On this day

On this day five years ago my granddaughter was born, the second child and first daughter of Lea and Jon.

On this day eighty years ago my father was born, the first child of Edith and Daniel.

Such a singular event, a bend in the fabric of the universe, a birth opens a new opportunity, a line in a family toward new people. Without Daddy I’d not be here and neither would my daughters, and certainly not my Grace. They never met, but I know that Daddy, who adored children and effortlessly made them giggle with his playful grin and blue blue eyes, would have been utterly spellbound by our Grace.

So while I miss my father and think he’d have hated being 80, I consider the future of five-year-old Grace stretching decades beyond the span of my own life and wonder how her bright soul will touch and change the world. And this unknown future, made so hopeful by the presence of Grace, helps to ease my pain of the present without my dad here. From midlife, we can look back on our fathers and forward to our granddaughters and suddenly a century feels not so very long.

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Lucky Pie 13.0 LIVE

Lucky Pie 13.0 LIVE

When I began this pie adventure, I envisioned stories where I wowed readers with my baking skill. Instead, I’m humbled by my mistakes, grateful you still read, and incredulous by my luck that the pies taste incredible. (Usually. There was that burned one. And that savory one.)

My routine is to endure the stupid market, enjoy the bake, eat the pie, and then finally in about a week write a blog post about the experience. Today, things are going quite badly already, so I’ve decided to blog LIVE, as the bake progresses. It won’t be as fun as watching Mary Berry and her pals, but let’s give it a try.

Last night, by candlelight, I made the double pie crust for Pie 13.0, aka “Big Guy Strawberry Pie” from page 41 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook. Today I have time to type and drink coffee while I wait for the crust to be ready to roll. There she is late last night when she was but a good idea, and right now–too cold and hard to roll. That’s why we’re waiting. (We = me + my crust)

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There was a slight measurement (or perhaps reading comprehension) problem last night having to do with the appropriate quantity of butter. (It’s always the butter, isn’t it?) Anyway, when the error was discovered, the second half of the forgotten / missing / necessary butter was chunked up and added in last. (Not my brightest idea. The dough has globs of butter. I’m hoping it somehow comes out–I don’t know–flaky?)

Just tried to roll it. Not ready yet. So I’m just sitting here in a dirty apron and hairnet, drinking coffee and wondering what my wet hair will look like later when I release it from captivity.

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Made a little progress…

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OMG. I had to add a lot of flour to combat the globs of butter spots. Here she is in the pan.

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And here she is napping in the fridge with her top half ready to roll (on the right). Thank goodness it’s time to slice strawberries.

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It took an hour to slice the strawberries because I talked on the phone with my daughter while I sliced and she fed eggs to the baby and laughed at her silly little ones. There’s a cookie pan in my oven right now getting nice and hot at 425F so the bottom of the crust cooks quickly to avoid a soggy bottom. The recipe calls for some strawberry jam but I only have preserves, so there’s modification number two (after the crust/butter fiasco). I’m rolling out the top crust right now…

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I placed it on after cutting 8 little circles out of the edge. I tucked the top crust around and under the bottom one and pinched it the way my momma showed me when I was small and she made apple pie and blueberry pie with the fruit from the can. I pinched the little circles to make them look like strawberries and glued them down with an egg wash. (They look like acorns.) I cut open the little window in the center of the crust just like the picture. Egg washed the whole enchilada and sprinkled with the expensive large crystal sugar. While she bakes for 45 minutes in two temperature stages, I have time to make the weird basil infused whipped cream.

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{My hair is completely dry under the hairnet and matted to my head. Lovely. And I’m sticky almost up to my armpits with egg and butter and flour, so much so that my electronic devices and mousepad refuse to notice my touch. My fingertips are invisible. See? You just can’t get this depth of detail without the live blog feature.}

Hey, so something worked out pretty good. The pie is on it’s second stage of cooking for the exact same time the cream is cooling. Of course, the cooling cream should have been about ten minutes ahead, but we must account for the time it takes to make a mistake. See, the heavy cream gets heated BEFORE the basil is added. This is what the basil looks like when you remove it with a fork from the pan of heating cream because it shouldn’t be in there yet. Whoops.

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I’m on break for about a half an hour. I think I’ll clean up the mess.

I whipped the weird cream after it chilled in a bowl nestled in another bowl of water and ice in the fridge for an hour. An hour. In a bowl of ice. I’m not kidding. Details, people. Anyway, it took 7 freaking minutes to whip. I didn’t think it would ever get there. I scooped it into the icing bag and put it in the fridge for later. And, yes, I tasted it. I popped that test blob on the spoon right into my mouth and, man, basil tastes (and smells) weird in whipped cream. Like I made Italian spaghetti sauce and then used the dirty bowl to whip the cream. Maybe it’ll taste incredible with the sweet pie. You-know-who has no idea of the weirdness of the whipped cream in his future. I bet you a dollar he scarfs it up and asks for more.

