When did it happen that I began wishing for rain in the summer? I've gone from shameless sun-worshipper to dedicated shade-seeker. We're in the midst of a heat wave here on southern Vancouver Island and I'm thinking fondly of October. Heck, I'd even trade in today's 5:10 am sunrise and 9:18 pm sunset for the dark days of winter in order to have more comfortable weather. Hopefully this heat passes quickly and mildly, and in the meantime I'll content myself with walks in the coolness of evening when the light is at its most beautiful.
Today felt like the beginning of spring, like a new year is really beginning now. The sun was so bright, light filling up the world here. Me with a baby in my belly. Everything brighter, happier, more hopeful and leaning forward. It made the city suddenly beautiful, and I was drawn out into the sun to explore. I'm definitely feeling the need to reset: to get the house back into a state of pleasant harmony and to make a habit of walks, yoga, writing, painting, just the right amount of baking, and planning dinners.
I've included a recipe from last winter that I never got around to posting. It comes in handy for using leftover egg whites and is pretty flexible.
Meringue Cookies, two flavours
5 egg whites 1 cup sugar
Whip egg whites until good and frothy. I like to start the mixer on slow and gradually bring up the speed to about medium for this part. Slowly add sugar while continue to whip, then turn up speed and beat until stiff peaks form. Divide roughly half into another bowl and gently fold in flavourings.
Bowl A: 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 smashed candy cane handful mini chocolate chips
Bowl B: 1/4 tsp almond extract handful cacao nibs handful mini chocolate chips
Pipe or spoon onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 for 1 3/4 - 2 hours, or until firm. Turn off oven and leave meringues in the oven overnight.
Note: I bake meringues until they're on the drier, crunchier side. If you like them softer and chewier, bake for less time or maybe don't leave them in the oven overnight to dry out. Larger meringues will tend to have softer centres than small meringues. I like to make small, bite-sized meringues, but you can certainly make larger ones, just keep in mind that they may need to bake longer. You can adjust the recipe to suit the number of egg whites you have on hand, just try to keep the egg white to sugar ratio about the same. Feel free to make them all the same flavour or have as many different flavourings as you like. Experiment with whatever flavourings inspire you. Spices and extracts are fun, as are chopped toasted nuts, and you can add food colouring if you wish. Keep in mind that anything too heavy or oily will collapse the meringue.
I'm drawing a sleepy blank on what to say but I wanted to post a few pictures from the past month. I flipped through my notebook for inspiration and was reminded of a few things. In January and February I was especially glad for this year's seed catalogue, Zephyr the rabbit's silver feet, raspberry leaf tea, cara cara oranges, satsuma mandarins, AlterEco brown butter chocolate, the previously mentioned frozen cookie dough portioned out in the freezer and sideways-pouring silver rain. This month, I am grateful for bright mornings, marmalade! (on everything, now, with butter), flighty spring weather, lengthened light in the evenings, and riding my clattery blue bike, especially through the park where there are ducks and squirrels! galore. This is not to say that mornings have been easy this week with the time change (I almost wrote "moanings" instead of mornings there, and almost left it), but the light- I'm glad for the light. On the subject of marmalade, that bittersweet tangy light in a jar, I am blessed with a mother who makes a batch every winter and have amassed a small -yes, now dwindling- collection of the glowing jars. They taste of days spent scraping citrus rinds around my grandparents' table with cousins and aunts, the fragrant pot steaming on the stove, and the flavour of these gatherings concentrated in the vintages that line our pantry shelves. It's deeply reassuring to me that no matter what else, every year my mother hands me a small fiery jar of her grandmother's recipe. I missed the marmalade making this winter but, with my renewed appetite for the stuff, will be sure to join in next year-it's what we do.
The wind is still roaring in from the sea with force, still slamming against the house and rushing through the trees. Our front lawn is littered with branches and the only birds I've seen out are seabirds and waterbirds. Today I was introduced to a Victoria tradition: the breakwater on a windy day. On one side the huge waves rolled in and on the other, wind devils danced across the water. Spray crashed over the boardwalk and the high whine of the wind funneling in towards shore filled our ears. There was a log-jam at the appearing-and-disappearing beach and gulls and cormorants climbed against the wind to stay motionless above the roiling water. We walked and staggered our way out along the breakwater, laughing and shrieking as the wave-spray crashed over us. I had my arm up when the spray from one wave arced above, and was immediately wet to the elbow as the wind and water found their way down my sleeve. Our rubber boots were filled to their tops and I was wet from head to toe, through three layers of raincoat and wool. We shared a salty kiss in the lee of the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. On the way back to shore the wind was in our faces and the drops of spray pelted hard as hailstones. We exchanged wild grins with a few folk as delightedly crazed as ourselves, and arrived, shivering and sloshing at the café on shore, where we tipped bootfuls of ocean at the door. I poured out my boots again on our front porch, and wrung out my socks and am now quite warm and dry and ready to do it all over again.
Here is something warm and delicious:
Gougères Savory choux-pastry cheese puffs, adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan baking sheets, lined with parchment
1 c water 3 oz (6 T) butter 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper pinch nutmeg pinch thyme (crumbled if dry, minced if fresh) 3/4 c AP flour (all-purpose) 4 eggs 2/3 c grated Gruyère cheese
Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring water to a boil with the butter and seasonings and boil slowly until the butter has melted. Meanwhile, measure the flour and make sure the cheese is grated.
Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Then beat over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.
Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the centre of paste. Break one egg into the well and beat into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed. Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one. Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth. Then beat in cheese.
Drop the paste onto the parchment-lined baking sheets with a spoon (a full tablespoon, perhaps, blobs approx. 2" across) Leave blob-sizd spaces between the blobs as they will grow! Alternatively, for neater puffs use a piping bag. You can make smaller puffs: reduce baking time to 20 minutes for puffs 1" across. Option: for shiny puffs, brush with beaten egg before baking. You can also sprinkle more grated cheese on top if desired.
Bake, depending on size, for about 25-28 minutes (less for smaller puffs). The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are golden brown, and firm and crusty to touch. Remove them from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife. Then set in the turned-off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 minutes (this stops them from collapsing). Eat. Or cool on a wire rack, and then eat.
Time seems to spin by more quickly in these shortened days of winter. I always feel like I need a lot more sleep to balance the increased darkness. More time in the light, too, though that is hard to come by just now. The weather has changed. We had what felt like (and may well have been) weeks of cold clear days, when frost lay heavy until almost noon and goldenrose light painted the sides of buildings and even the sidewalks. Mornings were cold and clear and crystalline in that winter way, all streaks and puffs of pink clouds and golden light spilling over everything from far away. Now the weather has softened into rain, clouded pthalo and lilac sky lit up by the city at night. These dark winter evenings are perhaps best spent close to the stove, stirring, chopping, filling the baseboard cool of the house with warm fragrance. Last night the wind roared and threw itself at our small house. From the darkness of our bed in the morning hours I could still hear it howling in from the ocean and I knew then that it had blown all night, tossing and turning through my dreams.