It's been a great summer in the Pacific Northwest, but the return of overcast skies and school busses say it's time to get ready for fall. Each change of seasons has its special chores. The fall list includes putting the bikes back in the garage, covering the fire pit and switching the garden over from lettuce, carrots and peas to cabbage, artichokes and cauliflower. Like most years, I procrastinated until the rain was pouring down. I came in exhausted and muddy, but at least I didn't have to water the new plants.
Normally, Jennifer would handle the garden, but she and cook are suffering from a case of seasonal affective disorder. They moped at the cloud darkened window all morning until Frank couldn't take the complaining anymore and shut the curtains. Then he put an old Abba CD on to drown out the diluvian sounds. Somewhere in the middle of Dancing Queen, I lost it and laid down an ultimatum - Find some way out of the funk or get out of the kitchen.
So, with tears in their eyes, they decided that the only thing for it was to make some comfort food. Jennifer listed off the special recipes that her mother made for her after school to warm the body and take the damp smell out of the house. Cook sat with his chin in hand thoughtfully considering what he could do with toasted cheese, tomato soup, spaghetti pie, or fish sticks. While Jennifer waltzed down memory lane, Frank threw in his own weird favorites like herring smorbord and creamed beets. Cook waved them both to silence, thought carefully for a moment and then disappeared into the pantry.
When he reappeared, he was loaded down with flour, potatoes, salt and a few dried herbs. He put the pantry supplies on the counter and pulled the big soup pot out, filled it with water and set in on the stove. Into the pot went a chicken, onions, carrots, celery and a few bay leaves. He peeled a few potatoes which he added to the pot along with a hefty dose of salt.
While the chicken cooked, he made assignments - Frank was put on pie crust, Jennifer chopped vegetables, and I was on stock watch. While I made sure the stock never got above a slow simmer and skimmed the scum that floated up, Frank put flour, baking powder, salt, a gram or so of baked lemon dream leaves. He worked cold butter and a bit of milk into the mix until he got a firm ball of dough. The ball went into the fridge to rest while Frank grabbed a beer and sang along with Abba's Bang a Boomerang.
Jennifer handed off onions, garlic mushrooms and carrots to Cook who expertly sautÃ©ed them. Then the waiting began. We waited for the crust to rest. We waited for the chicken stock. We waited for the rain to stop. We lucked out with two out of three. The crust relaxed so that when cook rolled it out, it formed smooth rounds, which went into single serving pie pans. Frank blind baked the crusts so that they would not get soggy when the filling went in. The stock glistened with chicken fat and smelled rich and enticing. I pulled the chicken out and pulled off the meat. Cooked strained out the vegetables and thickened the stock with a flour and buerre vert roux.
Jennifer added the sautÃ©ed vegetables to the thickened stock, I shoved in the bits of chicken and Cook added the potatoes which he had pulled out of the stock and cut into cubes. He tasted and adjusted the seasoning (It needed a healthy shot of ground pepper). Finally, we set up an assembly line to fill the pies, cover them with top crusts, baste the crusts with egg wash and pop them into the oven.
Next came more waiting. Cook passed the time by bossing us around to get everything cleaned up. That turned out to be a great idea, because by the time the pies came out and cooled a bit, all we wanted to think about was enjoying the perfect fall meal. Once the last bits of crust were gone and ever trace of filling was sopped up, the marijuana kicked in and all we wanted to do was sit in front of the big window and watch the rain.