I was back east last week. (“Back east”, to people on the left coast, means anything past the Rockies.) It was the longest time I’ve been out of Portland since I moved here, a year and a half ago. I went to visit the old homestead, in Asheville NC, and to remind myself that the America outside Portland is a very different America than the one I have grown into, here.

Did you know, for example, that people actually use their cars every day? And that styrofoam is still being manufactured? I had forgotten this. Fortunately, I slipped into a sweet-tea-induced haze of tranquility that kept me from being too snobby, and a drive through the mountains the day before I got back on the plane helped remind me of many fond memories I had growing up there. It was also wonderful to see so many family friends who blissfully call Asheville home.

I was homesick for Portland all week, though. I got back late last night, and when I woke up this morning, I walked down the street to my favorite breakfast spot, where I think I’m becoming a regular, and had my usual oatmeal, biscuit, and crossword puzzle. Then I strolled over to the co-op and got some veggies to make a pot pie. A red bell pepper and some maitake mushrooms were on the use-it-up-today shelf, so I threw those in the basket (never turn down a half-priced maitake, is my motto) with a bit of broccoli, an onion, some unfancy mushrooms, and a pack’o’seitan. A little fridge rummaging later, I had a wonderful dinner on its way.

Pot pie looks a little complicated to make, but that’s because this is an ideal way to use up little bits of leftovers. The veggies I used went really well together, but you don’t need to follow this recipe to the letter. What I do recommend heartily, though, is a splash of pear liqueur in the gravy. I had a bottle of some, made by Clear Creek Distillery, on the counter, and when I took a look at all the winter veggies I was pouring into this thing, tipping a few drops in was inevitable. White wine, sherry, or an apple brandy would be welcome, too. Or you could leave it without alcohol, and you’d do just fine. I’m going to categorize this as vegan, too, because it’s very easily made so – just use Earth Balance for the butter.

I started thinking about pot pie on the plane yesterday, as I was mentally waxing poetic about everything Portlandy I would be shortly returning to. I wanted some homey comfort food. Because this is home.

Seitan Pot Pie
serves 6-8

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut in pieces
1/4 cup cold water

2 fist-sized potatoes, scrubbed or peeled, diced
1/2 medium-sized carrot, scrubbed or peeled, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup peeled and diced winter squash

2 tablespoons butter
1 smallish white onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
leaves from 1 sprig rosemary
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups warm vegetable broth
2 tablespoons pear liqueur (optional)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small head broccoli, roughly chopped
1 8-oz package seitan, drained and rinsed, diced

Make crust: in a bowl, combine flour and salt and cut in butter with a pastry cutter (or rub it in with your fingertips) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water and mix until dough just comes together. Form into a disc, wrap, and put in the fridge while you make the filling. (If you’ve prepped the filling ingredients ahead of time, put it in for at least an hour.)

Preheat to 375F.

Cook veg: bring a few cups of water or vegetable broth to a boil. Add potatoes, carrot, and squash and let simmer until a little soft but not quite cooked through. Drain and set aside.

Make gravy: While the potatoes are simmering, melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onion, salt, pepper, and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and browned, 10 minutes. (If they’re going too fast, turn the heat down. You want a nice caramelization.) Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook another 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in flour, stirring constantly, and cook 1-2 minutes. Add vegetable broth, stir, and let it come to a boil. Add pear liqueur, if using, and simmer 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. It’s okay to add enough salt that it tastes on the salty side, because you’ll be adding more vegetables later that will take that salt.

Combine drained potato mixture, mushroom gravy, bell pepper, broccoli, and seitan in a 4-quart baking dish. Stir so that gravy coats everything. Remove pastry dough from fridge, roll out, and lay on top of filling, pinching the edges against the edge of the baking dish so gravy doesn’t spill over the sides. Cut a couple of slits in the top to let steam escape so that the whole thing doesn’t blow up in your oven. Put it in the oven so it will cook and be delicious. This will take about 45 minutes. Take it out and let it sit for about 10 minutes so it won’t be too runny when you first cut into it. Eat it so you’ll be happy.

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