We love, we lose

We love, we lose

 

Each day we choose

To laugh or cry

To live and love

And that is why

Forever

We remember

How small is life

Though burning bright

A star

In the immensity

Of the universe

From whom we’re born

And where we’ll all

Go home to

In the end.

We live, we die

We laugh, we cry

We love, we lose

Each day we choose

To remember.

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Pie 5.0

Pie 5.0

Let’s replace calories on food labels with time stamps or statements of bliss or surgeon general warnings. For example, a delicious gooey chocolate dessert (500 calories) could be labeled as “minus 10 minutes” and “consumption of this bliss will trade 10 minutes from your life for an inch on your waist.” I’d still eat it.

Carrots and broccoli could be labelled “plus 10 minutes” or “balances beer.” If you can stand to chew and swallow, you can get a refund on the bliss minutes.

Tasteless high fiber gunk? “add 20 minutes” or “aids digestion (aka helps you go).”

Red meat: minus 1 hour

Fish: add 1 hour

Bread: minus 5 minutes

Kale: add 1 day

Brussels sprouts: add 2 weeks

And so on.

We don’t really want to live forever, do we? At some point all our friends will be gone. We’ll have trouble getting around. We’ll snooze sitting up in a chair. We could even outlive our teeth. What a waste that would be.  Maybe some foods could be labeled “will make you feel like you are 20 again.” Others could say “may exacerbate arthritis” or “will lead to painful death” vs “promotes peaceful end of life while snoozing at 90.” Ok, I know. I should stop.

These were some of my thoughts while concocting Pie 5.0. I tallied the calories in the ingredients and have decided not to share the number. Instead I’ll say it’s likely to be “so delicious it’ll be worth sacrificing 90 minutes from your 9th decade.”

For this week’s challenge, we turn to page 80 of SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR and find a delight named “I Wanna Play Doctor With My Gynecologist Chocolate Mousse Pie.” (You really should go to NYC and see The Waitress so these pie names make sense.)

To start, we’re back to a trusty cookie crumb crust. After the Pie 4.0 debacle, can you blame me for retreating? I think not. Shortbread cookies crumble effortlessly, as though they never intended to stay bound in cookie swirl shape for long anyway.

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Mixed with melted butter, pressed in the pie pan, cooled for 15 minutes, baked for 10…the same old drill. Easy pie shell.

Next up was the cherry filling. Here is what I learned: if you squeeze the lemon over the pan of cherries, the seeds will fall in and hide behind the cherries. If you squeeze the lemon with your bare hand, the citric acid will bite at that paper cut on your pinky.

After adding cornstarch and sugar and boiling for only ONE MINUTE, I dripped in the almond extract and the resulting combination of aromas made me swoon.

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While the crumble crust and cheery cherries got cozy in the fridge, I concocted the most ridiculously complicated chocolate mousse while facing constant reminders that following directions (loosely) without understanding the WHY of the specifics can lead to surprises.

Five (5) ounces of semisweet chocolate were melted and stirred in some heavy cream in a double boiler over simmering H2O. Bars of semisweet chocolate for baking come in 4 oz. portions, so a handful of semisweet chocolate chips was dumped in.

Then three eggs were whipped to frothy stiff peaks. In a another bowl heavy cream was whipped to frothy stiff peaks. One-third of the egg mixture was stirred into the chocolate bowl (which was supposed to be cool, but wasn’t yet, so the eggs looked like they were trying to cook, and the whole mess was chucked into the fridge for a rapid cool down before proceeding).

After a few minutes of cooling, the meringued eggs and the whipped cream were folded into the chocolate to make the mousse. This was spread over the cooled cherries and the whole stack of wonder was shoved back into the fridge to set for FOUR HOURS.

By now I was desperate for a taste, so I poured another cup of coffee and licked all the bowls.

Hours and hours later, it was time to prepare the toppings. The recipe called for maraschino cherries which were hidden in the grocery store. After an emergency text to Mom, I found them in the baking aisle. But in my kitchen, they appeared to be the cheap version–they had no stems. Apparently I was supposed to find cocktail cherries, but I missed that detail. The one cherry with a stub of a stem got dipped first, but not until all of the high-maintenance sweeties got individually blotted dry.

