birds

wintering

I suppose I should get this out of the way: I hate January. Yes, yes, the light is returning, creeping back into the days a few minutes at a time and eventually it will be spring, but it's not happening soon enough for me. There are no snowflakes here to gloss over this whole winter thing with beauty and magic. Just endless, dreary grey. I have been lamenting that my thickest, wooliest socks won't fit in my wet-weather boots. However, this winter has also been lovely, comforting, unexpected, just right. Here are some of the best and most beautiful moments:

 

  • Acres of red blueberry stalks stretching out to blue mountains under bright blue sky.
  • Hundreds of bald eagles overhead, filling all the bare trees with black and white.
  • Hoarfrost encrusting everything in lavish crystals- quartz and selenite grown overnight- rough spikes in the morning sun. The pond frozen, goldfish circulating slowly under thick ice.
  • Nights when the stars came out and the moon glowed cold and bright, all icy pricks of light above dark trees.
  • Many rosy sunrises- more breathtaking mornings than I could keep count of- puffs and pillars of pink lighted clouds on the eastern horizon.
  • That long slow golden light of the afternoon on a clear day, honey frozen in the air.
  • When we happened to drop by an old friend's just for a moment, and ended up staying for the evening. We arrived as she was pulling a dish of ultimate comfort food from the oven, and just happened to have two pies in the car, left over from an earlier occasion.
  • Snow on Hurricane Ridge, driving through mist, salal-filled roadsides.
  • The usual warm and chaotic times of family Christmas, a turkey that refused to cook and late nights chatting in the kitchen.
  • How the streets of Seattle felt like home would if home were more exciting, and how thrilling it is to feel at home someplace exciting.
  • Reading a new cookbook on the couch in the evening with a mug of hot tea and sweet Seven the bunny snuggled in next to me on the wool blanket. Also, how we've spent several many evenings since in the same way.
  • A quiet ringing in of the new year, with good friends and glasses of frothy homemade eggnog. Also, a surprising and excellent snack of raw sliced fennel with cheese and crackers.
  • A new IKEA kitchen island, where I drink kombucha out of a brandy snifter and read food magazines, and feel grown-up. Jeremy likes it too, and has anointed the oak top with beeswax and mineral oil.
  • The flooded field behind our farmer's market grocery store, frost ringed and filled with trumpeter swans.

Hearty Hazelnut Shortbread with Apricot Jam This is not melt-in-the-mouth shortbread; rather it is dense, rich, nutty and sustaining. Good to tuck into a mittened hand when heading out the door for a winter walk. The shortbread recipe that this is based on (my mother's) sustained me through several long overnight bus trips from the coast to the mountains in my early twenties.

1 c butter 1/8 c coconut sugar 3/8 c cane sugar (1/4 + 1/8) 1 c AP flour (all purpose) 1 c WWP flour (whole wheat pastry) 1/4 c hazelnut flour apricot jam for thumbprint

Preheat oven to 300°F. In a medium-large bowl, roughly cream butter and sugars with a sturdy wooden spoon. Add flour one cup at a time, or in smaller increments if that feels easier. Gather dough into a ball, and roll out on a floured surface to about 1/4"-1/3" thick. Cut into fun shapes and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. The cookies won't spread so can be placed close together. Bake 20-25 minutes. About halfway through the bake, remove cookies to oven and make a depression in the center of each one, either with a spoon or with your fingers. Spoon enough jam to fill depressions and return cookies to the oven. The cookies are done when they are lightly browned underneath. Let cool on a rack, and store in tins for a week or more.

 

November

Ah, yes. It feels like it's been ages. I've been lying on the floor drawing in the evenings lately, drinking tea and listening to Discworld audiobooks and fending off the rabbits (who enjoy pencils and watercolour paper for different reasons than mine), instead of lying on the floor typing and drinking tea and fending off the rabbits from the keyboard. It's pretty relaxing. What I've created is a series of black and white pictures that are waiting to be painted or coloured in. My intention is to get prints made and give them away or sell them to give people something relaxing to do on these dark chilly evenings. I'd love to hear what you think about this! On a sidenote, I am sitting in a puddle of long November light. Jeremy is making french toast with panetonne in the kitchen, a gift from my wonderful mother. She also brought us homemade apple butter, and exquisite handmade jewellery for me - thanks Mum!

I'm enjoying this time of year much more than I thought a November could be enjoyed. I love arriving indoors all pink-cheeked and invigorated from the cold. I love snuggling in my wool blanket and my thickest socks. I love thinking about everything I would like to bake. I love the nuthatches and chickadees, downy woodpeckers, flickers, purple finches and others that come to our kitchen window. I love watching squirrels stuffing themselves and the earth with prized nuts, and I love seeing the syrupy light sprawl sideways across the water and through the trees.

these things

The wind, a roar that chased us up the hill through the trees. Crows spilled upwards like smoke from trees of umber fire. November, new moon, cold days and silver light. The ocean has been like pounded steel most days, greased nickel when the wind pummels it at the land. I don't really at all like walking home in the dark, and I don't like the dark mornings much either. What I do like is bearing witness to lazy golden sunrises and pink-flushed sunsets, with no special effort on my part to seek them out.

Yesterday, a long-overdue visit with a best friend. Steaming chai fragrant with honey and superfoods. Bowls of nourishing vegetables, cooked and fermented and coddled just so. Bright magenta beet grapefruit juice. Wanders along familiar but slowly changing streets. The park, which is always there, peacocks, ducks. Bare feet on the beach, cold rock carved out by the last ice age. Books and beautiful tea. Conversation and company.

