Butternut, nut, chard, and french lentil pie

Butternut, nut and french lentil pie

Butternut, nut and french lentil pie

HAPPY NEW YEAR, ORDINARY FRIENDS!! I’m feeling light of heart and weighty of thoughts, which seems in keeping with the situation and the season. Clio and I took our scamper on the towpath this morning to our favorite field, where the sky arches overhead in bright clouds, and the field bows underfoot in a gentle slope to a rushing singing creek, and that’s how my spirits feel. Buoyant and grounded. Castles in the air with foundations on the ground. I’m feeling resolutionary. As I mentioned last year, to me, “resolve” doesn’t mean to give something up, but to come into focus, to become harmonious, to be solved, or healed. And this year, for some reason, I’ve been thinking about how many typical New Year’s resolutions face inward, they’re about ways to change yourself and make yourself healthier or more successful. We got a message from a fortune cookie recently that said “Only when free from projections, we can be aware of reality.” Well, I’d like to respectfully disagree with the fortune cookie. I believe it’s all projections. It’s all images and moments that we create and collect: the sunshine and shadow, the bright vivid colors and the dusky quiet times. And just as we’re the authors of our own stories, we’re the auteurs of our own film: we decide how everything is connected. We connect all the flickering moments. And I’d like mine to be inspired by Ozu and Berri and Tati. Quiet and thoughtful, humorous, beautiful within each frame and from frame to frame. Celebrating the oddness and worth of ordinary moments. With just the right music and just the right movement at exactly the right time. Of course “projection” also means casting our ideas and our stories outside of ourselves. Sharing them with others, and creating an understanding of everything else through the experiences and lives of others. Empathy. So that will be part of it all, too. We’ll focus, and then we’ll project. We’ll share a cup of kindness, a draught of good will. In the days of alchemy, “projection” described the process of throwing a stone into a crucible to create change: change from base metals to gold, originally, but eventually it described any change. “I feele that transmutation o’my blood, As I were quite become another creature, And all he speakes, it is projection.” So on this day of new beginnings we’ll think of this, too. We’ll think of focussing, reflecting, projecting, in the glowing hopeful lengthening days. Oh, and I will learn to play ukulele!

Roasted butternut, french lentil and nut pie.

Roasted butternut, french lentil and nut pie.

If this seems a lot like last year’s New Year’s pie, that because it is! Same butternut squash, french lentil and chard. And yet, it’s completely different. I’ve been playing around with savory nut custards, lately, and this is further evidence of that. It has more eggs, and I whizzed them with hazelnuts, almonds and pecans until they everything was quite smooth. The butternut was roasted in halves rather than small pieces, and then blended right in with the nut mixture. The chard and lentils provide a nice difference in texture, and smoked paprika and smoked paprika add a nice savory to the sweetness of nuts and squash.

Here’s Feeling Good, by Nina Simone.

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Double-crusted pecan, french lentil and chard pie

Lentil chard and pecan pie

Lentil chard and pecan pie

If the sun ever came out you felt that it might be warm, but the morning was cold and damp. A pretty mist clung to the ghostly sycamores and the blue-bronze wintery leaves, and it crept inside to chill your bones. All the vendors at the flea market huddled or paced behind their tables to keep warm. It was a slow day, but wednesdays are always slow days. They had a slight rush of business. A lunchtime rush? Too early for lunchtime, way too early for lunchtime. Well I’m eating lunch. Yeah, but you’ve been up since four. Oh, I got up at three this morning, and thought why bother going back to sleep? Oh, that’s just terrible. I can give you the owl for five dollars, or the goose for eight. Half price on all the jewelry, and everything is fifty cents in this box. Behind one table stood an elderly man with an unperturbable smile on his face. A woman walked up to his wares and he said, “Tremors!” by way of greeting. He held up his hands in demonstration, and they were, indeed shaking. “I’ve got tremors.” “Well, we still like you,” said the woman. “And I still like myself!” He replied brightly. And then they discussed crocheted blankets, just the thing to keep you warm an on early December morning.

French lentil, chard, and olive pie

French lentil, chard, and olive pie

We went to the flea market to search for Christmas presents and came home with nothing but a stack of cake pans and pie tins for Claire! What a brat. They’re beautiful and slightly mysterious vintage French pie tins and cake pans, and I love them. And I’m looking forward to using them. I made this pie in one such vintage french cake tins. It’s a little broader and flatter than a traditional American cake pan, which makes a nice double-crusted savory pie. This is filled with some of my favorites–french lentils, swiss chard and black olives. I also tried something new, which was to blend eggs with pecans and mix that right in with the filling. Almost like a pecan frangipane. I thought it turned out very tasty. If you don’t like olives, don’t be put off this recipe. Try substituting raisins!

Here’s Soldiers Things by Tom Waits, my flea market theme song.

