Plum and Almond Crostata: Windfall of Covid-Time

While I might’ve, I’m not sure I would have made this a year ago.

Over the past few days, my eyes have been drawn to a number of accounts online and in hard copy that have zeroed in on some of the amazing benefits or windfalls of living life Covid-Style. Two keep coming to mind. In today’s Sunday NEW YORK TIMES on the front page, in an article by Ellen Barry entitled, “City Folks Flee the Virus, and the Bears Rejoice,” a man named Jonny Hawton is now working from home in Vermont instead of making a huge LA commute every day in California. He couldn’t imagine returning to the previous lifestyle where he only saw his baby daughter one hour a day. “If someone told me I would have to go back and do that tomorrow, I don’t know what I’d do.” Another woman — Juanita Giles — reviewing Misty Copeland’s new book, BUNHEADS, for NPR, provides interesting insights into now being with the kids at home all day. While she misses lots and fears her social skills are deteriorating, she does not miss one thing: after school activities. Running the roads to get to rehearsals and classes, changing clothes on the fly (think shoving sweaty little feet into ballet tights in the van), squeezing homework into a car ride (“I HATE MULTIPLICATION!”), and eating 5 slow cooker meals a week (all tasted the same–she obviously hadn’t cooked my slow cooker meals!!) weren’t her idea of a fun life. Did she know that before? Surely she did, but what to do? That was how things were. As a dancer, however, she did terribly miss dance and so did the kiddoes — enough so that the prima ballerina’s new book was an instant hit instigating leotards now quickly donned at home and endless pirouettes through the kitchen where non-slow cooker meals were now being cooked. Sometimes change, as hard as it is, is good.

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Life has loveliness to sell,” is the line that comes to mind. It’s from a Sara Teasdale poem:

Barter

By Sara Teasdale

Life has loveliness to sell,

     All beautiful and splendid things,

Blue waves whitened on a cliff,

     Soaring fire that sways and sings,

And children’s faces looking up

Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,

     Music like a curve of gold,

Scent of pine trees in the rain,

     Eyes that love you, arms that hold,

And for your spirit’s still delight,

Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,

     Buy it and never count the cost;

For one white singing hour of peace

     Count many a year of strife well lost,

And for a breath of ecstasy

Give all you have been, or could be.

courtesy Poetry Out Loud

And while loveliness doesn’t describe loss of jobs, reduced income, loneliness, western fires, climate change fears, civil unrest, disgust with US politics, missed family events, sick friends or loved ones who crossed the great Covid river, it does point toward the realization many of us were living a life that was often running in no direction at all. Perhaps we never stayed home long enough to figure that out or how we should be spending our time, money, energy, and emotion.

Here we are last fall on the ms Oosterdam cruising between Vancouver and San Diego.

While my husband Dave and I, as retired folk, devoted a decent part of our time to community volunteer work and our respective hobbies (as well as still occasionally worked for cash) during pre-Covid time, we also went out to lunch because we got tired of staying home. We walked through stores when we needed nothing. Had friends over for drinks or dinner lots.

Tasting wine at lunch in Burgundy.

Attended any concert or play we fancied. Traveled because we could and because we loved the adventure–and why not? While the words weren’t uttered, we lived as if, “WHAT’S NEXT?!” escaped our lips on a daily basis. Our children, grown and also incredibly busy (Where’d they get that?), had little time for us and so anything else that came up was fair game.

Now there’s time to watch the plums until they’re ripe enough to eat.

From the beginning, say March 1, however, we began to tamp down on excursions, expenses, waste, want, need/greed, and to ramp up cooking, watching old movies, playing games, exercise, gardening, fixing up the house, ordering groceries for older relatives and friends, reading, and long talks on the couch. A shortage of plastic bags had us washing them a la my depression-era parents. We didn’t concentrate on any of it, but that’s what happened. Dave started cooking brunch every Sunday. He’s now made 25 new brunch recipes, and though some are simply spins on an old classic, a few are even from the blog! I made Bloody Marys every Sunday morning and still did it this morning. Grilled pizza hit the menu every other week after we missed take-out and a pizza stone for the grill showed up for Father’s Day. Tomatoes were grown from seed. Window boxes built to house the sudden need for fresh salad greens. Lunch was cooked nearly daily. Fresh bread baked. Novels (good/bad/sleazy) we hadn’t had time for before were a constant part of our afternoons. Every Friday morning was breakfast sandwich time after the dogs were walked. We kept track of movies we wanted to watch, recipes we might cook, and music we needed to hear. Our bank account grew instead of diminished.

Even though we’re no longer on lockdown, we remain mostly alone as it seems safest. And in that new duet life, there’s room for more than we ever imagined. 3 hours more a week to cook if you don’t spend it chasing groceries and wine from one shop to another. 4 hours more a week to worship and cook breakfast at home if you’re skipping in-person church and brunch in a restaurant. Canceled meetings gave me 5 hours to play the piano. Not teaching cooking lessons anymore meant learning new dishes for myself.

Two of my favorite students, Tracy and Jeanie, showing off their mousse during a beginning French Class.

Restaurant meals are something we’ve missed, but when we do stop for take-out (or even patio dining as we’ve done a time or two), we find maybe it’s ok to skip it after all. Masked dining, menus on the phone, paper napkins, and socially distanced tables are the new norm. Chatting with a server isn’t nearly as entertaining when you can’t see half his or her face. I’m sorry, restaurateurs. If we eat at home, there’s no worry the unmasked couple on the right is shedding virus. I know. I’ll look forward to birthday meals at a swank place with a wine list longer than my blog. But I’ve stopped wondering which birthday that’ll be.

