Early on December 28th, I set up my “out of office” email. I had a plan.
- Close my computer.
- Pull out my new camera.
You see, it was my birthday. Three days after Christmas. Three days before NYE.
It’s a day that gets completely lost in a ridiculously indulgent week (month?!). It wasn’t always lost for me. In fact, throughout my childhood, people would ask, “Doesn’t it bother you to have your birthday at Christmas?”
I was always excited to reply. I’d even shout. “NO WAY! It doesn’t bother me one bit.”
Life was good around our house at Christmas. School was out. I always had a birthday party full of kids. Especially if it fell on a weekday (free babysitting – I presume). My cousins could make it too.
Great Aunts and Uncles — only around for the holidays — would give me a fiver on Christmas Day, just because my birthday was in the same week as Jesus’. My Pa (Dad’s Dad) had 12 siblings, so I was making the big bucks back in the 70s.
My sister never got that kind of treatment in May. School was in. No one was hanging around our house near Mother’s Day. It was a holiday for the nuclear family.
My birthday parties were always at Grandma & Pa’s farm and included tobogganing, hot chocolate, a campfire, roasted hotdogs and toasted marshmallows (or if you were like Mom, you loved your marshmallows burnt).
We also had a snowmobile with a tow rope and special red fat skis with straps for your Sorels. It was like water skiing – but it hurt more when you crashed. Way more.
When I moved to Whistler, birthdays changed. We used to try to plan something.
But, we’ve learned. Going out for dinner is insane. Our family rarely ventures west. Friends are away or busy with family. @therocketnarcissist is always exhausted from battling the crowds at work.
So, that’s my reason for blocking off an entire day of work to wallow in self-indulgence.
I abandoned my complicated healthy & ethical algorithm when deciding what to make. I went shopping without an ounce of consideration to the planet or my waste line. And I promised myself I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. That’s what the rest of the year is for.
I queued recipes for pâte brisée and tourtière filling. And diligently organized my photography “studio”.
Tourtière is a dish that I learned about in primary school. Life at home was a bit turbulent then, but I had an amazing French teacher who kept me busy helping in her office. I organized her classroom props (like cartoon cats and dogs labeled chat and chien, respectively), but mostly we chatted. As a treat one Christmas, she invited me, plus a few kids and our moms, for lunch.
She served us in French on fancy dishes! We ate tourtière. I remember it well. I was an extremely picky eater then. But this dish, well, it seemed like she had scooped out apples from the pie crust and put my favourite savoury food back inside – ground meat.
Plus, it was served with ketchup. The best condiment.
It was heavenly.
It might have been 20+ years before I had my next slice of tourtière. And maybe 30 years before I made one myself.
One March, during @therocketnarcissist ‘s athletic career, we landed in Quebec City. I spent hours researching the best tourtière. I think internet was still pretty slow back then. We battled the freezing cold and snowy streets to then burrow into a tiny ancient cottage for a slice of authenticity.
It wasn’t quite as I had remembered. But this old recipe was made with just pork. Still good. But less earthy than the original.
Although I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted it, @therocketnarcissist always reminds me that his mother’s tourtière is the best. As any good French-Canadian boy would say. He claims it’s full of venison, buffalo, moose, veal and the kitchen sink – I think.
I should ask her one day.
Anyway, if you’ve read any of my stories before, you’ll know that I don’t follow recipes well. Hence a queue of recipes. I often read a bunch to find the techniques and ingredients that I want to use and make it up from there.
I’m not sure how I found this recipe for the perfect pâte brisée. It was likely that I googled “perfect pate brisee”.
It calls for chilled vodka to ensure the flakiest pie crust – ever! Or at least, the flakiest according to Kelsey’s Apple a Day blogspot and America’s Test Kitchen.
For a second, I wondered if gin from the Pemberton Distillery was too decadent for such a use – and then I remembered it was my birthday.
I went to the grocery store with a plan to buy small portions of as many varieties of ground meat (except bird) as I could. Lo and behold, Christmas struck again. There were plenty of turkeys left. No pork. No buffalo. I managed to get the last package of beef – and found frozen lamb.
I made the crust first. And let it rest for quite some time.
The filling took shape without any one recipe taking the lead. I used onion, all spice, dried thyme, sage (which appears to be still growing in a pot on my snowy porch – weird), cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and salt.
Garlic made it in. And the requisite shredded potato (or 2 depending on size) also made it in.
Hand pies look nice and are fun to eat. So, I cut out as many circles as I could without working the dough too much – nobody likes a tough crust. And put some of the scraps that were getting warm back in the fridge (for a tiny peach pie the next day).
I don’t like to use fake food when taking photos, so I googled best egg wash for pies. Here’s what I learned from this chart on finecooking.com, in the article “How to put colour and shine on pastry crust with egg wash”:
|Content of egg wash||Effect on cooked pastry|
|whole egg with water||nicely browned, slightly glossy|
|whole egg with milk||nicely browned, more glossy|
|egg white only||evenly browned, slightly less brown than whole egg, very little shine|
|egg yolk only or egg yolk with water||browned and shiny, but less so than with cream or milk|
|egg yolk with cream||very browned and glossy, but a relatively thick egg wash that’s somewhat difficult to spread neatly|
|egg yolk with milk||the darkest brown crust and a touch less shiny than yolk with cream|
I chose whole egg with milk.
Cooking and shooting this recipe was fun. My new camera’s quality is similar to the old one, but has more features. It was a pleasure to use. In fact, it was fun to have two cameras. One on the tripod and one in hand.
I certainly ate too many hand pies. I might have been too self-indulgent. Good thing we traded celebrating the ridiculously indulgent Christmas & NYE for my birthday.
Lisa Severn is a communication specialist who lives in Whistler and is now OH, SHIT! one year closer to 50.
P.s. My favourite Instagram post of 2018 is from @unicyclecreative