Thursday, October 16, 2014

The First Pizza Party at Big Switch Farm

This guest post from my dear friend Lora Smith takes us back to high summer in Southeastern Kentucky, and the first pizza party at Big Switch Farm--the first of many, I expect. Some of our pizzas were summer-seasonal, but pizza is for all seasons. Now from Lora...
"The land belongs to the future, Carl; that's the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk's plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother's children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it for a little while."
-- Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

When I met my husband we were both working on sustainable development efforts in Kentucky-- Joe with a farm organization that supports small family farmers and me for a grassroots organization dedicated to social and environmental justice. Both of us were also dealing with the paradox that while we worked on issues of sustainability, our lives were anything but sustainable. As we explored ideas of the future we wanted to create together, we returned again and again to a desire to become landowners, to farm at a small scale, and raise a family near friends and family in the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky.

Joe and I found Big Switch Farm the year we were married. Its previous owners were a state-recognized Native American tribe who were using the property as a gathering place to host dances and celebrations four times a year. Before that it had been a hunting property, and many years before that a country road dotted with small homesteads ran through the middle of the acreage. We find remnants of the farm's past everywhere on the land: the foundation of old houses, empty shotgun shells and makeshift targets, sticks tied to fabric in the color of the four directions. Big Switch has always been a gathering place and we intend to keep it that way.

A small group of friends joined us for our first camp out and party on the farm this summer. Joe and I recently purchased a small mobile wood-fired oven and couldn't think of a better way to test it out. Many of our friends also happen to be talented chefs, bakers, and home cooks. We even had a pizza ringer in our friend Brett who spent his teenage years slinging dough at Papa John's. It showed in his perfectly round crusts that made our oblong and misshapen ones seem less "rustic" and more, well, amateur. Everyone brought ingredients to pitch in and each person made their own pizza to share with the group with "ooohs!" and "ahhhs!" erupting every time a new one was pulled from the oven. Prosciutto, salami, sausage, green onions, lambsquarters, garlic scapes, sundried tomatoes, brisket, mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce... there were no losers in the bunch. We even used pizza dough to make a blackberry galette for dessert and our friend Anna whipped up a breakfast pizza with leftover ingredients the next morning.

Along with ingredients, everyone arrived with something to offer-- gifts of food and drink, fiddle tunes, laughter-- and pitched in to create our first gathering on the farm. Here's to many more pizza parties to come while Big Switch belongs to us-- for a little while.

Breakfast Pizza with Sausage, Greens, and Fried Eggs aka "The Dwight Yolkum"
Inspiration from Anna Bogle

Makes 2 breakfast pizzas

Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough, halved
1 bunch kale
Small bunch lambsquarters (you can stick to kale if you prefer)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, finely diced in thin rings
8 ounces breakfast sausage (Anna used Murray's smoked sausage + Berea College breakfast links)
8 ounces parmesan, cut into thin slices
8 large eggs
Olive oil for drizzling
Cornmeal for dusting

1. Prepare half of Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough the night before making the pizza. Follow Peter's instructions, though rather than forming into 6 balls, form into 2 large balls of dough. 2 hours before making the pizza, follow the steps for letting the dough rest on a counter dusted with flour and sprayed with olive oil.

2. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, preheat the oven as high as it will go and place a baking stone on either the bottom of the oven (gas or wood-fired oven) or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. If you don't have a stone, you can use the back of a baking pan, but don't preheat it.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a medium skillet, cook the sausage until cooked through. Transfer to a plate to drain and let cool, then cut into small chunks.

4. Using the same skillet, sautée garlic and onion in sausage grease until translucent. Add the kale and lambsquarters with a little bit of water and cook until the greens are cooked down and tender.

5. Shape and stretch one of the balls of dough into a pizza of at least a 12-inch diameter and place on a peel or on your baking sheet, dusted with cornmeal. Sprinkle half of the sausage and sautéed greens on the pizza, then arrange parmesan slices on top. Drizzle entire pizza with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, if desired. If you're using a wood-fired oven or an oven that gets very hot, crack 4 eggs on the pizza and place in the oven. If you're using a conventional oven that can only reach 500-550 degrees F, wait to crack the eggs until the end of the baking time. In a high-heat or wood-fired oven, the pizza should bake in 5-9 minutes. In a conventional oven, this will take about twice as long. If using a conventional oven, check at 10-15 minutes, and when crust is beginning to brown and bubble and cheese is melting, crack 4 eggs on top of pizza, and bake an additional 5 minutes.

