The dirt underneath my feet was damp. The roof of the hen house was damp. The table where I left the trowel was damp. It was the first time after a long time the garden had a good soak, a much needed soak. It started to rain the night before while we were asleep. It was the slow and steady kind that lasted all night until morning broke, right before the corgis marched out of their beds for breakfast.
The smell of the garden after rain is delightful. It had not rained for far too long and I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy the smell of freshness after rain. I buttoned the fleece I wore over the shirt I wore to bed then crossed my arms across my chest to keep me warm. The air was crisp and clean. Rain revives and restores. It cleanses. I love how rain brings out the fragrance of the garden, how rain transforms something that is tired and parched into one that is green and alive.
I picked up the trowel from the garden table next to the pile of rusty metal stakes. With a steady grip on its handle I dug deep into our bed of carrots. Their green tops have started to grow back after the hens got their fill of them. Our hens leave nothing in the garden untouched and unappreciated. I loosened the dirt and pulled out a bright orange root. I brushed off the damp dirt, pulled out another one, and headed back to the kitchen.
Like a switch I just turned on, it started to rain as soon as I stepped inside. It didn’t stay for long but long enough for me to enjoy the sound of rain pattering on the roof. I peeled the carrots I just harvested and cut them into wedges. My mise en place for dinner was complete. Soon after the kitchen was filled with the fragrance of garlic and onions browning and the hiss of chicken searing. Soon after the kitchen was filled with the aroma of pie crust and chicken pastel.
Chicken Pastel Recipe, makes six servings
For the crust
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled lard or vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3 tablespoons ice water
For the filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 pound boneless and skinless chicken thighs, about six thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
2 potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, cubed
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 small red bell pepper pepper, cut into strips
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and black pepper to taste
Sift flour and salt together. Mix the chilled shortening and butter.
Cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter or fork or work it in lightly with the tips of your fingers until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Work it in lightly and do not overwork the dough because it will become dense and greasy.
Sprinkle the dough with ice water. Blend the water gently into the dough until it just holds together. If necessary add another teaspoon to a tablespoon of ice water enough to hold the ingredients together.
Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use. If the dough has been chilled longer than 30 minutes, let it stand until it feels firm yet pliable, like modeling clay, when pressed. If it is too cold, the dough will crack around the edges when rolled.
Heat oil in a pot over medium high heat. Saute garlic and onions until fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and brown on all sides. Add potatoes, carrots, tomato sauce, and fish sauce. Cover and let chicken simmer over low heat until chicken, potatoes, and carrots are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Add red bell pepper and stir in heavy cream. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Ladle chicken and vegetables into a 9-inch pie dish or divide into smaller ovenproof bowls. Roll out the dough into a 10-inch circle and carefully place it on top of the chicken and vegetables. Crimp the edges of the dough onto the edges of the pie dish. If baking in smaller bowls, divide the dough equally into the number of bowls before rolling it out. Place pie dish or bowls on a sheet pan and place inside the oven. Bake until top is brown, about 45 to 50 minutes.