Today is a good day for ducks. Rain is spewing forth from the clouds as though there was a break in the main line. Lower lying clouds have sneaked in beneath the darker upper ones filling the canyon floor below us obscuring the lake from view entirely. To add to the mix, heavy gusts of wind are twisting the palm tree in our yard in the way a housekeeper might wring liquid from a mop. Inside, however, we’re feeling cozy, warm, and somewhat festive. Strands of colored bulbs happily blink on and off on the tree in the living room, and the kitchen is filled with an enticing blend of aromas a combination of the ham and split pea soup cooking on the stove mingled with the pumpkin spice candle burning over the sink. Currier and Ives, eat your hearts out.
We arrived back from the Bay Area late Thursday night. Boo, the Queen of Cats, so ecstatic to see us walk in the front door, danced a feline rendition of the lambada across the kitchen by way of welcome. Since our return even when sleeping, the old cat opens one lazy eye periodically to survey the room lest we try to make a run for the door without her. As our two felines barely tolerate each other, when their human referees are absent from the premises one is sequestered in a bedroom while the other has access to the house. For fairness sake we alternate the players, and Boo, much to her dismay, lost the coin toss this trip.
Looking up the from the keyboard, I can see a metal patio chair sidling along the upper deck so quickly it appears to be constructed of balsa wood rather than wrought iron. Usually these heavy chairs are stacked when a storm is imminent, but wrestling the wind and the chairs on an open upper deck at the moment would create a dangerous proposition. So, untethered, they pace back and forth beyond the door like mesh sentinels guarding the palace gate.
Snow has begun to fall in the colder parts of the country. Pictures on the news make me both thankful to be living where it does not, and nostalgic for times I lived where it did. West Virginia was the last state I lived in providing me a white Christmas. During my third, and final winter there, Mother Nature went out of her way to leave me a lasting memory. Frigid blustery days, slippery, icy highways, and back roads offering endless panoramas of pristine white meadows and snow laden trees. Lovely.
After the first snowfall that year, with more than adequate materials at hand, my husband at the time and I built huge snowmen in the front yard including a snowdog to please Sushi, our Shih Tzu, sidekick, and constant companion. Cut small in stature, but generous in heart, Sushi traveled the roads with us sharing my life and my heart for seventeen years. Game for any activity despite the limitations of four short legs installed by her manufacturer, snow posed some unique problems for the little warrior. Low to the ground, her beard worked like a snowplow in the deep drifts and she would soon ice over looking like an ice sculpture. To keep her warm, a red plaid jacket was purchased at the pet store. This was a wardrobe addition she viewed with the utmost disdain, submitting to shrug it on only to gain access outdoors, lowering her head in humiliation if the neighbor’s chihuahua appeared anywhere in the vicinity.
It was cold that year, bone chilling, ear muff wearing, feet numbing, cold. Sometimes I wondered if my frozen fingers would thaw, or simply snap off like crisp green beans inside the wooly fingers of my gloves while trying pull them off my hands. Two weeks before Christmas I woke to find the thermometer lingering around 16 below zero. Brittle icicles hung in rows like glistening sharks teeth along the eaves and rain gutters. Most days an icy wind blew across the partially frozen river cutting through your clothes like a hot knife through butter. Cold, cold.
My husband, at the time, reported for work across the bridge at the refinery at 6:30 a.m. Those years we had one car between us. With no Christmas tree in our window and time running short, if I wanted to pick one up in town it would necessitate me driving him to work. Cold weeping under the doorway prompted me to brew a second pot of coffee. Sputtering announcement of the completion of its cycle, I filled his thermos, reserving a steaming cup for myself.
Common in our St. Albans neighborhood, our house had no garage, leaving the car to the elements on wintry nights. Crunching across the yard I chipped at the frozen door of my Chevy with an ice pick, using my free hand to gather my coat around me. My breath hung like steam in the air with the exertion until at last the car released its grasp and the door opened. Inside was no warmer, like stepping into a walk in freezer. Resisting all coaching initially, after several tries the cold engine wheezed and coughed into submission. I cranked the heater knob to high. Window wipers lay frozen in time in the thick layer of ice on the windshield. After a minute the defroster thawed a small patch at the bottom of the window allowing a glimpse of the outside world.
Successfully dropping him off at work and returning home, I pulled the boxes of ornaments and decorations down from the attic. Later in the morning the wee dog and I arrived at the Christmas tree lot downtown, eight miles or so from the house. I mingled among other tree hunters looking for one that caught my eye. I decided on a symmetrical 6′ Douglas fir, a little pricier then I’d planned but perfect for our living room window. Money was exchanged at the counter and help offered to the car. After several attempts, the tree lot attendant determined the tree too large for the trunk. Looping heavy cord across the roof of the car and through the windows he instead secured it to the roof leaving me with instructions to drive slowly as the wind was picking up.
Sushi, rode shotgun in her usual spot eying the roof suspiciously from time to time as our burden groaned and shifted in the wind. Along the river road the wind picked up considerably and pine needles scratched and picked at the paint, the rope tightening and releasing in between gusts. One huge push of wind moved the car across the slick road and with a final scratch and whoosh the ropes went slack with a wrenching noise. Oh-oh. Sixty dollars worth of perfect Douglas fir rolled like a tumbleweed down the embankment gathering snow and debris as it bounced. At the river bank it paused for a moment one bough raised as if to wave goodbye and then disappeared into the dark icy waters beyond the shore. Moments later it bobbed up like a meatball in soup and moved down river. Sighing, I turned my car back in the direction of the tree lot.
In the spirit of the holidays, or possibly good public relations, another tree nearly as perfect as the first was provided to me at no cost. To avoid further catastrophe it was delivered by their truck later in the afternoon. Relating the story over dinner that night my husband shook his head. Not in surprise really, more bewilderment. He always said a person needed to have their insurance premiums up to date to share space with me because you never know what acts of weirdness might occur from one day to the next.
I love these little pies, a combo of beef and lamb and a delicious blend of spices. I make them large for us, and reduce the size for company. They’re nice on a buffet table or for dinner. I also use this mix of meats in mini meatloaves which are absolutely delicious with a yogurt dill sauce.
Spicy Meat Pies
1/2 lb. ground lamb
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 tsp. mint leaves
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. coriander
2 sheets of puff pastry
1 egg plus 1 Tbsp. water for egg wash
Garnish – sour cream sprinkled with dill or mint
Thaw pastry overnight in refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix lamb, beef and all the seasonings through egg wash in a mixing bowl with your fingers preferably. Set aside.
Lay pastry sheets on flat lightly floured surface one at a time. Roll into a square or as close as possible. Cut in 6 equal pieces per sheet.
Place 1 generous Tbsp. of meat mixture in center of each square. Fold corner to corner to form a triangle over meat. Pinch edges together and press filling down slightly and crimp tightly. Wash each triangle with egg wash.
Place on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. Place in preheated oven immediately turning the temperature down to 375 degrees. Cook for 40 mins. or until nicely browned. Remove from oven and serve hot with sour cream dill sauce.