6. Once crust is golden brown, cheese is melted, and eggs are cooked through, remove pizza from oven and let cool. Serve slightly warm. Repeat with remaining dough and ingredients. Enjoy!

Related recipe:
Ham, Gruyère & Caramelized Onion Galette with Fried Egg

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pretzels & Pretzel-Wrapped Sausages with Whole-Grain Beer Mustard

Soft pretzels were one of the first things I ever baked. Going through my mom's old recipe box was a favorite childhood pastime, and therein I found a handwritten card for pretzels and asked her if I could try them. After she warned me about the many steps and somewhat dangerous water bath, and I was still game, she conceded, and the twisted, boiled, and baked malted breads became a personal favorite. A few years later in middle school, I made them for a special final project in my Home Ec class, and that year most of the comments in my yearbook referred to those pretzels. 

So when my pals at MUTINY DC suggested making some for an Oktoberfest post, I was ready, and was promptly sent into a nostalgic Midwestern reverie--but now with beer! It's no surprise, though, that ale & pretzels are a perfect pairing, as both have monastic origins. Pretzels are said to have been invented in the 7th century by an Italian monk-- the twists are thought to resemble hands praying.  But throw a Meats & Foods sausage and some whole-grain beer mustard into the mix, and you've got yourself a meal--one that feels more decadent than ascetic.

Homemade Pretzels
Adapted from The Kitchn

Makes 8 pretzels or pretzel-wrapped sausages

1 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 to 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup baking soda
1 Tablespoon barley malt syrup, rice syrup, or dark brown sugar (I used the latter)
1 large egg, whisked
Coarse kosher salt or pretzel salt
Vegetable oil, for coating the bowl

1. To make the pretzel dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine warm water and yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk by hand to dissolve the yeast. Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, and sea salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a stiff and shaggy dough. 

2. Using the dough hook of a stand mixer, knead the dough on low for 5 minutes. If the dough is very sticky after 1 minute, add 1 Tablespoon of flour at a time until it forms a ball and is soft, slightly tacky, and holds its shape in a ball.

3. Clean out the bowl, coat it with oil, and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with a dishcloth and let rise in a warm place until the dough is doubles in bulk, about 1 hour. (After this step you can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days before boiling and baking the pretzels. Make sure the dough is wrapped tightly in plastic wrap before refrigerating). 

4. Once dough has risen, turn it out on a lightly floured surface, and divide into 8 equal pieces. To shape the pretzels, roll each piece of dough into a long, skinny rope, about 20 in. long. Bring the ends of the rope toward the top of your work surface and cross them. Cross once again to form a twist, and then fold the twist over the bottom loop to make a pretzel shape. 

5. Place each pretzel on a parchment-lined baking sheet and set aside while you form the rest. When all pretzels are shaped, cover them loosely with a dishcloth and let rise until puffy, about 30 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and place oven rack in the middle-bottom. While pretzels are rising, prepare the water bath. Pour 8 cups of water into a tall, wide pot and place on high heat (make sure pot is tall as water will bubble when you add the baking soda). Once water is at a rapid simmer, add the baking soda and barley malt, rice syrup or brown sugar. Stir to dissolve, then reduce heat to medium to maintain a simmer.

7. Once pretzels have risen, lower 2-3 pretzels into water bath at a time. Simmer for 30 seconds on one side, then flip using a slotted spoon or metal spatula. Simmer for 30 seconds more, then remove from water and return to baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pretzels. They should be puffed, doughy, and slightly puckered.

8. When pretzels have simmered in the water bath, brush them with egg was and sprinkle them with coarse kosher salt. Bake in the oven until they are deep brown and glossy, 12-15 minutes. 

9. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until they're cool enough to eat. Serve fresh 'n' hot with homemade whole-grain beer mustard (see below) and Dogfish Head Punkin Ale!

Pretzel-Wrapped Sausages

Makes 8

4 large sausages (we used Meats & Foods' andouille sausage)
Pretzel dough (see above)

1. Cook sausages in a skillet, let grease drain, and cut in half. Let cool.

2. Prepare pretzel dough as indicated above, but instead of shaping dough ropes into pretzel shape, coil them around each sausage, starting at one end and finishing at the other. Seal edges so entire sausage is covered and dough will stay wrapped during the water bath.

