A fleeting premonition. It spun before her eyes, a flash of knowledge. Should she say something, try to get him to slow down, warn him of impending…what? Danger? She hesitates. He never liked it when she in her constant state of nervous anxiety tried to warn him, control him. And it usually all ended in nothing anyway. Or was there simply not enough time? Then there came those hang gliders, so close she could practically touch them if she rolled down her window and reached out her hand, brush her fingers across their skin; so close she could see their faces, see their smiles, weaving in and out, in and then away from the car. And then it was upon them. She turned her head and noticed that he was no longer watching the road, did not notice the curve of the highway as they sped forward, as the sharp turn in the road rushed towards them. He, too, had noticed the hang gliders so curiously close to the car, to the craggy, rugged mountainside and was observing them in wonder and slight amusement.
No barrier. She didn’t notice the lack of any wall, shield or fence at all to protect them, nothing to defend them from the fall at all, not so much as a warning, until it was too late. And the car spun off the road and took flight. Miles of emptiness hung below them as the car continued to move forward, projected into space; nothingness, miles of nothingness between the wheels of the car and the ground visible so far below them.
And the car spun forward, gently dipping in its trajectory, but mostly flying forward, less a free fall than flight, yet the threat of falling was there hanging silent and heavy between them. This has always been her greatest fear, a precipitous, dizzying drop, that fall to death. Yet her fear at this moment was overcome by a concern for him. She flung her arms around his neck, hung on tight and pressed her forehead into his warm cheek. His eyes wide open in horror, saying nothing, she calming him, letting him know with her words of tenderness and love that he was not to blame, that she loved him.
My eyes pop open. A dream, what a curious, odd dream. I have many of them, these dreams of falling, falling, more often than I would like. Sometimes I even fear the coming slumber because of those dreams. So cool and collected, so carefree and optimistic in daylight I am, taking all the bumps and knocks with a shrug and a smile, able to laugh it all off and support and soothe even his anxiety and pessimism. But close my eyes and the worries that I am able to elude during my waking hours crowd around me when I sleep, the stress and doubts I push to some far away corner of my brain bubble up to the surface and flood my imagination and gentle dreams turn black, nightmares of foreboding and terror. Yet this curious dream – was it a nightmare? I awoke with a jump, yet no lingering panic, no bad feelings clung to my body. Absence of the usual sweating and heart pounding, the usual feeling of dread…. I was strangely, unusually calm.
Flour fluttering through my fingers, soft and silent, dusting the tabletop like freshly fallen snow. Butter cool between thumb and index, smell the fragrance of fresh cream – try to describe the scent of butter! Cubes of pale yellow pressed between my fingers with that gentle resistance begging me to give them more of my attention, forcing me to be insistent. Slowly, rhythmically, these delicate mounds of butter fade into a mere trace, an illusion, creating perfect symbiosis with the flour like damp sand on the beach on a warm evening of summer. One single egg yolk plops into the center with a poof. A yellow so shocking, so deep, almost orange that thoughts of their pale, anemic cousins back home make me chuckle; no, these impose themselves, force their existence on you in their flashy dress, their plump, glistening, neon ostentation. A splash of milk splatters onto the dark golden orb and completes the scenario. I press my hands in and squeeze, satisfied; press and push until I have my perfect dough, sweet with a shower of white, white sugar glittering in the ray of neon. And I have in front of me a treasure trove of pleasures, a multitude of promises. After a night of dreams, turbulent, confusing, I long to spend the day in the kitchen pressing my hands lovingly, soothingly in the cool calm of fresh dough. And from this delicate, smooth ball I can create all that I desire.
Dreams are often so simple to interpret and it is a game I love to play. Analyzing the images that dance through those night visions in some macabre parallel world, so alive, so real yet so illusory, intangible, chimerical, becomes a way to admit our worst fears and discuss the worries that torment our subconscious minds. We laugh as we find a parallel, our worries seem to disintegrate into nothingness as we talk. Our little pastime of discussing and analyzing each nightmare becomes an amusement, a distraction that alleviates the anguish of these turbulent changes in life. “Do you think that I have driven you over some proverbial cliff?” he asks, worry searing deep into his eyes. No, of course not. We came to the decisions together, as one, and we know without a doubt it was the right choice, the only choice. And we are good. We are happy. And all will come out right in the end.
