Flying Phyllo

Growing up in Caspar, I did a lot of baking with my father, using the old convection oven which he found at the dump and restored. Using a convection oven is a little different than using a regular oven, and I’ve struggled with ovens ever since, thanks to the peculiarities of our convection oven. Some of my finest culinary experiments were conducted with the assistance of that convection oven, and it also oversaw some spectacular failures like the infamous brick bread.

One of the things that we loved making most was spanakopita. I think I’ve written about our spanakopita system before; we recently revived it, actually, when I was hanging out with him a few weeks ago. I was pleased to see that our traditional spanakopita roles were easy to pick up again, as I slathered butter and he wafted phyllo dough into the baking pan. We’ve both developed slightly different filling philosophies; he likes his more custardy, while I like a firmer crumble, but both of us prefer sheep’s feta to cow feta, for the tangy, in your face flavor.

One thing about using the convection oven, however, was that the fan used to do peculiar things to the top few sheets of dough. As they cooked through and became perfectly golden and crisp, the fan would start to separate them from the lower layers, until a flapping sheet of phyllo dough fluttered like a flag in the oven, attached by a thin thread to the rest of the spanakopita. Finally, the sheet would detach entirely and start whirling around the oven until one of us noticed it, cried “flying phyllo!” and opened the oven to take it out.

Whoever opened the oven had the privilege of eating the crisp, buttery sheet, like a giant potato chip.

My spanakopita seems so flat and dull now, without the benefit of the loosened upper layers which formed a lacy, crisp tower of dough to cut through when serving up slices. It’s still pretty good, mind you, its just not quite the same. Someday I’ll have to acquire a convection oven and see if I can revive the flying phyllo tradition, preferably on the same sort of sunny summer day that I remember from childhood.

While the spinach pie was baking, my father and I would also make a salad of freshly sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, with crumbled feta on top and a dusting of dill, salt, and pepper. Sometimes we’d even add olives, when we were feeling rakish, and we would sit out at the old utility spool in the side yard and pick at the salad with our fingers until the food was done.

Afterwards, we’d wash up and play a game of Monopoly in the fading light, exchanging words with neighbors while they ambled by in the street.

It’s odd, I’m so happy to be home again, and yet I still miss Caspar, viscerally. I dream about our old house there almost every night, and when I wake up, sometimes I think for a moment that I am back there again, that I should get up and light the fire so that the house will warm up. I don’t think that I will ever be able to live there again; I heard recently that it had sold, although I haven’t seen any signs of that when I’m in the neighborhood. But oh, how much I would like to live there, to pull nasturtiums out of the power outlets when they wander in and to traverse the icy cold gallery in the winter to go to the bathroom.

This is the frustration of being a renter, that we can attach ourselves to places that aren’t our own, making giving them up all the more difficult.