winter lemons

Our first winter here in Michigan has been arctic. We live for the days when we can salute the sun, and it salutes back. Some brave days, we venture outdoors in our woolens and knits, layering, then layering some more and reinforcing our boots with plastic bags and extra socks. The wind bites and when the weather is above or near freezing we walk around the neighborhood scaling mountain peaks of snow along the streets, sidewalks and driveways that are resistant to melt or even shrink.

Nature is clever, providing some of the most beautiful sun ray filled fruit during the bleakest months of the year. To hold a plump buxom citrus in your palm is to hold a miniature sun. We call them sun eggs, thanks to a lovely little storybook by Elsa Beskow we received from Grammy at Christmas. These sun eggs burst with each cutting blade, and we squeeze out as much of the juice as we can, drop by drop. Then we find the leftover meaty parts clinging to the edges with our teeth, though with the more sour fruits we squeeze out another drop or two with our fingertips. My girls don’t seem to mind the acrid sting of the lemons, biting into them as if they were the sweetest orange. Only after a few munches, they finally decide the summation of each bite has become too much sourness to handle. With our liquid sunshine, we have had lemonade, curd, custard, savory sauces for vegetables and meat, and ironically, ice cream.

As our powdered snow has turned to ice, we are experiencing yet another burst of freezing temperatures and winds. But during the few days leading up to it, the sun has filled our home more often and for longer stretches of time, minute by minute; birdsong was heard and praised on our brisk and hastened walks; winter projects are being finished; plans are being made for yet another trial at a summer garden; and we are full of anticipation for the changes we know are on their way. So we continue watching for spring to come, inch by inch.

Pears en Croute and remembering Ginger.

It has been 120 days since my maternal Grandmother passed away. It was an experience I anticipated to endure someday, but I couldn’t have known just how acutely it would affect me. In our phone calls the weeks before her passing she would mix up her facts, ask the same questions over again, and although I knew they were typical, even necessary marks, for her mortal end, it was difficult to see her once sharp witted mind become dull; and I could tell it frustrated and bothered her. Despite it, she always laughed that beautifully jovial laugh and ended our conversation with her sincere expressions of love. I knew she cared about me and my family, loving us entirely.

I guess it’s typical, when someone loses a person they love, that their thoughts settle on memories, looking back at the legacy the person created through seemingly unimpressive daily patterns. Then those who live on look forward to their own legacy and the seedlings of what their own rhythms and habits are becoming. I am not only looking forward to the life I have yet to live, but how it will influence and affect my own children. I think about the person my grandmother was; the courage she had to live the life she wanted that brought her eternal happiness, and how her example of optimism, fierce loyalty to those she loved, and never forgetting to say I love you or laugh have changed me. She was an example of faith and steadfastness, not without flaws, but she was kind to everyone she met. Often her temper and pride got the better of her, and she always had a deep love for delicious food. Both, I inherited with the genes that skipped my mother’s generation.

Time is cyclical. A fact not only apparent in the seasons and in the turning of the day, but in human lives. However, I believe there is another dimension. Not only does human lives repeat themselves in its basic round of existence, but if we properly turn to look at the lives lived before, and increase upon those lessons learned, we can turn that cycle into a spiral upward, always increasing in love and knowledge. A life lived unshared is wasted if not lived for others to benefit.

Life continues on after death, but not as we know it now. It does get better. Though I believe we don’t have to wait until then to make it so.

Pears en Croute
inspired by this italian recipe

for the pâte brissée (barely changed from Martha Stewart)
1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup toasted white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (or coconut oil) chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

for the pears and filling
8 pears, peeled and hollowed out
1/4 to 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup walnuts
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

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Prepare the pâte brisée

Sift the flours, salt and sugar.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or fork (or pulse in food processor) until crumbly.

Slowly pour in a couple Tablespoons of the ice water and mix with a wooden spoon (or process) until the mixture comes together but isn’t wet or sticky. If the dough is crumbly when you pinch at it, add another Tablespoon of water until you have the correct texture.

Divide dough in half, flatten into two discs, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

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Bake the pears
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hollow out pears by cutting a circle around the core on the bottom side of the pear, then spooning out the core. If your pears are ripe, it should remove easily.

Combine brown sugar, honey, walnuts and nutmeg in a bowl, set aside.

Fill each peeled and hollow pear with a few Tablespoons of the sugar nut mixture then carefully set, bottom side down, in greased or parchment lined baking dishes.* If some filling falls out, just tuck it back in.

Roll out pastry dough to 1/4 inch thick (you may need to bring it out a few minutes before to thaw).

Cut long strips, about 1/2 to 1 inch in width. Starting at the top of the pear, wrap the pear with the pastry, slowly turning and overlapping about a third of the strip, being sure (as the italian recipe translated) “not to let any part be discovered”. You can blossom out the pastry by gently opening up the top parts of the pastry strips with your fingertips, but I decided against it to make it a little easier.

Bake for 18 – 20 minutes.

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Serve

Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar or vanilla whipped cream with a pinch of nutmeg. Or maybe with a bit of vanilla ice cream.

*It is easiest if each pear has its own dish. You can set all the dishes on one baking sheet to make transferring in and out of the oven easier.