself? It goes something like this: “if only I had a Mini Cooper, I’d be happy” or “if only I’d studied harder, I would’ve gotten into a better college” or “If only I had a bigger apartment, everything would be fine.” Of course you do. We all do. My ‘if only’ game is kind of more like a neurosis and an obsession rather than a fun hypothetical consideration. The earliest I remember it showing its ugly face? 5th grade. All of my friends brought those packaged pies from the grocery store — the ones filled with bright yellow lemon filling, gooey chocolate pudding, or glowing fake cherry. My mom packed me carrots, hard boiled eggs, and healthy sandwiches. I was convinced my life would be better if I had pies in my lunch. I’d be happier, certainly. I remember eying those pies on a daily basis and wondering what the hell was wrong with my family. If only.
Then in junior high I wanted crutches with a passion. This sounds odd, I realize. But those girls got a whole lot of attention. Older boys carried their books and friends crowded around to hear the story of how it all happened…for the twenty-ninth time. If only. Then in college, my ‘if only’ was all about real estate. Instead of settling into dorm life and putting up crumby posters like most normal young adults, I began searching the internet to see what kind of off-campus housing was available. I had to get out of there. And unfortunately this ‘if only’ hasn’t yet dissipated. For the past ten years, I’ve been obsessed with buying my own house, convinced that every problem–big or small–would surely dissolve if I had a place that was my very own. I’m tired of moving. I’m sick of moving boxes, and every month it seems silly to write a rent check that goes directly into someone elses’ bank account. If I had my own house, I’d work on tile projects and paint and buy mid-modern furniture at estate sales and have fruit trees and a yard and it’d be all mine. In fact, I recently discovered a house on Craigslist in Durham, North Carolina and I’ve fallen in love. I’ve never visited North Carolina. Or the South in general. After hearing about it, my sister suggested I get therapy.
Now I just finished the book, Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House, by Meghan Daum (who I adore, by the way. Check out her other stuff). In it, Daum describes her unwavering real estate addiction which she thinks was likely helped by moving around so much growing up. I’ve never identified so much with a memoir in my entire life. I read it in one day. And not just because I could relate, but because Daum explores the meaning behind this constant search, this tireless gazing towards the future:
I came to be the president of my own personal academy of domestic desire, the overseer of a pantheon of architectural structures and corresponding price tags that led to a most adolescent form of existential inquiry: Where should I live? Why can’t I afford to live where I want to live? How come where I want to live is so tied up in why I live?
I realized with each flip of the page I’d been biting my nails. I was anxious and couldn’t put it down. Why exactly was I so obsessed with where I should live? It was, I realized, getting in the way of actually living and had been for quite some time. Then I finish the book and find myself in tears. Daum writes:
Maybe learning how to be out in the big world isn’t the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is what’s right in front of you. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very existence, to own not only property, but also your life. The hard part is learning not just how to be but mastering the nearly impossible art of how to be at home.
And there’s the rub. Learning how to be comfortable with where you are at this very moment–not constantly looking for the next ‘if only.’ Do I have the answers for what this would look like? I wish. Do you? If so, please share. I realize living each day looking towards what will be isn’t healthy, but it’s what I’ve done for so long I’m not quite sure how to live any differently. So for now, I’m tackling one of my oldest ‘if only’s’ in the hopes that my current, most pressing ‘if only’ eventually works itself out. I’m making hand pies…a lot of them. And allowing myself to eat them at lunch or late in the afternoon or whenever the heck I feel like it. Because at this present moment, that feels right. And that’s all I’ve got.
These hand pies are special because they’re made with blenheim apricots, the fleeting summer stone fruit that is a bit sweeter than its cousins and infinitely more fragile. I found them at the Berkeley farmer’s market this past weekend and snatched them right up. They’re quite literally like taking a bite of summer sunshine itself. The crust is flaky and buttery: a good old fashioned pate brisee (Martha Stewart’s no-fail recipe). As long as you don’t let the dough get too warm and work with it quickly, it will be your friend. The apricots are cut into small pieces and lightly spiced with cinnamon and coriander, a splash of lemon and a dash of sugar. While I’d nab a bag of apricots while you can, these hand pies are versatile: add any fruit you have on hand or make a savory pie with your favorite greens, spicy lamb or ground beef, or herbed potato and cheese.
While a biscuit cutter would certainly be handy to get the round shape here, I just used the flip side of a round container with a mouth of about 4 inches. If you have a larger biscuit cutter (5 inches) and want to make more generous hand pies, go ahead. Don’t stress too much about size–it will simply affect the final yield of hand pies you end up with.
Dough recipe from Martha Stewart
For the dough:
For the filling:
Make the dough:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.
Prepare the pies:
Combine the apricots, lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon and coriander in a small bowl and gently stir to combine. Put in the refrigerator while you prepare the dough.
Take out one disk of pie dough and place on flour-dusted surface for a few minutes to slightly soften. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Use a 4 inch biscuit cutter to cut about 10 circles (you may need to gather the scraps and re-roll). Set them on a large plate and put them in the refrigerator to chill for 10 minutes (don’t skip this step-it will make the pies much easier to assemble).
Prepare a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Then, take apricots out of refrigerator, set a mesh strainer over a bowl, and pour the fruit into it, straining away the excess juice. Return the apricots to the original bowl and add the flour, tossing to coat.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Remove the dough circles from the refrigerator. Put a small spoonful of fruit onto one half of each circle of dough. Using your finger, brush a little cold water along the border of the circle (to help it seal) and fold the top half of the dough over the apricots, pressing the edges gently to seal. Make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat with remaining dough circles. Brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tops begin to brown. Don’t worry if some of the filling leaks out. Allow the pies to cool for 15 minutes before eating.
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.