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The shish kebab stick and spoon served the purpose of the missing stems.

I lost my mind with the extra chocolate and did some “chocolate work.”

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The melted chocolate cooled quickly. The spoon became trapped. I have no idea how this happened, but the spoon stayed upright for hours and the chocolate was so strong I could hold up the heavy bowl by the spoon. Yeah, I had four hours to kill while Pie 5.0 chilled out in the fridge.

I made the whipped topping with heavy cream, some sugar, vanilla, and bourbon. I didn’t have a custard bag so I devised one out of a Ziploc bag with the icing tip screwed into a hole I cut in the corner.

I had fun designing the top, but discarded the pictures of the forest of chocolate trees I tried from my first crack at chocolate work.

A slice of Pie 5.0 likely costs a chunk of lifetime, but she was too delicious to resist. I found the empty pie pan in the sink this morning so somebody finished her off in the dark of night while I dreamed of eating it for breakfast today with my coffee.

She was a beauty.

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Pie 6.0 will be a fancy-pants double-decker, planned for construction and consumption on Memorial Day weekend. If you’re in the area, call me and I’ll (try to hold off the vultures and) save you a slice.

 

Notes from a tree hugger

I don’t just hug trees. Sometimes when I stand at the base of a really gigantic one, amazed my arms can’t reach around it, I will stretch my neck and rest my chin and look up at its incredible height and think, “I am older than you.”

I was a tree hugger before I even knew it was a thing, way back around the first time it was politically incorrect to be so. This was back when people threw garbage out their car windows without a thought. Back when the world was huge and we were fewer, smaller, still in awe of her a little.

I fell for trees when I was about 11. I remember the day when I first realized leaves were visible from farther than five feet away. The doctor and my teacher and my parents had finally caught on to my severe nearsightedness. This was surely soon after I asked my beautiful, brilliant, and hugely pregnant sixth-grade teacher why she bothered to write on the board when nobody could see it. I figured everyone was listening intently like I was and memorizing and mentally cataloguing her lessons, even math. I was a bit outraged when I learned the others had the unfair advantage of being able to read and hear what she taught. Anyway, my mom took me to get glasses.

I was mortified.

My older sister had gotten glasses years earlier. Apparently she was more vocal about her needs. Her glasses were cat shaped. There was no way I would make that mistake.

So I chose a green speckled pair. Round. Awful shape for my round face and eyes. Nobody mentioned it, except my only brother who almost died at my hands after he mumbled something about four eyes and his favorite red-button-pushing nickname for me that he hissed: lizard.

Those spectacles likely did make me look amphibian. Looking through them, though, showed me the world for the first time, clearly. Not a blur. I could see people’s eyes. I could tell when they were looking at me and when they were speaking to me. I could see someone wave from across the street and I wondered how many hundreds of friends I might have had in my decade on earth if I’d ever known to wave back.

But let me get back to my trees.

They have pine needles, aptly named and clustered.

They have bark, thick and ragged.

New green leaves in the spring are a fresh pale version of the deep green of summer. (My speckled spectacles had those hues and more.)

When the sun shines behind a sorority of beauties, their blackness strikes me down.

Now, as a scientist, I understand the balance of the existence of humans on a planet with trees. I read a book by Hope Jahren last year called Lab Girl and fell hard once again for trees from a loving botanist’s perspective. Now I live out of the city surrounded by trees. The air is clean. The shade is cool. The birds are happy (they sing, so I’m sure of it.)

And I can take a walk while looking up at the canopy. I can stand under a beauty and feel her steady photosynthesis inside the green leaves I can see.

How can you not hug that?

Pie 4.0: ready, set, bake!

Pie 4.0: ready, set, bake!

Ready, set, bake!

Cue the music.

This is what I hear in my imagination as I walk down the green grassy hill in my apron to face Paul and Mary. Then I snap out of IT and sing my chorus songs while I bake alone in my kitchen.

