We had a lovely snow on Christmas eve, light and soft, the kind that makes the whole world seem clean and quiet. Snow makes Clio crazy, it brings out one of the “four formes of canine madnesse, the frantic or crazed madnesse.” She leaps about the yard, and then races in with icy snow in her pink paw pads, and leaps off of the furniture with mad abandon. I watched her on Christmas eve, and thought of Steenbeck, our old dog, buried in the yard under Clio’s frenetic paws, sleeping beneath a blanket of silent snow. I felt a sudden sadness, but it was a comforting sadness, in some inexplicable way. And on New Year’s Day we went to a party at a friend’s house, up on the hill above our small city. We walked up, it being a clear, cold day, and it felt good to shake some of the holiday-induced torpor from my mind. The party was lovely, with many children instantly interacting, as they so delightfully do, making things, and sharing things, and giggling. And we drank some good red wine, and talked to friends from town and just out of town – some we see nearly every day, some we see once or twice a year. It felt social, and cheerful, and just right for a New Year’s day. We left at dusk, which still comes early though the days are getting longer, and we walked home through the big old cemetery that over-looks our town. The stones were centuries old, but the names were familiar – the names of families that still live in our community. We read the name of the man who built our house in the 1850s, the name of the man we bought our house from ten years ago, the names of the people that own businesses in town, of families that our children go to school with. My boys raced along the paths, pelting each other with snowballs and laughing. And we walked down into town back to our old house, sleepy from the wine but sober from my thoughts, and made a warm meal, and watched a Buster Keaton movie, cuddled on the couch. It sounds idiotic, but I’d been thinking the night before about all the people that have ever lived. All of the humans that have walked on this earth, and lived, and loved, and wanted, and worked. Some in good fortune and freedom and wealth; most, probably, in poverty and servitude. But all wanting the same things, surely: affection, friendship, some degree of comfort, a kind hand, a warm meal. And I thought about it again, up on the hill, covered in a blanket of melting snow…”falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” I felt, again, that sort of comforting sadness, looking out on our beautiful town, on all of the houses lit up and ringing with laughter, with people crying, “happy new year!” Which brings us to my resolution, if I have one, and, I think I do, but in true Clairish style, it’s vague and muddled, so I hope you’ll forgive this ramble. I don’t make resolutions to lose weight, or be healthy, or give up bad habits. I’ve said before that I believe in finding a balance in everyday life, and that those things are built into the fabric of that balance, cycling continually day-to-day, working against each other. Everybody gains a bit of winter weight, but we’ll eat soup meagre for a week, run up and down the towpath with Clio a few times, and be fighting-fit come spring! To me, “resolve” doesn’t mean to give something up, but to come into focus, to become harmonious, to be solved, or healed. So I hope to bring things into focus and harmony in this new year, moment-to-moment and day-to-day. To notice everything, to recognize how vivid and poignant every moment is, how completely alive each person that I meet – how like me and how completely unique. I hope not to let fatigue, crankiness, or laziness cloud my senses or lessen my appreciation of time spent with my children and David; of strong flavors, good sounds, beautiful sights. Not to be crippled by the sense that time is passing, but to let that awareness help me to feel more keenly. Not to be distracted by our fast, cold, cluttered, cynical world from clarity, light and warmth.
Well, this is my grand ambition for the new year, and this was the pie I made for New Year’s eve and New Year’s day. To eat leftovers on New Year’s day feels like striking out in the direction of frugality and good sense! I made the pie in a ring, because I’d read that ring-shaped foods are considered lucky. I made the crust rosy-golden with cornmeal and smoked paprika, because it seems like a fortuitous color. I filled it with lentils and greens, for luck, walnuts for crunch, and roasted butternut squash for flavor and sweetness, and capers for their flavor-dynamite explosion, so that our life will be sweet, flavorful, tangy, and substantial. Or, you know, whatever…who believes these old superstitions anyway? Ring-shaped pie[/caption]
Here’s a whole album for you. It’s Jordi Savall playing Francois Couperin’s Pièces de Violes, we bought it for ourselves for Christmas, and it’s meltingly beautiful. Full of light and warmth and generosity, like a good life should be!
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 t salt
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/2 t sage
lots of black pepper
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, frozen
3 T olive oil
Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and spices in a big bowl. Grate in the butter, and stir in with a fork till you have a coarse, crumbly texture. Mix in the olive oil. Add just enough ice water to pull the whole thing together into a workable dough (start with half a cup). Knead for about a minute to ensure that everything is incorporated, and then wrap in foil and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
One medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/3 inch dice
olive oil to coat (1 or 2 Tablespoons)
1 t sage
1 shallot, minced
1 large bunch chard, soaked and rinsed, stems removed, roughly chopped (3 or 4 cups)
1 t olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 t fresh rosemary, chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 heaping cup cooked french lentils drained
1 t capers
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar
salt and plenty of pepper
Preheat the oven to 425. Toss the squash with the olive oil, sage and shallots until everything is lightly coated. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet, and roast until the squash is browned and crispy on the edges, and soft inside. Set aside.
In a large frying pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and rosemary, cook for about half a minute, till the garlic starts to brown, and add all of the chard and a tablespoon of water. COok until the chard is wilted but bright, and the pan starts to dry out – ten to fifteen minutes. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine the chard, walnuts, cooked lentils, roasted squash and capers. Mix well. mix in the grated cheese, and season well with a pinch of nutmeg, salt and plenty of pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400 (or lower the heat if you’ve just roasted your squash.)
Roll the dough into a sort of rectangle, about 8 inches by 2 feet by 1/4 inch thick. Spread the filling in an even layer down the middle of the dough. Fold the dough over both sides, to overlap itself in the middle all along the length of it, so that you have a tube about 3 inches thick. Place this seam-side down on a lightly buttered baking tray, pulling the ends together so that you have a ring. Seal the ends by pressing the dough together. Poke the ring with a fork in several places, and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, till it starts to feel firm and turn golden brown. Let cool slightly before you cut it into slices.