impatient impatiens

My finger is swollen because I went out to the front porch, barefoot, to water my flowers.

The tag on these pink impatiens claim they can tolerate sun. However, sun in June in the South is brutal. If those dramatic girls have to go two days without water they lay down and play dead. This morning after I watered them, I dragged the heavy pot to the other side of the porch to keep them more shaded. Nice of me, eh?

Well, the ancient ceramic pot cracked and spewed 20 pounds of dirt onto the porch (and my bare feet). Across the porch, the exposed wiggly worms and yucky larvae who lived under the pot were horrified at the scorch of sun. Can’t please everyone.

I assessed the situation and retreated into the cool house to

  1. find shoes,
  2. put up my hair,
  3. get the broom and shovel,
  4. and prepare to sweat.

I shoveled the dirt onto the top of a trash can and dumped it on a nearby flower bed. I dragged the broken pieces of crumbling pot in two trips to the other side of the garage. I swept a little, and realized the whole porch needed to be sprayed clean, so I dragged the hose (the closer one, the one without wheels that seemed quite full of water) around to the front of the house and sprayed down the porch. I also sprayed the shovel clean because it’s the one we use when we scoop up our neighbor’s dog’s poop and deliver it back to his yard. Multitasking at its best.

I should ease your worry about the flowers–they were in an inner pot propped on top of the 20 pounds of topsoil in the broken pot. They laughed at me through the whole fiasco. Mike’s face appeared at the window. He walked away shaking his head.

Then I put everything away. And while I unhooked the hose to drag it back around the house, wondering why I was wearing a white t-shirt for this work and how I got so sweaty in just 15 minutes, a very angry ant sunk his fangs into my finger.

Ahh, summer.

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Pie 7.0

Pie 7.0

My first impression of Pie 7.0 was panic, as in “OMG this is the cover girl pie.”

It’s true. She’s on the cover of the SUGAR, BUTTER, FLOUR cookbook, nestled in a silver pan on a sea blue table under a swirl of white and pink and gray, so it isn’t at first apparent how unfortunately beige Pie 7.0 actually is. The crust is graham-cracker tan, the peanut butter filling is peanut-colored, the whipped topping is ivory, the chocolate shavings are brown, and the Moon Pies on top are layers of brown-tan-white. This pie was made by this brown-eyed girl.

In hindsight, she tasted like all the colors of heaven, so Pie 7.0 may not have been designed to be sensed most acutely by vision of reflected light. She was meant to be tasted.

Pie 7.0’s given name is “Thanks for Taking Me to the Moon Peanut Butter Moon Pie Pie.” She’s the finale pie, absolutely the last recipe in the book on page 155, and she commands an encore. After the last bite, I felt like young Oliver. “Please, sir,” I said, “may I have some more?”

This crust was my fifth crumb crust, but the first graham cracker crust I made. The recipe suggests nine sheets of crushed graham crackers would give 1.75 cups. The volume came to about 2 cups by my reckoning, but I used it all anyway and made a delightfully thick base that makes me pass the premade ones in the stupid market with my nose in the air, like an old forgotten beau.

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The taste of a graham cracker brought me back to when I was about four years old, so I carried a couple to my DH’s home office so he could time travel with me. Only a dozen steps from the kitchen, we both heard the butter explode in the microwave.

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I estimated a third of the butter was lost in the explosion, cleaned the microwave, added another hunk of butter to the bowl and melted it (slowly). You’d think a setback like a greasy explosion would make me focus. Instead I made banana bread while the crumb crust first hardened in the fridge and then baked in the oven.

While making the banana bread I broke the handle of a favorite mug. You’d think such a mishap would make me focus. Nope. Instead I expanded my multitasking to cooking some bacon on the stove. My kitchen looked like a crime scene. The graham cracker crust came out lovely (and beige). Believe when I insist it was more beautiful to my nose than your eyes.

The filling was simple to make with my ancient hand mixer: I blended some cream cheese and peanut butter, vanilla, sugar, and cream, dumped them in the pie shell and let them vacation in my fridge.

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I’m a pro at making whipped topping by my seventh pie, but this one called for added marshmallow cream (Fluff!) and once again I was reduced to a sweet-toothed preschooler. I licked all the bowls.

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I accidentally bought mini Moon pies twice in the week preceding this bake, so I had about ten extra Moon Pies. DH claimed Moon Pies and Scooter Pies are the same. This reminded me of the good old days before Google when one could expound “facts” loudly, authoritatively, and dare and stare your doubters down. (While I enjoyed a mini Moon Pie, I felt bad for 70-year-old men who have not realized they could not make a lie be true by simply being a bully and saying it louder. Then I remembered not to ruin my pie-making-bliss by thinking about 70-year-old bullies, and finally focused.)

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The mini Moon Pies were cut in half and jauntily placed on top of the mounds of marshmallow whipped topping. Chocolate shavings scattered around to make Pie 7.0 more brown and sweet.

