Mary Boulton came to town and I started roasting hazelnuts. I continue to roast hazelnuts. And I dream of stews. Under Mary’s command, those animals which live in the woods, in a state of natural freedom, with some salt and water, undergo a great number of cunning modifications and transformations, making for some truly gastronomical cookery. I read about Mary’s adventures and I want to be like her.
But then I read about Alice’s journey and, well, then I wear a bird on my head.
I wear a bird on my head and I make a bird’s nest toast and I get ready to go see Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice in ballet-form that is. Alice as she goes to a mad tea-party.
I wear a bird on my head and I read Favourite Recipes from Old New Brunswick Kitchens. There is the Never-Fail Pie Crust recipe but then that’s a story for another post and a story for when Pear starts appreciating my Mary Boulton ways. Yes, another post. This is about Alice and so I think maybe a certain sponge cake called Cinderella should be what I eat before I head out to the ballet? But then Alice isn’t a princess. Alice is an adventurer.
Then there is the Invalid Cookery & Miscellany section of the cookbook. Now that is Alice-like. She would partake in some invalid cookery while in a mad tea-party. No?
But I am wearing a bird and so a bird’s nest toast it shall be. Frank the Cardboard Deer agrees. So I start separating an egg, beating the white until very light. Oh and remember to keep the yolk. Yes, we’ll need the yolk.
Then I shape it in a nest-shape and put on the toast. A slice that’s been toasted and then dipped in boiling water. Carefully drop yolk in the centre, sprinkle with salt, place in oven. Frank is watching. He wishes he could go to Alice ballet too. Alas he is just cardboard and can’t leave the wall. He is also envious of the dance party I’m having in my apartment while I wait for this egg concoction to brown in the oven.
I dance and I think of Alice and I eat a bird’s nest toast. Then I take the bird off of my head (I got shy). And I go to the ballet.
Dip a slice of nicely toasted bread in boiling water and place on dish. Separate one egg. Beat the white until very light and arrange it in nest-shape on toast. Drop the yolk carefully into the centre, sprinkle lightly with salt and brown in oven. Take from the oven as soon as the yolk is heated thoroughly.
This Knot Theory tie might appear to be a union of two black and white strips, dancing to the rhythms of your work suit, waxing poetic about the daily tasks we all perform — tasks we sometimes complete with mind-less attribution.
It is anything but.
And those of us familiar with Harold Crick and his single Windsor knot instead of the double (saving up to forty-three seconds every day despite his wristwatch’s thoughts that the single Windsor made his neck look fat) might think that this tie would make it to the top of men’s fashion accessories. But then those of us also know that when “we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies” or in my case I would say, chocolate toffee cookies!
To me, Knot Theory designs are like toffee: standing out without shouting out. Well, that is until the first bite when you notice the perfect combination of chewy-ness and crunch with butter, chocolate, and roasted nuts. And did I say butter?
Yes, although this medley might look like any other classic chocolate cookie, it surprises with its saltiness and well, it has toffee! So I wear my necktie and start roasting some pecans. Smitten Kitchen uses walnuts but I really like pecans and have so much of them that I decided it would be a nice substitution.
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars, coarsely chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted, chopped
Flaky salt for sprinkling (optional — but this cookie is so chocolate-y that I find the salt to make that cookie that much more enjoyable)
Luckily I had some Cocoa Nymph English toffee which I thought would be perfect for this cookie.
To make cookies: combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.
Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Did I say that after the move to Toronto a Kitchen Aid mixer is what I bought first, before a bed? In fact I got a mixer with the money I had set aside for a bed. Moments like today, when I can make a chocolate toffee cookie, are precisely why the right choice was made over a bed.
Anyways, stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Drop batter by spoonfuls onto sheets, spacing two inches apart. Sprinkle with a pinch of flaky sea salt, if you’re using it. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)
So when routine and constancy strike next, wear your tie paired with a brightly coloured shirt and eat some chocolate toffee cookies. All will become out of the ordinary. All will be good.
P.S. Numbers in this photo appear backwards because clearly I have no photo taking skills.
It is not often you purchase a necklace that makes you feel strongly compelled to make some pie!
Photo Credit: Pretty Betty Designs
This Pretty Betty vintage gold broach inspired necklace was exactly that purchase — the prettiest shade of blue underneath a golden bow-shaped crust. The off-centred bow is very Gossip Girl, no? And we know that Blair Waldorf must pie! Naturally I had to mix some flour, butter, and water and get started on making a blueberry pie.
For some reason, Blonde Redhead has become my pie making music (and not because they have an album called The Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons — honest). Today I listen to Misery is a Butterfly; its music and vocals eerily resembling my fear of the crust.
They say that temperature is key to making that perfect pie crust. Ingredients MUST be cold. Ice cold. I try to keep this in mind as I make my way through this recipe.
I put the butter in the freezer, refrigerated the bowl that I’m going to use for mixing my ingredients, and made sure I have ice cubes ready — they are going to be floating in my water to make sure that it’s COLD water. Just to be sure, I decided to put my hands over some ice to even cool my hands. Everything is now cold. I’m ready.