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White bean, spinach and roasted mushroom pie with pecan sage crust

white bean, mushroom, and spinach pie

white bean, mushroom, and spinach pie

This is a very Dickensian time of year. I want to read Dickens, watch adaptations of his novels (good or bad), eat Dickensian food (like this pie!) drink hot gin punches. In short, I love Charles Dickens – I always have. I don’t care what anybody says about him. I don’t care if people think he’s nothing but an overly sentimental Victorian fuddyduddy. I’m not blind to his faults, I will admit that he can be a little ham-fisted with the sentiment at times. But he’s also darkly, bitingly funny, political, warmly human, and even light-heartedly absurd. His books contain everything a novel should – a broad, carefully calculated over-arching plot that feels complicated yet effortless; an expansive cast of characters so diverse, eccentric and detailed that they feel alive; and a powerful mix of humor and pathos, sweetness and brutality. What’s my favorite Dickens novel? I hear you ask. And without a second’s hesitation I will tell you, Our Mutual Friend. It’s a dark, dirty novel, swirling with life and death, like the river it describes. It’s about the river, and the bodies found there, and the people that make their living there, and those that try to escape its inky pull. Amongst the eccentric, extensive cast of characters are some of the most appealing Dickens (or anyone else) has ever created. There’s Eugene Wrayburn, witty, idle, disappointed, disappointing – the culmination of Dickens’ career-long treatment of the theme of a cruelly seductive wealthy man who ruins a poor young woman. There’s Wrayburn’s friendship with Mortimer Lightwood, a real friendship, generously observed. And Wrayburn’s love for Lizzie Hexam, who is far more than a poor but pretty face. And Lizzie’s friendship with Jenny Wren, one of the oddest characters in literature. She’s the twisted and crippled embodiment of the Victorian ideal of a child-woman – an ideal that Dickens helped to perpetrate. He’s created this bizarre monstrous little creature that stands as a criticism of his own work. She’s a perpetual child, physically, frail and beautiful, but her words are as sharp as needles, and she becomes a kind of chorus or surrogate for Lizzie, able to say the things Lizzie’s politeness will not allow her to express. She’s remarkable, I tell you! And of course this is only a small handful of an enormous cast of characters, but I can’t go on and on about it here.

Do you like Dickens? What’s your favorite Dickens novel?

Instead, I’ll go on and on about this pie. I love a double-crusted pie in the wintertime, one with a tall crispy crust that holds in any mashed potatoes you might pile on top. In some ways this is my ur-winter pie. I love the combination of roasted mushrooms and nuts, and smoky cheese, and savory spinach. The beans add substance and flavor. I love the combination of sage and rosemary with a bit of nutmeg. This pie has all those things! In this case the nuts are in the crust, which is light and crispy, and the filling is dense and satisfying.

Here’s the Dickensian Decemberists with The Chimbley Sweep.

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Parsnip & apple galette

Here’s another one that Mrs Rabbit could make after she sends Peter foraging in the hedgerows for nuts and stealing root vegetables from their neighbors’ gardens. This is a rustic-looking galette, with roasted parsnips, apples and shallots, sharp cheddar cheese and some arugula thrown in for greenness. The parsnips are sweet, the apples are tart, the cheese is sharp, and they all go well together. The crust is made with hazelnuts, and lends a nice crunchy nuttiness to the soft, sweet insides. Galettes are the easiest crusted-thing to make, because you just fold them over and they look nice. There’s not fussing with crimping or roundness or fitting-into-anything-ness.

Here’s Sonny Boy Williamson with Apple Tree Swing.
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Pie, Mash & Liquor – vegetarian style

I first came across pie, mash & liquor in the wonderful blog Spitalfields Life. This meal is an east London phenomenon, which consists of a meat pie, a pile of mashed potatoes, and a drenching of liquor (parsley sauce). And it seems to be accompanied, traditionally, by jellied eels. (I haven’t come up with a vegetarian version of this, but it would probably involve okra.) The meal is served in gleaming marble and glass pie shops, which I vow to visit one day!

I used a black bean and mushroom substitute for the meat. From the recipes I’ve seen, there’s a bit of leeway with different flavorings – it’s not as pure and simple as a cornish pastie, for instance. I added marmite, mustard powder, paprika, and beer, and the result is really delicious! I have made parsley sauce in the past, but I was in the mood for something different, this time, so I made an herbed walnut sauce, and stirred a big helping of pesto in at the end so it would be green (and tasty!!)

I used a hot water crust on the bottom and a paté brisée on the top, which seems to be traditional, according to some sources. But you could use one or the other. And I used a large-sized muffin pan, but you could use a regular muffin pan, or, to really keep it simple, just use paté brisée and fold them over like turnovers.

Here’s Dee Dee Sharp doing Mashed Potato Time
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Deep Mushroom Pie

This pie is so comforting it’s almost Dickensian, but it’s not stodgy at all. If you think of it as mushroom paté in a flaky crust, it’s actually quite elegant. It’s fun to make, doesn’t take too long, and is special enough to be a vegetarian holiday meal. I use a hot water crust on the bottom, and a paté brisée crust on the top, but you could use one or the other for both. I like to put a layer of chard or spinach, sauteed, finely chopped, because I think it adds a nice contrast of flavor and texture, but you can go full-mushroom if you like.

Here’s Ella Fitzgerald, with Louis Jordan singing the delicious Petootie Pie

You’re such a tasty, lump of pastry.
Gotta light the oven –
Gonna cook a dish of lovin’

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