Monday, March 2, 2015

Early Sunday, Poole

DSC01596 (1300x961)The wind rose before the stars set on Sunday morning, rattling the windows and swaying the plants.  6 am: Blue winter sunlight streamed in the windows ahead of storm fronts expected within hours. 

‘No good trying to go back to sleep, the morning would be better spent with coffee and reading at Bennett’s Lilliput cafĂ©, then a walk along Saltern’s Marina.

Cold gusts raked bluffs above Lilliput, southwesterly wind filling the  Harbour with whitecaps.  Joggers in sheer leggings and fluorescent tops sprinted along Shore Road, down past DSC01597 (1300x975)the marinas and sailing clubs, dodging the occasional windblown spray or stray dog.

I picked up some fruits at the  convenience store, then settled into the quiet coffee shop with a croissant and coffee.  ‘not much in the morning’s headlines; Do we over-medicate women’s emotions (Yes),  Is it selfish not to have children (No). How unique is a traveler’s outlook on life (He’s experienced different ways of being and looks at the world with the eyes of a five-year-old, curious and hungry)?

I’m taken with a piece by Lucy Kellaway, asking whetherf performance is really linked to effort.  She cites a German army commander who, 100 years ago, assessed his officers according to whether they were clever or dim, lazy or energetic, to arrive at a typology:

– Dim and lazy — Good at executing orders.
– Dim and energetic — Very dangerous, as they take the wrong decisions.
– Clever and energetic — Excellent staff officers.
– Clever and lazy — Top field commanders as they get results.

Maybe more early walks are the answer, I thought, brushing crumbs off the table and heading down to the marina.

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Most boats are hauled out, being cleaned and repaired for the season ahead.  Along the moorages, the stiff breeze moaned resonantly through the rigging, setting wind gauges spinning and twisting atop the masts.  I took a minute to chat with the harbourmaster, pick up a few details of the upcoming season.

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Paradoxically, it’s the kind of day that it would be exciting to be out on the water. Its time to think about gathering some people to do some chartering and a long weekend along the Solent or in the Broads.

Fortunately, spring is only weeks away.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Juggling cooking, films, and dance

Puff PastryIn theory, puff pastry only requires four ingredients and a bit of technique.   The reality was an epic mess that finally required vacuuming the kitchen counters and walls. 

Zero Dark Thirty may also have interfered.

It began with a confident week of cooking. Veg and Singaporean noodles in my larder, blended with chicken, yielded a credible pancit, a favorite of the Filipino nurses I once worked with.  A banana pudding gel’d to warm bready perfection when coddled half an hour at Gas Mark 4, a dessert I would serve to guests.

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Enter Temptation from The GuardianLeek, taleggio and thyme pie -- The creamy taleggio and leeks cook down together to form a delicious, gooey filling, and the parsley adds a fresh note.  ‘Simple, familiar cooking except for the 500g all-butter puff pastry, rolled bit for the crust.  However, a quick flick to BBC Good Food yielded Gordon Ramsay's recipe for a quick, light flaky pastry in minutes

I ran a finger down the instructions.  The recipe was almost identical to shortbread, which I mastered over Christmas.  The lesson then was not to overblend the butter or overwork the dough: sift the mixture lightly and never let it get too warm.

Okay, ‘good to go. On  whim, I thumbed my Movies Not Yet Seen queue on Netflix, picked Zero Dark Thirty, and turned to work.

The pastry blender made short work of mixing the flour and butter.  I added the 100 ml of water, but the dough collapsed into sticky goo. No matter, more flour, then chill. 

puff pastry foldedI boiled the potatoes, cut the spices, glazed the leeks and onion, occasionally glanced at the film which was rapidly devolving into pain.  Without a mat, I flour’d the kitchen counter and retrieved the dough: roll it flat, fold in little pats of butter, repeat, then back into the ‘fridge to chill. 

Behind me, bad things were happening in the movie.  I tried not to look. My phone started chirping text messages, but greasy fingers made for slow replies.

‘Time to assemble the pie.

I rolled out the cold dough and tried to line the ironware dish.  My estimates were way off, though: too long and too narrow. ‘back to the counter for a better shape, gently folding in parts or the dough and re-rolling.  Back to the dish: No better.

I started cutting the dough to shape, stitching spare parts to create Frankenstein’s monster.  The dough warmed, then softened. It started sticking to the counters; the flour became pasty, the butter chunks melted.  It all went south quickly.

‘louder, more disturbing screams were coming from the film, but I couldn’t touch the keyboard.  The phone chimed more urgently, text boxes piling up.  Out of time,, I started pressing dough into the dish with my thumbs, troweling it up the sides and patting cuttings into the gaps.

I covered the sorry shell with leek/potato filling, then laid over the remaining dough and washed it with egg. Done. But...

The double cream is still on the counter, not in the filling.  I’m reduced to cutting small vents in the top crust and dribbling the cream through.

Resignedly, I toss the soggy mess into the oven. 

6:30 -- I have tickets for a dance performance at the Lighthouse at 7:45.   Wash myself up, turn off the movie, wind up the texting.  Chaos: I resort to vacuuming flour from the floors, counters,  walls and clothes before heading out into the freezing rain.

Ultima VezAnd, delightfully, the dance performance was wonderful.  Ultima Vez is a remarkable group, their touring production was What the Body Does Not Remember.   It is a very intense, fast, athletic performance, tightly synchronized among the dancers.  The show was clever, emotive, and altogether absorbing for two hours. ’well worth seeing the group if their tour comes your way.

DSC01594 (1300x932)Back home, the warm love at Gas Mark 4 has made magic.  The crust has healed to something almost flaky and the filling has blended  Not a clean win, but a credible recovery with some good lessons learned:

  • Measure the dough: knowing 35 cm x 25 cm would have made all the difference.
  • Cook the potatoes longer and add more cheese than the recipe suggests.
  • Never listen to Zero Dark Thirty while attempting puff pastry. Perhaps never, under any circumstances: House of Cards is preferable.