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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.