I’m not at all a New Years person. I was trying to think about a memorable New Years that I’ve had and I actually can’t recall a one. Oh wait, I take that back. I do remember one New Years in college that involved a bathtub and a really bad taxi ride. But that’s another story altogether. I’m also not the kind of person who has any desire to get all anxious about making plans, really good plans, better plans than any year before. It just seems like a lot of work.
I had a boss once who would ride her bike up this great peak in Boulder, CO and spend the day alone. Just hanging and thinking and setting intentions for the year ahead. This is much more my style than expensive prix fixe meals or hotel parties. So while I didn’t ride up any major peaks today, I did bake a pie. A simple lemon pie — so simple, in fact, that the Shakers used to make this very same recipe well over a hundred years ago. It’s bright in citrus flavor with a rich, buttery crust that will make you smile. You do want to use Meyer lemons if you can get your hands on them. They’re not at all bitter and make for a truly magical pie. You deserve no less on New Years Day.
So I’ll leave you with a quote today from a novel I finished recently by Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin. While I realize you may not have any context for the quote, I think it says a lot about perspective and how to look forward in this upcoming year. When it comes right down to it–dreams and love and high, high aspirations aside– we all just do our best. That’s all there really is, yes?
“We stumble on … bring a little noise into the silence, find in others the ongoing of ourselves. It is almost enough. The world spins. We stumble on. It is almost enough.”
While you can count the ingredients for the filling on one hand, this pie does take a little planning as you should let your lemons macerate (hang out in sugar) for 24 hours if possible (if not, at least 4 hours; this isn’t accounted for in the timing breakdown above). To get a really incredible pie without a hint of bitterness, you want to slice your lemons as thin as possible. I use a mandolin and set it on the thinnest setting possible. You could very well use a sharp knife, too — just go for drapy, almost see-through slices. As for the crust, I love using vinegar in my pie dough–it prevents the formation of gluten (which makes for tough pastry) and helps to create a light, flaky pie.
Filling adapted from: The Joy of Cooking: All About Pies & Tarts
Flaky Butter Crust
Prepare your lemons very first thing as they need to sit for 4-24 hours (I recommend the latter). Grate the zest from your two lemons into a glass or stainless-steel bowl. Slice the lemons paper-thin, removing the seeds as you go. Put in bowl along with the zest and add sugar. Quickly toss, cover, and let sit at room temperature.
Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. In a food processor or by hand with a pastry cutter, blend the cold cubed butter into the flour mixture until it’s the size of small peas. Don’t obsess about the chunks being the same size. Uneven is good with crust. Work relatively quickly so the butter doesn’t warm. Combine the ice water and vinegar and add slowly in a thin drizzle, mixing during/after each addition. Many factors affect the moisture of pie dough, so you may find you’ll use less water or you may need a little more. Your dough is ready when it just barely begins to clump together and should have some dry bits remaining. Dump dough out onto a clean surface and split in half. Quickly form into 2 chubby disks and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour. You may also make the dough ahead — it’s good for 3 days in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to make the pie, take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll one half into a 13-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Trim any overhanging to 3/4 inch all around. Roll the other half into a 12-inch round for the top crust and lay on aluminum foil or parchment. Refrigerate both while making the filling.
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Then whisk in butter and flour until mixture is even. If you have clumps from your flour, pour the mixture through a sieve. Stir the lemon mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the filling into the bottom crust. Brush the overhanging bottom crust with cold water, cover with top crust and trim and flute the edges. Cut steam vents in the top crust. If top crust is sloping a bit and it seems like there’s not enough filling, don’t worry–the filling rises and the top crust comes right along with it.
Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F and bake until top crust is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-30 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. The pie can be stored in the refrigerator for up to days, but let it warm to room temperature before serving.
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.