That week between Christmas and New Year's Eve has always been one of my favourites. The hurry-scurry of getting ready for the big day is over and you can spend time really enjoying your family and the year's best leftovers. When else is there leftover lobster in the house? The seafood gratin is based on this recipe ,but without the tarragon (YUCK) or the saffron (didn't have any) and I used lobster, prawns and scallops. With some great bread and my almost-famous warm goat cheese salad it made a simple and very impressive dinner!
I moved my table right up against the big kitchen window to take advantage of every beam of watery winter sunlight that can make it through the fog and drizzle. It's proving impossible to keep the cats off it (who can blame them, really?) so it won't last long, but while it does it's my favourite place for a cookie break and some listmaking.
Christmas is a time for traditions and I'm the only remaining family member who can still make perogies, so it comes down to me to provide this starchy treat for our holidays. I've always made perogies - I learned it from my Nanny and from Sophie, my Great Auntie, who learned it from their Mother, the knowledge stretching back in time in an Eastern European eternity, when a sack of potatoes and a sack of flour had to feed a family through the winter. Perogies are heavy and stodgy and often just a little greasy and they're almost guaranteed to give you a stomachache, but if it's a taste of home and childhood and feasting and good memories, then you just NEED them. I'm sure you've got foods like that too. Of course I learned how to make perogies without a recipe, but a few years before my Nanny died, we made perogies together and for once we stopped chatting long enough to see what our hands were doing, and we wrote down the recipe and now, through the miracle of the internet I'm going to share it with you!
First, start with the filling, which is just mashed potatoes with a little butter and lots of salt and pepper. That's right. Mashed potatoes. You can add onions or cheese or bacon or anything else you want to it, but at it's most basic and satisfying, it's just those three simple ingredients.You can use leftover mashed potatoes, but make sure they are extremely thick and haven't been thinned out and whipped up too much with dairy.
5 cups, all purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (or as much as it takes to pull dough together)
The method is the same as making any homemade pasta. Make sure you have a large surface to work on. I use the kitchen table, covered in a plastic tablecloth. First make a pile with your flour and salt and make a large well in the middle. Into the well , crack the eggs and add the oil and a little bit of the water. Using your hands (or a fork if you insist) mix the liquid ingredients together and slowly start pulling in the flour from the sides of the well and continue adding water until you've got a big sticky gloppy mess.
At this point knead the dough for a couple of minutes until pliable and smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 30 minutes. If you try and roll it out right away it will spring back on you and be very frustrating. If it's too springy when you go to roll, just let it rest for awhile longer.
Then, on a large well floured surface, roll out the dough thinly. Have patience, this will take some time Once the dough is rolled, cut it into squares. How big? How big do you want your perogies? Dainty little cocktail sized ones or hungry family sized ones as big as your hand? That's how big to cut them.
Take one square in your hand and stretch it to further thin it out and to make a more square shape if you cut it wonky like I always do. Be careful not to get it so thin that you get a hole. If this happens all the filling will boil out during cooking. Put a dollop of potato in the centre of the square and use a little warm water on your finger along the edges of the dough to act as glue. Pull up into a triangle and pinch the edges together FIRMLY. The dough must seal dough-to-dough - if there is potato at the edge it may not seal. Make sure they are well pinched together, but beyond that it doesn't matter what they look like. Perfection is not the goal here. Big ones. Little ones. Goofy ones. They all taste DELICIOUS and by the time they are topped with onions and sour cream and anything else you like, no one will be able to tell them apart.
At this point, the perogies may be frozen for cooking later. Lay them out in the freezer on a parchment or silpat lined tray until hard and then put them in a bag. To prepare them, do not thaw and prepare as below but adding some extra time to the boiling.
To finish fry some bacon until crisp (not necessary, but delicious). Drain the bacon and pour off most of the grease. Add a little butter to the pan (yes, bacon fat AND butter) and fry some diced onions slowly until well browned. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Drop in the perogies one by one. Be gentle with them as they are quite delicate as they cook. When they come back to a roiling boil start timing them. As a general guideline I'd go with somewhere around 20 minutes. Shorter for small ones, longer for big ones. Shorter if you're just boiling a few, longer if you're doing a big pot. Take one out and cut it in half to check. The best way to check is to eat it, of course, but you can also just look to see if the dough looks cooked through or if there is a darker, starchy, uncooked dough layer in the middle. When done, drain the perogies gently and put in the pan with the onions. Roll them around in the onions/butter for a couple of minutes. Some people actually fry them until crispy, but for me it's just about getting a nice flavour layer on them. You can also just put the onions on top. Then add your bacon and sour cream and eat! Some people consider perogies a side dish. I'm not one of those people.
As my Nanny was dying, I remember sitting by her hospital bed and looking at her hands while she slept. Her hands were like pale birds on top of the covers, and I thought about how much I would miss her hands when she was gone. I thought of all the things those hands had done for me and how much they had taught me and how those hands were often the only ones that could comfort me, even as an adult. At that moment I realized for the first time that her hands were my hands. Physically, although separated by many years they looked the same - tiny and round with short, slender fingers. But beyond how much they looked like hers, my hands also held the memories of everything we had done together. One of the saddest parts of having someone you love die is that for years afterwards you slowly lose them, piece by piece. But I still remember my Nanny's hands and how it felt when she held my hands in hers. I remember her hands most at the kitchen table, making food for her family, or holding a cup of tea as we talked. I like to see these pictures of my hands making perogies and know that who I am today and all the things I can do is my Nanny's legacy. She'd be happy.
I don't like brownies and I don't like peppermint, but I love my hard-working husband, and that's why to console him after his first day back at work I needed to make him candy cane brownies. This photo was taken just in time before the last one disappeared from the pan. I'm glad they were appreciated. Not appreciated as much as I appreciate everything he does for us, but as much as any sugary treat can be.
This was the project I brought to Mexico with me. As you can see, not much work got done on it, but each time I've pulled it out to finish a few more rows while I have my tea this week I've been reminded of the time I spent working on this project in the shade of a palapa with the sea breeze in my hair, looking past my needles at the calm blue and green water off Puerto Morelos. The pattern is my own, based on a fishtail lace and the yarn was a worthwhile splurge - Handmaiden Blue Faced Leicester in a colourway that reminds me of the sea. This is my first lace project and so far so good...I took the advice about using lots of stitch markers, but I'm living on the edge and have yet to put in a lifeline. It doesn't look like much now, but I've heard lace never does until it's blocked. Estimated time of finishing? I'm going to go with sometime in 2008. I'm not good at sticking to large projects and tend to get easily distracted by instant gratification knits.
I thought about making a run for it at the Cancun airport, but they managed to wrestle me onto the plane and return me home to the drizzle and the Christmas mania. A month in Mexico was exactly as wonderful as I hoped it would be and David and I are both trying hard not to be crabby about getting back to everyday life. If you'd like to see some pictures of our trip they can be found here . Exciting stuff the world thought it would never witness, like David on a horse or me happy about a photograph of myself in a bathing suit!
Tonight I must get the Christmas cards ready to mail. No nog. No twinkling lights. No chestnuts-roasting-by-an-open-fire. Just sitting down and knocking them out. Yes, store-bought cards - I couldn't force myself to make cards in October and now it's far too late. I just can't muster even a smidgen of Christmas Cheer and I'm only confused and feel vaguely anxious when I'm reminded of the holidays. My brain refuses to wrap itself around the fact that it's December and the big day is just weeks away. It feels like a particularly chilly October to me - like time didn't pass here in the real world while I was away. I'm going to have to get in step with the rest of the world soon. Maybe I need to hit the malls to throw myself headlong back into reality.