3. Follow steps above for simmering. When it comes time for the egg wash and salt sprinkle, you may also want to sprinkle on some fresh cracked black pepper. Follow instructions for baking--the bake time is about the same for regular pretzels.

4. Remove from oven and let pretzel dogs cool on a wire rack. Serve with homemade whole-grain beer mustard and Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.

Whole Grain Beer Mustard
Adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or Gordy's Sweet Chips brine!)
1/2 cup pale ale (I used Port City Monumental IPA as per Mitchell's recommendation)
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon local honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1. Pour mustard seeds into a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk together until combined. Add vinegar and beer and stir just until incorporated.

2. Cover mixture with plastic wrap and set in a cool, dry place for 12 hours (overnight) or until most of the liquid has been absorbed (a little remained in my batch, but extra food processing time took care of that).

3. Stir remaining ingredients into the mustard seed mixture and pour into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse processor 5-6 times before running the motor for 1-2 minutes.

4. Once mustard has thickened to your desired consistency, pour into a sterilized glass jar(s) and refrigerate. For an even spicier mustard, leave out at room temperature for 1-2 days before refrigerating.

Find MUTINY DC's original post here and our previous collab here.

All photos by Justin T. Gellerson

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Italian Plum & Port Crostata

I grew up going to the farmers' market most Saturdays. Now this was not the farmers' market we know today, with its hip, young farmers, high dollar artisanal products, and serenading folk musicians (not that I have anything against with those things--in fact I'm quite fond of all of them), but this market was old-school. Housed in a red barn with individual stalls occupied by Indiana old-timers, Amish, and organic farmers alike, with the smell of homemade danishes in the air, and cuts of meat hanging from rafters, the South Bend Farmers' Market first opened at its current site in 1928. Though part of the building was destroyed by a fire in 1971, it was the market where my mother grew up going to with her mother and grandparents. Every time we'd walk the long aisles, our baskets full of produce, I'd be inundated with stories about the old farmers who were still around or used to be, and be retold which stall would give my mom a piece of Claey's candy while she waited for her mother to finish socializing.

Aside from the times when I was working on a farm or was in one place long enough to maintain a weekly CSA, I've maintained that ritual of a Saturday trip to the market for fresh veggies and fruits, and sometimes eggs, bread, and meat (and oh yeah, the occasional Farmers' Daughter sunshine bun) for the week. 

A few weeks ago, Dalila from a new D.C. business From the Farmer, reached out to me and asked if I might be interested in trying out their farmbox delivery service. Never one to turn down fresh & local produce, especially when it's delivered to your doorstep, I thought I'd give it a whirl. Of course, I was immediately hooked.

As the basket arrives in the night, it felt a bit like Christmas to wake up the next morning to a bundle of colorful goods-- honeycrisp apples, bok choy, shitake mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, fall raspberries, and more. Similar to a CSA, but customizable, week-to-week, and drawing from multiple local farms, farm bundles like From the Farmer can be an advantageous outlet for small, specialty farms that may not be big enough to offer an entire diverse CSA. I also appreciate having my week's selection of produce picked out for me, as I'm not great at conjuring up recipes on the spot at the market. Though I'll always relish my Saturday market trips, I could get pretty use to this.

One of the offerings that was included in my first box were Italian prune plums-- the small oblong variety that are darker and sweeter than the more common round plums. I remembered a recipe for an Italian Plum & Port Crostata in Martha Stewart's New Pies & Tarts, and had some leftover homemade puff pastry in the freezer, so this tart came together quite quickly (even without pre-made crust, it's pretty simple). I LOVE the dark complexity the port reduction adds to the sweet plums, and you can experiment by adding other spices like ginger, cloves, peppercorn, or black cardamom. I brought it to the DC Square Dance and even had a slice left to share with my friend Mike, who was stopping through town on Monday with his band Hiss Golden Messenger

Italian Plum & Port Crostata

Homemade Puff Pastry or Nothing in the House pie crust, halved (I used puff pastry, as I had some frozen)

1 1/2 cups ruby port
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 Thai chile, seeded and minced (optional, I couldn't find any so opted out)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 pounds Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon heavy cream or beaten egg, for brushing
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling 

1. Prepare whichever crust you're using as per the directions (find links to them in the ingredients list above). Chill dough at least 1 hour before rolling out into a 12-inch round and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Do not flute edges. Place pie plate in fridge while you prepare the filling and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2.  Simmer port and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a saucepan until reduced to about 1/2 cup, approximately 25 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add chile, if using. Cover and let cool, 10 minutes.

