Of Easter Eggs in Early September
The Joy and Agony of Writing (and actually making) A High-End Recipe Involves Easter Eggs
I don’t know why, but I associate Spanakopita with Easter. I’m not Christian. Even when I was one, I don’t remember an Easter when I had Spanakopita. I’m not Greek (though I’m 34% Italian, which puts me somewhat close). So, my associative intuition is straining here for a connection with the Paschal celebration. Lesee, um … Spanakopita has spinach … and spinach is … um, green! … like spring! [Yeah, that’s the ticket.]
Anywhoo, even though it’s Labor Day weekend, I’ve another Easter connection for this post—namely, I’m addicted to Easter Eggs in my novels and art. All eight of my novels have turned out to be in the same fictional universe. I didn’t at first plan it that way, but my characters kept connecting with past-novels’ characters, like, I dunno, it was natural. In fact, my eighth novel coming out later this month is kinda like a Marvel-universe Avengers ensemble of past characters. In most of my other novels, previous characters do an Easter-eggish, Alfred-Hitchcock-style cameo, but in Hang Girl, Jesus! they burst the fourth wall like Roger Rabbit at the siren call of “Shave and a haircut/Two bits!”
I do it in my art, too. Put in little asides, peeking at the viewer like a puppy hidden under a bed, it’s tail poking from under the bedskirt. Fr’instance, take a look-see at this painting:
It’s called Mechanica Alchemia, and it’s full of … um, stuff. Like a motor. Costume jewelry. A bottle of leaking quicksilver. Copper wire. Pear skin and gears, fer Crissakes! You think that’d be busy enough, right? Then you don’t know me. Take a gander at the book standing on the left edge of the canvas. Yeah, the book’s called Mechanica Alchemia, which is Latin for “Mechanical Alchemy.” With all that busy stuff, though, ya might miss the name of the author printed on the binding. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Paphnutia Virginis is more Latin, in this case for “Paphnutia the Virgin,” a 300-CE Egyptian priestess, whom some think might be the original alchemist.
Now ask yourself, “Self, why does anyone care?”
(Obviously, I didn’t ask myself that question. I put it in the painting, ‘cuz it’s an Easter Egg, people! In my zany mind, the whole point of the painting is to comment on the roots of our current technology-obsessed patriarchy and offer an aside: “Hey, fellas! What if the whole thing started with a woman?”)
Look, I’m not trying to congratulate myself on being clever. If anything, it’s stupid, ‘cuz nobody gets it (unless they read a blog post that I’ve written so they’ll get it). It’s like dropping the word, “Bacchanalia,” in casual conversation with a coworker. I do idiotic stuff like that because I ultimately am convicted that the cosmos is chock-full of Easter Eggs, jokes, Cheshire Cats, and other ephemera that, after all, have never been ephemera. They’re the cosmos smiling at us!
So, of course, I put Easter Eggs in my recipes, like the one for Spanakopita below. And now we’ve come full-circle to why this particular Spanakopita is mentioned on Labor Day weekend as reminiscent of Easter.
[I mean, I coulda just slapped the recipe on the blog and let ye have at thee. But the chance to Easter-Egg you is just too damn enticing. You’re welcome.]
Prep Time: 2hr Cook Time: 30-40min Total Time: 2.5hrs Difficulty: Hard Servings: Serves 4-6, depending on whether it's served as a preliminary course or entree
Med mixing bowl
Silicone spatula or wooden spoon
Lg saucepan w/ lid (I prefer a Bialetti w/ strainer lid)
Colander (not needed if using Bialetti)
Pasta roller of choice
Kitchen towel/paper towel, damp
11⁄2C (200g) strong bread flour, plus more for additions/dusting 1⁄3-1⁄2C (100-120ml) water, warm
1T olive oil
1lb (450g) spinach (I use frozen and thaw beforehand; so much cheaper)
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
nutmeg, grated/ground to taste
zest of 1 lemon
2 bunches parsley, stems trimmed, finely chopped
1 sm yellow onion, finely chopped
2t dill weed, dried
2 garlic cloves, minced
2T olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
10.5oz (300g) feta, crumbled
cornstarch (cornflour), for dusting
scant 6T (70g) butter, melted
1 egg yolk, to wash/glaze
1T sesame seeds
1T crushed sea salt
1a. Sift flour into med bowl & form well in middle.
