[Sebastopol, August 2013.]
These are the golden days of summer — foggy some mornings, yes, but clear and warm for the rest of it. Miles of apple trees and vineyards snugly fit side-by-side along the back roads of my hometown and if I still mourn the slow and steady loss of those ancient, gnarled trunks I am trying to make my peace with the rolling green of the grape leaves (for they are beautiful, too). Today in the city it was warm, all the cool mist blown out for once by a strong sea breeze, and the air felt vibrant, energized.
[San Francisco, August 2013.]
When my brother and Emily were here earlier this month we all went for a walk along the trail out by Land’s End and the Sutro Baths. It was a day similar to today: clear, crisp, infinitely blue and with the Pacific rolling gently away to dip into the horizon line. A few tanker ships made their steady progress paralleling the rocky Marin County coastline and as we turned back toward the car this beautiful boat sailed serenely into view. Everyone along the trail stopped, too, to watch it.
I thought of Mark Twain’s words
Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
which I will hold close as I weather the transitions that await me during the rest of this year.
Also, a quick note about hand pies, which seem to me the perfect late summer/August treat. These messy little treats (messy as I make them anyway) — evidence of a “hand pie massacre!”, as one commenter on my NPR story about rhubarb frantically claimed this May — fit tidily into a picnic basket or a lunch bucket or simply into the palm of your hand to munch upon as you take one last pre-fall hike or trip to the beach. Gently put: the time to savor summer is upon us, and making hand pies is one way to fully embody this sweet, fleeting, sunny season.
A sweet (but not too) jammy filling is couched in a flaky, buttery, oh-so tempting crust with just a touch of whole wheat pastry flour to keep it the tiniest bit on the less delicate side. These beauties keep wonderfully, so you can eat what you like in the moment and then stash them, wrapped well in plastic, in the back of the freezer for days when the winter doldrums hit (re-heat gently in your oven or toaster oven). They’ll no doubt remind you of summer, when life was slow and lazy (at least on the weekends) and we tried to spend as much time out-of-doors as possible, preferably under a canopy of redwood trees or with toes dug deep into a sandy beach. Summer, so quick in passing and so coveted, is truly the beloved season, for produce and weather alike. Catch it now and hold it close, while you can.
And: I realize I just posted a recipe calling for strawberries just a week ago but as I truly love the scent of strawberries baking in the oven (or cooking down into jam) I just couldn’t help myself …
Simple and utterly delightful, hand pies never fail to make me smile. You can try the classic combination of strawberry and rhubarb here, or swap in other fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, or apples (or both) in these waning summer days as apples come to ripeness. You want about 3 cups of fruit in this recipe, so adapt accordingly.
Makes about 12 pies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
3 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 large egg
3 tablespoons coarse sugar
For the dough, in a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Cut in the butter and whisk and blend with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the beaten egg and whisk into the flour mixture with the fork.
Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork after each addition. Add enough water so the dough sticks together without being crumbly. The dough will be a bit wetter than regular pie dough.
Divide dough into two pieces, flatten into disks about 1-inch thick, wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the strawberries, honey and cornstarch and stir to mix well.
Place over medium heat and cook until thickened and bubbly, stirring frequently, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, cover and chill along with dough until ready to use.
When ready to assemble the pies, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two if necessary) with parchment paper.
Remove dough from refrigerator one disk at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface a few times.
Roll out, using a little flour to prevent sticking, to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 3 1/2-inch rounds with a large biscuit cutter. (You will get about 6 rounds out of each disk of dough.)
Roll each round out to about 6 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick (or to a width that you prefer).
In a small bowl, beat the egg. Using a pastry brush or your finger, run a line of egg wash along the edge of each piece of dough, going halfway around the circle.
Mound a generous tablespoonful of filling in the center of each piece of dough. Fold dough in half over the filling and press with your fingers to seal. Crimp edges with the tines of a fork.
Transfer pies to the prepared baking sheets. Brush the top of each pie with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the coarse sugar. Using a sharp knife, cut a small x into the middle of each pie.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is slightly bubbly and oozing out of the holes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving. Serve warm.