One day last week I watched Jer pull into the driveway as I came down the path. Once inside the door, he gently steered me back outside and around the bend in the road, where we watched a cat-like barred owl hopping around in the dry leaves and softly flying to perch atop the fence. The next morning before it was quite light, and in the evening (5 pm counts as evening now, right?) as soon as the dusk had settled, the barred owl's who-cooks-for-you call rang across the still backyards.

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different, with pie

We had music playing for much of the weekend, but right now as I write this the various rhythms and patters of the rain fill the house. It sounds different on the tin roof of the shed than on our shingled roof, and different still where it touches the trees and pours down the gutters. I realize that it's Wednesday and the weekend is a distant dream, but I spent yesterday at home painting and baking and walking where wind and ravens move through tall Douglas-firs. I make no apologies for my love of the rain; I don't even own an umbrella. I walked through this softest of statics into the city this morning. The droplets sizzled as they met the ocean and hundreds of tiny songbirds were hidden in hedges and shrubberies, trying to drown out the rain with their chattering. For two weekends in a row now there have been pies. I feel like we've reached another level of settling in, here, and have relaxed into spending our days pleasurably. The first two pies we ate all to ourselves, but the next batch made it over to join a glorious feast with friends one night and a low-key dessert party the next.

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Apple Vanilla Custard Pie My own creation, inspired by Terroirs de France: Un million de menus. I found it best eaten cold, but it's still perfectly tasty when warm.

3 apples 2 eggs 3/4 cup table cream (10 % cream) 1/3 cup vanilla sugar 1/2 tsp lemon zest 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/4 tsp cardamom 1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder 1/2 tsp vanilla extract Pastry to line shallow 8 or 9" pie dish

  1. Roll out pastry into a disc, place in pie dish and trim edges. Decorate if desired. Place in fridge for about 20 minutes (prepare filling during this time).
  2. Preheat oven to 425°. Wash apples, but don't peel them. Quarter the apples, remove cores, and slice into medium-thin slices.
  3. Prepare custard. Whisk eggs, then add all other ingredients and whisk until incorporated.
  4. Arrange apples in pie shell with the skin sides facing up. Pour custard on top.
  5. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until custard is set. It should not slosh or appear liquidy when given a gentle shake, and a skewer inserted in the custard should come out clean.

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Pumpkin Pie adapted from my mother's recipe, adapted from a can of pumpkin puree

1 sugar pie pumpkin (Split in half, seeds scooped out, and roasted cut-side down in a shallow baking dish with just enough water to cover the bottom of the dish. When pumpkin is soft, remove from the oven, let cool, then scoop out flesh and puree it. The pumpkins we grew yield about 567g/ 20oz puree. )

1/2 cup brown sugar 1 1/2 tsp salt 2 tsp cinnamon 1 1/2 tsp ginger pinch cloves 1/4 tsp garam masala 1/4 tsp allspice 3 eggs 3/4 cup 10% cream

1 deep 8 or 9" pie dish lined with pastry (Do this first, and let pastry-lined pie dish chill in the fridge for 20 minutes or so until you are ready for it.)

Preheat oven to 425°. Stir together pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices. Whisk eggs and cream, then add to pumpkin and whisk gently until mixture is homogeneous. Pour into pie shell and bake. After 10 minutes, lower heat to 350° or 375° and bake for 40 or so minutes until filling is set.

Pastry adapted from Alana Chernila's excellent The Homemade Pantry. Makes enough for 3 open-face pies.

1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour 1 cup all-purpose white flour 1 tbsp sugar 1 tsp salt 1 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes 2 tsp apple cider vinegar 2/3 cup ice cold water* (I find I usually need more water than recipes call for- you may only need 1/3 cup)

Stir together dry ingredients with a sturdy fork. Cut in butter. Add the apple cider vinegar to 1/3 cup of the ice water, then pour it into flour and gently stir/toss with fork. Add more water as needed until you can form the dough into a ball with your hands. Let rest for at least 20 minutes in the fridge before rolling out.

tiny fortress

I'm at home today, on my first official "earned day off" and I am all but spinning in circles as I struggle to spend it well. I had big plans mapped out yesterday, but my mind has gone foggy as to what they were. There is a distinct chill in the air now. The house was cold all morning and my movements were slow. Now the windows are open and a pleasant breeze traverses the room. I let the rabbits roam, not expecting that they would harass the poor old cat. Fortunately, they gave up easily and each pet is calmly resting in her own sunbeam now. Last night, I locked myself out of the house and sat in the garden. I've done this once before, but this time I pulled the knob tight with an intentional hand. You see, when stacks of dirty dishes sprawl across my kitchen (how does this happen so quickly?), it makes me want to scream. Usually I have the wherewithal to roll up my sleeves and banish them to the dishrack, but occasionally a long day and insufficient snacking will tilt me in the direction of rash emotion and terse words. Rather than scream, I scrammed. I sat at the little table in the back of the garden and wrote as I watched crows move eastward towards the gorge and pink ice-cream-castle clouds settle on the horizon. After a while, after having observed a wren light on the rooftop for a mid-flight song and a scarlet-flushed purple finch seek seed among the arugula pods, and having noted a garden spider's tiny fortress in the cosmos and coriander, I began to shiver more than a little, and knocked rather sheepishly at the garden door.

We had several weeks of deliciously rainy weather and grass and dandelions are coming up everywhere. I am feeling similarly refreshed. Here is what I would like for the months to come: dinner parties/potlucks/cooking and eating in company, forest hikes and foraging for autumn mushrooms, apples in abundance, time spent with loved ones, garlic in the ground, and to cultivate an active and creative lifestyle.

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