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Pie 13.0 is a beauty. She’s too hot to eat, and there’s nobody here to share her with right now. But I will surely garnish each slice with a sprig of basil and a dollop of whipped cream as instructed. You’ll have to just imagine it, as usual, unless you go ahead and buy the cookbook and make one yourself.

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Pie 12.0

Pie 12.0

My daughter chose “Lulu’s Lemonade Pie” from Sugar Butter Flour for Pie 12.0, a perfect choice for a hot summer day in the southland. The picture in the cookbook is pretty and pink. Take a trot to this site to read about the purported history of how pink lemonade got its pinkness. Ahh, refreshing, right?

I didn’t realize my first mistake for hours after I made it. As I lined up the sugar and butter and flour for their portrait for this post, while the dough for the crust chilled in the fridge, I realized (whoops) I used bread flour for the crust. I traded the bread flour for the regular flour for the photo, but it was too late for the crust. What a way to start. When I rolled out the dough it was quite tough. No kidding.

While at the beach a week ago I got a text and email from my sister about a package that could not be delivered to my house. We’d stopped our mail during the vacation. Anyway, in our text exchange I asked her what was in the package. I always ask this before birthdays and holidays, and nobody ever falls for it and tells me. My sister, fresh from watching all four seasons of the Great British Baking Show, couldn’t contain her excitement and told me: New icing tips and bags! Surprise (almost). No more cutting the corner off a Ziploc for my pies.

At the stupid market I had contemplated the lemons by weighing them in my hand and guessed I’d need at least four for the recipe. I bought five. I don’t have a juice squeezer thingie but I do have strong hands, so I put the flour sifter in a small blue bowl (to catch the seeds and other solids) and I squeezed those lemons by hand. Turned out, I only needed two.

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Also in the stupid market, I checked off the ingredients carefully from my list. Eggs. check. Lemons. Check. Butter. Check. Heavy cream. Check. Half and Half. Check. Back home I sighed and dropped my clenched shoulders. I unloaded the bags in my kitchen to find there was no Half and half. None. I scanned the receipt. None. I closed my eyes and relived the dairy section in the stupid market.

Milk, heavy cream, coffeecreamersourcreambuttereggscheese.

Hmm, said my mind, you’re such a dithering dolt. I did not even look at the Half and half. Who the heck crossed it off the list? Anyway, extraordinary chemist that I am (recall the raspberry vinegar from a recent delight) I made my own: 1/2 whole milk, 1/2 heavy cream. How hard can it be?

I didn’t have any red tights to boil, or red cinnamon candies to dissolve, or any cranberry juice, so I just followed the recipe to make my pie pink: I added three little drops of red food coloring. Pink enough.

I must confess, the actual name of this bake is “Lulu’s Lemonade PieS,” as in many mini pies. The crust dough and all the fillings were to be divided amongst eight little cutie-pies. But, like the lemon squeezer and (until recently) the frosting tips, there are no mini pie shells in my kitchen. Gasp. Get over it. So I made one big pie instead of eight little ones. The physics of this modification demanded a 50-minute bake, rather than 30. When I checked the monster at 30 minutes, the filling almost sloshed over the side. You can imagine how my bread-flour-based-crust reacted to 20 extra minutes of drying in the oven. (Alas, someday I’ll get it right. Perhaps I’m not quite ready for my debut on TGBBS.)

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While I worked and sweated, across the counter from this old baker sat a lovely young woman and her lovely friend. Together they are not yet 60 years old. They chatted and drank coffee and laughed. One was my daughter, and the other calls me Aunt Laura but is not my niece. My daughter’s sole job, besides choosing the pie recipe, was simple: separate the pink from the non-pink jelly beans. There were 17 and I needed 16. Perfect. At least something was going right.

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I whipped up the cream for the topping and spooned it into a frosting bag with one of five or six tips I wanted to sample. After many frosting tips it was clear: I’m not qualified. I must practice. To the utter horror of my audience, I scooped up my first attempt with a spoon and tossed it back in the bowl to try again. The lovely chef/caterer who thinks I’m her aunt suggested I practice later with actual frosting instead of whipped cream. She’s pretty smart. She and daughter licked that whipped cream bowl to a shine.

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As an encore, I must disclose my dear husband helped RE-decorate after he saw my messy pie. We were just back from the beach where we made drippy castles (with no children helping–just two oldies playing in the soft silky sand) every day.

