gougère

Saturday mornings can be a time when the week catches up with me but I haven’t yet caught up with the week. I spent this one at the kitchen table with coffee and a pile of cookbooks.

The wind is still roaring in from the sea with force, still slamming against the house and rushing through the trees. Our front lawn is littered with branches and the only birds I’ve seen out are seabirds and waterbirds. Today I was introduced to a Victoria tradition: the breakwater on a windy day. On one side the huge waves rolled in and on the other, wind devils danced across the water. Spray crashed over the boardwalk and the high whine of the wind funneling in towards shore filled our ears. There was a log-jam at the appearing-and-disappearing beach and gulls and cormorants climbed against the wind to stay motionless above the roiling water. We walked and staggered our way out along the breakwater, laughing and shrieking as the wave-spray crashed over us. I had my arm up when the spray from one wave arced above, and was immediately wet to the elbow as the wind and water found their way down my sleeve. Our rubber boots were filled to their tops and I was wet from head to toe, through three layers of raincoat and wool. We shared a salty kiss in the lee of the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. On the way back to shore the wind was in our faces and the drops of spray pelted hard as hailstones. We exchanged wild grins with a few folk as delightedly crazed as ourselves, and arrived, shivering and sloshing at the café on shore, where we tipped bootfuls of ocean at the door. I poured out my boots again on our front porch, and wrung out my socks and am now quite warm and dry and ready to do it all over again.

Here is something warm and delicious:

Gougères
Savory choux-pastry cheese puffs, adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan
baking sheets, lined with parchment

1 c water
3 oz (6 T) butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch nutmeg
pinch thyme (crumbled if dry, minced if fresh)
3/4 c AP flour (all-purpose)
4 eggs
2/3 c grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring water to a boil with the butter and seasonings and boil slowly until the butter has melted. Meanwhile, measure the flour and make sure the cheese is grated.

Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Then beat over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the centre of paste. Break one egg into the well and beat into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed. Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one. Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth. Then beat in cheese.

Drop the paste onto the parchment-lined baking sheets with a spoon (a full tablespoon, perhaps, blobs approx. 2″ across) Leave blob-sizd spaces between the blobs as they will grow! Alternatively, for neater puffs use a piping bag. You can make smaller puffs: reduce baking time to 20 minutes for puffs 1″ across. Option: for shiny puffs, brush with beaten egg before baking. You can also sprinkle more grated cheese on top if desired.

Bake, depending on size, for about 25-28 minutes (less for smaller puffs). The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are golden brown, and firm and crusty to touch. Remove them from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife. Then set in the turned-off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 minutes (this stops them from collapsing). Eat. Or cool on a wire rack, and then eat.

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weather

Time seems to spin by more quickly in these shortened days of winter. I always feel like I need a lot more sleep to balance the increased darkness. More time in the light, too, though that is hard to come by just now.

The weather has changed. We had what felt like (and may well have been) weeks of cold clear days, when frost lay heavy until almost noon and goldenrose light painted the sides of buildings and even the sidewalks. Mornings were cold and clear and crystalline in that winter way, all streaks and puffs of pink clouds and golden light spilling over everything from far away. Now the weather has softened into rain, clouded pthalo and lilac sky lit up by the city at night. These dark winter evenings are perhaps best spent close to the stove, stirring, chopping, filling the baseboard cool of the house with warm fragrance. Last night the wind roared and threw itself at our small house. From the darkness of our bed in the morning hours I could still hear it howling in from the ocean and I knew then that it had blown all night, tossing and turning through my dreams.