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The whole concoction was frozen solid, wrapped up tight, and traveled nine hours in a car through four states to a very important family celebration for an incredible man who was not my nephew, and whose parents are not my cousins, but they always make me feel like they are.

Baking is scary but fun. You can be happily sad, and sadly happy–some melancholy beige mess of feelings on a blue sea beside a pink sunset. Laugh while you cry–it’s much like a sun shower. Opposing emotions roil inside. Hugging helps in all situations.

And when a baker re-enters a crowded room and spots her pie pan with only one scrawny slice left, she’ll steal away the victory slice aware (as all writers who bake must be) that she’s awkwardly describing herself in the third-person, yet knowing her incredibly creamy tan miracle brought eaters to the Moon and was loved like a tree-hugging, free-loving, smiling man. The best of all our wildest hopes.

 

 

 

 

Pie 6.0

Pie 6.0

Layers are more of a concern for cake bakers than pie slingers. I think Mary Berry sounds rather sophisticated and proper when she calls them “lairs.”

Well, Pie 6.0 has two layers. It’s a double decker delight called Love, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness Pie, from page 144 (12-squared) in the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR pie cookbook. The book gives credit for the recipes to Sheri Castle, and the text (which is quite funny) was written by Daniel Gercke, so I’ll give Daniel full credit for the line that claims this pie is a “declaration of deliciousness.” It is. Or it was.

A few things learned during the construction of Pie 6.0:

  1. Don’t rush, but hurry or you’ll literally miss the boat.
  2. Stay focused, but multitask because water-skiers need cheeseburgers, and cheeseburgers can’t cook themselves.
  3. Unflavored gelatin stinks and is hard to find in the stupid market.
  4. When it says to fill a blind bake pie shell with weights, just do what you’re told.
  5. A double-decker pie is tedious to make and hard to slice.
  6. Only bake for 15 minutes. Those extra 5 minutes dry out the shells.
  7. In May in the south, butter softens before you can get it cubed.
  8. A pie can become a birthday pie with the addition of one lighted candle and a song.
  9. Trimmed crust dough can be collected and re-rolled to make little pies.
  10. Not-sweet-enough cream cheese topping is a lovely complement to super-sweet fruit layers.
  11. I cannot say “layers” with one syllable like Mary Berry can, but I can hear her say it in my head.
  12. Four humans can eat one pie very quickly, especially when said pie is viewed as dessert, snack, and breakfast fodder.

To begin, I returned, weak-kneed, to my nemesis, the dreaded blind-baked pie shell of Pie 4.0, and I whipped up two of them.

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True to the book’s title, sugar, butter, and flour are used. The butter must be kept cold and must begin as cubes. Cubing butter in the south in May is challenging as it softens immediately. The refrigerator helped, but the process took a while just to cube the butter.

The dough was formed into two rough balls (using only my cool fingertips) and rolled flat to store in the fridge overnight. Next morning, I rolled them out and baked them up. Recipe says bake 15-20 minutes. I worried that these shells had to withstand layering and slicing without a pan as a base, so I let them bake the full 20 minutes.

I use the trimmings to make a couple of mini-backup pies. I promise I checked that the burners were off before I set them to cool on the stove.

The fillings were simple. I used my 30-year-old blender to puree (not pronounced as it seems–say ay at the end) the strawberries and blueberries separately. Whisked in the smelly gelatin. Then added more sliced strawberries or whole blueberries to each.

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For each fruit, a packet of unflavored gelatin was dissolved in a tiny bit of water. The smell reminded me of a science lab, so I looked it up and the gelatin is made from boiling bones, ligaments, and skin of cows and pigs to extract proteins. If it smells like roadkill or wet leather to your nose, that’s due to the proteins. Quite appetizing. Here is the packet of powdered gelatin (sprinkled over a few moles of water) and resisting gravity in a bowl at a 45-degree angle prior to heating.

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The fruit fillings had to set in the cold fridge for hours. Then they were poured into the shells and set in the fridge for more hours. There was plenty of time to play dozens of games of cornhole, cook dinner, and drive the water ski boat while the pie components lounged in coolness. (Fortunately, the fruity ester smells overpowered the protein odor.)

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The cream cheese topping was made with a lot of cream cheese and not very much sugar. The lack of sweetness turned out to be delightful with the fruit lairs. (Layers)

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The pie shells and fillings were finally ready to assemble. The strawberries leapt into the bottom layer; the blueberries took the top bunk. Then the whipped topping was piped in a spiral over the blueberries, and the whole thing was decorated with more fruit and sprinkles.

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We turned it into a birthday pie with a candle and a song.

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Here are the two mini backup pies, one strawberry and one blueberry.

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Game plan: Pie 7.0 might be a Peanut Butter Moon Pie Pie. Though it’s the last recipe in the cookbook, the picture makes me drool so it cannot be last. I’ll step away from the pie book for a week to make my traditional early June pie for my husband. Then Pies 8.0 and 9.0 will likely be made with the help of 2-6 small hands of grandchildren, so I’ve been plotting two pretty ones with marshmallows and jelly beans as toppings.

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.

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.