For this week’s challenge, I turned to page 45 of the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook and found Candy Gold Apple Pie. The time had come; no more crumbly cookie pressed crusts. This pie demanded a true handmade and rolled cold-butter crust called a blind-baked pie shell.

As I am a side-of-the-Crisco-can recipe baker, I have always made the standard Crisco pie crust for my famous and trusty dusty apple pie. According to the detailed directions for the SBF-BB pie shell (try to keep up), I have been doing it all wrong for decades.

One of the first tips for the BB pie shell is to make two, even if you only need one today. The extra batch can be wrapped and frozen for the next pie. Somehow, a non-baker who strolled through my kitchen at just the wrong moment talked me out of this. I can’t really blame my number 1 pie eater for this small contribution, but it turned out to be a critical wrong turn in a day of uncontrolled heat, so I feel I must mention it.

So a blind-baked pie shell does not mean pull the hairnet down over your eyes and just don’t look. It means one must bake it sans filling. I can’t imagine how empty and blind have the same meaning in baking (in rural Somethingshire, perhaps) but the concept makes sense. Mary’s voice chimed in my head as though her blue eyes were piercing my brown ones, “One must avoid a soggy bottom, Laura.”

The dreaded soggy bottom. I committed to following the directions to the letter.

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The butter was cut and chilled. The flour and salt and sugar got a quick sift. Liquid ice (aka water) dripped in by the teaspoon. I only used my fingertips to bring the dough together into a ball because the book says my palms are too hot. Ha.

 

It was lookin’ good and I was ready to roll. Until I saw this.

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Rolling postponed. Into the fridge to chill. (The pie dough. I did not chill one bit during these 4 hours of my life. You’ll see.)

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I love to peel apples in one long curl. This pie demanded golden delicious apples to be precooked for quite a while on the stove. Hazelnuts and cinnamon and brown sugar were added. The mixture bubbled on the stove and the kitchen smelled like yum.

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Back to the lone pie crust: I only left it in the fridge for about an hour, instead of three. I thought of Nadia and all the bakes when she had to rush and it all worked out in the end. The music played in my head. Onward. I rolled out the dough on wax paper and did my choreographed lift and flip onto the pan.

 

 

This was going great! I made the edges pretty and turned to pop it in the oven. But the temperature was off.

I poked some buttons and sighed and thought and thought and looked and the problem was the units. Somehow my oven was set to Celsius. How British is that!? Well, I can do math so I was sure the temperature was correct, but the C shook me up. That’s when I checked the directions again and realized I had to cover the shell in foil and add rice (or beans, or ceramic blind baking pie shell balls). Fixed it up and popped it in. Fingers crossed.

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For the crumbly topping, I made what seemed like an oatmeal cookie with rolled oats and butter and more hazelnuts. It was to be baked on parchment paper, cooled, and crumbled. Did you know wax paper is not the same as parchment paper? The edges baked too fast. The center was soft. I hacked at it with a spoon, pre-crumbled, and scraped it off the smoking wax paper. Back into the oven for quite a while. I worried about the temperature. The oatmeal cookie aroma swirled with the bubbling apple aroma, but mingled with smoky wax paper.

 

 

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By now the pie shell had finished. I set it to cool on the stove.

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This pie took a loooong time to make. Unlike my first three pies, I got a little distracted. I did wear my hairnet, and I did sing a bit, but I also answered the phone, made lunch plans, and left the kitchen (where all three components were firmly instructed to be quiet and still and just wait for a minute) to take a shower.

At some point during the distracted minutes (and they were only minutes, maybe 10 of them) a new smell emerged.

Something was burning.

But that didn’t make sense. The pesky Celsius oven was off. The caramelized apples were chilling in the fridge. Oatmeal cookie crumbs covered every surface except in the oven. My gorgeous pie shell waited patiently on the stove.

With smoke coming out of the fork prong holes. Almost on fire.