My favourite part of making pie is rolling out the dough. It’s been chilling in the fridge while I went through another round of Blonde Redhead on repeat and is now ready to be worked. I roll and roll and roll. Pie dish is now covered.
As for the filling: thanks to my Mary Boulton aspirations, I had saved a bag of blueberries from the summer farmer’s market.
Toss 4–5 cups blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp cornstarch, 2 Tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp. vanilla in a bowl. Cover your lower crust with finely crushed cookies (Nilla wafers work well) or nuts to soak up excess moisture, add the blueberry mixture and the top crust.
Some oven time, and done!
Next time you’re wondering what to bake, mayhap take a look at your necklace collection?
Foraging thoughts are only a recent addition to my desire to become a locavore like Mary Boulton. But we’ve already discussed that in Fox in Woodland.
Barbara Kingsolver says in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that all stories begin in one of two ways: “a stranger came to town” or else, “I set out upon a journey”. The rest is all just metaphor and simile she says. And just when I was ready to submit to the realism that I will never be Mary Boulton given my liking for the comforts of a city, I realized that Mary is in fact my stranger that came to town. She instilled a need for me to connect to my environment more and Barbara Kingsolver started me on a journey of going to farmers markets, making cheese, and attempting to make sourdough starter — with help from Amber Strocel‘s sourdough experiment. I also learnt that you don’t name your starter until a week has passed; it’s bad luck. My second (and name-less) attempt at making starter is going much better.
Like Barbara I now look at eggplants thinking they are lightbulbs, especially the white ones. And I have respect for the cold-weather saviour that is winter squash. Did I say that I’m addicted to delicata squash?
Barbara awaits the wild asparagus, describing the asparagus plant’s life history and the edge it holds as the year’s first major edible. “Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they’re good” and appreciating them more since the time to taste them is short. This takes me back to my childhood where all children — without exception — would await the arrival of spring, not because of Norouz (well maybe partly because of Norouz), or because of its sunny day promises, or because it brought the end of the school year that much closer.
The ubiquitous buzz of spring was about the arrival of the Persian Green Plum.
These green sour-tasting and juicy plums, aka Goje Sabz, were valuable currency on any school’s playground. I would eat them until my stomach hurt, and repeat again the next day. So what’s happened? Why did I need Barbara to remind me of the joy of eating fruits and vegetables when the waiting is finally over?
My thoughts on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: I can’t stop thinking about this book. Barbara Kingsolver with a sweet witty-ness wrote about her food adventures, provided recipes, and inspired action within me to make my own cheese, bread, and as many meals as possible. Most importantly for me, she provided solutions for those of us living in the city as to how we can connect with our food better and understand where our food comes from.
I don’t have to be chased into the wild mountains of Alberta to be close to my food like Mary Boulton. Nor do I have to move to a farm. Thank you farmers market! I can continue to live in the city, go on foraging trips to Anthropologie for lemon-coloured sweaters and shirts with pear prints, while awaiting the arrival of spring and the green plum.
Somewhere under the heaviness of the black skirts of Mary Boulton I struggled to breathe. Gil Adamson‘s descriptions of the woods and mountains in The Outlander are lyrical and painterly, but also dark as we follow this self-widowed, almost witch-like, maybe even mad, Mary through the woodland — fleeing.
This locavore heroine is introduced as a murderess. Gloomy. An inept housewife. And her attempts at foraging for food sometimes resulted in unpleasant stews, only brought to mouth’s desire by hunger. She may have thought herself an inept housewife, but she certainly inspired Martha-like behaviour in me. I started roasting hazelnuts almost daily, adding them to my salads and grinding them to be used for a Queen’s Mother Cake or with coffee beans for my morning brew. Maybe it helped that it was cold and rainy while I was reading The Outlander. Or maybe it was that my local Farmer’s Market offered hazelnuts. But the smell of hazelnuts filling my kitchen, combined with the warmth feeling they created in me, made me feel like I was part of nature. I felt that somehow I was experiencing the same feelings Mary would have when she sat close to a fire and drank coffee.
So going past the hazelnut madness, what did I think of The Outlander? I loved it! Except that it left me with an intense craving for rabbit stew! Luckily I don’t live in the wild and can go to a cozy French eatery — Bistrot Bistro. The destination is a simpler, cleaner, more honest French, with strong, pure flavours and back-to-basics cooking techniques and food served in the pots they were cooked in. The rabbit stew was delicious, resting in a rich pool of white wine cream sauce, bringing me closer to the adventures of Mary Boulton. My friend and I shared this stew with perhaps an atypical combination: Duck Confit Macaroni and cheese and some chocolate mousse. The chef had made a big bowl of chocolate mousse and our server brought the bowl right to our table, taking what seemed like a mountain of chocolate for my friend and I to share.
I would recommend this book, but be warned: cravings for stew might consume you.
I always wear a lot of black and so can not say that Mary’s big and heavy black funeral outfit, a significant contributor to her witch-like allure, had any influence on my fashion choices. But she did inspire me to wear my Foks scarf.