Victoria

gougère

Saturday mornings can be a time when the week catches up with me but I haven't yet caught up with the week. I spent this one at the kitchen table with coffee and a pile of cookbooks.

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.

the direction the ocean is nearest

Zephyr the thirteen-pound silver rabbit has been rattling her fence this week. She lifts it with her strong neck and yanks forward and back, heaving the bunny corral so it overlaps the hall. For added effect, she works loose the food bowl and flings it in the air. We've been letting the rabbits run amok (well almost- I did stop her eating a houseplant) around the house in the evenings, and this taste of freedom has got her fuzzy feet eager for more hallway leaps and exploring. This morning I glanced up from my workbench towards the daylight and saw a wall of white mist where the street normally runs. The mist rolled in across the fields towards my house last night too, advancing from the direction the ocean is nearest. From my bed I could feel it surround the house like a blanket. The mild air glowed softly, tiny particles of water reflecting engulfed streetlights and house windows.

I'm still unraveling my nerves from my first stick-shift solo drive through downtown afternoon traffic. I stalled more times than all my previous stalls together, and each intersection left me a little shakier. For the record, I didn't cry or get angry, just muttered curses and apologies to our good, forgiving little car. Some kindness of the car gods got me home, and I am -or like to think I am- gathering my courage for the next drive.

Today I heard about an island far north of here where when the raspberries are ripe the people on the island celebrated raspberries for five days by going from huge garden patch to huge garden patch, picking the ripe red drupelets, and then they make raspberry pies and raspberry pasta and drink last year's raspberry wine. "Where is this place?" I asked, thinking it sounded like some kind of utopia. "Oh, it doesn't show up on the map". Later in life I will sail each island from Haida Gwaii to Alaska in search of teeming gardens and basketfuls of raspberries.

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