3. Stir together remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, plums, cornstarch, cinnamon, and port syrup. Pour into the chilled pie shell and fold over overhang to make a rough edge. Brush dough with cream or egg wash, and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar. Bake 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake 45-60 minutes more (Martha calls for 90 minutes more, but in my case this would have been too long), until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Let pie cool completely and serve with honey ice cream, if desired.

Related recipes:

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Friday Pie Slice: North Carolina Edition

Alright. Gonna try to get this little segment goin' again.

1st slice. My friend April McGreger's new book Sweet Potatoes from UNC Press' "Savor The South" series just arrived in the mail. I can't wait to make sweet potato-habanero hot sauce, sweet potato sonker, sweet potato donut muffins, etc. etc. etc...

2nd slice. Last weekend I trekked down to Asheville, NC to hang out with pals at Harvest Records' Transfigurations II Festival. I made a little country-ish mix for my road trip and thought you might enjoy it too. Find it here.

3rd slice. On that trip I got to finally visit Tara/Smoke Signals Baking's beautiful little enclave in the hills of Marshall. If you're in the area, check out her upcoming pie classes and Saturday PIZZA NIGHTS!

The tasty crumbs. I also got to hang out and make pie for & eat pie with one of my favorite musicians and long-time pen pal Michael Hurley! Check his Nothing in the House post from a few years back.

Find past Friday Pie Slices here

Pictured above: Butterscotch Pie with a Meringue Top and Butter & Lard Crust

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Campfire Skillet Crisp

One of the drawbacks of shooting film, and multiple cameras* at that, is that there can be so much lag time between shooting, finishing the roll, and getting the developed photos back. Here it is September and I'm finally sitting down to share some photos, words, and a campfire recipe from a canoe trip back in May. But there are a few weeks of summer yet, so hopefully this will come in handy for your summer and fall camping trip cuisine.

This spring at NELP, I co-lead a canoe trip to the Debsconeag Lakes, just under the shadow of Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine. I jumped on the trip last minute--I thought I'd be leading a "Rough 'n' Tumble New Age Lumberjack Road Trip" to Rangeley, ME, but when not enough students were compelled by the promise of orgone accumulators and chainsaw collections, I joined up with my friend and co-worker James to even out canoe numbers and do a little tracing of Thoreau's footsteps (and paddle "steps") in the Maine woods.

Because we were paddling and staying at the same campsite for the three days, we didn't have to be concerned with backpacking weight. So I snagged our skillet from the kitchen and started imagining all the campfire cooking and baking possibilities.

The first day we paddled to our campsite among pine trees on a white beach, set up tents, and then paddled to the other side of the lake which boasts an ice cave along its shores. It was a hot day, especially for May in northern Maine, but when we entered the cave, it felt like we were descending back in time to the cold of winter. Judging from the ice stalactites dripping from the ceiling it was probably just above freezing.

That night we took the students out for a night paddle with no lights. It was a magical surrealist experience, seeing the stars almost perfectly reflected in the water (or as Thoreau calls it, "Sky water") which felt strangely thick and dense--like paddling through oil-- but somehow safe and comforting. We read them the passage from Walden in "The Ponds" when Thoreau describes his night fishing, "It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook," and asked them what might be that second fish. 

The next morning for breakfast, I sliced up some strawberries and bananas into the skillet, scattered on a flour and sugar mixture I'd prepared back at camp, put on a lid, and stuck it on the hot embers of the fire. After about 25 minutes, we had a breakfast crisp, warm and bubbling, with a buttery, crispy top.

You could make this with any fruit you have on hand. I'd recommend mixing the flour mixture at home and storing it in a plastic bag until you're ready to use, then cut in the butter at your campsite (don't forget your pocket knife). It makes a fine camp breakfast or dessert and it fueled our mile-long portage and day of exploring waterfalls and lakes, through a rainstorm and all. 

Strawberry-Banana Campfire Crisp

3 large bananas, cut into 1/2-inch slices
12 oz. strawberries, sliced (instead of strawberries & bananas, you can use about 2 1/2 lbs. of any fruit)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, oats, sugars, spices, and salt. If you're preparing the crisp at camp, pour into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and bring along with you (along with butter and fruit.).

