The sun is shining on my hill today – at last. Living on top of a hill is great, really. We get amazing views, loads of light, enough sun to power a small community, advance warning of undesirable relatives and the most astonishing sunsets,but it does have some drawbacks. In the winter time we are, for the most part, exposed. We have a straggly hedge arrangement at the back of our house that will never win any lovely awards and which is the only thing that stands between us and the weather that comes in from the west, but in the teeth of a winter gale it might just as well not be there at all.
I’ve just read a report on a news site saying that we may just have had our warmest winter ever, but whoever wrote that wasn’t anywhere near my house We have had days at a time of single digit temperatures that dipped to below freezing once the sun vanished and long, long, stormy nights with the wind roaring all around the house, rattling the windows and sliding briskly in under the doors.
We have no heating other than a big slow-combustion fire in the family room and my dear Stanley in the kitchen, both of whom do a splendid job. I love the cosiness of a fire and can’t wait to light the first fires of the season, but they are quite labour-intensive to maintain and leave a constant reminder of their presence in the form of a fine film of ash over the entire house and a slight odour of stale wood-smoke that I adore at the beginning of the cooler weather, but tire of at about this time of the year.
And the washing, oh the washing. We’ve, thankfully, had a very wet season but even when it’s not raining it is far to cold and damp to hang washing outside for months at a time. I am blessed with a tumble dryer and cursed with a very active conscience so only use it for the sheets and towels, leaving me with the challenge of naturally drying all of the other items. They hang from every possible vantage point in the family room and the kitchen and are draped on clothes airers, chairs, tables, seldom-used gym equipment, oven handles and door knobs – frequently taking days to dry and often leaving me red-faced when unexpected visitors drop by.
But today it is mild and sunny. The washing is bouncing around on the clothes line, fresh air floods into the house through all of the open doors and windows and even the teenagers are outside airing themselves – all in all, a very happy state of affairs.
As the days become longer and warmer I will begin to shed layers of winter clothing and the sins of my immediate past will become all too evident. We all know how popular comfort food is in the colder months and if there’s one thing I’m extra good at it’s comforting myself, particularly by baking. I’ve got quite few regular sources of comfort, but also like to try new ways to slip into the zone and was happy to hunt down some different ideas for the left-over pistachios from my delicious Pistachio Orange Blossom cake. My hunt coincided with Ramadan which inspired my version of a popular cookie taken in the evenings during this time. They are a versatile little treat and can be made with dates, walnuts, almonds and figs – just use this as a guide and go with whatever you have handy. You can substitute the rice flour for more plain flour, but I like the slightly gritty texture the rice flours adds.
Pistachio and Honey Ma'amoul
- 290 gms plain flour
- 60 gms rice flour
- 165 gms butter
- 75 mls cold water
- 75 gms caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp dry yeast
- 160 gms pistachios roughly chopped
- 2 Tbsp date syrup
- 1 Tbsp rose water
- Extra whole pistachios for decoration
- Preheat oven to 220C (425F).
- Place flours and butter in a food processor and whizz until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Combine water, sugar and yeast in a separate bowl. Add the flour/butter mixture and combine with your hands. The dough will be quite loose, but that's okay, it will firm up.
- Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- Combine the nuts, date syrup and rosewater in a small bowl. Mix well.
- Divide the dough into four, dust benchtop with a little flour and roll each quarter piece of dough into a cylinder about 2-3cm in diameter.
- Slice the dough into discs, drop a small amount of the sticky, nut filling into the centre of each disc and pull up the sides to form a ball, then flatten each one slightly.
- Decorate with a whole pistachio nut.
- Bake in oven for 3-5 minutes, removing when golden in colour.