I began baking again — something I had always loved, but had mostly given up as the kids left and our waistlines expanded. Dave eats dessert every day these days and I don’t see him packing on the L-Bs. Instead, I adore the process; he adores the product. (I’m not much of a sweet eater anymore, though I always take one bite of anything just to make sure!)

And, while I’m wondering what’s changed in your Covid-Life, my Plum-Almond Crostata — with all the Covid-Caveats about how you could change out almonds for pecans and whatever …. is a symbol of what’s changed in mine. I took time to think ahead, order the plums, watch them ripen in the south window, and then picked the day when I would figure out just exactly what I’d do with them to honor their tasty, healthy purply black beauty.

A new calmness creates room for creativity.

A piece of fruit doesn’t seem to mean too much unless it took you 10 years to grow the tree producing it, months to watch and pray the blossoms escape the last freeze or the spring hail and that, lastly, the birds and squirrels leave you enough to harvest. And that’s how it is these days. I share it here with you because, like the tree growing the fruit, it took me my whole life to get to figuring out this recipe and baking this pie. What about you? Try this:

If you have more patience than I do, layer the sliced plums in concentric circles for a more sophisticated look.

plum and almond crostata

The sliced almonds in this pie brown beautifully on top and provide a crunching interest throughout, but could easily be replaced with walnuts or pecans. If your plums aren’t perfectly ripe, you might add another tablespoon or two of sugar to the filling.
Makes one crostata — about six servings.

Ingredients

  • Dough for one crostata-recipe below or use your own or use purchased dough
  • 1 ½ pounds black ruby or other large ripe plums, pitted and cut into 1/8-inch slices
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 4 tablespoons sliced almonds, divided (3 tablespoons for filling and 1 tablespoon for topping)
  • 1 tablespoon milk (for topping)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (for topping)

Instructions

  • DOUGH: MAKE + CHILL: Make the dough as per instructions below (or use your own dough) and chill for an hour or freeze for 15 minutes.
  • STIR TOGETHER THE PLUM MIXTURE: While the pastry chills, in a large bowl, stir together the sliced plums, sugar, pinch of salt, lemon zest and 3 tablespoons of the sliced almonds. Set aside.
  • PREHEAT OVEN to 425 degrees F and place oven rack at center. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
  • ROLL OUT DOUGH: Sprinkle the counter or board lightly with flour. Roll out the chilled pastry dough into an 11-inch round. Roll the dough up onto the rolling pin (or carefully fold it into fourths) and move the dough to the parchment lined rimmed baking sheet.
  • SPOON PLUMS INTO PASTRY: Spoon/pour the plum mixture into the center of the pastry, stopping about 1 ½ inches before the edges. Bring up the edges of the dough around the plums, folding or pleating gently as needed to go around in a circle. Brush the pastry with the milk, sprinkle the reserved tablespoon of almonds on top of the plums, and sprinkle the whole pie with sugar – concentrating on the dough. (This will help brown the crust.)
  • BAKE/COOL/SERVE: Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Don’t worry if some of the juices have escaped onto the parchment paper. Remove pan to cooling rack. When it has sat for 15-20 minutes cooling, move the crostata off the paper so that it sits directly on the rack to cool completely as follows: Move the pan off the rack. Using both hands, lift the parchment paper off the pan (keeping the crostata level) and place it back onto the rack with the pie still on it. Carefully slide the crostata off the paper and onto the rack itself while pulling the paper from underneath it. Cool completely or until just warm. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • STORAGE: Store well-wrapped on the counter for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for a week. If it’s very warm and humid when you are baking, you might want to wrap and leave the pie in the fridge immediately after serving. We never have crostata leftover for long, but I would probably share it with neighbors or eat it for breakfast rather than freeze it. The dough, however, freezes very well if you’d like to make a double batch and freeze one. Let it sit overnight in the fridge, wrapped, to thaw before using.
    Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2020. All rights reserved.

Notes

CROSTATA DOUGH (makes one crostata)
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  • 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) ice water.
 
In a food processor fitted with the knife blade or in a bowl using a pastry cutter, pulse together/mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the pieces of butter and pulse/cut in until mixture is the size of small and large peas. Slowly drizzle in ice water pulsing or stirring until dough begins to come together. Turn out onto floured board, gather dough, pat into a ball, and then pat or roll into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or freeze 15 minutes.
The recipe for the dough only is somewhat adapted from the book CUCINA SIMPATICA: ROBUST TRATTORIA COOKING, by Johanne Killeen and George Germon. I think this is the same dough and recipe Ina Garten uses in her apple crostata.

MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:

Growing Plum Trees/ALMANAC.COM

Marian Burros Original Plum Torte Recipe/ NYTIMES COOKING

7 Health Benefits of Plums and Prunes/HEALTHLINE.COM

LIFE GOES ON:

Had my friend and neighbor Mary Pat over for a socially-distanced birthday dinner on our deck Friday night. Made shish kebabs and while going old school, deviled eggs for starters, too. Melissa Clark’s Extra-Bittersweet Pots de Creme for dessert. Separate serving spoons keeps things safe. Dave and I had the blue dot!


It’s 50 degrees F this afternoon in Colorado and while we began the day with lots of smoke and a high AQI, it’s blown over a lot, and we’re hoping for windows open tomorrow. I pray for fresh, cool air for you, as well as health, peace, and comfort…and maybe a Plum and Almond Crostata. Be brave.

Alyce

There’s now time to let the escaped juices cool just enough to run your finger through

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