2. If preparing at home, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut butter into the flour mixture (if preparing at camp, you can do this with your hands in the ziplock bag). Slice fruit and arrange on the bottom of the skillet. Pour butter and flour mixture over top of fruit.

3. If preparing on a campfire, cover skillet with a lid or tin-foil and place on the hot embers of the fire. If preparing at home, place in the preheated oven uncovered. Bake for 25-30 minutes until fruit is bubbling and topping is golden and crispy. Serve and enjoy!

Related recipes:
Peach-Blackberry Cobbler
Plum-Cherry Crumble

*Camp photos shot on an expired disposable film camera (didn't want my good camera to get wet, so excuse the grainy lo-fi!) and close-up crisp photos shot on my Canon 20D.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heirloom Tomato Hand Pies with Bacon, Cheddar & Thai Basil Jalapenos

A couple of weeks ago I head the real pleasure of working with the menswear collective MUTINY DC, along with creative director Morgan Hungerford West and photographer Justin T. Gellerson to develop a summer heirloom tomato pie recipe.

I've been keen on Green Tomato Pies this summer, inspired by Richmond chef Travis Milton and the rave reviews I'd heard of his fried pies at the Appalachian Food Summit. When MUTINY suggested using the unripe summer fruit in hand pies, my mind went to savory and to fond memories of this Tomato Bacon Jalapeno Pie I made for a Buckeye Banjo party a couple of years ago.

Subbing in Gordy's Thai Basil Jalapenos gives this recipe its D.C. bearings and complicates the flavor. The result is an adult take on the classic BLT sandwich--my favorite way to enjoy fresh tomatoes--ripe and green--from the backyard garden.

If you end up having leftover filling, save it and scramble it with eggs the next morning for a killer breakfast.

The other delight of this project, was that the folks at Etto generously let us work in their handsome kitchen, meaning I got to bake these pies (and cook the bacon!) in the beautiful wood-fired oven. Ever had bacon cooked in a brick oven? It's practically DOUBLE SMOKED. I highly recommended it.

Heirloom Tomato Hand Pies with Bacon, Cheddar, and Thai Basil Jalapenos

Makes 8-10 hand pies, depending on size

3/4 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, half green/unripe and half ripe (meaty varieties are best), diced
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 c. sharp cheddar, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. Gordy's Thai Basil Jalapenos, diced and drained
4 oz. bacon, cooked and diced or crumbled
2 Tblsp. fresh basil, julienned and then halved into small strips
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
1 beaten egg + 1 tsp. milk/cream for egg wash
Flake sea salt, for dusting

1. Prepare Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Once chilled, roll out dough onto a floured surface and cut into rectangles of equal size. Place cut crust on parchment paper on a baking sheet and return to chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2. Place diced tomatoes in a colander and place in a large mixing bowl or kitchen sink. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and toss, then let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes while the juices drain.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl combine cheddar, minced garlic, drained jalapenos, cooked bacon, basil, cayenne pepper, if using, and the drained tomatoes. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.

4. Remove cut dough from the fridge and mound filling in the center of half of the cut rectangles. Brush edges of dough with cold water and place a matching piece of dough on top. Press the edges with a fork to seal. Brush hand pies with egg wash, sprinkle with flake sea salt, and cut a steam vent in the top of each with a fork.

5. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, bake hand pies for 35-40 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Filling will be bubbling and crust will be golden brown when done. Transfer pies to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Serve still warm.

*Tad suggested using a partial lard crust, and I agree that it would be a great complement to the filling. You can replace half the butter in this recipe with leaf lard, or use your favorite butter/lard pie crust recipe.

See MUTINY DC for the original post. Photos by Justin T. Gellerson

Sunday, August 17, 2014

White Nectarine Frangipane Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry

There's a part in one of my favorite films, Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I, when she becomes obsessed with the idea of filming her own hands. In a documentary about people who harvest leftover crops from fields, dumpsters, and markets, this could seem tangential, but through Varda's eyes it becomes strikingly relevant, personal. She says, "I can with one hand, film the other one. I like the idea that one hand would always be gleaning, the other one always filming. I like very much the idea of the hands. The hands are the tools of the gleaners, you know. Hands are the tool of the painter, the artist."