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So my DH jumped in and made drippy castles on my pie with the new frosting tips.

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Pie 12.0, like almost all her predecessors, turned out delicious despite my strenuous efforts to screw it all up. Conclusion: if it tastes delightful, it can look like a sand castle. Your mouth won’t know.

The fall semester starts in four (4!) days. Either I will be too busy to bake, or I will be desperate for the relief of baking. It is quite impossible to predict these things. Please excuse me either way.

college math

college math

Welcome to college math!

No, I am not referring to calculus. Or tuition. For this college math, let’s look at how long it takes to learn college level material.

Remember high school? High grades. “Never had to study.” Remember that?

In high school your teacher presented material, organized the textbook topics into an outline, gave you some practice, some homework, retaught, gave a quiz, allowed you to retake the quiz…all before the test. That repetition that the teacher did for you was the “study” part that you thought you never had to do.

Well, in college, your high school teacher won’t be there to reteach and reinforce and make you practice. In college, it is up to you to study.

So many college freshmen don’t know how to study because they don’t think they ever did it. In college you have to do all the things your teacher did for you in high school. Outline the chapters. Complete practice problems, plus do some extra ones. Organize your time. Pre-read before lecture. Re-read after lecture. Over and over as many times as it takes until you know it.

So here’s the math. Let’s say it takes 10 hours to “learn” a chapter of material and there are 10 chapters of material in a certain course. Assume in the 15-week semester that 100 hours of total exposure are required for the course. Well, kids, it’s not a secret: there are only about 36 hours dedicated to lecture meetings for an entire semester, and some of that is taken up with quizzes and other activities, so your professor has about 30 hours total to present 10 chapters of material. That’s 3 hours per chapter. In some of your classes it will take you more than 3 hours just to read a chapter once through. You should plan on your own time to spend at least twice the length of time you sit in the lecture hall in order to really understand the material, and in some classes for some chapters it’ll be more like triple the lecture time.

That’s assuming you actually turn off your phone and Facebook and engage in lecture. If you don’t do that, you can take those wasted hours and add them to your out-of-class effort.

More math: you’ll probably only be in classes about 20 hours per week. That leaves 40 hours to do what you must to succeed. (Yes, college is a 60 hour work week. So is a typical salaried career in America. I didn’t invent this. I’m just the messenger.)

So, yes, you do know how to study. And hopefully this little math lesson explains why the homework questions (and exam questions) are so much harder than the introductory ones presented in lecture. A college degree is an amazing accomplishment because it must be earned. Acceptance to college is the first step, offered only to those qualified based on how well they kept up in high school. Don’t waste your chance.

 

Pie 11.0

Pie 11.0

I love chocolate.

This pie cookbook has so many chocolate delights. It’s hard to choose. Someday I’ll get to them all. Apparently the chef didn’t even try to decide which chocolates to focus on for Pie 11.0. She just used them all. I say bravo!

My crazy pie journey started about 4 months ago with the extraordinary Pie 1.0. Eleven pies in, I promise I’m not giving up. Just slowing down. Busy in the summer. Perhaps on a diet so I need to pace myself. And I might never make all the savory ones after the jerk chicken experience. Enough ado. I give you Pie 11.0.

Officially called “In the Dark Dark Triple Chocolate Truffle Pie” from page 86 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook, Pie 11.0 was built from dark chocolate, white chocolate, cocoa, bittersweet chocolate, and chocolate cookies, from Ghirardelli’s, Baker’s and Hershey’s–even a small piece of chocolate is ridiculously good. I’ve never thrown out a Hershey in my life.

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Here are the chocolates posing for a portrait. (Coffee photo bombed again.)

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The crust was the same deliciousness I made for Pie 3.0–crushed chocolate cookies. The butter did not explode in the microwave (like it did for Pie 7.0) this time. Ah memories.

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The filling was thin like chocolate milk and baked for 45 minutes until it set.

The topping was chocolate (duh) and fluffy (is that what truffle means? Somebody look that up.) I piped it on with an X tip hooked to a plastic bag, in my normal don’t-have-an-icing-bag-but-a-Ziploc-will-do. Good enough.

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I tried to make chocolate curls for the garnish with a paring knife and my innate skill, but the bars melted in my summer hot hands. I should have just used the cheese grater. Somehow I persevered and managed to make a pile o’chocolate shreds for the top. I licked my hands, washed them good, and finished up.

Another globetrotter, this one. She rode frozen in the car to VA, like Pie 2.0 and was eaten for the three days of a long weekend. Perfect for breakfast with coffee.

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Pie 12.0 will be made in a week with my daughter, who will also choose the pie. Stay tuned for pictures of more delicious stuff you don’t get to eat. Cheerio!