The holidays mean two very comforting things to me – Sienipiirakka and Iz. I couldn’t just be A Normal Person and have my favorite holiday traditions be a christmas tree and Burl Ives singing “Silver Bells,” oh no. Too easy. Granted, when I was a little girl, those two things were huge for me, along with Perry Como and Mitch Miller and all the rest of the classic Christmas crooners. But now, I’ve found other traditions I adore. They’re both recent additions, only as of 2006.
I’m not Christian by any stretch of the imagination – I am, perhaps, the World’s Worst Buddhist. Still, I honor and respect the teachings of Christ and think it’s quite likely he was a real person. The holiday season for me, then, is not a religious celebration so much as a time of giving, sharing, contemplation and mindfulness. I do try to incorporate these values into everyday life, but they become more poignant during the Christmas season, when so many others are also bringing these to the forefront of their awareness. It’s more fun to participate in the season than to stand back and refuse to be a part of it due to spiritual quibbles. Respecting the traditions of others is an important aspect of my path, but mostly – it’s about The Fun.
So back to my little traditions.
In 2006, my left hand sustained an injury that took it out of commission for a year. During that time, I went to a lot of physical therapy, naturally, and became good friends with my hand therapist, Dan. Dan is from Guam and very keen on Polynesian music. As the holidays approached, he started playing Facing Future by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole. I was absolutely enchanted with it, especially when I realized I’d finally discovered who the artist who does that really nice, upbeat “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” cover is. This track, especially, signals the onset of Christmas: Ka Huila Wai. The entire album, all of his work, really, is uplifting and melodic and beautiful. I was saddened to hear he passed away long before I ever heard his music.
While I do listen to Iz throughout the year, it’s especially meaningful at Christmas.
Here’s what you should really be interested in, though – for you mushroom lovers out there, this is the shizzle.
Please don’t pick on my poor little pie crust – it’s not the pie’s fault I suck at them.
Even though it’s a new tradition, I look forward to it every year and only make it either at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I can’t imagine the holidays without it at this point. The recipe comes from the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook, which features vegetarian recipes from around the world.
This pie is rich and decadent – sufficiently hearty for a main dish, but also works well as a side. It’s not hugely difficult – even the crust isn’t bad due to the high fat content – and the effort is definitely worth it. I can’t wait!
Mushroom Pie – Sienipiirakka
- 2 1/2 c chopped onions
- 3 Tbps butter
- 8 cups chopped mushrooms – wild varieties better. I use mostly crimini with about 1/3 shitake due to expense. All portobellas work, too. Use fresh – the texture of dried doesn’t work well, even when properly rehydrated. As always, but more importantly than usual, BRUSH the dirt off – don’t wash.
- 1 tsp dried thyme (maybe a smidge less)
- 1/2 tsp salt (I leave this out)
- “lots” of freshly-ground black pepper
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 2 1/2 c unbleached white flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 c butter
- 1 c sour cream
- flour for coating the dough and board for rolling
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp milk
To make the filling, saute the onions in the butter in a large skillet (I use a large Calphalon pot – I didn’t have a “skillet” that holds 8 cups of mushrooms and everything else.) When the onions are soft and translucent, add the mushrooms and thyme, and saute until the mushrooms release their juices. I cook them until a lot of those juice actually evaporate, in order to keep the moisture content of the finished product lower. Add the black pepper, and the salt if you want it. For me, the thyme triggers my “salt” sensors, so additional salt is too much. Cut the cream cheese into smallish pieces and then stir it into the mushrooms until it melts. Remove from heat and set aside until the crust is ready.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
For the crust, combine the flour, baking powder and possible salt in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, or by hand, cut in the butter just enough to achieve an evenly-textured crumbly mix. Stir in the sour cream to form a soft dough. Generously dust the dough with flour and form it into a ball. If you have the time, you can chill the dough slightly to help make it more workable.
On a heavily-floured board, roll out 2/3 of the dough to fit a 10-inch pie plate and gently press it into the pan. Trim the edges. Fill with the mushroom mixture. Roll out the remaining dough about 1/4″ thick (thicker than a usual pie crust) and cut it into strips 1″ wide (a pizza cutter works far better than a knife for this.) Weave the strips into a lattice over the filling. This is a pain in the ass, but it looks pretty if done properly (which I, for the life of me, cannot manage. There’s a good video tutorial over here.) Fold the strips of the lattice strips under the bottom crust and pinch the edges together. Flute if you feel like the effort and want it to look nice.
For the glaze, beat together the egg and milk. With a pastry brush, thoroughly coat the pie crust – give the excessive left-overs to your critter or use for french toast.
Bake the pie for 25 to 35 minutes, until the crust is puffy and golden. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes after coming out of the oven, so that the juices have time to redistribute.
Serve hot with green vegetables of some form.
The pie will do alright if assembled the night before and baked the next day. It would probably do even better if par-baked a bit to set things up, but I haven’t ever tried that. It also reheats quite nicely in the oven on subsequent days, should it survive the initial onslaught. Here’s another version I haven’t tried yet but which sounds delicious, too.
There’s one other tradition, curiously also from 2006, I’ve incorporated – wearing my Christmas Socks on Christmas day. Here’s a photo of Andra, her daughter Ally and me from that year. Well, of our feet, anyhow. 🙂
I know we’re all terribly busy right now, but if you want to take a break and tell me about some of your favorite traditions, time-honored or new, I’d love to hear them.