I've had a complicated relationship with my own hands. Growing up, I was proud that I could reach an octave + 2 on the piano, but as I got older, I felt these double-jointed extremeties to be a little too large and unfeminine, oddly shaped and overly wrinkled, not to mention constantly cold. A few inconsiderate comments about them from a guy friend in college left me longing for the hands of a Victorian lady--small and smooth and delicate, or at least her gloves so I could hide my own big paws.

A palm reading by my friend Margaret helped me to come around. She pointed out my spatulate fingers, indicating wit and intellect, saw the intersecting lines and size as shape of my hands as those of a maker, an artist, a baker. She helped me to realize that they suit me and are important tools and carriers of memory.

Like Agnès Varda, I too am drawn to "the idea of the hands." They are storied entities, holding so much in their lines and wrinkles. You can tell so much about a person from their hands-- for a quite literal example, I think of the scene in Little Women when Professor Baier runs into Jo on the street. He says, "You know, when I first saw you I thought, 'ah, she is a writer."" When Jo asks how he knew, he points to the ink marks on her hands. My hands are the body part which bears most of my scars-- tissued memories of cleaning mortar off bricks at our old house, the unexplainable white line that helped me to remember my right from my left, the countless burns from baking and callused guitar string fingers. They're also the part of ourselves that we probably see the most, not through the lens of a photograph or mirror, but as they exist in the real world. Our hands are a constant presence in our field of vision. I could pick mine out of a line-up anywhere, but I could I do the same with my ankle? The back of my neck? I'm not so sure. They are such familiar agents and symbols of the self.

One of the most compelling things about baking for me is its tactile nature, of being able to bring something into existence, to shape it in my very hands in all of its stages. I'd been putting off making my own puff pastry for awhile. It seemed too daunting, too time consuming, too much butter (joke)! But some experiments in a wood-fired oven got me thinking about it again, and yesterday I found myself with the air conditioning back on in our house, a full day with nothing planned, and enough butter for the task, so the time was nigh.

For my first experimentation, I used Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt's recipe for a puff pastry shortcut on Food52. It's not the full-on deal in which you work a butter packet into a flour packet, but it takes less time and effort has given me the confidence to go all the way next time. It also makes a BEAUTIFUL, puffed and buttery dough with thin flaky layer upon flaky layer. Maybe not quite as many as you'd get with the more time consuming method, but enough to make me give a little yelp of joy when I opened up the oven... and every time I've taken a bite.

I adapted a Martha Stewart recipe for an Apricot-Pistachio Tart into a White Nectarine-Frangipane (almond) Tart. This was largely because there were no apricots to be found at the farmers' market, and I happened to have a surplus of almonds at home, but you could really make this with any stone fruit (or apple or pear!) and any variety of nut. The beauty of this recipe's simplicity is that it opens up so much opportunity for variation. Put your hands and your imagination to work.

White Nectarine Frangipane Tart with Homemade Puff Pastry
Adapted from Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts

Makes one 17x9-inch tart

1 recipe homemade puff pastry (you can also use store-bought)
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon unsalted, raw almonds, toasted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg yolk for egg wash
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
All-purpose flour, for dusting
4-5 white nectarines (1 1/4 pounds), pitted and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 Tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar, for dusting
1/4 cup nectarine, apricot, peach, or plum jam
1 1/2 Tablespoon water

1. Prepare homemade puff pastry as per the directions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out and trim dough to a 17 X 9-inch rectangle. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine 1 cup almonds and the granulated sugar. Add butter and process until a paste forms. Add the whole egg, vanilla, and salt and pulse to combine.

3. Remove pastry from the fridge and using an offset spatula, spread almond paste evenly over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border. Arrange nectarines in 3-4 vertical rows over the almond mixture, alternating direction in which the slices face. Fold in the edges of the dough and use your index finger to create a scalloped border. Refrigerate or freeze the tart until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

4. Whisk together egg yolk and cream and brush over the edges of the chilled tart shell. Chop remaining tablespoon of almonds and sprinkle them and turbinado sugar over the tart. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown and puffed, and fruit is juicy, about 35 minutes. Let cool.

5. Meanwhile, place jam and water in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, about 2 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl and brush the glaze over the nectarines. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

Related recipes:
Apple Galette at MAV's
Peach Pie with a Sweet Basil Glaze
Whole Wheat Plum Crumble Tart