I’d left the burner below still on from the apple-cooking stage. For new bakers and chemists, let me explain the phenomenal disaster occurring in my kitchen, the drama forewarned by the oddly Celsius oven: Cooling is an exothermic process where the system (the pie shell, in this case) releases heat to the surroundings. My beautiful pie shell endured an endothermic process when the surroundings included the flame of combusting methane. As the system (pie shell) absorbed energy, it could not cool. Yikes.

Have you ever scraped the char off a piece of burnt toast because that was the last piece of bread, or perhaps you are Irish like me and can’t throw out a piece of good bread? No? Really? You haven’t? You must have a great toaster. Anyway, the process, unpublished in any cookbook, goes like this: hold blackened bread over a sink and subject it to rapid short-stroke scraping with a serrated steak knife.

That’s what I did to the black bottom of my beautiful pie crust. The crust that did not have a twin because I did not make the suggested back-up batch.

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By now I was late for my lunch date. I texted my friend and persevered, the small not-Mary voice in my head saying, “Ah, bullocks. I mean que sera sera. Pie 4.0 falls in the coconut-pie category. It has nuts (and oatmeal), so I’m not gonna eat it. I can at least make it pretty on the top for the pictures for the blog post. Those readers don’t have to know it’s burnt to hell on the bottom.”

Not at my best, I agree, but I was sweating (and swearing) and still had to brush my hair and teeth before I left for lunch. And did I mention we were having a yard sale that morning and I was involved in the sale of a knee board, a God Bless America sign, and a treadmill all while baking? And I was worn out from writing exams? I have more excuses than grains of rice in a BB-PS.

Minimal assembly was required, including a sweet and lemony drizzle on top.

 

Here she is.

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My dear husband scarfed it up despite the burn. (He’s a little desperate since I teach 100+ miles away each week of the semester and he has to fend (“cook”) for himself.)

And the next morning I fixed the oven temperature unit. I also baked brownies to convince myself I could still bake something. And a few days later, the universe reminded me to write this blog post when my hair drier threw a white spark across the bathroom and sent a curl of smoke to the ceiling, all before my second cup of caffeine–I mean coffee.

Today I will bake homemade bread from a memorized recipe so I can eat the first steaming piece slathered in butter and have a good smell in my kitchen.

Thanks for following me on my pie journey. Next up will be a maraschino-cherried chocolate mousse on a shortbread cookie crumb crust. *sigh*

Pie 3.0

Pie 3.0

My pie is a cheesecake! What a fraud. Reminds me of that dogwood tree that was really a cherry tree, but was later replaced by a birch. (Click here if you really want to go down that wormhole.)

What’s with this cake stigma? Maybe Pie 3.0 had to impersonate a pie to get into this cookbook. Or perhaps the precedent set by the famous Boston Cream Pie brought this on. If the Boston Cream can be a cake but called a pie, my Pie 3.0 can too.

In her defense, Pie 3.0 is beautiful. Well, she was. But you wouldn’t believe it: she was gone in an instant. Luckily I have proof of her existence, and her beauty.

I did wear my hairnet. This Pie had a date at a party, so I couldn’t risk a hair (and the hostess requested no hair. Some people.)

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The crust was crushed chocolate wafers. I couldn’t find any (and thought licking the filling out of two dozen Oreos would be gross) so I used these. I’ve made three pies so far and haven’t baked a real pie crust. They’ve all been crushed cookies (Meyer lemon, Nilla wafers, and these chocolate things) all mixed with butter, pressed in the pan, baked for ten minutes and cooled. Easy peasy.

 

There was a LOT of chocolate to chop and melt and mix and swirl.

 

The cream cheese warmed to room temperature by sunbathing by the window.

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Some chocolate had to be remelted. I made notes in the book to reverse steps 2 and 3 next time.

 

Some assembly was required.

 

I doubted the directions and thought I’d swirl with a stick, but they were right–the end of a spoon worked better to scoop down and up while swirling. Here she is.

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Tomorrow morning: Pie 4.0. Another beauty, but with a real pie crust. I get to eat it, and you get to look at pictures. Fair enough.