The scent of oranges bright and tangy fills the air. Quick spurts of oil and juice as my knife presses through the skin and into the flesh. Orange curd is on the agenda, thick, luxurious curd with the scent of my Florida childhood. Oranges nestled in the bottom of my basket in a joyful tumble and jumble with apples both red and green, the colors of the season. Apples sweet and tart dusted with cinnamon and paired with plump, golden raisins, enrobed in a wrap of sweet pastry dough will welcome autumn into my kitchen. I rustle through the jars and containers in the refrigerator encumbered with more than we would ever need, and come happily upon a jar of chocolate ganache and another of delectable salted butter caramel sauce and have one of those glorious eureka moments! Why make only one dessert when I can make an endless array, something for everyone?
Once again – is this the sixth or seventh time in the past two years? – we are awoken with a jolt as the bedroom door flings open with the force of a gale storm wind. It slams into the radiator with a crash as if someone angry bursts into the room, waking us purposely. We sit up with a start and then crash back down onto our pillows, our only doubts being whether or not the blast and the impact woke up the dog as well. But, no, silence. So we leave the door open and fade back into sleep.
“It’s him, you know, your brother, Michael.” He, normally so pragmatic, so practical and so scientific, states so matter of factly. “Haven’t you noticed that the closet doors creak and crack on a regular basis? It’s not just the bedroom door flung open in the night. He must be in the armoire and angry that you gave me his shirts. He’s inside the armoire trying to take his shirts back!” He chuckles and I laugh, but we know that since Michael passed away, there is really no other explanation for all the odd and ghostly occurrences. And maybe in a way it comforts us, knowing he is around, with us. Awakening in the night to the crash bang of the door doesn’t frighten us anymore. And then we laugh, the solemnity and pangs of discomfort brought on by my odd, curious dream, the worries of our future it stirred up once again fade away into daylight. And I pull out the box of flour, the sugar, the eggs and start my day.
Two recipes for Sweet Pastry Crust to use at will, as you like, as you desire. I have made mini tartlet shells, some of which I filled with Orange Curd Mascarpone Cream, others with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Salted Butter Caramel Sauce. And part of the Sweet Pastry Crust was wrapped snugly around two apples and baked, each apple cored and stuffed with sweet golden raisins, a smidge of butter, a dash of cinnamon and a shake of granulated brown sugar. To drizzle with more Salted Butter Caramel Sauce, of course.
Feel free to stir in ¼ cup of finely ground nuts (almond, hazelnut, pistachio) into the dry ingredients of either of the following Sweet Pastry Crust recipes.
Make the Orange Curd (recipe follows) or my favorite Lime Curd and make a wonderful tart filling by whisking or beating in mascarpone in 2 to 1 proportions (twice the amount curd to mascarpone) or to taste. Or, for a lighter filling, beat 1 cup (250 ml) chilled heavy whipping cream until thick and stiff peaks hold then beat in up to 1 ½ cups Lime or Orange Curd or to taste.
Life’s a Feast has been selected by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution as one of November’s Food Blogs of the Month.
My Cranberry-Cherry Macarons were featured on Gourmet Live’s Autumnal Desserts round up!
SWEET PASTRY CRUST #1
This recipe can easily be doubled for a two-crust pie.
1 1⁄4 cups (175 g) flour
1⁄4 cup (50 g) sugar
7 Tbs (100 grams) unsalted butter*
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Stir flour and sugar together in a bowl. Add the butter cut into cubes and, using thumb and finger tips, rub the flour and butter into each other vigorously until it resembles damp sand on the beach and there are no more large chunks of butter.
Pour the lightly beaten egg over the flour-sugar-butter mixture and stir vigorously with a fork until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and it starts to clump. With fingers, press together into a ball and place on a floured surface. With the heel of one hand, smear the dough forward quickly in hard, sharp movements, a little at a time (a tablespoon maybe) until all the dough has been "smeared". This blends in the last of the butter. Scrape the dough together and work briefly, just enough to form into a smooth, homogeneous ball.
Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator until needed or, if making your pie right away, just until it is firm enough to be easy to roll out without sticking to your rolling pin.
* Most pie crust recipes call for the butter to be chilled. I have found that butter at room temperature is easier and quicker to work into the flour and the dough seems to be fluffier. If it is too sticky to roll out right away, 10 to 15 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.
SWEET PASTRY CRUST #2
1 ¾ cups (250 g) flour
1/3 cup (40 g) powdered/icing sugar
8 Tbs (115 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened, cubed
1 large egg yolk
Scant ¼ cup (50 ml) milk, slightly more if needed
Sift or whisk together the flour and powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl. Drop in the cubes of butter and, using the tips of your fingers and thumb, rub the butter and flour together quickly until all of the butter is blended in and there are no more lumps. Add the egg yolk and the milk and, using a fork, blend vigorously until all of the flour/sugar/butter mixture is moistened and starts to pull together into a dough.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and, using the heel of one hand, smear the dough inch by inch away from you in short, hard, quick movements; this will completely blend the butter in. Scrape up the smeared dough and, working very quickly, gently knead into a smooth, homogeneous ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.
To make individual tartlet shells with either recipe:
Lightly grease with butter the sides and bottoms of 6 individual tartlet tins (4 to 4 ¼ inches/ 10 ½ to 11 cm wide) – or even tinier ones - and place the prepared tins on a baking sheet.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. Working on a floured surface and with the top of the dough kept lightly floured to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin, roll out the dough and line the tins by gently lifting in and pressing down the dough. Trim the edges. Cover the baking tray with the lined tins with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This can also be done ahead of time.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Remove the baking tray from the refrigerator and discard the plastic wrap. Cut or tear squares of parchment paper larger than each tin. Prick each tartlet shell with a fork (not too hard or deep as you don’t want holes going all the way through the dough) and place a square or parchment over each. Weigh down the parchment with pastry weights or dried beans, pushing the beans into the corners. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully lift out the parchment squares and beans, pressing the bottoms down with your fingertips if puffed up, and return to the oven to bake until golden. If the shells are too tiny to easily fill with parchment and beans, simply bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden then, upon removing from the oven and while still hot, carefully press down the bottoms of each shell if puffed up. Allow to cool then carefully lift or turn shells out of tins and fill.
¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch
1 heaping Tbs finely grated orange zest
¾ cup (190 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice (about 3 juice oranges)
6 egg yolks, lightly beaten
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, cubed
Place the egg yolks in a medium to large heatproof mixing bowl. I block mine by placing on a kitchen towel which I have formed into a “nest”. Whisk the egg yolks lightly.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar and the cornstarch. Whisk in the orange zest and juice until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Cook over medium or medium-low heat, whisking, until thickened and bubbling.
Slowly pour the hot orange-sugar mixture into the egg yolks while whisking in order to heat the yolks gradually and gently. Once the hot mixture has been whisked into the yolks, pour everything back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it comes to a gentle boil. Continue to cook and whisk for 2 minutes.
Remove the curd from the heat and whisk in the butter, a cube or two at a time, until all the butter is incorporated and the curd is smooth and thick. Scrape into a bowl or large measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the curd, allow to cool to room temperature then refrigerate.
BAKED APPLE DUMPLINGS
Simply core one apple per person and fill the cavity with golden raisins (optional). Press a knob of butter down into the hole, dust with a pinch of cinnamon and sprinkle about half a teaspoon brown sugar into the hole.
Use about 1/3 recipe Sweet Pastry Crust for 2 baked apples: roll out and wrap each apple in a piece of dough, gently pulling and pressing up the dough around the apple, cutting off excess. Slightly overlap the dough on top of the apple, press to seal. Decorate with cut out leaves, stems, etc, “gluing” the decorations/leaves onto the dough with milk. Place in a baking dish and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Remove the dish with the prepared, wrapped apples from the fridge, brush all over with milk and sprinkle with granulated brown sugar. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until the pastry is a deep golden color.
Serve drizzled with Salted Butter Caramel Sauce.