Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Comfort Cooking While The Heavens Open

This is a photo of our living room ceiling, in it's current state. We've had a few torrential downpours and winds over the past few weeks, and as a result, part of our roof was ripped off and our ceiling leaked. A lot. We didn't use a bucket to collect the water; we used a 40 gallon ice box, which had to be emptied several times a night. Just so you get the idea.

This is a photo of a man standing outside my kitchen window as I puttered around making my morning coffee. At 7 am. I am presuming he is one of the roofers, otherwise, holy f**k, POLICE, there's a MAN on my neighbour's roof looking into my kitchen!

Can I be candid with you? I've been going through a bit of a rough patch. Newly married, I'd returned from the honeymoon like a woman reborn. Two weeks of bliss had erased all the worries and cares from my mind, and I'd convinced myself that I could maintain that state of relaxation, here, in the city. How foolish of me. Because the fact remains that I still urgently need to find a job, and after three months of not being able to, of the constant rejections, I'm actually a little bit blue about the whole thing. I find myself wishing my blog would be discovered, like a gawky teen at the mall, so I could write for a living. Or I could find work being one of the members of those crisp-looking families in the Ikea catalogue; I feel I could be happy living in the Swedish calm of an Ektorp living room, even if only for a few false minutes.

With all this going on and living in what feels like an approximation of a crack den (hyperbole alert); with all the furniture turned over and the ceiling opened up like the surgery patient in the game 'Operation', my head and my heart feel chaotic. I haven't been writing or doing stained glass; laundry's been piling up. I've felt like eating beans on toast or anything that can be microwaved, made from a box or otherwise conjured up instantly, as if by magic or voodoo. I have simply not felt like cooking. For the past two days, I've been feasting on the kindness of our landlords; a large piece of 'Apologies For The Inconvenience' cake, and last night, an 'Apology, Part 2' cream cheese and lox bagel. I might be able to milk this situation for a four course meal if I'm clever with the doe eyes...

But this morning, with the roof being ripped off with a sound akin to God unleashing Hell's chariots from their fiery depths over my head, I decided I wanted - no, needed, to do some comfort cooking. With the dog and cat cowering in terror in the bedroom, it looked like I'd have the kitchen all to myself this morning. I decided upon some Cranberry-Pistachio scones for breakfast with my coffee. I found a basic recipe here and put them together. I used a little trick I'd read in my Best Of Chef At Home cookbook, and used a stick of frozen butter, which I then grated for an even dispersion of the butter in the dough. Genius.

The scones, once cooled slightly were divine. I don't know if this is because freshly baked anything tastes good out of the oven, but I'd put just the right amount of pistachios and cranberries in and the texture was a sublime cross between bread and a croissant.

On a baking high, I scanned my cookbooks and magazines for inspiration and decided to make an asparagus and green onion tart with a goat cheese custard filling for dinner. I used Martha's basic pastry crust, which came together easily once I ignored the rather confusing instructions and did it my way. I let the crust chill in the fridge and reckoned I needed a break from all the construction overhead, so I leashed up my dog and went for a walk. As she sniffed and peed happily, I fretted over money while counting my blessings. I wondered what my mother would tell me to do. I marvelled at the green-gold glow of all the leaves, backlit by the sun. I thought about Husband and warmed inside. I wished for a new sofa. I felt bittersweet.

Later, back at home, I poured myself a glass of wine and set to chopping my vegetables and making the filling. It took me forever; I wasn't as organized as I usually am, but I didn't really care; I was too busy taking in the prettiness of my ingredients.

Lovely, sunny, lemony curlicues...

A small heap of oregano for good measure

Finally, it came together and went in the oven. What came out was even better than I'd hoped for.

I cut myself a large slice of tart and made a salad, which I ate up in mere minutes; it was that kind of good . The roofers had gone home; the noise finally stopped. And I believed that just as surely as there were days like these, where I felt fragile and unsettled, there would be jobs and fixed ceilings and renewed optimism. And the spaces in between happiness wouldn't seem quite so laboured. Or long.

Cranberry Pistachio Scones, via Joy Of Baking:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
Zest of one orange, finely chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) of frozen butter, grated on the larger side of a box grater
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir till well mixed. Add the grated butter and mix with a wooden spoon, separating any clumps.

2. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and stir till just combined and a dough is forming. Be careful not to over-mix, don't worry if you don't get all the dry ingredients wet yet. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead gently till you can form a circle, approximately 1" in thickness. Cut into 6-8 pieces (I cut 6) and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush tops with a bit of buttermilk and bake for 20 or so minutes, or until tops are lightly golden. Allow to cool slightly before eating.

Asparagus-Scallion Tart, adapted from and inspired by several recipes, all Martha Stewart publications:

1 Basic Pastry Crust - see below for recipe
8-10 stalks of asparagus, cut into two inch pieces
4-5 scallions, cut into two inch pieces
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
2/3 cup goat cheese
zest of one lemon, finely chopped
A handful of fresh oregano leaves, washed and chopped roughly


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a skillet, heat up some olive oil and add the asparagus with some salt and pepper. Saute till softened, about 10 minutes or so. Set aside.

2. In blender, combine the buttermilk, eggs, goat cheese and lemon zest and pulse till well combined. Throw in the oregano and pulse till combined. Set aside.

3. Sprinkle the scallions and asparagus over the pastry crust. Pour the buttermilk mixture over top till everything is covered. (You may have a bit left over) Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the custard is set; keep checking it! Brown the top under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, watching closely that it doesn't burn. Once done, allow to cool for 10 minutes, then cut to serve.

Martha Stewart's Basic Pastry Crust, with my instructions:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tbsp ice water


1. In food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Pulse to mix. Add the butter pieces and pulse till the mixture looks crumbly with pea-sized bits in it.

2. Add the water and pulse till it looks like it's coming together; this takes only a few seconds or so, don't overdo it!

3. Turn mixture out into a springform pan or pie dish and gently pat down the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and up the sides a bit. Using a fork, prick two or three steam vents in the bottom. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes, up to several hours.

4. Before using the crust, you'll want to pre-bake it in a 350 degree F oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until it turns a light golden brown. It's a good idea to weigh down the raw crust with some dried beans or something of similar heft so the bottom doesn't rise up when baking and crack. After the pre-bake, you're ready to add the filling!


  1. Poor you! So much stress, but the great thing is you have an an amazing husband and friends who love you!
    I use the frozen butter trick(I also grate it), it is genius! I want one of the scones, they look delicious!
    Chin up and deep breath.

  2. Thanks Melissa! You're a dear friend!