I’ve been having trouble finding a good book to really dig into. Everything I’ve picked up in the last six months has done little to keep me interested. I’m dying for something to read… a girl can’t survive on magazines and cookbooks the whole summer, for cryin’ in the sink!
Last night I gave in and decided to end my search by revisiting something from my “favourites” bookshelf. I’ve re-read almost everything perched up there at least twice, but I’d read any of those titles again… gladly. Off to one side is my stack of John Irving – my emergency reserves, my trusty soldiers – the man that started my obsession with reading.
He is the master of twisted characters. He writes with raw honesty and with the seamless and simultaneous marriage of comedy and tragedy… in a word – life. I saw Mr. Irving speak a couple years ago during his book tour for “In One Person“ and he is as magnetic as his storytelling. What amazed me most was the wide ranging demographic of the room – pre-teens to the elderly, every colour and race – each one of these people felt as drawn to his works as I did. All his novels involve some sort of sexual confusion: rape, identity, shame, infidelity. No matter how outside the “norm” his characters live, these people all connect or identify with those themes. It was deeply unifying.
As I’ve mentioned before, my favourite novel of his is “Until I Find You”. It is one of his more melancholic works, but it’s loaded with humour and love. As with many of his books there is a strong sense of innocence lost. (If you know much of his personal story you’ll know this loss happened early for him and haunts many of his main characters). We experience such a heavy sadness when we realize that carefree part of our life is gone forever, but as his characters do, we eventually come to a place of acceptance translating into an understanding of ourselves in the present… hopefully.
“In this way, in increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us—not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.” – John Irving, excerpt from “Until I Find You”.
So, I have re-opened “The World According to Garp”, the first novel I read by John Irving and the one that made him an overnight star… even though he had already written several novels and short stories by the time it came out in 1978. In the 1998 edition Johnny bought me for Christmas there is a special forward by Mr. Irving speaking about the release of his seminal book. He tells a darling story of his oldest son, Colin, reading one of his books for the first time. It was “Garp” and his son was only twelve years old. He suffered anxiety awaiting his son’s questions – a book that dealt so closely with sex and identity would surely bring about some awkward personal questions. He feared the question he had received time and again from the press and public –what is it about? When Colin finished reading he didn’t ask his father what it was about – he told him: “It’s about the fear of death, I think… Maybe more accurately, the fear of the death of children – or of anyone you love.”
My brother’s ten year old bull terrier, Maebe, just passed away and our family feels the hole left behind. She’d been with us a long time and we miss her. We all fear losing the ones we love, but we all go on and we do so with the comfort of others.
This recipe conjures feelings of comfort: fireplaces, deep snow and quiet winters… not the kind of thing you’d expect to make in the thick of summer, but this is a much lighter version of comfort food for the summertime. John Irving is from New Hampshire (and lives in Toronto and Vermont), his novels often are set in that wooded, snowy world. Touriere is a very familiar recipe for most Canadians – and typifies winter and Christmas and family. So here is a little winter comfort food made for summer nights and those I love. xo
LIGHT AND FLAKY TOURTIERE PHYLLO CIGARS
This recipe came about partly because I still have great difficulty making beautifully flaky pie dough and partly because I find tourtiere quite heavy to enjoy regularly – except on Christmas Eve, of course – then the more decadent (and buttery), the better!
If you’ve never worked with phyllo sheets before, please do not be intimidated. I was terrified the first time I used them to make Bastilla Pie, but they are really quite simple. Just keep them covered with a damp tea towel so they don’t dry out, but if you are working fairly swiftly even that may not be necessary. When transferring a sheet from the pile to your work space, keep it supported in the middle so it doesn’t tear. Don’t fear – because these guys are rolled a few times in on themselves, a little tear is OK. Bonus – we are only using about half the package of phyllo sheets, so you have back ups or leftovers to play around with. Try making some turnovers for dessert!
1 tbsp oil (or bacon/duck fat)
500g *ground meat* (beef, veal, pork, chicken, turkey, sausage or any mix of 2 or 3)
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tsp each thyme and allspice
1/2 tsp each cinnamon
1/2 chili flakes (optional)
1/4 tsp each nutmeg, ground ginger and mustard powder
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 large starchy potato, peeled and finely diced
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 c water or stock
¼ c frozen peas, thawed (optional)
10 – 12 sheets of phyllo pastry, thawed
Melted butter to brush (approx 1/4 cup)
Preheat your oven to 350F and prepare a large rimmed baking sheet by lightly greasing with butter.
Place a large pan with lid over medium/low heat. Add the oil and sweat the onions with a pinch of salt by sautéing them and adding your lid for 5-7 minutes or soft. Turn up the heat to medium/high and add the garlic, ground meat mix and a little more salt, breaking up clumps as you go. Brown until no longer pink, about another 5 minutes – if your meat is fairly fatty you may need to drain off some excess fat. Add all your spices including bay leaf and salt and pepper – you can test the seasoning again once it’s cooked through. Stir about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the potato, dijon mustard and water/stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Make sure you scrape up all those browned bits of yummy on the bottom of your pan.
Cover and cook about 30 minutes until the potato breaks down into a starchy glue. Check every so often to make sure your filling isn’t drying out, sticking or burning – add a little additional water if needed. If your potato has broken down and you have creamy consistency, then you’re good to go, otherwise, simply mash it down with the back of your spoon. If your mixture is too watery, just leave off the lid and let it reduce further. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remember to fish out your bay leaf!
Work with your phyllo 1 sheet at a time on a clean surface and keep the remaining sheets covered with a damp tea towel so your pastry doesn’t dry out. Lay your 1st sheet with the long edge closest to you so it stretches horizontally. Brush half your phyllo gently with melted butter. Fold in half like a book. With the short end now toward you, spoon 3 tbsps of the filling along the edge closest to you leaving a 1” gap at the bottom and 2” gap at either end. Roll away from you making sure not to roll too lightly, but keeping a consistent girth. Brush the last inch of pastry with melted butter to seal. Place on your prepared cookie sheet seam side down. Repeat until you run out of filling. Brush the tops of each roll with a little more butter to help them brown and get nice and flaky.
Place in the oven and bake 20-25 minutes. The filling is cooked, so you are really just waiting on the pastry to get nice and golden. The ends will darken 1st, just make sure they don’t burn.
Allow the cigars to cool at least 10 minutes, the filling will be quite hot. Gently cut in half with a sharp knife and serve with a nice salad as a main.
OUR BELOVED MAEBE ROGERS – WEIRD AND WONDERFUL – RIP xo