1b. In pourable container, whisk water and 1T olive oil. Slowly pour oil-water mixture into flour, stirring as you go, to form soft but not sticky mixture. (Make sm additions of flour if mixture is sticky.)
2. Tip dough onto clean workspace, no flour on it. Knead 10-15 min, till smooth, silky ball. Wrap in cling and rest in fridge at least 1 hr.
3. While dough rests, lid lg sauce pan over med heat.
4. Wash spinach (if using fresh) and add to saucepan with salt & pepper to taste. (If spinach doesn't fit, press in with potato masher.)
5a. Occasionally stir spinach to render down till cooked (5 min).
5b. Drain spinach, pressing with spoon back to squeeze out all liquid.
5c. Tip spinach onto paper towels and cover with more paper towels, patting and squeezing out remaining moisture.
5d. Once dried, return spinach to lg saucepan 6. Mix in nutmeg and lemon zest till combined.
6. Mix in nutmeg and lemon zest till combined.
7. Add diced onion, parsley, dill weed, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and 2T olive oil.
8. Stir in eggs and feta, till combined. Set aside.
9a. Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C (375°F/190°C, High Altitude).
9b. In sm saucepan, melt butter.
9c. Set up pasta roller and place on thickest setting.
9d. Remove dough ball from fridge and divide into 5 equal balls and set aside. (To keep dough balls from drying out, cover with damp kitchen or paper towel.)
9e. Amply dust workspace, rolling pin, hands, dough, your cousins, and a separate parchment sheet (for laying and buttering your phyllo layers) with cornstarch.
10a. Roll out one of the 5 divided dough balls into a rough rectangle, the shortest side of which fits into your pasta roller with space to spare on each side.
10b. On pasta roller's thickest setting, run through
10c. Set pasta roller to next-lower thickness setting and again run through rectangle. Repeat this process through seven settings, one by one. (Do NOT run through lowest setting. Your final dough-stretching must be done by hand. See why even professional chefs BUY their phyllo dough pre-rolled?)
10d. With backs of hands, stretch pastry widthwise, till it's paper thin. (The occasional tear/hole will happen. Don't worry: your layering of the five rectangles will cover individual tears/holes.)
10e. Lay phyllo sheet onto parchment and brush with melted butter. Cover that handiwork with another damp thing while rolling out other 4 sheets.
10f. Repeat Steps 10b-f and tell yourself that a recipe featuring sub-steps running through the letters "f" and "g" should've been enough warning that you need to buy pre-rolled phyllo dough the next time you make this, 'cuz ain't nobody worth this effort, unless they're paying big bucks for it.
10g. Lay each completed sheet over previously buttered sheet and again brush with butter, till you've exhausted the dough balls and yourself and both are exclaiming, "What hath the goddess wrought?" (And don't blame this on the goddess or feel abandoned by her. She was at the grocery-store freezer, pointing out the pre-made phyllo dough, but you were all "No, no. I can do this, goddess!")
11a. Lay spinach at long edge of 5-layered rectangle that's closest to you.
11b. Lift up that edge, parchment and all, and, roll into a sausage-shape spinach spiral (helluva tongue-twister, eh?).
11c. Fold over and tamp down each end of sausage thingy.
11d. Starting at one end of sausage thingy, twirl whole apparatus into spiral shape.
11e. Slide this confab of Greek goodness onto baking sheet.
12. Mix beaten egg yolk with remaining melted butter and brush the spirogyra.
13. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt
14. Bake 30-35min, till golden-brown.
15. Serve in slices, all the while telling your guests that they damn well better enjoy this, 'cuz it's the last time they're getting this made from scratch, outside of dining at Thermomoupolas' Café, down on Higby Street. (And even Thermo's uses pre-made phyllo, people!)